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, his 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 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.

Monday in the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 2:25-32

Preaching the Resurrection, Continued

Peter continues preaching.  He moves from the event of our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection on earth, and in the here and now of the eyes and ears of his listeners, and moves to the Old Testament Scriptures which the resurrection fulfills.  You see, these were Jews – people of the Book.  Everything they knew about God, His will, His ways, and the coming of the Messiah, was written in the Law and the Prophets, that which we call the Old Testament, or what some call the Hebrew Bible.  Anyway, if anyone was going to proclaim that someone was the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one of God sent by Him to redeem His people, well then there were qualifications that man had to meet to indeed be the Christ.

Now what is intriguing about Peter’s sermon is that, to my knowledge, no one had ever claimed rising from the dead to be one of those qualifications.  But Peter makes bold to show the people from their own Book that such a qualification was indeed the case.  He quotes Psalm 16:8-11 as David’s prophesying such an event: “My heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.  For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your holy one see corruption.”  Peter then goes on to explain that David, the one who wrote these Spirit-breathed verses, was obviously not speaking about himself as his tomb was yet among them.  Thus, the prophet (referring to David) was clearly speaking of someone else of David’s lineage who would sit one day on David’s throne as God had promised him.

And so Peter ties this passage from Psalm 16 to Jesus of Nazareth, whose flesh did not see decay, whose soul was not abandoned to Hades, that is, the realm of the dead.  Peter even declares that this was the very thing that David foresaw.  And Peter and these other disciples were testifying of this event, his resurrection from the dead, his risen body, which they had the privilege of witnessing over a span of forty days.

As I said, no one interpreted Psalm 16 this way prior to Peter, just as no one understood Isaiah 53 as referring to a Messiah who would be crucified prior to the preaching of the gospel.  Which is to say this: We interpret the Old Testament in the light of the New.  It is the revelation of Jesus Christ in the pages of the New Testament which sheds light on the Old.  And he was and is the Spirit who revealed this understanding to Peter, the Spirit just then poured out upon the apostles, the foundation of the Church.  And it all hinges on the resurrection of our Lord – the centerpiece of the gospel.

The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Acts 2:22-24

Preaching the Resurrection

The Church of Jesus Christ is founded upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ; indeed, it is our Lord’s resurrection that makes his crucifixion efficacious for us, for without it, he remains in the grave and his death is that of another martyr, not of the God-man.  And it was the resurrection of Jesus Christ that the apostles preached.  I say this because contemporary preaching seems to place the emphasis upon his crucifixion.  Evangelistic tracts speak of his blood which was shed for our sins, all of which is true.  But how often do we forget to mention that part of the gospel which the apostles thought was central to it: That Jesus Christ rose from the grave!  No resurrection, no gospel, no salvation, and we are yet in our sins in which we shall die (1 Corinthians 15:17).  And so the Apostle Peter, in his first sermon recorded in Acts, places our Lord’s resurrection front and center.  He is going to tie together the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, which the people are witnessing, to the resurrection of Jesus.  Indeed, Peter uses it to prove that Jesus is the Christ.

Having explained the miracle of the various languages the disciples were speaking without prior knowledge as the sign of the Spirit’s descent and the promise of the gospel’s gathering in of the nations, Peter continues his sermon referring to the one who, with the Father, sends the Spirit – Jesus Christ.  Peter preaches with authority rehearsing the account that the people already know: Jesus of Nazareth, a righteous man, a man approved of God by mighty works which God did through him, was given over to lawless men to be crucified.  But Peter then adds this one important point: This was all done “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”  That’s right.  This was no accident; it was planned in eternity.  And what’s more, according to that definite plan, “God raised him up … because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  And why was it impossible for death to hold him?  Because as God, death naturally cannot hold him; and as man, he was and ever remains the sinless one, and death is a result of human sin (Genesis 2:17).  Thus, the grave had to give him up, as was only fair.  And as the sinless one who conquered the grave, he does so, on our behalf.  Christ had no reason to conquer death on his behalf, since, as God, he was immune to it.  What he did in the body, he did for us as the one who assumed our nature.  And as it was impossible for death to hold him, so shall it be impossible for death to hold us.  He has taken away our sins through his blood and justified us by his resurrection (Romans 4:25).  And as the one who took our place, he has, not the obligation mind you, but certainly the right, to proclaim us, “Redeemed!”  And so every Sunday is Easter Sunday!

Saturday in the First Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 2:14-21

God Pours Out His Spirit

The great revelation that we witness in Acts 2, and which the rest of Acts spells out, is this: That the Father has initiated a new covenant in which the Kingdom of His dear Son and the ministry of the Holy Spirit now take center stage in this new and wonderful time in which we live.  This time has been referred to as A.D., anno domini, meaning, “in the year of the Lord.”  Some have simply called this time, “the year of salvation,” and why not?  Paul said himself, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).  It is the Kingdom of God made real in our time, which yet waits an even greater fulfillment in the future.

And this is what this passage is about.  It is too bad that some people get sidetracked into debates about speaking in tongues or other matters that are peripheral to this passage.  Acts 2 is about the fulfillment of the promise that God made through the Prophet Joel some six hundred years previous, that “in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”  Peter tells the people the good news that the long awaited time has come – salvation has finally drawn near, and it is predicated upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Through faith in him and repentance, one can experience the forgiveness of sins and receive this wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit which they now witness.  This gift is for all who “call upon the name of the Lord,” which in this context means, Jesus Christ.  This is the good news the prophets proclaimed, and which Paul spoke of in another place, that the end of the ages has come upon us (1 Corinthians 10:11).

This is why the New Testament calls the time after the day of Pentecost the “last days.”  We live in this time right now.  That part of the passage which speaks of “wonders in the heavens above” and “the moon turning to blood” speaks to: 1) the magnitude of change the coming of the Holy Spirit brings; and, 2) the future coming of Jesus Christ when these things shall literally come to pass.  In the meantime, we live “in the year of salvation,” and the “last days.”  We are the ones upon whom the end of the ages has come.”  We are the recipients of this wonderful time in which to live – on this side of the cross, and the fulfillment of prophecy, and the gracious revelation of this new covenant: Repent and believe and receive the Holy Spirit.

Friday in the First Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 2:1-13

Babel Turned Upside-Down

One of the saddest passages of Scriptures comes in Genesis 11:1-9.  There the people of the earth gather, having multiplied for some time after the flood, and are of one language.  God had told them to fill the earth, but they didn’t want to (Genesis 1:22, 28; 9:1, 7).  Instead, they are concerned that they shall be scattered over all the earth, and so fancy that if they only build a tower up to the heavens, then they shall make a name for themselves.  So they begin this grand building project, dedicated to themselves, and God takes notice – as God always does (Job 34:21).  In an act of judgment and mercy, He confuses their language and thus they are scattered over all the earth.  And so they left off building and the place was called Babel.  I say this was a mercy, for if we are as wicked as we have been when we were separated by so many language barriers, well, imagine how wicked we could have been all united in our wickedness!

So the hope of Genesis 12 picks up where the sorrow of Genesis 11 left off with God’s call of Abraham and the whole story of redemption beginning with him and told from there to Revelation 22.  The prophets told of a wonderful time when God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28-29).  Well, here it is fulfilled.  And as the Holy Spirit falls like a rushing wind on his people, they begin to speak in other languages, only this time, they are understood.  The day of Pentecost here in Acts 2 turns the Babel of Genesis 11 on its head!  Judgment is now turned to blessing.  The meaning is that the gospel will now go out to all the earth, in all the languages represented by the numerous different peoples gathered that day in Jerusalem.  While man’s sin on that Mesopotamian plain so long ago ended in tragedy, God’s grace and mercy make a way for man to be gathered together again as one family under the dominion, not of Nimrod, but of Christ Jesus.

Amazingly and quite stupidly some onlookers accuse the believers of being filled with new wine, as if inebriation enhances facility with languages.  But in another way, these first Christians were filled with new wine, as hinted by our Lord when he compared the new covenant he was bringing to new wine (Mark 2:22).  These were filled with the Holy Spirit who was doing a new thing, bringing a new reality, bringing the new world into the old world and creating anew his people and gathering them in all their several languages into his one and only Church.  It’s really a picture of heaven: God redeems man from his sin and separation from God, others, and himself, and gathers them all together into one family of unity and love.  As always, God wins.

Thursday in the First Week of Ordinary Time

Acts 1:12-26

Built on the Foundation of the Apostles

Now that the Lord was taken up to rule his Church from the right hand of power, his Church had to begin her work.  And we read that the first task of that work was loving fellowship and unity (one accord), prayer, and as is evident in Peter’s sermon, obedience to God’s will revealed in Scripture.  They devoted themselves to these things; they were not matters they attended to now and then, but the matters they attended to most of all.  Church programs will never be as effective as obedience to God’s will revealed in Scripture, fervent prayer, and loving fellowship.  These are essential.  And please note that the Church was composed of a mere 120 believers.  Regardless of size, few or many, those things mentioned here are the primary tasks of any local body which goes by the name, “church.”

The rest of the passage concerns filling the office vacated by Judas.  Peter and the rest of the Church understood that those men who were “numbered among us” and “allotted a share” in the ministry (i.e., the apostleship) were essential to the foundation of that Church.  The office had to be filled.  And please note the requirements: He had to have been among the other eleven with Jesus from the baptism of John to the resurrection, that is, from the beginning of our Lord’s ministry to the end.  And, most important, he had to be “a witness to the resurrection.”  They cast lots and Matthias was taken.

I realize that someone will object, “What about Paul?  Wasn’t he an apostle?  Did he ever accompany Jesus?  Was he at the tomb?”  No, but God can suspend His rules when He sees fit; we can’t.  But the apostles are now dead, and if anyone tells you that their “church” has apostles or that they are one, well, you know that they aren’t and their “church” hasn’t, which is a good way to nip some false teaching in the bud.  But the apostles were a necessary foundation for the Church (Ephesians 2:20) and apostleship is listed first among the offices of the Church (4:11).  Why?  Because unto them was revealed that doctrine that was transcribed in the pages of Scripture upon which the Church is built, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone.  (For examples of revelations these men received which were peculiar to them, see Acts 10:9ff or 2 Corinthians 12 or Galatians 1:12.)  They were also gifted in such a way to confirm the word they preached (Mark 16:20).  Of course they were sinners, but they were made holy men by God who used them for holy tasks in the foundation of His Church.  And yes, God still speaks, but through the Holy Spirit breathing through the Scriptures.  We need nothing more, only a deeper understanding of what is already revealed.