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The courageous coward and the convicting call

Back to all sermons Acts of the Holy Spirit

Date: May 8, 2022

Speaker: Eric Stillman

Series: Acts of the Holy Spirit

Scripture: Acts 2:14–2:41

Tags: Pentecost sermon, Peter

This morning, I am continuing in my sermon series through the Book of Acts. So far, Jesus has risen from the dead, ascended to heaven, and now the Holy Spirit has been given to the disciples at Pentecost, as Jews from all over gather for this annual feast to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest and the giving of the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai many years ago. After the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples, they tell the wonders of God in other languages, and a crowd of Jews and God-fearers has gathered, asking “what does this mean?” In verse 14, Peter begins to speak.

 

Acts 2:14-41 - Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!  16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  17 "'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.  18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'  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.  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.  24 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.  25 David said about him: "'I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope,  27 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.  28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.'  29 "Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.  30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.  31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.  32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  33 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.  34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, "'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand  35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."'  36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."  37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  38 Peter replied, "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 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom the Lord our God will call."  40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."  41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

 

This is the very first Christian sermon, and about 3,000 become followers of Jesus. I want to highlight four things from this passage:

 

  • First, the courageous coward

 

In v. 12, the disciples are declaring the wonders of God in the languages of each person who is gathered, and the crowd asks “what does this mean?” And of all the people to explain, the man who gets up to speak is Peter. I don’t want us to forget who Peter is and what has happened to him in the past 50 days. Peter was the boldest disciple, but when Jesus was arrested, he cowardly denied knowing Jesus three times and was crushed in his spirit and returned to being a fisherman. After the resurrection, however, Jesus met Peter on a beach and tenderly called him again to pastor his people. And now here is Peter:  broken, humble, yet just as courageous, filled with the Holy Spirit, and preaching about Jesus to a crowd in the same place where His Lord was just arrested and crucified. This is not someone becoming courageous through his own strength. This is the difference that the Holy Spirit makes in a person. Reminds me of:

 

2 Timothy 1:7 - For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

 

What does this tell you? Some of you have failed. Some of you have been broken. But this is the God we serve, the God who humbles the proud and lifts up the humble. Peter was bold, but on the night Jesus was crucified, his boldness was exposed for the cowardice underneath. But now, Peter has been humbled, forgiven, and filled with the Holy Spirit, and when the crowd asks for an explanation, Peter courageously gets up to speak. The Bible is not about heroes of the faith. It is about screwed up people transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is about our great God using broken people like you and me to accomplish things of eternal value. It’s God turning our fear into courage.

 

This is what happens when the Holy Spirit indwells us:

 

Romans 8:31-39 - What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died-- more than that, who was raised to life-- is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

That is where true courage comes from. He died for us, he rose again to conquer sin and death, and he has ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. What can anyone do to us?

 

Psalm 118:6 - The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?

 

This is not bravado, fear masquerading as courage. This is a grounded, true courage that comes from knowing who God is and who we are, so that the negative opinion or condemnation of the crowd no longer scares us.

 

  • Second, the cosmic context

 

The crowd hears the people speaking in other languages and asks “what does this mean?” Peter gets up to speak, and he begins by grounding what the crowd is seeing in the larger historical context. He talks about Joel’s prophecy and to David’s words in the Psalms before talking about the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the future judgment.

 

The first thing is that Peter explains that what they are witnessing is a fulfillment of prophecy from Joel 2:28-32. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit means that the last days are here and the promises of the Old Testament era are being fulfilled in the lives of those who follow Jesus.

 

Acts 2:16-21 - 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. 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. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

 

God’s presence and power is here, and His Spirit has been given to all people receive the spirit, regardless of age, sex, or rank. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Saved from what?

 

John 3:16-18 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

 

Peter does not just start with Jesus, but shows how the Old Testament prophecies and promises point to Jesus. The whole Bible testifies to Jesus.

 

Luke 24:25-27 - He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?"  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

 

God created us to enjoy fellowship, we rebelled, sin separated, God called Abraham, then Israel, they broke the covenant, but God promised a Messiah who would come to save the people and restore them to fellowship with Him. And now that He has done this, they are in the final stage, the church age, where God lives in His people by His Holy Spirit. Everything we preach points to Jesus and finds its fulfillment in Him. Every road leads to Jesus. He is the culmination of history.

 

  • The central character

 

Peter goes on to proclaim to them that Jesus is the Messiah, that they have killed him, and that He is risen from the dead.

 

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.  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.  24 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..  32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.  33 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…36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 

 

Not only is Jesus the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and prophecies, but when you look at His life and His claims and then add to that the resurrection, there is no other conclusion to draw than that He is Lord, God in the flesh, and that our eternal destiny depends upon how we respond to Him.

 

We would do well to pay attention to how Peter focuses on the resurrection. Often we try to convince people they need God by appealing to felt needs, by appealing to their need for significance, love, security, fears gone, hope for the future. And that is all good. But of course, others find that elsewhere – “that works for you, but not for me.” But Peter doesn’t do felt needs preaching. He just preaches that Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead, which reveals Him as Lord and Savior of the world. And that is not a matter of “well, that works for you but not for me.” If it’s true, it is for everyone.

 

We recently looked at the proofs for the resurrection on Easter, and you can listen to that sermon if you want to hear more. But you see some of the proofs right here in Acts 2. You find an absolutely transformed people, willing to die for their faith. There were dozens of messianic movements at that time, and they all died out when the messiah was killed. Why did this one continue? What completely transformed these weak people into a fearless bunch of world-changers who would all but one be martyred for their faith? All it would have taken would have been one, under torture, admitting they made it up, but there is none, because the resurrection really happened

 

You find people preaching and writing about the resurrection during the lifetime of eyewitnesses. This is not a game of telephone. This is Peter, 40 days after Jesus has died, proclaiming that He is risen from the dead and that they are witnesses. Trust me, if he didn’t rise from the dead, they could have proven it by showing them the body, and this movement would have never gotten off the ground.

 

You find Jews – who did not believe in a resurrection in the middle of history – and Greeks – who did not see resurrection as good news – believing that Jesus rose from the dead. People in those days were just as unlikely to believe in a resurrection as we are today, but many were convinced because it was true.

 

Study the resurrection. Learn the proofs, both to bolster your faith, and to help you share it. People may be able to argue felt needs or personal needs for God, but challenge them with the reality of the resurrection and the need to listen to a man who rose from the dead. If it is true, then it demands a response.

 

4) Fourth, the convicting call

 

Peter’s speech ends this way:

 

"Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."  37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 

 

How shall we respond?

 

Peter replied, "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. 

 

Repent and be baptized. This is important to hear, because there are all kinds of “calls” out there in Christianity: Ask Jesus into your heart, Receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, Enter into a relationship with Jesus, Come forward and pray the prayer of salvation, Accept Christ, Believe in Jesus, Believe on Jesus, Trust in Jesus. But in Acts, and throughout the New Testament, the most common call is to repent and believe, or to repent and be baptized.

 

Mark 1:14-15 - After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  15 "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

 

Luke 24:46-47 -  He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,  47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

 

Acts 3:19 - Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out,

 

Acts 17:30 - In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

 

Repentance means to turn around; to change one’s mind. It represents a complete change of heart, a spiritual about-face. There must be conviction of sin, a realization that “it was my sin that held Jesus there” on the cross. Your sin must become personal. We continually lead a life of repentance.

 

Baptism is from a Greek word for “immerse, dip, plunge” – put something completely under the water and then bring it back up.

 

Baptism symbolized entry into the church. Jesus has told them in Matthew 28:19-20 - Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

 

Our understanding of baptism is that it is an outward sign of the new covenant, of our relationship with Jesus. We believe that baptism is something an individual chooses to do in order to publicly express what God has done on the inside in saving them.

 

Romans 6:1-5 - What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 

 

As you probably know, there are different views. The Catholic view is that baptism is necessary for salvation because the act of baptism itself causes regeneration. There are also Protestant churches that believe that baptism saves. While it is true that Jesus commanded baptism, I do not believe it is necessary for salvation; we are justified by faith alone and not faith plus works, even a work as important as baptism. Remember the thief on the cross (Luke 23:43) – Jesus says that he will be with him in paradise, even though he was not baptized.

 

There is also a Protestant Paedobaptist (infant baptism) view. This view is that baptism is rightly administered to all infant children of believing parents (Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed churches). It is sometimes known as the covenant argument – children are born to believers who are part of the covenant community. Just as infants were circumcised in the Old Covenant as the outward sign of entrance into the covenant community, infants in the new covenant should be baptized as a sign of entrance into the covenant community.

 

But we do not believe that the New Testament does not talk about a covenant community made up of believers and their unbelieving children. All that matters is whether or not one has saving faith. How does one become a member of the church? By repenting and believing in Jesus, not by physical birth. Therefore, we believe that baptism is the sign of entrance into the church, but should only be given to those who give evidence of membership in the church, those who have repented of sin and profess faith in Christ.

 

Repent and believe. Repent and be baptized. Jesus died for your sins. It was your sins that nailed him there. But forgiveness of sins and eternal life is offered in Jesus to all who turn from their sinful, self-centered ways to trust in Jesus. And if you have trusted in Jesus, you should get baptized as an outward sign of what God has done inside of you. Peter’s courage shows us how God can take any of us, no matter what we have done, and transform us by the power of His Holy Spirit. Put your faith in Him today.

 

Jesus, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God. I believe that in you is found eternal life, life to the full. I believe that apart from faith in you, I will die in my sins, separated from God for all eternity. But I believe that you love me so much that you died on the cross in my place, taking the penalty for my sin, and that you rose from the grave, conquering death. I turn from my sinful, self-centered way of life and I believe in you as my Savior and Lord. Amen.