Today, we are ready to conclude our study of Acts 2, which records a sermon preached by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost. I’ve divided this chapter into three points and we’ve covered the first two. By way of review, therefore, let me summarize what we have seen so far.
- The Occasion for the Sermon (2:1-13)
Under this first point, I called attention to four facts in the opening verses: the disciples were “all together in one place,” the Spirit’s arrival was marked by a noise “like a violent, rushing wind,” the disciples saw “tongues as of fire” resting on one another, and all the disciples shared in this experience.
Beyond this, I stated that the tongues phenomenon was not just intended for the equipping of the disciples; it also was intended as a signal that a major step in God’s plan of redemption was taking place. The nation of Israel was facing a final judgment while God prepared to make Himself known to all the nations of the earth.
- The Substance of the Sermon (2: 14-36)
I noted three parts in Peter’s sermon. He began by quoting from the prophet Joel, then he turned to the matter of the Jews’ part in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and he concluded with words concerning the resurrection and exaltation of the Savior. Peter states that this day was foretold by Joel; it will be an age of unparalleled activity on the part of the Holy Spirit.
Further, Peter places responsibility for the rejection and death of the Savior on the shoulders of the very men gathered in Jerusalem at this time. And Peter assures them that although they killed the Lord Jesus, God raised Him up and exalted Him to a place of glory and power.
END OF REVIEW
So, we’ve seen the occasion for this sermon and we’ve studied the sermon itself. That brings us to the third point in our study of this chapter, which is the reaction to Peter’s sermon.
- The Response to the Sermon (2:37-47)
Considering what Peter has said and considering the strange things witnessed by the crowd on this day, we might expect a reaction much different than what actually occurred. However, if you think back to Luke’s previous description of these men, you’ll remember that he called them “devout” (v. 5).
I mentioned earlier that this description would prove significant when we saw how these Jews reacted to Peter’s sermon. Luke continues the story and tells us:
37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “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. 39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” 41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
This really is an amazing reaction. Luke says that the people listening to Peter’s words, words that were direct and left no room for misinterpretation, were “pierced to the heart.” (v. 37) The word used here (katanusomai) means “to be stabbed.” The full phrase used by Peter, “pierced to the heart,” was a well-known expression that referred to the sharp pain felt in the heart due to conviction or remorse.
The saying represents a feeling of great distress. These devout Jews were genuinely convicted by Peter’s words and, therefore, they ask a logical question. In fact, this is the only question to be asked at this point: “Brethren, what shall we do?”
What is to be done when you realize that you have participated in a most wicked event? If God allows you to understand your sin, then you ask what these men asked. You ask someone “What must I do?”
These men were stung by Peter’s words, but instead of reacting in anger, they react in humility and turn themselves over to him for help. Peter knows that now is the time to move from accusation to instruction. His words have been effective, so he replies to their question in vv. 38 and 39.
As we look at his answer, I want to identify five elements in Peter’s response. First, notice that word “repent.” The Jews asked the only logical question and Peter gives them the only acceptable answer. They had to repudiate the past and turn from their previous disregard for the Savior. They had to show that they truly believed they had erred in rejection Christ.
This demonstration would come through the second element I want to identify, which is their baptisms in the very name of the One they had disdained. To be baptized in the name of the Savior expressed acceptance of Him as who He claimed to be; baptism would be a declaration that these Jews now believed Him to be their Messiah.
Further, a baptism in His name would indicate a new relationship with Him and with God through Him. This is evident when Peter adds “for the forgiveness of your sins,” which is the third element in his answer to be noted. Peter isn’t assigning punishment for sins, he is providing pardon for sins. Even the horrendous sin of having rejected and caused the death of the Savior could be forgiven by now believing in Him.
The fourth element in Peter’s answer is his reference to the Holy Spirit. After what we’ve learned about the significance of the Spirit’s involvement in this event, we can understand more readily what Peter means. Sharing in the Spirit would mean that these Jews would be included in God’s great blessing, which was being given on this day.
They would be among those being saved instead of being left among those for whom judgment was just around the corner. By repenting and giving expression of their faith in baptism, these Jews would be included in the new creation being formed as the Spirit came and engaged in His world-wide ministry of applying the atonement accomplished by the Savior. Receiving “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” as Peter describes it, would mean salvation as they joined the ranks of those who believed the gospel.
The fifth thing I want to emphasize from Peter’s response has to do with the “promise” he mentions in v. 39. Possession of the Spirit is one aspect of the promise which, Peter says, belonged to them, their children, and “all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” The promise, considered broadly, I believe, refers to God’s original promise to save the seed of the woman and those many restatements of that promise found throughout the Old Testament.
In various ways, God notified the Jews that He would one day bring a glorious blessing to the world—the blessing would be the gospel, the message that tells a sinner how to be redeemed. The favor of God was being manifested on this day as the Spirit was being given.
We can’t miss the covenantal implications of this portion of Peter’s reply. In the past, God always dealt with believers and their seed. His words regarding the coming Messiah included promises regarding the children of the faithful. I trust that you remember that, specifically in his dialogues with Abraham, God declared that the nature of the redemption which He had ordained included a generational aspect.
Prior to the day of Pentecost, the sign of inclusion in that promise and the sign that the participant believed the promise for himself and his descendants, was, of course, circumcision. That was the act of faith God required of those who declared their trust in him. Baptism in the name of Jesus Christ now becomes the sign of inclusion and in that same promise, according to the apostle Peter, now that redemption has been accomplished by the Savior.
This is borne out when we read that, in response to Peter’s declaration that the “promise” was still active, the Jews asked what course remained opened for them. And Peter’s immediate response was “baptism.” This is why we read of household baptisms, of course, in the Book of Acts during the formation of the early Church.
Here, Peter reiterates God’s intention to preserve the covenantal structure of redemption now that a new age had dawned and the knowledge of redemption would be going to all parts of the earth. No longer, as I’ve emphasized, would God be known only in Israel. Now word of His mercy to sinners would go throughout the earth and all, Jews and Gentiles, would walk together as one in Christ Jesus.
Luke adds that Peter “solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them” concerning the issues before them (v. 40). It seems that Peter must have continued preaching after making this initial reply. He continued urging repentance, as is obvious from this latest remark by Luke. His message was simple: “Be saved from this perverse generation!”
This is the generation Jesus condemned repeatedly as wicked and worthy of judgment. This is the final generation of Israel as a nation in covenant with God. Peter’s words support what I said before about one aspect of the events of Pentecost. One aspect of what is going on this day is the end of Israel’s status as a nation before God. Peter is warning these devout Jews to flee to the Messiah while there was still time.
Remarkably, Luke records that three thousand souls were added to the young Church on this occasion (v. 41). This was no small gathering in the streets of Jerusalem. Thousands saw the disciples and heard them speaking in foreign tongues; thousands heard Peter as he stood to explain the events and call the people to repentance. Thousands responded when he answers that question, “Brethren, what must we do?”, and were baptized in the name of the very One they previously rejected.
Christ triumphed magnificently on this day. He is vindicated as the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the Gentiles. He is revealed as the One who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to be glorified and assume His place as Lord of Lords and King of kings. Peter preached and these sinners repented and this is how the Church grew.
The rest of this chapter gives us a picture of what things were like for those early believers. It is an example of people living by faith, seeking to know God, offering themselves as His servants, and enjoying the fellowship of the redeemed:
42 And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Since this passage provides us with a description of those who were the first to hear the gospel preached, it is worth our time to identify those characteristics that Luke chose to emphasize. In these few verses, I see five characteristics of the early Church. First in Luke’s list is devotion to teaching (v. 42). The word translated “devoting themselves” will give us some insight here. The word (proskartreo) means “to be loyal to, to attach oneself, to associate closely with, to occupy oneself diligently with, to pay persistent attention to.”
This is the same word, by the way, used in 1:4 where we read that the disciples, as they waited for the arrival of the Spirit, “were continually devoting themselves to prayer.” The word is used again in 6:4 where the apostles declare that they must devote themselves to certain duties and not be distracted by other necessary, but less imperative needs.
Twice, later in the New Testament, Paul uses this word when he tells us to be devoted to prayer (Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2). These examples tell us that this word describes a dedication to that which is essential, that which is considered indispensable. So, thinking back to our passage, it’s clear that you don’t act like these early believers unless something is really important to you.
These early Christians understood the value of the apostles’ teaching. They understood that they had heard the truth and apart from that truth, apart from their continued exposure to that truth, they would go astray. The truth saved them and the truth would sustain them, so teaching was vital to these people.
A second characteristic follows the first as effect follows cause. Luke says that these brethren were also devoted to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Good teaching leads to good practices. Proper teaching leads to proper responses. Put it any way you choose, but there is a connection evident here.
The teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread (which is a reference to observance of the Lord’s Supper), and prayer all go together. Fellowship to these believers was teaching and breaking bread and praying. These things constituted the life of this body. Among other things, this example should tell us something about the nature of true fellowship. It is not what some might think.
A third characteristic included by Luke is, of course, the Lord’s continuing blessings (v. 43). This is how a believing community operates. The faithful live unto the Lord and He blesses them.
Out of this environment comes a fourth characteristic, namely, an amazing mutual concern for one another (v. 44, 45). These believers sold their property and possessions so that all who had need could be helped. There was a bond between these believers and it was strong and it was demonstrated in acts of selflessness.
This is what the Church looked like: a beautiful gathering of folks who thought more of the good of others than their own good, a gathering in which the needs of others outweighed the needs of self. This is a natural development when the gospel is taught and believed. When we learn what has been done for us in Christ, our natural inclination is to serve out of gratitude and love to God.
The fourth characteristic is the daily routine of these believers. In vv. 46 and 47, Luke describes the day-to-day lifestyle of these early Christians and he breaks down this routine for us into several elements. On a regular basis, these Christians were worshiping together, sharing the sacrament together, spending time in each other’s homes, and eating meals together; they were praising God and finding favor with those outside the Church.
This was done with gladness and sincerity of heart. As they went about these activities, activities that were born out of their salvation experience, these believers did so with gladness and sincerity of heart. That is, they were happy to live this way and share their lives with one another; and they lived this way honestly, not by way of compulsion or because of peer pressure, but because they genuinely loved one another.
The fifth and last characteristic I’ll mention is the growth of the Church (v. 47). That which was occurring in such a selfless atmosphere was quite pleasing to God and the result was astonishing growth. Nothing has been added to Peter’s words and nothing has been subtracted. The simple message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ resulted in revolutionary developments in the first century as the Holy Spirit applied the atonement achieved by our Savior over and over again.
For our application, I want to concentrate on two matters. First, remember how the Jews reacted when Peter confronted them. They were “pierced to the heart.” I want to emphasize that this is a good reminder for us of the connection between preaching and conviction of sin. In terms of being believers and going to church, we have a pretty comfortable situation these days. But we should not let ourselves reach that place where preaching about sin no longer stirs us.
In fact, we should come to church having prayed for an open heart so that the preaching of the Word might have its maximum effect on us. The preacher’s job is to speak the truth and the hearer’s job is to listen carefully. We should always want the Spirit to give us sensitivity to what is declared to us in Christ’s name. And, when we are moved to the point of conviction, we should give thanks because that means God is at work in us and that is good.
The second matter I want to address will take a little more time. I want to consider once again a few of those characteristics of the early Church, which I just enumerated. I’m not going to go over all five, but I do want to highlight some because they come from a time of purity for the Church, a time before programs and disputes and worldliness.
The first characteristic is one of the most important. It is the one, I believe, that was essential to the others. That characteristic was devotion to teaching. One thing that can be proven from the study of the history of the Church’s development is that when the people of God value teaching and when they make sound doctrine a priority, the Church prospers.
This is something for us to keep in mind these days when devotion to teaching is not always one of the leading characteristics of local churches. And, by the way, let me stress that the devotion spoken of in this passage was exhibited by the people. Luke is not telling us that the apostles were devoted to teaching and tried to get the people to come along with them, he’s saying that the people were devoted to teaching.
The second characteristic I mentioned should also be noted here in the application. I said that the early Christians were marked by fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. It is easy for us to forget the basis on which we gather here each week. It is easy for us to forget what brought us together in the first place—and I don’t mean together here at All Saints, but together in the Body of Christ.
The Savior is the central issue for all of us. Our time together, our activities as a congregation should reflect that truth. He really is what we all share as believers. This doesn’t mean that every time we have contact, we have to have a Bible study, but it does mean that we don’t want to forget who it is that saved us all and who it is we all are called to serve.
I also want to say a word about the characteristic of mutual concern, which Luke describes for us. This must have been a truly delightful environment to experience. God’s Spirit made them selfless and genuinely concerned for one another. It would be a wonderful thing if this is what the world saw when it looked at the Church. We can’t do anything about the entire Church, but we can do something about our church.
We can look at this example and determine to be selfless people. It is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do because your flesh will put up a powerful resistance, but this is what it means to be like Christ. Imagine the environment we would have here if we all cared more for others than ourselves. We know this isn’t an impossible goal because the first century believers did just that. Maybe you could start this week with just one act that truly benefits another person at the expense of denying yourself. Give it some thought.
This is what the gospel should produce in us. As we are taught theology, we should eventually come to the place where we want to give to others; we should want to help others after the manner we have been helped. Life, in some ways, should be seen as a good sermon. That is, your life should be a picture of theology being applied.
It’s not enough just to know the theology and it’s certainly not acceptable to go off without the theology doing whatever you think is best. This story of the early Church is instruction in what it means to live as a believer. You are taught and you apply what you are taught. This is what our lives are about.
As you are thinking about these things, think also of Jesus Christ, our Savior. He is the supreme example of all good characteristics. Jesus obviously believed that teaching was essential—He spent most of His time doing just that and He also selected and equipped a band of men to carry on that ministry after He departed.
At the same time, let’s realize that the Savior’s teaching was always related to life, always related to what the hearer would do that next moment or that next day. Jesus was the perfect example of teaching and living, or saying and doing.
He told us He came to give His life for us and He did give His life for us. That’s what this sacrament is about. Give thanks as you receive the elements and call upon God to equip you in word and deed by His Spirit to live a life worthy of the name we bear.
Matt. 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”