Do you ever wish you could attend a preaching seminar given by the Apostle Paul or the Apostle Peter? It would be life changing to sit at the feet of two men God used in amazing ways in the life and growth of the early church.
While we cannot travel back in time to meet with the Apostles, we can learn from their preaching documented in the book of Acts. The apostles’ preaching had certain traits that give us insight into what it means to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2) and preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Below are some observations about the apostles’ preaching. Some of these characteristics overlap in theme and highlight different aspects of the apostolic message, methods, or response received.
Our hope is that the apostles’ track record in preaching will encourage you as you pursue and proclaim Christ. Each of the characteristics listed below can be found all over the book of Acts, and for the sake of brevity I chose to only include one example for each. I encourage you to study the book of Acts and all of its sermons to see them for yourself.
Characteristics of the Apostolic Preaching in Acts:*
1. The Apostles’ preaching was biblical.
The apostles saw the recent events of Christ being crucified and being raised from the dead as historical fact and something predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures. This led them to quote Scripture frequently in their proclamation of the gospel.
Two characteristics of their biblical preaching:
- It was expository in style. The Apostles did not pull verses out of context or quote Scripture to serve their agenda, but rather clearly and properly explained the Scriptures’ God-given meaning to their hearers and applied it to their hearts. Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 explains passages from Joel and the Psalms to substantiate his claim that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.
- It kept the Bible’s one story in mind. The Bible is one book with one story about one person; it tells the story of God’s redemption through Jesus Christ. The apostles’ preaching kept the Bible’s one story in mind by proclaiming Jesus to be the fulfillment of Old Testament Scriptures, “…what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18, see also 21-26).
2. The Apostles’ preached Christ.
The focus of the apostles’ preaching was unabashedly Jesus Christ. Their message consisted with the work and person of Jesus Christ and often ended calling listeners to respond to the implications of the life-changing message of Christ. This is why Paul later said “We proclaim Him…” (Colossians 1:28) and “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Here are some specific things emphasized by the apostles about Jesus Christ:
- Jesus as Lord. Jesus was not just some other crucified criminal—He is the Lord of all creation who will judge the living and the dead. In the sermon at Pentecost, Peter preaches Jesus as Lord from Psalm 110 and applies it the following way,
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ…” (Acts 2:36).
- Christ crucified and risen from the dead. Preaching Jesus as Christ revealed Him as God’s chosen Messiah. Preaching Christ crucified revealed the Jesus who died a brutal death on the cross for our sake. Preaching Christ risen from the dead reveals that He conquered death and is alive in heaven. Preaching Christ crucified and risen explains how man can be made right with God through God making atonement for our sins through the death of His Son. The entire history and hope of humankind hinges upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Acts 17:2-3 details the habit of Paul preaching the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ:
“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.””
- Jesus as the only Savior. The apostles only give one solution to the judgment of God that comes from humanity’s sin problem: Jesus Christ as the only Savior.
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
3. The Apostles preached faith in Christ and repentance.
The apostles’ desired for their listeners to believe in Jesus Christ and repent from their sins. The themes of God’s judgment, human guilt, and the need for repentance are echoed throughout the pages of Acts.
“And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Acts 10:42-43
People responded to the apostles in several ways. Many believed the word of the gospel, repented, baptized, and added to the church (2:41, 14:1, 28:24, etc.). Others disbelieved and some began to actively oppose the ministry of the apostles.
Three examples of mixed responses to the apostles can be seen in Acts 14:1-2, 17:1-5, 28:23-24.
4. The Apostles preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The apostles received power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, just as Jesus had promised in Acts 1:8. The Spirit’s power impacted their preaching and caused their words to cut listeners to the heart (2:37) and caused many people to believe and receive the Spirit as well (10:44-45).
“…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God…” Acts 4:31
The combination of preaching the Bible by the power of the Spirit is what gives preaching the most power. Paul describes the Word of God as “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). The Spirit uses the Word like a sword to impact the hearts of listeners, which is exactly what we observe in the apostles’ preaching ministry.
5. The Apostles preached with boldness.
Preaching with boldness is closely tied to Spirit-powered preaching. The apostles could not help but speak of the amazing things they had seen and heard after witnessing the resurrected Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 4:20). They displayed their boldness by declaring to people their guilt and by testifying to Christ boldly in front of rulers and authorities (Acts 23-26).
Soon after the Apostle Paul was converted from a Christian-hater to a Christian himself, he began proclaiming Jesus with great boldness (Acts 9:27).
6. The Apostles preached with their listeners’ situations in mind.
The apostles knew their audiences and were able to tailor their gospel proclamation to each group. To the Jews, Stephen preached Jewish history (Acts 7), to the Greek Athenians, Paul quoted Athenian poets and referred to an altar of an unknown god known in their city (Acts 17).
*The characteristics covered in this post refer to the apostles’ proclamation of the gospel (kerygma), which is to be differentiated from the teaching that would follow gospel proclamation (didache).