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The courageous coward and the convicting call

Back to all sermons Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Date: July 1, 2018

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Living the mission of God: the book of Acts

Scripture: Acts 2:14–2:41

Two weeks ago, we started our journey through the book of Acts, the account of the beginning of the church. So far, Jesus has risen from the dead, ascended to heaven, and now the Holy Spirit has been given to the disciples at Pentecost, as Jews from all over gather for this annual feast to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest and the giving of the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai many years ago. After the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples, they tell the wonders of God in other languages, and a crowd of Jews and God-fearers has gathered, wondering what is going on. In verse 14, Peter begins to speak.


Acts 2:14-41 - 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 men 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 heaven 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.'  22 "Men of Israel, 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 set purpose 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.  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 live in hope,  27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you 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 "Brothers, 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 ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.  32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  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 Christ."  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.


In v. 12, the crowd asks “what does this mean?” And in this passage, Peter explains what is happening. I want to focus on four parts of this experience today: the courageous coward, the cosmic context, the central character, and the convicting call.


  • First, the courageous coward


When the crowd asks, the man who gets up to speak is Peter. I don’t want us to forget who Peter is and what has happened to him in the past 50 days. Peter was the boldest disciple, but when Jesus was arrested, he cowardly denied knowing Jesus three times and was crushed in his spirit and returned to being a fisherman. After the resurrection, however, Peter was reinstated by Jesus, and now here He is:  broken, humble, yet just as courageous, filled with the Holy Spirit, preaching about Jesus.


Some of you have failed. Some of you have been broken. What if he had refused to receive Christ’s forgiveness over him? This is why Jesus just died!!! He died for your sins. There is no more penalty left for you, only His grace. Repent and receive His forgiveness.


Others of you could learn from Peter’s boldness. After all, they just executed his Lord 50 days ago, and here he is, in Jerusalem, preaching and telling them that they put Jesus, the Messiah, to death! And he is unafraid. How does the gospel make us bold?


Romans 8:31-39 - What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-- more than that, who was raised to life-- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


He died for us, he rose again to conquer sin and death, and he has ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. What can anyone do to us?


  • Second, the cosmic context


Notice that Peter grounds what the crowd is seeing in the larger context. Specifically, he points to Joel’s prophecy and to David’s words in the Psalms before talking about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the future judgment.


The first thing is that Peter explains that what they are witnessing is a fulfillment of prophecy from Joel 2:28-32. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit means that the last days are here, (what theologians call the eschatological age), and the promises of the Old Testament era are being fulfilled in the lives of those who follow Jesus. Most significant is “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.” God’s presence and power is here, and His Spirit has been given to all people receive the spirit, regardless of age, sex, or rank. This brings to mind Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28-29 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.


My experience with the Hartford Project last week – no barriers, men and women, young and old, different races and ethnicities teaching and serving and worshiping to the glory of God.


Everything points to Jesus. The whole Bible testifies to Jesus. God created us to enjoy fellowship, we rebelled, sin separated, God called Abraham, then Israel, they broke the covenant, but God promised a Messiah who would come to save the people and restore them to fellowship with Him. And now that He has done this, they are in the final stage, the church age, where God lives in His people by His Holy Spirit. Everything we preach points to Jesus and finds its fulfillment in Him.


  • The central character


Peter goes on to proclaim to them that Jesus is Messiah, and that they have killed him. We know this is true, he says, not only by his miracles but by resurrection. Peter spends 11 verses talking about the resurrection, and I think this is important. Often we try to convince people they need God by appealing to felt needs, by appealing to their need for significance, love, security, fears gone, hope for the future. And that is all good. But of course, others find that elsewhere – “that works for you, but not for me.” But Peter doesn’t do felt needs preaching. He just preaches that Jesus rose from the dead, which reveals Him as Lord and Savior of the world. And that demands a response.


I believe that you need to understand the proofs for resurrection, because it’s the greatest argument for the truth of Jesus and the Christian faith. The greatest book to read on this subject is NT Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God; other, easier books to read that devote a chapter to the resurrection include Tim Keller’s Reason for God; Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ, and Josh McDowell’s Evidence that demands a verdict. When you read the accounts of the resurrection, among other things, you find these four things:


  • You find an absolutely transformed people, willing to die for their faith. There were dozens of messianic movements at that time, and they all died out when the messiah was killed. Why did this one continue? What completely transformed these weak people into a fearless bunch of world-changers who would all but one be martyred for their faith? All it would have taken would have been one, under torture, admitting they made it up, but there is none, because the resurrection really happened


  • You find writings about the resurrection during the lifetime of eyewitnesses – it’s as if Paul is saying, you can go and check with them if you do not believe me.


1 Corinthians 15:3-8 - For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,  4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,  5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,  8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.


1 Corinthians has been dated to 25 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and Paul tells them that Jesus appeared to over 500 at the same time, most of whom are still living.  Paul is saying, go and check with them and you will find that Jesus was dead and is alive again.


  • You find Jews – who did not believe in a resurrection in the middle of history – and Greeks – who did not see resurrection as good news – believing that Jesus rose from the dead. People in those days were just as unlikely to believe in a resurrection as we are today, but many were convinced because it was true.


  • You don’t find a body – all the Romans or Jews needed to do was to provide Jesus’ body and everything would have died out, but they couldn’t, because he has risen from the grave.


Study the resurrection. Learn the proofs, both to bolster your faith, and to help you share it. People may be able to argue felt needs or personal needs for God, but challenge them with the reality of the resurrection and the need to listen to a man who rose from the dead. If it is true, then it demands a response.


4) Fourth, the convicting call


Peter’s speech ends this way:


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


How shall we respond?


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. 


God will come and live in you by His Holy Spirit, revealing God, His Word, His will to you; empowering you, purifying you – we have discussed this over the past month. The other things Peter says are repent & be baptized for forgiveness of sins.


This is important to hear, because there are all kinds of “calls” out there in Christianity: Ask Jesus into your heart, Receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, Enter into a relationship with Jesus, Come forward and pray the prayer of salvation, Accept Christ, Believe in Jesus, Believe on Jesus, Trust in Jesus. But in Acts, and throughout the New Testament, the most common call is to repent and believe, or to repent and be baptized.


Mark 1:14-15 - After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  15 "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"


Luke 24:46-47 -  He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,  47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.


Acts 3:19 - Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out,


Acts 17:30 - In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.


Repentance means to turn around; to change one’s mind. It represents a complete change of heart, a spiritual about-face. There must be conviction of sin, a realization that “it was my sin that held Jesus there” on the cross. Your sin must become personal. We continually lead a life of repentance.


Baptism is from a Greek word for “immerse, dip, plunge” – put something completely under the water and then bring it back up.


Baptism symbolized entry into the church. Jesus has told them in Matthew 28:19-20 - Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."


Baptism is another issue with a whole spectrum in the church. It is not a primary doctrine, and therefore should not divide, but is important. Let me discuss some of the views out there on Baptism. The Catholic view is that baptism is necessary for salvation because the act of baptism itself causes regeneration. There are also Protestant churches that believe that baptism saves. While it is true that Jesus commanded baptism, I do not believe it is necessary for salvation; we are justified by faith alone and not faith plus works. Remember the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43) – Jesus says that he will be with him in paradise, even though he was not baptized.


There is also a Protestant Paedobaptist (infant baptism) view. This view is that baptism is rightly administered to all infant children of believing parents (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed churches). It is sometimes known as the covenant argument – children are born to believers who are part of the covenant community. Just as infants were circumcised in the Old Covenant as the outward sign of entrance into the covenant community, infants in the new covenant should be circumcised as a sign of entrance into the covenant community.


However, circumcision and baptism are not the same. Paul is more concerned about “spiritual” circumcision in the New Testament.


Colossians 2:11-12  In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,  12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.


Furthermore, the New Testament does not talk about a covenant community made up of believers and their unbelieving children. All that matters is whether or not one has saving faith. How does one become a member of the church? By being born again and by having saving faith, not by physical birth. Therefore, we believe that baptism is the sign of entrance into the church, but should only be given to those who give evidence of membership in the church, those who have repented of sin and profess faith in Christ.


Romans 6:1-5 - What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  3 Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 


Back to repentance. You must be convicted that it is your sin that nailed him there before you can truly know what He did for you. I sinned. I need to be forgiven.


Christ is the risen and ascended Lord. Repent, believe, and be baptized.