What Did the Resurrection Do for Us? The Sermons of Acts

What Did the Resurrection Do for Us? The Sermons of Acts April 4, 2024

Acropolis Athens close to where St Paul preached
Acropolis Athens close to where St Paul preached image by Adrian Warnock

In every sermon in the book of Acts the resurrection is stressed and the cross is usually just assumed. Much of the preaching of the gospel in our churches today would reverse that emphasis, stressing the cross while assuming the resurrection. As we examine each of these sermons, both to confirm their emphasis on the resurrection and to identify specifically what the resurrection accomplished for us, we will discover just how Christ’s victory over death can impact our lives today.

God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death,
because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

ACTS 2:24

In a famous British comedy sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a group of first-century Jews repeatedly ask, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Each time another positive result of the Roman occupation is mentioned, such as roads or aqueducts, the reply is always, “Well, apart from that, what have they done for us?”

This humorous scene illustrates how easily we can assume things without ever realizing their full impact on our lives. We could similarly ask ourselves, what has the resurrection of Jesus ever done for us? All Christians believe in Jesus’ resurrection, but how does it affect us daily? The significance of the resurrection may be much greater than we fully appreciate.

As I studied the apostles’ preaching in Acts, I discovered something of a parallel with this piece of comedy. Each sermon makes Jesus’ resurrection its focus, but it also highlights a particular aspect of what the resurrection accomplished. Sermon by sermon, line by line, I found myself saying something like, “Well, yes, I suppose I did realize that Christ’s resurrection did do that for me.” But prior to that study I had spent much more time thinking about what Jesus’ death had achieved. While his resurrection was in the back of my mind, I was inclined to simply feel glad that Jesus was no longer dead, rather than giving much thought to how the resurrection might impact me personally.

You may find yourself in a similar position. Like the Monty Python characters, you may already be vaguely aware of the things accomplished by the resurrection of Jesus. But like me, perhaps you haven’t firmly grasped how crucial the resurrection is to your salvation.

Paul tells us, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Without the resurrection there is no salvation. The cross functioning alone, apart from the resurrection, would have no power to be of any benefit to us.

We will now examine each occasion in Acts when the apostles addressed the crowds to discover how these resurrection-focused sermons answer this question: What are the implications of the resurrection for us?

We could rephrase the question like this: What is the resurrected Jesus doing for us now? Before the crucifixion, Jesus promised, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Although hidden from public view, Jesus is alive, and his work is far from over. The sermons in Acts, taken together, are recorded to help us understand just how active he is.

Luke could easily have titled his second book, “The Ongoing Acts of Jesus.” We see this from the opening verses, which refer to the Gospel of Luke: “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up” (Acts 1:1–2). The implication is that in this, his second book, he will deal with all that Jesus continued to do during the early years of church history.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the bodily resurrection of Jesus to the apostles and the early church. The church was birthed through the resurrection of Jesus. Before the resurrection they were ashamed, terrified, and disorganized and had deserted Jesus. The resurrection and subsequent empowering with the Spirit transformed them forever.

Remember that Jesus’ disciples had been brought up as Jews. Without the reality of the resurrection it is unthinkable that they would change so much about the faith they had inherited. They began to
worship a man as God, ate forbidden foods, and even changed their main day of worship. Only the resurrection could have led them to change their meeting day from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) to a weekly celebration every Sunday to mark the day Jesus rose again.

The early believers reportedly met before dawn on Sunday mornings. As they watched the sunrise, it would mirror to them the glorious rebirth of creation begun by Christ’s victory over death. But more important than all those changes is the fact that the disciples had a very simple message for their early listeners, one that focused almost entirely on the announcement that Jesus had risen from the dead. It’s not surprising then that the apostles’ job description at the beginning of Acts is simply, witnesses to his resurrection (Acts 1:22).

Although we may not be eyewitnesses of the resurrection in the way the apostles were, our task is to proclaim this same message: Christ is risen! Yet today we often don’t seem to emphasize this aspect of the gospel. We can learn much, therefore, from the style and content of the sermons in Acts.

The apostles were preoccupied by the resurrection and emphasized it much more than the cross. We need to be careful here, as Luke does not record complete accounts of everything that was said, and the apostles were aware that their listeners had already heard of the death of the man from Galilee. Luke summarizes their preaching style: “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33).

In every sermon in the book of Acts the resurrection is stressed and the cross is usually just assumed. Much of the preaching of the gospel in our churches today would reverse that emphasis, stressing the cross while assuming the resurrection.

As we examine each of these sermons, both to confirm their emphasis on the resurrection and to identify specifically what the resurrection accomplished for us, we will discover just how Christ’s victory over death can impact our lives today.


On the Day of Pentecost, Peter addressed a crowd of people gathered in Jerusalem who were bewildered by the coming of the Holy Spirit. He began by explaining this and then turned to speak of the death of Jesus. Nowhere in this address did he assert that it is the death of Jesus that brings us salvation. Instead, a significant part of his sermon focused on the resurrection, beginning with, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). Peter referred to two of the psalms of David that predicted the resurrection of Jesus.

But perhaps the most surprising aspect of Peter’s sermon was when he said, “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (v. 33).

This set the pattern for the remaining sermons preached in Acts. Peter was not content to merely tell his listeners that Jesus was raised. Rather, he told them about the implications of that resurrection for them. The risen Christ had done something wonderful for them—he had poured out the Holy Spirit! That act was explicitly connected with Jesus having been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God, where he then received the Spirit from the Father and poured him out (v. 33).

Peter stated that the resurrection of Jesus was necessary to enable believers to receive the Holy Spirit. He went on to state that this promise is now available to all believers. This has enormous implications for Christians today. We have seen, then, in this first sermon in Acts that the sending of the Holy Spirit was a direct result of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Here Peter once again used the resurrection as the climax of his sermon and linked it directly to a healing: “And you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:15–16). The power of Jesus’ resurrection was revealed through a miraculous healing.

Jesus was described here as “the Author of life,” which raises the question, how could he then have died at all? Peter didn’t answer that question but instead declared boldly that this source of all life could not be restrained by any tomb and was raised to life by God. Having experienced death, Jesus is now alive and has defeated death and sickness. Jesus is not a departed dead hero. He is still with us, victoriously alive and fully active. When Peter used terms like “faith in his name” and healing being given “through Jesus,” he was effectively saying, “We are not the ones who have done this; rather it was Jesus whom you killed and who has now been raised. It is he who has done this!”

Peter claimed that this healing was a direct result of faith in Jesus, who would be powerless to perform miracles if he was still rotting in a tomb somewhere in Palestine. Later, when challenged by the Jewish leaders regarding the healing, Peter emphasized that it was through the crucified and now resurrected Jesus that this man had been healed: “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well” (Acts 4:10). Healing is repeatedly described as a direct result of faith in the resurrected Jesus. Because of the resurrection, Peter was saying, the man Jesus, who was crucified, was still able to heal as he did during his earthly ministry.

Peter’s emphasis was also on the direct link between salvation and the resurrection. When Peter first responded to accusations about this healing of the lame man, he said, “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness” (Acts 3:26). Peter stressed the fact that Jesus was raised and still had work to do. Conversion is not described as an act of man in response to hearing about the death of Jesus but rather as an act of the resurrected Jesus himself. God raised him from the dead so that Jesus could save us.

Peter’s second speech to the council regarding the healing of the lame man had a similar emphasis: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11–12).

Despite his death, Jesus is now the most important being in the universe, “the cornerstone.” Not only that, by saying our salvation is “in” Jesus, Peter was referring to a recurring New Testament theme—we are saved by being united with or hidden in Christ. Peter pointed out that our salvation is possible only in union with the risenChrist. Jesus, crucified, was like a rejected stone, and having been raised to life he is now the bedrock of our salvation. Peter again showed that Jesus is still active in saving us by stating that it is in the “name” of Jesus that we are saved. He could have said, “Thanks to the death of Jesus, it is now possible for us to be saved.” Instead, however, he said something like, “Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, he now has the power and authority to save us.”


Peter later found himself again in front of the Jewish leaders following an arrest and an angelic release. Peter referred to conversion as being a direct act of the resurrected Jesus when he said, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30–31). It is the risen and exalted Jesus himself who grants us repentance and proclaims our forgiveness. He is the Leader and Head of his church. The risen Christ is building his church. We are under his authority. When things do not seem to be going according to plan, remembering that Jesus is in control gives us the faith we need. We do not serve the memory of a dead teacher; rather we serve at the pleasure of a risen Master.


In Acts 7 the resurrected and ascended Jesus appeared to Stephen who had been arrested and called to give an account of his actions to his captors before being stoned to death. Stephen preached a sermon that confronted the people with their role in the death of Jesus. They were enraged at what he had said and ground their teeth at him. It does not appear that he had finished his speech, but Jesus interrupted the proceedings, and as Luke tells us, “He [Stephen], full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’” (Acts 7:55–56).

The risen Jesus supplied Stephen with an extraordinary confidence that he would be welcomed into heaven by his Lord. Jesus empowered Stephen to pray both for his persecutors and for himself and then to cry out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). Jesus often provides such glimpses, even if on a less dramatic scale, to believers before death. The remarkable assurance of many martyrs at the time of their execution is legendary, and many of them spoke with absolute certainty that Jesus would receive them into heaven. The resurrection of Jesus brings comfort and boldness and confidence, even when facing death.


The resurrection of Jesus also led to the commissioning of great messengers of the gospel, not least the apostle Paul (also called Saul). Having appeared to Stephen, the risen Jesus now specifically answered his dying prayer—that his persecutors would be forgiven. The glorified Jesus personally confronted one of these tormenters, a young man who had stood watching while Stephen was being stoned. On the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Saul, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He then identified himself, saying, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:4–6).

Saul, the persecutor, was arrested by the persecuted. The Lord Jesus told Saul that by oppressing his church, he was opposing Christ himself. This is a stunning confirmation of the union between believers and their risen Lord. The relationship between Jesus and his people is so intimate that they are often described in the Bible as his body. When Saul persecuted and killed members of Jesus’ body on earth, their Head in heaven felt the pain.

It is not possible to understand Saul’s transformation from persecuting Pharisee to passionate preacher without this encounter with the resurrected Jesus. This simple statement about Jesus summarizes Saul’s first proclamation: “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). The use of the present tense here is a claim for the resurrection. Paul did not say, as the centurion who witnessed Jesus’ death did, that he “was the son of God” (Mark 15:39), which would imply that Jesus was still dead.

In this whole event we see the risen and glorified Jesus implementing his authority as Head of the church, putting an end to a period of suffering, and calling the church’s greatest human enemy to become one of his greatest ever servants. Jesus commissioned Paul as a messenger of the good news of his resurrection.


Peter was sent to Cornelius’ house by a divine command and subsequently began to preach to the Gentiles. He described another effect of the resurrection of Jesus: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people, but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:39–42).

Again, as a direct result of the resurrection, Jesus commissioned and still sends messengers into the world to declare the good news. Before his ascension he promised that he would be with us always to ensure that the gospel would be preached and his mission fulfilled (Matthew 28:18–20). Throughout church history Jesus himself has been sending messengers to preach the good news of salvation. They may not have seen the risen Jesus with their own eyes or had a call as dramatic as Peter’s or Paul’s, but they were, nonetheless, certain that Jesus had appointed them too. Lives are dramatically changed today because Jesus himself still calls, commissions, and sends his messengers into the world to share the good news. Without a call, there would be no preachers. Without people who are willing to share the message with both individuals and multitudes, there would be no church (see Romans 10:14–15).


Paul’s first recorded public address occurred during the second stop of his first missionary journey. He built further on the idea that salvation comes through the inherent power of Jesus’ resurrection. We have already seen that forgiveness is through and by Jesus. We now also see that the believer can be made free: “He whom God raised up did not see corruption. Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:37–39).

The word “freed” here is often translated as “justified,” and it is only because of the sentence structure that translators conclude that here it means freed.[1] This helps us to see that for Paul, salvation is not just about being declared righteous, it is also about being set free.

This echoes Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he says:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (8:1–4)

There are two specific things from which we are freed—the power and the consequences of sin. There seems little doubt, therefore, that when Paul spoke of our being “freed” in Acts 13, he had in mind not a theoretical freedom, but one that enables us to live godly lives. In other words, in addition to justification, he is referring to the progressive freedom from the drive to sin. Theologians call this sanctification. We are actively freed from our bondage to sin by what Christ has done for us, and thus righteous living becomes possible. The same Jesus who died to bear the punishment for our sin lives to ensure that we are transformed daily into ever-increasing holiness.


Luke records a useful summary of Paul’s entire preaching ministry: “He reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ’” (Acts 17:2–3).

In this summary the death and the resurrection of Jesus are mentioned together. It is one of the rare occasions in Acts where Jesus’ death is given equal prominence with the resurrection. We also see that the Old Testament Scriptures were used. The aim is again to announce an event or tell a story. Although the apostles did preach about what this story has done for us, the overriding emphasis in all of these messages has been to announce the news and to introduce listeners to a living person who can save them.


An intriguing misunderstanding in Athens provided a fascinating glimpse into the centrality of the resurrection to Paul. Mistakenly, some who heard him concluded, “‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18). Many have argued that the Athenians believed he had preached about two gods, “Jesus” and “Resurrection.” This confused notion is amusing and demonstrates the prevalence of the word resurrection in Paul’s preaching.

Later in the same chapter we have the famous address by Paul to the Athenians, which took place at the Areopagus or Mars Hill. Much attention is given to Paul’s ingenious attempts to engage his audience by speaking in a way relevant to his culture. The whole missional approach to cultural engagement is in large part based on this event. We must, however, also pay attention to the conclusion of this message:

[God] commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31)

Jesus has been given a role that he obviously could not have performed had he remained dead. It will be Jesus himself—the one who can sympathize with all our weaknesses, having lived as a perfect man—who will be judge of the world. We can know this for sure, argued Paul, because Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead. How thoroughly we are convinced of the truth of the resurrection is directly related to how confident we are about our salvation. Our belief in the reality of the resurrection gives us confidence in the truth of the gospel.


Many preachers love to refer to Acts 20:7–12. Paul, knowing he was leaving the church he had fathered, gave them the greatest gift he could. He was passionate about declaring and explaining God’s Word and therefore spent a long evening preaching to them. As a result, his teaching stretched on until midnight, and a young man sitting in a third-floor window fell asleep; he tumbled out of the window and was killed. After raising the young man back to life, Paul returned to his preaching and continued until morning.

This story has offered encouragement to preachers who like to give long sermons, and it has been heartening to know that even Paul could talk in such a way that one of his listeners dozed off. But as someone responded when I cited this story as a potential excuse for longer sermons, “By all means, preach long sermons, provided you can raise the dead!”

Dorcas, a much loved believer, was also raised from the dead in Acts 9:36–42. In both of the cases in Acts, news of these resurrections had a similar effect to hearing the news of Jesus’ resurrection. In the Acts 20 story, people “were not a little comforted,” while in Acts 9 “many believed” as a direct result of this news.

Christian preachers and all of us who want to share the good news with others individually should emulate the sermons of Acts, stressing more often than we do the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and is alive today. There is a great potential for an increase in faith when this news is proclaimed.


The importance of resurrection to Paul was also shown by his shrewd but accurate declaration during his trial in Jerusalem: “It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial” (Acts 23:6). This was shrewd because it caused an argument between his accusers.

Later, when Paul was before a Roman judge in Acts 24, he similarly said, “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust” (vv. 14–15). This statement implies that there will be a future judgment of all people by God.

After listening to his defenses, Paul’s Roman judge had a clear understanding of the difference between Paul and his Jewish accusers. That distinction remains the crucial factor which distinguishes the Christian from the unbeliever:

They had certain points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. (Acts 25:19)

A Christian is someone who asserts that Jesus was dead but is now alive and that because of this fact we can be saved. The question asked at the opening of this chapter was, what, in light of all these sermons, has the resurrection of Jesus made possible for us?

We have seen in the previous pages that if Jesus had not been raised, none of the following things would have been possible:

  •  The sending of the Spirit (Acts 2:33)
  •  Physical healings (Acts 3:15–16)
  •  The conversion of sinners (Acts 3:26)
  •  Salvation by union with Jesus (Acts 4:11–12)
  •  Jesus’ role as the leader of his church (Acts 5:30–31; 9)
  •  Forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:30–31)
  •  Comfort for the dying (Acts 7)
  •  The commissioning of gospel messengers (Acts 9; 10:42)
  •  Freedom from the penalty and power of sin (Acts 13:37–39)
  •  Assurance that the gospel is true (Acts 17:31)
  •  Our own resurrection (Acts 17:31)
  •  Jesus’ future judgment of this world (Acts 17:31)


In summary, because of his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has brought God close to us. He remains active and is very much at work in the world through his Spirit. A heavy emphasis is placed on Jesus’ resurrection throughout the book of Acts. We find the apostles proclaiming that because of the resurrection we can be saved. This is in strong contrast to much preaching today that stresses that Jesus saves us through his death. Of course, the apostles faced a different environment where people would have known of Jesus’ death. It was only the resurrection that was shocking news, and we do only have summaries of these messages.

It is not too much of a stretch, however, to agree with Ladd who says, “The whole gospel is encapsulated in the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus.”[2] We should never neglect to stress how Jesus died and bore the punishment for our sins. But without any declaration that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and is now reigning, the biblical gospel has not been preached at all.

In Acts, the emphasis on Jesus’ resurrection as the source or foundation of salvation is so strong that we might wrongly conclude that the death of Jesus was almost incidental to our salvation. But Acts is not ignorant of the importance of the cross for our salvation. For example, when Paul speaks to the Ephesian elders he speaks of Jesus’ church “which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Conversely, we would be wrong to contrast the theology of Acts negatively with that of the epistles, which some have used to argue that it is the cross of Jesus, rather than his resurrection, that saves us. As we saw previously, when the New Testament writers refer to either the death or resurrection of Jesus they usually mean to infer both.[3] In the next chapter we will explore how both the cross and the resurrection are intertwined in producing our salvation.




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Chapter One:

Chapter Two:

Chapter Three:

Chapter Four:

Chapter Five:

Chapter Six:

Chapter Seven:

Resurrection in the Gospels

Chapter Eight:

What Did the Resurrection Do for Us? The Sermons of Acts





[1] See Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, electronic edition (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1992, 1993, 2000), G1344. The same structure is used in Romans 6:18.


[2] George Eldon Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1975), 41.


[3] See Chapter 5.


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