Acts 2:37 “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”
So we have examined Peter’s sermon and his evangelistic message. In the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, he preached with the blessing of God and that resulted in 3000 men being converted. What kind of audience was it? Certainly it was very large congregation in comparison to many of ours today. Also it was preponderantly an audience of men, unlike many churches in Africa and in Korea today which are overwhelmingly comprised of women. It also had this unique feature, that it was certainly a gathering of people who were very familiar with the contents of the Old Testament. So this Jewish congregation was different from the vast majority of the congregations that we know of in the western world today. However, in parts of the Middle East it would be different, especially in the state of Israel where there is still a deep historic acquaintance with the story of the patriarchs, Moses, the law and the prophets. So we could need some another occasions to examine the preaching in the book of Acts in a different setting from Pentecost, in a non-Jewish environment, such as in Athens, in Greece for example, and Paul’s evangelistic sermon there as it’s recorded in Acts 17. But as we read it we find that the main points of the preaching are identical in both places, Jerusalem and Athens. As soon as those Christian preachers could, whether addressing Jews or Gentiles, they would insist on one thing, the Lordship of Jesus Christ and that all men needed to turn to him from their sin.
1. ALL MEN ARE ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD.
i] Whether preaching to Jews or Gentiles the apostles would declare to their audience that each man and woman listening to them was accountable to God. They were all going to answer to Jehovah – whose Son he had sent into the world – for how they were spending their lives. We live in a moral universe and it is appointed unto men once to die and after death the judgment. The sent one, Jesus Christ, was the only man to have lived a blameless life, and yet he had died. The wages of sin is death and he had no sin. Why did he die? He died as a sacrifice for our sin; that is why his blood was shed, but then he had risen from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God. Whether in Jerusalem or Athens these facts about the Christ became the climax of the sermon. Both speakers went to the theme of the living Lord Jesus Christ as quickly as they could, exhorting the audience to consider God’s claims over their lives. New Testament preaching did not start by telling men that God loved every one of them, but that the Creator God held them accountable for their lives as they lived their lives and moved and had their being in him.
I met the Presbyterian minister Peter Barnes in Sydney, Australia a couple of years ago. He is an ordinary biblical preacher declaring the New Testament gospel. We had a good time of fellowship together as I too am an ordinary preacher. In the current February edition of the Banner of Truth magazine he recounts that he was asked to speak in a conference of school children, and when he had arrived at the church he noticed that they had erected a banner outside the building, and the words on it were, JESUS LOVES YOU. Then when he went inside the building there was another banner across the front of the church which said, JESUS IS LORD. He told them that the banners should have been the other way around. Inside to encourage these Christian school children, JESUS LOVES YOU. Outside the building, facing the world was the place for the message JESUS IS LORD. As Peter had said in the climactic words of his sermon in the open air to the citizens of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, “God has made this same Jesus both Lord and Christ.” Christ is Lord and all of us have to answer to him for our lives. He made the world. He made you. He sustains you and blesses you with every good and lovely thing. He has given you a conscience, which is his monitor of how we should live, and it rebukes us or encourages us. He is your God. The name of his Son is Jesus, the Lord. He has loved you enough to bring you here today to listen to these truths. You have learned already what’s the source of all the wonderful things that have happened in your life. Not luck. Not chance. Not karma. None of those ideas. A loving, caring, personal, Almighty God; he is the one who’s been so good to you – in spite of all the ways you have neglected him; he is the author of all you have that is worthy of any thanks and much gratitude.
Why should you believe this? Because of the presence in the history of our planet of the Lord Jesus Christ, this real figure. He preached the Sermon on the Mount. He spoke in the Upper Room. He gave the parables such as the one of the Prodigal Son. Never did any man speak like Jesus. The greatest impact he made on the lives of those who heard him was made by his words. He made the greatest claims, that he existed before he was born in Bethlehem, before even Abraham existed. He and God were one. He would judge the world. The standard of judgment was how we responded to his preaching. He was the way, and the truth and the life. No one came to the Father but by him. Those are either the words of a megalomaniac, or an evil deceiver, or they are the words of God incarnate. He himself was meek and lowly of heart, humbly accessible to all who sought him. Women handed their babies over to him for him to hold and pray for. He took no collections; he had nowhere to lay his head, no palace or mansion to live in. He always told the truth. He was someone of total integrity, not an entertainer; not a cheat. He was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners.
Again, this Jesus did things that only God could do. He turned great pots of water into aged wine. He gave sight to people born blind. He never failed to heal any one brought to him. He raised the dead. He delivered men and women, boys and girls from devilish influences. The winds and waves obeyed him. Peter told them that Jesus was “a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know” (v.22).
He died at the hands of crooked men in power who hated him and the influence he had over the common people – who heard him gladly. But he died according to the will of God, by God’s determinate purpose and foreknowledge, because without the shedding of his holy blood our sins could never be remitted, but that is what the nature of God requires. That is the only God there is. Christ’s death was as the Lamb of God, and he took away the sin of the world not just the sins of believing Jews, and he did so by suffering our judgment in our place. The apparent folly of this teaching was not pointed out by 20th century sceptics. The church itself in the first century spoke of the folly of the message of the cross, but it still declared it in and out of season because it was the power of God unto salvation to all who believed.
How do we know that Christ’s cross was atoning? He himself told us that that is why be came into the world to give his life a ransom for many, and Peter in this sermon declared the proof of an accepted atonement for our sins – “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (v.32). So do you understand? In rejecting Jesus aren’t you saying that in your estimation he is a deceiver? More than that, you’re rejecting the simple testimony of his followers. There were 120 of them in Jerusalem for whom Peter became the spokesman. “We are all witnesses,” said Peter, but you are making them bumpkins, yokels who could yet write the gospel of John and the letter to the Romans, evil men who deliberately gave birth to an immense cruel lie, or that they wee the victims of some devilish plot that this forgiving and kind man Jesus had himself invented. Why would he do that? In order that he might die the death of the cross? And that many of those who followed him might similarly be killed? Mary Magdalene saw him in the Garden on the third day when he was risen and she cried out to him ‘Rabboni’ – “Teacher”. The truth of what he’d said to her of rising from the dead had been confirmed. She hurried to the apostles and said to them, “I have seen the Lord.” I believe that she wasn’t telling lies. I believe she hadn’t seen or heard a spook! I don’t believe the many skeptics and unbelievers today who are saying that it is all one great fraud. I believe that Mary was right. I stand with her. I believe that others of us who are here in the church today are trustworthy, ordinary good men and women. I believe because people like Mary Magdalene believed, and Peter also, and the others who gave their lives in their persistence in declaring that they had spent 40 days with the risen Jesus, that he was more powerful than death itself. That was the message of the New Testament preachers.
More than that, they preached that Jesus Christ was raised and exalted back to the presence of God and that he was in charge of the world. In other words, it is this man Christ Jesus who now rules the world. He was in control of this gathering of these 3000 individuals from all over the world. He had brought them there personally across land and sea in order to speak to them this message on that day. In exactly the same way he is in charge of you today in giving you the grace to come and hear or read this sermon. Nothing happens in your life without him; he numbers all the hairs of your head. Not a sparrow can fall without his decree saying, “Fall!” He is Lord over the wise decisions you have taken, and he has also permitted the foolish things you have done. It was God who decreed those wicked hands to seize Jesus and whip him and punch his blindfolded face and nail him to a cross. It was not bad luck that did that but God’s own purpose. God controls our lives and yet he gives us moral responsibility for our choices with the freedom that that demands, and you will answer him for what you have done with your life. Jesus Christ is God and he is God’s anointed prophet, priest and king. He is the one whom we worship and serve. He has the name of God, and the attributes of God, and the power and graces and prerogatives of God. He sends the Holy Spirit into our lives to illuminate our understanding of these truths, and to convict us of our sins, and to plant faith in us that enables us to entrust ourselves to him for ever. He makes us new creations and makes everything new in our lives. Where there has been death he gives life, and where there has been ignorance he gives illumination, and where there is condemnation he gives a free pardon. That is the message of the Lordship of Christ that the New Testament preachers preached.
In the book of Acts we find Jesus referred to as ‘Lord’ 92 times; he is referred to as Saviour twice. The point of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost was to get his hearers to understand who Jesus was and how exalted and powerful he is, and by that knowledge that they would be cut to their hearts. Isn’t that essential today? For many young people the word ‘Jesus’ or the word ‘Christ’ is simply a swear word, to colour your speech and add vehemence or humour. They have no idea at all who is Jesus Christ. How can you ask them to trust him, or ‘ask him into their hearts’ if they are utterly ignorant of who he is. So we have to explain to our hearers, fellow students, the young people on a Friday night, the people we have taken away for a week-end the identity and personality and character and work of Christ. That is what Peter first does, that he is the Jehovah Jesus of the Bible, that he has made certain promises there, and he keeps them – each one, that he will redeem from destruction all who put their trust in him. That our Lord lives today as one who was once crucified, dead and buried, but the grave itself could not keep him. He rose from the dead. He is more powerful than mere death. He has ascended and he’s got the whole world in his hands. He is the one who keeps our hearts beating, and our blood flowing, and our eyes seeing, and our lungs breathing. This is what he does for every living thing. He is the one who supplies all our needs. So we depend on him. We answer to him, to the one that God has made Lord and Christ.
That is the redemption that comes from God and is expressed to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel is not something that man made up or is a well-informed opinion. It is not my gospel, or this church’s gospel, or a male gospel, or a Welsh gospel, or a 21st century gospel. It is good news directly revealed from Almighty God regarding what he has done in Jesus Christ to rescue all those who call on his name. This was a divine rescue, a complete deliverance, not advice, not a moral improvement programme, nor a philosophy of life. Our need is always sovereign mercy, not assistance. The proud, or those who fail to see their moral and spiritual inability to save themselves, will reject this gospel. But to the poor and broken hearted, (the spiritual bankrupt who have lost all confidence in their own efforts) there is immense good tiding of great joy which is being declared to all people. So all you poor, broken sinners, abandon your despair, banish your lamentation because of the wonderful thing that God has done in his Son, Jesus Christ the Messiah, to deliver his people from their sins.
You are called by God today to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Bow the knee before him as Lord and thus receive him as your Saviour. Peter insisted on it, on Jesus’ exalted power in heaven and earth and hell, that he has the right to put any defiant man or woman in the pit. Peter spoke of the majesty and holiness, and justice and authority of Christ, and yet this Christ was willing to receive and pardon 3,000 Jerusalem sinners some of whom had mocked him as he was nailed to the cross. Isn’t there hope for you? They killed him, but he promised them rest, a light burden, an easy yoke, sonship, eternal life: he’d supply all their needs and work absolutely everything together for their good. Such promises were made for everyone who’d acknowledge that Jesus was Lord and receive him into their lives as Lord.
So the Christian gospel preached by Peter is news about what God has already done for sinners. It was not instruction and advice about what they could do for God. Peter did not tell them anything about what they were to do. They were left in the deepest conviction about their sinful lives, and in fact they had to cry out to Peter as they were cut to their hearts by his words, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v.37). In other world religions, their gods reveal to their followers how they can achieve salvation for themselves. They have to pray five times a day, or bathe in a sacred river, or fast in the hours of daylight for a month each year, or go on pilgrimage. Not so in Christianity. It is God who achieves salvation for us and all we can do is go to him with nothing in our hands and cry to God to pity us. Peter brought to Jerusalem sinners news and facts and truth, rather than instruction. His gospel was all about historic events, and so it had a public character.
The gospel is that Jesus lived and died for sinners and he rose and now is seated at the right hand of God. He has been made both Lord and Christ. The gospel is good news about what God has done in history to save us, rather than any advice about what we must do to reach God. The gospel is news that Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension to glory has achieved believers’ salvation. Jesus does not just bring good news; he himself is the good news. There is no salvation outside of the Lord Jesus Christ. So go, just as you are, weary and heavy laden to Christ for rest.
2. ALL MEN MUST OWN HIM AS THEIR LORD.
That is what a Christian is. No Christian possesses a stiff neck. No Christian refuses to bow in the Lord’s presence. A Christian is not someone who feels ‘cool’ about God. A Christian knows who Jesus is and he responds appropriately. He knows what it means to follow Christ and to make a thoughtful, educated commitment to Jesus Christ. He knows who is this Jesus. What has he done and why did he do it? What is the salvation he has accomplished and what does this require of us? He has read about him and he has counted the cost. The Bible says that Christ came as someone commissioned by his Father to die for those whom his Father had given him, and that his sacrifice was not to save us in our sins, but to save us from our sins The gospel is a divine summons to redirect our lives by the energy and awareness and the commitment that the life of the Lord Christ demands. He is the one alone who can save us. The Jesus who saves us from what our sins deserve has to be Lord, one who is far mightier than us. Be this known to you today! God has made him Lord! So faith in some Jesus who is good-intentioned but rather helpless, locked out of your life, a spectator, a Bertie Wooster figure waiting for the wily Jeeves his butler to get him out of the latest jam, looking to him to act and open the door from the inside – because he is too much of a gentleman to come into your life uninvited – such an impotent milksop Jesus couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination be Lord. Faith focused on such a helpless person is not faith in the one Peter has told us about, one to whom God has given all authority in heaven and earth and made Lord of lords. The approach to evangelism that stresses Jesus’ helplessness and tells people Jesus’ hands are tied, so that it is all entirely up to them to permit him to save them – that is a false salvation and so a false Saviour quite unable to save no one.
It is time that the ministers of Wales stopped deluding people with man-centred worship designed to keep the casual visitor happy but building up the number of visitors. It is time for every single preacher to proclaim the whole gospel and the whole Christ and the whole nature of saving faith in the Lord. Following Jesus is still costly in the 21st century which seems destined to have as many martyrs as all the previous 20 centuries put together; “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:25). ‘Anyone,’ he said. This goes for anyone, for the professor, for the one who lives in 10 Downing Street, for the winner of Nobel prizes, for the millionaire, for the ayatollahs. Deny yourself and take up your cross every day and follow the Lord. Have you counted the cost? Jesus challenged his disciples, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46). Should there be something very precious and delightful to me, and yet one day I discovered that it went against what pleased the Lord Jesus. Then would I immediately cease doing that thing because what I want in life first of all is to please my Lord? Why do you call him Lord and yet do not do what he says? Is he your Lord?
Is this remnant who keep churches open each Sunday in this little county of ours, when congregations reaching double figures are considered ‘a goodly number’ – is this remnant asking itself, “Are we real? Is this reality? Are we real Christians? Are we really following the Lord Christ?” What I see is a religion without repentance, a faith without knowledge, a Christianity without discipleship, a profession without any behavioural change, or any tangible evidence that Christ is Lord of men’s lives. In a recent country congregation not far from our town six people were brought into membership there as their parents had been brought into membership thirty years earlier. That was quite remarkable, but those six new members have not been seen in the church since the day they became members and they have no intention of attending there again. If you asked them if they believed in God then they would affirm that they certainly did. If you asked them if they believed in Jesus they would tell you “Yes, we do.” Then what has gone wrong? What have they joined a church never to attend it? They don’t realise it but what they are doing is to give mere intellectual assent, or mental assent to the facticity of God and the historicity of Jesus Christ. It is intellectualism and traditionalism that they possess, not the vibrant, living loving person of our Lord. This is like the old Roman Catholic conception of faith as believing what the church teaches. Do you see what is wrong? Four basic errors.
There is an error about Jesus of Nazareth. God has made him ‘Christ,’ that is, the anointed one, in other words, anointed by him as teacher, and as the atoning Lamb of God, and sovereign king and shepherd. All those three offices are continually performed by our anointed Lord, the one who is our one Mediator with God. He is not divided. He is not divisible. His offices are not up to be chosen by you – “Shall I have him as my high priest with God but not as the king who rules over me” – he is not a candidate whose policies you can choose while others you reject. You cannot take the benefits of his work as our teacher and our divine Lamb and our Shepherding King while rejecting him as Lord. That attitude does no honour to my Saviour.
There is an error about repentance. In the Bible faith and repentance are inseparable. They are the two sides of the one coin. Repentance means turning from sin; faith means turning to Christ. It is like love and marriage, and “You can’t have one, no, you can’t have one, no, you can’t have one without the . . . other.”
There is an error about the new birth. You remember the various ways regeneration is pictured in the Bible? You must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. You must receive new life from heaven. You must be raised from spiritual death. You must have a new heart from God. This one great work of God by the Spirit if he is received into our lives makes it quite impossible for us to go on living under the sway of sin and unbelief just as we used to before the new birth. You have been born from above, and so at the bottom of your heart there is a desire that the living God has planted there to know and love and serve and trust and obey and honour both the Father and the Son, and in fact to give the Son equal honour as you give the Father. I’m saying to you that God has planted a wellspring inside you so that such grand religious affections as spontaneous discipleship, and hunger to worship in a gospel church, and a life of service keep springing up inside you. I have a friend who was converted here as a student and he asked another Christian student where he should worship. His friend started to describe the churches. “There is Geoff Thomas in Alfred Place,” he began, ‘but he preaches long sermons.” My friend cut him down immediately; “Oh good,” he said, “then there will be more I can hear about Jesus Christ.” And he came the next Sunday, and never stopped, and I baptized him, and today he is preaching in various churches the old mining valleys of South Wales. He had the new birth and in his heart he had a longing to know more about the Saviour who had changed him and given him joy.
There is an error about discipleship. If you dream that it’s possible for you to make a decision – years after you’ve professed to be saved by Christ – resolving that henceforth you intend to obey him as your Lord, then you are going to experience for those years a long and lonely walk down the road that is called “Gospel Hypocrisy Way.” You feel safe and secure, because the ignorant people who had been teaching you had also given you the slogan, “Once Saved Always Saved,” which you took as your creed while living like a worldling. Where is the mark that you have a new heart? Where is the personal commitment to Jesus Christ? Why this defiance of the Spirit who said, “Without holiness no man can see the Lord”? There are a number here who went through that sad time before God mercifully made them aware of their unconverted state. They were talking the talk, but they were strangers to walking through the narrow gate and walking the narrow path, and they knew it. It was a barren time traveling on the road of Gospel Hypocrisy, having some mere cerebral religion. One man whom I greatly respect walked along that Way for two long years, and he almost lost his soul by trying to be a man of God and a man of the world at the same time. Today he steadfastly opposes this heresy of being a Christian while denying the Lordship of Christ over his life. He can never forget those two years, and he says, “a burnt child will always dread the fire.”
3. HAVE YOU BOWED TO HIM AS LORD?
We’re not asking if Christ is your Saviour but this question, is he really and truly your Lord? If he’s not your Lord, then how can the Lord Jesus be your Saviour? That’s delusional theology. What God has joined together no one can put asunder. You’re building your relationship with God on sand. Don’t be deceived at this point. What if all I’ve said to you is true, and that God has mercifully brought you here to deliver you from error . . . and worse.
When I press you in asking ‘Is Christ your Lord?’ I’m not inquiring, “Do you believe in the Godhood of Jesus of Nazareth”? The demons do that, and yet they perish notwithstanding! When we ask, ‘Is Christ your Lord?’ we mean, does he occupy the throne of your heart, does he have access to every room and cupboard and corner of your life. Is he with you and before you and over you and alongside you wherever you go and whatever you do? If he gently says, “Don’t do that” then is that enough for you? Remember in the book of Judges we read a phrase that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes,” and why was that? We’re told the answer, “In those days there was no king in Israel.” (Judges 21:25) That’s my point. That’s what I want to make clear to you all. Until Christ becomes your king, until you bow to his sceptre, until his will becomes the rule of your life then it’s self that’s in charge, and Christ is down the line in the pecking order.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out on this vast audience in Jerusalem at Pentecost, what was needed first of all was to deflate this arrogant, religious, proud multitude, and cut them to the heart, and convict them of their sin. So Peter showed them the real and awful nature of sin by exalting the one they had murdered. He made them realize that in their treatment of Christ they were involved in an insurrection against their Maker, Jehovah. They were defying God – the one they boasted in; the one they had travelled such long distances to worship. Now through Peter’s preaching their eyes were opened and they saw what lifelong rebels they’d been, how unconcerned about his will, how deadly towards his Son. It was then that they were filled with anguish and horror, cut to the heart, crying out, asking was there any hope. What could they do? “Peter you’re our brother, tell us what we’re to do.” I am asking you, men and women, have you ever known anything of that experience?
Conversion, true conversion, sound conversion, is seeing your need through a sense of your own guilt and sin. It is a turning from sin to God in Christ as the only one who can meet that need. New Testament converts are described like this: “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” (1 Thess. 1:9) Genuine conversion is always characterized by the convert asking one of the first questions that Paul asked when he was converted; “Lord, what will you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). You don’t want to go to hell, but do you want to go on serving self for the rest of your life? God will not save you on your terms. To be saved, you must agree to his terms. Listen to his terms: they are not difficult to understand; “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him” (Isa. 55:7). Have all of you men and women, done this? Have you . . . all of you? How would those who see you every day speak about you? Do the details of your life evidence this change? What would your room-mates, the people who share your house, your neighbours, your workmates say of you? Would they say that you’re a nice person? I hope so but would they say more that you are also a servant of a great, holy and loving Lord? Would your pet dog know you were different? If you car could speak what would it say of you? Your computer, your web, your television, what would they say? Can they all see it, that you don’t live to please yourself but God, and that you love your neighbour as yourself?
Men and women make no mistake upon this point: a conversion which the Holy Spirit produces is a very radical thing. It is supernatural; it is a miracle of grace. It is the
enthroning of Christ over your life, and such a change is rare indeed. Multitudes of people have just sufficient ‘religion’ to make them miserable! But the great miracle of grace consists in changing a lawless rebel into a loving and loyal subject. It is
a renewing of the heart; this new man has come to loathe what once he loved, and other things that he once found irksome are now winsome. He delights in biblical preaching. The commands of Christ are not grievous. In keeping them there is great reward. Is this your experience? It would be if you’d received Christ Jesus the Lord!
But to receive Christ Jesus the Lord is altogether beyond our wits or our strength. It is the last thing which the unrenewed heart wants to do. There must be a supernatural change of heart before there is even the desire for Christ to occupy its throne. There must be serious and searching Christian testimony. There must be the work of the Spirit of God in convicting power. None but God can work that change. So, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found” (Isa. 55:6). Call on him mightily. Ask him to end the rule of self. Get down on your knees and confess to God your self-will, your irritation with his commands and beg him to so work in you that without further delay you may be enabled to yield yourself completely to his will and become his subject, his, servant, his loving slave in deed and in truth.
February 1 2015 GEOFF THOMAS