Matthew 27: 22
Acts 2: 37-38; 16: 30-31; 22: 10
You will have noticed that these passages speak of persons who ask what they should do. And it struck me as coming to this gospel preaching that the glad tidings call for a decision. The first man that we have read of said, “What then shall I do with Jesus, who is called Christ?”. He put the question to the wrong people and therefore the answer he got was the wrong answer. But he was faced with a decision as to what to do with Jesus. And that is a decision, dear hearer, that is presented to you in the gospel preaching: “What then shall I do with Jesus”, a living Man? It is not simply a doctrine, although there is much precious teaching as to Him and as to His death, but a living Man! What are you going to do? At the end of this gospel preaching, what will you do with Him? One hymn writer says -
Jesus lingers still, ‘tis for you He waits
Will you ignore His overtures, or will you make a decision for Christ?
The first man that I read of purported to wash his hands of the decision; but he made a decision, v 24. He knew that the One before Him was righteous. That was a remarkable thing. He was in the position of a judge, he had authority from the Roman emperor, and it was his duty to decide whether this man was guilty of anything, and if so what the penalty should be. But God ensured that he had testimony as to the righteous character of the Man before him. Even his own wife bore testimony to him and said, “Have thou nothing to do with that righteous man” (v 19); and Pilate says, “I am guiltless of the blood of this righteous one”; “Jesus Christ the righteous”, 1 John 2: 1. He stands alone in that title. None of us are righteous by nature; the scripture tells us that we are sinners, deserving of nothing from God but His judgment. But before this governor stood One who was righteous. The scripture tells us that He “did no sin” (1 Pet 2: 22), and He “knew not sin” (2 Cor 5: 21), and “in him sin is not”, 1 John 3: 5. He was a Man of another order altogether. This governor knew something else too. Another scripture tells us that he knew that he had been delivered up by the Jews through envy (v 18), but he says, “What then shall I do with Jesus”?.
Well, we see what he did: he consulted the masses. If there are any resolves of heart for Christ aroused in your heart, you will be tested. It is one thing to sit in a meeting room in the company of those that love Christ and to make a resolution that you will be for Christ, but when you go to school or to work there is great pressure to conform, to be the same as everybody else. People speak of peer pressure. None of us likes to stand out from the crowd, and the world thinks it strange if you do. Peter says, “they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same sink of corruption”, 1 Pet 4: 4. I have often thought that, when Peter wrote those words, he was thinking about that incident of the Gadarene swine when they all rushed down the steep slope into the sea and perished, Matt 8: 32. And this world is going on to judgment and those who have not in simple faith made a decision for Christ are going on to judgment with it. God presents in Jesus a Saviour.
But this man wanted to appease the masses. From what we read he was probably a weak man, a politician, and not exercising his role on the basis of principle but influenced by the prevailing trend of the day. And we see what happened; he washed his hands of the matter. Well, that will be brought to his remembrance; “God shall judge the secrets of men” (Rom 2: 16); He is going to bring every matter into judgment, Eccl 12: 14. This man had his responsibility; it was not, as the Lord Jesus said elsewhere, as great as the responsibility of the man who delivered Him up. His was the greater sin (John 19: 11), but he had his responsibility. Pilate had before him the Son of God, the One who was the truth. Jesus spoke to him about being born into this world that he might bear witness to the truth (John 18: 37); and Pilate washed his hands of him. You could do that; you could listen to the gospel preaching and decide to leave it for the time being. ’Perhaps later on, when I am older, I will give my mind to these things.’
When I was a boy, there were preachings of the gospel on Friday evenings in a hall in the centre of London. They were arranged so that people could get to them after work, or after school. Lots of persons came to them after work, and sometimes brought their office colleagues to the gospel preaching. And there was one gospel preaching where the preacher was urging that there might never be another opportunity and that it was important to come to Christ now. There was a young woman in the audience, and she wrote in her diary against the entry for the gospel preaching, ‘I will take my chance’. Those were the words that she wrote, and we know that she wrote those words in her diary because, as she left that gospel preaching, she was knocked down by a car and killed. And of course the police were very anxious to know where she had been, what she had been doing, the events that had led up to her death; and that diary was discovered with those words written in it: ‘I will take my chance’, she wrote. But for her there was no chance to take. How easy it is to be lulled into a false sense of security. The long-suffering of God in His patience waits upon men. How long God has waited in grace upon man. The dispensation, and the length of it, is a wonderful testimony to the patience and long-suffering of God, but He has said that His Spirit will not always strive with men, Gen 6: 3 (KJV). One gospel preacher in the Acts said that God has set a day when He is “going to judge the habitable earth in righteousness by the man whom he has appointed”, Acts 17:31. God has set that day! I do not know when it is, I do not know where it appears on the calendar, but God knows; and those who have rejected His Son will be brought to account for it.
But God in the gospel does not desire to be known as a judge, but as a Saviour God. His desire is to save men; He is a God who saves. He has been saving men and women, and boys and girls, right down through this dispensation. He has a righteous basis on which He can extend mercy and forgiveness to the sinner. It is a wonderful thing to be able to say that. Without relinquishing anything of His holy attributes, God is able to extend mercy to the guilty. There are two things in the scriptures that it says God cannot do. One man in the Old Testament said, “I know that thou canst do everything” (Job 42: 2); but, you know, there are two things that God cannot do. One of them is that He cannot lie (Heb 6: 18); with us sometimes, naturally, an untruth, trips off our lips very easily, does it not? But another thing that is said about the Lord is that “he cannot deny himself”, 2 Tim 2: 13. You see the essential moral dilemma: how was God going to approach guilty sinners like you and me as He desired in His heart to do, to express the feelings of His love, without compromising His essential integrity as a righteous and holy God? And in the cross of Jesus we learn how God has done that, how He has upheld all that He is as a holy and righteous God. The judgment of God fell upon One who was sinless, who became a sin Bearer, who bore the sins of believers, and among them He bore my sins. How thankful I am to God for it! You know that it is one of the things I can say honestly that I appreciate more and more, that He bore my sins in His body on the tree (1 Pet 2: 24), so that I may look ahead to the day of judgment without any fear. John says “that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, that even as he is, we also are in this world”, 1 John 4: 17. You say, ’Well, I am looking forward to being like Jesus eventually when I am with Him’, but you think of that remarkable statement that “as he is”, as Jesus is, “we also are in this world”. That is how God sees the believer; He sees him as clear of his sins as Jesus is. So that there is no condemnation for the believer, there is no fear of the judgment of God, there is a conscious peace in the soul. It is a wonderful thing to have peace in this world, a world that searches endlessly for peace. We hear about the ‘peace process’ and peace deals that men try to make to keep the lid on violence and social disorder, but that is not peace. Peace is the fruit of righteousness (Jas 3: 18) and, righteousness having been established at such great cost, you can “have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ”, Rom 5: 1. That is a wonderful thing in a troubled and uncertain world where people are so worried. They are worried about the economy, what is going to happen, worried about tsunamis, and disasters in the creation; in this city many people must be very worried about the level of crime, the threat and fear of it, what is going to happen to them, the dangers that abound in the world as a whole. What a thing it is to have settled peace with God in your soul and, as one woman said, ‘Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God’. That is a wonderful thing! It could be yours, but it is only through our Lord Jesus Christ. You can have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. You can go through all the great blessings of Christianity and they are all connected with a living Man. You cannot have them without Him, but in having Him, you can have them all. God withholds nothing! He does not give grudgingly; the scripture says, “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly”, Psalm 84: 11. You think of the fulness, the freeness of divine giving in Christ.
Well, I have referred to these persons in the Acts because they were guilty persons. They had witnessed, or been responsible for, the crucifixion of Jesus. Peter says that He had been “given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2: 23); that was God’s side. God took what men did but He turned it to account. There was what men did, but there was what God did; God gave His Son. He was given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God but Peter says “ye, by the hand of lawless men, have crucified and slain”. Peter was not afraid of peer pressure; Peter had moral backbone. He stood up in this city where Jesus had been crucified and he proclaimed that the very man that had been crucified by them was living. I think we can little understand the dramatic effect of that on these persons. They thought that they had stamped out His Name and the remembrance of Him. “When will he die, and his name perish?” (Psalm 41: 5); that was what was wanted by those who cried for His execution. But immediately there is this testimony by persons who had seen Him, who had spoken with Him, who had eaten and drunk with Him in resurrection life (Acts 10: 41); it was an undeniable testimony. And Peter says that He was not only raised but He has been exalted by the right hand of God. And He sits there at divine invitation: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit at my right hand until I put thine enemies to be the footstool of thy feet”, Acts 2: 34, 35. What an uncomfortable moment for these persons to hear that scripture referred to which they no doubt knew well, because they had been His enemies. These were the wicked and lawless men by whose hand He had been crucified and slain. And the Spirit of God brings conviction home to them. “They were pricked in heart”; you see, they had a conscience. The man we read of first of all did not appear to have a conscience that was effective; his was a conscience that, as the scripture says, was cauterised, (1 Tim 4: 2), it had ceased to work. He was prepared to wash his hands of the situation and allow an innocent man to be executed. But this company had a conscience that still worked.
You have got a conscience and, if it is still working and has not become cauterised, it is working on God’s side; and it alerts you to good and evil when God’s light reaches it. They were pricked in heart. And then, as the truth reached them, the enormity of their position came home to them: “What shall we do?”. What could they do? What they had done could never be undone. The situation looked hopeless. This Man that they had crucified, or to whose crucifixion they had assented, had not only risen, but was at the right hand of God and waiting for His enemies to be made the footstool of His feet. They were numbered among His enemies. What could they do? Well, Peter tells them what they could do. They asked the question of the right person. This beloved servant of the Lord could tell them what they could do. They would not find the answer among the religious rulers of the day, but this man - later described as an unlettered and uninstructed man (chap 4: 13), a fisherman, a simple man - he had the answer as to what to do. He says, “Repent”. That is the first thing. It has been described as the first act of practical righteousness on the part of the sinner, that he repents. He comes to an acknowledgement in the presence of God as to what he is and what he has done; “and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ”, in that Name, “for remission of sins, and ye will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” These persons were not only to be freed of fear and of the guilt that was undoubtedly theirs - all that was presented to them, and it is presented dear hearer to you and me in the preaching, but there was far more than that presented to them. It was not simply to be relieved from that nagging fear of what might happen as a consequence of what I have done, but to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is a wonderful gift! Precious gift of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit. I wonder if you are conscious of having received that gift. God is very willing to give to repentant sinners the gift of the Holy Spirit. If you are in any doubt about it, if you are not sure whether you have received the Holy Spirit you could ask God to bless you with the assurance of that gift. It is a very precious gift. Those that have received the gift of the Holy Spirit value that gift greatly, because the Holy Spirit sheds abroad in the heart the love of God, Rom 5: 5. It is not only peace with God, but the consciousness inwardly of being loved by God.
It is a wonderful thing to be loved by somebody. Many of us have been brought up in a family where we have been loved, and we have known that we have been loved. It is not that everything was a ‘bed of roses’ in the family, but we knew that whatever happened we were loved; it was settled love towards us. It is a wonderful thing to have the love of God shed abroad, diffused in the heart. The Holy Spirit does that and He is the power to walk here so as to please God. That is how we answer to His love shed abroad in the heart: we walk so as to please Him, and He gives the power for that, the power to refuse the lusts of the flesh, and practically to get our freedom from sin and the bondage of sin. But above all He links the heart consciously with that living Man above. That is a very blessed thing! The love of God is made known to us in Jesus, and the Spirit of God links your heart with Him. The Lord Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God. As the preaching goes out, that is where He sits. You cannot see Him sitting there, but through the gift of the Holy Spirit you can have an indissoluble bond with Him. The apostle Paul says that not even death itself can separate us from “the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”, Rom 8: 38. Is that not wonderful? You think of loved ones dying; and we become separated from them, and they from us. We no longer experience their love as we have known it in their lifetime, nor they ours, but nothing can separate us from the love of God; there is inexpressible comfort in that. You think of the persons that we have known that have died; although they may not now enjoy our love or we theirs, nothing can separate them from the enjoyment of the love of God; how blessed to know that! To have that indissoluble link was something offered to these persons, you might say to the most guilty persons on the planet; the gospel was preached to them first, and it was not only a gospel of relief, but it offered this immense blessing.
Well now, the jailor in chapter 16 was a man in crisis. He had been told to look after these prisoners, charged to keep them safely. There was no question what happened to a jailor who lost his prisoners: he lost his life. You read of that in this very book, the guards whose prisoner was released by the power of God were themselves executed, Acts 12: 19. And these men had been beaten up with unnecessary cruelty and cast into the inner prison, which I understand would have been little more than a hole in the ground, and their feet secured to the stocks. Men who had been so brutalised and were sitting in such depressing circumstances “were praising God with singing”. They had a joy in their hearts that was not dependent upon the circumstances in which they were. I sometimes find that when things are going well I am up, and when they are not going so well I am down. But these men had a joy that no sorrow could destroy. And in these circumstances the service of God was going on, they “were praising God with singing, and the prisoners were listened to them”. It has often been said that it was a strange sound to be heard in that prison: oaths and curses, wails of agony, pain, yes; but “praising God with singing, and the prisoners listened to them”. It was not only the prisoners that listened to them, but God listened to them too, and this earthquake changed the circumstances. God can change the circumstances. The Scriptures abound with examples of how God allows circumstances to arise to reach an end, and once that end has been reached it is a small matter for Him to change the circumstances. Circumstances seem very large to us; we may pray to Him about them, but a change of circumstances is a small matter with God. These circumstances had in mind that this man should be changed, that he might experience something of the grace of God. And so he sees that the doors are open and he thought the prisoners had fled; and he was so desperate that he was going to commit suicide. But the word is “Do thyself no harm”. That is the appeal in the gospel: do not harm yourself. If you ignore the overtures of divine grace, you will do great damage to your soul; do not harm yourself. “We are all here”, Paul says. What a wonderful thing it is that the saints are still here. The gospel is preached while the saints are still here. One day those that belong to Jesus will be taken to be with Him and the gospel as we know it will come to an end. But Paul says the situation is not as desperate as you think: “we are all here”. And the gospel is still being preached and the Saviour is still available. And the jailor ran in and in his despair he says, “what must I do … ?”.
It sometimes used to be said, ‘Well, there is nothing to do, it has all been done’; and as far as the matter of atonement is concerned there is nothing you could do, nothing you could give to God for the atonement of your soul. That atonement has been made by Jesus alone on the cross; He made “by himself the purification of sins”, Heb 1: 3. He did what you and I could never do, but God looks for what you can do, and what Paul says is still the gospel message: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house”. You see, God had in mind the salvation of this man as the head of his house, and then that his whole house should come into blessing.
I close with this reference to Paul. He asked the same question, but he asked it of the Lord personally. Like Pilate, he had the Lord before him, but now in glorified conditions. The Lord was speaking to him from the glory and Paul says, “What shall I do, Lord?”. He was not only confessing Jesus as Saviour, but he was confessing Him as Lord. That is a wonderful point in a believer’s history, not only to own that Jesus is my Saviour, the One who saved me from my sins and brought me into blessing, but He becomes Lord to me; that is, I defer to His authority: He has authority over me. And Saul, as he then was says, “What shall I do, Lord?”. Now the Lord’s answer is very interesting because He tells him to go to Damascus and it will be told him what he must do. He was to go into the Christian circle and he was to subject himself to them. He speaks in one of his epistles about “submitting yourselves to one another in the fear of Christ”, Eph 5: 21. The Lord Jesus had accomplished the great work of redemption and He had gone up on high to glory, but His own were still here. He speaks of them as the “me”; He challenges this man as to why he was persecuting Him by persecuting His saints. What an astonishing revelation that was to Paul. He thought that Jesus had died and His name would perish, but He was still here characteristically in this Christian circle. And this man who asked what he should do was told to go there into the circle that he had vowed to annihilate. The Spirit of God uses the most graphic language and says that he was “breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord”, Acts 9: 1. It describes a heart that was as full of hatred as you could imagine, and these persons against whom he had such hatred previously were the ones who were going to tell him what he must do. The Lord Jesus on high was not acting independently of His own here on the earth. So Saul was led. It says “And as I could not see, through the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came to Damascus”.
“What shall I do”? The gospel does not leave believers without direction and aimless. There are some that preach to save persons from hell but they are left adrift in the world. This man wanted some direction in his life; he did not want to be aimless; he wanted to know what the Lord would have him to do, and the Lord’s mind was found amongst His own here. That is a very blessed thing, to find a circle on earth that is in concert with the one blessed Man who has gone up into heaven.
Well, the gospel comes to an end and we go home, but the question remains; what will you do? Others may have made a decision for Christ, but what are you going to do? You say, ‘Well, there is great pressure in the work place or at school, and it would be very uncomfortable; people will think I have suddenly become religious, or holy’: what will you do with Christ? Dear hearer, there was never a more vital question for you to address. Your welfare both for time and eternity hinges upon it, I urge you on God’s behalf to make a decision for Christ, I urge you in repentance and faith to receive from Him the living water, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and to find in your life a direction and a course that He would set that would be for His pleasure. This man that said “What shall I do, Lord?” says at the end of his life “I finish my course”, Acts 20: 24. What a course it was. It was a course that had changed from what it had been into a course that was directed by the Lord. It involved suffering for him but he looked ahead for the “crown of righteousness” that was laid up for him and for all those who love His appearing, 2 Tim 4: 8.
May we be numbered among them dear brethren.
For His Name’s sake.
28th July 2013