Monday in the Third Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 3:17-26

His Ways Are Far So Above Ours

Peter continues his sermon with good news for his Jewish hearers: Even though they were guilty of killing the “Author of life,” God counts them as having acted in ignorance as did their rulers.  This is reminiscent of our Lord’s words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  The fact that our Lord, shall we say, makes excuses for us or excuses our most blatant sins, is proof again of our Lord’s amazing grace (also see Acts 17:30).  However, always bear this in mind, God’s grace is no reason to test Him (Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:7; Galatians 6:7).  The purpose of God’s grace is to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).  And this is exactly what Peter was telling the people: “Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out …”

But then Peter adds, “… that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”  And then Peter goes on quoting the Old Testament prophets from Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) through Samuel and all the prophets (Luke 24:27), and even going all the way back to Abraham and the promise that through his offspring (Christ Jesus) all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).

And what does all of this tell us but that the coming of the Lord – his life, death, and resurrection – was all for the purpose of bringing us back from the dead through repentance unto life in a wonderfully and newly restored world.  The world was perfect until we defiled it by our sin, so that now even the creation itself groans to be “set free from its bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21-22).  And one day it will be, when the Father sends the Christ again.  Then shall the world experience a glorious renewal, not a complete remake, but a restoration unto even greater glory than was in the Garden.  And the reason for its restoration is because that’s what shall happen to us.  We shall not be recreated brand new but restored, these present bodies of ours being the seed for the glorious bodies under the realm of the spirit that is to come (1 Corinthians 15:35-49).  This was the plan of redemption from the very beginning: that God would redeem a people fallen away, that He would even tell them of it beforehand by his holy prophets, and that He would finally accomplish that plan through His own Son.  God’s ways are so far above ours, and isn’t that wonderful (Isaiah 55:8-9)!

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Acts 3:1-16

God Has Glorified His Servant Jesus

Here we have the first recorded healing by the apostles after Pentecost.  The account itself need not detain us for long.  A lame man was laid at the gate called Beautiful at the temple each day to beg alms.  This marks a startling contrast to the description we just read at the end of chapter two in which the believers were selling houses and lands and laying the proceeds at the apostles’ feet for distribution so that no one would be needy among the Church of Jesus Christ.  We read in the Law that the ancient Israelite tribes divided the land according to lot and that each clan and family was to have their share among that tribe (Numbers 26:52-56; Joshua 13-21).  Furthermore, every fifty years, a year of Jubilee was to be observed in which those who had lost their land due to misfortune or financial hardship were to receive it back again (Leviticus 25, 27).  Of course, over the centuries of conquest, the Jewish state in the time of Jesus and the apostles was a shell of its former glory and were under Roman occupation.  But the contrast still holds: the Law and the prophets stipulated equity and, I suppose like us, the Jewish state was a far cry from that in the first century.  At any rate, Peter, having gained the poor man’s attention gives him what he does have, which has nothing to do with silver and gold but is much better.

As the people run together to see this lame man now “walking and leaping and praising God,” Peter addresses them.  He assures them that this man’s healing had nothing to do with them but everything to do with Christ.  He says, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus.”  Please note that by addressing the people by referring to the God of their fathers and making it clear that Jesus is His servant, Peter also claims that Jesus was theirs as well; that is, Jesus just didn’t come down from any god or out of thin air, but from their God, the only God, and to his own people (John 1:11).  Now the bad news is that they chose a murderer over the “Holy and Righteous One,” the “Author of life,” a huge statement from Peter at this early point showing that the apostles did not simply understand Jesus to be the Messiah but also understood him to be the divine Son of God from the very beginning.  But though they killed him, God raised him up (again showing the emphasis of the earliest apostolic preaching being on the resurrection), and it is by faith in this name, this divine name, Jesus, that the man before them was “in perfect health.”  So when he rose, he rose doing what he had done before, only now through the apostles.  God was glorifying his servant, Jesus, before their very eyes; He still does if we will only open our eyes to see.

Saturday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 2:42-47

And They Devoted Themselves

This passage paints a beautiful picture of the New Testament Church: “And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  So we see here that the first concern was the teaching that the Apostles’ laid down, which they received from Christ or from revelation of the Holy Spirit.  What they taught was no man’s philosophy, nor politics, nor were they the “people’s apostles.”  What they gave was the word of God as the Spirit gave them ability, not something utterly new but a Christ-centered understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures emphasizing fulfillment and the need for faith and repentance.  And the people conformed their lives accordingly as awe came over them as the Spirit confirmed the Apostles’ words with signs and wonders.  It was obedience to this word that gave them the sweet fellowship they experienced, both in their mutual relations and in worship.  The “breaking of bread and the prayers” may be formal or informal; formal in the context of worship as that was experienced in the Lord’s Supper and prayers probably from temple worship but filled with new meaning given their fulfillment in Christ, informal in personal fellowship and devotion.

The loving fellowship they experienced expressed itself in holding “all things in common.”  This communal style of living was not compelled as Peter makes clear later in his condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira (5:4), but voluntary.  However, it does seem from this text and from 4:32-27 that the believers in the early church in Jerusalem did practice this kind of sharing, what the New Testament calls, koinonia.  And if I may be so bold, their fellowship puts ours to shame.  We call “fellowship” a time when the church gathers together for a meal in the fellowship hall.  That’s fine and well, but that’s still a far cry from what we see here.  Our culture teaches us that we have earned what we have and therefore have a right to enjoy it.  We also fear that if we give to someone in need we may be enabling them to continue therein.  And there is some truth to this as we read in many places in Proverbs.  Still, in their great love for one another, the Spirit compelled them to share far beyond the point many of us are comfortable with: selling lands and houses so that no one would have any need; and here we sit worried about having enough for retirement!  But because of this fellowship, now understood as generosity, they had glad hearts and were ready to give even more.  And it was this generosity and joy amongst themselves that gave then favor among the people, for people generally respond favorably to such generous and joyful believers.

Friday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 2:38-41

The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Christians are not called upon to go in their own strength (Ephesians 6:10).  No one is able to repent or believe on their own.  No one figures it all out and then decides for the Christian faith and then makes a decision to believe and then lives that belief.  Such a thought turns the Christian faith into a mere religion or philosophy, a good and sensible way of living that one would do well to embrace.  There are too many places in the world where embracing the Christian faith is neither sensible nor practical; indeed, it is downright dangerous.  And yet those people live it to the fullest in the midst of persecution.  How?  Because the Christian faith is not a religion but a miracle, and anytime someone comes to saving faith, it is as great a miracle as the creation world, for here a soul is reborn.  The Christian faith is not an idea; getting saved is not an event; the Bible is not a book.  The Christian faith is the divine original; the rebirth of the soul a new creation; and, the Bible the very word of God.

Peter said, “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.”  The part we have yet to cover is “the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Now we must understand that the Holy Spirit was already at work on that person implanting faith in the heart, for faith itself is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).  And so the person comes to saving faith as the Holy Spirit works within.  But upon receiving that saving faith, the Holy Spirit does come and take up residence in that person’s heart (or soul) in such a way that he ever abides within that reborn person (Romans 8:1-30; 1 Corinthians 6:19).  So the gift of the Holy Spirit is the reception of his presence within, which is then our strength, our joy, our guarantee of the life to come, as well as the one who empowers us to live a holy life and grants us gifts for ministry.

And then Peter proclaims the wonderful news that the promise, which is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, is not only for them but their children, those far off (either in sin or just plain unbelievers or pagans), everyone whom the Lord calls to himself.  And the point here is not to wonder, “How many has the Lord called,” but that he calls anyone, and indeed, many: 3000 in this instance!  Another advance the New Testament makes on the Old is that the gospel call goes out to many nations, not just one, to multitudes, not just a few.  But in the end, it is all a miracle.  Saving faith (not just any faith) is a miracle; the will to repent is a miracle; the desire for personal holiness is a miracle.  And the gift is the Spirit himself – the greatest miracle of all.

Thursday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 2:38

After Conviction Comes Repentance and Faith

Upon hearing Peter’s sermon, which purpose was NOT to make people feel better about themselves or help people get along in life or make the gospel “relevant” to itching ears – no, upon hearing Peter’s sermon, we read that the people were “cut to the heart,” which we said just yesterday was the work of the Holy Spirit, for they responded in desperation, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Hear the Apostle’s answer: “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.”  Here in a nutshell is the gospel.  Granted, Peter says nothing about believing but we know that is included or why else be baptized in Jesus’ name.  So let us begin with Peter’s words.  The first word is, “Repent,” the very same word preached by John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus (Matthew 3:2; 4:17).  This is a nonnegotiable piece of the gospel that cannot be skipped, and I fear is missing from too much evangelical preaching.  It is a turning away from sin and turning towards God in heartfelt trust and devotion (i.e., faith) that understands that Christ died and rose for me.  And it is the love of God that demands of us repentance, for God knows that living according to one’s sinful appetites is to live a life of slavery and bitterness.  The gospel offers us freedom from the flesh, the world and the devil through faith and repentance.  Matthew Henry reminds us that God saves us not in our sins but from them.

And then Peter commands them to be baptized.  This too is not an option.  Now baptism is not like faith and repentance which are essential to receiving the Holy Spirit and salvation.  But it is commanded, and that which is commanded of us, we must do, or be able to explain to our Lord why, as he himself submitted thereto.  Baptism is a witness to the church of which we are a part that we are one of them, and a statement to the world that we are followers of Christ, as it displays our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection.  In countries where the faith is persecuted, it is often baptism that puts one in the crosshairs.  And it is this repentance from sin, this heartfelt trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and this desire and commitment to follow and obey him, of which baptism is only the beginning – and all of which is the fruit of that saving faith – which results in the forgiveness of our sins.  The cross and resurrection make it possible; faith and repentance make it actual; and He is the Holy Spirit who is works that conviction, faith, repentance, and holy desire in the heart of the believer.

Wednesday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 2:37

Cut to the Heart – A Gracious Work of the Holy Spirit

“Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”  These are Peter’s words to the people upon proving to them from their own Scriptures that Jesus, the one they crucified but who rose from the grave, was indeed the Christ.  The coming of the Messiah had become the great hope of the Jewish faith.  And why not?  They were an oppressed people suffering under the heavy hand of Rome.  They were but a shell of the people they once were roughly a thousand years before under Kings David and Solomon, when Rome didn’t even exist.  Every Jewish girl dreamt of bearing the Messiah, every Jewish boy of fighting along his side.  The Messiah was that great prophecy that gave them hope for a bright future, when Zion would be established.

And Peter was now telling them: “He came … and you missed it.  Not only did you miss it, you crucified him!”  We can’t imagine how horrifying Peter’s sermon must have sounded to his Jewish hearers.  But truly there was something even greater at work than experiencing the shock of murdering the Messiah by the hands of the Romans; after all, Stephen was stoned to death when he preached the same, only with a longer introduction (7:1-60).  The passage goes on: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”  You can hear the desperation in their plea.  It’s as if they were crying out, “Is nothing to be done?  Are we condemned for all eternity?”

So what was the difference between this day and the day that Stephen was stoned?  And the answer is that here we see the work of the Holy Spirit in his ministry of conviction (John 16:8-11).  Conviction is among the first steps to salvation.  One must know that one is a sinner, a condemned sinner, with no defense.  There should be a sense of heaviness, and fear, that all is lost.  I am aware that there are those who cannot remember a time when they were not saved (I am told Ruth Graham was such a one).  But I must still insist that such people be aware of the gravity of their sin, their personal rebellion against God, and the price that was paid for their sin by the very Son of God.  And I fear that this element is missing in today’s preaching.  We have been saved from something horrible that we justly deserve.  This should make every Christian both humble and grateful.  It is the Spirit’s task to “cut to the heart.”  When you see someone under conviction, don’t comfort them to the point of letting them off the hook, as many ignorantly do.  Allow the Spirit to bring relief in his own time in this gracious work.

Tuesday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 2:33-36

Christ Received from the Father the Promise of the Spirit

We continue with Peter’s sermon and are today confronted with a wonderful revelation from this very first sermon after our Lord’s ascension, after the descent of the Holy Spirit, concerning the God we worship.  At the very beginning of this good news about the salvation of man is this fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith upon which this very gospel is predicated – and that is, quite simply, the doctrine of the holy Trinity.  Indeed, the revelation of the Son and Spirit is the advance that the New Testament makes upon the Old.  Oh, both the Son and Spirit were there in creation (Genesis 1:2; Proverbs 8:22-31) and in the appearances of the “angel of the Lord” who was the pre-Incarnate Christ, and in other passages too numerous to tell.  But what was implied under the Old Covenant is now made explicit under the New, and that which was made so explicit concerns the very person of God Himself, which must ever be our first concern if we shall know Him rightly and worship Him according to His will.

The verse that jumps out at us is: “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.”  Here we learn that the promise of the Holy Spirit was actually a promise made by the Father to His Son.  Of course, the Son in his human state was full of the Spirit (John 3:34).  Still, the promise of the Holy Spirit was given to and sent by the Son, just as he had told his disciples he would do (John 16:7, 12-15).  That promise was now fulfilled as the Son having received the promise now poured that promise out upon his disciples, the Church.

Peter also speaks of the exaltation of Christ to the right hand of God, the supreme place of honor, again in fulfillment of Psalms 16:8 and 110:1.  Peter uses the latter verse to show that David was not referring to himself but to Christ, as Christ himself implied in Matthew 22:41-45, and which Hebrews 1:13 also affirms.  Having experienced his humiliation as fully man on earth, Christ is now exalted into the heavens as the Lord before whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess (Philippians 2:10).  In the meantime, the Spirit is sent to begin his ministry, one of the primary being convincing and convicting men of sin – which is exactly what we shall cover in tomorrow’s devotion.  Hear the Apostle Peter’s words, “Let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (emphasis added).  The Holy Spirit takes that apostolic word and brings it to the heart.  And He still does, praise God.