Acts 2:17 “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’” and on to verse 24
Peter has been filled with the Holy Spirit, and soon he finds himself preaching to thousands of people on the Day of Pentecost. The man from the boon dogs, from a country village in Galilee . . . a youngster maybe in his early 20’s . . . a fisherman . . . a speaker with no experience of preaching to vast crowds of attentive, curious people, but the Lord Jesus had prepared him for this event by sending him out into the villages of Galilee preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. Christ had told him not to be afraid when he had to speak a word for the Lord, that the Holy Spirit would help him. I can imagine he said a silent prayer, took a deep breath and then got up on a wall or a stone and addressed the crowd to defend gospel people, those who loved the Lord Jesus from a scurrilous attack that claimed they were a gang of drunkards.
What does Peter do? Can he command the rushing mighty wind to blow so that it blows again? No. Can he command the fires of heaven to shoot up from his head again? No. He cannot. What does Peter have? He clings to the word of God, the actual written Scripture, and he quotes passages from it at least three times as he defends the faith. He applies the words that Jesus had said couldn’t be broken. The heavens and the earth may pass away but these words will never pass away. What a wonderful weapon Peter had been given, and all preachers have been given. The sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. It was more than ‘adequate’ then, on the lips of a young man, so much so that 3000 men were converted, and since that time that same word might well have converted 3,000 million men and women. The word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword.
Yet many church-goers are now saying. “You don’t expect the world today to be attracted by the Bible do you? By preaching the Scriptures, by texts outside chapels, and verses on railway station hoardings, and tracts with Scriptures on them, and memorizing the Bible, and lessons from the Bible to children in Sunday School, and camps where young people are taught the Bible, and conferences where the Bible is proclaimed. You don’t expect people to be attracted by the Bible? We need concerts! We need drama! We need costumes! We need bands! We need choreography! Bring in the drums and the synthesizers. Send for the clowns! It’s then that the people will come. We need superstars and celebrities to give us their testimonies – not just the Bible alone!” But, you see, Peter never told them anything about what it felt to be filled with the Spirit. He was quite unyielding. He quoted to them three full sections of the Scriptures that obviously he knew by heart.
Today there are many religious people who argue like the rich man in hell who wanted someone to rise from the dead and show himself – as a resurrected man – to his brothers and that would convert them. For example, the Roman Catholic Church says that the Bible is not enough, we must have ‘Sacred Tradition’ too. Then the Quakers say that the Bible is not enough, but there must be an inner voice from words welling up in your heart that you can pass on. Modernists say Scripture itself is not enough, it must be interpreted by “the assured results of modern criticism”. They say that we must go back to sources “behind” our present gospel narratives to find the “authentic” sayings of Jesus. Cults say the Bible is not enough, men must in addition obey a book – the Book of Mormon, or Science and Health With a Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, or the Watchtower’s productions of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many charismatics behave as if the Bible were not enough, their excitement comes from alleged miracles and signs. All such people are saying that the Bible is not the best weapon. They say: “It’s a good start, but it needs a bit of help from us.”
What did Abraham reply to the rich man in hell who asked him to raise Lazarus the beggar from the grave and send him back alive to his brothers? He told Abraham that then his siblings would get to heaven. Abraham replied that his brothers had Moses and the Prophets, let them listen to Scripture. “No, Father Abraham,” says the man in hell, “That’s not enough! Inadequate! Not the Bible alone – the Bible plus.” The Bible plus informal entertainment; the Bible plus background music. The Bible plus more rushing mighty winds, more flames of fire resting on the preacher’s head, more speaking in unfamiliar foreign languages. That is the answer. You make choice of the plus; you enthuse about it; you give lectures about the plus and write books about the plus and become the professor of the plus; you grow rich on the plus – “How I found the plus that helps the rather inadequate Bible.” You hold summer schools and conferences and tell the world the method that you discovered of compensating for the failure of the Scriptures, and how you became the greatest evangelist in the world. The rich man in hell was someone who had no love for God and for his Word. He thought up a way that could make up for the obvious inadequacies of the Bible. A dead man raised, walking around again, saying “How do you do?” to shocked acquaintances so that everybody who sees him would become a Christian! No! Peter wouldn’t walk down that path. Let the magicians do their tricks! Peter won’t talk of his experience. He won’t mention himself at all. He will declare to them the word of God and apply the sword of the Spirit to them. He won’t be a performer twirling a sword before them. He will thrust a sword home into the souls, cutting them to the heart with the Scripture. That is his confidence, and it was not a misplaced confidence for 3,000 of them were saved that day by preaching the Bible.
PETER PREACHED THE WORD TO THEM.
Peter’s first text is from Joel chapter 2. The prophet Joel lived half way between Moses who received the law on Mount Sinai, and this day of Pentecost. Joel is a fascinating part of the Bible and this second chapter is its most famous section. It has two parts and both of them are filled with good things, but the good turns to the better.
i] It will be a day when God restores the years that the locusts have eaten. That is the first part of Joel 2. The beginning of chapter 2 gives a very uplifting prophecy which is quite well known. It says this, that God is able to restore to us the years that the locust had eaten. You can see the picture can’t you, of great harvests, the hay wagon groaning under the weight of the sheaves of wheat, the barns full from floor to ceiling, food enough the family for an entire winter, little chubby babies, and men strengthened with good food to work on the farms. Then one terrible year a huge cloud of locusts, millions upon millions of them, descend on the harvest and they destroy the lot, and the next year again, and the next year too it happens. The barren years in which the locusts ate the lot.
Now that fearful picture of starvation is a spiritual picture of times of the worship of false gods, and carnality and luke-warmness that had come into the lives of those professing believers and can come into our lives, the lost years of our lives, those wasted years when perhaps you made a hasty choice in marriage, when you went through a divorce or an abortion, when you conceived a child out of wedlock, when you invested in a property that you couldn’t really afford and you lived with the consequences of that for years, when you defied the loving advice of your parents, the years you spent in a commune, in a prison, in vanity and pride, and those wasted years have haunted you ever since. They were years when some swarm of locusts devoured so much that was good in your life.
But Joel 2 speaks of God restoring those years. God can give back everything that was lost and more beside. Look at what God did to Saul of Tarsus, the torturer and the great inquisitor, and the Lord lifted him out of that destructive life, not only pardoning him but making him so fruitful in bringing many people into the kingdom of light. God restored the years that the locusts had eaten. How often in those next years did he say how good God was, how the Lord had loved him, what wicked sins had been forgiven and God had restored the years in his life that the locusts had eaten. Sinner! Return to the Lord! He knows you’ve gone astray. Then return to him in repentance. The father is waiting for the prodigal son to come home. Come to the Lord who is plenteous in mercy. He will abundantly pardon. That is the great message of the first part of Joel is that the wasted years of barrenness when the people of Jerusalem had rejected the Messiah, God can restore them.
ii] It will be a day when God will pour out his Spirit on the world. That is the second part of Joel 2 quoted here by Peter, and it is an even greater promise than the first half of the chapter. The promise there that God makes to his people is this, there will be a greater day than the restoration of the years which the locusts had eaten, when God will pour out his Holy Spirit on people in every nation of the world, and from every class and status and gender and age-group among them, that the Spirit will raise them up to speak and preach for him, and all the world over will witness extraordinary supernatural signs of grace in the heavens and on earth. Continents and countries, cities and rural life will be transformed as the Holy Spirit is poured out on the world. After that great and glorious day of the Lord dawns, then everyone in every place who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. See what Joel says, that Peter quotes and says, “This is that!”
iii] It will be a day of revelation. “I will pour out my Spirit on all people” (v.17). He is speaking here of the Spirit of prophecy. There had been a time in the life of Moses when two men who were quite outside his circle of chosen elders, and they had preached and prophesied a word from God, and Joshua had been angry and wanted them silenced. But Moses had said to him, “Oh that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them” (Num. 11:29). Now Joel takes up that Mosaic longing and he says, “That day is going to come, and God will pour out his Spirit – not on all Israelites, but on all flesh – on Africans, and Asians, and Americans and Aborigines and on Europeans. They would all have the spirit of proclamation, daughters as well as sons, young men as well as old men, servant girls, the downstairs skivvies, the lowest rung of domestic servants who peeled potatoes and washed dishes and scrubbed floors – all of them who’d repented of their sins and put their trust in the Lord Jesus would have been deluged from heaven with the Spirit of God, both rich and poor, bond and free, and then they would proclaim the word of God. The whole world would have people in it who would live the word, and love the word, and prophesy the world of God in the power of the Spirit. It was going to come, and since the day of Pentecost such a time has come and is happening in a million congregations all the world over. Peter tells them, ‘This is that prophesy of Joel being fulfilled.’ In the book of Acts we read of times of persecution and the Christian people being scattered everywhere and in every place they all gossiped the word of God.
iv] It will be a day of cosmic wonder. “I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below” (v.19). We see foretastes of this in the ministry of Jesus. We see a star in the heaven moving from the west to the place where he was born; we see his first miracle turning high pots of water into the oldest, finest wine; we see him stilling the storm with a word; we see him walking on water. Wonders in heaven above and signs on the earth beneath. We see him appearing to Paul on the road to Damascus and to John on the Isle of Patmos and the Son of God appears like the sun shining in its mid-day brightness or like a furnace of molten brass – “fire and billows of smoke” (v.19). You see all these signs when Jesus shed his blood, as it poured out of his side. The sun was turned to darkness and the moon then like a great red drop of blood in the sky as he hung in darkness on the cross on that great and glorious day of the Lord. And so too at Pentecost there were these cosmic wonders, there was wind from heaven and fire on the heads of the disciples. This is that which Joel spoke of. The latter days have come; the Spirit has been poured out; farmers and fishermen from Galilee have been filled with the Spirit and in the languages of the nations are proclaiming the wonders of God.
v] It will be a day when all the world will be told to call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v.21). That is the message that was to change the history of individuals and nations and cultures and establish a new civilization. When Paul went to Greece and was unlawfully whipped and thrown into prison in Philippi he told the jailer (who had asked him what must he do to be saved) to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, to call on his name and ask God to save him, for Jesus’ sake. Then he would be saved. At the close of this sermon at Pentecost Peter tells them to “repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (v.38). There was a new name going to be heard on the hill of the philosophers in Athens, a new name along the thoroughfares of Rome and even in Caesar’s palace, and even in Ethiopia the chancellor of the exchequer, all the time, was talking about Jesus the Messiah. That name would soon fill all of Europe and go out and out through the world. And everyone who called on this name would be saved. This past week the Duke of Wellington died. He was the great grandson of the famous Duke who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. He bore this famous title and he said these words, “I am awfully conscious that one must uphold a great name.” Do we possess that awesome consciousness that calls us to uphold the glorious name of the Lord Jesus Christ?
His is the name of the greatest teacher that the world has ever known. He is the answer to your most important questions, how did the world come about, who is God, how can I know him, how can I be cleansed from my sin, what must I do to be saved, how then should I live, where is Jesus today? He will tell you the answers to these questions, like no one else can.
His is the name of the Lord’s great sacrifice for sin. God is thrice holy; God is light and in him is no darkness at all; he is holy, harmless and undefiled. No man can see God and live. Then how can this righteous God be reconciled to us sinners? It is all through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He became the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. He bears our sin in his own body on the tree, so that God can remain just and sin-hating but he can pardon us our sins because of Jesus Christ.
His is the name of our Good Shepherd, our sovereign King who protects us day by day, and even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we need fear no evil, his rod and his staff are there to drive away evil influences. He will work all things together for our good. He will cause his goodness and mercy to follow us all the days of our lives. This great king has made up his mind that all his people are going to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
We call on the name of this Lord who is our prophet, and priest and king, and God will hear and answer us. All who call on his name will be saved. You say, “How do I know this? Why is it the name of the Lord Jesus and not the name of Allah or Mohammed or the name of one of the Hindu gods like Krishna? Peter tells us.
WHY THIS NAME ALONE OF ‘JESUS CHRIST’ CAN SAVE US.
i] God accredited him. “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know” (v.22). Isn’t accreditation important today in all kinds of areas? Men announce that they can install and repair and maintain all kinds of appliances and they are ‘accredited’ to do so. They show their certificates. Students travel from China to study in institutions of learning in this country and those institutions are officially accredited. Old people have to move into a care home and their children want to know if such a home is accredited?
I am saying to you that Jesus Christ is the greatest teacher, the most powerful protector and the one mighty sacrifice for sin and I can say this because God has accredited him by the miracles and wonders and signs he enabled him to perform. This man gave sight to those born blind. This Jesus never failed to give health to anyone who was brought to him even in the last stages of a terminal illness. He healed everyone who cried out to him. He had no failures at all. The lepers were cleansed, and even the dead were raised on three occasions. God was saying to us, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” It was God the Father working through Jesus Christ the Son. Our Lord said, “I and my Father are one.” They were one in the miracles than confirmed his actions as divinely initiated and divinely approved. Peter says these words of conviction to them, “As you yourselves know.” In other words, “You saw him working his miracles. Some of you tasted the water turned into wine in the wedding of Cana of Galilees. Some of your cousins and uncles were mightily restored from life-threatening illnesses by Jesus when God worked through him, as you know. Now you must let him work in you trust and repentance of your sins. Believe on him because God has confirmed to us that he is the Son of God.” Then there is a second reason why you should believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
ii] God handed him over to you. “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (v.23). These people were thinking that Jesus Christ was not accredited by God because if he had been God would never have allowed his Son to be killed by being nailed to a cross. It is the Muslim opposition today to Jesus being the Son of God. Surely God would prevent his Son being killed in this appaling manner. “No,” says Peter, “you didn’t snatch him out of God’s hands so that God was wringing his hands in horror as he watched you punch Jesus and make him a plaything, and mock him dressing him in a purple robe, and whipping him, turning his back into a mass of blood and then crucifying him on a cross. God was not an impotent and helpless onlooker unable to prevent the murder of his Son. Let me tell you this, that it was God who handed him over to you. God was working in Judas Iscariot, and God was working in Caiaphas and Annas the chief priests, and God was working in the bribed witnesses who said they had heard Jesus blaspheme, and God was working in the squaddies who arrested him and tortured, and God as working in the execution squad who nailed him to the cross. They were all doing God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. It wasn’t a surprise to God that his Son ended his life on a cross. It was ‘God’s set purpose and foreknowledge’ (v.23) that he ended his life like this, because without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins, and whatever God purposes in eternity men will always choose in time. Jesus was the Lamb of God slain even before the foundation of the world.
Then Peter can see the danger of their thinking that as it was God’s purpose and foreknowledge that his Son should die on the cross that all of the mob who shouted “Crucify him . . . release unto us Barabbas . . . away with him . . .” and they taunted him and mocked him, that they were in no way responsible because it was God’s will. “No,” says Peter to them, “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (v.23). It was their wicked voices who cried for his death. It was their wicked hands that nailed him to the cross. It was all the dynamics of a wicked mob that had killed him and toyed with him. They had done evil in the eyes of God and they were going to answer to God. That is what lay before them, an encounter with the Father of the Jesus whom they had killed by putting him to death by nailing him to the cross. God was sovereign in purposing and planning this death. Yes. That is true, but another truth is that they were not puppets. They were free accountable agents who tortured this lovely holy man to death as they did, and they must answer for it. We must all appear before the judgment seat of God. That again is why you need to be saved by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
iii] God raised him from the dead. “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death,” (v. 24). Peter describes death as an ‘agony’ because it is the separation of our souls from our bodies, and it is the wages of sin. It is not natural because by the rebellion of our father Adam sin entered the world, and death by sin, so death came upon all men for all have sinned. All except One. God said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He did no sin, and yet he paid the wages of sin. He experienced the agony of death though he deserved only eternal life. Why did he die, and die this death of condemnation? It was in our place. It was for our sins. It was bearing our shame. It was suffering the condemnation that we have merited. That is why he had to die, as our substitute, making atonement for our sin. It was as a sacrifice that he died and the sacrifice was accepted by the one true and living holy God. We know it was all pleasing to God because on the third day he raised him from the dead and freed him from the agony of death. Jesus rose. The stone was rolled away. The grave was empty. The grave clothes were there but his body was not. He was resurrected. He is risen. “Why seek for the living among the dead?” a messenger of God asked the women who went to the grave early, before dawn, on the first day of the week. Death could not keep its prey, Jesus my Saviour; He broke the bands away, Jesus my Lord. Up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes. He arose a victor from the dark domain and lives for ever with his saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Jesus Christ arose! He lives who once was dead! He died for our sins and arose for our justification. If his death saved us how much more his life? God raised him from the dead.
So call on him! Call on the name of the living, risen Lord. Cry mightily to God that he will save you. Cry until you know that he has heard you and answered you, the One who says, “Because I live you shall live also.” That is why he came into this world and died the death of the cross and rose on the third day, that we might have life and have it more abundantly.
4th January 2015 GEOFF THOMAS