A Church that Acts – Out on a Limb

 

Today we continue with our journey through the book of Acts. As we move along I hope we’ll rediscover the origins, history, divine influences and governing principles which drove the first century church and followers of Jesus through the centuries to follow. Along the way I also hope we will discover some practical lessons which are relevant to our walk of faith today.

Let’s pick up in Acts, chapter 2, following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost but first, a little review.

As I pointed out last week, Jesus left his eleven remaining disciples instructions to wait in Jerusalem until the promised gift from the Father had arrived. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended and filled all those present in the upper room. They spoke in other languages under the influence of the Holy Spirit as was witnessed by many foreigners nearby who heard them speaking in their native tongues. Some wondered at this miraculous phenomenon while others accused them of being drunk on wine.

Let’s pick up, now, in Acts, chapter 2, verse 14,

Acts 2:14-41
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.
15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!
16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Let’s pause a moment here. Peter begins to speak to this diverse crowd which has gathered at the commotion caused by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He begins his explanation for what is happening by reminding the predominantly Jewish audience of the words of one of their own prophets, Joel. Joel declared that there would come a time when God’s Spirit would be poured out on “all people.” (Notice he doesn’t limit this to Israelites and Jews only. Nor is it limited to men only, but to men and women alike.) Peter points out that Joel’s prophecy foresaw that miracles and divine salvation would come when this gift from heaven arrived.

So Peter establishes the context for what they have just witnessed and experienced and it is rooted in their own Jewish history and writings. Then Peter begins to connect the prophecy of Joel with the contemporary events related to Jesus.

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

Peter also connects Jesus to their personal experience. He reminds them that Jesus was a person they had seen and heard. They were familiar with whom he was talking about because they’d witnessed His miracles for themselves.

But then, Peter confronts these Jews as the accusers and executioners of Jesus.

23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.
24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

Peter declares, “You killed Him, but God raised Him from the dead.” At this point, Peter has crossed a line from which he cannot retreat. This raises a question which we should not miss. The question is, “Why would he do that?”

Listen, if you are looking for some proof to help you understand whether or not the scriptures are true; if Jesus was who He claimed to be; consider what these early believers risked. They placed their lives on the line because of what they KNEW! Why should they risk the wrath of Rome and the Jews if they weren’t absolutely certain? Remember, it wasn’t just Peter; there were many other witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, and some who believed without having seen Him, who laid down their lives because of their certainty that He was the Son of God.

So, here’s a reality we will all face: At some point we will be called to answer for the faith we espouse and the truth which dictates the manner in which we live. What we must consider is this, “How will we respond?” Will we mumble and shrink when the pressure is on? Or will we speak with boldness and courage regardless of the consequences?

Let’s continue as Peter, once again, reminds them of their own scriptures which prophesied that one day these very events would occur.

25 David said about him: “‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.
30 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.
31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.
32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

Once again, Peter emphasizes the reality that Jesus was raised from the dead which was verified by their own witness of Jesus alive after having been crucified and entombed.

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.
34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: ***God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly declares that Jesus’ death was on their hands; His crucifixion was their doing.

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 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.
39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Now, there’s an important and powerful transition which occurs at this point in Peter’s message. He has reminded the audience about their history and has linked that history to Jesus. He has unflinchingly pointed the finger at these Jews as the ones responsible for the killing of Jesus. But when asked what should be done to remedy the situation, Peter doesn’t call for revenge or revolt; he doesn’t suggest they be tried in a court of law; he doesn’t leave them to wallow in their guilt. What Peter does is offer them hope and forgiveness.

Repent and be baptized, he declares, and you, too, will receive this Holy Spirit whose power you have witnessed today.

Don’t miss this! The message of the gospel that Jesus died to save us from our sins is not a message of condemnation. It is a message of hope and forgiveness and deliverance. The message we carry into our world every day is that Jesus loves all men and wants every one of us to surrender to His divine Lordship. Our message is not a club to beat others down and it is not a badge to be worn in smug superiority. Our message is the truth of God’s love to be humbly shared with all who will hear.

And here is how Peter’s sermon ends,

40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

What a powerful day in the history of the church! In the power of the Holy Spirit the church exploded in power and influence. The world was literally about to change.

As for Peter the consequences for his boldness were real and ultimately fatal. He was later martyred for His unwavering conviction that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah. He surrendered his life because he would not and could not deny what he had seen and heard and experienced.

How will our faith anchor us when things turn against us as followers of Jesus? Will we run from the threat or will we boldly stand? The difference for Peter and for us will be how surrendered we are to the Holy Spirit.

 

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