Course: 52 Major Stories of the Bible
The book of Acts begins where the gospels leave off. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and other followers, and we are told of an occurrence in 1 Corinthians 15 that he actually appeared to over 500 people.Among other things, Jesus told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8 we begin reading about the ascension and Jesus says “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” After he said these thing he was lifted up in a cloud and left their sight. We call this the ascension; it was the signal to the disciples that there would be no more earthly appearances by Jesus and that it was time for them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit and to get on with the work of the church. With that foundation, we look at Acts 2 and the Pentecost. Pentecost is actually a great word that means “fiftieth” because this event happened 50 days after Passover. It is at the end of a Jewish feast called the Feast of Weeks, which is one of those feasts that a lot of Jews would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem for. A time they would all get together from the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) to come to the their homeland of Jerusalem and celebrate together.
Fulfillment of Jesus’ Promise
We start reading in Acts 2:1, “When the day of Pentecost arrived they were all together in one place, and suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting and divided tongues as a fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues and other languages as the spirit gave them utterance."
In the Old Testament with very rare exception, the Holy Spirit behaved in a different way than it does now. The Holy Spirit would come on isolated individuals for a temporary period of time. He would come to enable them to do a specific task and leave when that task was done. For example, the Spirit came on Gideon and he went to war. Or the Spirit came on Saul and he prophesied. That was how the Holy Spirit functioned for the most part in the Old Testament. But at the Pentecost you have the beginning of a new era where the Holy Spirit came down and resided on every follower of Jesus Christ and stayed permanently with that person.
Three Signs of the Spirit
There are three signs that accompany this coming of the Spirit. The coming of the Spirit is an internal thing, you cannot see it, and so God sends three external validation that something special had happened. The first is the sound of wind. There was a mighty rushing wind that let them know that something was going on. If you read through the Old Testament at the theophonies, the different places where God appears, you often hear about a rushing wind accompanying the appearing of God. In John chapter 3, when Jesus talked to Nicodemus, he compared the Spirit to the wind. It is actually the same word in Greek. A mighty rushing wind is one of those signs that people would have associated with the coming of God. The second sign was the fire, and the fire came down and divided into different tongues to rest over the head of each person. Not just the 12, but all of the 120 that were gathered there. The third sign was that they began to speak in tongues, and we find later on, specifically in verse 11, that they were praising God for his mighty works in other human languages that they had not learned. Those were the signs that accompanied the giving of the Spirit in this new and this miraculous way.
Evidently, this whole crowd of people moved into public, presumably to the temple, because we start reading about others amazement at what was going on. In verse 5 we read, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.” Those people apart from the 120 were absolutely shocked that the hicks from the country were able to speak in all of these different languages. Luke, the author, goes into great detail about how many languages these uneducated Galileans were speaking. Verse 9: “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” I would also be amazed if I saw that kind of miraculous outpouring. It is interesting that whenever you have miracles you also have secular excuses. People often look at a miracle and give some silly excuse that makes little sense, but they believe almost anything to avoid having to admit a miracle.
That is what we see in verses 12 and 13. “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?' But others mocking said, 'They are filled with new wine.'” They are saying that all of these Galilean sailors are drunk. They are looking at a miracle, and because they do not want to admit it, they came up with, “Oh, they’re just drunk”. Wow, I did not realize alcohol had the ability to turn 120 people into instant linguists. Moreover, to enable them to say the same things. There are some people that look at miracles and say anything to avoid admitting it. A friend of mine had sever cancer the size of a grapefruit in his midsection. When they went in to operate it, they could not find it. The surgeon called in all 22 doctors on the tumor board and said, “There are the X-rays, you tell me where this cancer is I’m suppose to dig out.” They could not find it. They were sitting in front of a miracle, and they know the body does not have the ability to remove a grapefruit sized cancer tumor in one day. The best illustration comes from two men named Frances Crick and James Watson, the two scientist that won the Nobel Prize for their work on DNA in the double helix who put to death the myth of the simple cell. When I was in high school learning about evolution, I was taught that the cell is extremely simple. Crick and Watson proved that there is wrapped a double helix of DNA strands with millions of genetic codes in each human cell. The cell is anything but simple, and it is irreducible. If you take any part out of it, it is dead, which proves that evolution is impossible. Crick was quoted as saying that the world does not contain the chemicals necessary to generate DNA. It is too complicated. Instead of praising God for this miracle of life, Crick writes a book and expounds the new theory called “panspermia,” The theory that the human race was seeded by aliens. Crick was an atheist who knows scientifically that evolution is impossible, that DNA cannot be formed gradually, that the chemicals to create DNA do not even exist. But since there cannot be a God, since there cannot be anything miraculous, aliens came and seeded the planet. No matter when and where you live, you will find people that will watch a miracle and say “Oh, they are just drunk.”
Peter gets up and gives an explanation starting at verse 14, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.'” This is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophet Joel's prophecy about the coming day of the Lord. This would be a day in which God would pour out His spirit on all people, and all these people filled with God’s spirit would prophesy. They would speak for God, and this is what you are hearing. Having given that explanation, he gets into the sermon beginning in verse 22.
I will teach you a good and widely used Greek word: Kerygma. The Kerygma is used to describe the essential nature of New Testament preaching. If you look through the seven sermons in Acts, you will see that there are four basic ideas in each of them. Those four ideas are called the Kerygma, and they are: 1) Jesus lived, and sometimes they talk about the miracles that he performed or things like that. 2) That he died, and often in these sermons they point out that he died in fulfillment of prophesy. 3) That he was raised from the dead, and sometimes the sermons will emphasize that he is now exalted at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. 4) These sermons one way or another all end for a call for repentance. Those are the four elements of the Kerygma, which defines the preaching in the early church. Let’s look at Peters sermon and you can pick out those points, starting at verse 22. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst [point 1], as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men [point 2]." Hear, there is no excuse for their sin. They are fully responsible for what they did and even in the midst of human sin the sovereign God is working to accomplish his purposes. And then he continues verse 24: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it [Point 3]." Peter then talks about how this is the fulfillment of prophesy, and in verse 33 writes, "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing." He talks a little more about this being the fulfillment of prophesy and then concludes point three of the Kerygma in verse 36. "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” I do not know if the people interrupted Peter, but he did not have to make the fourth point. "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'" They were scared because they realized that they had understood Jesus incorrectly, so they ask, "What will we do?" Peter finishes the fourth part of the Kerygma, “And Peter said to them, “'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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.' And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, 'Save yourselves from this crooked generation.' So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls." That is the Kerygma. If our evangelistic services today would follow this same pattern, we would avoid much of the mess that is in the church today. I have heard evangelistic sermons where they say, “aren’t you sorry for you sins? God is going to condemn you. Aren’t you sorry for your sins?” And some people respond, “Yeah, I don’t want to be condemned.” If you respond to that, are you on your way to heaven? No. There is no salvation by sorrow. That is not a biblical concept. The biblical evangelical sermon is the presentation of who Jesus is, how he lived, how he died, the fact that he was raised from the dead, and once we know that we are called to repent of our sin and our misunderstanding of who he was. They come to Peter and ask, “What must we do?” They must have been scared. Notice the answer that Peter gives opposed to the answer that the world often gives to this question. The world has a lot of ways to answer this question, does it not? If we could fill out that question with wheat the Philippine jailer asked, “what must we do to be saved?”
The world has a lot of answers, including, “be a good person, be sincere." However, this answer denies the reality of sin, and if there is no sin there is no need to repent, and if there is no need to repent then there is no need for the cross, and if there is no need for the cross then God the Father lied to God the Son, because God the Son said, “Is there any other way to accomplish this without me dying on the cross, but not my will but yours be done.” God the Father's answer was “No, you must go through the cross. It is the only way to do something about sin.” So we are calling a liar when we say, “be a good person, be sincere in what you believe, whatever you believe." Yet I suspect most people on the proverbial street corner would say they are going to heaven because they are a good citizen, someone who does good and supports their community. Some of the more liberal churches will also say that, including the Crystal Cathedral. While I know that Robert Schuller has done a lot of good, especially in the life of my grandmother, he does not believe in sin. "For decades Schuller said that he was a proponent of the kind of proselytizing that pushed Muslims to become Christians. Then he realized that asking people to change their faith was 'utterly ridiculous.'” This is taken from an article in the Chicago Tribune, November 2, 2011, which quoted Schiller's autobiography. Schuller’s first interaction with a Muslim group came when Mohammed had invited him to give the opening sermon at the Muslim-American Societies New Jersey convention, and in 1999 he was asked by the grand mufti of Syria to preach in Damascus. “When I met the grand mufti I sensed the presence of God... We focused on similarities, not differences,” He wrote in his autobiography. Shuller believes the purpose of religion is not to say that “I have all the answers and my job is to convert you. That road leads to the twin towers...That attitude is an invitation to extremist.” After September 11, he said “The emphasis should move from proselytizing to just trying to help everybody who has hurts and hopes.” In fact, Schuller was recorded as blaming the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on evangelical Christians and their mission programs. This is rubbish. Another answer the world likes to give is “Well, if you want to do something then you need to work really hard. You need to work hard to earn favor with God to take care of your sin.” Jehovah’s Witnesses say, “Go do something, knock on doors.” The Mormons say, “Be married in the temple.” The Muslims say, “Pray a lot.” The Hindus say, “Do a lot of good so that when you are reincarnated up the spiral instead of down the spiral.” I have even sat through a Baptist sermon that challenged Martin Luther, "Luther got it wrong. Salvation is not by grace through faith, salvation is something that you earn, and you have to work to be accepted by God.” We do not have to go far to find someone preaching something like this, either in an explicit or implicit way. That is how you are saved, according to some non-Christians. You do certain things to look a certain way. Roman Catholicism teaches that infant baptism is a “means of grace.” God is at work even without you knowing it because you are a baby at the time, and he is changing you even though you are not participating. I know Baptists that treat baptism the same way. It does not matter what you do as long as you walk down the isle of the church, sign the roll book, and get baptized. Then you can live anyway you want; it does not matter because you are on your way to heaven. Baptism becomes a ritual that you go through to earn favor with God so that you can shake your baptismal certificate in God’s face and say “You are required to save me now.”
There is a third answer and biblical answer to our question. Praise the Lord Peter was an evangelical because he responds, “You must repent and you must be baptized.” Peter is saying that you cannot move smoothly from the natural world to the spiritual world; there is a disconnect between you previous life, which has stopped, and a new life has begun through the work of God. When people ask me "what I am" and try and label me, I am comfortable telling them that I am an evangelical. The term has been around for 300 or 400 years, and evangelicalism teaches the reality of sin and the need for the atonement, the need for the Christ to have done something on the cross. Evangelicalism teaches individual repentance. Evangelicalism teaches the necessity of God doing the work in your life, of changing you, of giving you rebirth. Evangelicalism has always emphasized the on-going needs of sanctification and that holiness always matters. Peter was an evangelical, and when he was asked “What must we do,” he responded, “You need to repent and you must be baptized”. Lets look at those two words, "Repent" and "Baptism." Repent, but repent of what? When I would ask this question of my students in New Testament Survey classes, they generally answered "Repent of sin." My reply was, "That’s interesting. I mean, sin is kind of in Acts Chapter 2. In verse 38 “for the forgiveness of your sins”. In verse 40 he talks about saving yourself from this crooked generation." But then I would ask, “Is that really the bulk of Peter’s sermon? Is that what he is primarily concerned about that we would somehow repent of our sins?” The answer is “No." While the idea of sin is present between verses 22 and 39, that is not the focus of what Peter is talking about. Instead, he is trying to get across the question, "Who is Jesus?" He was the man attested to you by many miracles. He was the man who died in accordance wit prophesy. He was the person who was raised from the dead in accordance with prophesy. He now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, waiting to judge the quick, the living, and the dead, according to the creeds. This is the Jesus who, if you know who he is, calls you to repent of your misunderstanding of who he is.
The bulk of Peters sermon is not about sin; it is about the question, “Who is Jesus?” When Peter says you must repent, he is telling you to repent of your misunderstanding of who Jesus is and repent of the sin that flows from that misunderstanding. You must change both how you think about him and then you must change how you behave. That is what repentance is. It is not just, “Oh, I’m sorry about my sins.” Everyone who hears the gospel message must answer this one question, “Who is Jesus?” The argument has been around since the second century A.D., most recently popularized by Josh McDowell. But there are only three answers to this question: Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, which is what the Jews thought he was and killed him for it, or he was the son of God, the Lord, Master over all and Christ the Messiah. Those are the only three options available to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” There is no fourth option. There is no option of him being just a good person. A good person does not say, “I am the vine and you are the branches, unless you abide in me and I in you you will bear much fruit.” Good people do not say things like that. Good people do not say, “I and the Father are one.” Good people do not say, “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” Only liars, lunatics, or Jesus Christ say these things. “Who is Jesus and what must we do?” There is no proclamation of the gospel explains sorrow and judgement save for the biblical pattern, which is to share who Jesus is, that he lived, and that he did miracles. Yes, he was a good person, but he was more. He died in fulfillment of prophesy and raised from the dead because his death was to pay the penalty for my sins. He had no sins of his own to pay for, so death could not keep him in the grave. God the Father raised him and has exalted him at the right hand. He is going to be the judge, the person who stands at the Book of Life and makes the judgments when you and I stand before Him, and if you know that about Jesus you will know that you must repent, you must change your mind, you must realize that “I was wrong, I thought he was a good person." He must be who he said he wad; he must be the Son of God, Lord, the Messiah. I am sorry for my misunderstanding and I am sorry for my sin. I am sorry for the things I have done wrong. Jesus, I am your follower, I am your disciple, I will believe you are who you say you are and I will follow where you lead me.” That is biblical evangelism, and it does not matter if it comes from the pulpit or while you are talking to your mom and dad, neighbor, co-worker, or out on the beaches in Florida doing cold turkey witnessing. The issue is, “Who is Jesus and what is there to repent of?” Peter said two things, not only must we repent, but we must also be baptized. Baptism is not a magical cure for sin or a means of grace. It is not a “Get Out of Hell Free” card. A neighbor of mine was coked out and thinking he could fly, of course he couldn't, and died. I will never forget what the priest said at his funeral. He said, "He was baptized as a baby, so we can know he is in heave." What a horrible thing to say at a man’s funeral.
Baptism is not some magical cure for sin. It is simply and wonderfully the visible indication of a inward change of an inward reality. Baptism is acting out the Kerygma. In baptism you state that something has to happen, that things cannot keep going as they are. Being nice, knocking on doors, and doing religious things are only going to get me to hell. When you are baptized, you pronounce, “I am a sinner and separated from God, and when I’m put under the waters of baptism I am dying with Christ, I’m dying to my old life, and I’m dying to the power of sin and the mastery that it has exerted over me.” As you come out of the baptismal water, "I am acting out a commitment to live a new kind of life, just as Christ was raised to a new kind of life (Romans 6), so also am I raised to newness of life, a new kind of life in which the mastery of sin has been broken and holiness now always matters." There is no more important question than "Who is Jesus? What do we have to do?" because the answer to that question determines where you spend eternity. If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, I would encourage you to not hide behind the smoke screen of intellectual questions. Those of you following Jesus Christ are sharing Jesus, get them to answer the question, "Who is Jesus?" I heard about a pastor who was in an exchange with a non-believer, going back and forth with the normal questions, "How could a god let bad things happen to good people? What about the crusades? How could a god send people to hell who have not heard of him?" Of course, he answered these, "No one is good, we are all sinners; God does not send people to hell for ignorance, but because they are sinners." The pastor finally asked, "If I answer all your questions, will you become a Christian?" "No." "Well, I'm not going continue answering questions. The Bible has the answers to them, but these answers condemn you to hell. The question of who is Jesus, who do you believe that Jesus is, and eternal life is there as you understand that and respond to it. During the reception after the funeral of a friend, I listened to the pastor share Christianity with a non-believer. He started by asking, “Do you have any spiritual beliefs?” A very non-threatening question. As they talked, the pastor eventually said, “Well, that’s interesting. Who do you think that Jesus is?” That is the question to ask. I asked an evangelist to help me share my faith, not a technique or anything, just something to help. He said that every conversation has a turning point, and if you are praying for the opportunity to share Jesus, you can use those turning points to talk about faith. Or, you can talk about football or the weather. My encouragement to myself and you is to pray for opportunities, watch for turning points in conversations, and when we get to them we say “Do you have any spiritual beliefs? Who do you think Jesus is?” Because that is the question that determines heaven and hell.