We are to consider now the next great event following the marvelous things recorded for us in the Gospels. First, there was the incarnation of our Lord Jesus—the coming to this earth of God the Son to unite man with deity. Then Calvary, when Christ gave Himself a ransom for all to put away our sins. Next, the physical resurrection of the Savior. In Acts 2 we have Pentecost, the coming of another person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, to dwell in the church on earth and to empower believers to carry the message of grace everywhere.
The Meaning of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21)
Notice the opening words, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” At that time the believers in Jerusalem numbered about 120 and they could all be together, and—more important—they were all of one accord. But do not make a mistake. Pentecost did not come because they were all in agreement and in one place; they were there expecting Pentecost, in obedience to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. Pentecost was a predetermined epoch in the mind of God and the Word of God. It had been settled from all past ages just when the Holy Spirit was to descend and take up His abode with the people of God on earth. The Lord Jesus had said that the Father would send the Comforter and “He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:15). He also said, “Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
The Holy Spirit was to introduce a new dispensation and God had definitely settled the time when that dispensation would begin—the day of Pentecost. In Leviticus 23 we read of Israel’s ecclesiastical or sacred year with the great festivals that belonged to it. Among them was the Passover in the spring (on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan), foretelling the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Passover came He died; that was, the appointed Passover. He observed Passover on the evening before His death. The Jewish day began with the evening of one day, as we would count, and went on to the evening of the following day; so on the first evening Jesus ate Passover with His disciples, and before the next evening He died, the spotless Lamb on Calvary. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
If you continue in Leviticus 23 you will see that on the morrow after the sabbath they were to bring a sheaf of the firstfruits. We are told Christ has been raised from the dead and “become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). So just as Passover typified the death of Christ, the firstfruits typified His glorious resurrection, the firstborn from the dead.
Returning to Leviticus 23, we read in verses 15 and 16:
Ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering [that is, the firstfruits]; seven sabbaths shall be complete: Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord.
Fifty days had to elapse from the offering of the firstfruits until the feast of Pentecost.
Pentecost really means the “fiftieth day,” so God had ordained that this feast should be observed in Israel as the type of the beginning of a new dispensation when a new meal offering would be offered to the Lord: “Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves.. .baken with leaven.” These could not typify our Lord because they had leaven in them: leaven is a type of sin and He was the sinless one. But the loaves do typify those who through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ are presented to God a new creation, Jew and Gentile, sinners in themselves but their sins judged in the light of the cross of Christ. Therefore Pentecost was the beginning of a new age, that of the church, the body of Christ.
When the day of Pentecost came, the apostles, in response to the command of the Lord Jesus, were together in one place. Just where was that one place? It is not as easy to decide as one might think. A good many take it for granted it was in the upper room where the 120 gathered for prayer, but when we turn back to Luke we read, “And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53). They abode in an upper room, but day after day they went to the temple. In the temple courts there was a great deal of liberty and there they gathered together to praise and bless the Lord. Different groups met among themselves; there a group of Sadducees with their teacher, and here a group of Pharisees with their instructor. The disciples came there to praise God and it may very well have been there that the Holy Spirit descended. That may also account for others being present and hearing all that was going on. On the other hand, the upper room may have been in a public place and the sound as of a rushing mighty wind may have commanded the attention of the people and caused them to flock to that upper room. Personally, I feel the likelihood that it was in the courts of the temple that they were gathered when the Holy Spirit came.
We are told there was the sound “as of a rushing mighty wind.” The Lord Jesus had used wind as a symbol of the Holy Spirit in speaking of the new birth: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Holy Spirit could not be seen, but His presence could be felt and heard. “And it filled all the house where they were sitting.”
“And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” The people looked on in amazement. What looked like fire however was not fire; it was the visible manifestation of the descent of the Holy Spirit. Just as when the Lord Jesus Christ came up from His baptism in the Jordan the Holy Spirit was seen descending like a dove and lighting on Him, so now tongues like as of fire were seen resting on the heads of the disciples. Doubtless these tongues had special meaning. The hour had come when God was to lift from men the curse of Babel. At Babel God so confused and divided the spoken language that they found themselves speaking in many languages. Now the Holy Ghost had come with power to enable His messengers to witness in many tongues to the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Immediately they were all filled. The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost for two purposes. He came to usher in the new dispensation, to baptize into one body all believers. Were they not the children of God? Yes, but they were just so many separate units. However when the Spirit of God came they were all baptized into one Spirit, one body. More than that, they were empowered for testimony. The Spirit had come to take of the things of Christ and reveal to believers the things of God and to anoint them as they went out to proclaim the gospel to others. This was for all nations. There is not a hint here that this is to be confined just to Israel. God gave these Jewish disciples power to present the Word in the languages of all the people who had come to Jerusalem to keep the feast of the Lord.
The question has been raised whether the miracle was in the disciples speaking different languages, or in the ears of the hearers. That is, did the apostles speak in their native Galilean tongue but the people heard them in their own languages? Verse 4 answers this plainly: “They…began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” These Galileans who may never have learned any other language than their own now suddenly found themselves so possessed by the Holy Spirit that their tongues were loosed and they began to speak and preach intelligently in the languages of the people gathered there to listen. These people, amazed, murmured to one another, saying, “Behold, are not all these which speak Galilaeans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” Then there follows a long list of the different people represented there; most of them were Jews, many were proselytes, and others not listed among either group. The last to be mentioned are Cretes and Arabians. These were probably Gentiles and yet as they listened they said, “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” No wonder they marveled.
But still others there listening to the apostles couldn’t understand; they heard what seemed gibberish to them. They said, “These men are full of new wine.” It seemed as if they were drunk, uttering nonsensical sounds that meant nothing. This situation was illustrated very clearly to me some years ago in San Francisco when a group of us were in the habit of going down to the worst part of the city every Saturday night where hundreds of sailors from the ships in the harbor would pass. We held a street meeting from eight o’clock until midnight, speaking to all classes of men. One speaker, now a missionary in Argentine Republic, was a Spaniard by birth, yet spoke fluently French, Italian, Portuguese and other languages. When he would see a group of French seamen passing (the name of their ship on their caps), he would suddenly call out to them in their own language and speak to them for perhaps twenty minutes. Then, as he sighted a group of Portuguese sailors (easily distinguished by their uniforms) he would swing over and talk to them in Portuguese and they would gather in close. Later he might speak to a group of Spaniards or Mexicans and then perhaps to some Italians. There was rarely a Saturday night when he did not speak in all of these different languages. More than once I have seen persons come up and say, “What is the use of listening? He is drunk. You can’t understand a word he says!” They did not know the language, and that is the way it was on Pentecost. Peter and his companions were not acting strangely, but as they spoke in different languages those who couldn’t comprehend came at once to the conclusion that they were drunk.
“But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words; For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day” (that is, just nine o’clock in the morning, and ordinarily folks did not get drunk so early). “But this [power, this manifestation, this Spirit that is working] is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel,” and he then quoted most accurately from the Old Testament prophecy that refers to the beginning of the millennium. It has reference to the time when God will pour out His judgment on the nations and when the Lord Jesus will come the second time to establish His kingdom here on earth and the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. But Peter quoted that part referring to setting up the kingdom in power and glory, and he said to those finding fault and objecting,
that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel.”
There is a great deal in the prophecy which yet remains to be fulfilled, but Peter was saying that that same Spirit which was working on Pentecost that day is the Spirit which by and by will be poured out on all flesh. Joel said, “It shall come to pass in the last days…I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh,” Notice the universality of this. This is something for the whole world in that glorious millennial day, and this coming of the Holy Ghost, this Pentecostal blessing, is also for the whole world today. I wonder sometimes at those who tell us that God endued only Israel with such power. He was contemplating the untold millions of Gentiles—those already born and those to be born down through the centuries—when the Spirit of God came with the message for all of them. “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” The coming of the Spirit of God takes hold of a man or woman and gives them an illumination they would not ordinarily have. He opens up to them the Old Testament, reveals the things to come, and gives them an understanding of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and its effects on human sin and needs.
“And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” To prophesy is to proclaim the truth of God, but notice the prophecy from Joel has not all been fulfilled. “Blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come.” Joel’s prophecy carries us on to the coming of the Lord, when He will establish His kingdom and put down all iniquity. But the same Spirit who will work then is the One who came on Pentecost and has been working in power the last nineteen hundred years. It is He who enables servants of God to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, for we read, “It shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Do not try to limit that “whosoever.” It is the same “whosoever” that is in John 3:16; “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Here the message is stated in a different way but the meaning is the same.
“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). And so the Spirit of God has come. The Comforter is here and the saints of God have received the Spirit and have thus been baptized into one body and in the power of the Spirit are called to go forth and proclaim the gospel message to the ends of the earth. Have you called on the name of the Lord? Have you trusted Christ as your own Savior? Then doubt not, but accept the words of the Holy Ghost Himself, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Peter’s Sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:22-36)
I suppose the sermon preached by the apostle Peter in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost is the most widely used sermon ever preached. We know from Scripture that the results were three thousand souls turned to the Lord.
What was the character of this sermon and what was there in it that so appealed to the people? Of course in trying to answer this we need to remember that the circumstances were most remarkable. The Lord Jesus Christ had fulfilled three and a half years of His wonderful ministry in the land of Israel. By His many miracles He had manifested His messianic power, and His character showed that He was the Son of God. A number believed on Him and a great many rejected Him, and those who had rejected Him crucified Him. Three days later He rose from the tomb, appeared to certain selected persons repeatedly for a period of forty days, and then ascended into Heaven. After this the Spirit Himself came on the day of Pentecost as predicted and in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. There were gathered at Jerusalem a vast throng of people from all the different countries to which the Jews had been dispersed during the centuries. They had come to keep the feasts at Jerusalem, first the Passover and then Pentecost; and as they listened to Peter’s message it came home to their consciences with peculiar power.
Never again will there be such circumstances, and that is one reason we can never expect to see a duplicate of that power or even to see a single sermon used as effectively as that one was used. But as we consider the content of it, it will at least suggest to us the type of sermon that God can use to convert sinners. The first thing is simplicity. Not a word was uttered that day that a child of adolescent age could not have understood. Peter did not need someone to explain his words. His hearers did not need to go away to consult a dictionary. He had clothed his message in such a manner that the simplest, the most illiterate could understand.
In the second place, Peter’s sermon was centered on the Lord Jesus Christ. He held up Christ, crucified and risen, and that is the message God has promised to bless. He has sent His servants into the world to preach the gospel, the good news about His Son. Peter did not argue; he did not go into abstruse theological problems; he told them about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As he told of that, the Spirit touched the hearts of his hearers with tremendously convicting power. I am afraid we forget it is the plain, simple story that reaches the people and brings them to the knowledge of salvation.
We sometimes sing,
I love to tell the story
Of unseen things above;
Of Jesus and His glory
Of Jesus and His love. (A. Catherine Hankey)
Yet we spend so much time speaking of other things and so little time on that wondrous story. I wouldn’t be surprised if our hearers didn’t feel like reminding us of that other hymn,
Tell me the story often,
For I forget so soon,
The early dew of morning
Has passed away at noon. (A. Catherine Hankey)
That is what the world needs! That is what men and women are crying for.
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words.” You see, Christ came in the beginning not to the Gentiles but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. While the disciples were to go to the uttermost part of the earth, He distinctly said they must begin at Jerusalem. Jerusalem had had the greatest privileges and yet it had crucified the Son of God. So this message was to the very people who had rejected Christ—the nation of Israel.
“Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.” The term “Jesus of Nazareth” speaks of His humanity; it speaks of the lowliness of His character. He, who is over all, God blessed forever, stooped to become a carpenter of Nazareth.
The great Japanese evangelist, Kagawa, in speaking of the many blessings the gospel brought to the Japanese said that it had taught the people of Japan, even those who had rejected its saving message, the dignity of the laboring man. Before the gospel came, the laboring man was looked down upon with absolute contempt, but when Christian missionaries arrived to tell the story of the Son of God who became a carpenter, who shed His blood on the cross for our sins, it changed the whole conception of people toward the laboring class. That has been true all over the world. The laboring people were hardly more than slaves when Jesus came, and now there is little actual slavery in civilized nations. Some are enslaved by cruel and ruthless laws, but the arrival of the gospel message changes completely the attitude toward those who toil and labor. Jesus of Nazareth labored. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth who “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38).
Peter in the beginning does not rise any higher than that. He does not dwell on the deity of Christ at first. He tells them, “[Here was] a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs.” In other words, Peter is telling them this man is the Messiah. God had put His seal upon Him. This was the One whom the prophets had proclaimed and of whom the psalmists had sung, and what have they done with Him? Let me ask you the question, What have you done with Him? You know why He came, why He died. What have you done with Him? Have you opened your heart to receive Him? Have you trusted Him as Savior? If not, you are as guilty and in some respects even more guilty than they in those days, What did they do? “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”
Notice how two things come together here that often trouble thinkers among men: God’s predetermined purpose and wicked man’s free will. God had predetermined that His blessed Son was to come into the world and give His life a ransom for sinners. Jesus came “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). But God had not predetermined that men should curse Him, spit on Him, and heap every kind of indignity upon Him. These things were of men’s godlessness led on by Satan. Peter said in effect, “God sent Him; God knew all that would take place; but you are responsible for your sins in that you laid hold of Him and with your wicked hands crucified and slew Him.”
When man would do his worst, God gives His best. Man showed the malevolence and iniquity of his heart; he cried, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him,” and then the ruthless soldiers nailed Him to that cross of shame. But when man had done all that, God said, “This, My beloved Son, is the great sin offering for the guilty. Even for the men rejecting Him now, for the men who crucified Him and put Him upon the cross, His soul was made the offering for sin.” By His death redemption was procured, which God offers freely to all men everywhere. In answer to what man did, we see God acting in power.
“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” When sin had been atoned for and the sin question settled, it was righteousness on the part of God that demanded that His Son be brought back again from the dead. In the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ we have the evidence of God’s satisfaction with the work done. So the risen, crucified One is now set forth as the Savior of all who put their trust in Him.
The apostle Peter continued his sermon by quoting from three Psalms showing how the Old Testament Scripture had opened up to him. Before His ascension Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you” (John 16:15). And so now, guided by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, Peter turned to passage after passage in the book of Psalms and showed how all were being fulfilled in Christ. First he referred to Psalm 16.
For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance (Acts 2:25-28).
You may say these words are expressed by David in the first person. When he wrote Psalm 16 one might have imagined perhaps those experiences were to be his own, but Peter showed it was the Spirit of Christ speaking through David, leading him to write as he did.
These things are not all true of David. David could not say, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer [me] to see corruption.” David’s soul was left in Hades (the state between death and resurrection) and his body did see corruption. But Peter said, “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day” (Acts 2:29). But David was a prophet, and as a prophet was looking forward to Messiah’s coming. Therefore knowing that God had sworn with an oath to David that his son was to sit forever on his throne Peter declared that it was of Jesus God spake. “He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.”
It is very interesting to note how these Old Testament prophecies meet in the Lord Jesus Christ. Prophecies that never could have been fulfilled in anyone else were all fulfilled in Him. He walked in accordance with these beautiful words in Psalm 16.
As the apostle Peter traced the life of Jesus through the grave and up to the throne of God, he was moving on to the resurrection. He continued,
This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore [He, the risen One] being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear (Acts 2:32-33).
Understand what Peter is saying. The man Christ Jesus in His human body has gone up to Heaven and has taken His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He is now the Mediator. God has given to Him the Holy Ghost without measure that He might shed forth the Holy Spirit upon men here on earth. Would you need evidence stronger to show you that Peter truly understood the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ? Can you imagine a mere man pouring out the Holy Spirit in this way? The Holy Spirit in Himself is a person of the Godhead. Jesus, God the Son, was commissioned by God the Father to give God the Holy Spirit to those who believe on Him.
“For David is not ascended into the heavens.” Oh, somebody says, then David’s soul is sleeping in the grave. No, that is not what is meant. David’s body lies in the grave, David is not yet ascended into Heaven in his physical body, but Christ Jesus has gone up into the heavens in His glorified body. David, looking on by faith, wrote in Psalm 110, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool.” Peter said, as it were, “My brethren, the man who died on the cross was foreseen by David sitting at the right hand of God the Father, waiting for the moment when all creation will be subject to Him, when all His foes will be made His footstool.” This is his climax and on this he bases his exhortation—an exhortation that I bring you today, those of you who may be out of Christ.
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Consider the goodness of God. The house of Israel had rejected Christ. Jew and Gentile had united in the evil act of His crucifixion, yet so great is the love of God that He sent Israel this special message. They had been set aside as a nation. Jesus said some time before, “Your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). They were set aside as a nation then, but God was yearning after them still.
We need to remember that the word
Christ means “the Anointed” and is the equivalent of the Hebrew term
Messiah. Our Lord Jesus is God’s anointed King. Men said, even His own people said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). But God has raised up from the dead the One whom the nation rejected and He has confirmed His Messiahship to Him in resurrection. He has declared Him to be Lord and Messiah.
You will notice there is no pleading, no begging, no urging to make a decision in Peter’s sermon. But the moment Peter comes to the conclusion, at once there is a move among the people and a great response.
The Pentecostal Response (Acts 2:37-47)
This brief portion of the book of Acts is one that requires very careful and thoughtful examination. A great deal of controversy has raged around it, and very many serious misconceptions have been drawn from it.
The apostle Peter had just preached his wonderful sermon setting forth the life, the death, and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had particularly emphasized the fact that the Lord Jesus came to the nation of Israel in accordance with Old Testament prophecy as their Messiah. He was the One they had been looking for down through the centuries, but they failed to recognize Him when He came. They rejected Him and delivered Him over to the Gentiles to be crucified; but Peter concluded with this triumphant word, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
The effect of Peter’s message was tremendous. We are told in Acts 2:5, “there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men.” He was addressing himself not to the ribald crowd that had been in front of Pilate’s judgment hall who cried, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” Rather he was addressing primarily devout Jews who were awaiting the coming of the Messiah, also a number of proselytes from the nations who had the same sincere expectations. When these honest men heard Peter’s proclamation, we read, “They were pricked in their heart.” This was the work of the Holy Ghost. He so carried the message home to their hearts that they were deeply stirred.
They did not attempt to deny what Peter said. On the contrary, they accepted the message. Having accepted the message we can be very sure of this—they were already born of God. The apostle Peter wrote in the first chapter of his first Epistle, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.. .And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” These people had heard the gospel and believed the message, and that implies necessarily they had received divine light and were regenerated. They turned to Peter and the rest of the apostles and cried out in deep distress, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Now, I want you to notice this. Their cry was not the same as the question of the Philippian jailer of which we read in Acts 16. These brethren did not say to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what must we do to be saved?” That was not in their mind at all; but they said, “Men and brethren” (and you will see from the very term of address used that they recognized their brotherhood with the men who had been preaching) “what shall we do?”
What is involved in that question? I think it is very easy to understand. These, as I said, were devout men. They had been waiting earnestly, believingly, for the Messiah. Peter had just shown them that the Messiah had come. The nation had rejected God’s anointed King. They had refused Him whom God sent to deliver them. When Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your King?” they answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” These men were troubled. They had expected Christ to set up His kingdom here on earth. But He had gone away to Heaven where God had seated Him on His own throne; but what about this nation He was to reign over? What were they to
They really meant to ask, “Men and brethren, in view of the fact that our King has already come and our people did not realize it and He has been rejected and crucified, what then are we going to do?” They were not simply questioning their individual salvation. They were questioning the fate of the nation to which they belonged. What was to happen? What shall we do now? Is there any way this dreadful thing can be undone? Is there any way the Christ who had been rejected can appear again and the people be given another opportunity? Is there any way by which the sentence can be revoked? What shall we do?
Peter said, “One thing you can do is repent.” Repent! What does that mean?
Repent means literally a change of mind—a change of mind that involves not only looking at things differently from an intellectual standpoint, but involves complete moral reformation, complete change of attitude. And so Peter said, “Repent, change your attitude.” They showed what their attitude was when Christ was presented to them and they spurned Him. Now he says in effect, “Change your attitude. Instead of spurning Him, instead of rejecting Him—receive Him! It is true He has gone away from earth, that He is not here to establish His kingdom, but He still lives and is exalted at God’s right hand. Repent. Rightabout-face! Instead of going on as a part of the nation that rejected Him, change your mind, and separate from the apostate group by taking your stand for Christ.”
That is the message we would give today to every one of our dear Jewish brethren everywhere. People do not understand sometimes why we should have Christian missions to the Jews. Do not the Jews have a good religion of their own? Then why should we bother with them? Well, you see, we believe the testimony of Moses and the prophets and we grieve to think that the Jewish people, just as the Gentiles, have rejected the Lord Jesus Christ. So in obedience to the word of Jesus Christ we go to them, as to the Gentiles. Peter said to all men everywhere and particularly to Israel who rejected and spurned Him, “Change your attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of trampling on His grace, open your heart to Him.” Thank God, there have been tens of thousands of Jews who have changed their attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ and have crowned Him Lord of their lives whom the nation has rejected.
Next he called on them to do something that would separate them visibly from this nation that is under condemnation: “Be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins.” As part of the nation they were responsible for the rejection of Christ. Now Peter said, “In accord with your changed attitude toward Jesus Christ give this outward witness—be baptized in the name of the One you have rejected, and God will look at you standing there and you will no longer be under condemnation as are those who rejected Christ. Rather you will be under His grace because your sins are forgiven.” It was not baptism, but change of attitude toward Christ, that gave them forgiveness. The baptism was the outward manifestation of their hearts’ new attitude.
Some people have supposed that because Peter said, “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ,” he was suggesting a different baptismal formula from that the Lord Jesus gave in the Gospel of Matthew. They fail to recognize that in Matthew 28 the Lord was telling them in what name they were to baptize believers. He said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” He used the preposition meaning “baptizing them
unto the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” That is the revelation of God in Christianity. The Jew knew God in the sense of the triune God, for the word
Elohim implies God-triune. But the Lord Jesus Christ gave the full revelation and in essence He said, “You go and baptize converts in the name that implies the fullness of deity.” They proceeded to do as He told them, and as they undertook to baptize they did it in the name of Jesus. They preached in the name of Jesus; they healed in the name of Jesus; they wrought signs and wonders in the name of Jesus; they baptized in the name of Jesus. Being baptized in the name of Jesus implies baptizing as instructed by Him—in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
So there is no confusion here. This is not a different kind of baptism. It is not a different name from that given in Matthew’s Gospel. This comes out very clearly in Acts 19. There Paul, in coming to Ephesus and talking to certain disciples, said:
Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them (Acts 19:2-6).
If they had been baptized as Christians before, they would have known of the Holy Spirit, for He is spoken of in the baptismal formula.
So that passage definitely proves the formula of baptism given in Matthew 28 is the one by the authority of, and in the name of, the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words the apostles said, “Be baptized by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and the past will no longer be held against you. You will no longer be looked on as part of the nation that rejected the Christ, and in token of this God will give you the gift of the Holy Spirit as He has given it to us.” The coming of the Holy Spirit had ushered in the new dispensation, and they were to be brought into all the blessings of the new covenant. Notice the breadth of this: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39).
When he used the term “afar off” he did not mean those in distant lands; but his meaning is essentially moral, spiritual, covenantal. In Ephesians 2 we see that Paul used that term to refer to Gentiles, those not in covenant relation with God:
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;…being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ…. [He] came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh (Ephesians 2:11-13, 17).
You see, the Jew is nigh in the point of covenant privilege, the Gentile is a stranger to the covenant—he is afar off. Peter on the day of Pentecost proclaimed salvation not only to the Jews, as some have ignorantly said, but to the Jews and their children and then “to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Let us never lose sight of the universal character of the gospel message. Christians have a message for the whole world, and now as God looks at men there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither barbarian nor cultured, but all are sinners and all need a Savior. There is no difference, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”; and again, “There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.”
Peter proclaimed this universal message, applying it first particularly to those at Jerusalem. Also we are told, “with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Someone may ask, “what did Peter mean by that? I thought one of the first principles is that men cannot save themselves; men are absolutely helpless, dead in trespasses and sins, and yet Peter said, ‘Save yourselves.’”
He did not say, “Save yourselves from Hell and save yourselves from the wrath of God,” but, “Save yourselves from this [perverse] generation.” In other words, separate yourselves by baptism from this untoward generation that is rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, the wrath of God was hanging over that generation. The Lord Jesus had predicted that shortly after His ascension the temple would be destroyed; not one stone would be left upon another (Luke 21:5-6). That nation, as a nation, was subject to judgment. Now, Peter says, if you want to escape that judgment, save yourselves by being baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. What was the response to Peter’s admonition?
“Then they having received his word were baptized.” You will notice the King James version reads: “They that gladly received his word were baptized.” Some Greek texts include the word
gladly, but since the King James version was translated many older texts have been discovered and they omit that word. I am always rather suspicious of persons who receive the Word with gladness and joy. One wonders if the Spirit of God has really done His probing work in the conscience. We would rather see men facing their sins before God—demonstrating a changed attitude toward self, a changed attitude toward sin. That makes people serious, thoughtful, sober; it makes people sad. Thank God when sinners have been made serious and faced their sins honestly before God. When they look up to the Lord Jesus Christ and honestly receive Him, then they are made glad.
So on the day of Pentecost thousands of people received the Word and immediately acted in accordance with their faith. They were baptized and their baptism cut them off from the Christ-rejecting nation of Israel and at the same time brought them into a new fellowship altogether. It brought them into the Christian company.
“The same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” Added to whom? To the 120 company of believers mentioned in Acts 1:15. Now the body had grown.
We see four things affirmed in the lives of these new believers. “They continued steadfastly.” They were not the kind that come forward, bow down and confess their sins, professing to accept the Lord Jesus Christ. Then taking a little copy of the Gospel of John, they leave their names with the one dealing with them, walk out of the church and never appear again. The early believers, having become united with the Christian company, entered into fellowship with them. “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.” They had no written New Testament yet. They depended wholly on the Old Testament and on oral ministry. Since the apostles were divinely-taught teachers, the believers continued where they could get the instruction they needed.
If you profess to accept Christ as Savior, see that you are often found where the Word of God is opened up. We have the whole New Testament today and now God would have His people gather together, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Hebrews 10:25). Some people say, “Oh, I do not need to go to hear the Word. I do not need to go to the gatherings of the people of God. I can go out and worship God in nature.” But as you speed through the country enjoying the passing vista, I am afraid you are not giving many thoughts to God and His testimony. I am afraid it is getting to be the manner of some to lie idly in bed until about 11:30 Sunday morning, and then lazily roll over and turn on the radio or television.
The Christians of the first century continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teachings and in fellowship. That is important. We need one another; and because we do, the Spirit of God has come down to knit us together into one body. Think of one of the most frequently quoted verses in the Bible: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14). Have you ever stopped to think what is meant by the communion of the Holy Ghost? It is God working in our hearts, helping us to enjoy the things of God together in the power of the Holy Spirit.
They also continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread. Breaking of bread is the sweet and sacred ordinance of the Lord’s supper. Jesus had said, “This do in remembrance of me.” The early Christians did not neglect this. They continued steadfastly in observance of this sacred ordinance.
The fourth thing is they continued steadfastly in prayer. Don’t think that means they continued in prayer and fellowship in their own houses. Prayer is an expression of dependence, and when the people of God really feel their need you will find them flocking together to pray. A neglected prayer meeting indicates very little recognition of one’s true need. I wonder how many of us continue steadfastly in prayer? Do you ever attend a prayer meeting? You say, “Prayer meetings are too dry for me.” How do you know? Wouldn’t it be well to try it and see? Wouldn’t it be well to come and see what draws people together to pray? You will find you are missing a great deal. The early believers continued steadfastly in prayer. And the outsiders noticed it.
“Fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43). Notice that there is no indication that all the believers performed miracles and wonders. Only the twelve apostles were said to have spoken in other tongues, and only they performed miracles. These were the signs God gave in order to convince the gainsayers.
All believers were together in those early days. There was no sectarianism, no strife, no denominationalism. “And all that believed were together, and had all things common.” For a little while they had what some people call a world ideal—a kind of Christian communism. It was founded on love for one another—very different from modern worldly communism. The believers were as brethren in Christ. Tolstoi said, “You cannot have a brotherhood without brothers.”
There were special circumstances that led them to sell all their possessions. The Lord Jesus had predicted judgment on Jerusalem, so what was the use of keeping property? The term “all men” (verse 45) does not mean the unsaved, but the Christian company sharing with one another.
Then look at their habit of life. “They, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread [at home], did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people.” Note that the Christians still met in the temple for worship.
Others saw that something wonderful had taken place. They could not help but see it. “And the Lord added to the church [or, to them] daily such as should be saved.” Oh, if God’s dear people could be found walking in joy and peace before Him, with one accord, continuing steadfast in such sacred fellowship, what an effect it would have on the world outside!