Scripture Text: Acts 2:22–41
Today is Pentecost Sunday. The word “pentecost” means fiftieth and it stood for the Jewish festival that was celebrated fifty days after Passover. It was also called the Feast of Weeks because it occurred seven weeks after Passover and celebrated the Israelites entering the Promised Land. It was also a harvest festival and was commonly called the Feast of Harvest when people would travel to present gifts and offerings to the Lord. There is something else special about Pentecost. It was the day when God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church in an amazing and powerful way and the church began its mission. Since this was a required festival in Jewish culture, Jews had gathered in Jerusalem from great distances to observe it, making it an opportune time for the Holy Spirit to do amazing things. God’s power was manifested with three signs – wind, fire, and inspired speech. The disciples heard God’s power, they saw God’s power, and they spoke with God’s power. It was truly an amazing event! While many preachers focus on the actual event of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the church on this day and the miraculous gift of speaking in various languages, I found something else significant on Pentecost. Today, I am focusing on the sermon that the Apostle Peter gave in response to the events of Pentecost and the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit. Therefore, this is a sermon about a sermon. This is a sermon about the very first sermon of the church.
Peter’s First Sermon
Responding to the crowd’s amazement, the Apostle Peter stood up and delivered his first sermon recorded in scripture. This same Peter, who merely weeks before denied Jesus, now stood up before a great multitude of people and boldly proclaimed Jesus Christ to them. With great power, Peter delivered God’s Word to the crowd. Someone noted that Peter’s Pentecost sermon is nearly three times longer than the narrative about the event itself. Like a good Baptist, you can divide Peter’s sermon into three parts. In the first part, Peter refutes the claim that the Spirit-filled disciples were drunk. He also shows that membership in this new community of God’s people is restricted in only one way: Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (2:21). The identity of this “Lord” is explored in the second part of the sermon (2:22–36), and the call to “be saved” is the focus of the invitation at the end (2:37–40). The question I would like to pose to you today is this, “Who is Lord of the church?” That may seem like an easy question, maybe even a silly question. We say Jesus is Lord all the time and that may not sound controversial; but, do we mean it? Does our saying that Jesus is Lord contradict what we actually practice? Do we walk the talk?
Pentecost Fulfills Divine Prophesy
One thing we should notice about the church’s Pentecost experience is that God had foretold it. Like any good preacher, Peter used scripture to make his point. I know that sounds crazy! He cited three Old Testament passages in order to demonstrate the biblical basis for the events of Pentecost. Earlier, Peter quoted the prophet Joel in order to show the scriptural basis for what was going on the Day of Pentecost (Joel 2:28-32). Then Peter reminded the crowd that God was fulfilling His plan with the mighty works of Jesus that included His death and resurrection. Look at the following verses.
Acts 2:22–24 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, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
Here Peter affirmed that although it was the Jewish people who crucified Jesus, it was God’s “definite plan” for it to happen. Even the wicked can think they are getting their way and actually be fulfilling God’s will. Although Jesus was killed by lawless men, God raised Him up. Then, Peter showed that God had planned this by quoting King David from Psalm 16:8-11. Peter identified David as a prophet because he had prophesied through his psalm about the Messiah. Look at the following verses.
Acts 2:25–28 25 For David says concerning him, “I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
David had written that God would not abandon his soul to Hades or let His “Holy One” see decay and corruption. Jewish people listening to this might have been inclined to believe that David was writing about himself. Peter affirmed, however, that what David wrote many years before Christ was not entirely about himself, but about the future Messiah. Therefore, Peter spoke with confidence about what God said in scripture.
Acts 2:29-31 29 Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.
Peter confirmed that scripture foretold about Jesus many years before. He affirmed that David had indeed died and his tomb was probably near them on that day. Peter acknowledged that Jesus was crucified and buried, but that Jesus was also resurrected from the grave, just as scripture foretold. Jesus had not seen corruption. His body had not decayed. This part of the sermon lays the groundwork for the message’s exaltation and lordship of Jesus, which we will now turn.
Pentecost Confirms The Exalted Christ
God had planned the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus long ago and had finally brought it to pass. But what did it mean for Jesus to do all that He did? What did it mean for God to have planned so perfectly the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? What does it mean for us that Jesus is the Christ? Could Jesus just be our Savior and nothing more? For that, Peter takes it further to explain that what God was doing and still doing is to exalt His only begotten Son. Look at the following verses.
Acts 2:32-33 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 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.
Why could Peter and the rest of the apostles state so clearly and boldly the things about Jesus? How could Peter talk about the resurrection and what it meant so clearly? It was because he and the rest of the apostles were all witnesses to the risen Jesus. They had seen the risen Christ for themselves. That is what telling others about Jesus really is. It is not about giving some well-rehearsed, theologically accurate answer to defend your faith. It is not giving a three-point sermon on the subject. Being a witness for Jesus is about telling others what you know about Jesus and how He has changed your life. If you have a relationship with Jesus and He has radically transformed your life, then you are qualified and sent to tell the good news of Christ. And why would you not tell others about Jesus, if He has truly changed your life and He means so much to you? Why not? Pentecost was God empowering His church to tell the good news about Jesus.
Having provided the basis for his knowledge about Jesus, Peter then spoke about Jesus being exalted. To exalt means to lift someone up to a higher honor, fame, position, or power. Jesus had been lifted up on the cross for all the world to see. Now, Jesus was lifted up to the right hand of the Father. Jesus was no longer the suffering servant of God, but the highly exalted Lord of all. Jesus was in a position of power. God had exalted Jesus to His right hand and had given Him the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus had poured out on His disciples. Just as the apostles were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, the Jewish crowd was witness to the exaltation of Christ by seeing the gift of the Spirit outpoured at Pentecost. Only the one exalted to God’s right hand could dispense the Spirit. That Jesus poured Him out, as you yourselves see and hear (2:33) echoes the prophet Joel’s prophecy, where God said, “I will pour out my Spirit”. Peter affirmed that Jesus had received the Holy Spirit and had poured out the Spirit to others. Jesus is God as both He and the Father are credited with pouring out the Spirit.
Pentecost Affirms Jesus As Lord of All
Jesus was and is the promised Messiah and the Savior of all mankind. He is the one God had promised the world so long ago. But, Peter interpreted scripture even further than that. God had also made the crucified Jesus both Christ and Lord. Peter used scriptural proof to back up this assertion. The third and final Old Testament passage that Peter cited was Psalm 110:1, where King David saw Jesus seated at God’s right hand, with all of His enemies in full subjection. Look at the following verses.
Acts 2:34-36 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ” 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.
Jesus is not only our Savior. He is not only the one God had promised so long ago. Jesus is Lord! He has authority over all of creation, just as He said (Matthew 28:18). God has also placed all of Jesus’ enemies under Him, as a footstool. A footstool is something on which to place your foot. To make someone a footstool is to subject one person to another, so that the other can put a foot on the subject’s neck. Jesus has been exalted to position and power. Psalm 110:1, which Peter quoted here, was a favorite passage for the early church. For the early Christians, this psalm became the basis for affirming that Jesus has been exalted to God’s right hand. For Peter, it served as a natural transition from the confession of Jesus as Messiah to the ultimate confession that Jesus is Lord. This Jesus, who was crucified by lawless men and who willingly died for our sins, is God the Son and the Lord of all creation. He is the Creator of all creation, the Savior of His people, the Builder of His church, and the Lord who is worthy of our worship. But, what does Jesus as Lord mean for us?
One of the major catalysts to the Protestant Reformation was a man named Jan Hus who preceded Martin Luther by a full century. Hus pointed out that most church leaders in his time despised the lordship of Christ. He wrote, “Neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the [true] holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church.” Hus’ view about Jesus’ lordship cost him his life. He was declared a heretic and burned at the stake. More than a hundred years later, Martin Luther read one of Hus’ books and declared that all of the reformers were Hussites without knowing it. They were battling the prevailing view that human leaders were the heads of the church. This controversy over the lordship of Christ still exists today. Some preachers have an inflated view of themselves, thinking they are the head of the church. Others teach that it is not even necessary to confess Jesus as Lord in order to be saved. Some churches are “seeker-sensitive” wherein church services are tailored to please unbelievers. That is a practical denial of Jesus’ lordship, relegating His Word to secondary status while focusing more on human desires. So, who really is Lord?
The Lordship of Christ Demands A Response
How shall we respond to the truth that Jesus is Lord? When the crowd saw and heard the work of the Holy Spirit empowering the disciples, they asked, “What does this mean?” Now that Peter delivered this sermon and declared the meaning to them, they asked, “What should we do?” The crowd came under deep conviction because they realized their guilt in crucifying Jesus. They were also convinced by Peter’s passionate eyewitness testimony, and his description of how the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. This prompted them to ask the question anyone hearing the gospel should ask, “What does this mean for me?” A great response to anything God tells us is, what do I need to do? Look at the following verses.
Acts 2:37–39 37 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?” 38 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. 39 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.”
Peter was direct. The people had heard the truth. The Spirit had convicted them. What did they need to do? They needed to repent, turn from their sin, and turn to Jesus. There is no salvation without repentance. There is no right relationship with God without turning from sin and turning to Christ. Then, they needed to be baptized, not as a work that saves, but as a confession that acknowledges they have been forgiven. Notice that Peter said they needed to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This is yet another indication of Jesus’ lordship. It is Jesus who has authority and power. It is Jesus who provides forgiveness. It is Jesus who sends us the Holy Spirit. It is Jesus who saves us. It is Jesus who is Lord of all. Jesus being Lord does not mean that He deserves only part of your life. If He is Lord, He deserves all of your life. For Jesus to be Lord of your life means that you surrender all to Him. For Jesus to be Lord of His church is to surrender all of the church to Him. Therefore, our response to God should be to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and then follow Him obediently. Are we doing that?
Who is Lord of the church? The struggle for Christ’s authority in the church has come to us through years of controversy and fighting. Christians are still waging a fierce battle over Jesus’ lordship over the church. I recently read an article about setting up a church for success. That piece said that most churches are too dependent on human things. They follow human leaders, human traditions, or human programs regardless of how little it may be faithful to Jesus. We need to make sure everything in our lives and in the church carries the stamp of Jesus. It is not the pastor, not the denomination, not the traditions, not a name, not the past, or anything else. Whether we acknowledge Jesus as Lord, either intellectually in what we say, or practically in how we live, Jesus is Lord. Period! This means that every decision we make needs to be brought under the authority of Jesus. Every thing we do or consider needs to be surrendered to Jesus. We need to make sure that we are following Jesus and not someone else, or ourselves, or anything else of this world. The only authority that matters is Jesus’ authority. Let us make sure that we are following Him. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.