Easter Sunday // April 21, 2019
The gospel narratives do not paint a very positive picture of Peter, the Galilean fisherman. In fact, if the New Testament ended with the gospels, it’s doubtful there would be a St. Peter’s Basilica, doubtful Peter would have been named the first Pope, and doubtful we would speak of St. Peter at the pearly gates. About the only place we might find his name would be right between Judas and Brutus in a book entitled, History’s Greatest Losers and Traitors.
Which is interesting to consider. Apart from Jesus, no one is mentioned more in the NT than Peter. No other person speaks as often, nor is spoken to as often. No disciple is reproved as often, and no one but Peter is so presumptuous as to reprove the Lord. No other disciple so boldly confesses Christ, and so boldly denies Him. No one was so praised by Jesus, and no one else was called Satan by Jesus. Peter is a bundle of contradictions, inconsistencies, and failures all rolled into one person.
His biggest problem seemed to be his mouth. He was always opening it, always interrupting, continually asking questions, frequently giving advice, sometimes even commands. And most of the time, he didn’t know what he was talking about. Remember the Transfiguration? Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let’s build three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Luke records, “He didn’t know what he was saying.” And this time, God Himself told Peter to be quiet.
The contradictions, the failures never seemed to end for Peter. Even as you get to the end of Jesus’ ministry, hanging out with Jesus, being taught by Jesus, being called first among the disciples, Peter seems to get worse rather than better. Consider, for example, last Thursday, Maundy Thursday, the night Jesus was betrayed by one of His own followers for thirty pieces of silver.
At the Last Supper, Jesus was going to teach on servanthood. He took a towel and a bowel of water to wash the disciples’ feet. But when He came to Peter, Peter said, no way, Lord – not me. To which Jesus said, if I don’t wash your feet, you have no part of me. Okay then, give me a bath. At this point, it’s not in the text, but I’m sure it happened – Jesus popped Peter with the towel. “Will you be quiet. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
Later that evening, Jesus predicted all His followers would be scattered for fear of their lives. Peter in his typical speak-now-think-later fashion boasted he would never flee. Lord, I will follow you – even if everyone deserts, I will follow you, even to death. Peter, you don’t know what you’re saying. Satan has desired to have you, to sift you like wheat. But I’ve prayed for you.
Well, to his credit, Peter did evidence some bravado in the garden by pulling a sword on the crowd that came to take Jesus. But, his bravery and commitment melted, and he fled, with the others, just as Jesus predicted. In fact, Jesus had told Peter something else earlier that night: not only will you desert Me, you’ll also deny Me three times before the morning light.
And we find, when Jesus was taken, after fleeing, Peter followed the crowd at a distance to the courtyard of the high priest. You know the story well. While sitting there, trying to remain as inconspicuous as possible, a servant girl seemed to recognize him, “You too were with Jesus of Galilee.” But, Peter denied it before them all, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Strike one.
A little while later, another girl recognized him – perhaps she remembered seeing him with Jesus just last Sunday as they were spreading palm leaves in His path. She too said, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” This time, Peter denied Him with an oath, “I [swear to you – scouts honor] I don’t know the man!” Strike two. A little while later, while Peter was talking in his Galilean brogue, someone said to him, “Surely you are one of them, for even the way you talk gives you away.” This third time, Peter started swearing/cussing, “I don’t know the man!” Strike three. We’re told immediately, a rooster crowed and Jesus, who was in the courtyard, turned to look at Peter. As they made eye contact, Peter remembered the words of Jesus earlier that evening. He went outside and wept bitterly. This, the leader of the band of disciples. Not very impressive, was he?
He was a broken man, a failure. And this is pretty much where the gospels leave him. In fact, after Jesus was crucified, buried and raised from the dead on that first Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to many over a period of forty days, giving many convincing proofs He was alive. On one of those occasions, in John 21, Peter had actually quit, deserted again, and returned to a life of fishing for fish. Jesus appeared on the shore, rebuked him. “Do you love me, Peter?” Jesus rebukes him, and restores him once again to his task of fishing for men. And so the fourth gospel ends. But it is highly questionable at this point Peter will ever be effective. He’s done, or so it seems. When we leave Peter in the gospels, we wonder whether he’ll ever amount to much. He seems destined for shameful failure.
But days later, on the Day of Pentecost, something happened. On that day, the promise of the Father was fulfilled. The Holy Spirit came and the church was born. The Spirit baptized those believers waiting in the upper room. There was such a great noise, the sound of a violent wind, people who had gathered from all over the world for the feast, came running to the house where these believers were. And as they gathered, each of them heard the wonders of God declared in their own language. They were amazed, they were perplexed. But many began to dismiss the event as the carousing of a bunch of drunk men. You can even see some turning to leave, shrugging their shoulders, whatever.
It was the moment of truth. What would happen? Had they really received power, did they really have what it took to be His witnesses? Could the presence of the Holy Spirit empower even someone as pitiful as Peter?
We read the story in Acts 2. As we celebrate the resurrection today, our text is one of great victory. The Holy Spirit came just as God promised as a result of the resurrection and ascension. The church was established and it’s been here ever since. The first evangelistic message ever preached was delivered and 3,000 people were saved. This time, Peter seems to know what he’s talking about. And the doubts about him are forever erased. No longer does he flee from his Lord, no longer does he deny, no longer is he a miserable failure. Rather, he delivers that first message to some of the same people before whom he had wilted the night of Jesus’ betrayal. From this point on, he plays a significant role in the church. St. Peter’s Basilica is built, we don’t use his name in the same sentence with Judas, he’s not a failure after all. He’s a changed man. All because of the truth of his message, all because of the presence of the Spirit of God in his life. And you can be too.
This morning I want us to look at this first message of the Christian church – it’s a perfect Easter message given by pitiful Peter himself. As we go through it, I want you to remember who Peter had been. And I want you to see who Jesus made him. I want you to be encouraged that you, too, have received the same Spirit, the same resurrection power, and the same message – the message of Passion Week – the life of Jesus, His death on Good Friday, and His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. I don’t care what a miserable failure you feel you’ve been, you have the same life-giving resurrection power to live a victorious life, to turn this world upside down.
We have before us today the words God used through Peter to save 3,000 people – it is the message of Easter – the message of the gospel of resurrection. The words of this sermon and its results extend all the way through Acts 2:41, so our outline goes like this:
- First, We’ll look briefly at Peter’s Explanation of Pentecost (14-21).
- Then, we’ll look closely at Peter’s Exaltation of Christ (22-36).
- Finally, we’ll see Peter’s Exhortation to Repentance (37-41).
Let’s look at Peter’s Explanation of Pentecost – read it with me, Acts 2:14-21.
Peter begins by dismissing the ridiculous claim the disciples were drunk, pointing out it was only the third hour, nine o’clock in the morning. He explains what they were witnessing was a fulfillment of a prophecy found in Joel 2. This, Peter says, is a fulfillment of the promise of God to pour out His Spirit, to baptize people in the Spirit, in the last days.
I don’t want to get bogged down in the interpretation of these verses. It’s my opinion, and others, verses 17 and 18 were fulfilled that day, the Day of Pentecost, and continue to be fulfilled to the present day, and verses 19 and 20, those cosmic disturbances, are yet to be fulfilled – they will happen sometime in the future – at a time right before the second coming of Christ.
The important part for us today is, in the interim, between this initial outpouring of the Spirit and the return of Christ, it is true those who exercise faith, those who call on the name of the Lord, will be saved. This, Peter says, is what is happening. It is not drunkenness, but a New Covenant fulfillment of an Old Covenant promise.
Having captured their attention, Peter then delivers his first evangelistic message. We read the words of the sermon in verses 22-36. Let’s read it as we see the Exaltation of Christ.
Having said at the beginning of his message we are in the last days, the Jews would have expected the Messiah to be on the scene. So clearly, Peter proclaims Jesus is indeed that Messiah, the Christ, and Him crucified, resurrected and exalted. Christ is the subject of Peter’s message. You see, Peter gives us the perfect gospel presentation – the Person of Christ, the Work of Christ, the Resurrection of Christ, the Exaltation of Christ, and then he closes with a Call to Repentance – you can even hear James and John humming a few verses of Just As I Am in the background. Look at each of these key elements in Peter’s message:
First, he points out in verse 22 Jesus had authenticated Himself through the miracles, wonders and signs God performed through Him. God the Father played a central role in the entire ministry of Jesus. It is God who performed the miracles through Jesus, it is God who ultimately put Jesus to death, it is God who raised Him from the dead. Jesus received the Spirit from the Father, and we see it is God who made Jesus both Lord and Christ. (articles)
Now, there could be no arguing the reality of these miracles – notice, he says, “as you yourselves know.” Many of the people listening had been eyewitnesses to the miracles Jesus had done. Some of them had been fed by Him on the day He took five loaves and two fishes and served lunch to 5,000 men alone. Others had seen Him heal those who were sick, paralyzed, lame, blind and mute. Some had even seen Jesus raise the dead. And if they had not seen it with their own eyes, there were certainly enough eyewitnesses that these miracles could not be denied. Even those who opposed Jesus recognized the validity of His miracles, accusing Him of being empowered by Satan. Meaning, there could be no denying their supernatural power.
We can present people today with that same truth. People who reject the gospel must deal with the historical reality of Jesus. The miracles He performed are well-attested. What are you going to do with Him? Are you just going to dismiss Him as a fraud? You can’t. People were healed. People didn’t come to Him with an undefined pain in their backs and go away under the power of positive thinking feeling better. Shriveled hands were restored right before their eyes. Lepers, whose flesh was falling from their bodies, were restored to perfect health. People who had never walked in their lives, whose muscles did not exist, suddenly leapt for joy. Eyes that had never seen were given sight. A man dead and in the grave for four days was brought back to life, to the utter amazement of those who watched. Lives were changed – there could be no slight of hand to produce these kinds of results.
So, what are you going to do with Jesus? These miracles were well-attested – no one then tried to deny them. Even after Jesus brought Lazarus back to life and the Pharisees were told about it, they didn’t try to deny it – they couldn’t. They just plotted to kill Him. So, what is your response to this undeniable proof of His deity? You can choose to suppress it, ignore it, deny it, but it happened.
After affirming the Person of Christ in verse 22, Peter points to the Work of Christ in verses 23-32, starting with the cross in verse 23. Peter says, this man they, with the help of wicked men, nailed to a cross. Notice, this is critically important, it was by God’s design – His predetermined plan and foreknowledge that Jesus be put to death. It is not like God looked into the future and saw men would reject His Son and thought, “Oh, we’ll just make this part of our plan.” This did not take Him by surprise any more than sin in the Garden of Eden took Him by surprise. It was all part of His eternal plan and decree. This is hard for us to wrap our minds around. God created us with free will, knowing we would use that free will to sin and rebel against Him – all the while knowing, even planning, that the answer to our rebellion would be the death of His own Son. Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. This was the reason Jesus had come. Romans 8 says God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all. Isaiah 53 says it pleased God to bruise Him.
And yet, notice, they were still responsible for their actions. It’s a paradoxical understanding. God’s glorious purpose stands as the necessary factor behind whatever happens, yet whatever happens occurs as men express their human freedom, depraved as it is.
Now let me ask you, can this same truth be preached today? What do I mean? Can it be said we are responsible for the death of Christ? Certainly so. Peter said later in his first epistle, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.” Paul said in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.’” It is your sin and mine that caused the death of Christ. We are responsible for Good Friday.
But thankfully, Passion Week doesn’t end on Friday – it was just the end of the beginning. The story goes through Easter. You see, in his message, Peter doesn’t leave Jesus hanging on a cross. The gospel is incomplete with just the death of Christ. If He remained dead, then we’re still in our sins, without hope. But He didn’t remain dead, which is why we celebrate this day. The reason we can have forgiveness of sins is because He died for our sins and was raised again the third day. We proclaim His resurrection. Peter does it very effectively in verses 24-32.
Look at it: Peter proclaimed Jesus’ life in one verse, His death in one verse, and His resurrection in nine verses. And he states it as a fact: God raised Jesus from the dead, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him. Peter is actually using an image with those words: it was as impossible for death to hold Him as it is for a pregnant woman not to give birth. That’s the picture. When a woman is full term, that baby’s coming out.
Some years ago, Tana had a friend named Monica. Her husband was in the Navy, and he was at sea when Monica gave birth to their first child, so Tana was her Lamaze partner. When they went to the hospital, after Monica experienced some of those difficult contractions, she said, “I’ve had enough – I’m not going to do this,” and she tried to get up off the bed to go home. Tana had to explain to her it doesn’t work that way. When an infant is ready to be born, there is nothing you can do to keep it in. That’s the picture. So, too, when it came time for Christ’s resurrection, there was nothing death could do to keep its hold on Him. The wicked courts of the day had condemned Him to die, and die He did. But a higher court overruled the sentence, and live He did.
To support his point, Peter then quotes a Psalm of David (16:8-11) in prophetic fashion. Follow the logic: David said God would not allow him to remain in the grave. But, was David speaking of himself, or someone else? Obviously someone else, because David remains in his grave to this day. But Someone else was not abandoned to the grave, His body did not see decay. Rather, He was raised from the dead on the first Easter, and those present, the apostles, were witnesses of the fact. And we can proclaim the truth boldly, because we have their reliable witness.
Peter preached the person of Christ, the work of Christ, the resurrection of Christ – now he turns his attention to the Exaltation of Christ in verses 33-36.
Having been exalted to the right hand of the Father, He received the Holy Spirit from the Father who He in turned poured out on the believers in Jerusalem. You’ll remember Jesus said the Holy Spirit would not come until He ascended to the Father. Here, we see the reason is this: the Spirit was given to the Son by the Father, and the Son then gave the Spirit to believers.
To support his point, Peter quotes another Psalm of David (110:1) which again, could not apply to David, so it must be applied to Christ. It speaks of Christ’s exaltation to the right hand of the Father, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool under your feet.” You may remember Jesus quoted this very passage, applying it to Himself in Mark 12 where he befuddled His listeners by asking the question, “How can the Messiah be both the son of David and his Lord?” The answer is, because the Messiah is none other than God Himself in the flesh.
As Peter concluded his message, he did so with a statement that called then and calls now for a response: “Therefore let all the house of Israel be certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.” Peter was proclaiming to these Jews, Jesus is the Messiah – now what are you going to do about it? They had missed Him – but now was their opportunity to receive Him. And I want to say to you today – don’t miss Him – receive Him. How do you do that? That brings us to our final point, verses 37-41, The Exhortation to Repentance.
Having heard the gospel clearly presented, the people were pierced to the heart. God took the truth of the message and penetrated the darkness and the hardness of their hearts – some of the same hearts that no doubt less than two months before had cried, “Crucify Him!” were now themselves pierced.
Notice something else. They said to Peter, “What shall we do?” How did Peter respond? “Oh, you don’t need to do anything. It is enough that you know who Jesus is and what He did.” That’s not what he said, is it? You see, it isn’t enough to have a head knowledge about Jesus. It is not enough to just know the gospel, you must do something about it. You must personally respond to it. I want to be clear about that – if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
And how do we do that? Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” We understand Peter is saying this, “Repent, turn from your sins, and as an outward expression of your faith in Christ, be baptized – all in the name of Jesus, recognizing it is through Him forgiveness of sins is given.” The word repent implies a confession of sin along with a change of heart. In order to come to Christ, there must be a willingness to turn from sin – mere acknowledgement of the facts without a change of life is not real salvation.
And I believe we learn something else here: we must be careful how we present Jesus to people. We have a tendency to ignore the need. What do I mean? We are quick to proclaim eternal life, the benefits of salvation, the goodness of God, the glories of heaven, without declaring the sinfulness of humanity – that is, the reason people need to be saved is they are enemies of God, in rebellion against Him. Their sin caused Jesus to die. Bottom line is, they need to know what they are being saved from. They must know why they repent.
Peter said, you must repent, and be baptized – that is, you must identify with Jesus Christ. There can be no secret conversions. You must confess Christ before men. At that time, baptism was closely tied to repentance. Remember John the Baptist? His was a baptism of repentance. As they turned from their sin, they were publicly baptized as a display of their change of heart. In the early days of the church, conversion and baptism were so closely related that once people made a profession of faith, they were baptized. In that sense, they could be spoken of as being almost simultaneous. It became an outward expression of an inward reality.
So, Peter urged those who respond in repentance to be baptized, and then assured them that they, too, would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not just for a select few – it is for all those who repent and believe – for all those whom the Lord our God will call.
It is true for you today. If you repent, turn from your sin, and place your faith in Jesus Christ, you too will experience the forgiveness of sin and be saved. And it will change your life.
Just like it did Peter. Does history record Peter was a loser? Quite the contrary. The truth of the gospel, the presence of the Holy Spirit changed this man from brash, outspoken, broken, miserable failure to bold, articulate, redeemed, joyful follower of Jesus Christ. From the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth who never seemed to know what he was saying to what many consider one of the best messages ever preached. The good news is Peter’s life didn’t end in the gospels, where he ended in failure. And the good news for us is this: the story of our lives does not have to end in failure. You may look at your life as unredeemable, as disaster, as failure. Just the kind of life Jesus specializes in redeeming, through His resurrection from the dead. Peter would later write these words:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,… and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”
That’s what Easter is about – the living hope that comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – which brings the salvation of our souls.