Acts of God: Part 3 - Preaching the Hope - Hope 103.2

Acts of God: Part 3 – Preaching the Hope

There was a legend, within the school, that there was a teacher (very inexperienced) who had come to the school and had found the class uncontrollable and was writing on the blackboard (in the old days, with chalk), wondering what to do about this unruly class and decided that, in his desperation, he would swing […]

By Simon ManchesterSunday 23 Oct 2016Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 19 minutes

There was a legend, within the school, that there was a teacher (very inexperienced) who had come to the school and had found the class uncontrollable and was writing on the blackboard (in the old days, with chalk), wondering what to do about this unruly class and decided that, in his desperation, he would swing round and throw his piece of chalk at the person who was making the most noise. And so that’s what he did. The moment came, he swung around. He threw his piece of chalk at the person he thought was making the most noise. It was a hopeless shot, missed the guy by about three metres. But there was a very large blowfly buzzing on the window and the piece of chalk hit the fly right in the back and splattered it neatly over the window and in a moment of inspiration, he called out, ‘And next time, it will be you, boy’ and was deeply respected from then on. And so it was a great moment, a great opportunity to grab the attention of the uncontrollable.

And I say that because we come to a passage this morning where there is the absolute wrapped attention of a crowd to listen and yet, we, of course, face again and again the uncontrollable, disinterested, how-do-we-grab-the-attention person.

What do we do to get the attention of a person today to listen to the things of Jesus Christ?

It’s tough, isn’t it. In the past, the non-Christian had some mental map of Christianity, knew the kind of story line, the basics, identified the framework, and had a reasonable conviction that Jesus Christ was central and that he or she should turn back to Christ but kept on going (like a teenager, having run away with a parent’s car) and just a nagging conscience that they really should turn and take Jesus Christ seriously. That’s the old, sort of 40-50 years ago.

Now we deal with people who don’t know the map. They don’t know the framework. They don’t know where Christ fits in. They don’t know that Christ fits in. And so we find ourselves trying to communicate with people and we are on a different page. What do we do? Don Carson says, ‘The days of beginning a Gospel conversation with the person and work of Christ are over’. He may be right – it’s certainly very, very difficult to just jump straight into a conversation with a complete stranger and start today where we used to those decades ago.

But of course, when the framework is clear, and a person can see, ‘Yep. This is the map of the world. This is the map of the timeline’. And then they see, ‘Yes. I see Jesus Christ is the key to the plans’. Then you have a great opportunity.

And that’s what we find in Acts 2. This is Peter, the Apostle, speaking to a crowd who are right on the map with him. It’s a crowd of Jews. It’s 1st Century Jerusalem. Remember, if you were here last week, they are gripped by the coming of the Holy Spirit. Those of you who can see the window in the Church to the front right can see a mental picture at the very far end of the Church. You can see there a kind of a picture of the coming of the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit came, on the Day of Pentecost, and there was the sound of rushing wind and the sight of the tongues of fire on people’s heads, and there was this miraculous speech, the crowd of Jews was gripped. And they had the framework of the Old Testament to know there is an expectant Messiah. ‘We believe in God’, they might have said. ‘We believe in sin. Now we are beginning to discover the solution, the gap, the bridge to the gap’.

And Peter is going to point these very on-side, listening Jews to the central place of Jesus Christ. And he is going to urge them to turn back to Him in this famous Pentecost speech, from Chapter 2, Verse 22 on.

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It divides into four sections, very wonderfully. He starts by speaking of the earthly ministry of Jesus. That’s where you’d expect to start. Then he speaks of the Heavenly exaltation of Jesus. Then, he says, ‘I have a word to the outsider’. And then the passage finishes by telling us the fellowship of the insiders.

So this is a helpful sermon for us to look at, but of course, it was just perfect for that crowd on Pentecost day.

Let’s think about it under those four headings. The earthly ministry (Verses 22-24). Remember, Peter has their attention. The framework of the Bible faith is in their heads and he says: Men of Israel, listen to this – Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles and on he goes.

Now, speaking to Jews, who had just rejected Jesus of Nazareth, this first part of the sermon must have come like a series of hammer blows. Every phrase that Peter says in Verses 22-24 is like another nail in the coffin of the innocence of the Jews at that first Pentecost occasion. Notice what he says – Jesus of Nazareth, historical, local, lived around the corner. He was a man accredited by God to you (that is, God forced Him to your attention). Jesus, says Peter, did miracles, wonders and signs among you – nobody missed them. If you didn’t see them, says Peter, you heard about them. You know the miracles were done among you. Everybody was talking about them. And you know this: your conscience is on my side. It’s a lovely thing, isn’t it, to talk to somebody whose conscience is on your side.

And now look at Verse 23. He says this man was handed over to you by Judas. Is that what the text says? No. ‘This man was handed over to you by God’s purpose and full knowledge’… in other words, there is a plan. You are not in charge of the plan. God is in charge of the plan. You have somehow fitted in with the plan. Be frightened by this. There is a big plan. You just fit into the plan. You are not in charge of the world. God is in charge of the world. Nevertheless, says Peter: with the help of wicked men, you put Him to death. In other words, you are responsible.

And then look at Verse 24, ‘God raised Him’. This must have been very frightening to them. You killed Him. God raised Him. God has the exact opposite opinion of Jesus to your opinion of Jesus. And God raised Him, says Peter, because it was impossible for death to hold Him. Why is it impossible for death to hold Jesus? There’s a shock, isn’t it. What is it about Jesus that makes Him unfit for death? The answer, of course, when it comes to Jesus, is that in Himself, death had no hold on Jesus, because the wages of sinlessness is life. The pay that you get for being sinless is that you live and don’t die.

And so now, death, of course, must release Jesus. He has only gone into the death with our sins on His back. But now death must release Jesus because He is an innocent man Himself, and the Jews have therefore have been man-handling a perfect man.

Now that must have been a very shocking start to the sermon. You know, we might listen to those verses, and they might just pass over us like water off a duck’s back. But there are ten shocks to the Jewish listeners on the Day of Pentecost. Here is Jesus. He is historical. He is human. He is powerful, divine. He is a deliberate plan-of-God Person. He’s the Saviour of the world. God has reversed the process of death. He has raised Him to life. He is unique. He is supreme. And what a huge mistake those people have made in rejecting Him. Do you see, therefore, how Peter addresses the whole 1st Century Jewish crowd, thousands of people, and he declares them to be guilty of a crime that they helped to carry out. But of course, they are representative of the whole human race that desires to remove Jesus from the scene.

And the outcome, as you get to the end of the sermon, in Verse 37, is not that the Jews suddenly say, ‘Hey, we are innocent. We didn’t do this’. No. They completely agree, and they completely confess. They did the crime, and they confess to the crime. And they are typical of the whole human race who want Jesus Christ removed from the scene.

Now, we who get to speak to people, eventually (perhaps) of the earthly ministry of Jesus, with people who are (let’s imagine) ready to hear. We can’t appeal, can we, as Peter did on the Day of Pentecost, to our listeners and say, you know, ‘You are eye-witnesses, and you are ear-witnesses, and you were there, and this all happened among you’. We can’t talk like that. But we can appeal, can’t we, still today, to the impact that Jesus has made in the world. He has made a God-sized crater in the world. He has hit the world, and He has made a God-sized crater in the face of the world. You can’t go round the year without the seasons to do with Jesus being heard about and known around the world. And so we can appeal to people that He has made a huge impact. And then, of course, we may be able to go on and explain the plan of God, which was to use His death to open the door of eternal life. That’s the way that Peter begins and we may, in some way, be able to echo this sermon.

Now I am perfectly aware that this is a sermon directed to the 1st Century. I am perfectly aware that we should just look at this and see what Peter said to the 1st Century. And I think we have seen, in some way, in a small detail, what Peter said to the 1st Century. But we who want to take advantage of this pattern of preaching will still want to say He made a huge impact in His earthly ministry and His death is the way to live.

That’s the first thing.

The second section this morning is the Heavenly exaltation – Verses 25-36. This is the bulk of the sermon. If you want to know what the bulk of the sermon on the Day of Pentecost is about, it’s the Heavenly exaltation. This is four-fifths of the sermon.

Peter takes a step back, and he says to his listeners: do you know that our great King David predicted this? The end is not something that we will be able to say to the average Australian pagan. They may not know who David was. But Peter can say this to the people in the 1st Century who are listening because they know David well and Peter says to them: David predicted what took place. This is not a 1st Century idea. One thousand years ago, David said (look at Verse 27), ‘You will not (God) let Your Holy One see decay’. He is quoting Psalm 16. Now it’s possible that David was speaking of himself. It’s possible in Psalm 16; he was saying – Oh God, I am so thankful that You will not let me, your holy one, see decay. But it’s very unlikely. It’s a huge exaggeration, isn’t it, to call himself the holy one and to imagine that he won’t see decay.

No. Peter says, Verse 29: David’s body has decayed. He wasn’t talking about himself. Verse 30 – he spoke as a prophet. He spoke as one of his descendants. He spoke of one specifically (Verse 31) of the Christ, whose body did not decay but was raised from the grave. Incidentally, this flatly contradicts the idea that surfaces every now and again among some certain heretical views that Jesus was buried somewhere, that He was put in a mass grave. You hear this every now and again. Where is Jesus? Well, He was turfed into a mass grave. No. We are told flatly, specifically, plainly, here in the Scriptures, that His body did not decay; He was raised from the tomb, and then exalted to the right hand of God. So He escaped the grave. He did not see decay.

David did not escape the tomb. His body decayed. But Jesus escaped, and the Scripture of the Holy One avoiding decay is not about David. It’s about Jesus.

C.S. Lewis, in his book on miracles, said, ‘Jesus has forced open a door that had been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought and beaten the king of death. Everything is different because He has done so. This is the beginning of the new creation. A new chapter in cosmic history has opened’. That’s why Easter is so important. That’s why it is so distressing when Easter is hijacked because we want to say to our world: we have something so much better to say to you; a new chapter has opened. And those of you who are so keen, as Australian people are, on a great future, should be listening more carefully to the One who has opened the door to the great future.

If you ask, however, why the Holy Spirit has come now, Peter might have said, hundreds of years after David and hundreds of years after Joel said the Holy Spirit would come… why has he come now? Well, the answer is, says Peter, preaching (Verse 33) is because Jesus has been exalted. It is because Jesus has been raised up that He can pour His Spirit down. It’s because He has His victory over death that He can give life. Just as a great victory in battle enables the winner to give out the plunder or the spoils, this great victory of Jesus over death enables Him to now share the life with those who will receive.

If you ask if this Spirit who has been poured out is the Spirit of Christ – in other words, is it the Spirit of Jesus that we are being given? The answer is in Verse 34 – yes, it’s the Spirit of Jesus. David’s God said to David’s descendant, ‘The Lord’ says David, ‘Said to my Lord – Jesus, sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool’.

So you see, David did not escape the tomb. And David did not get raised up to Heaven. But Jesus did escape the tomb, and Jesus did get raised up to Heaven.

Finally, if you ask why Jesus’ victory is not obvious – I mean, why is it that He has had this great victory and everything is a mess on the earth? Why is there still so much opposition? Why are our newspapers always, Sunday by Sunday, going to be talking about terrible things happening in the world, the answer in Verse 35, ‘Until I make Your enemies Your footstool’.

Now we who want to again be echoes of the Sermon of the Day of Pentecost, and say to people today (and wouldn’t we love to have the opportunity to say to some of our neighbours and our family), ‘Jesus sits on the throne of Heaven. He is a wonderful King, and He is a wonderful Saviour’. We would love to be able to explain this, wouldn’t we, to so many of our friends and neighbours.

Well, we still are able, when we get the opportunity, to speak of the escape of Jesus from the tomb – that’s unique – and the rising of Jesus – that’s unique because all the evidence shows that everybody else stays in their tomb. And even the other religious leaders stay in their tomb. But there is one who escaped, and there is one who was raised. And the evidence shows that Jesus escaped, and the evidence shows that Jesus was raised and therefore, as He says: there is a house ahead for God’s people, and in My Father’s house there are many rooms, and I prepare (through dying) a place for every believer. What a wonderful thing, to be able to share this with somebody. I sat with somebody this week for an hour, by a hospital bed, urging a very, very sick person to take seriously the message of Jesus, the hope of salvation, the hope of the future and she fought tooth and nail against everything I was saying and everything that I could think to say and everything that I could persuade her with.

And so the opportunities may come, and yet they are difficult, but we have the privilege of still passing on the truth, which is that Jesus escaped the grave and raised, to the right hand of God, offers salvation.

And so an invitation is given (in Verses 37-41) – this is the third thing this morning – an invitation to outsiders. All the people listening are convicted. It is a very wonderful day. The Holy Spirit has come in great convicting power and these listeners, these Jewish people, have no answer to the evidence, do they. They can’t refute it. They’ve got no excuse for their evil. They can’t explain it away – yes, we did it. They have got no alternative to the Scriptures – they have been holding the Scriptures for hundreds of years, and the Scriptures plainly say, ‘There is One who will escape decay and will rise to the right-hand of God’ and they’ve got no escape from– this Jesus, who is sitting on the throne – and they are terrified (in the words of Verse 35) that they will now be the footstool, His enemies.

Well, what does it mean in Verse 36 that God has made Jesus, Lord and Christ? I would simply answer: it means that God has made public that He is Lord and Christ. The raising of Jesus is the end of ignorance. There is no secrecy about it any more. He is plainly the Lord. He is plainly the Christ. So you can choose another religion. It’s easy to choose another religion, and it can provide a certain amount of temporary comfort. But to deal with the One who sits on the throne, who offers the way to the future, and forgiveness for the past, you have to deal with Jesus. There is no future without Jesus. There is no solution to the past without Jesus. And so Jesus is declared, publicly, to be the Lord and the Christ. And cut to the heart, you see they come out with this lovely question – what shall we do? Wouldn’t it be lovely to be dealing with people who say, ‘What shall we do?’ And the reply comes back: repent, turn to Jesus, turn back to Jesus and be baptised – in other words, bow to Christ.

Why are they not told to believe in Jesus? Well, because they do believe in Jesus. They know about Him. They know of His dealings. They know of His death. They know of His resurrection. In a sense, they have head belief. What they need to be told is, ‘Turn back to Him. Submit to Him. And submit to baptism’. Baptism, of course, was normally done by the Jews to the Gentiles, to bring the Gentiles into the circle of the Jewish faith. And now the Jews are humbly being told – you must submit to Christian baptism to come into the circle of God’s real family. And so, it is a very clear reminder to them that they must turn around, do a u-turn, go back to Christ. They must bow to Him, submit to this outward ritual of baptism. And when they submit to Christ, they will receive the Holy Spirit. It is not getting water on them that will bring the Holy Spirit. It is the submitting to Christ which brings the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t miss the news in passing that this is being offered to murderers of Jesus. And for those of you who wonder, every now and again, whether sin can be forgiven, and what you have done can be forgiven, there is always one or two things that are on the conscience of the real believer, aren’t there. They keep nagging away, and the accuser keeps reminding us of. But Peter says, to even the murders of Jesus, ‘You can be completely freely and fully forgiven’.

And this promise, says Peter (Verse 39), this wonderful promise of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit, is to be heard by young and old and by the people who are near (that’s like the Jews) and the people who are far (that’s like the Gentiles) to come. And you will see the absolute balance in Verses 39 and 40 that he says to them – everybody will be saved who God calls (there’s the sovereign plan of God) and if you want to save yourself (Verse 40), run to Him, run to Christ. I love that (Verse 39) who will be saved? The people that Christ calls. The people that God calls. Who will be saved (Verse 40)? Well, you, if you run to Him. He is totally, sovereignly in charge (Verse 39). He calls people to him, but if you want to be saved (Verse 40), run to Him.

The last thing this morning is the fellowship. We’ve looked at the earthly ministry of Jesus, the Heavenly exaltation, the invitation to the outsider, and now the fellowship of the insiders – Verses 42-47.

Well, there are about 3,000+ now who are believers in Jesus. They are under the influence of the Holy Spirit. What’s the first thing they do? Verse 42 is a bit of a shock, isn’t it. You expect it to say they burst into song. And, of course, Verse 47 says they do praise Him. But the first thing, we are told, under the influence of the Holy Spirit is they want to know God better, they want to know Jesus better, and so they devote themselves to the Apostle’s teaching. I say this every now and again, but it is worth saying again, that your appetite for physical food is a good test of your physical well-being. And your appetite for spiritual food is a test of your spiritual well-being. Do you read your Bible, personally? Do you read it often because you ought to… that’s how I do it… I read it because I ought to … and then, quite regularly, I am so benefited and blessed by the reading. In the same way, we ought to be cleaning our teeth regularly and we ought to be eating healthily for our physical well-being. And we do these things because it is a matter of sense, and we ought to be reading our Bibles because we need to know and want to know God better and we want to know the Lord Jesus better.

And then they devote themselves to the fellowship (Verse 42) because they have got bonds which are supernatural with other believers – people they wouldn’t normally mix with, they suddenly find they are wonderfully joined to. They break bread together – this is a little phrase that Luke means for having meals, family gatherings. And they pray, they call on their Lord. There are signs, Verse 43, from the Apostles, the Church (Verse 44, 45) begin to share what they have, and they are filled with gladness, and they praise God, and they grow as God adds. And as somebody pointed out this morning, isn’t it a wonderful thing that the cut-heart turns into a glad-heart. God cuts the heart, and then He gladdens the heart.

So there is the fellowship with the insiders. There is the early Church, in all its infancy, in all its beauty – not perfect. We will discover in the next weeks; the early Church was not perfect, but there was this great start on the Day of Pentecost.

Now author John Stott summarises this speech of Peter with typical brilliance like this. He says: if you want to present the Gospel like Peter did on the Day of Pentecost, you might like to notice that there are two Gospel events. They are death and resurrection of Jesus. There are two witnesses to Jesus – Old Testament Scriptures, New Testament Apostles. There are two promises for the person who believes – forgiveness, Holy Spirit. But there are two conditions – repent and submit (and Baptism, of course, the sign).

Well, I have tried to focus this morning – because I was tempted to take that as the outline – but I wanted my outline, because I am too proud to take someone else’s outline and that was such a good outline, but anyway, I went with my outline! And the outline I took is – earthly ministry, Heavenly ministry, a message to the outsider, the fellowship of the insider.

And I want to finish this morning by urging you not to be intimidated by the people that you seek to be a witness to because you know, and it is true, that they have no framework or map. Don’t be intimidated by that. God is not waiting for some freakishly professorial intelligent genius to come along who will reach your friend. He does not need professors of philosophy before He can reach the ordinary Australian. He just needs people like you and me who will perhaps listen and find out what sort of map these people work on. And the more you listen to the map that people live on and walk on and work on, the wiser you will be to know how you will be able to direct them to the Person called Jesus who is the key to every map. And so a good deal of our first conversations with people today is not jumping in too quickly, but doing good listening, so that we will know how to respond wisely. But then there will come a time when you will want to perhaps initiate a conversation. You will want to begin a conversation. And you will want to present a little map – a little map in your head, which asks big questions about life and where things go and how things work. And you will want to say – you know, have you ever thought about this kind of framework? And it seems, you know, as I think about this framework, that all the big questions, all the big highways, are dealt with by Jesus.

And so, with some good listening, and some loving consideration, and then presenting the person of Jesus, answering your big questions, we may be able to come to that privileged position of explaining Him and having a friend or a neighbour who then says, ‘Well, what must I do?’

Let’s pray. Let’s bow our heads. Our Gracious God. We thank You for the great work that You did, freely and generously, in giving Your Son and pouring out Your Spirit and raising up a great crowd of believers. We thank You that this crowd of believers has spread around the globe and for the privilege – the huge privilege – of being among the believers in Your family. We ask that You would help us, as we seek to be Your witnesses. We are conscious of the difficulty of even crossing to the neighbour, let alone crossing to their wavelength. We ask that You enable us to be good hearers, good lovers, good communicators. And in Your providence, we pray that we would be good helpers to others in knowing the Lord Jesus. So we thank You for this portion of Scripture, and we pray that You would help us to go, fed, and to practise the things that we know. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.