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.
In chapter two of Acts the Holy Spirit gives us the revelation of God concerning what happened on Pentecost Day after Jesus ascended back into heaven. The chapter is too long to deal with in one sermon so I decided to get a running start at it the week before Pentecost Sunday. Jesus told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem without the Holy Spirit. Don’t do anything without the power of God and the wisdom of God in us by the fulness of His Holy Spirit. God once again made good on a promise, fulfilling His promise to send the Holy Spirit.
The goal of chapter one was to encourage us and build up our faith that we would be diligent to make our calling and election sure. Peter began by exhorting us to continue to cultivate a living, active, growing faith through virtue, knowledge, self-control, godliness and love. And he exhorts us to pay close attention to God’s Word as the lamp for our way in life. The goal of chapter two is to warn us of the dangers if we don’t do that, and if in fact we wander away from our faith. Not everyone follows the way of Jesus. Some follow cleverly devised myths (1:16), some blaspheme the way of truth and introduce destructive heresies (2:1-2), some are seduced by what their itching ears want to hear to suit their own passions (II Timothy 4:3). If chapter one is the carrot, chapter two is the stick. And if you think you are not in danger, you don’t have a good sense of how seductive and pleasing the easy path is. It’s led by man-pleasers, people to appeal to our wants and needs and desires.
Introduction. At the conclusion of our worship this morning we will have our annual election for elders and deacons. As I said last Sunday evening at our prayer service, this is the most important decision we make each year. The future of every church depends on its leaders. This is why we had a special prayer service for this decision, that’s how much of a priority it is for us. Clearly among the apostles it was a priority decision as well. It was the only business they conducted while praying together in the upper room. But praying wasn’t all they were doing. There is something else going on here, there is an elephant in the room.