Acts 2:39 “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
I often make the distinction between God’s offer and God’s promise. I think it is an important and helpful distinction.
1. GOD MAKES AN OFFER OF SALVATION TO EVERY SINNER.
I constantly am making an offer of the salvation of God in Jesus Christ to everyone who’ll listen, to all my hearers without exception, to every one of you hearing (or reading) these words today. I can stand in solidarity with you and say, “If we (me too) confess our sins (mine too), God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (even mine) and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I Jn. 1:9). You are hearing a magnificent offer of pardon and cleansing that God sincerely makes to you and to all men. Now that offer is not unconditional. It is linked to some divine requirement, that we have to acknowledge and confess our sins. Men and women must repent of how they have ignored God and given in to unbelief. They have forgotten their Creator in the days of their youth and they have gone on through early manhood and middle age and old age deliberately putting him out of their thoughts. They must turn from all of that – that’s what repentance is, it is a change of attitude and values and direction; they must confess their sins and rest all their hope of reconciliation and pardon in God’s Son Jesus Christ, who he is and what he has done. Unless they do that they will continue along the broad road, and like every road it’s going somewhere. Every road leads to one place or another, and Jesus, the Lord of eternity, sees the future as clearly as he sees the past, and he says the broad road of unbelief is leading to destruction. He can see it! This is the motorway to eternity, and millions are on it, talking with one another, lagging behind, overtaking, slowing down, but never leaving the road and the end is a precipice at the edge of the bottomless pit and over the edge and down they fall, down and down and down to destruction. Get off the broad road! I am offering you life and heaven, but you have to leave that road and get onto the narrow road. That is the only way to glory. Jesus Christ is that way. Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. God is offering him to you.
Now this offer is not a mere “take it or leave it.” It is not terse, it is not clinical, like the government telling us in a manila envelope that we will escape a fine or even prison if we pay this tax bill, and so pay up in the next thirty days! No. The command of God to us is not a bare summons to repent and have faith in the Lord. That is not how the God of heaven operates. Our God is a God of mercy. He is the God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. He wept over defiant Jerusalem. He cried to them, “I would take you under my wings and protect you, but you would not come to me. You refused to listen.” This is the Lord who cries, “Turn! Turn! Why will you die? I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they wicked turn and live.” So God’s servants preach the same message in the same spirit. Speaking of God Paul says, “he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:19-21). In the name of what God does Paul speak? An imploring God, a God who is making an appeal to all men and women who will hear him. Paul was conscious that he was speaking on behalf of Jesus Christ as he addressed a congregation. He was filled with the Spirit of the weeping Christ as he beseeched men and women to be reconciled to God.
You see it here in our passage as Luke describes the climax of Peter’s message at Pentecost. Luke tells us that Peter could not stop preaching – on that never to be forgotten day – that in this chapter we have the barest summary of his sermon. “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’” (v.40). Peter brought to them the wonderful blessing that would be theirs if they repented and received the offer of salvation in Christ. He warned them of what would happen if they made their hearts even harder. And he pleaded with them to save themselves from the corruption of the image of God and the silencing of the voice of their consciences. He pleaded, “Don’t go on like this. Don’t bring out one excuse after another for not settling the matter with God today. Don’t wait for the tingle factor. Repent today. Turn to Christ today. Believe upon him now,” and then he made the free offer to all of them that if they repented then their sins would be pardoned, they would be declared righteous by a holy God, they would be adopted into the family of God, they would become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ of the same heavenly Father. They would be put into union with Christ and delivered from condemnation and enjoy his life flowing into them renewing them day by day. This offer Peter makes of a full and free and eternal salvation and it was extended to all who heard him. Peter was urging them not to turn it down, pleading with them to save themselves by receiving Christ as their Saviour.
That is the offer of salvation that God makes to everyone without exception. I can sit next to someone on a plane and I know that I have good news for him. I can stand next to someone in the open air on the promenade in Aberystwyth listening to the preachers there and I know as I ask someone who is standing next to me what he thought of the message that I have good news to offer to him however evil a life he has led. His sins may be forgiven! He may have a heavenly teacher to instruct him for the rest of his days as to how he should behave! A heavenly King is available to protect him and work all that he meets for his good. A heavenly Lamb will take all his sins away, if only he would turn away from his sin and believe on the Jesus whom I’m offering to him there and then. Don’t wait until you’re better in order to receive him or you’ll never come at all. Here is salvation and it is in him and it is being presented to you now for you to receive the Saviour. The only time you can guarantee is this moment. We don’t know what is going to happen in a few hours’ time. So there is the offer that God makes to all men and women.
2. GOD MAKES A PROMISE OF SALVATION TO ALL WHO REPENT.
I have no guarantees to extend to the unbelieving world that all is well between them and God, and that all will be well for ever and ever. That is not the message of Christianity. That is another gospel that is in fact no gospel at all. It’s a fearful delusion. That is B.B.C. religion when the promises that God has made to his own people who have repented and trusted in Jesus Christ and been baptized are stolen from them and broadcast promiscuously in brief services of religion and in Thought for the Day to people whose hearts are hearts of stone, who reject Jesus Christ and his salvation. There is no good news for them in Scripture. There are no promises of peace for the wicked. Speakers can dream that we will all get to heaven, but “If we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gals. 1:8). Any so-called ‘gospel’ that promises eternal life to those who reject this great salvation is a message from the pit not from heaven.
The promise, “and you will be saved” is dependent on you believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ. The John 3:16 promise that “you will not perish but have everlasting life” is made to whosoever believes in the Son whom God has given. The promise that you shall have rest and an easy yoke and a light burden is made to those who come to Jesus Christ.
So God’s promise of eternal life and his free pardon and his glorious rest is the possession of a particular people, and these men and women have repented, turning from their sin and unbelief. They have entrusted themselves into the safe keeping of Jesus Christ. Their hopes are that the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, will cleanse them. God has made our Lord to be sin for them, and he has become their righteousness of God; he and they have become one. To them alone the actual promise of salvation is made. To them alone God says, “You only have I loved of all the nations of the earth.” Not every one of the firstborn of Egypt were spared when the Avenger passed over the land. God’s promise was made to those who did what God said. They killed a lamb or a goat without blemish and the splashed the door with its blood. God saw it and said, “I promise every one of you that all will be well in your homes. Your firstborn will be spared because you have done what I asked of you.” And so it was. They were guaranteed life and redemption because they obeyed the living God. Nothing has changed. The promise still applies to all those who believe in Jesus Christ. I guarantee to you today, you whose faith is in Christ as your only hope of redemption, that though your faith be as light as a mustard seed blown away by your breath, as it is lodged in this mighty Saviour then all is well. That nothing can separate you from the love of God, “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Roms. 8:35-39). Such a glorious affirmation of the Christian’s safety and security for eternity should not be read at a funeral service of people who have never gone to church for years and have no interest in the blood of Jesus Christ. Don’t steal the privileges of God’s children and give them to the children of wrath. The promises of life and salvation are only given to those whom God has called. They and they alone have life and salvation. They have repented of their sin and called on Jesus Christ to become their Lord and Saviour.
3. GOD’S PROMISE IS MADE TO THOSE WHOM GOD HAS CALLED.
You see what Peter says in our text? “The promise is for . . . all whom the Lord our God will call” (v. 39). What sort of call – what sort of divine summons – is this? Wasn’t there firstly a general call in Peter’s preaching? The human symbol of the general call is the town crier who goes to the square in the middle of town with his hand-bell and vigorously rings it and makes an announcement to all who would stop and listen to him. Wasn’t Peter like a town crier saying to them all, “Hear ye hear ye hear ye!”? Peter addressed his entire audience of the people of Jerusalem. They were all called upon to repent and be baptized. We call this preaching of the word of God to all men indiscriminately the ‘external calling,’ or the ‘general call’ of God. Many are thus called. There is a genuine and sincere invitation which God extends to all who have ears to hear to be reconciled to himself through his Son. This invitation appears in many forms, all of them related to and grounded in the death and resurrection of Christ for sinners. The prophet Isaiah sets forth the invitation like this, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa. 1:l8). Jesus himself presented a similar call to reconciliation when he said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28). Again, in the final chapter of John’s Revelation we read, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. . . . And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17). This is one of the meanings of “calling;” it is an offer God makes. It is a sincere invitation of God to all men to become reconciled to himself.
For many people in Jerusalem it was merely external. It was outward, exterior, and applied to the outside of the body. The message touched the surface of the person. Many heard the gospel invitation with their ears only, and they remained unaffected in their minds. They had heard everything, and yet they had heard with the ears of faith nothing. They were unable to hear with their souls. There is a passage which speaks like this; they have ears – but they do not hear (Judas heard the Sermon on the Mount); they have eyes but they do not see (the Pharisees saw the risen Lazarus). They have hearts but they don’t understand (cp. Isa. 6:9-10; Matt. 13:13-15). What can this mean? You must go back to the Garden of Eden for the answer. God had warned our first parents that in the day in which they should defy his commandment and take the forbidden fruit, they should die (cf. Gen. 3:3). They did sin against the commandment, and they began, inescapably, to die. Being cut off from God, the spiritual nature of Adam shriveled within him. This has been the condition of man ever since; in the words of Paul, the unregenerate man is “dead in trespasses and sin.”
I do not go to the Llanbadarn Road cemetery and preach to the people buried there because it would be fruitless. The ears of a dead man do not hear; the eyes of a dead man do not see; and the heart of a dead man does not understand. Therefore, God must first create new life within man; he must be born again; then he will have the ear of faith to hear the things of God; then he will have the eye of faith to behold spiritual things; then he will have a heart that’s capable of discerning the issues, realizing what has to be done, and obeying. When God does that then there is more than an offer of new life. There is more than a call to everyone in the audience in a general sort of way. The town crier’s announcements is not a suitable image for this call. It is personal and powerful. It is what we call an effectual call, in other words, a call that produces a result. The image for this is the king’s herald announcing a census and giving the date and place where everyone must register. It is a summons which you ignore on your life. It is like the summons you get from a local authority when you have broken the speed limit. You cannot ignore it. There is no immunity for you if you do but only a bigger penalty. The effectual call of God is internal and cuts the hearer to the heart. And that is what happened to as many as 3,000 of the people in the congregation in Jerusalem as they listened to Peter. “When they heard this, they were cut to the heart” (v.37). That is the inward call. And that is what happened to Lydia as she heard Paul preach; we are told that her heart was opened up. That is the fruit of an effectual call.
I have told you of my father’s twin brother Bryn who was a minister in Barnstable. His baby was ill but he had a committee meeting in Bristol and so he caught a train from his little town to the great Temple Meads station in Bristol. He alighted from the train and was walking down the platform hearing but not taking in all the announcements about trains arriving and departing from Temple Meads, and then he heard one announcement that he really heard and it affected him greatly. “Could the Rev. Bryn Thomas of Barnstable please go to the Station-Master’s office?” He went and was told that his baby had taken a turn for the worse and he needed to go home immediately. By the time he got back home to Aunt Josie the cousin I was never to know had died. That call to him over the station Tannoy system had been inward and effectual so that he acted upon it.
So it was when Paul preached to all the women in Philippi by the riverside; then the Lord worked and opened Lydia’s heart so that she understood and responded to the apostle – just one woman. And so it was for the thousands of men on the day of Pentecost, as they heard the preaching of Peter 3000 of them were effectually called to repent and be baptized and know of the forgiveness of sins. We are told of this response, that they “accepted his message” (v.41). What a transformation that day in their lives. Until then they were justifying their murder of Jesus. No longer! They were cut to their hearts for what they had done, and that is the fruit of the inward and effectual calling of God. It summons people to abandon their unbelief and close with God’s mercy in Christ. Then the external offer of God to their minds to be their Saviour becomes something more. It becomes the promise of God to their own hearts that makes them cry, “My Lord and my God.” This call of God is what Paul is speaking of in our text. The promise is for these alone, to those whom the Lord our God will call.
I wonder, do you grasp the full meaning and implications of this truth? Do you know the comfort it brings to every church planter or missionary who goes to the field? Keith showed the congregation in Nairobi last Sunday a photograph of people who live in the desert of Pokot sitting in the shade of a large tree as he preached to a hundred of them. Keith was making the offer of salvation to them. He was praying that the hearts of some among them would be opened. Do you know what it means to all of us ministers who preach the gospel from the pulpit each Sunday? Do you know what it means to every child of God who bears witness to his Lord whenever and wherever he can? It means that wearer speaking and looking up to heaven and beseeching God to effectually call many of them. It means that any fruit of conversion will be because God was working through him. We do not go forth dependent upon our skills as master communicators, for they are precious few, or upon the lucky mood swings or whims of our hearers to make them feel religious. We stand before a group of people, our own great weakness feeling, with the message of the death and resurrection of Christ, and we bring to them the invitation of God, “Come, let us reason together, saith the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” When we present that message, we pray that God will use it along with his Spirit – the Word and the Spirit working together – to create new life in those whom he would have for his own. He is able to give them the ear of faith and eye of faith and the heart of faith. “Doubt no more!” we cry. And the Lord who begins the divine work in effectual calling will go on and on and on working in such favoured sinners until the day of Christ.
It means this, that we need not stand before men using music and dimming the lights, and breathy psychological trickery, tear-jerking stories, pressurizing and brain washing our audiences to induce them into making a decision. All that Peter had at Pentecost we have today, the word, the inward witness, the Paraclete and the courage of our convictions. We have what the apostles had. Be assured of this that we are fully aware that no man is able to turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh. That is God’s grand prerogative and in that honour none shall share. Yes, we have our responsibilities, to be a pure vessel in God’s hands, to be a faithful servant, and say just what the Scripture says. We can make the free offer of salvation through Christ with all the passion and clarity and love we can muster to all our hearers telling them that whosoever believes upon Jesus Christ shall not perish, but have everlasting life. That is message, and then we cry to God to vindicate his truth. The invitation is extended to all mankind. The Spirit and the bride say Come. Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. But we know this, that God’s promise of eternal life is only to those who respond and repent and believe, in other words the guarantee is only to those who are effectually called. We believe that, and it delivers us from presumption. It is God who saves sinners; preachers cannot do this. So as we carry out this great commission from Christ we’re not dependent upon the will or the whim of men for any increase. We are called to sow and to water, and sometimes the watering is with our own tears, but all the increase flows from the good pleasure of God.
4. THE PROMISE, AND THOSE TO WHOM IT WAS MADE.
Do you see that Peter does not say to them, “The offer of the Holy Spirit is made to you.” He talks of the promise. He was speaking of the guarantee that God makes to all who repent and trust in Christ. Peter was re-emphasising what he’d said earlier in the sermon, that the exalted Christ has “received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (v.33.). The coming upon them of the Spirit of God was the guaranteed divine promise. The risen Jesus had told them “Wait for the gift my Father promised which you’ve heard me speak about” (Acts 1:4). Again, almost the last words of Jesus to Peter in Luke’s gospel had been, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised” (Luke 24:49). “I am going to do this,” Jesus said.
Of course this Jewish audience would also think of the promise God had made to Abraham and his seed. There are those great words in Galatians 3 and verse 14, “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” How would all the nations of the earth be blessed? By God pouring out his Spirit upon them so that they could be born from above and believe in Jesus Christ the son of Abraham. How do we become heirs of the promise? Who can become the seed of Abraham? By the gift of the Holy Spirit we Gentile believers become Abraham’s seed. Those, and only those, will receive the promised Holy Spirit. Those who repent of their sin and trust in our Saviour Jesus, great Abraham’s greater Seed – whether they be Jews or Gentiles. There is now one name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The promised guarantee of the Holy Spirit is for them alone.
Then Peter also refers to their children, that this promise will be theirs too. The children there, listening to what Peter had to say, convicted and moved by the death of the lovely Jesus. Let the little boys and girls also turn and come to Christ! Let the teenage sons and daughters come! Let them present their youth to the Saviour when their hearts are tender. You don’t wait until you are 18 to start to follow Jesus and be full of the Holy Spirit. You are not a second class follower of Christ if you are under a certain age. If you trust in Jesus Christ then you may have the most wonderful plans of what you might do with your life, serving the Lord. Young people dream dreams! You too can love the Lord who gave himself for you.
But there must be no misunderstanding; Peter is addressing the hundreds of children in the congregation concerning their need to repent and put their trust in the risen Jesus. Let not the Jewish parent think that it was all right for him to choose to baptize his teenage children simply because he, their father, had been baptized. No. It would not be like that any longer. The children too must first receive the words of Peter. Only such believing and repenting men and women – of whatever age – could be baptized. And only such disciples were able to do what all who were baptized by Peter did – continue steadfastly in receiving the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship and breaking of bread and prayers (v.42). Babies can’t do that. But if any child repented of his sins and looked to Jesus for salvation and confessed him as his Lord with his lips then such a child showed he’d received the promised Holy Spirit. Such boys and girls would have a new heart to learn the doctrine of the apostles, putting it into practice, attending the Lord’s Supper, and praying. There is no reference here to the fact that parents brought their babies along to Peter and that they were baptized along with their parents. Would there not have been hundreds of children standing there with the many thousands listening to Peter, some being carried by their parents, hushed and attentive, feeling there was the power of the divine in the preaching? Still, we’re not told of one baby who was baptized with his parents. The baptism of disciples alone is what you see happening at Pentecost. Young believers as well as old ones accept the promise of God by following Jesus Christ and pleading his name before God.
And then Peter adds that the promise of receiving the Holy Spirit is not only for these people and for disciples’ children but for all who are far off. He was talking about Wales, though he did not know it. He was sensing the universal expansion of the church through history in fulfillment of the words of the great commission of Jesus which spoke of the gospel going into all the world. At the back of his mind there were the millions in China and South America and New Zealand and Korea and so on, far off in history and far away across the other side of the world. God’s arm was not shortened that it could not stretch out and reach them. Why are so many of us the children of God this morning? We live centuries after Peter and so far from Jerusalem, and yet God has called many of us, as he called the children of Jerusalem and the thousands of men there and made the offer of salvation a promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit to us all. We heard the voice of Jesus say “Come unto me and rest” and we obeyed that effectual call.
So I may call upon the rest of you, each and all without exception, also to repent of your sins and to confess Christ as your Saviour and Lord. This is a general call, but is it more for you? Is it God’s effectual call, right now, for you, that you’ve been cut to your heart and you feel a pain there, an inner voice whispering to you that you need to turn from your sin in repentance, and that you ought to do it today, indeed you must do it without delay. Could this be the Spirit of God opening your heart?
If this should be the case in your life, I urge you, even as the Word of God urges you, to do it now. Can you find it in your heart to repent of your sins? Can you find it in your heart to believe on the Lord Jesus and confess faith in him with your lips? If you can do it, do it now, for “. . . if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10). You must sense the urgency of this matter. The eternal destiny of your soul is at stake; therefore, do this; come to Christ now!
At the same time there is a blessed word of reassurance to those who have already come, maybe long come, confessing their sins and professing their faith in Christ as their Saviour and Lord. If you’ve been called out by the Spirit of God, then you can also know that the living God has justified you; he is at work sanctifying you and he will also bring you to glory. This is no word of reassurance to the careless or the indifferent. Why not? Because, if God has called you out, he has first of all created a new heart in you. You have become a new creation and this new creation loves God and he worships God and he serves God and he is faithful to God to the end. Hear, then, this decisive word, “He that endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22) and no one else. Now, therefore, if you have that kind of heart that affirms, “I shall be faithful to the end”, if it is your joy and your life to serve God and your Redeemer, then I say that you can know, with all the assurance of the Word of God, that he has called you and justified you, and will glorify you too. The promise is indeed yours!
22nd March 2015 GEOFF THOMAS