Peter spent chapter two warning his Christian readers about false teachers and about how their bad thinking/theology has led them into bad behaving/acting. This is why Paul says to watch both your doctrine and your life, the two go together. When we abandon the authority of the Word of God we soon find ourselves in all kinds of immorality, sexual immorality, abortion, divorce, and justification of all kinds of practices God has clearly warned us to steer clear of (see Ten Commandments). Now in chapter three Peter speaks more directly to his Christian readers. This is a pastor writing from a pastor’s heart, like a loving parent to his children. This is evident from the term of endearment he starts with.
In last week’s sermon I said we were looking at a snapshot summary of life in the early church and This morning’s text is like a close up. Luke referred in his summary to daily visits to the temple, and now he references one of those daily visits, at 3 pm in the afternoon, the time of the evening sacrifice. But something happened at 3 pm that afternoon. In that summary Luke also wrote: Acts 2:43 Awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. Luke tells us the story of one of those signs and wonders, the
One of the most famous movies ever is Wizard of Oz. Since 1939 probably every kid in America has seen it. Last month, Jerry Maren, the last surviving munchkin from "The Wizard of Oz," died at 98. I remember the first time I saw it probably about 5 years old being scarred out of my mind and running from the room. But all of us now know the deception, how the great and mighty Wizard was a fraud. Toto pulled back the curtain and exposed the wizard to be just an ordinary man. Appearances can be deceiving. The internet has taken deception and scams to a whole new level. We are constantly being warned that everything is not as it appears to be. I keep getting those e-mails from Nigeria offering millions of dollars, those phone calls from the IRS or Microsoft Computer Department. Did I mention I got a call last month from my grandson in jail in NYC? Here is Peter again, not pulling any punches, speaking frankly, and warning us about Christian teachers who are spiritual frauds. Surgery is love, warning about a cliff ahead is love, saying don’t go there or do that is love. Whatever saves our souls is love. Peter’s letter is love. In chapter one Peter focused on the positive.
Luke shows us a picture, a snapshot of the church in the first century. It sure looks like a perfect church, doesn’t it? They are all together, they are devoted, committed, they are sharing everything, lots of hospitality, praising God, full of joy and everyone in town is in awe of them. Wow, do you wonder how long this lasted? This one snapshot of the church in the first century shows us what a health church looks like but it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t a utopia. You don’t have 3,000 new converts show up at worship and have tranquility. The rest of Acts will show us warts and all. They will be opposed and attacked. Two of their members will drop dead for lying. Paul and Barnabas will get in a disagreement. Paul’s letters to early churches are full of sins and divisions and disagreements. The Churches Four Foundations. This is a picture of what a healthy church should be like. If we devote ourselves to these four foundations God by His Holy Spirit may be pleased to give us some of these same results. A church that doesn’t have or care about these four foundations can expect none of these results. Churches are all built on something. Some churches are built on a foundation of entertainment and relevance, being hip and cool. Some on emotion and hype, some on social justice and being man-centered. It is amazing how simple it is to build a solid, steady, stable, Spirit-filled and God-glorifying church. These are the four very ordinary but essential commitments and marks of a health Spirit-filled church that lead to supernatural results. God delights to use the ordinary because then when the extraordinary happens He gets the glory.
I admit to succumbing to the temptation to being relevant and up to date, using a sermon title taken from the political controversy of the past few weeks when President Trump referred to the wicked actions of some evil people as animal like, he called them animals. I couldn’t help but notice Peter’s use of similar strong language for false teachers is verse 12. “But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant.” Peter uses very strong language and makes a bunch of very serious accusations. In fact, it almost seems like Peter goes on a rant, using inflammatory words. Why did Peter write this to his church and why did God write it for us? What is Peter’s intention and what is God’s intention? Remember the context. Go back to chapter one. Peter is promoting pursuing godliness. In the first chapter he gave those eight qualities that build faith and godliness. The false teachers are saying godliness doesn’t matter, it is way over rated. They are denying Jesus and his coming again, and people who go off the rails on doctrine soon go off the rails on behavior. Peter is standing up to a terrible tide of ungodliness. His inflammatory speech is necessary to serve as a warning. Just as Jesus called out the religious leaders, the senior pastors and elders, calling them vipers and wolves in sheep’s clothing. He paints a very ugly picture of false teachers. He makes them ugly because what they teach and do is ugly. This is necessary because false teachers don’t usually look bad, they don’t look like Darth Vader or the Joker. Peter has already summed up the character of false teachers as arrogant, despising authority; sensual, engaging in defiling passions; and greedy. False teachers have false mouths, false eyes and false hearts. After his summary he now gets more specific, he goes into great detail, all for the sake of warning because there is great danger to our souls here. This is an expression of love and pastoral care.
Peter’s sermon started as an answer to a question. The Jews asked, “What does this mean?” He said it was the pouring out of Spirit God had promised long ago by the prophet Joel. Then he went on to make the connection to Jesus. This Jesus you killed, this Jesus God raise up, this Jesus who is now seated in glory with God and who sent the Spirit you now see. Acts 2:36-41 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Those last words of his sermon, “This Jesus whom you crucified” were ringing in their ears and when they heard it they were cut to the heart and the sermon ends with another question. “What must we do?” We are still uncovering all the miracles on that first Pentecost, all the ways the Holy Spirit revealed Himself.
Peter is preaching his first sermon, a three point sermon based on three OT texts. We looked at the first point last week built on Joel 2:28-32 when Peter explained to the Jews in Jerusalem that God has poured out His Spirit as He promised long ago. After giving this explanation of Pentecost, Peter explains why God did it now. Something has happened they need to know. Full of the Holy Spirit Peter says, “Men of Israel, listen to me, I have something very important to say” and His first word is Jesus. That’s it, the most important thing to say is Jesus. That is the name above all names. Jesus is the answer to their confusion about what’s going on. Jesus is the answer to all of life’s most pressing questions and the most daunting problems. More than anything else this is what they must hear. The best way to understand Pentecost is by Jesus. So Peter preaches Jesus, the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, the whole Gospel concerning Jesus. Luke gives us just a summary.
As adults we all know that there are certain painful things in life that are good for us. There are surgeries that are painful but necessary for our good. We have all tasted medicine that is awful, but we endure it because it is good for us. These words like many others in Scripture are strong medicine and it doesn’t taste very good. This is not a happy passage, not one fun to read or preach for that matter. These are strong words, hard words, difficult things to say. We are not used to people speaking in hard ways. We live in a time that has experienced the feminization of discourse, a time that is afraid to offend, afraid to come off harsh or insensitive or intolerant. But as I have said before, Peter, is a good pastor who cares about the sheep in his church so he writes to warn believers of the dangers of false teachers who deny Jesus both in their doctrine and in their actions, lifestyles that are filled with immorality and following after the passions of the flesh. The first three verses of chapter 2 which we looked at two weeks ago give the main idea behind the rest of chapters 2 and 3. There are false teachers who have crept into the church, as there always have been and always will be. They are promoting two things, sensuality and defiling lusts of passion, and destructive heresies that deny the truth and despise authority, especially the authority of God’s Word. Peter ends that summary by saying, “their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” The reason he says that is because one of the most common traits of false teachers and those who have given themselves over to sin and evil is that they live as if there is no judgment, no time of accounting, no consequences to their way of life. This is our world. It doesn’t believe God judges sin or holds us accountable. There is no final, fearful punishment. God is only a loving God, not a God of wrath or judgment and He would never send anyone to hell. This reminds me of the famous definition of liberalism: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross." (H. Richard Niebuhr's description of Protestant liberalism). But the godly can fall into a similar trap or begin to despair over God’s lack of justice or care or concern. Psalm 73 is a very clear example of this error of thinking. So Peter reminds them of how false such thinking is. To do that he gives three examples from the OT of how God did visit judgment and punishment on the wicked and two examples of how God saved the righteous, rescued the godly. Peter backs up his statement in verse 3 with proof. These are portraits or snapshots from the OT picture album of those who failed to finish well and those who did. Let’s start with the three negative examples. I have a saying that isn’t very nice but actually applies well to this text. Nobody is useless, they can always serve as a bad example.
You know how we tend to remember painful or traumatic or embarrassing experiences in life. Experts say the reason for this is because adrenalin fixes those experiences in our brains. I remember my first sermon. November 11, 1981, preaching class at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. It was painful, traumatic and embarrassing all at the same time. I was nervous, I felt completely foolish and inadequate. It was one of my worst ever. So, there were really two miracles on Pentecost, the filling of the Holy Spirit enabling them to speak in languages they didn’t know, and that Peter’s very first sermon was so great. Peter, an uneducated Galilean fisherman, just seven weeks removed from denying Jesus with curses, stands up not only to preach, but to preach a great sermon. It even had three points and he had never been to seminary. By the way, your past sin doesn’t have to be a barrier to your usefulness to Christ and His work. Our past sin is meant to make us humble in our service and sympathetic to those around us. God only uses sinners, even the chief among sinners. The grace of God covers a multitude of sins. For Peter to fall so far and to rise so high is clearly the power of God and the wisdom of God. Through Christ we can do all things. Expect great things, attempt great things, in the power of the Spirit and in the wisdom of the Spirit.
Why should the ascension of Jesus matter to us? We are pretty clear about the importance of Christmas day, and Good Friday and Easter. And we might even be able to say why Pentecost is important, but Ascension Day is another story. The fact that it falls on a Thursday makes it seem less important. It is the neglect step child of religious holidays. Let me open your eyes for a few moments to the glories of the ascension of Jesus and why we should remember it and celebrate it and lift it up from its lowly status.