So far in Peter’s explanation of Pentecost we have seen the emphasis upon spiritual transformation. With the outpouring of the Spirit, Peter himself was a different person and he fully anticipated that his hostile audience could be changed by that same Spirit.
Last week we focused upon the centrality of Christ in Peter’s preaching. He spoke of Christ’s life and ministry which was accompanied by ‘mighty works’, ‘wonders’, and ‘signs’. He spoke of Christ’s death at the hands of wicked men, but according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. And there was a brief reference to the resurrection (which will be expanded in today’s sermon). It was Christ-centered preaching.
This week we will see his emphasis upon and commitment to God’s Word and God’s Spirit.
We have come to the last stage of Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Taking the message as a whole, we notice two things Peter was committed to: God’s Word and God’s Spirit. Do you recognize how dependent you are upon both?
I want to begin by acknowledging my own need for this message. There are often times when I am so focused on getting the exposition of God’s Word right, that I neglect to sufficiently seek the empowerment of God’s Spirit. And that is the epitome of foolishness.
All of us need much more than clear exposition! I long for all of us to know what this minister from a previous generation said:
“The great want of today is a holier ministry. We do not need more stalwart polemics, more mighty apologists, or preachers who compass a wide range of natural knowledge, important though these be. But we need men of God who bring the atmosphere of heaven with them to the pulpit and speak from the borders of another world.”1
First, we will look at Peter’s Commitment to the Exposition of God’s Word (25-31). Second, we’ll see his Commitment to the Empowerment of God’s Spirit (32-36).
Commitment to the Exposition of God’s Word (25-31)
Peter has already quoted from Joel 2:28-32 (cf. Acts 2:17-21). Now he will go on to quote from two psalms of David (and allude to at least one more).
In Psalm 16, David is reflecting upon the steadfast joy and hope of Christ in his life and death because he is confident in the resurrection and communion that will follow. His confidence in the resurrection is bracketed by the joy and gladness he experiences because of God’s constant presence with him. Jesus, endured the cross—despising the shame and humiliation we spoke about last week—because he trusted God would be faithful to his promises.
The key that Peter wants to draw out is v.27, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” Peter points out that David could not have been speaking about himself because he died and has remained dead like everyone else (v.29).
However, as a prophet David knew God’s promise that one of his descendants would sit on his throne (v.30). This is an allusion to Psalm 132:11 where we see that the promise is not merely a royal line of descendants, but a single eternal descendant! It isn’t clear how much David understood beyond the resurrection (v.31). But Peter declares with certainty, and he wants the Jews to know it with certainty (v.36).
A Christ-centered reading of Scripture means that references to God’s anointed prophet, priest, or king find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ.
Peter’s sermon breaks down in this way: 13 verses quote the Old Testament, 11 verses are exposition, and 2 verses are application. I’m not suggesting that every sermon in Acts follows this pattern, or that every sermon today must follow this pattern—but the emphasis is clear; Peter’s preaching involved exposition of Scripture!
It was not filled with emotional, heart-tugging stories from Peter’s life or the lives of others. He doesn’t have props or special altar call music playing in the background. He simply has the Word of God, and his Spirit-empowered exposition of it.
I’m not saying stories are never appropriate. Nor do I think that illustration are entirely unnecessary. Actually, I think they can be quite helpful, if done well. But the obvious take away from Peter’s example is that preaching must be primarily about God’s Word—not my own. A sermon without Scripture is not a sermon.
The effectiveness of Peter’s sermon is evidenced by their response. But why do they respond? Not because Peter spins a good tale. Not because Peter avoids making offensive statements (You crucified!). Not because Peter is overly sensitive to what his audience thinks of him. He isn’t overly concerned with being nice. He doesn’t seek their applause. He’s not trying to win friends.
Peter and the other disciples preached fearlessly because the Holy Spirit had given them boldness. We need preachers who preach Christ rather than themselves. We need preachers who preach the truth—no matter how offensive—rather than tickle the ears of the culture.
But that won’t happen as long as the people of God are willing to stay in the pews of the church Christ has already exited. The warning to the Church in Laodicea is appropriate (Rev. 3:14-22). The letter begins with a rebuke that they were lukewarm in works, deceived of their status with God, without Christ’s righteousness, and blind to the truth. I can think of a few churches that fit the description. John, writing the words of Christ in Revelation 3:19-22:
19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
And where is Christ? Standing outside the church calling them to repentance. It is a sobering warning to anyone who belongs to a church that has abandoned the truth.
But a commitment to the exposition of God’s Word is not enough. There must also be a…
Commitment to the Empowerment of God’s Spirit (32-36)
At v.32 Peter shifts from past prophecy to present fulfillment. “We” apostles are witnesses of the resurrection (1:22). Peter is referring to what they as apostles knew to be true by way of explaining what the audience knew to be true, namely the coming of the Holy Spirit who had been poured out with undeniable testimony. It was what they themselves were seeing and hearing (v.33).
Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. He has received the fullness of his authority and power. Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit as he promised he would do (Luke 24:49).
The pouring out of the Holy Spirit is the result of Christ’s exaltation. The audience, although they probably hadn’t witnessed the resurrection, had witnessed the later stage of Messianic fulfillment in the signs of Pentecost. Peter’s logic is quite strong for the Jew who had been waiting for the Messiah to come. He already had come! And even through you missed him, you cannot deny what you are witnessing this day.
If you continue to deny that Jesus Christ was the Messiah how do you explain what you have seen? Drunkenness? It’s 9:00 AM! Furthermore, Joel and David both prophesied about this in details consistent with everything you have seen, heard, and come to know about Jesus’ ministry.
Peter makes it clear how he understands the fulfillment of Joel 2:32 (v.21); to call upon Jesus as Lord is to call upon Yahweh for salvation. These were radical claims for the Jews to hear. And their response (which we will focus on next week) reveals the radical work of the Holy Spirit.
In John 14:12 Jesus told his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” The ‘greater works’ that Jesus is referring to cannot be the miracles performed by the apostles. We never see them walking on water, feeding a great multitude, turning water into wine, or even giving sight to the blind. Even though people are brought back to life by Peter (Acts 9:40) and Paul (Acts 20:9-12), it cannot be said that their miracles were any ‘greater’ than Jesus’ miracles. Only Jesus raised someone who had been dead for four days and sealed in the tomb.
These ‘greater works’ are the works associated with the Holy Spirit, namely the conversion of sinners. John 16:5-8,
“But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
Jesus’ followers were modest in number compared to the 3,000 converted at the end of Peter’s sermon. Because Christ has accomplished redemption, the Holy Spirit has been sent so that we might do ‘greater works’ in evangelism. Arturo Azurdia concludes, “The ‘greater works’ to which Jesus here refers are the conversions of people and the advancement of the gospel.”2
2:41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
4:4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
5:14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.
6:7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
13:48-49 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region.
There are at least another ten references to the advancement of the Kingdom of God in Acts.
John Murray, “If Pentecost is not repeated, neither is it retracted… This is the era of the Holy Spirit.”
We need special revelation and spiritual regeneration in order to be saved. God gives us his Word—full of promises made and kept. He gives us preachers who have been called to the high task of explaining and proclaiming his word. But the Father and the Son also sent the Holy Spirit who empowers the proclamation, and does the work of regeneration in the hearts of the hearers, that they might be enabled to repent and believe. God has given his Word and poured out his Spirit for the advancement of his kingdom.
Who received this promise of doing ‘greater works’? Was it only given to the original disciples? Listen to John 14:12 again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father.”
Like Peter and the rest of the disciples, we face the impossible task of preaching before a hostile audience. Even those who are not outwardly hostile, remain spiritually hostile until they are made alive by the Spirit. However, because Christ has ascended to the Father > Christ sends the Holy Spirit > That believers might engage in the ‘greater works’ of Spirit-empowered evangelism.
If you know God’s Word and you have received his Spirit, will you join us in advancing his kingdom?
1 Quoted in Azurdia, Spirit Empowered Preaching, 16.
2 Azurdia, Spirit Empowered Preaching, 23.