The religious leaders hired a lawyer, an expert in the Jewish law to ask Jesus a question that seems relatively simple to us but in those days, it was a matter of huge controversy. Sort of like the immigration debate today. They didn’t ask Jesus this question to find out the answer. They didn’t ask this because they were interested in spiritual things or because they wanted to learn and grow and be better people. This was a question designed to trap Jesus no matter what He said. But they had no idea who they are up against. Instead of exposing Jesus as a fraud, they gave Him the opportunity to give one of the most profound summaries of religion ever given. This is Jesus’ definition of true religion. This is Christianity. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of your life, if you figure this out, you will have figured out life. If you do this, everything else will take care of itself. True religion consists of two things, two sides of the same coin, two inseparable things.
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.