February 7, 2024

The Third Greatest Sermon

Justin Kim

Some were too short, too long, or too technical; others were too irrelevant, too confusing, or too simplistic. Unfortunately, I have heard more “bad” than “good” sermons. That’s when I tell myself that there’s no such thing as a “bad” sermon, and force myself to pay attention, mumbling that there’s always some lesson to glean in every sermon.

While enduring in the pew, I think of the great sermons throughout Christian history. Like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eloquence and cadence in his “I Have a Dream.” Or Jonathan Edwards’ zeal and fear in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I think of such godly preachers as Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Billy Graham. I think of celebrated Adventist preachers, such as C. D. Brooks, H.M.S. Richards, and George Vandeman.

Turning to the titular topic, I offer that the third greatest sermon is by Peter in Acts 2. It is only 26 verses long. Thirteen are direct quotes from the Old Testament, while 11 are explanations of these 13. The final two are an appeal. In other words, a sermon that is comprised of 50 percent Bible readings, 42 percent explanation, and 8 percent appeal has the potential to convert 3,000 souls (verse 41). No Chicken Soup stories, no video illustrations, no pop theology. How? You may say that obviously the Holy Spirit empowered the message. Without a doubt. But there was something else special about Peter’s message.

A. The message had an appeal. Peter declared, in verse 38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you . . .” (KJV).The followers continued steadfastly in the apostle’s teachings, and Acts describes one of the most ideal community fellowships in Scripture (verses 42-47)—all because Peter made a call.

B. The message was biblical. It was a message based on the Bible and explained what the Bible meant. Many sermons today yearn to be biblical, but merely moralize or state a denominational position without actual Bible study. Others eschew biblical content, using only stories meant for little children or more primitive audiences. They are often, too, filled with anecdotes, popular religious thought, and conventional and socially acceptable morality.

C. The message was Christocentric. It was all about Jesus, who He was, what had happened to Him, and, most important, where He was then and still is today—in heaven. More than about the Spirit, Pentecost was the day Jesus, now enthroned at the right hand of God, issued His first act as Sovereign of the universe: to send forth His Holy Spirit to His disciples. “After Christ’s ascension His enthronement in His mediatorial kingdom was signalized by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.”* Too many sermons do not lift the work, ministry, and character of Jesus. “Present truth” isn’t just theology or promoting some behavior; it is a Christocentric message on what Jesus is doing in heaven—right now.

What are the first and second greatest sermons, then? I think of Jesus’ sermons, which I argue were the second greatest messages preached. Whether the Sermon on the Mount, His Olivet Discourse, or any other sermon from the four Gospels—they are core teachings to every disciple and impact the Christian and non-Christian alike.

But the greatest sermon is the humble simple life of a sinner converted to the gospel. It is one not assigned to angels, but tasked to human beings. A life manifesting the appeals of Scripture, based on the Bible, centered on Christ, and preached with more than just words is God’s greatest sermon.

* Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900, 1941), p. 120.