Acts: 2: 14-17(to “all flesh”), 22-25 (to “before me”), 31-41; 3: 1-8, 12-19; 4: 1-14
I would like to say a few words about ends and beginnings. That might sound a rather odd way to put things, because, in the usual course of events, beginnings come before ends. However, I would like to speak about the end of one arrangement and the beginning of another, because I think that we get a view of this in Peter’s preaching in Acts 2. For each of us, individually, there must be a termination of one course, involving a resolution which is satisfactory to God, and the beginning of another. God gave indication in the Old Testament, over the centuries that preceded the incoming of Jesus Christ, that His salvation would involve the end of one arrangement and the beginning of a completely new one. You can see this, for example, in the history of the children of Israel. Exodus gives some detail of the way in which they had suffered under Pharaoh’s oppressive regime. The taskmasters of Egypt were all that they had known until the passage of the Red Sea but, when they emerged from the passage through the sea, they could sing of a prospect as great as being brought into the place of Jehovah’s dwelling: a decisive end and wonderful new prospect! The Red Sea is a symbol of the death of the Lord Jesus and the song celebrates a very full salvation through His death. The people of God were delivered from all that Egypt represents and brought on to new ground, where there is freedom from Pharaoh’s oppression and also from dependence on him. The Israelites’ lives had been sustained by what Egypt produced and they were brought into a wilderness, which would appear unable to sustain them in the smallest degree. They would learn to live exclusively on what God provided, a new principle of complete dependence on God, with all the blessing associated with it. Throughout the Old Testament there are examples of God’s intervention to bring situations of hopeless weakness and failure to an end, and to bring in new arrangements of blessing by His sovereign mercy and grace.
These interventions in the Old Testament were symbolic of what God had in mind for the whole of humanity. The passages which we have read are from three of Peter’s preachings at the beginning of Christianity. In chapter 2, Peter speaks about the end which is marked by the death of Jesus. This is, morally, the end of everything that related to one kind of man. Peter speaks about the circumstances in which Jesus had died and the way in which those who were listening had been involved in this. He refers to the life of Jesus and talks about the impact of His life among them, “a man borne witness to by God to you by works of power and wonders and signs, which God wrought by him in your midst, as yourselves know”. He was talking to people who had known directly the healing and blessing of the presence of the Lord Jesus among them. These, however, were also immediately responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus: “ye, by the hand of lawless men, have crucified and slain”. Peter says to them, ‘You got the blessings which Jesus brought, and you crucified Him!’. What a reflection of the unspeakable perversity of man; and how necessary that God should bring an end to man of this kind. In spite of the manifest power with which Peter spoke, there were still those who resisted: “Be saved from this perverse generation”.
The death of Jesus involved much more, however, than the depth of evil in humanity. He was “given up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God”; and the satisfaction of God meant that a promise could be fulfilled: “For to you is the promise and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God may call”. How grateful we should be that for the reference to those who are afar off. I think that means that we are justified in proclaiming the word here in Kirkcaldy, where we are all afar off, not only in geographical terms but also in terms of two millennia of time. Everyone here is afar off. I would ask you, ‘Do you have the sense of the call of God?’. I would desire that God might be able to use what is said to stir concern as to this and to bring you into the company of those who accept the word.
There are two strong elements in this preaching by Peter. One of these is that the power which was evident was the power of God by virtue of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The other is the resurrection of Jesus. Peter speaks firstly about the advent of the Holy Spirit because of the question, “What would this mean?”, v 12. The power that was so evident was the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit of God. It was a matter of surpassing wonder that God should have been manifested in flesh in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a measure of God’s commitment to mankind. He confirms this commitment by sending a second divine Person, not this time in the way in which He came in the Person of Jesus, but as indwelling men, according to the evidence before their very eyes. Peter’s address deals firstly with this evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit because it was the pressing matter of the moment. In the order of things in the ways of God, however, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the consequence of the glorification of Jesus, following His resurrection and ascension.
The significance of the resurrection of Jesus is that God has been satisfied in respect of the issue of sin. In the second half of his address, Peter refers to the words of David in Psalm 16, and the point of what Peter has to say is that David’s words had prophetic reference to Someone else. David had died and been buried and a monument had been set up for him. He remained in death and Peter’s point is that David was speaking as a prophet about the resurrection of the Christ. Much later, Peter wrote, in reference to Jesus, “who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree”, 1 Pet 2: 24. Paul says that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6: 23), and also that “Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us”, 2 Cor 5: 21. Sin was righteously removed by Jesus’ death and His resurrection is the great witness to this. The sin which had been put upon Him no longer attached to Him and, by His resurrection, the benefit of this is communicated to man. You can know salvation from sins and can be brought into a position where sin is not an issue between you and God. It is not simply that you can have reassurance that your sins are forgiven as often as you might need it but, rather, that sin is put completely out of the way. That is the full measure of salvation that is spoken of here. Peter speaks of the healed man in chapter 3, saying, “the faith which is by him has given him this complete soundness in the presence of you all”, v 16. The word we preach offers, by faith in Christ, a complete soundness, not only “in the presence of you all” but extending even to perfect suitability for the presence of God. Those who are justified can stand there.
The powerful testimony of the moment was that Jesus had risen from the dead and that those who stood with Peter were witnesses of His resurrection. More than this, He had “been exalted by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which ye behold and hear”. Those who were listening to Peter could not deny the power among them of the Holy Spirit of God. God was distributing among men the blessings of the accomplishments of Jesus. It is wonderful that God should have become manifest in flesh in Jesus Christ! It is beyond comprehension what He accomplished for the satisfaction of God; and equally profound that another divine Person should be sent from heaven to promote its blessed consequences for mankind! To whom did Peter address this immediately? It was to those who had been personally involved in the crucifixion of Jesus. This is the kind of God that we have. This is a measure of the favour of His disposition, that those who crucified His Son are those to whom the first offer of salvation is given. The word that was addressed to these dreadful men is addressed to you tonight.
The word came, initially, as a strong reproach. “Let the whole house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him, this Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ”. “Ye” is emphasised. Peter did not relieve them of responsibility but he did proceed to indicate how they could be the first beneficiaries of the salvation which is in Jesus Christ. First of all, they had to be convicted. “And having heard it they were pricked in heart”. Can you imagine how they must have felt? Their purpose was to remove Jesus by killing Him. Where did His resurrection leave anyone with a purpose of this kind? This triumph was a fearful reproach on those who had crucified Him. The extent of what was involved in being “pricked in heart” we can scarcely imagine. What was the extremity of their desolation when they said, “What shall we do, brethren?”. Peter’s immediate answer is, “Repent, and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ”. Repentance means that I renounce all that has gone before and I have a direction that is completely different. You might feel that if what has ruled your life until now has to be renounced, then you are going to have to give up a great deal. Do you think that these men listening to Peter viewed it in that way? They had had it put upon their consciences with such force that they were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus and Peter was telling them that this awful burden could be removed simply by repentance. What immense relief they must have felt. The opportunity to repent became a provision of surpassing blessing. Peter adds, “and be baptised, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ”.
We might turn, for a moment, to the way in which Paul spoke about the glad tidings which he had preached in Ephesus, in chapter 20 of this book. He testified “to both Jews and Greeks repentance towards God”, as we have here, “and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ”, v 21. I think that this is the way in which the word of the glad tidings comes to us. I would suggest that Peter’s reference to baptism may have had particular reference to the Jews - “men of Judea” - in his audience. For them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ was, effectively, to put them on ground other than their Jewish heritage and to embrace Jesus Christ by faith. Salvation is in His Name, as Peter announces clearly in chapter 4: 12. We might not consider ourselves to be sinners such as those who crucified Jesus but sin of any kind makes us unsuitable for God. Restoration to the blessing of God’s favour comes by repentance towards Him and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the beginning of something new for every soul who embraces the word. This is a fresh beginning and one which has no end. We have spoken of the experience of God’s people at the Red Sea and the new prospect which was opened there. It spoke symbolically of deliverance by the death of Christ. It gave an aspect of the principle of the way of salvation that is fully declared in the word of the glad tidings.
We read the section at the beginning of chapter 3 that refers to the man who was healed in order to give the context of Peter’s next two preachings. The man was healed with the words “rise up and walk” “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazaræan”. While the healed man was relieved from a condition from which he had suffered from birth and became a joyful worshipper, I think that the point of this act of healing was to give fresh testimony to the power of the name of Jesus Christ the Nazaræan, in which it had been accomplished. The power of this Name is at the heart of Peter’s next two preachings. Peter addresses the people in chapter 3 and their rulers in chapter 4. As in his earlier word, he reproaches the people severely: “whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he had judged that he should be let go”. By any standard of justice, Jesus should have been released. His reproach continues for another two verses. In verse 19, he offers a way of salvation for them, but conviction of sin must come first. God’s reply to the evil action of man was to raise Jesus from among the dead. The insistence on the resurrection is emerging as a fundamental feature of the word of the glad tidings. Testimony to the resurrection is one of the key themes in the book of the Acts, and it presented difficulty. The people of Athens listened to Paul until he spoke about the resurrection (chap 17: 32), and Paul has to ask Agrippa, “Why should it be judged a thing incredible in your sight if God raises the dead?”, Acts 26: 8. To anyone who might express difficulty about the resurrection of Jesus, the reply is simple: there are witnesses to it. Peter states emphatically at the end of verse 15 that he and those with him were witnesses of Jesus in resurrection. We have referred already to the “complete soundness” in the lame man, who had been “made strong”; and this comprehensive healing was “by faith in his name”, and “the faith which is by him”. Jesus is the antecedent to those two references to faith. As Peter preaches the word a second time, having pressed the need for repentance, he proclaims the other great theme of the word of the glad tidings: salvation is by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. The characteristics of the new beginning are emerging and the transformation associated with it. It is complete soundness. It is not simply a way of dealing with the consequences of yesterday’s follies or a solution to tomorrow’s problems. If Peter reproached the people earlier in order to bring conviction, he now addresses to them a word which reflects the grace of God: “I know that ye did it in ignorance, as also your rulers”. Again, in line with his first preaching, he offers the provision of repentance, with the immediate prospect of “the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”. There is the prospect of immediate blessing, but sins must be removed. The preacher cannot avoid the issue of sins. He has to say to those who are listening that, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom.3: 23), but their sins can be blotted out completely by repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter’s third word is to the rulers. They are compelled to ask, “In what power or in what name have ye done this?” What was the authority for this action and where did the power come from? Evidently, Peter and those with him were seen as “unlettered and uninstructed men”. They had not this power of themselves and, when the rulers put the question as they do, they open the door for Peter to say exactly what he wanted to say to them. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders of Israel, if we this day are called upon to answer as to the good deed done to the infirm man”. How representative of Him who went about “doing good, and healing all that were under the power of the devil”, Acts 10: 38. That is what Jesus did and His servant is operating in the same way. The rulers wish to know by whose power and authority this was accomplished. “Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazaræan, whom ye have crucified, whom God has raised from among the dead,” - notice how these two things are put together - “ by him this man stands here before you sound in body”. How must they have felt to be in the presence of the consequences of God’s having raised Jesus from among the dead, when they had crucified Him? Peter presses the reproach: “He is the stone which has been set at nought by you the builders, which is become the corner stone.” These words were addressed directly to those who had the greatest responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus; and what is so striking is that Peter proceeds immediately to speak - still to those same people - of salvation. Salvation is proclaimed to them “in none other, for neither is there another name under heaven which is given among men by which we must be saved”. This word remains today. There are those who say that there are all sorts of approaches to the knowledge of God from different cultures and different parts of the world. We are told that we are all taking parallel routes to heaven. Not according to Peter’s word here, at a time, when opinions on God were as numerous as they are today. “For neither is there another name under heaven which is given among men by which we must be saved.”
May the power of that word come to each one of us and may we have a fresh sense of the magnificence of God’s way of salvation.
25th December 2011