30. A Pleading Preacher

Meditations in Acts : 30 :  A Pleading Preacher

Acts 2:40,41    With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

I have to confess that verse 40 in particular is a verse that I have in the past hardly noticed existing. Luke has just conveyed to us what we normally take to be the gist of this sermon on the day of Pentecost but now he tells us that “with many other words” he warned and he pleaded which suggests that what we have in the previous verses may be the main content and thrust but it is not all Peter said to the crowd on this day. All we know is that from this little phrase we can adduce that this sermon clearly went on some more.

But we need to note the strength of the two words we’ve already picked up on – warned and pleaded.  To warn someone means to place before them a danger and urge them to get away from it. To plead means to give great urgency to your speech and so putting the two together we find the Peter with great urgency puts a danger before these people, urging them to respond to what he is saying.

Now what is interesting is that the crowd had already responded to Peter’s preaching by being “cut to the heart” (v.37a) and then asking “What shall we do?” (v.37b) You might have thought that this was enough. And Peter had given them an answer: “Repent and be baptized” and yet he feels it necessary to continue to urge them to respond.

But, we might ask, what is he wanting them to flee from? The answer is given, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  and so we see even more ‘urgent’ language – “save yourselves”. We may take this for granted for when you are called upon to save yourself it is from a threat or danger and we may imply therefore it is from God’s judgment on the present generation who are sufficiently self-centred and twisted that they had Jesus put to death.

Now, again, we may take this for granted but there is always in the Gospel call a requirement to separate out from the life you have been living, the life of the ‘world’, as John referred to it (1 Jn 2:15-17). Paul spoke of this old life as follows: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Eph 2:1-3) There is a way of living to be rejected and walked away from. The Gospel certainly involves the good news of Jesus, but before we are ready to receive that we need to face the bad news about the lives we have been living up until then.

They were, as Paul said, “dead” – spiritually lifeless, because they were filled with “transgressions and sins” – wrongs, failures, things not complying with God’s design and contrary to God’s will. In that life we were being led by the spirit of the age and by Satan who worked to prompt our disobedience to God. The focus of our lives was on material, self-centred pleasures and because we were godless and unrighteous, we were therefore those who were in God’s sights for judgment. As the Spirit convicted us, so we saw the awfulness of our failure and of our godless lives and cried out to be saved. Not only did He show us that it was self-destructive but also that it was in eternity going to bring God’s judgment. This was worth fleeing from!

As Peter preaches, he catches this sense of awfulness of what is in store for these people and what they need to get away from and so he urges and pleads with them to respond. There is within him this strong urgency on behalf of the ‘congregation’.

The response is dramatic, even on Billy Graham scales – three thousand respond and are baptized. However they managed that, that was a big baptismal service! Baptism, as we noted earlier, was the primary initial expression in the early church of conversion, and although in later decades and centuries it was often done privately, in this instance with this number there must have been a public aspect to it.

As we ponder on behalf of preachers, what happened here, we have to ask, do we today see the same urgency that Peter was conveying, the same sense of the awfulness of what people are being saved from and the wonder of what they are being saved to?  Is there passion in our preaching? But motivating that passion, do we have that sense of need that cries for the Gospel? Perhaps more generally in respect of the Christian life, are we aware that the whole of the Christian life is a process or walk away from that life towards something completely new, and so our preaching should constantly reveal what is to be left behind while at the same time laying out the wonder of the possibilities ahead?

29. The Need to Repent

Meditations in Acts : 29 :  The Need to Repent

Acts 2:37,38    When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

Sometimes preachers appear a little unsure how to conclude their message or sermon and so ramble on, but Peter isn’t given that opportunity. This ‘sermon’ comes with such clarity and anointing that it produces instant response in his listeners. Luke tells us that they were cut to the heart” meaning they were deeply moved. Oh, for sermons like that today!  A sermon isn’t like a nice little ‘talk’; it should be a displaying of the facts of salvation that reveals needs in the people and it should come with such authority that people know they have to do something about it.

These people were deeply moved by the facts that had been laid before them and the Old Testament prophetic support that helped explain those facts, so much so that they couldn’t hold themselves back. Note “they said to Peter”. He wasn’t so distant from them that they couldn’t speak directly to him. But note also “and the other apostles.” It was still clear and obvious who this distinct bunch were and so listeners turned to the nearest of the apostolic group there and questioned them.

Note that this sermon was so clear and anointed that it raised questions in the listeners about how they should respond. Good preaching does that. It doesn’t just present information, it does it in such a way that need is revealed and obviously response is needed. “Brothers, what shall we do?” was their response.

Peter is quite clear on what they need to do: “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (v.38a). If the facts presented to us in the sermon reveal something we haven’t done or something we shouldn’t have done, then it is obvious that a response is necessary of disciples to correct it, and correcting it means first acknowledging it, acknowledging the wrong and determining to put it right. That is what repentance is. It is an acknowledgement of failure – and we all do it – and a recognition that I need to do something about it. That is what leads to receiving God’s forgiveness.

The apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) Confession there means the same thing: repentance, acknowledgement of failure and need to put it right before God. This isn’t something that only very bad people need to do; we all fail at some time or other and when we do, the path back to God is always the same – repentance.

It is, of course, the path that every single believer has to take to come to Christ, for without that acknowledgment that our past life was godless and self-centred, we cannot come to the place where we surrender our lives to God for Him to lead, and we cannot receive His forgiveness. No, repentance is the absolute requirement for entering the kingdom of God and receiving forgiveness of sins through Christ.

But there is something else Peter adds to repentance, and this is “be baptized”. In some parts of the Church we may play this down but as far as the early church were concerned this was an essential. Jesus was baptized, his disciples were baptized and they baptized all new believers – who were adults. For the early church, baptism was an opportunity to declare your allegiance to Jesus Christ and clearly was a significant part of the process of conversion.

But there is yet more: “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (v.38b,39) The coming of the Holy Spirit to every new believer was a significant part of the Gospel message to indwell, empower, teach and guide.

The question must come for modern preaching, do we present the message of salvation so that the facts of the New Testament are conveyed in such a way that personal need is revealed and responses follow?  Is repentance a part of our package along with baptism and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. May we not sell the message short!

28. Lord & Christ

Meditations in Acts : 28 :  Lord and Christ

Acts 2:32,33    God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

Back in the 26th of these meditations we wrote, ‘So we come to the third of these three basics to the foundation of the Gospel. The first was the work of Jesus over three years, the second was the death of Jesus at the hands of wicked men but seen as part of a plan originated in heaven from before the foundation of the world, and now the third is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.’ But there is a fourth of these basics to the foundation of the Gospel, and it is that Jesus is ascended and ruling as Lord.

We are, as teachers, often good at teaching about the first three, but my experience is that we are not so good with this fourth basic foundation of the Gospel – that Jesus has ascended and is seated at the right hand of his Father in heaven where he now rules. The New Testament is full of such references, for example, “Jesus … was taken up into heaven and sat down in the place of honour at God’s right hand.” (Mk 16:19), “Now he sits on the throne of highest honour in heaven, at God’s right hand.” (Acts 2:33), “Then God put him in the place of honour at his right hand as Prince and Saviour.” (Acts 5:31)  See also Acts 7:55 / Rom 8:34 / Ephes. 1:20 / Phil 2:9 / Col. 3:1 / Heb 1:3 / Heb 8:1 / Heb 10:12 / Heb 12:2 / 1 Pet 3:22.

In fact, Peter says it is because he is now ruling at the Father’s right hand that this has happened today: Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Note the order – the Father gives the Spirit and Jesus passes it on. Throughout Scripture there is this order. Although Father, Son and Holy Spirit are One God, when it comes to authority, it is almost as if the godhead doesn’t want us to ever demean God the Father and so we see Son and Spirit are in submission to the Father.

The apostle Paul understood this when he spoke of Christ’s work as a ruler and as Lord, when he wrote, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25)  There we see the strength of this fourth foundation – a) Jesus is ruling, b) he is dealing with all his enemies, and c) when he has finished he will hand back the completed work to the Father.

But Peter, under the anointing of the Spirit on this incredible day of Pentecost also understands it. He uses Old Testament scriptures to first of all prove the point that these things didn’t apply to David but apply now to Jesus. Having quoted David in verses 25 to 28 he now declares that David wasn’t speaking about himself: “For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ” `The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (v.34,35) He is, in fact, quoting from David’s Psa 100 where we find this as, “The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.” (Psa 110:1,2)  The emphasis on ruling and ruling in the midst of his enemies is even stronger there, but Peter hadn’t yet grasped the incredible wonder of that part of it yet, he was simply using the verse to emphasis the ascension and Jesus now in heaven with his Father.

I believe it is fair to say that the apostles were a little slow (as we would have been) at appreciating exactly who Jesus was. Having lived with him for three years in his human capacity, it took some believing and understanding that he was in fact the Son of God and was seated at the Father’s right hand ruling as Lord. The fact that three hundred years passed before the Church got around to producing creeds that laid out exactly who Jesus was, proves this point. But it was a revelation of the Spirit and it was coming on this day, so that Peter concludes, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (v.36)

This is a vital part of the Gospel and it affects how we view our Christian life and the world around us. Jesus is not only Christ, Messiah and Saviour, but he is also the Lord who is ruling. Now when we speak of a ruler we mean someone who is in charge, someone who has the power and the authority to bring change and bring things about in his kingdom.  Peter has just said that the coming of the Spirit was the work of Jesus, as an expression of his rule at his Father’s right hand. In Rom 8:28 we read, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” What we now realise is that it is Jesus who is overseeing this work of God that goes on constantly in and around you. I suspect that his activity is so great that it would blow our minds away if we could see it. That he does not overrule the free will of men and women that he has given them, is true, but nevertheless the indication is that Jesus is working all the time to bring change, to bring blessing, to bring good to those who love him. That is amazing; that is staggering and really can only be comprehended with the help and revelation of the Spirit. If you want to understand it more, pray and ask the Lord to give you that understanding. The apostle Paul wrote, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19)  He knew we needed that help.

Now we have said a number of times, this part emphasizes that this is a sermon and we need to learn things from it. So here is the simple challenge to preachers: do you bring, Sunday by Sunday, nice little harmless homilies, or do we built the faith of our people by helping them realise that Jesus is Lord over all things and therefore they can know this security: I am living in a kingdom where Jesus rules and I am secure in his love, secure in the knowledge that he has the power and the authority to bring to fruition the will of God, despite and in the midst of all those people, powers and things that are enemies of God. He is Lord!  Declare it, with all its implications!

27. Prophetic Proofs

Meditations in Acts : 27 :  Prophetic Proofs

Acts 2:27    you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

I’m not sure how many times in my life I’ve read these words, but I find as I look at them now the marvel of them stands out afresh. It’s not what they say, but who says them. They are a quote from Psalm 16. Now I’ve always been under the impression that fishermen were possibly not the brightest of the bunch and fishermen in those days would possibly not be well educated so when a fisherman follower of Jesus starts quoting “the Bible” without any warning, just like a preacher who spends his life in the word, you sit up and take notice.

Now there are those young Christians who think the Holy Spirit can just bring to mind Scripture without any help from them, but the Scripture has to be read first and taken in before the Holy Spirit can bring it out again. So I am left wondering when did Peter take in all this Scripture that he is now quoting – and this is the second quote in less than a minute of preaching?

Then I remember what happened on the road to Emmaus: beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk 24:27)  Jesus had given those two disciples a lesson in prophetic fulfillment as they walked along the road. But then I remember that Jesus took the disciples back up to Galilee for about four or five weeks and spent the time teaching “and spoke about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)  Surely in that time he would have done a repeat for all the disciples of what he had done for the two on the road on that day. Isn’t it likely that during that time Jesus quoted some of these very Scriptures? Is the truth here that Peter is simply quoting exactly what he has heard his Master quoting less than a month ago?

But then I find myself asking the question, did he quote these exact words, no more and no less, or did he just refer to the concept that we have in our verse above, and Luke added the context when he gathered the material for this book? I don’t think it matters quite how it happened because what it does show is that the Holy Spirit brought out of Peter an understanding he now had – that Jesus had risen from the dead (which he had been a witness to) but that it was all part of God’s long-term plan that had been shared in bits throughout the prophetic Scriptures.

Now bear in mind that this first sermon in Church history is coming as a direct outworking of what has just happened and almost certainly under the anointing and power of the Spirit. Therefore its contents are very important. Peter has first put the events into prophetic context by reference to the Scripture in Joel, then he has laid out the foundation for the Gospel and, as part of that, he now seeks to show how the resurrection was a clear part of God’s declared plan in the prophetic Scriptures.

He quotes this psalm which has the Messiah declaring that his body will never go into decay, i.e. he will never be buried and left there (abandoned to the grave) to simply rot with age. Oh no, that is not part of the plan. The plan was that the Son would be raised from the dead. It had always been the plan! It was there in the Old Testament.

Peter continues: “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.” (v.29)  i.e. David couldn’t have been talking about himself when he wrote this psalm; he must have been prophesying about the ‘Coming One’. Realise what David was, he says, “But he was a prophet.” (v.30) and because he was that this was prophecy. “Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ.” (v.31) Yes, be in no doubt, this prophetic word can have no application other than it refers to resurrection, the resurrection we have just witnessed: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” (v.32)

This was crucial to the belief of the new church. Remember when they were choosing a twelfth man to replace Judas they said, “For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”  (Acts 1:22)  One of the criteria for being “one of the twelve” was that they had to have been around and witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. These first apostles were crucial to the subsequent beliefs of the church for they would say, “We were there, we saw him and we KNOW he was raised from the dead because we saw him, or as John puts it in his first letter, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.” (1 Jn 1:1-3) This is all the language of a personal witness!

So what does this part of the sermon teach us about preaching? Well, very simply, we are to take the whole Bible as one. We are to see the harmony between the Old and the New Testaments. We are to see that in the Old concealed, is now in the New revealed. God spoke it in the Old and fulfilled it in the New. It is that simple. Are we those who study to understand ‘the big picture’?

26. The Resurrection of Jesus

Meditations in Acts : 26 :  The Resurrection of Jesus

Acts 2:23    But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

So we come to the third of these three basics to the foundation of the Gospel. The first was the work of Jesus over three years, the second was the death of Jesus at the hands of wicked men but seen as part of a plan originated in heaven from before the foundation of the world, and now the third is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

For those of us who have been Christians for many years and have heard the Gospel again and again, we may have become dull in our appreciation of how incredible this was.  It is the declaration that in time-space history this ‘man’ had been put to death – and had died – but three days later rose from the death.

Over the years many people have come up with counter-claims to this truth but none of them stands against the details of the Gospels. Let’s very quickly run one or two of them. First, that he never died. This denies the fact that the Roman executioners did this every day almost and knew what death was like, and if they bungled it their lives too would be forfeit. The awful details of the execution by crucifixion plus a spear being thrust in his side, plus being buried for three days without any medication says this theory is untenable. The second one suggests that the disciples stole the body. For them to live the lives they did with the knowledge that they were living for and dying a scam for (because ten of the twelve were martyred) is again untenable. The third one is that it wasn’t Jesus on the Cross; it was a substitute. This flies in the face of everything we see of the character of goodness of Jesus who would never ask someone to do something so terrible for him. Moreover unless he conned the disciples (and it would have to be a perfect look-alike, because they were there at the execution) they could not have lived and died for that lie and thus again that is completely untenable. No, whatever you come up with, it flies in the face of the many details recorded in the Gospels.

The apostle Paul is insistent on the details of the resurrection: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:3-8) That is a powerful testimony. Note in the middle of it he appeals to the testimony of over five hundred disciples who had seen Jesus back up in those weeks in Galilee – “most of whom are still living.”  i.e. you can check with them if you like!

The resurrection is vital to the credibility of Jesus. First of all, he spoke about it in his teaching beforehand: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) and “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  (Mt 17:9) and “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”(Mt 20:18,19)  Oh yes, Jesus was quite clear in his mind that this is what would happen.

This teaching became fundamental to the Gospel: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” (Acts 3:18) and “know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” (Acts 4:10) and “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen–by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41) and “Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.” (Acts 13:28-31) Oh yes, this truth, this fact of history became a fundamental tenet of the Gospel; it proves or verifies Jesus as being the one he said he was, the Son of God, and as Peter preached, it is impossible for death to extinguish the life that is God. Hallelujah!

So what about it, preachers? Are you sold out to the fact of Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead? If you aren’t, you are not a New Testament preacher and you should stop preaching until you believe what you read in such detail in the Gospels. The credibility of Jesus Christ hangs on the resurrectio0n – as does your preaching!

25. The Death of Jesus

Meditations in Acts : 25 :  The Death of Jesus

Acts 2:23    This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

We said previously that in these few verses we see the basic elements of the foundation of the Gospel laid out: the work of Jesus, the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. In our verse today we move on to the second element, the death of Jesus, and we find a verse full with incredible implications.

Note, first of all, the opening phrase: “This man was handed over to you…” When there is a handing over of prisoners, say, someone does the handing over and someone does the receiving. Now Peter doesn’t actually say who handed Jesus over but the implication is quite clearly there by what follows; it was God!  God handed His Son over to these people for what had to follow. When you read the Gospels, it would have been so easy for Jesus to slip out of Jerusalem when the political and religious tensions were building, to avoid what was surely coming, but he is conscious of being in his Father’s hands and he must remain to do what his Father wants.  We are starting to catch the sense that this was no accident, this arrest, trial, conviction and execution of Jesus!

But then it is what follows that is mind blowing. So far we’ve made assumptions but what comes now is so clear in its meaning: “by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” These words should be shouted down the centuries, shouted to all and sundry, shouted to the foolish atheists, shouted to the doubter, shouted to the person of wavering faith, shouted to the one who questions whether they are loved: Jesus died according to the plan of God! God had a purpose in His mind when He handed over His Son. This was no accident of history; this was a carefully scripted and choreographed episode of history.

But realise something vital here: God didn’t make it happen in the sense that He overruled the will of men and made them do things. No, this was something quite different; this was God who had foreknowledge – He knew how men would respond, He knew what it would take to provoke them into action against His Son, He knew the workings of Sin in the minds of the people involved.

Read all the Gospels and watch what happened. This itinerant preacher, this miracle worker from the north, comes down to Jerusalem for the most significant feast of the year. On the way he stops off and raises Lazarus from the dead, just a few miles away from Jerusalem. The word suddenly spreads, the miracle worker from the north is here and he is performing the greatest miracle of all, he is conquering death and bringing people back from the dead.

The crowds start gathering for the Feast but they also gather to see Jesus. When he eventually arrives at the gates of Jerusalem he is welcomed as a conquering king. The crowd evidently believe their Messiah has come to deliver them from the oppressive rule of the Romans, but as he goes through the gates, instead of turning up towards the Roman fortress, he turns the other way and goes to the Temple and causes mayhem as he overturns tables and drives out the money changers.

The Temple authorities are furious. For the week that follows he comes back in, every day, and teaches in the Temple precincts. He is a challenge to the religious authorities. He must be stopped for he is going to do something surely, on the great day of the Feats that will stir up the Romans and, surely, the status quo of Roman rule and religious rule that co-existed side by side was going to be wrecked. That must not be allowed to happen. And so the plan is formulated to arrest him quietly and to their surprise and pleasure, the authorities find one of his followers seems to be a dissenter who is willing to become an informer and let them know when an opportune moment comes for him to be arrested quietly out of the sight of the adoring crowd.

Oh yes, the Father knew and the Son knew exactly what would happen as they had done from before history when they planned it. Oh yes, they had foreknowledge and that went back to before Creation, the word tells us. The plan was there before they even brought light and life and created this world. The death of Jesus was part of The Plan formulated even before they created the world. (Check out Jn 17:24, 1 Pet 1:20, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2).

Did the fact of the existence of such a plan absolve the crowd of their sin and their guilt? No! “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”  No, they are responsible for their own sin as Peter will soon point out.  God may know how we will act but the ultimate responsibility for how we act remains with us. We need to remember that.

So what more do we learn through this about preaching? In our preaching we must display Christ for who he is – the Son of God from heaven, the Lamb of God decreed from before the foundation of the world – and we must display humanity for what it is – sinful and guilty and responsible – and we must see the ‘big plan’ of God that knew before they created anything how it would pan out, how sinful humanity would respond to the perfect Son of God, and so how the Son would become the lamb that was slain for the Sin of the world. This is the message. Understand it and preach it.

24. The Work of Jesus

Meditations in Acts : 24 :  The Work of Jesus

Acts 2:22    “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

Peter has explained the context of what has just happened – the fulfilment of prophetic Scripture. Now he moves on to take the opportunity to preach about Jesus. There was nothing to indicate that he had to do this but it was the natural working of the Spirit to bear witness to Jesus. In what follows, in the next three verses he is going to lay down the three basic facts about Jesus – his work, his death, and his resurrection. Thereafter, again using prophetic Scripture to justify what he says, he will go on to point out how the resurrection was there in Scripture, how it has happened, what it says about Jesus, and what their response should be to it.

But let’s not rush these things. We just said that the next three verses spell out the work of Jesus, his death and his resurrection. Our verse today focuses solely on Jesus’ work. Peter calls the crowd to listen to what he says and then focuses completely on Jesus. Note what he says about him.

First he identifies him as the one they all knew about, Jesus who had come from Nazareth. He had been born in Bethlehem but Nazareth had been his home town and it was there that he was identified with. He was an Israelite, one of them. That’s the starting place.  But no, there is something more basic – he was a man. He came in the form of a human being who lived the same sort of human lives that they did. That was the ordinary side of him. The prophet Isaiah had described the coming one as: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:3).  The apostle Paul was later to describe him, saying he, “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself.” (Phil 2:7,8). The writer to the Hebrews quoted the prophetic word, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me… Then I said, `Here I am–it is written about me in the scroll– I have come to do your will, O God.’” (Heb 10:5,7). All of these Scriptures emphasise the point that Jesus came in human form and as such it was easy to miss who he was.

Well it would be if it hadn’t been for what followed: God had accredited him. I am told that when an ambassador freshly arrives in a foreign country, he has to go to the government or ruler of that country and present his credentials, letters from his government back home to say that he will represent them in that land. He is accredited by his home government to be their representative. What were the ‘letters of accreditation’ that God gave His Son? They were the signs and wonders he performed. We have to wait until the fourth Gospel is written by John many years later than the others, to see the recognition that the things Jesus did were signs from heaven, signs pointing out who he was, signs pointing out where he came from. First and foremost Jesus’ signs and wonders were signs to whoever would see that point out who he is. No mere human could do these things; this was more that the mere works of a man, these were the works of heaven.

To see those signs and wonders described more fully we turn to two Gospels. First of all at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus in the local synagogue reads out the Isaiah prophecy that declared, The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19)  That was Jesus’ activity in spiritual terms. In practical terms we have to look to Jesus’ own words, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5)  There it was, the works of the kingdom laid out bare to be seen. Jesus came to heal and declare freedom and God’s love.

In summarising Jesus’ work we should always start with what he did in those three years for these works are his ‘accreditation papers’. He will get additional ones in the form of his resurrection, but they come later. For now we must not miss the significance of these things and that is why Peter declares them. The Gospel is about believing who Jesus is and what he has done. That is our starting place.

Now as to what this tells us about our preaching. Christian preaching focuses on Jesus for it recognizes that without him we have no message worth while. It declares Jesus as he was and is and will be. It points out that he came in the form of a man but was nevertheless God in human form, a part of the Trinity that had always existed in heaven before with his Father and the Spirit.  It reveals him as the Saviour of the world, the only means by which men and women can be saved. It reveals him as the risen one, as we shall go on to see and also the ascended one. If we preach anything less than we find about Jesus in the gospels and the entire New Testament, we fail in our task as New Testament preachers.

23. Call and be Saved

Meditations in Acts : 23 :  Call and be Saved

Acts 2:18-20    And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved

Thus we come to the end of the Joel quote. That prophetic word has spoken about how God would come and pour out His Holy Spirit so that revelation would flows into and through the church through young people and old people, though men and through women and this would open up a period of Church history which would eventually culminate in a great day when God would wind all things up, a day that would be preceded by signs and wonders that would act of signs of what was to shortly happen, so that men and women would have time to turn back to God and be saved.

But of course this verse today doesn’t just apply to the very End Time days; it applies throughout this period of Church history that Peter has identified as the Last Days. Throughout this period of time, when the gospel will be preached, the way will be open for ANYONE to come back to God by crying out to Him to be saved.

History is cluttered by what we call world religions and in every case except Judaism and Christianity, it is about people trying to reach God by the things they do. Indeed some world religions don’t even recognize a God but those who do, feel they have to do various things to appease that God, get on His good side and win His approval.

Now when Jesus came he showed – and the teaching of his apostles showed – that all such efforts were fruitless. Trying to do good to win God’s approval never works because you are never sure if you have done enough – and God still seems at a distance. There is no assurance in all those ways of being religious. Moreover, as you struggle to do good, you seem powerless to actually be good, as the apostle Paul showed in Romans 7, there is always this war going on inside us with one half of us seeking to be good, and the other half wanting its own way and failing. Religion by effort never works. At the best you may discipline yourself to pray and do good works and pride will arise in us and say how well you have done – but that brings you no closer to God.

But the initial way of coming to God is identified in the closing verse of that quote. It is by crying out to God, recognizing your plight and recognizing that only with God’s help is there any hope for you. When you “call on the name of the Lord” it is a call of distress, it is a call that comes out of failure and a sense of inadequacy, helplessness and hopelessness. In coming to God there is no room for pride. If you dare approach God you realise you are coming to an Almighty and holy God who has the power to just blot you out of existence with one word. But it isn’t so much a case of daring to approach God, because the person who comes is desperate; that is why you come, because you have come to the end of yourself and so you cry to God out of desperation, regardless of the outcome.

When you are convicted of your sin and your failure, you care about nothing except getting right with God. Within that conviction is the awareness that all of your efforts so far have been useless, you are still a sinner and there is also the conviction that nothing YOU do will change the situation. That is why I used the word hopeless just now. When people turn to Christ under the conviction of the Holy Spirit they have a sense of failure over the past and a sense of hopelessness over the future. There is no way that, on their own, they can become good, no way can they become holy. They have tried and they have failed and more trying will not achieve it. Thus we cry to the Lord.

Now it is at this point that the ‘good news’ kicks in, for as the Gospel is shared with us, we hear that although we cannot do anything to become holy and get close to God, Jesus has done everything necessary to bring that about. Yes, we hear the Gospel accounts and we see Jesus the Son of God being revealed – and we marvel. And then we are told of how he was arrested, falsely tried, convicted and crucified – and we catch a sense of anguish. But then we hear that three days later he rose from the dead and revealed himself to his followers before finally ascending to his Father in heaven.

We ask why, and are told that according to the New Testament, Jesus death was him standing in for us, taking the punishment that was due to us. He did it so that we might approach the Father and receive forgiveness purely on the grounds of what Jesus has done for us. Daily I remind myself in prayer that I am saved ONLY by the work of Jesus on the Cross, so when I cry out to God to more fully experience being an adopted child, empowered, guided and directed by His Holy Spirit, I know there is a reason that all this is possible – and it is Jesus on the Cross.

When the Spirit came, He appeared as tongues of fire resting on the head of each believer – yet they were not destroyed by the holy fire of God because Jesus had dealt with everything that needed burning up. Thus the end work of God here is that the Spirit comes and we are convicted and cry out and we are granted salvation on the basis of the work of the Son on the Cross, and thus we can receive forgiveness and cleansing and power to live as children of God who are being sent to change the world. That is what this is all about. Hallelujah!

Now, again, see this message as part of the first Christian sermon. What does it teach us? In all that we have considered in this meditation, it shows us that preaching is to bring hope. Preaching faces us with the sense of failure we had, then sense of hopelessness we have and offers us hope that comes through the wonderful work of Jesus on the Cross. It is all just waiting there, waiting for the sinner to turn to God and cry out – and the promise is that whoever does so and receives God’s word, will be saved.

22. Signs & Wonders?

Meditations in Acts : 22 :  Signs & Wonders?

Acts 2:18-20    Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.

We cover these three verses together purposely because there a flow which is important to note. In verse 18 there is a reiteration of what has been said in the previous verses, that when the Spirit comes there will be an outpouring of revelation in the form of prophecy but, more than that, the Spirit will come on both men and women and both men and women will know the fruit of the Spirit coming and will prophesy. It is as if the Lord wants to reiterate this so that the male dominant Jewish society could not fail to see this significant working in the new covenant period. Thus verse 18 is a clear reference to what is just happening there on the Day of Pentecost. There can be no question that it applies to THAT day.

But when you come to the end of verse 20 we find a reference to “coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” Was that a reference to the Day of Pentecost? Was the presence of the Spirit on the earth sufficient to describe is as a great and glorious day? Well in spiritual terms it might have been for something very great has just occurred, God has come down to indwell ALL Believers, but wherever else in Scripture that sort of description is given, it seems to clearly infer the day on which God winds up everything, a day of great judgment. Now it is clear that the Day of Pentecost was not that and nor has such a day occurred since. In other words, it is still yet a day in the future.

So we seem to have bookends to the period of Church history, the Day of Pentecost starting it off and the Last Day winding it up, and in between we have this period I have been referring to as the period of Church history during which the Gospel is preached, believers are created and then indwelt by the Spirit to become children of God.

Now between these two ‘bookends’ that I have referred to we have this somewhat bland statement (bland in that it is a very basic description), that says that BEFORE that Last Day arrives there will be wonders in the sky and signs on the earth. Now what is the difference between these two terms? A wonder draws attention to something. The burning bush that Moses encountered (Ex 3) was a wonder. It drew his attention to it so that he paused up and went and had a look at it. A sign is always informative, it points towards something. Yes they are very similar and are both used by the Lord. A wonder can be observed by all, but it becomes a sign when people realise that it is pointing to something.

For example: “The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do.” (Ex 4:21) the miracles that Moses was going to perform were wonders but previously we find, “Then the LORD said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.” (Ex 4:8,9). So these wonders were also supposed to act as signs of God’s sovereign presence to Pharaoh – but he refused to see them.

So, says the prophecy, things will happen in the sky that will be clearly visible to all and will grab your attention. Then there will be things happening on the earth that will act as signs pointing to the coming of the Lord, because that is what will happen at the end of this period.  These may be things that happen in a variety of forms throughout the period of Church history or they may be things that will only happen in the period immediately preceding the Lord’s coming.

Now we could speculate what these things mean, and plenty of commentators do, but it will be pure speculation, but it may be wiser simply to ask, are we alert to the moving of God and what God is doing?  Are we aware of the judgment of God as it has come upon Western nations in particular for their clear ungodliness? Do we see anything that happens in the realm of ‘nature’ as warnings from God, things sent by Him to challenge or soften the hearts of those who are open to have their hearts softened? Remember, all such things are signs that seek to point people towards the Lord. Knowing Him is THE most important issue in all of history. We should not be surprised, therefore, if He uses signs and wonders in this time of Church history to try to catch people’s attention and draw them back to Himself. Are we open to the teaching of the Bible in this respect?

And what does this aspect of this Spirit-anointed sermon say to us about the very act of preaching? It tells us, even more clearly than we saw in the previous meditation, that preaching should make sense of the world and the times in which we live. It explains the prophetic that is seen in the Scriptures and it places our lives in context in God’s plan of history. It makes us realise that we are part of a plan that God is working out and often, that plan means us living through materialistic and godless times where we are called to remain faithful. Thus preaching bring assurance in difficult days and hope for days yet to come.

21. In the last days

Meditations in Acts : 21 :  In the Last Days

Acts 2:16,17    this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “`In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

Again I work on the basis of what I know is true for me and true for many of us who read the Bible regularly – that familiarity has robbed me of so much of the truth that is here. It is so easy to bundle up these words or Joel’s prophecy and skim by them saying, they just describe what God is now doing, and leave it at that. This is the benefit of meditation; we can slow up, pause and reflect on the words before us.

Peter is first saying to us that we are in “the last days”. Don’t confuse that with “the end times”. The “end times”, I would suggest, refers to the closing time of earth’s existence before Jesus winds it up. The “last days” refers to the period of Church history between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. The word ‘last’ adds a slight note of urgency to it. It is a period of last chance, the Gospel has been made very clear and if you don’t take advantage of it you have thrown away any hope. If you look up uses of the phrase “last days” in the New Testament, it is clear that it is referring to the period of the life of the church, and not the closing times of history.

So, says the prophecy, in this period of time God will pour out His Holy Spirit on all people. Now do those last two words mean upon every human being on earth, or is there something else? It is fairly obvious that it cannot mean upon every human being for God will not impose Himself on unbelievers and it is also clear on the day of Pentecost that the Spirit did not fall on every person in Jerusalem, only the believers. So “all people” must surely mean from every people group in the earth; there is no people group that is excluded from God’s love and from God’s blessing. The only condition is that they hear the Gospel and believe it.

What then follows is the outworking or expression of this outpouring of the Spirit. There is an interesting threefold description of what happens which I think we normally miss. There are three clear groups of people. First there are young men and women, then there are young men only, and then there are old men only. Now please bear in mind that this is Peter preaching the first sermon under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and he reiterates words originally spoken by Joel, and although the order is different in the quote here, the content is the same. Let’s consider what these three groups do and ponder on why they are the groups they are.

The first group are young men AND women who will prophesy. It is interesting to note from the outset that the fruit of the coming of the Spirit will be revelation. All three expressions here are about revelation from heaven. So this first group will prophesy. Paul was later to say, everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” (1 Cor 14:3). That is the role of Church history prophecy – to build up the church by strengthening, encouraging and comforting the church – and any Christian, including young ones (!) can do that. Remember sons and daughters implies youth! Do we teach our young people to have this freedom in the Lord, to be open to hear Him and use what they hear to build up and strengthen one another and the church generally? Does this imply that no one else can prophesy? No, it simply puts an emphasis where it had not been before. Previously it had been the elders who did all the encouraging and strengthening. Now the Lord says everyone can do it whose heart is open to Him to inspire them.

Next young men will see visions. Why not young women? Well, whether we like it or not, and despite modern norms, the Bible clearly indicates that God holds men responsible for leading the church and obtaining vision. Visions are all about the future. Visions share God’s heart for the future and young men burst to achieve stuff in the future. Thus when the Holy Spirit comes, the Lord looks for submitted children, young Christians who will catch His heart, who will be open to receive fresh visions (to be tested, I suggest, by their elders).

But then old men dream dreams by the Spirit. This is still in the realm of revelation. Someone has said that dreams are built on the past, dreams tend to be less dramatic than visions, dreams are accepted by the wise and experienced in the faith. Younger men might question a dream and their young faith perhaps needs the drama of a vision coming to convince them. Old men wake up with a dream still clear in their mind and say, “God has spoken” (when He has, and it wasn’t just eating cheese last night). Their mature faith accepts such thing that much more readily.

Well here are just some reasons that I suggest are reasons why different people groups will receive revelation when the Spirit comes. When God turns up, we may expect revelation because He is a God who communicates. Have we got that truth well and truly under our belts?

But now, as we have concluded each of these last meditations, consider the preaching of this first sermon and what it says to us. If we didn’t make it clear enough in the previous meditation, let’s do it here: this preaching took the revealed word of God and applied it into the present situation. We see the present situation and are moved by God to speak. As He inspires us we consider His word and let Him shine His Holy Spirit on it, and then by His enabling we declare what it there are bring the two together to make sense of life today. That is New Testament preaching.