I’ve never thrilled to the sermons printed in the Bible: Peter’s in Acts 2 and Acts 4, Paul’s in Acts 17, and others. They feel redundant because we’ve just been reading about everything they say. But as I stepped through Acts recently (search the tag ‘Acts’ for multiple resulting posts), I noticed a pattern in Paul’s sermon of Acts 13—a pattern that remains relevant for speakers and preachers even today.
Paul and Barnabas had been commissioned and sent off on their first missionary journey around Asia. They stopped first in Cyprus, then sailed northwestward, landing in Perga and crossing a mountainous region to the city of Pisidian Antioch.
In what would become his custom, Paul visited the local synagogue on the Sabbath.
After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.” –Acts 13:15
Visiting rabbi were usually invited to speak, so we shouldn’t be surprised about that part. However, Paul stood up and motioned with his hand (Acts 13:16). It was customary for rabbi to sit when they taught, but Paul stood to deliver this message. Also, what sort of motion did he make with his hand? I don’t know. Why would Luke include this trivial detail? Don’t know that either. Anyway…
First, Paul traced the Hebrew story of deliverance from Egypt to the reign of King David (Acts 13:17-22). Why spend valuable minutes on context?
- He established a point of commonality with his hearers. Everyone could agree with these facts, so they began in a “place” where everyone was comfortable.
- He understood that we need to know what we already know before we can add to it or adjust it. The men in the synagogue didn’t need a refresher course on their own history. They had known it since they were children! But they—and we—need frequent reminders of what we know.
He started with something
he and his audience both
understood and agreed on.
When Paul spoke to non-Jewish audiences, he didn’t start with Hebrew oppression in Egypt. He started with something he and his audience both understood and agreed on (see Acts 17). This act of latching on to something familiar is fundamental to his later statement,
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. –1 Corinthians 9:22
Next, Paul brings the familiar context to the feet of Jesus. For this Jewish audience, he made the easy connection between King David and the Messiah about whom David himself prophesied (Acts 13:23). It only took one sentence at this point, but Paul would return to the connection with David.
Call to attention
Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. –Acts 13:26
In the same way, we can grab people’s attention by identifying the intended recipients of our message and leading them toward the next point. Paul hadn’t stated “this message of salvation” yet, so his listeners would have been leaning forward to define the message.
Now Paul comes to the “meat” of his message.
Paul wastes no time getting to the Gospel. In his own words, he summarizes Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection (Acts 13:27-31).
Can you summarize the Gospel
in simple, non-churchy words?
Can you do that? Can you summarize the Gospel in simple, non-churchy words? Can you similarly summarize your own salvation in a couple of sentences? Here’s mine:
When I was younger, I tried hard to please God, but I never could measure up. Through the Bible and conversations with Christ-followers, the Holy Spirit showed me that only Jesus was good enough. When he died on the cross then rose from death, He made it possible for me to qualify…not just “good enough” but perfect…for a relationship with God. My life isn’t easy, but I have a permanent sense of peace with who I am and Who God is.
It seems Paul’s audience was familiar with John the Baptist. In verse 25, Paul quotes John to reinforce his point. Later, he also refers to the many who saw Jesus after His resurrection:
For many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. –Acts 13:31
As if to say, go back to Judea and ask them yourself! Paul’s message could be corroborated by his contemporaries.
For us, corroboration comes in the form of quotations and observations from respected religious leaders and to a lesser extent from broader society.
Gather your material carefully, and then allow God to “set your words on fire” for His glory. -Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, March 10.
Within the body of his message, Paul refers to relevant Scripture and offers short explanations about how they apply to Jesus. Check your footnotes for the passages Paul quoted.
We strengthen our own messages when we cross reference related passages. For this blog post, a verse about order in worship seems appropriate.
For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. –1 Corinthians 14:33
Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to worship in an orderly way. Similarly, He is glorified by our preparation to speak because preparation helps us present His truth accurately and systematically.
As he comes to the end, Paul references King David again, tying the end of his message to the beginning—something highly recommended by those who train public speakers. This time, however, he demonstrates Jesus superiority to David (Acts 13:36-37).
He also makes a comparison between justification through Jesus and that available but unattainable “under the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39).
Call to Action
At the end, Paul points a finger at his hearers.
Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you. –Acts 13:40
We do our listeners a disservice
if we don’t give them a next step.
I’m not a fan of finger-pointing, but we do our listeners a disservice if we don’t give them a next step, a “what now” option.
Because his hearers placed such a high value on the Torah, Writings, and Prophets (TaNaK), Paul concludes with another Old Testament quote. Then he sits down.
Paul did that thing the best speakers do: Leave the audience wanting more. Before they even left the building, Paul and Barnabas had been invited back for the next week. But that wasn’t sufficient. A bunch of synagogue-attendees followed them out, continuing to talk with them and ask questions (Acts 13:42-43).
Would that I can be that kind of speaker! Paul (perhaps unintentionally) has modeled a great approach for all of us.
In his first sermon in Pisidian Antioch, Paul models an outline for how to share truth in front of an audience…and I made it alliterate! We’re digging into homiletics this week because my #preaching is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
First, I would LOVE to read your 4-sentence story of meeting Jesus, like I shared above. Let me know if you need some help purging the church jargon. If you don’t want to share that, I welcome any sort of response. What are you thinking as you come to the end here? Please share in the comments below!