John K. Jenkins Sr.: The Apostle Paul’s Secret to Preaching

This article is adapted from a talk John K. Jenkins Sr., pastor of First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland, gave at the 2022 Amplify Outreach Conference. To register for this year’s conference on October 17th & 18th go to

For the past 33 years, I’ve had the privilege of pastoring the church I grew up in: First Baptist Church of Glenarden.  I’m pastoring people who helped train me and raise me. And I’ve learned some things in those 33 years, some secrets, you might say. These are things that have brought about significant change and impact within the church.

Two of these are found in Acts 13, where Paul preaches in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch after being asked if he and Barnabas had “a message of encouragement for the people” (Acts 13:15). He gives everyone a review of the history of Israel and the journey that they’ve gone through. He tells them about how God delivered his people out of slavery, brought them through the period of the judges, settled them in the land of Canaan, and gave them their own kings to rule over them, including David, from whom the Savior descended. And then, finishing his sermon in verse 41, something amazing happened, which blew me away. We read:

“So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.” —Acts 13:42

Now, I’ve been preaching a long time, but nobody has ever asked me to preach the same sermon the next Sabbath. What I want to know is, What did Paul say that caused them to ask him to come back and preach to them again?

On top of this, another amazing thing took place. Just two verses later we see “on the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:44). Everybody showed up: all the seniors, all the young people, regardless of color and background. Almost the whole city came to hear Paul preach. And what did he say? What was Paul’s secret?

There were two things, two significant things I’m not hearing within churches today. Neither of these things are a big revelation. They’re nothing new. They’re just not being said today.

Here’s what Paul said: “Let it be known to you, brethren, that through [Jesus] is preached to you the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 13:38). Forgiveness of sins—let me just stick a pin in that right there. Paul talked about the forgiveness of sins. Today, I hear a lot of motivational messages, and I hear a whole lot of teaching, but I don’t hear many preachers pointing to the fact that we serve a God who has the capacity to do something that nobody else can do: forgive you of your sins. This is very significant.

Forgiveness means to be pardoned. It means to have your debt canceled. It means to be released from the guilt and the shame of what you’ve done. It also means that the sinner is free. And yet, as amazing as this is, we’re not proclaiming it. We’re not telling people like we should that Jesus has the capacity to forgive you no matter (1) what you did, (2) when you did it, (3) how often you did it, and (4) who you did it with. Jesus has the capacity to forgive you no matter what you’ve done.

Adam and Eve needed forgiveness from the very beginning. Cain needed forgiveness for killing his brother. Moses needed forgiveness when he struck the rock and disobeyed God. Saul needed forgiveness since he disobeyed God’s instructions. David needed forgiveness when he killed Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba. Peter needed forgiveness when he denied the Lord three times. Saul of Tarsus needed forgiveness when he assisted in the murder of various members of the church. And if the truth be told, everybody needs forgiveness. Regardless of your economic status, your skin color, your education, your job or your political persuasion, we all need forgiveness—we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

One of the secrets I learned was that the people filling up the seats in our church need to know about the forgiveness of God. And it’s only through putting your faith in Jesus—in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus—that you can receive it.

I’ve been trying to tell my church, “Stop arguing with people about stuff that doesn’t matter.” People are arguing over things that will not determine whether somebody goes to hell or not. Instead, we need to learn from the blind man who received his sight from Jesus, when he said to the Pharisees, “Whether he is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). We are to tell others that once I was on my way to hell, and he forgave me of my sins. I’m free from the guilt of my shame, and I’m so grateful to be forgiven.

The second secret I learned is found in verse 39, where Paul continues:

“And by him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:39)

We don’t hear this message being preached today either, the message of justification.

For a long time, I taught that justification meant that God treated me just as if I never sinned. But I learned that the word justification means more than this. It means that God renders you innocent and holy. God picks us up from our low down, dirty, raggedy, nasty self and elevates us to a status of holiness, which we could never have achieved another way. We don’t get justified by singing in the choir, by being an usher, a trustee or a deacon. We don’t get justified by our sacrifices, by being baptized or paying our tithes and offerings. We only get there by believing in Jesus. And when we believe in him, he makes us holy.

We are not telling people that today. Instead, we’re giving them a list of things they have to do. But that’s not what Paul told people. He said that we are justified when we just put our faith and trust in Jesus and what he did on the cross.

Paul gives us two simple things in Acts 13: We must proclaim the power of the gospel in declaring that God (1) forgives us and (2) justifies us through faith in Jesus. This is the secret I’ve learned. And this is what the Gentiles begged Paul to preach to them again on the next Sabbath, when “almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God.”

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Deryck Barson
Deryck Barson

Deryck Barson is senior pastor at Bethel Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois.