While I was on vacation in Virginia, Cindy, Hannah and I had a chance to spend the day at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. If you are an American and have a chance to go through that place, I urge you to do so. It was interesting watching a video there on some of the practices and rituals that Washington started—and how many of those presidents continued. For instance,
- Washington only served two terms, when the Constitution did not put limits on how many terms he served. The people were ready to crown him king (after all, that’s what they were used to), but Washington wisely stepped aside.
- Washington insisted on being called “Mr. President,” rather than “His Excellency.”
- He opened the White House for social engagements;
- He established his cabinet to advise him on matters of policy—rather than simply running the country himself.
I could go on and on, but what’s been clear is how our country is indebted to its founder for so many items, they are almost incalculable. And most everyone who serves in the office of President sits squarely in his shadow. This glorious Easter morning, we shall be looking at the book of Acts—not looking at a fledgling country, but a fledgling church. Their founder, Jesus Christ, had just left ten days before. Forty-three days prior to that he was crucified in an effort by the authorities to silence his testimony and influence in their land.
During his three-and-a-half year ministry, He had turned Palestine upside down with his authoritative teaching and miracles. Unlike the religious authorities who only cared about themselves and their position, Jesus cared about His people—and for good reason. He made them! He calls His people “his sheep” that He lays down His life for. The dream looked over! Yet, on the first day of the week, Jesus arose. He died! And He arose! And for forty days, Jesus taught them “the kingdom of God” and gave them many proofs that he was still alive! He didn’t give them a bunch of money to start their ministries. He didn’t give them buildings nor land to move forward with. All He said was, “I will send you My Spirit, and you will be my witnesses.” Where? Everywhere! And God sent His Spirit, and God gave them the Word to preach—and they preached to the point where the crowd asked in Acts 2:37, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Why ask this question? Because they were “cut to the heart!” Why? Because to a heart prepared by the Spirit of God, Christ cuts right to the heart of who we are. And my prayer for you this morning is that you would be cut to the heart with what the Word reveals regarding Christ! And there is much to cut through to get to that heart!
1. We must listen up (Acts 2:14-21)
Notice in verse 37 that they were cut to the heart after they “heard this.” By saying this, we must realize that we are not by nature agreeable to even the most basic issues of God. From my youth, I remember how Roscoe P. Coltrane on the Dukes of Hazzard, who would get on his CB radio asking Enos if he had his “ears on.”
We by nature do not have those ears for God. So when Jesus said repeatedly in the gospels and in Revelation, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” we see that he chooses to make himself known through the Word preached. He puts it before us—will we listen? When the disciples, filled with the Spirit, begin speaking in languages that everyone at Pentecost could understand, “all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’
Some actually inquire regarding spiritual things, intrigued by the message. This is not saving faith, but could go either way: it could become a new hobby of interest, or lead to a deeper spiritual quest that leads to saving faith. But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” We may mock and make excuses for the power or the reason why they are cut to the heart. Rather than respond, some begin to mock, “They are drunk! They are hateful in calling men sinners in need of repentance! They are just babbling superstitions!” Or it could be that some take the Word and are enraged, like the Jewish Council was when they arrested Peter and John. They were so affected that they sought to silence them like they attempted to do with Jesus!
How will you respond? Will you sit with great interest, listening to another one of many perspectives on how to live, adding it to your stockpile of other philosophies and hobbies that interest? Are you secretly mocking, wondering why sensible people hold to such superstitions? Maybe the Word will enrage you and offend you. Each of these reactions shows the power of the Word to penetrate and convict. But will it cut—to the heart!!!
2. We see how Jesus was delivered up! (Acts 2:22-23)
Look at this portion of Peter’s sermon in verses 22-23: Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Again, Peter is calling his listeners to listen up! And who does he present? Jesus of Nazareth—a man grounded in history, born of a virgin, growing up in wisdom and stature before God and man! He was a man, but more than a man—he was a man who God gave who possessed many works and wonders and signs that God did through him. Keep in mind that Jesus crucifixion was only six weeks prior. His ministry turned Palestine upside down. Jesus’ 3 ½ year ministry was still fresh in their minds, which is why Peter said, “As you yourselves know!”
Historically, who delivered up Jesus? In verse 23, Peter says, “YOU crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of lawless men.” Who is he talking to? “Men of Israel!” So here, Jesus says it was God’s own covenant people, the Jews, and their religious leaders who crucified Christ! Yet look at the rest of the verse—someone else delivered Jesus up. He was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”
Christ’s death did not catch God by surprise! This was not Plan B—this was His plan the entire time. For family devotions, Martin Luther once read the account of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar in Genesis 22. His wife, Katie, said, “I do not believe it. God would not have treated his son like that!” “But, Katie,” Luther replied, “He did.”
John Polhill helps us balance this:
In the paradox of divine sovereignty and human freedom, Jesus died as the result of deliberate human decision made in the exercise of their God-given freedom of choice. The Jewish crowd at Pentecost could not avoid their responsibility in Jesus’ death. Nonetheless, in the mystery of the divine will, God was working in these events of willful human rebellion to bring about his eternal purposes, bring out of the tragedy of the cross and the triumph of the resurrection.
What the disciples and all the faithful saw as a defeat—and what the disobedient saw as victory—God in His plan turned everything on its head. The Proverbist was right, “Many are the plans of man, but it’s the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” Peter wanted to show that evil had not triumphed, and God had not failed!
3. We must see how Jesus was raised up! (Acts 2:24-32)
Look at verse 24: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” God delivered up unto death—God raised him up to life! Death had literally bound him in—litera
lly, loosing him from the birth pangs of death. This is a perfect understanding—Jesus was rescued by the Father from the spiritual death of taking our sins which lead to death (Romans 6:23) but also from the physical death that he experienced on the cross!
But even with this, God raised Him up! Say that with me: “God raised Him up!” Look with me at Ephesians 2:4-7:
4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-7).
Even David prophesied about this! The “men of Israel” loved David, the epitome of a King—the one through whom their Messiah would come! Yet David was dead; in verse 29 Peter says that we even know where his tomb is! David’s body had decayed away. It was in the grave! (So typical to think greatly of a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ, but to miss Christ in the process!)
Dr. Seamands tells of a Muslim who became a Christian in Africa. “Some of his friends asked him, ‘Why have you become a Christian?’ He answered, ‘Well, its like this. Suppose you were going down the road and suddenly the road forked in two directions, and you didn’t know which way to go, and there at the fork in the road were two men, one dead and one alive–which one would you ask which way to go?'”
Peter quoted from Psalm 16 that Jesus’ body was not abandoned to Hades, nor did the “holy one’s flesh see corruption.” Meaning, Jesus body didn’t decay away! Death could not hold the Author of Life! And they were witnesses of it (v. 32). So David was a long-ago witness—will they heed David’s words? These men standing before them—they were recent witnesses. Will they heed their words? Dear soul, there are many in this room who are witnesses on how God raised Christ up! And how we have been raised with him!
4. We must see that the Father fills up (2:33-36)!
In verse 33, Peter continues by saying,
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, Until I make your enemies your footstool. Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.
Remember how this entire account began. The Spirit had come upon those 120 disciples in that upper room in Jerusalem. The result was their ability to speak in tongues so they would be understood by the numerous nationalities that had descended upon Jerusalem. This happened because, after Christ arose, the promised Spirit came, indwelt, and filled them up for the purpose of being witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. But this is not simply for a select few disciples.
Look at verses 38-39: 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” The promise of the Holy Spirit “is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” They saw the effects of this “promise” made in Joel coming true before them. They saw with great evidence that they were able to understand those who had no training in their language, and their message was cutting them to the heart.
This gift is a transformed heart on the inside (due to our repentance), which leads to outward obedience (in their baptism). The gift of the Spirit seals our hearts (Ephesians 1:13-14), and then guides us into all truth (John 16:13-14). God has not left His people alone in this world. Our hearts are changed from surrendering to our own desires to surrendering to the desires of the one who accomplished so much on our behalf!
5. We must continually wake up (Acts 2:40-41)
“Save yourselves from this crooked generation!” Save yourselves from this perverse corrupt time—but why? Peter kept reminding his listeners that it was Jesus whom you crucified.
They needed to wake up to their sin, wake up to their responsibility and culpability before God! They needed to be alert to their own issues. We need to wake up to the nature of this generation around us, which our flesh loves and the devil uses to weigh us down. For those of you who claim the name of Christ, this is a strict warning for you. You at one time made a decision, but there’s little to no devotion. You hold on to your position in Christ, but you find yourself having more passion for everything other than Christ. You walked an aisle at one time, but you’re not walking with him now. You are living in the world, and are of the world. For those of you who have not yet received Christ, this is a strict warning for you as well. This crooked generation mocks God—and by rejecting Him for your own rule over your own life, you do the same. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap….”