The Point: Jesus died for our sins, rose again, and reigns as Lord.
Peter’s Testimony to Jesus: Acts 2:22-38.
 "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know–  this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.  For David says concerning him, "’I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;  therefore 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.  You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’  "Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne,  he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.  This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.  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.  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "’The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand,  until I make your enemies your footstool.’  Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."  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?"  And Peter said to them, "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. [ESV]
“This section of Acts is the first of fifteen sermons recorded by Luke. In addition to the address in chapter 1, there are a further seven by Peter, five by Paul, and one each by Stephen and James. In addition, Luke records four of Paul’s defense speeches. Obviously, Luke provides only a summary of what Peter actually said. It would take less than five minutes to read this passage but Luke suggests that there were many other words that he did not record [2:40]. What we may conclude is that this sermon was basically an exposition of many texts of Scripture centered on a common theme. It is an example of how to bring an Old Testament text that is rooted in a redemptive-historical setting into the present. More especially, it is an example of how to preach Jesus Christ from the Old Testament. Even though Pentecost was a disclosure of the Holy Spirit’s ministry, more crucially it was a continuation of the ongoing ministry of the ascended Jesus Christ. Having brought us to Jesus Christ, Peter makes an evangelistic appeal to his listeners to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. The summary sermon is expositional, Christological, and evangelistic. This sermon is not a piece of arid theology, of interest merely to ivory-tower theologians. On the contrary, this is news driven home to the hearts of men and women insisting that what is at stake is a matter of life and death. There is a sense of urgency. Something needs to be done and done right away! And it has everything to do with the identity and mission of Jesus Christ who, only six weeks ago, was crucified and buried in this city. It had something to do with salvation [2:21,40]. But what precisely is the meaning of Pentecost? The mighty rushing wind, the divided tongues, the phenomenon of tongues-speaking whereby visitors to Jerusalem heard the gospel in their own native language – what did all these things mean? The answer, for Peter, lay in an exposition of a prophecy in Joel, as well as several other Old Testament passages [14-36]. As Peter preached the first New Testament, post-Pentecost sermon, several issues became clear.
The Holy Bible: One Book with One Message. Peter had been reading the Scriptures again. In Acts 1, because of what he had seen in Psalms 69 and 109, we saw him insisting to the disciples on the replacement of Judas so that the number of the apostles would be restored to twelve again. Now it was the prophecy of Joel that was on his mind. We notice that Peter looked to Scripture in order to understand the present. Peter had come to understand Pentecost as fulfillment of a part of Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28-32. What had occurred that morning in the temple was no more and no less than what the Scriptures foretold. This is fundamentally important for us to understand: the Bible writers of the New Testament were deeply conscious of continuing the story of redemption that had begun in Eden. The Bible is one book, with one message, with one principal Author – the Holy Spirit. True, there are sixty-six separate books in the Bible, and two quite distinguishable sections – Old and New Testaments. It was written over a period of approximately fifteen hundred years by authors working, largely, independent of each other. Yet we bind these up in one book and call it The Holy Bible! The reason is simple – because it has one harmonious and organic unity. Books written centuries apart seem to be designed to illuminate each other. It is because the Bible possesses this unity of thought and purpose that we can use any part of it in our Christian worship and preaching. The story of redemption is told on every page of Scripture. For Peter, as he cites Joel and as he will later in the sermon cite from Psalms 16 and 110 in attesting to the identity of Jesus Christ, the Bible is God’s Word; it has divine authority. It is not merely a record of the spiritual experiences of others. It may be, in one sense, a record of what men like Joel and David wrote. But God wrote through these men, so that what was written was God’s Word no less than it was men’s words [2 Peter 1:21]. Peter, then, provides us with a model of what preaching is: exposition of God’s written Word with a view to applying it to the present and preparing us for the future. Such preaching has the blessing of God upon it.
A Conviction about History. It would seem that Peter had a conviction about the significance of this day – the day of Pentecost. He had come to appreciate that it was a day that God had predicted would occur, just as the death of Jesus had been. Calvary had been brought about by men’s wickedness. Peter does not attempt to remove or undermine the responsibility of those in Jerusalem who had taken part in the crucifixion. They were lawless men [2:23], living in a crooked generation [2:40], who were fully responsible for their actions. But at the same time, the hand of God had guided history toward this point. However bad that day was (in one sense, it was the most evil day the world has ever seen), the crucifixion took place according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God [2:23]. For Peter, Pentecost was part of the unfolding of God’s plan of redemption to save sinners. We should understand history – past, present, and future – from the perspective of the Bible. When we appreciate this perspective, it is life-transforming. Every day takes on a sense of purpose and meaning because God has his hand in it. Pentecost was a singularly important day, an unrepeatable day in one significant sense: on no other day does Jesus pour forth the Spirit. Jesus ascends and requests of His Father that the Holy Spirit be poured out in response to His finished work at Calvary. In citing Calvary in this way, Peter sensed a divine hand at work in the universe that even the sinful machinations of the ungodly cannot thwart. Nothing can ultimately undo the mighty purposes of God. Pentecost was further proof that God’s covenantal promises are trustworthy. God’s overruling the end of Jesus’ crucifixion gives us hope of His sovereign love in the evils we are called upon to endure.
A Conviction about Jesus. Not only did Peter reveal a confidence in the Scriptures and a conviction about the events of history that had just unfolded that day, he was saying something in particular about Jesus! What the men and women in Jerusalem witnessed that morning was mighty works and wonders and signs of the identity of Jesus [2:22]. They corroborated His divine nature. They spoke of Jesus’ power and transcendence. They point to Jesus. The outpouring of God’s power at Pentecost, revealed in miraculous signs and wonders, served to testify both to the divine commission of the Messiah and His apostolic delegates and to God’s intention to destroy the gates of hell [Matt. 16:18]. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit came as a result of the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God [Acts 2:33]. It was to Jesus Christ, not the Holy Spirit, that Peter drew attention. He spoke of Jesus’ life and ministry, His death and resurrection, and finally His exaltation. There is no mention yet of the theological significance of the cross, but there is a sense in which salvation cannot be achieved without it. There is also a sense in which the entire life of Jesus, His active obedience (fulfilling the demands of the law as the last Adam) as well as His passive obedience (in His substitutionary death on behalf of sinners in which He bore the covenant anathema upon Himself), is required. Peter and Paul expand on these themes in the course of the Acts of the Apostles as they grow in their understanding in response to further illumination and revelation by the Holy Spirit. Resurrection received the greatest stress in Peter’s sermon. David had written in Psalm 16:8-11 that God would not abandon him to the grave or let his Holy One see corruption [2:27]. But Peter’s listeners could walk from the temple to where David’s tomb (and corrupted body) was located. So David himself did see decay. Of whom, then, did David write? Of Jesus! In the resurrection, God delivered Jesus from the power and curse of death that was in force until the moment He was raised. By the resurrection, Jesus was delivered from wrath to grace. By it, He was vindicated or justified [1 Tim. 3:15], and declared to be the Son of God in power [Rom. 1:4]. The resurrection of Jesus becomes, in effect, the essence of what is meant by redemption, regeneration, and adoption. This is why the New Testament sometimes speaks of our experience of salvation as a spiritual resurrection: as believers God has raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus [Eph. 2:6]. This is something we enjoy now. The resurrection of Jesus means that we who are believers already experience resurrection life. Peter’s use of these psalms, pointing out the impossibility of interpreting them as something merely of David, is deeply instructive on many levels, not least in providing for us a key to seeing Christ in the Old Testament. Peter shows that we cannot interpret these psalms one way, when being sensitive to their setting in the Old Testament, and then another way, when they are cited in the New Testament. These psalms only ever had one meaning – a meaning that becomes more fully manifest with the coming of Christ! The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost did not take believers beyond Jesus to something else, something mystical. The Spirit came to enable them to say, Jesus is Lord [1 Cor. 12:3].
A Conviction about the Need for Salvation. What shall we do? The people cried in response to Peter’s preaching [2:37]. Sermons should always be like this – leading people to a sense of their need. We should not think that the question necessarily reveals a works-righteousness mentality on the part of those who asked this question. After all, what Peter told them to do, Repent and be baptized was something they needed to do. Peter’s preaching had shown that things were not right between them and God. Something was desperately out of sorts. They were cut to the heart [2:37]. They were urged to do two things in order that their sins might be forgiven: repent and be baptized [2:38]. The word repent stresses the change of mind that is necessary. A radical reappraisal has taken place of our standing before God, and we have come to understand that something is wrong and out of accord. A new attitude toward sin has been formed. Sin is seen as something that has brought about the death of Jesus Christ. A new understanding of who God is has also been formed. God is holy and righteous. It was by the set purpose of God that Jesus had been put to death [2:23]. Something in the very character of God required the horror of Calvary in order that sin be forgiven. Peter also urged them to be baptized. It stands to reason that their baptism in this instance followed their repentance and faith. Baptism pictured outwardly what was true of those who repented inwardly: forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
A Conviction about Urgency. Pentecost has ushered in the last days [2:17]. It is a mistake to confine the expression the last days to the time period that is to occur just prior to Christ’s second coming. The entire period between the two advents – incarnation and second coming – comprises the last days. Peter, therefore, understood Pentecost and the pouring out of the Spirit as having inaugurated the end. Something of the final state of existence has broken into this world of time and space; the “not yet” has already perforated the “now”. There is a sense of urgency here. We are living in the last days, and the next great redemptive event is the second coming, the date of which is unknown to us. The need to be right with God is pressing. It is the most burning issue we can face. About three thousand were added that day . What accounts for the large number of conversions? If you read through this sermon, or if it is read in church, do you think the mere reading of this passage would produce the same results? Of course not! What happened on the day of Pentecost was a work of the Holy Spirit. He disturbed their hearts. He brought them under conviction. He drew them to Jesus Christ. Pentecost was a sovereign work of supernatural power. It is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts [Zech. 4:6]. Pray for such a work of the Spirit in our day.” [Thomas, pp. 39-52].
Questions for Discussion:
1. The sermons in Acts suggest outlines we can follow in explaining the good news to others. Summarize what Peter asks the Jews to believe and do, and why they should do these things? How can you use Peter’s sermon in witnessing to unbelievers?
2. Why does Peter mention God’s definite plan and foreknowledge of God in 2:23? Why is it important for us to remember? What comfort and assurance can we draw from this truth?
3. Why did Jesus’ resurrection receive the greatest stress in Peter’s sermon? Why is the truth of the historical resurrection essential for the Christian faith [see 1 Cor. 15:12-28]?
Acts, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.
The Acts of the Apostles, David Peterson, Pillar, Eerdmans.
The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter Varsity.
Acts, Derek Thomas, REC, P & R Publishing.