Monday, 13 July 2020

Acts 2:14-41: ‘Peter preaches Christ’

Joel Osteen claims that he communicates on television with more people than anyone else in the world on any given day.  He is the pastor of America’s largest church.  He has written a best seller called ‘Your Best Life Now.’

On one occasion Osteen was having a meal with Ravi Zaharias and his wife. 

Joel explained to Ravi that he had been talking with a leading Muslim scholar and had been amazed at how much they agreed on.  Ravi says that his wife almost chocked on her food with shock.

So, Ravi looked at Osteen and asked, ‘they don’t have the Bible (thinking that the New Testament is lost); they don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God; they don’t believe that he died on the cross; they don’t believe that he rose again from the dead; they don’t believe that he is coming again as king, do you think that there is a difference between what they believe and we do?’

Ravi later pointed out that in Osteen’s book, ‘Your Best Life Now’, there is not one mention of the cross.

If our message doesn’t centre on the cross of Christ, then we will inevitably become confused about the good news of God.  The Holy Spirit will cause us to speak about Jesus.

The Holy Spirit will cause us to speak about Jesus

The risen Jesus had told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until he sent them the Holy Spirit.  Then he ascended to heaven on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on a hundred and twenty disciples with tongues of fire.  Peter now stood up to address the people of Jerusalem.

“Fellow Jews and all you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These people are not drunk, as you suppose.  It is only nine in the morning!  No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “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, you old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those last days and they will prophesy’ (2:14-17).

Peter tells his listeners that a new era has arrived.  These are ‘the last days’.  But these last days have not come out of the blue.  Hundreds of years earlier God had promised a time when he would pour out his Holy Spirit on all his people.  In the Old Testament some of God’s people—like certain prophets and kings—had were given the Holy Spirit some of the time, but now all of God’s people are given the Holy Spirit all of the time.

There is some debate among Christians about the idea of being baptised in the Holy Spirit.  Is baptism of the Holy Spirit something that happens when you become a Christian or is it a secondary experience?  Good people disagree on this issue.  My understanding is that baptism of the Holy Spirit happens when we become a Christian.  While the initial one hundred and twenty disciples were Christians first and then received the Holy Spirit as a later experience, I think that their experience was unique.  There are a couple of similarly unique experiences elsewhere in the Book of Acts and we will look at them each in turn.  You see, the hundred and twenty had become Christians before the Day of Pentecost.  But from the Day of Pentecost on, it seems that people are baptised in the Holy Spirit when they become Christians.  Peter seems to say this to the crowd in Jerusalem when tells 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’ (2:38).  Baptism in the Holy Spirit seems to be associated with being converted.  Similarly, the apostle Paul speaks of baptism of the Holy Spirit as something that every Christian has experienced, explaining that we were all baptised with one Spirit so as to form one body (1 Corinthians 12;13a).

This baptism in the Holy Spirit is about God’s presence within.  In Eden, Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s presence, but that was lost when they rebelled against him.  God’s presence was with his people in the cloud and the fire as he led them in the wilderness.  His presence was signified by the descending of the cloud of the Shekinah glory in Solomon’s temple.  Now Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  We have God’s presence within us.

The Holy Spirit within us is a missionary.  He causes us to speak.  He causes us to prophesy.  In the book of Acts we will see people with an amazing gift of prophecy, that enables them to foretell events about to take place in the future, but that was not given to everyone (1 Corinthians 12:29).  So the prophecy that is spoken of here seems to be a reference to a more general proclaiming the good news about Jesus.  Like we see in verse eleven, when the hundred and twenty disciples were declaring the wonders of God.  Unless we are quenching the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, he will cause us to speak about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will cause us to speak about the cross.

The Holy Spirit will cause us to speak about the cross

Having explained about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit Peter now teaches Christ-crucified.  Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs … 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.  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’ (Acts 2:22-24).

Peter uses the Old Testament to show that Jesus is the Messiah who had to die and rise from the dead.  The story of the cross stretches from eternity past to eternity future.  In a later letter the same Peter will explain that Jesus was chosen to be our redeemer before the creation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).  In heaven the redeemed of God worship the lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:12).  In his gospel, Luke shows the risen Jesus showing two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament had foretold that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:46).  It was this crucified and risen Jesus, now exalted to the right hand of God, had received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and poured it out on the Day of Pentecost (2:33).

In his book, ‘The Cross of Christ’, John Stott writes, ‘it was by his death that he wished to be remembered.  There is then, it is safe to say, no Christianity without the cross.  If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Jesus.’

What do your friends think you believe?  Why not ask them to give you one sentence that sums up Christianity?  They may talk about being a good person and doing your best.  It is cross-less Christianity.  It is only when the cross is examined that we are confronted with the holiness of God, the awfulness of sin, the beauty of God’s self-sacrifice and the how God can show mercy to wicked people without compromising his justice.

The Holy Spirit draws people to repentance and faith

Look at how the crowd respond to the preaching of the cross.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “brothers, what shall we do?’

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus christ for the forgiveness of sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is of you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (2:37-39).

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was not only working among the one hundred and twenty, he was working among the three thousand who were being brought to faith.  Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came, he would convict the world about righteousness, judgement and sin (John 16:8).  He is the one who raises the spiritually dead to life.

Ask the Holy Spirit to convict your friends of their sin (John 16:8).  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words to say (Luke 12:12).  Ask the Holy Spirit to enable them to understand the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 2:13).  Ask the Holy Spirit to raise the spiritually dead to life.


So, last week, as I was writing this sermon, I decided to look through Joel Osteen’s tweets, to get an idea of what he preaches.

This is what I found:

I was thirty-seven tweets in before I came upon a reference to the cross. I was thirty-seven tweets in before there was any mention of Jesus. There was no mention of the Lord's return or life beyond the grave. The only sin he seemed to be concerned about was that of talking negatively to yourself. If Osteen was all I had to go by, I would have to assume that the only reason Christ died for me was to show me how special I am.

What he did emphasis was a superstitious fear of the power of words. He said the God tells me I am strong and talented (I am having trouble finding the Bible reference for that one). He seems to think that God's greatest concern is that we would fulfil our destiny (with no reference to what that destiny is). It is all about fulfilling your potential.

I have to conclude that Osteen is either culpably ignorant of his Bible, both Old and New Testaments, which point to the cross, or that he really doesn’t care about the eternal well-being of his hearers.

Compare that with the apostle Peter, who is not ashamed to speak of that day when ‘the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the glorious day of the Lord’ (2:20).  Peter warns and pleads with his hearers to ‘save yourself from this corrupt generation’ (2:40).  He holds out the gracious promise, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (2:21).

May God give us the same clarity and love as we hold out the Word of life.   

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