No Other Name!-2
It is one thing to discover you are driving along the wrong road. It may be frustrating, and even embarrassing if you have people in the car who thought you knew where you were going. But you can at least admit the mistake, turn around and set off again, this time in the right direction.
But it’s quite another thing if you are foolishly driving down Old Philadelphia Church Road in Gaston County with your buddy Joe Watson and you decide to see how fast you can negotiate the hairpin turns going into the one lane bridge —and suddenly realize you are sliding sideways into the last curve before the bridge and that if you miss it you will go off the cliff and fall about 50 feet into the river! You have accelerated towards it, and the curve is too sharp, it’s too late to reduce your speed, let alone to stop, turn round, and go back to safety. What are you going to do? The answer was there’s nothing I could do. I needed to be rescued.
This is the very situation in the early chapters of Acts. The key thing to realize, in reading them, is that Jesus himself had warned his fellow Jews that they were precisely in danger of accelerating towards a cliff. If you read Luke’s gospel straight through, you will notice how the warnings which Jesus gave seem to increase in quantity and volume all the way to chapters 19, 20 and 21, where he solemnly declares that if the nation as a whole, and the city of Jerusalem in particular, don’t stop their headlong flight into ruin, their enemies will come and destroy them. The warnings are very specific.
Israel (so Jesus declares) has bought into a way of life which is directly opposite to what God wants: a way which ignores the plight of the poor, which embraces violence, which denies God’s call to his people to become the light of the world. Again, and again Jesus warns, ‘If you don’t turn back, you’re heading for disaster’ (Luke 13:5). When he arrives in Jerusalem he bursts into tears as he describes, in a prophetic vision, a great military force laying siege to the city and leaving no stone on top of another. This will happen, he says, ‘because you didn’t know the way of peace’, and ‘because you didn’t realize that God was visiting you’ (Luke 19:41–44).
But then we watch in amazement—horror, even—at a new twist in the plot. Jesus has announced God’s judgment on the nation that has gone its own way, the way of violence. But then we realize that Jesus himself has, again and again, taken Israel’s identity upon himself. He is the Messiah, the Suffering Servant whose calling it is to go to the place where the judgment is about to fall on rebellious Israel, and to take that judgment—the one he himself had announced—onto himself.
He speaks of himself as the ‘green tree’, the one you wouldn’t expect to see thrown onto the fire, while all around him are the dry twigs ready for burning (Luke 23:31). He warns that, though he is bearing Israel’s judgment, dying on a charge of which he was innocent but thousands around him were guilty (Luke 23:2–5, 18–25), those who nevertheless persisted in their headlong rush towards the sheer drop of violence would reap the consequences.
And, of course, when the crowds, the chief priests and the other leaders rejected Jesus at that Passover, Jesus himself saw that as the culmination of their rejection of his way of peace, his kingdom-way, the way he had been urging them to follow all along.
It wasn’t that their sending of Jesus to his death was an isolated act of folly or sin. It was the symptom of their rejection of God’s way. It was the sign of what Jesus had said many times: this generation is wicked and corrupt, heading for disaster.
Truths to Consider
1. Believers Should Impact Others Through Their Message & lifestyle! VV. 14-35
The crowd at Pentecost reacted with amazement and perplexity, which can be positive or negative reactions. How should the church amaze others and do so in ways that have positive results? What noises emanate from the church that make people want to come to see what is happening? What is so earth-shattering about what the church does? It should be noted that these first disciples did not focus on producing a spiritual extravaganza to attract and entertain onlookers. Instead, they offered biblical exposition that called for the response of repentance. They also witnessed with more than just words; they presented a distinctively different lifestyle.
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: (Joel 2:28–32)
17 ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. 21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
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. 25 For David says concerning him, (Ps 16:8–11)
‘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.’
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. 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. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, (Ps 110:10)
‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
A. Pentecost means prophecy has been fulfilled (2:16).
B. Pentecost means the last days have dawned (2:17a).
C. Pentecost means everyone can know God intimately and should make him known faithfully (2:17b-21).
D. Pentecost means Christ has ascended to the throne (2:22-36).
2. To Understand Salvation, You Need to Understand the Truth about Your Sin. VV. 36; 23
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.”
23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Peter does not try to soft-sell the gospel. Rather, he confronts his audience head-on with the message of the cross: “You crucified him!” This first proclamation of the gospel and call to repent cut the hearers to the heart.
Today, the razor-sharp edge of the message is sometimes blunted to make it more palatable and less critical of cultural values and behaviors. Many may resist being included in this accusation that they crucified Jesus. Few like being told that they are doing wrong and deserve God’s punishment. Any note of judgment is objectionable to those who are convinced that “I’m OK, you’re OK,” or maintain that “I am simply expressing who I am.”
Peter proclaims that this crowd is blameworthy for crucifying Jesus, the Son of God, but, surprisingly, he also announces that if they repent, they will receive forgiveness.
3. True Repentance Requires a Change of Heart & Actions! VV. 37-41
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.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Jesus has been exalted to God’s right hand, and he exercises his lordly power with saving grace. Whether one leads with denunciation or with grace depends on the audience and situation. There is a danger, however, in stripping any note of judgment and warning from the message of the gospel. The goal is to bring about repentance, which means changing directions.
The call to repent is often made into a cartoon joke with a bearded man flourishing the warning on a sandwich board. As a consequence, that message is as ignored as the flight attendant’s instructions on how to fasten the seatbelt. The gospel makes no sense and has no power for people who are not taught the doctrine of sin and are convicted of their sinfulness.
Some may also misunderstand what repentance entails. It does not mean just feeling sorry. W. Phillip Keller writes, “True repentance, sometimes called ‘godly sorrow,’ is seldom seen in our society. This is basically because few of us see that our sins are criminal offenses against a loving Lord. They are what cost Christ the awful agony of Golgotha. It was and always is God’s intention to bring people to repentance. The modern church merely brings people to feel sorry for themselves. The two are poles apart!”
But now, with Jesus’ resurrection, Peter and the others can unpack the meaning of the crucifixion for the benefit of the crowds. This is, perhaps, the first beginning, the first small glimpse, of the church’s developing understanding of the purpose of the cross.
That understanding doesn’t begin as an abstract theory about ‘sin’ or ‘judgment’. It begins as the very concrete and specific awareness: ‘this corrupt generation’ is heading for disaster, but Jesus stands in the way and can stop them from falling over the cliff. The message is then clear: ‘Be rescued’—in other words, let God rescue you, let Jesus rescue you—from the ruin that will come upon the city and the nation, not as a specific punishment for rejecting Jesus, but as the necessary consequence of that entire way of life of which rejecting Jesus was a key, telltale sign.
But how do you steer towards Jesus? How does he catch you, stop you, and rescue you? Peter and the others are quite clear—and the message of the Christian gospel fans out from this point to all people and all times.
You need to turn back. But the way to do that is to become part of the kingdom-movement that is identified with Jesus, part of the people who claim his life, death and resurrection as the center and foundation of their own. You need, in other words, to be baptized, to join the company marked out with the sign of the ‘new exodus’, coming through the water to leave behind slavery and sin and to find the way to freedom and life. You need to allow Jesus himself to grasp hold of you, to save you from the consequences of the way you were going (‘forgiveness of sins’) and to give you new energy to go in the right way instead (‘the gift of the holy spirit’). To do all that is to ‘turn back’ from the way you were going, and to go in the other direction instead. That is what is meant by the word ‘repent’.
All this was very concrete and specific for the crowd in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost. Join this movement, allow the death and resurrection of Jesus to become the badge you wear, the sign of your identity, with you and your children (verse 39) sharing in the new life of the baptized community, the life which has the stamp of Jesus upon it, the life which is defined in terms of turning away from the course you were on and embracing Jesus’ way instead. And, though circumstances change, we can see how the same message translates without difficulty to everyone in every society and at every moment in time. ‘The promise is for you, and for your children, and for everyone who is far away, as many as the Lord our God will call’ That means all the rest of us.
What we are witnessing, in this passage, is the beginning of the Christian theme called ‘salvation’. It isn’t simply about ‘going to heaven’, though of course it includes the promise, not only of heaven after death but, beyond that, of resurrection into God’s new creation. ‘Salvation’ is therefore pointing towards a very concrete and particular reality in the future. If God’s ultimate intention was to ‘save’ only disembodied ‘souls’, that wouldn’t be rescue from death. It would simply allow the death of the body to have the last word. ‘Salvation’ regularly refers constantly, not least in Luke and Acts, to specific acts of ‘rescue’ within the present life: being ‘saved’ from this potential disaster, here and now.
That, of course, is something Luke stresses throughout his work. What God has promised for the ultimate future has come forward to meet us in Jesus Christ. We should expect signs of that future to appear in the present. And, whenever we are in a mess, of whatever sort and for whatever reason, we should remember this: We are ‘repent-and-be-baptized’ people. The smartest thing…the only thing we can do, is to grasp Jesus’ promise 21…that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
No wonder 3,000 people signed up that very day.
Dear Lord, I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that have broken Your law. I have lived my life for myself only. I am sorry, and I repent. I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life; I give it to you. From this day forward, help me to live every day for you and in a way that pleases you. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you. Amen.