Key text: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).
Main point: The Holy Spirit empowered the disciples to continue Jesus’ ministry as they preached the gospel to large crowds.
Many today are familiar with mass evangelism through the ministry of Billy Graham. He began preaching in small revival tent meetings more than a half a century ago, eventually preaching in capacity-filled stadiums, reaching millions at a time via technological advances that were not available until recently. Giant-screen monitors and multi-translation channels in metropolitan areas across the globe can bring the gospel message from one evangelistic event to millions of viewers simultaneously.
However, mass evangelism, that is, the staging of a large evangelistic campaign usually in the thousands through the involvement and support of local leaders and churches, is no recent innovation. The American frontiers in the 18th and 19th centuries brought out thousands of people at a time to hear such great orators and preachers of the gospel as John Wesley, George Whitefield, Charles Finney and Dwight Moody. Vast crowds gathered for evangelistic revivals in large church buildings, in town squares, in open fields outside of cities and towns, and in camp meetings miles into the wilderness. Over the time of their great preaching careers, each of these preachers reached millions of hearers! Technology is a servant of the gospel, but certainly not its power, for these preachers had no access to modern means of transportation and had no amplification systems, radio or other electronic media.
According to the apostle Paul, it is the message of the gospel that is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). According to the apostle Peter, it is the Holy Spirit who enables the preacher to speak the gospel with authority and power (Acts 2:33, 38), and it is only by the Spirit than anyone can understand and believe (1 Corinthians 2:10-15).
Jesus often ministered to multitudes of people numbering into the thousands (Matthew 14:21; 15:38). Jesus’ best-known sermon was most likely given in the presence of crowds numbering several thousand (Matthew 4:25, 5:1). The disciples’ first public ministry after Jesus’ resurrection was mass evangelism. The crowds numbered in the thousands, out of which 3,000 accepted the gospel! This was orchestrated by the Holy Spirit, not by extensive planning on the part of the disciples for an evangelistic “campaign.”
Mass evangelism is still an effective tool for the church today. As we will see, it is not so much of getting the event planned to the last detail, although that has its place, but getting the message right. You can gather thousands of people into a stadium, but if the message is not there, then you do not have an evangelistic event. The power is in the message, and the message is the good news that Jesus Christ died on a cross and paid for the sins of the whole world, qualifying everyone for the gift of eternal life in relationship with our Creator. Hallelujah!
Questions for Bible study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. Acts 2:1-13
a. What was the day of Pentecost? Verse 1. See Leviticus 23:15-22. Note: The old covenant festival fell on a Sunday, and its new covenant fulfillment is understood here as the birthday of the church, the new harvest of firstfruits.
b. What phenomenon took place where the disciples were gathered? Verse 2. What is the sound compared to? See John 3:8.
c. What second phenomenon happened? Verse 3. What comparison is made? See Exodus 19:18. In later Jewish tradition Pentecost is also the anniversary of the giving of the Law at Sinai (Exodus 19:1), where the presence of God is depicted by fire.
d. What third phenomenon occurs? Verse 4. What had John and Jesus foretold would happen? See Mark 1:6-8; Acts 1:4-5. The advent of the Holy Spirit in this manner was a unique event. Spirit-baptism is now given to everyone the moment they believe (1 Corinthians 12:13).
e. Who were in Jerusalem at the time, and what reaction did they have at what they heard from the lips of the disciples? Verses 5-6. The scene has changed from the temple precincts to the streets and into the temple court. The disciples’ prophetic words – associated with the reception of the Spirit – are human languages (a reversal of the curse at the Tower of Babel).
f. What miracle has occurred so that the crowd is completely amazed? Verses 7-11. What two reactions unfold? Verses 12-13. Why?
g. How do all these events help the disciples prepare for the evangelistic event about to take place? How is this similar to preparing for a large event today? How is it different?
2. Acts 2:14-36
a. What is Peter’s immediate purpose in addressing the crowd? Verses 14-15. It was only nine in the morning, a rebuttal to verse 13.
b. What is the explanation for the strange phenomena of that Sunday morning? Verses 16-18. The first part of the early apostolic message stressed the arrival and fulfillment of the messianic age.
c. What is the meaning of the extended quote from the prophet Joel in verses 19 and 20? Scholars debate whether these verses were fulfilled: 1) at the crucifixion, 2) at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, or 3) still to be fulfilled in the future at the Second Coming.
d. What good news fulfillment does this last quote from Joel point toward? Verse 21; Acts 4:12. Here the sacred name Yahweh is applied to Jesus, emphasizing his full deity and equality with the Father.
e. How does Peter present the gospel to his audience? Verses 22-24. In your own words, give the details of Peter’s Christ story. (The second part of the early apostolic proclamation is the retelling of the death and resurrection of Jesus.)
f. What Scripture texts does Peter offer to prove his point? Verses 25-35. Can you follow Peter’s argument and explain? The third part of the early apostolic message was the scriptural proof of Jesus’ messiahship.
g. At the end of his apostolic sermon, what conclusion does Peter give? Verse 36. Why?
3. Acts 2:37-47
a. How did the people react after they heard the message? Verse 37. How did Peter conclude his message? Verses 38-39. The fourth and final part of the early apostolic message was the call to repentance.
b. What were the results of this evangelistic speech? Verses 40-41. What were the results at Sinai? See Exodus 32:28. Why? How important is it to get the message right?
c. What follow-up was available to those who accepted the gospel message? Verses 42-47. From these verses, can you discern the major purposes of the church? The church was just born, but it knew what to do: preach, disciple, fellowship, serve, and worship.
1. Have you or your local church ever been involved in an evangelistic program where thousands attended? Were you trained to share the gospel?
2. Have you seen an evangelistic event on television? What points were emphasized in the message? How does this differ from a “counterfeit” show?
One way to reach the lost is through mass evangelism. Multitudes are still being drawn to stadiums and arenas to hear the good news that Jesus saves sinners. Let’s endeavor to participate with the next event that is organized in our area.
Author: Lorenzo Arroyo