Sermon at Pentecost
After Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives, His disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited about ten days in an upper room. Then, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on them, filling them with power to proclaim Christ. They spilled out onto the adjoining streets and began prophesying in all the languages of the Jews who had come to the feast from foreign lands. A crowd quickly gathered, some marveling at the ability of these unlearned Galileans to speak in strange tongues, some accusing them of being drunk. Peter stood up before all and explained that the people of Jerusalem were witnessing the fulfillment of a prophecy in the Old Testament. The writer Joel had predicted that when the Kingdom age arrived, God would pour out His Spirit upon His people, enabling them to prophesy. The assembled crowd already understood that the Kingdom age would follow the coming of Christ. Therefore, to prove that it was time for the Kingdom, Peter argued that Christ had indeed come—that He was Jesus of Nazareth, the man the authorities had recently put to death.
Peter's hearers must have felt that Jesus' death was proof that He was not Christ. From their reading of the Old Testament, they believed that Christ would immediately conquer His enemies and set up an everlasting Kingdom on the earth. Peter proceeded to correct their understanding of prophecy. He quoted David's words in Psalm 16:8-11, calling their attention especially to this portion: "For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption."
In the Greek translation that Peter used, the word for hell is Hades, which in Jesus' day was the realm of both the righteous and the unrighteous dead. For the unrighteous dead, it was a place of torment, but for the righteous dead it was a place of rest and comfort.
Peter presented an argument that is as unanswerable today as it was then. A casual reader of Psalm 16 might think that David was talking about himself. But he speaks of a Holy One who would die and soon return to life. His soul would leave the realm of the dead before His body began to decay—that is, within a few days after death. But Peter pointed out that more than a thousand years after David died, his body still lay in a tomb nearby. So, David was talking not about himself, but about Christ. He meant that Christ would suffer death like any other man. But within just a few days, He would rise from the dead.
David used first-person pronouns—words like "my" and "me"—for two reasons: first, because Christ would be God in the flesh and, as a prophet, David was speaking from God's point of view; second, because Christ would be "the fruit of his [David's] loins." Therefore, Christ would in a sense be an extension of David himself.
The first point Peter was making was that the Jews were wrong in supposing that Christ would escape death. The second point was that prophecy gave a simple test of whether any man claiming to be Christ was speaking the truth. The test was whether he would rise from the dead before his body suffered any corruption.
Christ Risen and Exalted
Peter then triumphantly proclaimed that in fulfillment of David's prophecy, Jesus had risen from the dead. Referring to the 120 believers who stood nearby, he said, "We all are witnesses" (Acts 2:32). They had all seen the risen Christ. In later years, when the church came under severe persecution, some of these 120 died a martyr's death rather than deny that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The Resurrection was the crowning proof that God approved of Jesus and that His claims were true. He was, as He said, the rightful king of Israel—more than that, the rightful king of the whole world.
After showing that Jesus is the King, Peter showed next that He had already begun to reign. He informed the multitude that Jesus had ascended to the right hand of the Father. The Jews understood that this was a place of great privilege and authority.
Continuing, Peter told them that the Father had granted Jesus permission to send the Spirit down upon God's people. His descent fulfilled many Old Testament promises, including the one in Joel that Peter had quoted earlier.
To prove that Jesus' exaltation agreed with prophecy, Peter recalled David's words in verse 1 of another psalm, Psalm 110: "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool." Again Peter insisted that David was not talking about himself. It was Jesus, not David, who had ascended to heaven.
Repent and Be Baptized
Peter concluded His sermon by accusing Israel of crucifying the man God sent to be their Lord and Christ. The accusation fell on the multitude like a hammer. They were "pricked in their heart" (Acts 2:37). For the first time, many realized that their failure to follow Christ was a great sin. Groaning under an overwhelming burden of guilt, they cried out for relief: "What shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).
Peter answered with the simple gospel. From their response to his preaching, he knew that they were already close to saving faith. They saw themselves as sinners, and they believed that Jesus was Lord and Christ. Therefore, he merely asked them to repent. He meant that they should turn from their wickedness in rejecting Christ and receive Him as their personal Savior. Only by putting their faith in Jesus could they gain "remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). This expression refers to deliverance from sin's penalty. The believer in Jesus will never face that penalty, because Jesus paid it on the cross. A person whose sins are forgiven is said to be saved.
Peter instructed his hearers that the next step after repentance is to be baptized in the name of Jesus.
Gift of the Spirit
One immediate benefit of salvation is to receive the Holy Spirit. He enters the believer's heart and makes it His home. Christians say that He indwells the believer. Notice that the Spirit indwells whereas a demon possesses. The former, motivated by love, is seeking fellowship. The latter, motivated by envy, is seeking to master and destroy.
The Spirit wants to help the believer succeed in pleasing God. He supplies wisdom for hard decisions, strength for good works, endurance for times of testing, and comfort for times of loss. From Him also come love, joy, peace, and all the other virtues known as the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23). Anyone who uses all the help the Spirit is willing to provide is said to be filled with the Spirit. The only requirement to receive His filling is to desire to walk day-by-day in obedience to God.
The multitude could see that the disciples who had been waiting in the upper room had received the Spirit, but Peter assured them that the Spirit wished to enter them too. The promise of the Spirit was not reserved for a few at Pentecost, but intended for anyone who accepted salvation in Christ. Therefore, just as the gospel was for "all nations" (Matt. 28:19) "even unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8) so the promise of the Spirit was for all Peter's hearers and their children, as well as "all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39).
Peter's sermon was one of the most effective ever preached. His voice thundered out over the great throng and brought conviction to many hearts. Few who had come to see the strange happenings could resist his appeal to repent. No less than three thousand "gladly received his word" and "were baptized" (Acts 2:41. Within one day the church expanded by more than twentyfold.
As Peter had promised, the new believers immediately received the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit enters a man's heart, He transforms him into a new creature. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). Before salvation, a man is a slave to sin. Afterward, through the power of the Spirit, he can refuse sin and maintain a holy life. Paul said, "Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:18). Thus, the test of whether a man has been saved is whether he has become a far better man. In some converts, the change may not be striking until years have gone by. But the change in the three thousand who were saved at Pentecost was immediately obvious. At the day's end, they did not simply walk home and resume their former way of life. Rather, they joined the community of Christians and adopted a new way of life.
They exhibited both traits that especially mark a man transformed by the Spirit. 1) They had a strong love for God. 2) They had a strong love for God's people.
Love for God
"They continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42). They took every chance to hear the apostles teach, because they wanted to understand God's Word. They continued also in "breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42). The writer is referring to the Lord's Supper, a ceremony that Christ had commanded the church to observe regularly as a remembrance of Christ's death. By sharing in it, the new converts expressed their gratitude for the salvation that God had provided. Finally, they continued in "prayers" (Acts 2:42). Prayer is the most intimate fellowship with God that man is capable of. So, the new converts appreciated not only God's Word and God's work of salvation, but also the person of God Himself.
Love for God's People
Unlike the modern church, which meets only a few times during the week, the early Christians met every day. They went to the Temple for worship and then spread throughout the city to visit fellow believers in their homes. There, they shared meals and fellowship.
The love that knit the early church together was so strong that they "had all things common" (Acts 2:44).
The church distributed proceeds according to need, so that the greatest portion went to the most deserving of help. As we learn later in Act, the only regular dole went to poor widows.
© 2009, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.