Text: Acts 2:29-41
Introduction: In the mid 1960s the British show Danger Man made its American debut. It was about a secret agent named John Drake who worked for an Intelligence Agency known only as M9. Honestly I don’t remember much about the show since I was only 7 or 8 at the time. One thing I do recall, however, was the theme song, appropriately entitled “Secret Agent Man” and originally recorded by Johnny Rivers. I suspect that many of you who are a little bit older will remember it as well. Listen to this excerpt. (Play 49 seconds of the song.) From the internet I learned that the principle character (John Drake) was a special agent who was asked to solve cases that neither the CIA nor any other agency was able to resolve. Of course, Drake had some cool little gadgets that he used (most of which could be purchased over the counter) as well as some considerable skills in hand-to-hand combat (which he needed because he almost never carried a weapon). Though I was only a little boy when the show aired, I thought it would be so cool to be Danger Man. And even as a little kid, I knew that John Drake could never reveal his true identity., less some very bad people would find and eliminate him. That’s why Danger Man was a “secret” agent.
Now we’ve been talking about neighboring over the last several weeks, and we’ve focused a lot on taking the initiative to seek out relationships with the people God brings into our lives every day. All along we’ve said that our highest motivation for doing so is love and our highest hope in doing so is faith (faith in Christ born in the people we seek out to love). Today I want to talk a little more about our highest hope…you know, the faith part. While we are called to love people with no strings attached, just because we’re Christians, certainly we know that the best possible life is centered on a relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, the most loving thing we can do for others is introduce them to our Lord. He is, after all, the One who came to bring a better, actually far superior, life to those who believe in Him (See John 10:10 where “abundant” means excessively abundant). If you’ve known Jesus for any amount of time, I’m sure you agree with His claim that the Christian life is the best one possible. No other lifestyle can ever satisfy the deep longings of the human soul. Only a relationship with the Living God can do that. So given that we have really good news to share with our neighbors, something remains a bit of a mystery when it comes to the church. Why is it that Christians can be so reluctant to share the truth of the gospel with others? It turns out that many of us are as secretive about our faith as John Drake (Secret Agent Man) was about his true identity. We keep our faith to ourselves, in spite of the fact that this is a direct contradiction to what the Bible teaches Christians to do. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 16:15 to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” When we’re talking about secret agents, it makes sense that they may find it necessary to conceal the truth about themselves in order to solve major problems in our world, but secret Christians? Really? If we have the best possible news—that Jesus is the Son of God who became a human being, walked with His Father throughout His life, died for our sins and rose from the grave and that through faith in Him we too can have eternal life—how can we keep that a secret from others? Listen to these words by Penn Gillette, one half of the famous Penn and Teller Magic Act. He is a professing atheist, yet he has something very interesting to say about people who quietly go about their lives without seeking to share their faith: “I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? “I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
This morning, in our fifth message in our preaching series I’ve entitled “Neighboring 101” I want to challenge you from the Scriptures to love your neighbors with truth. As I’ve done in every other message, I will be using the term “neighbor” not only to refer to those who live near you, but to family, friends, co-workers and anyone else that you rub shoulders with … including strangers. Let’s open our Bibles to Acts 2:29-41 and see what the truth can do for those with whom we are willing to share it.
Just by way of some background to this passage, Peter preached a great sermon in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost to explain what was happening as Christ’s followers were first filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign tongues. He started with a quote from the prophet Joel (2:28) to help them understand that they were now living in the last days (And it shall come to pass afterwards that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams; and your young men shall see visions). Then Peter shared with them some of the details of Jesus’ final hours. He explained how the Lord was crucified and killed according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, and three days later rose from the dead. This all happened in fulfillment of ancient prophecies regarding the son of David found in the Old Testament. As you look at this passage you see that Peter was determined to stick to the truth because he recognized its power to touch the lives of his listeners. What was it about the truth of the gospel that Peter saw so clearly?
I. He saw how the truth could persuade them Sharing the truth of the Gospel with unbelievers is the most important task of the church. Remember what Paul said about it in Romans 1:16. He called it the power of God for salvation to those who would believe. It helps people understand what God did to reconcile them to Himself. Here at the end of his sermon, Peter shares three credible sources of truth to support his claims about Jesus which he knows the Jews won’t reject.
A. The testimony of the Scriptures. Look with me for a moment at the last part of Peter’s speech in Acts 2:29-31 — “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. Appealing to some well known passages from Hebrew Scriptures, Peter reminded his fellow Jews of what was said about David, the second King of Israel. God declared that from him would come the promised Messiah. In fact, before he died, David received a solemn promise from God that one of his descendants would sit on his throne (Psalm 132:11–The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne”). This person would be the one who would not be abandoned to the grave, nor see decay (Psalm 16:10). Peter continued in verses 34-35. He mentioned another prophecy of David taken from Psalm 110:1. While the first one talked about the resurrection of the Messiah, this one mentioned His ascension and exaltation (He is seated at the right hand of God—See Acts 1:9-11). Together these texts provide us with the first layer of testimony presented by Peter about Jesus’ true identity. Now of course David isn’t the only person in the Old Testament to testify about the coming Messiah, simply the one that Peter refers to in this passage. Just as an FYI, some of the others include Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; 53; Micah 5:2; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Hosea 11:1; Zechariah 9:9, and Malachi 3:1. Peter helped his audience by demonstrating that Christ came in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
B. The testimony of the Apostles (Acts 2:32 — This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses). Peter recognized that Jesus’ resurrection was proof that He was and is the One of whom David spoke! Then, as a second layer of testimony, Peter presented the apostles themselves as eyewitness of these events (1 Corinthians 15:5 — Jesus appeared to Peter and then to the twelve…). According to Old Testament law, it only took two eyewitnesses to confirm something as true (See Deuteronomy 19:15).
C. The testimony of the Jews (Acts 2:33 — 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). As I mentioned earlier, God promised that in the last days He would pour out His Spirit on mankind in Joel 2:28-29. This is exactly what happened during the birth of the church at Pentecost. Now the people were experiencing the truth for themselves as the Holy Spirit filled believers and empowered them to proclaim the glories of God. Application: This is a powerful way to present truth…through the witness of the Old Testament scriptures, the apostles and the people who can’t deny the evidence that God is among them. These three provided Peter with sufficient evidence to proclaim that Jesus was who He claimed to be. And so we have Peter’s summary statement “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
II. He saw that the truth could convict them (Acts 2:37 — 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?”). It’s obvious from the text that Peter’s audience was thoroughly convinced by the witnesses he presented. For the first time they understood that they were responsible for the death of the Son of God. This brought them no small amount of pain. The Bible says that they were cut to the heart—a phrase that meant they were overcome with grief and remorse. “Brothers,” they cried out, “what shall we do?” Having realized that everything they had been taught up to this point in their lives was insufficient in providing answers about how to get rid of the guilt of their sin, they had no more answers! This is why they suddenly had ears to hear when Peter spoke. They are not the last ones in the Bible to ask this question by the way. The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas a very similar one — Sirs, what must I do to be saved — Acts 16:30. And again in Acts 22:10, when Paul, the persecutor of Christians, encountered Christ — He asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” This is a common reaction when people begin to grasp the truth about Christ. They start to understand that their sin contributed as much to the death of the Son of God as anyone else’s. Application: There’s a good reason for this. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit comes to “convict the world of guilt (the phrase “convict of guilt” is actually one word and it has the idea of ‘putting someone to shame’)” with regard to sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). Now shame is a good (though unpleasant) emotion because it tells us that we are guilty. The dictionary defines it as feelings of humiliation or distress caused by the conscious awareness of wrong-doing. In God’s scheme this is what the Holy Spirit does for unbelievers. He makes our sin so real to us that we are overcome by it. Illustration: John Ensor says in his book “The Great Work of the Gospel” this about shame: When I was a teenager, I stole a hat. What is worse, I arrived at the store with a wad of cash in my pocket. Staring at the price tag, I thought, Hey, why should I spend my money on that hat? I can get it for nothing by pinching it, then save my money for something else. As I headed for the door, the store manager stopped me. I [suddenly] wished I were dead. The manager saw I was not yet a hardened criminal and sent me home with instructions to have my parents call him back with the news or he would call the police. I went home to take my lumps. To this day, I remember what my 18-year-old sister said when she overheard me confessing: “How totally embarrassing. I’ve got a brother who’s a thief!” She called me a thief! …[But] becoming ashamed of what we are as a result of what we do is a good thing and a necessary part of getting real about guilt. If you commit adultery, you are an adulterer. If you lie, you become a liar. I stole, and I had become a thief. It led me to my room weeping and ashamed of myself. But that was good! Painful, but good. Did the shame the unbelieving Jews experienced have a positive impact on them as they listened to Peter’s message? Yes—many of them were deeply moved and wanted to know how to remove the stench of their guilt.
III. He saw that the truth could heal them (Acts 2:38-41 — 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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls). Peter responded to their desperate plea by telling them how they could be forgiven of their sin. He called them to repent (turn from their sin to God) and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Baptism in this context meant publicly identifying with our Lord precisely because they had put their faith in Him. Though this passage does not teach that water baptism is necessary for salvation (it is by grace through faith and not as a result of works), it does say something about the importance of being willing to confess Christ to those among whom we live and work. The forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit were not only for the Jews to whom Peter was speaking. Anyone called by God, whether it was their children (i.e. a synonym for the nation of Israel) or the Gentiles (those who are far off), was able to receive God’s grace in Christ. That day, as Peter pleaded with them, 3,000 responded in faith. Application: When he walked the earth, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13). Because Peter, a blue-collar fisherman, recognized the persuasive, convicting and healing power of the truth, God used him that day to restore three thousand sick people to spiritual health in Christ. Now hear me as we draw this message to a close. God used Peter’s presentation of the truth of the Gospel with tremendous effect. He can also use us when we share the same message. LET ME CONCLUDE WITH THESE THREE THOUGHTS.
Application: In Ephesians 4:14, the Apostle Paul warned of cunning and crafty (the same word is used of Satan who deceived Eve by his “cunning” in 2 Corinthians 11:3) men who sought to lead others astray by deceitful scheming (this word is again used to describe the battle strategy of Satan in Ephesians 6:11). He said that the best way to combat these efforts of the enemy was to do the exact opposite in verse 15—speak truth in love so that the hearers may grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ. Let’s break this down into three guiding principles for our application this morning:
- First, if you love your neighbor you must speak. I know this sounds ridiculous, but some of us live as if others, simply by observing our lifestyles, will come figure out that it’s because we’re Christians and then give their lives to Christ as a result. But the Bible doesn’t agree. It says in Romans 10:14 — But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? So we have to start with some honest and loving conversation.
- Second, if you love your neighbor you must speak truth. Because the truth is able to set men free from the awful burden of trying to earn one’s way to heaven (See John 8:32), we must share it even if it makes us (and them) a little uncomfortable in doing so.
- Last, if you love your neighbor you must speak truth in love. The purpose of the Gospel message is to help people understand how much God loves them. When we wrap our presentation of the truth in a relationship filled with love, it can be a very powerful factor in someone coming to faith.
Conclusion: This is a microphone. It serves a very specific purpose. It takes something said by one person (me in this case), and amplifies it so that many people can hear (i.e. you!). You know how it works. (Turn off my mike and talk in a normal conversation tone. Then turn it back on and say the same thing.) For someone who makes a living as a preacher, this is an incredibly helpful device. Otherwise only the people in the first few rows would be able to listen to my message each week. Did you know that we have a spiritual microphone that we can use to help the unbelieving world hear what we have to say? It’s called “love.” When used as a verb it is an action word. I like to define it as self-sacrifice for the good of others. As we love our neighbors the way God loves us, it makes it so much easier for them to hear the truth from the Scriptures. This morning I’m asking you to be a good neighbor and speak truth in love because we know what it can do for others. It can persuade them of the truth of the Gospel message; it can convict them of their sin as the Holy Spirit does His work; and, yes, it can heal them when they repent of their sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ. So, let’s commit to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and watch as God uses your efforts to bring others into His kingdom.