Acts 2:22-41

Acts 2:22-41

The Lordship of Christ: A Borrowed Sermon

Introduction: Recently I had the privilege of performing a wedding for a couple in our church.  Since our facilities are not quite adequate for such a special occasion, a church was rented by the bride’s family.  This was a large, well-known church of a mainline denomination, and the personnel in that church were extremely cooperative; they could not have been more accommodating.  

There was, however, one rather disconcerting thing I ran across.  I was allowed to use the pastor’s study to relax prior to the wedding, and loving books as I do, I took the time to browse through his library.  Of the hundreds of books there I found many volumes of sermons but not one commentary on Scripture or any other books that could be called Bible study books.  Furthermore, sitting at the pastor’s desk as I was filling out the marriage license, I could not help but notice his sermon for Sunday, which was laid out neatly in the center of the desk.  

It was a published sermon, dated for that particular Sunday, printed and distributed by a sermon publishing service.  All that the pastor had done was to underline certain points with a hi-liter that he wanted to be sure to get across.  His sermon preparation couldn’t have taken more than 45 minutes.  

Now I didn’t have time to read the entire sermon or evaluate its contents, except to note there was little or no Scripture in it.  But even if it were written by a Bible-believing scholar, there’s something about that approach that I don’t like.  I’ve always believed that a sermon should be the product of the preacher’s intense personal study of God’s Word.  Not that he should never borrow ideas or illustrations or even interpretations, but he must personally wrestle with the text.  As one of my seminary professors, namely Howie Hendricks, put it, “Graze on everyone’s field, but be sure to give your own milk.” 

But today I’d like to violate all my inclinations and borrow a sermon; borrow it because it’s biblical, because it cannot be improved upon, and because the results it produced the first time it was preached were phenomenal.  Would that we would have just 1% of the results today that it produced 1950 years ago!

But first I want to tell you a little about the one who first preached it.

The Preacher

You know him as the Apostle Peter.  Just seven weeks and three days before he preached this sermon, he committed one of the dastardliest deeds ever perpetrated by a human being.  As Jesus was on trial for his life, this man denied three times that he even knew who Jesus was.  Now, miraculously, we see him fifty-two days later in the city of Jerusalem, standing before thousands of Jewish people, some of whom were the very ones who yelled at Jesus, “Crucify Him,” only now he is preaching his heart out and risking his very life for the One whom he had earlier denied.  

There is simply no way to explain this change except to say that a major revolution had taken place in both his mind and his heart.  In his mind he evidently became absolutely convinced through the resurrection that Jesus was God Himself.  And in his heart he had come to believe that if Jesus was really God, then no sacrifice was too great in serving Him and trying to convince others to accept Him. 

The sermon

The sermon Peter preached, like nearly all good sermons, had an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.  Let’s read it in context from Acts 2:22-41:

“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, 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.’

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 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.”

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.

         The introduction to the sermon we looked at last week.  In good homiletic fashion Peter started where the people were; that is, he took a point of great personal interest to them, namely the strange phenomena surrounding the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and he used that to bring their attention around to what was even more important—the person of Christ.  

         The Body of the sermon, starting in verse 22, includes four major points that have to do with the life, the death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus, the Nazarene.   Peter’s goal is to force his audience, through an examination of the person of Christ, to see that they had put an innocent man to death, but, in addition, to see that they could reverse the tragic consequences for themselves by changing their minds now concerning the man Jesus.  Interestingly, in regard to each of these four aspects of Jesus’ existence, Peter stresses the part that God played and the part that man played. 

1.  The life of Jesus, we are told, was attested by God and known by men.  “Men of Israel, listen to these words:  Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know.”  Please note again that even though the issue that served as the catalyst for this sermon was filling of the Holy Spirit, Peter wastes no time refocusing attention upon Jesus.  The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is a doctrine for believers.  Unbelievers, as these people were, though devout, need to hear about Jesus.  

First, he tells us that Jesus’ life was attested by God.  That is, God set him apart from all others and showed Him to be unique, by miracles and wonders and signs.  These three terms might seem to be synonymous, but they actually look at three different aspects of the supernatural.  The term “miracles,” denotes the mighty power of God; “wonders” speaks of the effect they have on the people who witness them, while “signs” tells of their purpose, namely serving as indicators of spiritual truth.  

Not only did God attest to Jesus’ character by doing supernatural deeds through Him, but these were done in the open.  Peter could say that “God performed these in your midst, just as you yourselves know.”  Later Jewish skeptics did not deny that Jesus wrought miracles, but rather claimed He was a sorcerer.  Peter appeals to their knowledge of His miracles and clearly identifies the source as divine. 

2.  The crucifixion of Jesus was planned by God and carried out by men.  Now I don’t like the way that sounds, and I fear lest it be interpreted as meaning that men were mere pawns in God’s hand, which they certainly were not.  But we must not water down this rather startling assertion of Scripture as to the cause of Christ’s death:  “this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” 

There are two extremes that we must avoid in speaking of the cause of the death of Christ.  We must avoid the notion that God stood helplessly by while wicked men killed His son.  And we must avoid the viewpoint expressed in accounts like that of Jesus Christ Superstar that Judas was a tragic hero, doing God’s dirty work for him and then being blamed for having done it. 

The fact is the Scriptures ascribe a dual cause to the death of Jesus.  The primary cause is God while the secondary cause is mankind.  Humans could never have brought about the death of Christ had not God allowed it, even planned for it to happen; yet the ones who carried it out are judged guilty and godless for doing so, for they were not forced to do it but chose to out of the sinfulness of their own hearts.  

Where else in Scripture can one find a clearer example of the paradox between divine sovereignty and human free will?   Frankly I don’t see how God’s part in the death of Jesus could be stated any more forthrightly than it is right here in verse 22:  “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.”  Nor could man’s part be more clearly asserted:  “You nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”  Peter sees no contradiction between these truths and is willing to state them in unambiguous form in the very same verse.

If these two lines of truth can’t be completely reconciled in the human mind, so be it.  Both are true and that’s what’s important.  Our tendency is to work from the basis of our human logic and to say, “I can’t see how God can predestine something and at the same time man be held responsible for doing it.  And since I can’t accept both, I am justified in denying either divine sovereignty or human responsibility.”  But since when is truth determined by how well it fits in with human logic?  

By the way, I think it’s instructive to ask the question, “Who killed Jesus?” You will find that the answers are many in Scripture.  First, there is a sense in which God did.  And since Jesus went willingly to the Cross, one might even answer that He Himself did.  Certainly the Jews did, and the Gentiles, and the Romans.  Then there are individuals like Judas and Pilate and Herod who played a key role and who could be judged particularly responsible.  And finally, of course, every one of us who has sinned and for whom He died to provide us forgiveness can rightly be considered guilty of His death.  

In recent years the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church have made major pronouncements absolving the Jews of Christ’s death.  I’m in sympathy with their desire to undermine anti-Semitism, but instead of absolving the Jews, they would better have dealt with anti-Semitism by stating that the Jews weren’t the only ones guilty of the death of Christ—all of us played a part.   

3.  The resurrection of Jesus was performed by God and witnessed by men.  (24-32) In verse 24 and again in verse 32 it is clearly stated that God raised Jesus from the dead, and in the latter verse the human factor is again mentioned, as Peter claims that “we are all witnesses.”  In between these verses Peter gives biblical confirmation of the resurrection from the OT prophetic Psalms.  

First, verse 24 states, in effect, that the resurrection was necessary in that it was impossible for Jesus to be held in death’s power.  Why was it impossible?  Because Jesus had no personal sin which would warrant a continuation under the power of death.  Once He had met the judgment of a righteous God against a sinful race by laying down His own infinitely valuable life, there was no basis on which He could rightly be held by death.  Furthermore, the resurrection was the clear demonstration that His sacrificial death on behalf of sinners had been accepted by God.  The whole plan of redemption called for His risen life to be imparted to those who come to Him by faith.  

Then too, Scripture had to be fulfilled.  So Peter appeals to the writings of David in the 16th Psalm.  This Psalm is a prayer by a godly man, in which he professes his faith in God and declares his confidence that because the Lord is, as it were, his right-hand man, he can be joyful and sure that he will not be abandoned to Sheol or corruption when he dies, but rather he will rejoice in the presence of God.  Peter argues, beginning in verse 29, that whatever may have been David’s intention in writing the Psalm, it cannot be taken as fulfilled by David himself.  Since David died and was buried, it followed that he himself was abandoned to Sheol, at least for the remainder of the OT period, and his body did suffer physical corruption.  If anyone doubted the fact, the tomb of David was right there in Jerusalem for them to check.  

Peter reasons that if David was not speaking about Himself, it follows that he must have been speaking prophetically of Messiah.  Two factors led him to this conclusion.  First, David was a prophet himself, and secondly, David knew that God had promised that one of his descendants would sit on his throne.  An enduring throne called for a deathless occupant.  Therefore, whether he himself was completely aware of it, David was looking ahead in Psalm 16 and speaking of the resurrection of the Christ.  

The summary of the argument is then given in verse 32:  “This Jesus God raised up again.”  To recapitulate the argument, we might put it like this:  “The OT prophesied that the Messiah would rise from the dead; Jesus alone has risen from the dead; therefore, it follows that He must be the prophesied Messiah.”  

4.  The ascension of Jesus was to God’s right hand for the benefit of men.  (33-35) The salvation story is not complete with the recounting of just the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  There is one more important step—the ascension and subsequent exaltation of Christ.  And this Peter presents in verse 33:  “Therefore, having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.”  

Peter’s hearers had not seen the ascension, so how could they be convinced that Jesus was not only risen but also was now seated at the right hand of God?  First, they could be convinced by the gift of the Holy Spirit which came from Him.  But in addition, the OT Scriptures had anticipated the exaltation as well as the resurrection.  For evidence he quotes Psalm 110:1, a passage that was interpreted by some Jews as spoken to David, promising him exaltation by God.  But since David spoke the words of this Psalm, argues Peter, he cannot be the one spoken of.  The Messiah must be the one—Jesus Himself. 

Peter has pressed home the truth about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  The stage is set for his conclusion.

         The conclusion to Peter’s sermon:  Jesus is both Lord and Christ. (36) Here’s how Peter boldly proclaimed it: “Therefore,” (on the basis of all the evidence I have given you), “let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified!”  How terrible, then, was the act of his listeners in crucifying Him.  In almost brutal fashion the Apostle brings them face to face with the heinousness of their crime in putting to death the Son of God.  He also confronts them with the imminence of their danger in light of the fact that He whom they had so fatally dishonored was now wielding the scepter of omnipotence and could punish them for their sin.  The last words of his sermon must have sprung like an arrow to its mark, “this Jesus you crucified!”

The Results (37-41)

Every great sermon appeals to three things—the listener’s mind, the listener’s heart, and the listener’s will.  One without the other two invariably leads to a distortion of the truth.  Peter’s sermon was great because it accomplished each of these in an amazing fashion.  First, he convinced their minds.

         Peter convinced their minds.  Verse 37 reads, “Now when they heard this ….”  The word for “hear” in this verse is the word which means “to hear with understanding.”  They were convinced by the facts that Peter had appealed to.  After all, he had not spoken of hidden, esoteric truths; instead, he had called attention to what they had seen and heard, and he had confirmed it with their own Scriptures.  

         He convicted their consciences. The verse goes on to say, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?'”  There’s a note of hopelessness in their query.  “What a blunder!  We’ve committed the most awful deed imaginable.  What possible remedy is there for what we have done?”  

         He confronted their wills.  It is very important for preachers to convince their audiences and to speak the truth so that conviction might result, but if that is all that is accomplished, nothing is accomplished.  In fact, even damage may be done.  The human will must also be confronted with a decision.  And Peter offers that in verse 38 and 39:  “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Two things were needed:  forgiveness for their sins and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  How is that to be achieved?  Peter starts with repentance.  The word means “to change the direction of one’s life rather than simply to change one’s attitude or develop a feeling of remorse.”  It signifies a turning away from a sinful and godless way of life.  It constitutes a moral about-face.  It is agreeing with the Gospel’s indictment of our crimes against God.  

Repentance is a term we seldom use today.  It has been said, and I think correctly, that repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin.  One cannot repent in the biblical sense of the term without placing his faith in Jesus, and faith has no meaning if it is not accompanied by repentance.  

And perhaps that is the key to the question why Peter also commanded that his hearers be baptized. Baptism is an outward expression of inward faith, and one who is unwilling to be baptized is perhaps thereby indicating a lack of true repentance.

Let’s talk a bit more about this connection between repentance and baptism that we find here in Acts 2:38.  One looks in vain in the NT for an unbaptized believer.  There is no such person, unless one points to the thief on the cross, and of course, he lived and died before the church was founded.  Not only were all converts baptized but they were baptized immediately upon salvation.  There was a reason for that, a reason that doesn’t necessarily hold true today.  In the first century, and to a large extent in middle eastern cultures to this very day, baptism was viewed as the Maginot line in religion, or to borrow a phrase from Khadafy, “the line of death.”  A Jew or an Arab might come to believe in Jesus, and while his new viewpoints would be looked upon with disdain, he would be tolerated so long as he was not baptized.  But if he submitted to baptism he would immediately be ostracized from his family, his social contacts, and often even from his job.  

In such a society the real proof of conversion is baptism.  If someone is willing to be baptized, he is thereby demonstrating that his commitment to Christ is real and permanent.  If he refuses to be baptized, he is showing himself to be a fair-weather disciple only. 

Now obviously in our society baptism has no such impact.  You can get baptized three times a week and your boss or neighbor could not care less.  Therefore, we need some other demonstration that conversion is real and genuine.  The best proof, in my estimation, is consistent Christian living over a period of time.  If a new convert maintains a hunger for God’s Word, a commitment to the Body of Christ, and a desire to share his faith over a period of several months, one may assume that his conversion was real.  That doesn’t mean we don’t baptize.  The command is still there an we have no right to ignore it.  But it may mean that we don’t baptize immediately, as they did in the NT.  

But given the cultural factors accompanying baptism in the first century, it is not surprising at all that Peter said to this audience of Jews, “Repent and let each of you be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.”  Though baptism had nothing intrinsic to do with the salvation, it was the public proof that they had exercised saving faith.  Peter knew that one cannot build stable churches on the quicksand of verbal commitment.  Nothing is less stable than the good intentions of the human heart.  That’s why the Church has ordinances like baptism.

         He communicated hope.  Sometimes people can be confronted with the truth of what they must do to be saved but feel that they are so evil and so lost that there’s no hope for them.  That’s why I like what Peter does in verse 39—he communicates hope: “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.”  This great promise of forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit is not for the righteous, nor for super saints; it’s for them and for their descendants, even for all who are far off, that is, far away from God.  But even here the divine action in salvation is given equal space.  Jesus had said that “no one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him,” and Peter makes the same point at the end of verse 39, as he indicates that the promise if for “as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.”  

That bothers some, because it appears to them that it limits the application of the Gospel to only the elect and leads to some sort of theology that says, “if you’re elect, you’re going to be saved no matter what you do and if you’re not elect, you’re going to be lost no matter what you do, so why do anything?”  Well, though Peter states that God must call, he never draws any such fatalistic deduction.  In fact, in verse 40 he “solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, (all of them),saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.”  He doesn’t say, “Be saved if you’re elect.”  He says, “Be saved.”  The appeal to believe always comes to every man as a bona fide offer. 

By the way, it is obvious from verse 40 that Peter had more to say on this occasion than is reported to us.  Someone might be tempted to conclude that what made this sermon great is that it was so short.  But that would probably be a premature conclusion.  

         Three thousand people responded.  Think about that for a moment.  The number may well exceed the total number of Jesus’ true disciples during His entire earthly ministry.  And they are converted, baptized and joined to the church as a result of one sermon on the birthday of the Church.  

But should we be surprised?  Back in John 14 Jesus had predicted just such a result when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.”  The reason greater works would be performed is, of course, because upon his ascension to the Father, the Holy Spirit would come.  The Spirit’s activity is to be viewed as the continuing work of Jesus Christ. 

Conclusion:   The sermon Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost was not a rhetorical masterpiece; it was not lengthy; it was not complex or pedantic.  But it was practical, it was biblical, and it was powerful.  And the Holy Spirit used it in an unprecedented way.  Even today, nearly 2,000 years later, the same message of the Lordship of Christ is bringing people to saving faith and faithful discipleship.  


Death of Christ

Resurrection of Christ

Ascension of Christ