Preaching: Oliver Mannay
Part of the audio for this sermon has been lost (at around 18:30 into the recording), but the full transcript is provided here:
Our reading for today comes from Acts 2:14-41, if you can find it ready for us to read in a minute.
This passage delivers a message that can speak to many different areas of our lives. It can make us think about prophecy and salvation, it can make us feel relief at being saved, it can make us feel like strong evangelists or weak failures, and a hundred other things besides.
This passage will show us many things as we study it this morning, but as we read it, I want us to concentrate on awestruck worship. This passage tells us that the sinless God, who could accept nothing less than perfection, sent His Son to die so that we could be wrapped in His perfection and righteousness.
This salvation was planned in full before there were even people to save, and revealed bit-by-bit to us by the prophets over thousands of years. Nothing caught Him by surprise; everything, even down to the agonising death of Jesus, was part of God’s deliberate plan. He never decided that the cost was too high, or that we weren’t worth enough. It would be more than a second chance;
He would make sure that we wouldn’t just be forgiven, but that we would be made righteous through His Son, so that we would be saved forever, even though we would continue to fall countless times.
We can’t take credit for any part of this great salvation, and, before anything else, we must worship the One who not only made our salvation possible, but made it certain.
Let’s read, Acts 2:14-41:
Peter addresses the crowd14 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.”[a]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.23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[b] 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. 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.”[c]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. 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 hand35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”[d]36 ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’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 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. 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.’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 baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Our passage today is a presentation of the Gospel, but it is not an absolute guide on how we should present to the people around us.
God’s word is filled with saving power, but we are still called to use it skillfully, and Peter’s words here were only effective for the audience that he had; in fact, his approach would be quite unsuitable for most evangelistic conversations today, or even then. This was a very unique audience, and Peter had to give a very unique Gospel presentation.
Firstly, these were not unbelievers; they were devout Jews. They didn’t see Jesus as the Son of God, but they believed in God the Father completely.
Secondly, they lived in a time when few people could read or write, so they would have memorised large passages of the Scriptures perfectly, and would have known their Bible history very well.
Thirdly, they were hearing this message at a very significant time: Jesus’ crucifixion had happened comparatively recently, and would still have been on their minds.So we see that Peter took the same approach as we should for our own evangelism: he knew his audience well, and everything he said was carefully chosen to help them understand Jesus as deeply as possible. Clever arguments will never take the place of the Word and the Spirit in saving those who are lost, but our evangelism must still be done carefully and with as much skill as we can offer with the gifts that God has given us. So, while we cannot use this passage as a blueprint for evangelism, we can use it as an excellent example of the difference that a sincere believer with strong Bible knowledge and a desire to reach the lost makes when compared to somebody less careful.So let’s read the first prophecy Peter quotes here:
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.”[a]
This first prophecy is from Joel 2:28-32. It’s quite scary in the way that it turns from nice things to terrifying things so instantly, and we should be humbled by that as we rest on our salvation.The reason things get so serious so quickly is because the pouring out of the Spirit brought in an era called ‘the last days’.
The mystery of it all is why, when the Bible warns us that time is so short, two thousand years have passed without event.
Well, let’s not forget that a thousand years in God’s sight are like a day that has just gone by, or a watch in the night.
It could be today, it could be in ten thousand years but we must remember that, whether Jesus returns in our lifetimes or not, those who are unsaved are still running out of time.
Before we go any further, let’s make sure we understand what verse 17, means when it says,
“I will pour out my Spirit on all people”. Look at the examples in the next verse: sons and daughters, old and young, servant and free, men and women. There is no mention of “believers and unbelievers”; it applies to all of God’s people, and only God’s people, and it applies to them regardless of gender, age, and social class.
When Peter quotes it, in verse 20, he speaks of “The great and glorious day of the Lord”, and Jesus’ second coming will be great and glorious. However, the original prophecy, which would have been in the minds of these people, has a sense of urgency and danger that we must not miss:
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood (the same as Peter’s quote, but, while Peter’s quote says “before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord”, the original prophecy says:)
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And the return of the Lord will be “great and dreadful”. The sun being turned to darkness and the moon to blood are just the early signs of the earth-shattering return of the Lord, who will be completely different to the safe and undemanding “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” that society has in mind when they think of Him. He will return as judge, and none will escape His justice:
3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:3)
The return of Jesus will be a dramatic and terrifying event,and all unsaved people will suffer an eternity of punishment,where the worms that eat them will not die and the fire is not quenched.
Let’s not be fooled by society into leaving out these terrible, but vital, warnings.
So many Christians today think that it’s inappropriate to tell people about the terrors of hell, or the coming judgment, they dismiss any part of the gospel message that speaks of eternal punishment as “fire and brimstone” preaching.
Everybody who is without Jesus at the end of their lives, or on that last day, will face eternal punishment. It won’t get better, it won’t get easier, and it will never end. If we leave this out, the rest of the Gospel message doesn’t make sense: sin is minimised, the good news isn’t “good news” because there’s nothing to be saved from, and the cross looks a massive overreaction on God’s part.
How dare anybody butcher the Gospel message because they don’t think people will like it!
As John Piper said:
“If you alter or obscure the Biblical portrait of God in order to attract converts, you don’t get converts to God, you get converts to an illusion. This is not evangelism, but deception.”
Peter wasn’t leaving out the harsh parts of the Gospel message; these devout Jews would have known their prophets well, and they would have known all about “the great and dreadful day of the Lord”. Let’s take his example, and include some of the terrifying warnings; we needn’t go overboard, but being saved from eternal punishment is a big part of what makes the Gospel such great news for a condemned world. The world will resist us, and we will take people out of their comfort zones, but God will make us strong if we do it in His strength.
To paraphrase C.H. Spurgeon:
We must not change our Bible to suit our society; we must change our society to suit the Bible.
It sounds hard because it is hard. It’s a good thing that God poured out the Holy Spirit on all of us, or we’d never have a chance.
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. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,[d] 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.
These few verses tell us several things: firstly, Jesus was accredited by God to the people through miracles, wonders and signs. It was like God had put His stamp of approval on Jesus for all the people to see. Having been accredited, He was handed over to the Jewish authorities.
To the people, it looked like He was handed over by Judas, but this ‘handing over’ wasn’t done by any man; it was done by God. Judas and the Jewish authorities thought that they took Jesus themselves, but they were wrong. Not only would they have needed God’s permission for it to have even been possible, the only reason they took Him at all was because God had planned it that way. All of the power that they thought they had was nothing; they were only carrying out God’s plan. Remember this the next time you’re afraid: God is in control. You shouldn’t expect to always understand what He’s doing, but not one action in all of creation happens without His absolute control and deliberate choice, and He never gets it wrong.
True faith that stands when everything else is falling apart around us, needs absolute, unbreakable, unshakeable foundations, and for that we need a sovereign God. When Christ was crucified on Friday, God had planned, from eternity past, that He would rise on Sunday. It could be no other way, and the one whom death could not hold, is for us; He is on our side.
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.’[e]
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.
Here Peter gives them David’s prophecy of the coming Messiah from Psalm 16.
While it’s understandable to think that David is talking about himself in this psalm, Peter shows his listeners that, just like the very specific and vivid 22nd Psalm foretold Jesus’ crucifixion as if it were seen through David’s eyes, this passage is also about the Messiah. David knew that “God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on the throne.” This descendant was “not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did His body see decay. God has raised Jesus to life.”
The people, or at least who didn’t immediately reject what Peter was saying as blasphemy would have been amazed, left wondering how they’d known the Psalms so well but yet completely missed the Messiah when He walked among them.
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.”’[f]
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
Here we see the final part of Peter’s argument: the Messiah you and your ancestors have been waiting for since the fall, was the Jesus whom you crucified!
How did the people respond? They responded the right way.
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.”
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.
We already knew that these men were “God-fearing Jews” from verse 5 of this chapter, but this is the first point where we see that they had really been listening; Peter’s words had affected them deeply. This is important to note, because this sincere response from these people was the first evidence of the Spirit being poured out in their lives.
This isn’t some intellectual understanding of what they did to Jesus; they are devastated by it. This looks like more than regret; this looks like repentance. They saw their sin, through Peter’s convicting words, and they were “cut to the heart”; they hated their sin, they wished that they’d never crucified Christ. They turned away from their sin, and turned to Christ.
As we see, about three thousand of them put their faith in Jesus for their salvation. This is important; we need to remember that true repentance leads to the faith that brings salvation. Repentance without faith is just remorse, feeling sorry for what you’ve done. That’s not bad, but it has no saving power. So is faith the real saving power?
Not on its own. Faith without repentance just tries to use Jesus as a way of escaping hell. For salvation, we need both faith and repentance, and we see this in the words and deeds of these three thousand men.
So what applications can we draw from this?
Firstly, whether you know somebody who needs God’s forgiveness, or you need it yourself, God is faithful, and all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Maybe you feel timid about spreading the Gospel. I understand where you’re coming from, and it can be easy to become discouraged, even by the stories you hear from gifted evangelists. It’s easy to believe they never get afraid, always get results, and never look stupid.
Well, that’s simply not true, and they’d be the first to tell you that. None of us can lead people into the Kingdom through our own strength. None of us can convince somebody to turn to Jesus instead of the things of this world. They love them too much and find them too fulfilling. We are not strong enough to do that! Luckily, we have a God whose grace is sufficient for all the things He commands us to do. His power is made perfect in our weakness.
If you look into your own heart for the strength to do evangelism, you’ll only find human strength. We need strength from a better source, a perfect source; we need strength from the Father, and the news is good:
God has POURED out His Spirit on all His people.
Not just a little, but a deluge, a downpour, so much that it overflows. You might not have a specific gifting for evangelism, and you might never see any results in your lifetime, but God is faithful, and His Spirit has been poured out on you. Pray for opportunities, pray for strength and courage to start conversations, pray for wisdom, for the right words to say, and pray that God would use you, weak as you are, to spread the word of this great salvation, regardless of the outcome.
Notice at the end of our passage, Peter spent time warning the people, and pleading with them, “…save yourselves from this corrupt generation”. Even though Peter was obedient and faithful, only “those who accepted his message” were saved. As with Peter, our job is only to deliver the message; the rest is in God’s hands.
Also, we need to take Peter’s example and know our Bibles well. Do you remember the spiritual armour we learned about a few months back? The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. The thing about a sword is that, when you need it, you need it, and you don’t have time to fumble around for it, borrow one off somebody else, or run home to get it. It’s tempting to think of memorising Bible verses as only something that we did in Sunday school, but it’s such a vital part of not only living for Jesus, but also of God’s plan to save the lost; if you were going into battle, you’d make sure your sword was on your hip, ready for action. You wouldn’t put it the bottom of your bag where you’d have to dig around for it.
But do you do that with Scripture? There’s a big difference between the believer who can quote a verse in conversation without the slightest hesitation and the believer who has to flip pages, check the index, run a search on their smartphone, or that admit to the unbeliever: “I can’t remember where it is, but I’ll get back to you with it”. In spiritual battle, we need to strike right there and then; often five seconds is too long to delay. We need to keep our swords sharp and well tended,
not just to defend ourselves against the devil and his demons, but to plunder the devil’s kingdom and rescue the people within.
Peter knew this well. He quoted Scripture to make his points, and the Spirit brought the word to life in the hearts of thousands of the people there. When you talk to unbelievers, give them the best you can give them: give them Jesus! Give them the story of God’s redemption plan; introduce them to the Jesus of the Bible. You’ll probably still need to explain things, and there will be a need for wise words and deep understanding, but begin with the Bible.
Most importantly, remember that you need to preach the Gospel to yourself on a regular basis. It’s not something you need to do to stay saved; true salvation cannot be lost; nobody can snatch you out of Jesus’ hand, but that’s not where it ends: We are called to be sanctified, to become more like Jesus and less like we were, to rely more on Him and less on ourselves. When we preach the Gospel to ourselves, we remember that He saved us completely. We learn to stop relying on rule-keeping, and to rely on Jesus’ work on the cross instead. Over time, He re-trains our hearts to do what is right for His glory, and all the legalism fades away.
We’re also reminded how much it cost to forgive our sins, and what that forgiveness bought for us.
Believer, you are adopted into God’s family; it is as if you were born into that family. You are now a child of God. When you are tempted to sin, you must remember who you are. By preaching the Gospel to yourself, you also see just how much you’ve been forgiven, how completely that sin has been forgiven, and how much that forgiveness cost. It’s a lot harder to act like the unforgiving servant in Mark 18, holding people’s sins against them without forgiveness, when you’re regularly reminded of how much more you’ve been forgiven. The believer who does not forgive has forgotten the Gospel.
When you preach the Gospel to yourself regularly, you see its value more. You see its work more clearly, you see its beauty more fully. The more you see its value, the more you want to share it with others, and the more excited and sincere you’ll be about it. Finally, when you preach the Gospel to yourself regularly, you begin to remember that what you’ve been given in Christ is more valuable than anything else. If you’re saved, you have a gift that is greater than anything this world could ever offer. Think of the greatest thing you could possibly get or experience on this earth: money, power, beauty, adoration, respect, intelligence, strength, property, adventure, anything! The gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ is infinitely better than all of that, and it’s yours! It’s one thing to know that, but it’s another to feel it, to live every day of your life on this brutal, fallen earth, knowing that your future is unimaginably bright. So preach the Gospel to yourself regularly.
Find passages about it. Tell yourself who you are in Christ, and what it cost for you to be redeemed. In doing this, you will grow, you will live for Him, and He will get the glory.