This morning, we continue our sermon series called ‘Easter to Pentecost - 7 weeks that changed the world’. We return to the account of what happened on the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2; this week looking at Acts 2.37-41. This is the third part of the account Part one described what happened with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the sound of a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire and the supernatural ability to instantly speak fluently in foreign languages..Part two was Peter’s explanation of those events to the watching crowd. He showed them that the coming of the Spirit that day, as well as Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension in the 50 days before it was the exact things that God promised he would do in the Old Testament. Acts 2.21 was a key verse that summed that up:
and it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
And part three (our focus today) is about the crowd’s reaction to Peter’s speech. Let me pray now and ask for God’s help:
Father God, Your word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We ask for your help now to understand and receive your word rightly. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
The focus of our passage is on the crowd’s reaction to Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost. Look at how he landed his speech – Acts 2.36:
“Let all the house of Israel [remember Acts 2.5 – ‘Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven’] therefore know for certain [the resurrection and ascension of Jesus is the reason they can be so confident – Acts 2.32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses] that God has made him [that is Jesus] both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Peter’s speech was all about Jesus! And he leaves his hearers a powerful image of the risen and ascended Jesus who is now, together with God the Father, sending his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit. He highlights two incredible truths about him; first that Jesus is Lord and second that Jesus is Christ.
Jesus is Lord – The Jews had been waiting for God to send them a King. His rule would not just be over a small piece of land in the Middle East. He created the whole universe and was Lord over all people, everywhere whether they realised it or not. Far more powerful than Caesar or the President even of the mightiest nation on earth. He rules over all, and unlike any human Lords, his rule is forever. As we say in the creed ‘On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.’
Jesus is also Christ – send by God the Father to bring forgiveness and rescue to those who rebel against his rightful rule. As the creed also says ‘for us all and for our salvation he came down from heaven’. And His hands still bear the marks of his death on the cross. Jesus is Lord and he is Christ. He rules at the right hand of God with open and loving arms. Jesus is both Lord and Christ. Powerfully pictured for us as Aslan by CS Lewis in the Narnia books (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe):
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
Now Peter isn’t imposing his views on them, he’s proposing with persuasive evidence a truth claim. And they need to make up their minds and respond – and this is the real miracle of Pentecost, we see that this crowd did accept that Jesus is who the apostle Peter says he is. But with that acceptance comes the horrible reality of their situation. Look at Acts 2.37:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
And oh my word is this not a ‘head in your hands’ sort of moment. As they realise who Jesus is, the horror of what they have done to him hits them like a ton of bricks. Jesus is Lord and Christ he should have received a welcome party like no other the world has ever seen. Even to this day middle easterners pride themselves on their generous and warm hospitality and what Peter draws attention to is the shameful way they have treated this most important of VIPs. In Acts 2.36 Peter had compared what they had done with Jesus with what God did with Jesus:
God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.
So, Peter accuses his Jewish listeners of failing to recognise what God was doing through Jesus. His focus here is not to blame the Jews specifically for his death. For a start, it’s is unlikely they were the exact same people who gathered on the day of Jesus’s crucifixion. The point is that his resurrection and ascension which happened as predicted in the Old Testament now leave them, and all of humanity, without doubt as to who Jesus is. And without excuse for the way they have treated Jesus. And so they were cut to the heart. They were very upset. Perhaps not quite the emotion you’d expect for a Pentecostal experience – but that was the sign of God at work in them. And so they cry out this desperate question ‘what shall we do?’
Peter knows the answer to that question. Not because he was better than them. But because he has been there. He too had been cut to the heart. So, let’s pause and look back to what Luke, who wrote the two-part books of Luke and Acts has told us so far about Peter. Peter’s journey with Jesus had begun right back at the start of Jesus’s ministry. Jesus had healed his mother-in-law so he had seen his power and authority first hand. (Luke 4) Peter was an experienced fisherman and one day Jesus borrowed his boat to teach from. Jesus ended that day showing Peter his power over nature through a miraculous catch of fish and calling him to be his disciple. That very day, convinced that Jesus was Lord and Christ, Peter ‘left everything and followed him’ (Luke 5.11). Then Luke tells of that fateful night when Peter had promised Jesus at the last supper that he would be the most faithful of all the disciples. That even if the others fell away under pressure, he would remain steadfast to the end. Later that evening Judas Iscariot was to betray Jesus with a kiss. But he wasn’t the only one, Peter also denied Jesus three times and Luke tells that when he realised how he had treated Jesus, he ‘went out and wept bitterly’ (Luke 22.62). Or you could say He had been cut to the heart. So he knew. He had been there. He too had asked ‘what shall I do now?’
He knew that the first step was to face up to his weakness and failure. To step out of denial and to come clean. To accept that forgiveness was needed because of the way he treated Jesus. Is that something you need to do? Maybe you’re simply side-lining God and not giving time to thinking seriously about whether there is more to life than just the here and now. Or at the other end you may believe in God and know his word but treat his word as advice (some of which you’re happy to go with and some of which you’re not). Or you put Jesus in a ‘Sunday’ box and ignore him in the rest of your life. Or maybe you are a leader in the church who is stealing money, or you’re committing great sexual sin, or your treatment of others is aggressive and bullying. These are just some examples of the ways we fail to treat Jesus as Lord and Christ. John Stott in his classic Christian book ‘The Cross of Christ’ said this:
Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.
What Peter preached on that Pentecost day was not just true for his Jewish listeners 2000 years ago, it’s true for us too. Jesus is Lord. By him, the whole universe and everything in it was created. He makes possible our every breath, our continued existence. There is nothing he does not see and know. And he is the Christ, the promised one, sent by God to deal with a world who have rejected their creator with grace and forgiveness. His brutal crucifixion on the cross is exactly how each one of us treats God, an ugly but accurate diagnosis of the state of our hearts that is beyond our ability to deal with. Peter knows all about that. Not because he was better than them, but because he has been there. So listen closely to the response he invites us to make, it’s there in Acts 2.38:
And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptised 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 main thing Peter calls on them to do is to repent. This word may sound old-fashioned, even to Christians, as it is not really a part of our day-to-day vocabulary. It may sound judgemental, like he’s picking out specific sins the crowd may have committed. Repentance means more than just saying sorry. It is seeing that our current path of rejecting God is wrong, so that we turn from it. It also means seeing that Jesus is a loving and powerful saviour, so we turn to him. Imagine you’re about to leave the house and you realise you’ve forgotten your mask in the kitchen. When you turn back to the kitchen, you also turn from the front door of your house. That’s a picture of turning, of repentance, you turn from one thing, to another.
Both Peter and Judas failed Jesus, one by denying Jesus and the other by betraying him. And in fact, both regretted what they had done. Both expressed great remorse. Both came clean. Both wished they could undo their actions. But they didn’t both repent. In 2 Corinthians 7.10 we read of two possible responses to failure and sin. Real repentance and fake repentance:
godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
These two responses are illustrated by the Judas and Peter. They’re also echoed in the responses of the two criminals Luke tells us were crucified either side of Jesus on the cross. Both thieves recognised their wrong and their need to be saved. One turned to Jesus to deal with his guilt and shame. The other, like Judas, tried and failed to carry the burden himself. What counts is not just recognising that we have failed but dealing with it by turning to Jesus.
Peter knew from first-hand experience that if there was any hope of dealing with his failure, it could only come by throwing himself on the mercy and compassion of Jesus. And so it is with us. We need to run to Jesus with our confession of what we have done and let him deal with it confident that his love for us is vast and his grace towards us is unending. A few weeks ago now, someone posted a photo in a Facebook group I’m in called ‘Classic Photos Of Newcastle And Of The East End’. The group has around 40 thousand members which is pretty huge and all that usually happens is that people post old pictures of our city. One of the images posted caught my eye. It was of an older man, no longer alive I later discovered,, standing on Northumberland Street, the main road through the centre of our city. On his top in huge white letters was written ‘Jesus Saves’. And a poster next to him said ‘repent and turn to God’ which was from Acts 26.20.
Jesus saves repent and turn to God
Imagine that being your message as you faced a crowd of thousands from all walks of life. How would they react? Well, the picture of that man generated 269 comments before the administrators turned off commenting at the request of his daughter and grandchildren who understandably found it hard listening to some pretty nasty responses just a year after his death. I read every one of those comments which in itself was a sad lesson into how unkind social media can get. But it was also fascinating to see the range of reactions. Some applauded him for standing up for his beliefs so firmly and publicly. Some deflected with jokes such as ‘Jesus saves…but given current interest rates he might as well spend’. Some were angry because they felt he was forcing his dangerous views on others. Some felt he must be suffering from, and I quote, ‘severe mental health issues’ or else deluded. Those were just some of the reactions to his simple message Jesus saves repent and turn to God. Which is actually a pretty good summary of what Peter said at the end of his speech on the day of Pentecost. So what is going to be your response? Look again at what Peter says (Acts 2.38)?
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptised 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…”
Notice there were two things for them to do: 1. repent and 2. be baptised. And two things that God would give them: 1. forgiveness of their sins and 2. the gift of the Holy Spirit Note that as well as repenting, they were to be baptised. There was a public and visible sign of what had happened in their hearts. The baptism is not what saved them, it is the normal response for those who have accepted the message about Jesus. It is a public act that says loud and clear what your heart has already done. It says I have decided to follow Jesus. I have now turned to him. I am under new management. The water symbolises washing and being clean, which is what Jesus does for us when we repent and turn to him. If you have repented in your heart, then can I ask have you been baptised yet? For many of us that transition is not immediate, as it was for those in this passage. You may not have a time and date when it happened because it was a process, but if today you know that you are on team Jesus and you have not been baptised then please talk to us about that. And remember, it’s not a sign primarily about what you have done, or what you know. It’s about what God has done for you, so don’t delay till you’re a ‘better Christian’ or till you ‘know your Bible better’ or whatever. Repent and be baptised. There are two wonderful gifts that God gives to those who turn to him. It’s what was promised through the prophet Joel hundreds of years before and quoted in Acts 2.21:
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
If you turn to Jesus in repentance he will not turn you away. It is only in the name of Jesus Christ that we find forgiveness for our sins. That means right now we are set free from the power and the penalty of sin. And as well as our present status before God, it means we are ready to meet our creator at our life’s end and on the coming last judgment. And wonderfully that cleaning from sin, means we are able to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is not a later stage – we are forgiven and receive the Spirit when we turn to Jesus. He comes to live in us and his presence comforts us and his power strengthens us. But this takes us into the next section in Acts, and over the next few weeks we will slow down over the final verses of Acts 2 as we see the impacts of the Spirit in the lives of the 3,000 new believers who received the word and were added to the church that day, knowing that the same Spirit is doing the same thing today as he did back then. But for now, let me end by reading the last few verses of our passage – a reminder that the great news of the gospel is for the whole world (Acts 2.39-41):
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”So those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Thank you for the certainty we can have that Jesus is Lord and Christ. We’re so sorry for all the ways we have sinned against you; for not recognising you as our Lord or treasuring you as our saviour. For not loving you with all our heart and soul and strength and might. We turn to you trusting in your promise to forgive all who repent of their sin and trust in the name of Jesus. Thank you for forgiving us and cleansing us from our sin, and for the gift of your holy spirit who gives us new life as your children. In Jesus name we pray, Amen