In the first chapter of Acts, the disciples of Jesus receive a commission to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (1:8). After Jesus’ ascension the disciples gather continually for praise and prayer. Then they replace Judas with Matthias.
The second chapter begins with the event of Pentecost, where Jesus Christ pours out the Holy Spirit upon the 120 who were gathering. This is followed by Peter’s Sermon, an explanation of Pentecost. We have noted his expectation that the most hostile people in the audience could experience a spiritual transformation. This would occur because the Holy Spirit is empowering Peter to preach the gospel with clarity while also working in the heart of the hearers to respond appropriately.
This week we will consider their response.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
Throughout the sermon, Peter reasoned with his hearers. He didn’t expect them to check their brains at the door. Rather, he told them to analyze God’s Word alongside the evidence. Peter expected them to see the logic of Christianity. He tells them something like this:
“You know about Jesus. You know about his life and ministry. You know about the miracles he did. You know about his death. Many of you saw him crucified! God raised him from the dead. We saw him! We also watched him ascend, where we know that he is sitting at the Father’s right hand until his return. Because he has ascended the Father gave this Jesus the Spirit which he has now poured out upon us—the event you yourselves are seeing and hearing! This is the Jesus you killed!”
Apparently, the crowd couldn’t hold it back any longer. Pierced to the heart with conviction over their sin, they interrupt Peter asking “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter tells them to repent and be baptized. They must identify themselves with Christ if they want to be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit.
God offers forgiveness to the worst sinners. The very crowd that shouted for his crucifixion is offered forgiveness. God offers the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who repent. No one is ever beyond the reach of the gospel. Even the worst sinner can receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit if they accept the gospel.
First, we will look at the importance of Hearing With Conviction (37). Second, we’ll see Peter’s Calling With Warning (38-40). And third, we will note the response of Receiving With Obedience (41).
Hearing With Conviction (37)
One of my favorite illustrations is found in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. A spoiled boy named Eustace is turned into a dragon. Initially, Eustace is devastated, but over time he begins to help others. He uses his dragon-strength to help repair the ship. Then, rather than be a burden to the crew, he decides that he will live in the forest as a dragon for the rest of his life.
That’s when Aslan, the great lion, appears on the scene and he leads Eustace to a well. Eustace longs to take a bath to ease some of his pain, but Aslan tells him he will need to take off his dragon skin. After Eustace sheds a few layers, he was still a dragon. Aslan tells him “You will have to let me undress you.”
Eustace recounts the story to the others, saying,
“I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.”
Peter’s audience experienced what Eustace experienced. They were “cut to the heart.” If Jesus was indeed the Messiah—as Peter had made clear—these Jews are left in very bad shape. They are beginning to grasp exactly what they are guilty of. “We killed the Savior!” It is likely they feel their situation is a hopeless one.
Zech. 12:10, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
They understood they were not at peace with God. True hearing not only involves understanding, but deep conviction and desire to change. Conviction is precisely what Jesus said the Holy Spirit would bring (John 16:7-11).
Every sermon should do this! We should recognize that something is not right about us. None of us have it all together. We might need to be saved or we might need to grow in our salvation. Either way we need the gospel. Every sermon should convict us of our sin and comfort us by the gospel.
When Aslan ripped into Eustace’s skin it was like being cut to the heart. What followed was an endeavoring after new obedience. Have you been “cut to the heart” with the reality of your sin? Has that sense of conviction driven you to your knees crying out in repentance? This isn’t contrived or mechanical. It is something only God can do for you. You are at his mercy, but you can cry out for it.
Imagine the shock of relief these convicted Jews would have felt when Peter does in fact hold out hope of their salvation.
Calling With Warning (38-40)
Two Commands (38a)
Peter calls them to repent—something they would have been eager to do. Louis Berkhof points out that the New Testament speaks of “repentance” in three ways:
- Intellectual—Change of view. Personal guilt and helplessness beyond the fear of punishment.
- Emotional—Regret and sorrow over sin committed against a holy God.
- Volitional—Change of purpose. Turning away from sin, seeking pardon and cleansing.
Repentance involves a turning towards God (1 Thess. 1:9-10). In other words, true repentance includes faith (cf. Acts 15:9; 16:31). It includes “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ” (WSC Q.87). Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. We can also see from the context that they “believed” (v.44).
Then he tells them to identify themselves with Christ through baptism—which would have been a privilege. They must be baptized in the name of the one they crucified. Peter is teaching baptism as a sign of their repentance.
Two Promises (38b-39)
Baptism pictures the cleansing of sin—but it doesn’t enact forgiveness. It is “with a view to” forgiveness. Baptism is also associated with receiving the Holy Spirit. The inward work of spiritual repentance and renewal has the external sign of baptism.
Baptism is the sign and seal of God’s promises under the New Covenant just like the rainbow signified God’s promise to Noah (Gen. 9:8-17), just like circumcision signified God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 17:1-4), just like the Sabbath day signified God’s promise to Moses (Exod. 31:16), and just like the throne signified God’s promise to David (Ps 89:3, 28-29; cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-14). Each of these external signs represented a deeper spiritual reality.
The New Covenant includes a promise to the children of believers—This is consistent with God’s covenant faithfulness in the past. The children were never excluded (Gen. 17:7; 18:19; Isa. 44:3). Derek Thomas writes, “It is the children of those who repent that are in view, and these children specifically. Such children are in covenant—something that these convicted Jews knew already. Their children had been circumcised because of it.”1
This would not have been questioned for a second. Of course the promise is to their children. It has always included their children! In fact, were things different now, we would fully expect Peter not only to remove that line as superfluous, but also to explain its removal. He would have needed to explain to them that their children are no longer included in the covenant until they can repent and believe on their own. That explanation is of course missing from Peter’s response indicating the continuity of the covenants in this regard.
This promise is for “you” repentant Jews, and “your children” subsequent generations, and “all far away” Diaspora Jews and Gentiles (Acts 22:21; Eph. 2:13, 17). Everyone God calls to himself receives forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. F.F. Bruce rightly notes, “Those who call on the name of the Lord are those whom the Lord himself has called—and called effectually.”2
One Warning (40)
“sotheyte”— It is grammatically possible to interpret this verb in the middle (“save yourselves”) or passive (“be saved”). It is likely to be taken passively since God has been the main actor throughout this sermon (God attested, delivered up, and raised up). They were to publicly identify with the church community. Dennis Johnson writes, “Commitment to the Messiah implied commitment to the Messianic community, that is, the church.”3
Waters, “Peter is not concerned to address the felt needs of his audience, or to weigh in on pressing contemporary social and political issues.”4 Even with as corrupt as the culture was at that time. He doesn’t rail against the ills in society, just focuses on the ills within the Church. At the same time, he isn’t afraid to call it a “crooked generation” and one they must transfer their allegiance away from!
After experiencing a deep conviction for their sin, and now hearing Peter’s call to repent and be baptized, we see how they…
Receiving With Obedience (41)
Those who received/accepted his message are the ones who repented and believed.
“Were added” refers to the formal reception by the existing community (1:15). They were received into membership. 3,000 out of approximately 180,000-200,000 present for the pilgrim feast. Roughly 1.5% of the Jews present in Jerusalem at this time. Hardly a dent in the culture, yet.
The Church multiplied 26x (120-3,120). They were baptized and received the Holy Spirit without the accompanying phenomena. It doesn’t appear there were supernatural signs in this case.
How were 3,000 people baptized? If the mode of immersion is a critical component in your understanding of baptism—I imagine this could be a bit difficult passage to swallow. They had 12 qualified apostles baptizing 3,000 which means each apostle baptized roughly 250 people. In my opinion, it is much easier to imagine a mode that is closer to pouring or sprinkling than immersion taking place on Pentecost.
All humanity is in need of something only God can accomplish. Fernando writes, “Christianity is optimistic about grace, but pessimistic about human nature.” Our capacity for violence and destruction reveals our need. Only God can enable the transformation we need.
Bock, “But His promise is not conferred automatically. One must respond to it with a faith or turning to receive what is promised. Having asked, one can trust God to provide it. After all, it is a promise that God gave much to fulfill.”5
They might have been thinking, “So wait a minute. Let me get this straight. You have just made it clear that ‘this Jesus’ was the Messiah. You have also made it clear that we are guilty of crucifying him. And now that I recognize how much I deserve the full weight of God’s unmitigated wrath, you tell me I can repent and be forgiven?!”
As much as we are impressed by the response of this crowd we should also recognize that this was not always the response to Apostolic preaching:
The leadership in the temple “were enraged and wanted to kill them” (5:33). The crowd was so enraged with Stephen they stoned him (7:54). When we cry out for a work of the Spirit we need to realize that will sometimes (oftentimes?) involve a severe hostility.
Those who have not accepted the gospel have the opportunity to seek repentance this morning.
3,000 repentant Jews heard God’s Word with conviction that morning (37). They understood Peter’s call to repent and be baptized was call to be identified with the very one they put to death (38-40). And they received the message and obeyed (41).
Pentecost was a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot manufacture a response like that. It isn’t a matter of analyzing the culture and giving people what they want to hear. Could you imagine what Peter’s sermon would have sounded like if he had done a demographics study before preparing his sermon?
Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” All we can do is faithfully proclaim the full gospel as Peter did, and pray for the Spirit to accompany God’s Word with a piercing conviction.
Let’s pray that such a work occurs in our midst even now!
1 Derek Thomas, Acts, 50.
2 F.F. Bruce, Acts, 72.
3 Dennis Johnson, Acts, 79.
4 Waters, Acts, 93.
5 Bock, Acts, 148.