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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART NINE

SERMON DELIVERED ON 03-17-18

       Last week we concluded with an overview of Peter’s sermon to the gathering that was in Jerusalem to keep the Feast of Pentecost.  This gathering had witnessed the tongues event. They had heard Peter explain this was a fulfillment of a prophecy found in Joel.  We spent some time last week talking about the dynamics of that prophecy.  We also discussed how despite the death of Jesus fulfilling the set purpose of God, those that facilitated the death of Jesus were held accountable for their behavior.

       Getting back to Peter’s response to the Jerusalem audience, he goes on to tell how God raised Jesus from the dead because it was impossible for death to have a hold on Jesus.  Peter then quotes Psalm 16 where David speaks of not being abandoned to the grave. Yet, as Peter points out, David was abandoned to the grave witnessed by the fact his unopened tomb was present and visible in Jerusalem.  Peter goes on to say David had not ascended into the heavens. Therefore, Peter concludes David was prophesying not his resurrection but the resurrection of Jesus.

       Acts 2:29-32: "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.

       Peter says “we are all witnesses of the fact.”  The “fact’ Peter is saying they are all witnesses of is the resurrection of Jesus.  The “we” who Peter says are witnesses of this fact are no doubt a reference to the tongues speakers which probably included the twelve Apostles and possibly others who had seen the risen Christ. While the Scriptures do not reveal anyone seeing Jesus leave the tomb, the Scriptures do reveal that a rather large number of people saw Jesus alive after knowing He had been dead. 

       Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. He appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus followed by an appearance to the eleven Apostles. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that Jesus appeared to over 500 of the brothers at one time.  By saying “brothers,” the indication is that these 500 were followers of Jesus and would have been familiar with the fact Jesus was dead but now new for a fact Jesus was alive. 

       After tying the resurrection of Jesus to a prophecy of such resurrection made by David, Peter tells his audience that he and a number of others have seen  Jesus alive after knowing He had been dead. Peter proceeds to again tie the tongues speaking event to the resurrection of Jesus as well and explains that what they had just witnessed was the giving of the promised Holy Spirit which the resurrected Christ has received from the Father.  In so doing Peter is telling his audience that not only has Jesus been resurrected, He has ascended to the Father and sits at the Father’s right hand and has been given the right to give the Holy Spirit to His followers and has become both Lord and Christ.

       Acts 2:33: Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

       Acts 2:36: Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

       This was a very powerful message. Peter is proclaiming that the man Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had rejected as an imposter and crucified, was now their Lord and Christ.  Being their Lord meant they were now subject to the one they had crucified.  Being their Christ was to say that this man they thought was an imposter, a false Christ, was the real thing. Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah to Israel. 

       By Peter telling his audience Jesus had been exalted to the right hand of God He was telling them Jesus had been glorified and given great power and authority. The very Father God who these Jews worshiped is now seen as exalting the very one they had crucified.  So here is what happened next.

       Acts 2:37-38: When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

       The Greek word rendered “cut” in this passage appears only this once in the NT narrative and means to prick or pierce. By extension it means to pain and sharply agitate the mind and is used in Greek literature to show the emotion of sorrow. Peter had just told this gathering they were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.  Peter concludes his remarks to them by saying, "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

       Put yourself in that crowd of people.  You are aware of the ministry of Jesus. You are aware of the miracles He had performed.  You are aware He taught a high moral standard.  Yet you concluded He was somehow a danger to the status quo and you consented to having Him killed. Now you are presented with evidence that the man you consented to have killed has been raised from the dead and has been exalted and glorified by the God you worship.

       This must have hit these folks like a ton of bricks.  They were filled with fear of what might be the consequences of their misguided behavior. So they virtually cry out to the Apostles, “What shall we do.” What they were really asking was what they must do to be saved from the consequences of their actions.  Peter replies that they need to repent.  First and foremost, they need to change their attitude about Jesus.  They need to acknowledge Jesus is the promised Messiah to Israel. They need to recognize Jesus is God’s agent for salvation. They need to acknowledge that God has indeed made Jesus both their Lord and Christ

       Peter’s call to repentance as recorded in Acts 2:38 has long been seen as one of two passages of Scripture that provide the formula for becoming a Christian. The other passage is found in Acts 16 where Paul and Silas were imprisoned.  You may remember this event.

       A girl who had a spirit of divination had been following Paul and Silas around proclaiming "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She apparently had been doing this for days and Paul became tired of it and cast out the spirit of divination that possessed this girl.  Well apparently this girl had been making a lot of money for those marketing her skills.  When they found she could no longer do this they had Paul and Silas thrown into jail for having taken away their cash cow.

       A violent earthquake shook the jail and all the prison doors flew open.  The chains fell off all the prisoners including Paul and Silas.  When this happened, the jailer was about to kill himself, thinking that all the prisoners had escaped and he would be held responsible and probably be killed by the Roman authorities.  But the prisoners didn’t escape and the jailer fell trembling before Paul and Silas and asked, “what must I do to be saved?"

       Acts 16:30-31: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household."

        Acknowledgement of who Jesus is and what He did on our behalf is the first step in the salvation process.  The crowd asked Peter, “What shall we do?”  The jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?”  Obtaining salvation does involve doing something.  Paul and Silas show what must be done is to believe in Jesus.  Peter provides more details in telling the crowd to repent, be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit.

       How does what happened 2000 years ago apply to us today?  What can we learn from what occurred 2000 years ago?  We can begin by asking, what does it mean to believe in Jesus? Are we just to believe Jesus died for our sins and that is sufficient for salvation to be granted?   Peter told the crowd that God made Jesus both Lord and Christ. What does that mean to us?  What it should mean is just what Peter said.  Jesus is our Lord and Christ.  As our Christ, Jesus is the promised Messiah.  As our Lord, He is the one who defines how we behave. What He taught has validity and application to our lives which means we must adjust our behavior accordingly.  To acknowledge Jesus as Lord is to do what He says.  Jesus made this very clear during His earthly ministry.

       Luke 6:46: "Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?     

       John 14:15: "If you love me, you will obey what I command.

       John 14:23: "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.

       Matthew 7:21: Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

       To believe in Jesus is to embrace what He taught and what He taught was what He received from the Father.  When Peter told the crowd to repent he was telling them to change their attitude about Jesus and what He taught. He was telling them to embrace the behavioral standards Jesus taught and begin to live by them.  That is what repentance is.  It’s to change ones way of thinking and behaving. 

       The second thing Peter told them to do was be baptized.  Baptism is a public demonstration of our repentance and determination to change our behavior and live a new life. Going under and coming up out of the water represents the burial of the old self and the embracing of a new self. It imitates the burial and resurrection of Jesus which is what accomplished victory over death.  Paul shows that the death of Jesus encompasses the death of us all and His resurrection encompasses the resurrection of us all.

       2 Corinthians 5:14:  For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.

       1 Corinthians 15:22: For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

        We all die in Adam.  We die in Adam in that we are sinning mortals and subject to eternal death because of sin.  Paul clearly taught that the wages of sin is death. Christ’s death defeated death on our behalf and through Christ we all die to death. Since Christ never sinned, death couldn’t hold Him and He was resurrected from the dead.  Therefore, through Christ we not only participate in His defeat of death but also participate in His resurrection by being made alive in Christ.

       It must be noted that after Paul wrote that we all die with Christ, he says the following:

       2 Corinthians 5:14-15: For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

       Here Paul clearly teaches that because of what Christ did and our participation in what Christ did, we have an obligation to live for Christ which means we are to be His obedient servants, behaving according to His teachings.

       Peter told the crowd that upon baptism they would receive the Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirit follows repentance and baptism.  Receiving the Holy Spirit is confirmation ones repentance has been recognized by God, sins have been forgiven and we have been given the needed power to be obedient to God’s behavioral standards.  Being given the Holy Spirit also signifies we have eternal life now abiding in us.     

       Ephesians 1:13-14: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.

       After providing the crowd with the formula for recovery from their failure to recognize Jesus for whom He was and their crucifixion of their Lord and Messiah, Peter goes on to say the following:

       Acts 2:39-40:  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

       It is apparent the promise Peter is talking about is the promise of the Holy Spirit which Joel’s prophecy said would be poured out on all peoples.  What does Peter mean by saying, “for all whom the Lord our God will call?” 

       The concept of God calling people has been much debated over the centuries.  What does it mean to be called by God?  Some, who follow the teachings of sixteenth century theologian John Calvin, believe this means that God calls some to salvation and others He does not.  Those He chooses not to call are simply out of luck.  They remain forever unsaved.

       Such a conclusion appears to fly in the face of a number of Scriptural sayings that indicate Jesus died for the sins of the world and that God wants all to be saved.

       1 Timothy 2: 3-6: This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men …..

       1 John 2:2:  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.      

       2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

       When Peter gave his sermon on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given, he made this very profound statement:  “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” Acts 2:21.  Calvinists will tell you that only those being called to be saved responded to Peter’s message  However, Peter goes on to tell this same group: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

       Peter is telling every one in his audience to repent and accept Christ as savior. Peter invited every one he was speaking to, to repent.  He admonished everyone to make the choice to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and have their sins forgiven.  By inviting everyone to whom he was speaking to call on the name of the Lord and repent and be baptized, presupposes that everyone had the ability to accept Christ as their Savior and receive salvation. The calling went out to all, and yet look what happened.

       Acts 2:41: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 

       The implication is obvious. Not every one accepted the message.  Some made the choice to accept the gospel message from Peter and others chose to resist the gospel message even though it is apparent Peter was inviting all those He was addressing at the time.  It would have been the rankest of oxymoron’s to conclude that some that Peter was addressing and asking to repent could not repent because they had not been called to repent.   

       It would appear that when the Scriptures speak of God’s calling and such language is used within the context of offering salvation, to be called by God means to have an open ended invitation to salvation, an invitation that is available to all of humanity and not just for pre-selected humans as taught in Calvinism. 

       Peter now goes on to say¸ “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” Acts 2:40.  It is instructive that Peter virtually pleaded with them to save themselves from the corrupt generation they were living in. What was going on that would make Peter so intense where he is pleading with his audience?  How corrupt was that generation?  We know from what is recorded in the gospels that the Jewish religious leadership was very corrupt.

       All you have to do is read through Matthew 23 to discover how corrupt it was.  In this chapter is recorded how Jesus while at the temple, and in apparent exasperation with the Pharisees and teachers of the law, issued five “woe’s” against them, pointing out their many hypocritical behaviors.  He calls them hypocrites, blind fools, snakes and a brood of vipers.  He concludes His tirade against them by saying the following:

       Matthew 23:35-38: And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.  "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.

       As I mentioned last week, it is generally recognized that Christ saying, “your house is left to you desolate” is Christ saying the temple would be destroyed.  The temple was known as the house of God and by association the house of those who purported to represent God. Jesus had earlier cleared the temple of the money changers and other commercial enterprises telling them they had made God’s house into a den of thieves.

       In Matthew 24 we have recorded what has become known as the Olivet Discourse.  Here Jesus affirms what He had just prophesied in Matthew 23 would come to pass.

       Matthew 24:1-2: Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

       We know from first century secular history that this is exactly what happened. In AD 70 the Romans completely leveled the temple. History records it became a virtual farm field.

       When Peter pleaded with his audience to save themselves from the corrupt generation they were living in, not only was it a time of great corruption among the religious leaders as Jesus reveals, it was also a time of great political unrest.

       The historian Josephus was an eyewitness to the events that led to the war with Rome. He writes of there being much political turmoil in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  There were many political factions and some very aggressive parties known as zealots who believed they could defeat Rome and become once again independent of foreign domination. All this political activity led to the destruction of the temple that had been predicted by Jesus. 

       Last week, I shared a little of the history of what was going on during the war with Rome.  In a work entitled, The Early Days of Christianity, written in 1882 by F.F. Farrar, the author writes this:

       "Fanatically relying on the visible manifestation of Jehovah, while they were infamously violating all His laws, the Zealots rejected with insult every offer of terms.  At last Titus drew a line of circumvallation round the doomed city, and began to crucify all the deserters who fled from him.  The incidents of famine, which then fell on the besieged, are among the most horrible in human literature.  The corpses bred pestilence. Whole houses were filled with unburied families of the dead.  Mothers slew and devoured their own children. Hunger, rage, despair, and madness seized the city.  It became a cage of furious madmen, a city of howling wild beasts, and of cannibals,—a hell.  Disease and slaughter ruthlessly accomplished their work. At last, amid shrieks and flames, and suicide and massacre, the temple was taken and reduced to ashes.  The great altar of sacrifice was heaped with the slain.  The courts of the temple swam deep in blood.  Six thousand miserable women and children sank with a wild cry of terror amid the blazing ruins of the cloisters.  Romans adorned the insignia of their legions on the place where the holiest had stood."

       In Matthew 12:43-45, Jesus had likened that generation to a man possessed of demons.  In Luke 23:28-31, Christ told the women who were weeping for Him as He was being led to be crucified, not to weep for Him but to weep for themselves because of what was to come upon them. 

       In view of what was going on religiously and political at the time Peter stood up and addressed the crowd, it should be pretty apparent it was a time of great unrest in Judea and Peter, being aware of all this, got rather emotional in pleading with the people to repent and not become part of the goings on that was going to lead to a great disaster for first century Israel.  Many responded positively to what Peter and the other Apostles said and in so doing began the establishment and development of the New Testament Church.

       Acts 2:42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

       The Christian church was being established and developed. Much of the rest of the book of Acts is devoted to providing us with the history of that development which we will be reviewing and discussing as we proceed with this series.

PART TEN