THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
Peter's Sermon at Pentecost
The miracle at Pentecost has more than one layer of significance to it. Last week we saw that the miracle previews and guarantees the success of the mission to the universe of mankind. Although on that day the apostles did not witness to all the world, they nevertheless did witness to representatives from every corner of the known world in that day: from modern-day Iran to Rome, from the Black Sea to Ethiopia. God on the day of Pentecost is giving them a taste of the successful mission to the world. The second and primary layer concerns the principle that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ)/Lord of the universe. Pentecost is the indisputable evidence that Jesus is truly Messiah of the universe and as such, Lord of the universe.
PRELUDE TO PETER'S SERMON (2:14-15)
Apparently the Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles and their followers (120 in all) while they were assembled in an upper room (see Acts 1:13). After the Spirit falls upon them and they begin speaking in tongues, they leave the upper room and head for the temple compound, the normal meeting place for crowds in Jerusalem. They most likely rushed to the portico of Solomon, the colonnade which ran along the eastern wall of the temple compound; this became the regular meeting place for the early church later on (Acts 3:11; 5:12). When they encounter the crowds, they receive 2 different responses: (1) amazement that Galileans were speaking languages from distant lands and (2) skepticism. The second group actually claimed that the disciples were drunk. Peter though dismisses this remark. It was only 9:00 in the morning (the third hour of the day). People, he argues, simply don't get drunk that early in the morning! No; rather something wonderful has just happened which has caused this event.
PETER'S SERMON: Jesus Has Been Exalted to Messiah/Lord of the Universe (2:16-40)
In order to understand Peter's sermon better, I would like to present to you first the theme of his sermon and how he develops that theme. The theme of Peter's sermon is that God has exalted Jesus to the status of Messiah/Lord of the universe (2:36). This is not only the theme of this sermon but the major theme of most of the extended and shortened sermons in the book of Acts. It is the core belief of Christianity. Strip away this theme and you're left with nothing more than just a bunch of good ethical teachings. This theme forms the crux of Christianity.
To support this claim, Peter is going to allude to the Jewish and biblical belief that one day God was going to usher in the kingdom of God. The distinctive characteristic of the kingdom of God was going to be the presence and working of the Holy Spirit. He was going to come upon God's people, give them a new heart, raise them from the dead, and even radically transform the universe. Now the Holy Spirit does not just descend upon God's people. Something must happen first--the coming and exaltation of the Messiah, the man anointed with God's Spirit who distributes God's Spirit after He has been exalted to the right hand of God. Moreover, the distinctive characteristic of the Messiah is that He rises from the dead. Peter's point is that Jesus is that Messiah who has ushered in God's kingdom of salvation. Two things will prove this: (1) Jesus has risen from the dead and (2) because He has been exalted to the right hand of the Father, Jesus has poured forth His Spirit.
The Last Days (The Kingdom of God) Have Arrived (Acts 2:17-21)
The first part of Peter's sermon is to declare that the last days (the kingdom of God) have arrived. According to Joel 2:28-32 the distinctive characteristic of the last days (the kingdom of God) was the outpouring of God's Spirit upon His people: "And it shall be in the last days, God says, that I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind." One result of God pouring out His Spirit upon His people is that they will prophesy: "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon My bondslaves both men and women I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit, and they shall all prophesy."
The next characteristic of the last days (coming of the kingdom of God) was miracles in the sky above and on the earth beneath: "And I will grant wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth beneath; blood and fire and vapor of smoke." The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the presence of miracles were to be the proofs that the last days (the kingdom of God) had come.
Peter's point now is that the 120 people (men and women) who are prophesying prove that the Holy Spirit has descended upon God's people and that the last days (the kingdom of God) have come. This supported by the second part in that miracles are being performed. On the day Jesus died, the heavens were dark from 12 noon until 3:00 p.m. An earthquake even accompanied Jesus' death. Moreover, the fact that uneducated Galileans were fluent in all these languages proved that miracles were taking place.
The Resurrection Proves that Jesus is the Messiah (2:22-32)
In order to understand Peter's next point, you need to realize that the Jews believed that the kingdom of God just did not suddenly appear. Instead the Messiah (the Christ, the "Anointed One") had to appear first and bring in the kingdom of God. Peter's next point then is that since the kingdom of God has arrived as proven by the coming of the Spirit and the miracles being performed, then the Messiah had to have come. Just who then is this Messiah who has brought in the kingdom of God? Peter claims that this Messiah is Jesus (2:22).
Peter by quoting the OT claims that there is one distinctive characteristic true about the Messiah. No matter what else is true about the Messiah, this one characteristic must be true--He rose from the dead. According to Peter in Psalm 16:8-11 the Messiah is thanking and praising God the Father for raising Him from the dead, for His resurrection: "I the Messiah always saw the Lord (God the Father) in My presence for He is at My right hand that I may not be shaken. Therefore, My heart (the heart of the Messiah) was glad and My tongue exulted." Why was the Messiah glad and why did He exult? "Because Thou (God the Father) wilt not abandon My soul to Hades nor allow Thy Holy One (Me) to undergo decay."
Although the word "resurrection" is not found in this passage, Peter claims that the Messiah is speaking about His resurrection in this passage. For example, in order for God not to abandon the Messiah in Hades, the Messiah must first be in Hades, the place people go after they die. In order for God to prevent the Messiah from undergoing decay, then the Messiah had to die in order to start the decaying process. The only way God could not abandon the Messiah to Hades and keep Him from decaying was by raising Him from the dead.
The Jews of Peter's day though would have objected against his interpretation of Ps. 16. They claimed that this verse did not refer to the Messiah but to David himself who wrote the psalm. Peter though proves that this psalm could not be referring to David because David had not risen from the dead. In fact Peter could have taken them to the southeastern corner of Jerusalem to the place of David's internment. Instead David was writing about the Messiah, not about himself.
Peter supports his interpretation by appealing to the promise God made David. Because David had been faithful to God, God promised him that one of his descendants would reign eternally (2 Sam. 7:12f.). A regular person simply cannot fulfill this promise. For one of David's sons to fulfill this promise of reigning eternally, he is going to have to go through the resurrection so that he will never ever die again and so that he will be able to reign eternally. God's promise to David implies then that his descendant (the Messiah) who would reign eternally must undergo resurrection in order to fulfill that promise.
Well then, who has risen from the dead and thereby proved that He is the Messiah? Jesus (2:32). What is the proof He rose from the dead? He appeared to the disciples. There are eyewitnesses to this resurrection (2:32). By His resurrection Jesus has proved that He is the Messiah, as most of Peter's audience can testify, He has already come!
The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit Proves Jesus has been Exalted (2:33-36)
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the miracles around them prove that the kingdom of God has come. The fact that Jesus has risen from the dead proves that He is the Messiah. Peter though now proves that Jesus has not only been made Messiah but that God has exalted Him to His right hand as Lord of the universe. He supports this by appealing to what is happening right in front of their very eyes and by appealing to Scripture. The Jews believed that when God exalted the Messiah to this position, that this Anointed One would pour forth His Spirit upon His people. The fact that Jesus' people were miraculously speaking in foreign languages proved that He had poured out His Spirit upon them; therefore, He must have been exalted to the right hand of God. Second, Ps. 110:1 had predicted the exaltation of the Messiah. Once more Peter (along with Jesus) rejected the Jewish interpretation of this psalm; the Jews claimed that it referred to David, while Jesus and Peter claimed it referred to the Messiah (see Matt. 22:42-45 for Jesus' argument). The result of all this is the inescapable conclusion that God has made Jesus both Messiah and Lord. Because of this Jesus has ushered in the kingdom of God and has now distributed His Spirit upon those who claim Him as their Messiah and Lord.
An Invitation to Repent (2:37-40)
This event though is not simply an event in the life of Jesus. It also has implications for you and me as well. If Jesus is Messiah and Lord, what should be our response to Him? We should acknowledge Him as Messiah and Lord, and follow His leadership on a daily consistent basis. In other words, we should let Him be Lord of our lives.
Throughout his sermon Peter has been laying the groundwork for his next point: "God has made Him both Lord and Christ (Messiah), this Jesus whom you crucified." Just like the astonaut in Apollo 13 said, "Houston, we have a problem", so Peter is saying here, "Jerusalem, we have a problem." In v. 23 Peter reminded his Jerusalem audience that they had nailed this very person to the cross. Moreover, their problem was not simply with Jesus. God is the One who attested Him with miracles to be the Messiah (2:22); God is the One who raised Him from the dead (2:32); and God is the One who exalted Him to His right hand in the heavenly places (2:33-34). The Jews had a problem not just with Jesus but with God Himself.
The Jews living in Jerusalem understand exactly what Peter is saying and respond: "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter responds: "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
This verse, although one of the greatest in the NT, is one of the most misused. First, the concept of repentance in this verse has been misused. Many times we reduce repentance to being nothing more than turning from drinking to sobriety, from cursing to using good language, from gluttony to self-control, from sexual perversion to purity. While these result from repentance, they are not the primary focus of repentance. Look at the audience Peter was addressing. The sins just listed were not problems for the Jews. They were religious people and as a result refrained from such sins. Their problem was their attitude towards Jesus. Repentance, meaning literally "a change of mind," here means they are to change their minds and attitudes towards Jesus. Instead of being hostile towards Him as seen in their outright rejection of Him, they are to submit to His lordship. When a person does that, then these other changes will occur. Simply because these other changes have occurred though does not mean a person is now right with God. It is the change of the heart and mind towards Christ that makes up NT repentance.
The second misused part of this verse regards being baptized. Some believe that this verse teaches that a person must be baptized in order to complete salvation. The controversy revolves around the word "for" in the clause "let each of you be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins." If the word translated "for" (the Greek word being eis) had to be translated "for the purpose of," then they would be right. This preposition though can also be translated "in light of." The rest of the NT supports this second translation. In other words because you have repented and have received forgiveness of your sins, be baptized! Baptism becomes the way we publicly show the world that we have repented and confessed Jesus as our Messiah and Lord! (For more info regarding the necessity of baptism, go to Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation? )
The result of this repentant attitude towards Jesus is that a person receives the Holy Spirit. This is logical in light of the truth Peter has just proved that Jesus is the Messiah. As the Messiah, He is anointed with God's Spirit so that He can anoint His followers with that same Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a person is the incontrovertible piece of evidence that a person has genuinely confessed Jesus as his Messiah/Lord and thereby has now become a citizen in the kingdom of God (see Rom. 8:9). No matter how theologically correct your speech may be, if the Holy Spirit does not live within you, then you have not genuinely made Jesus the Messiah/Lord of your life. On the other hand, no matter how poorly you articulate your faith in Jesus, if the Spirit lives within you, then you have genuinely made Him Messiah/Lord of your life.
Before leaving this passage, observe that this sermon indicates that there is a Christian interpretation of the OT. Many times we reduce the relationship of the OT to the NT as being that of the NT fulfilling the OT. Whereas the NT does fulfill the OT, it also interprets it. Throughout Peter's sermon we saw Peter rejecting the Jewish interpretation of OT passages and reinterpreting them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This sermon is one of many such passages which show that the NT interprets the OT. In order to appreciate the NT, you must know that OT; however, in order to understand the OT, you must know the NT.
THE CREATION OF THE CHURCH (COMMUNITY) OF THE MESSIAH (Acts 2:41-47)
The results of Peter's sermon were stunning. On that day alone 3000 people confessed Jesus as the Messiah/Lord, more than all the converts Jesus made during His entire public ministry. Jesus' prediction that His disciples would perform greater works than He did (because He was going to pour out His Spirit upon them) is already coming true (John 14:12).
Moreover, look at the changes which resulted from the Spirit being poured out upon Jesus' followers: "they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer" (2:42). It only makes sense that these new followers of Jesus the Messiah would devote themselves to the apostles' teachings. The Holy Spirit not only came upon the followers of Jesus on that day, He also spoke through the apostles. He is the common denominator in both these events; therefore, it is only natural and logical that these followers of Jesus would devote themselves to the apostles' teachings. (The Holy Spirit today still leads us to the NT and the Christian interpretation of the OT.)
Next, these followers devoted themselves to fellowship. An isolated Christian is a contradiction in terms. The Holy Spirit lives not just in me but in every Christian. Moreover, since He lives in each Christian, He loves to bring Christians together. Jesus is so intent on this that He says that He will make His presence more intense where at least 2 or 3 have gathered because of their relationship with Him (Matt. 18:20). Now I can experience God in my Quiet Times at home; however, the special presence of God is experienced at times when Christians come together because of their relationship with Christ--the true meaning of fellowship.
Two elements characterize Christian fellowship: the breaking of bread and prayer. The breaking of bread most likely involved 2 aspects: (1) eating meals together and (2) observing the Lord's Supper during these meals. These meals (many times sponsored by the church) were called "love feasts" (literally agapai, pronounced "ah-gah-pie"). Families would come together and share their meals together (pot luck). These meals though were based upon the people's relationship to Jesus Christ because during the meals they were to observe the Lord's Supper. Get-togethers where Jesus is not mentioned or honored are not fellowships; they are socials. Any true fellowship has Jesus at its core and center.