Peter’s First Sermon
A Sermon Manuscript on Acts 1:15–22 by Brian Mann
The sermon preached in relationship to this manuscript may be found audio and video here.
Peter’s first sermon existed to teach disciples to rightly view and respond to the apostasy of Judas Iscariot.1 That is, they would be readied to take the world with Christ only after having been taught how to view and and respond to the apostasy of Judas Iscariot.
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Luke has been laying out the things that Jesus was doing to prepare these disciples to take the world. Those going to take the world with Christ had to be absolutely certain that Jesus was raised from the dead and consequently the atonement (vv.1–3). Those going to take the world with Christ had to be clear about the baptism of the Holy Spirit (vv.4–5). Those going to take the world with Christ had to understand the kingdom of God (vv.6–12). Those going to take the world with Christ had to be unified through faith (vv.13–14). And now, those who are going to take the world with Christ must be settled about the apostasy of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our Lord (vv.15–22).
Peter’s first sermon was not at Pentecost, but in preparation for Pentecost, it existed to teach disciples to rightly view and respond to the apostasy of Judas Iscariot.
I. Peter’s first sermon existed to teach disciples
Acts 1:15 ESV “In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said,”
“In those days” encompass the ten days that existed between the ascension and Pentecost (day 50) after Christ’s resurrection. It was “in those days” that “Peter stood up” indicating this was not a mere conversation, but Peter’s first sermon.
“Among the brothers” further indicates the pastoral role, later stressed in 1 Peter 5 “Shepherd the flock among you!” It is clear these whom the apostle Peter is addressing are “brothers” (v.15, 16). They were among the family of God. They were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. The parenthetical statement is of no little importance. “The company of persons” is literally “a crowd of names.”
Their Need to Be Settled About the Apostasy of Judas
More specifically the word “company” means a crowd, throng, or confused multitude (New Testament Word Study Dictionary). This stresses the need these disciples had to be taught, and not merely taught, but addressed in terms of a sermon. “Persons” is more specifically “names” stressing title, character, reputation, person. Whereas these persons had character, they did not have the perfect holy character of God. Whereas these persons had some power, they did not have power to save. Whereas these persons had some authority, they did not have authority to heal. Whereas these persons had a reputation, they did not have a reputation to praise. Whereas these persons had names, they were not a name worth suffering for. For the Lord alone possessed holy character, power to save, authority to heal, reputation to praise, and a name worth suffering for to settle them and ready them for conquering.
Therefore this confused multitude needed the proclamation of Jesus Christ, for which Peter stood. This company in particular needed to be settled about the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. Their confusion needed to be cleared up about Judas for them to go and take the world with Christ. So, Peter stands in the similitude of Paul’s charge in Ephesians 4, that he gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints….so they are not tossed about by every wind of doctrine. They are here to be settled by the sermon, and without which could not take the world with Christ. So, Peter’s sermon exists to teach them. All sermons exist in some measure to do this, to address the need of an assembly of publicly known believers to be settled so as to conquer the world—first their own personal world, and onward.
Their Number Demanding Fulfillment in Their Days
The “120” stresses they were not only publicly known by name, but generally by their number. The number would have likely pointed the original audience to the 120 years count down to the flood in Genesis 6:3, just as judgment was announced that in Nineveh that in 40 days it would be destroyed! Or in Matthew 24 where Jesus spoke of in this generation his judgment on the city would come, which is also about 40 years. Though the 120 year is about persons, not years, the number would have stood out to original readers as significant. It would have shown there were ten from each of the twelve tribes of Israel represented, but one without a leader. There was something missing for God’s work to go forward and judge his and their enemies. This is why they had…
II. To rightly view the apostasy of Judas Iscariot
Only a Christ exalting sermon can settle disciples about such a Christ betraying event at the apostasy of Judas Iscariot. A right view of the apostasy of Judas Iscariot includes for the elect a steadfast trust and serious fear.
Steadfast Trust by Sovereignty
According to Scripture, the confused multitude needed to know that the apostasy of Judas did not outwit the sovereignty of God, commending a steadfast trust. According to Scripture, Peter proclaims that the apostasy of Judas actually confirmed the sovereignty of God.
Acts 1:16–20 ESV ““Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)“For it is written in the Book of Psalms, “‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and “‘Let another take his office.’”
Peter proclaims that the apostasy of Judas was necessary to fulfill Scripture; it “had to be fulfilled” (v.16). It simply “had to be.” Peter says this is because David’s Psalms 69 and 109 originated by the Holy Spirit and spoke concerning Judas who would come centuries later. Judas is said to have become “a guide to those who arrested Jesus” which recalls that Judas had led the Roman government to where Jesus was so as to arrest him. He had left a hole (predicted by Scripture) that would have to be filled. God’s just wrath would fall on this one, for which Peter recounts every detail (v.18). Some have issues with the simple “Judas hanged himself” of Matthew 27:5 and the details mentioned here. The obvious reason that Peter is giving these details is because he is not giving a mere history of the gospel (as important as that is) but preaching the gospel. He is preaching of the great cost of thinking Christ to be anything less than sovereign king and Lord.
Serious Fear of Eternal Suffering
This promotes the second aspect of the view of God’s elect on this event, a serious fear. The emphasis is on “this man” ! Who summarily gained or acquired a field at the cost of his life and soul! Jesus likewise says, “What is a man profited if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?” While the world fears the devil, Jesus states do not fear him who can destroy the body, but fear him who after he has killed can destroy both body and soul in hell! The picture of Judas’ graphic death is to not merely touch the mind, but the heart with the folly of endeavoring to outwit God’s sovereignty. Peter then quotes the Psalms to bookend his case of how the Scripture “had to be” fulfilled. In the first quote from Psalm 69:25, the word “camp” speaks of a shelter for the night with reference to shepherds and flocks. And in the second quote “office” (a word for overseer) speaks of one who was given an office for official leadership of the church. For another to take this man’s office, he had to leave his camp desolate. It is a horrific picture of apostasy that offers no protection from the sovereign God of the universe. This is a picture not of a world out of control, but a world under God’s control. A right view of the apostasy of Judas is one of steadfast trust and serious fear.
III. And rightly respond to the apostasy of Judas Iscariot
Acts 1:21–22 ESV “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.””
The word that was translated “had to be” in v.16 now is translated “must” in v.22. It actually leads the sentence with emphasis in the Greek original to teach us that Peter was proclaiming that just as sure as the apostasy was under the sovereign intentions of God to demonstrate the trustworthiness of Scripture and the certainty of his wrath upon apostates; so also is the response of the faithful absolutely sure.
Thanksgiving for the Word’s Certain Work
“So” indicates what response the church is to take. A sermon is not set forth to offer a suggestion, but to teach compellingly what men must do in light of Scripture. And it will most surely be done just as what Scripture has proclaimed concerning what has been done. Our Lord’s sovereignty extends not only to the past, but to the future. God, in the thought of Augustine, commands what he will, and wills what he commands!
Courage by the Lord’s Life and Resurrection
Specific to the response that Peter proclaims is that of a man (not female) chosen to take the office. And stress is also laid not only on this overseer being a man, but also one who has viewed the whole of Christ’s earthly ministry “beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us” (v.22). And again with emphasis, “one of these men” not women, “must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” Thus bringing us back to the necessity that the early church be readied by the resurrection to go forward to take the world with Christ. The filling of the whole, and healing of the trauma that Judas left, was just as sure as the prediction of the betrayal that caused these things. A right response to the apostasy of Jesus is also predicted by Scripture, so that according to Peter’s first sermon, the confused disciples would be settled about this matter, and take action according to the Scriptures. They would themselves, however positively, play a part in fulfilling the Scripture. Such should promote nothing less than thanksgiving and courage. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ that his truth is stronger than the betrayals of the enemy and his willing accomplices like Judas.
Another way to say this: Peter’s first sermon existed to address the need of a publicly known assembly of believers to correctly view and respond to the apostasy of Judas Iscariot through Scripture.