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How Do You Explain That?

Sermon delivered by Howard Batson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, T.X., on October 4 2009.

Acts 2: 14-41

Whenever we experience a cataclysmic event, we want someone, somehow, to put context to what we’ve experienced.  We want the person with the most information and the most hope to tell us everything is okay and this is what it all means.

 

After 9-11, churches all across America gathered just because after such an event people want to be together and they want to hear someone speak who can bring, if not clarity, at least some context to the experience.  We wanted pastors in the pulpits of America to say, “Everything will be okay.  Though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea, the Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

 

Or after the Virginia Tech experience in 2007, when 32 college students were gunned down by a troubled student, we were all glued to the television, wanting the president of the university or someone in authority to come to the podium and tell us what happened, why, what can we do now, and how can we be sure it will never happen again.

 

So it was in the first century, during this Pentecost celebration.  The Spirit of God had come upon the disciples, and they were speaking in languages they had not learned.  The tongues of fire were resting upon their shoulders.  And it was such an interruption that some declared them drunk.

 

Peter, seizing the moment when folks needed a voice of comfort, a voice of hope, and a voice of reason – Peter offered his explanation.

 

Verse 14

“Peter stood up.”  Notice, the eleven stand up with him.  Discipleship – preaching is always a team effort.  They stood beside Peter, supporting him.  “He raised his voice and declared to them, ‘Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words.  For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day.’”

 

“It’s only nine in the morning,” Peter is saying.  People get drunk a lot later than that.  No, wine is not the cause for this early elation.  We are drunk on the Spirit of God.  What’s happening, he says, is what the prophet Joel had prophesied.

 

 “These are,” he says in verse 17, “the last days.”  In the Jewish mind, there are two ages – this age and the age to come.  The age to come was termed “the last days” – the day of God’s Messiah, the day of the pouring out of the Spirit of God.  The last days are here.  We’re in the age of the Messiah, the age of God’s Spirit.

 

At the beginning of the last days, God’s Spirit is poured out.  Notice that both the sons and the daughters preach, prophesy.  Old men dream dreams.  Because, he says in verse 18, “I will pour forth My Spirit.”  This is nothing less than what the prophet Joel had proclaimed. 

 

If this is the beginning of the last days, Peter reminds them that at the end of the last days there will be cosmic disturbances.  Notice what he says in verse 19, “There will be wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath. There will be blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood.”  And it’s the great glorious day of the Lord – the return of Christ that ends the age that began with the first coming of Christ.  “But everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (verse 21).

 

I want us to notice the points of Peter’s sermon.

 

I.  The prophets told you.

 

II.  You saw it yourself.

 

Look at verse 22: “Men of Israel, listen to these words:  Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know….”  What Peter is saying to the pilgrims in Jerusalem is this:  “You know the story of Jesus.  In your very midst, Jesus caused the blind to see, the lame to leap, the deaf to hear.  It happened,” he says in verse 22, “in your midst.”

 

Peter is making a connection. He is trying to meet them right where they are.  They hear and see the disciples preaching in these foreign languages – some folk think the disciples are drunk, and other folk are confused – and Peter hooks in.  “They’re not drunk.  It’s the outpouring of the Spirit.  It’s about Jesus.  And He did these things in your midst.”

 

Andrew Carnegie, as you know, became one of the richest men in America – made his fortune in the steel industry.  But the story I’m going to tell you took place before he was wealthy.  He was born in Scotland and was on his way to America on a ship.  The ship encountered a terrific storm that lasted two or three days.  Shortly after the storm ended, it was time for the Sunday morning church service aboard the ship.  Carnegie said he was excited about going to church that Sunday, that he was expecting to hear a sermon on the power and the might of God displayed in the sea and the wind.  He was looking for something like Psalm 107:21ff. where it says,

Others went out on the sea in ships;

there were merchants on mighty waters. 

They saw the works of the Lord,

His wonderful deeds in the deep.

For He spoke and stirred up the tempest

that lifted high the waves. 

They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths. 

In their peril, their courage melted away. 

They reeled and staggered like drunken men. 

They were at their wits end. 

They cried out to the Lord in their trouble,

and He brought them out of their distresses.

He stilled the storm to a whisper,

the waves of the sea were hushed. 

They were glad when it grew calm a

and He guided them to their desired haven. 

Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love

and His wonderful deeds for men.

Let them exalt Him in the assembly of people

and praise Him in the council of the elders.

They had just been through a horrific storm.  They had been in the midst of that wind.  They had been tossed by those very waves.  And he just knew the preacher was going to preach about the power of God in calming the storm. But instead the preacher went on with his sermon as planned, and he preached about Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. (Laurence W. Veinott, www.northnet.org) 

 

He missed his opportunity.  He missed his audience.

 

But not for Peter.  Peter preached to where the people were.  “They’re not drunk.  It’s the outpouring of the Spirit, first of all.  And secondly, Jesus did these things right there in your midst.  You yourselves know these things.

 

III.  God is in control, even in the death of Christ.

 

Verses 23-24

This man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.  And God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

 

Peter tells us God is absolutely in control.  God is in everything.  And God is everywhere.  “This plan by which you, yourselves, used evil men to crucify the Christ was not any surprise to God.  God was even in control with your wicked actions.”

 

It is remarkable that Peter would ever speak this way – that Peter would say that God wanted the death of Christ, that God was planning the death of Christ.  Remember back in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus tells them that He is going to die?  Do you remember what Peter does?

 

In Matthew 16:21, Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to suffer many things, He is going to die and be raised the third day.  And Peter says, “Pssst.  Come over here Jesus.”  It says “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Jesus, saying, ‘God forbid it! This shall never happen to you.’”  And you remember what Jesus says to Peter?  “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s interests.” 

 

Peter had once seen the crucifixion of the Messiah as an unthinkable evil.  But now he saw it as the plan of God.

 

Peter had come a long way.  Peter had done a 180.  Peter had seen God’s hand at work even in the cross of the Christ.  God is not surprised.  God is in everything.  And God is everywhere.

 

There was a little girl who, returning from Sunday School, sat on the bus one day beside a man.  The man was an unbeliever.  He could see the girl’s Sunday School paper in her hand.  So he decided to make fun of her.  “Tell me where God is and I’ll give you an apple,” he said to the little girl.  The little girl thought for a minute and said, “Sir, you tell me a place where God isn’t, and I’ll give you a basket of apples.”  (God’s Missionary People, Homiletics, 5/30/93)

 

End of discussion.  End of debate.

 

God is in everything.  God is everywhere – even in the death of the Christ.  It goes by the plan of God.  God is not surprised nor thwarted by the cross.

 

IV.  Death cannot hold Jesus.

 

In verse 24 he says God raised Jesus up from the dead, putting an end to the agony of death.  Then he quotes Psalm 16 which was known as a messianic psalm.  It says in verse 27 of Acts 2, quoting from Psalm 16, “Because you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.  Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; Thou wilt make me full of gladness with Thy presence.”

 

Peter says, “I’m sure that David is not speaking about himself, because he died and was buried and has experienced decay.  His tomb is here today,” says Peter.  “But rather, David was a prophet.  He was speaking of one to sit on the Davidic throne, one of his descendants.  He was speaking of the Christ, for the Christ was never abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh suffer decay.”  And then notice verse 32, “This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.”

 

It is impossible for death to capture the Christ.

 

Make no mistake about it.  The resurrection is important in Peter’s sermon.  In this three minute sermon, nine verses (verses 24-32) speak and focus on the resurrection.  God raised Him up.  God did it.  Freeing Him from the agony of death.  It was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him.

 

David anticipated the resurrection.  And then Peter says in verse 32, “God raised Him up, and we are all witnesses of the resurrected Christ.  We have seen Him crucified, and we have seen Him raised.”

 

Peter preached about the resurrection.

 

V.  Jesus Christ is Lord (v. 33).

 

Look at verse 36

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.

 

We have in verse 36 an evaluation of who Jesus was.  “Let all Israel be assured of this.  God made Jesus, and you crucified both Lord and Christ.”  Peter proclaims Jesus is Lord, kyrios – Lord.

 

It’s amazing to find the term  “Lord” used of Jesus.  It’s also used of God.   Jesus is like God, kyrios – the Lord.  The term is used both of God and the exalted Jesus in practically interchangeable context.  Jesus as Lord has taken on divine functions, such as the outpouring of the Spirit (verse 33), being the object of faith (verse 21).  Look at verse 21:  “You call upon the name of Jesus and you shall be saved.”

 

And now in verse 36, Jesus is called Lord while in verse 39, notice, God is called Lord.  “The Lord our God.”  Here we have in this very first sermon, this three minute sermon, the idea of the exalted Christ to the right hand of God, co-reigning with God and functioning, in many ways, as God.  The earliest preaching said “Jesus is Lord.”

 

There was for some years, and in some circles there still is, a debate whether Jesus can be your Savior but not your Lord.  I take you back to the very first sermon of Peter at the Day of Pentecost.  This first sermon said, “Jesus is Lord.”  That’s the great proclamation, the most ancient proclamation of the church.  Jesus is Lord.  If He’s your Savior, He is your Lord.  It’s part and parcel of the same theology, the same sermon of Peter.

 

VI.   Therefore…

 

Therefore, you need to repent.  Look at verse 37.  They hear the powerful preaching of the message of the gospel.  Peter has laid the crucifixion of Jesus at their feet, to their blame.  Yet he said God was in control.  Notice what they do.  “They were pierced to the heart, and said, ‘What do we need to do?’  And Peter said, ‘Therefore, repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

 

He brings it back to the Holy Spirit.  “Do you want this outpouring that the disciples are experiencing?  Do you want the presence of God’s Spirit within you?  Then you, too, must repent, be baptized, and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

 

It’s amazing that in the end this passage comes down to a message of grace.  “You rejected God’s Son.  You put Him to death.  He died on the cross at your hands.”  And yet, instead of a message of revenge, instead of a message of condemnation, in the end, this sermon that starts so bold and so accusatory in tone is about God’s grace, God’s love.

 

Knowing your own sins and knowing the story of the Christ, this crucified Messiah who died in your place, knowing the story of His resurrection, knowing the story of His exaltation, now Peter says, when they ask, “What do we need to do?” he answers, “Repent.”

 

Some of you listening this morning by way of television are asking yourself this question.  Maybe you’ve understood the gospel for the very first time.  “What do I need to do?  Okay, Jesus died in my place.  And okay, God raised Him from the dead – there are witnesses to that fact.  Okay, He’s exalted to the right hand of God, He ascended to heaven.”  But now the question is, given the story of the gospel, given the outpouring of the Spirit and the preaching of the message, “What am I supposed to do?  What do I need to do?”

 

What you need to do, Peter says, is repent.  Repent and be baptized.  Receive forgiveness for your sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

They have murdered God’s Son.

He was offering them His Spirit.

The had crucified the second person of the Trinity.

He was offering them the third.

They had thrown God’s Son out of the vineyard

in the hopes of inheriting the vineyard themselves.

Now He was inviting them to receive God’s Spirit,

not just into their vineyard, but into their very hearts,

to be their undying life, to be the earnest and guarantee of an infinite and imperishable inheritance.

(David Gooding, True to the Faith, p. 55)

 

Some of you here this morning – you need God’s grace.  You need His forgiveness.  You, too, need to realize that it was your hands, because it was your sins, that put Jesus to death.  But God planned Jesus’ death as a way to forgive you for all of your sins – that Jesus could substitute for you, that He could take your place on that cross that you could receive the presence of God and the power of His Holy Spirit.

 

The reference to baptism here in verse 38 should let us know the importance of being baptized.  You repent and you are baptized.  They go hand-in-hand.  The baptism was the outward symbol of the inward action of repentance.  Christ died.  You died with Him.  Christ was raised.  You are raised with Him.

 

Some of you here this morning have accepted Christ, but you’ve never been baptized.  In obedience to Christ, you need to be baptized. 

 

How did the people respond?  There were 3,000 folk who came to call Jesus Lord that day.  Look at verse 41:  “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of  bread and to prayer.”

 

Some of you here today need to respond as they responded.  Some of you watching by way of television need to respond as they responded.  Receive the word of the message today and be baptized.  God’s love for you is unconditional.  He loves you right where you are, just as you are, even as you are.  He calls you to receive the power of the resurrection by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

 

Peter had been an eyewitness of these things.  Peter had seen the crucifixion.  Peter had witnessed and spoken with the resurrected Lord.  He was not to be thwarted in his attempts to tell the story of good news.

 

That day with the coming of the Spirit, the church had dumped into her lap the greatest assignment in all the world.  Start in Jerusalem, go to Judea, Samaria and then end up in the remotest part of the earth and tell the gospel.  We are to be witnesses of all those things that have occurred in the gospel.  God put the power of that message in the hands of the church.  And God, as we are empowered by His Spirit, gives us the grandest goal in all the world – to tell the story of Jesus to everybody, everywhere.

 

Bill Gross wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “My greatest revelation as a businessman was crystallized in two words:  Let Go.  Not “buy low.”  Not “sell high.”  Not “hold tight.”  Not “cut losses.”  But “let go.”  This revelation blasted to bits everything he had come to believe as a businessman.  When a California company he founded, Knowledge Adventure, gave birth to a new company called Worlds Incorporated, Gross wanted to hold tight to his hot new property and benefit from the potentially sizeable revenue stream it promised.  He battled with his colleagues over the size of their equity stake.  He wanted to hold on to 80 percent and felt defeated when they decided to keep only 19.9 percent of the new company’s equity.  But what happened astonished Bill Gross and everyone around him.  Within a year, Worlds grew almost as large as Knowledge Adventure.  Its employees seemed to rise to entire new heights of creativity and passion, putting in Herculean efforts to close deals, improve the product, and recruit new star employees.  “My early reluctance suddenly seemed laughable,” Gross admits.  “Instead of owning 80 percent of a $5 million business (Knowledge Adventure), now I owned 19.9 percent of a $77 million business.  (Bill Gross, “The New Math of Ownership,” Harvard Business Review, Nov/Dec 1998, p. 68-69)

 

What he said was that he learned to let go.  By setting the employees free, with a sense of ownership in their task, they were empowered to do the task at hand. 

 

I’m telling you right now, as a follower of Jesus Christ, you have a stake in the company.  God has let go and put it in your hands.  You are a part of the church of the crucified and resurrected Christ.  It is your responsibility to stand as Peter did and to share the good news of great joy, the story of the prophetic death, resurrection, exaltation of Christ Jesus with a call to repentance.  It’s your obligation to speak of it to your neighbor here in Jerusalem, but also on the mission field in the remotest part of the earth.

 

God gave it to us.  And as we are empowered by His Holy Spirit, He let go.  It’s yours and it’s mine.  It’s our turn to stand and say, “Oh, we’re not drunk.  But we are filled with God’s Spirit.”