God’s Great Messages

By Ronnie Lowe

The spoken word possesses great power. Nations enter war because of the stirring words of some leader. Some sacrifice their life because of the powerful words of a leader. The words of Jesus were powerful enough to change the course of history. Do you recall the last lesson you heard from a preacher? Do you remember his main points of interest? Maybe so, maybe not. But there have been some lessons which have left a permanent mark upon our mind, our life, our very soul. These are the lessons we will carry with us to our grave.

Each generation has had its great preachers. These were and are the men with a special gift to stir the soul to greater heights of consecration and service. The early church had such men. They were filled with the glory and might of the Spirit of God and were moved by Him to deliver some of the greatest messages ever to descend upon human ears.

We remember certain messages and messengers for their greatness. Time and again, Moses stood before the children of Israel and stirred them on toward the Promised Land. Countless students and scholars have spent countless hours probing into the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. And yet some of the greatest messages of the ages have been reserved for the Christian era. Many of these are preserved for us in Acts by the beloved physician Luke.

Acts 2

The apostle Peter presented one of the most studied and best known lessons of the Christian age. As he stood before the multitude in Jerusalem and explained the events which were occurring, he spoke powerful words which turned men’s souls from sin to life in Christ. Peter achieved a marvelous degree of success that day, and it is still leading souls to eternal life.

Every effective speaker should have a definite aim or goal for presenting his lesson. That chosen goal shows much about the speaker. Peter’s goal was very simple: the salvation of his hearers. This should be the goal of every gospel preacher. By studying his approach, we can learn more about preaching and teaching for today. He sought: (1) To convince the Jews of the claims of Christ, and thus produce faith; (2) To convict them of the sin they had committed by their involvement in killing Christ; (3) To arouse them to repentance; and (4) To bring them into complete obedience to God, resulting in their complete forgiveness and salvation.

The entire lesson presents Jesus as the Son of God and Savior to man. The proof was indisputable--and they knew it! All events concerning Jesus happened exactly according to the plan set out by the prophets. He was approved of God by miracles; He was crucified by divine plan; He was raised from death by God; He was exalted at the right hand of God. Now, the next step was up to them. What would they do with this knowledge? “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37-38).

What was the result of such conviction and of such a demand? “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (2:41). When a wise person truly understands the deity and authority of Jesus, what else can he do but submit to the will of Jesus?

Peter preached Christ as his central theme. Jesus was the Son of God, the Promised Messiah, the Savior. He was the Advocate and the ultimate sin-offering. Christ ought to be central in all our teaching and preaching. He is our perfect Example; He is our Head; He is our Savior, too! Let us also be impressed with the significance of His crucifixion, resurrection, and exaltation.

Acts 7

One of the most marvelous and inspiring surveys of Old Testament history, and of God’s dealings with His people, is found in Stephen’s defense. “Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8). He had been selected as one of the seven specially qualified men to aid the apostles in serving the widows. But it was his bold proclamation of God’s word which caused a series of false charges against him and led him before the council to offer a defense. Stephen’s courage serves as a great example to all Christians throughout the centuries.

Jesus had promised His inspired followers that they need not worry about what to say before their accusers. They would be guided by the Spirit to say the right thing (Matthew 10:19-20). Nowhere is this promise better seen than in Stephen’s defense before this mob. Stephen begins at a point of common agreement: their ancestor and his, Abraham. He then recounts Jewish history from Abraham to the birth and circumcision of Jacob’s sons. Is so doing, he gains their attention and possibly even some moral support.

Stephen proceeds to recount the main events in the life of Joseph. He speaks about the selling of Joseph by his brothers; how God was with him; and how God gave him favor and wisdom before the Egyptians. Through providence, Joseph’s brothers were delivered into his hands. How did he treat those who treated him so badly? --with kindness. Note the ill treatment of Joseph--how it was brought into stark contrast with the final rescue of the whole family from starvation. This story has an important relationship to Stephen’s later remarks and the reaction of the hearers.

Proceeding on through history, he describes the actions of the lawgiver, Moses. As the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham drew near, Moses was received by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in his household. He was educated in all the ways of the Egyptians; “mighty in words and deeds” (7:22). After forty years shepherding in Midian he returns; with God by his side he withstands Pharaoh; the people are set free. With God’s help he becomes the ruler and deliverer of Israel. To prepare the people for another future lawgiver, Moses informs them concerning the coming Christ -- this same Christ which Stephen defends and they persecute. Despite his wonders and signs, the people reject the leadership of Moses and erect a golden calf to worship. Their hearts turned back to Egypt--back to idols--and Moses foretold of their eventual captivity beyond Babylon.

Having established a connection with the father of their nation, and with their great lawgiver, Stephen proceeds to discuss the actions of their forefathers. They worshipped and served God, first from the Tabernacle and later from the Temple. Stephen, who had been charged with the crime of blaspheming the Temple, shows that the Tabernacle and Temple were mere shadows of something better.

They, like their fathers, had been guilty of persecuting God’s prophets. Joseph, the divinely selected deliverer of Israel, was rejected and sold. Moses, the divinely selected deliverer and lawgiver, was rejected repeatedly. The prophets in succession were likewise rejected and even killed. Now they were guilty of the most devastating rejection of all: they had crucified the Savior -- the Christ of God.

Not surprisingly, the council was touched by his words; they were cut to the heart. With similar pain, the people on the day of Pentecost had cried out for mercy and forgiveness. But the council cries out for the blood of Stephen. Not frightened by their harsh response, he continues to speak, and angers them even further by describing his vision of Jesus standing by the right hand of God. They had heard all they could endure. Gnashing their teeth in anger, they rushed upon him, dragged him outside, and stoned him to death.

We need to consider several interesting side notes about this event. First, the Jews did not have the authority to administer the death penalty. Under Roman occupation, they were required to obtain approval through the Roman authorities. This is why they had taken Jesus to Pilate--to obtain permission to crucify Him. But this time they were so stirred up by Stephen’s words, they did not wait to obtain such permission. Thus, he became the first recorded martyr of Christianity -- the first to suffer death for following Christ.

As a second side note, this event introduces us to a man who would become one of the best-known, most dedicated apostles -- Saul of Tarsus. Yet on this occasion he is helping the persecutors and holding their garments. As a member of the council, he had cast his vote in the matter (22:20; 26:10).

This event clearly shows how important our faith should be in our life. Stephen was willing to let his faith endure the supreme test; he was willing to lose all for the Christ who died for him. He was willing to speak the truth, even under threat of dire consequences. He seems to have forgotten his own personal defense, choosing instead to preach what they needed to hear. He was loyal to the end. Pray that we may all be so.

In the early speeches of inspired men in the church, we see the speakers constantly reminding the hearers of their part in the crucifixion of Jesus (Acts 2:23; 3:14-15; 4:10). They were determined to preach the whole truth, even if it were hard to accept. Peter used many words in persuading the people on Pentecost (2:40). Later he explained the whole truth to Cornelius (10:33). Paul did not shirk his responsibility to proclaim all that was profitable to the saints in Ephesus (20:27). We must do likewise today -- nothing less will save.

Great messages will lead to great results. Do such great messages prevail today? Their messages centered on God, His Son, and His life and teaching. Accepting and obeying this truth brought life to the believers. Any other message would never set them free. If we follow this example, we can touch the world -- to bring light out of darkness -- to bring freedom to those entangled in the bondage of sin and death.

We, like those of old, must “preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). Salvation can be found in none other (Acts 4:12). “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5). In so speaking, all today can likewise hear great messages of salvation.