As you know, the most powerful earthquake in forty years erupted under the sea, off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, on December 26th. The quake unleashed what we now know of as a “tsunami;” that is a series of waves that can travel through the ocean with speeds over five hundred miles per hour. They can crest upon the shore with ninety to one-hundred foot high waves. Today the estimated death toll of this tsunami in south central Asia is over 150,000 men, women, and children, with thousands still missing. Indonesia alone reports 655,000 people without homes. When we consider the number of those dead, it amounts to the population of the community in which we live.
As Christians thinking through this tragedy we are forced to ask ourselves, “How should I respond as a Christian? What should I do?” Three actions come to mind. First, we can give money. We can immolate the nine year old boy who gave up his birthday party and asked him mom to give $250.00 to children in Asia. Next week we plan to take up a special offering for the missionaries and churches there to give relief. Second, we can pray. We can see the devastation on our television set, and instead of groaning in pity we can groan in pray, knowing that God answers prayer. We can pray that God’s mercy will be upon the people and we can pray that the missions in that region will have an open door of opportunity to speak of the grace of God and the sovereignty of God in the midst of this darkness; to speak of the hope that Jesus offers. We can pray for Christians to have opportunities as well in the midst of all this despair.
It is the third action that we turn our focus upon in this study, that is, we can proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we are. Physical happenings in our lives, in the world, and in the news should prod us, to awaken us to the opportunities we have to share the Gospel. Also, it is a necessity of proclaiming this Gospel. Such a tragedy as this causes me to ask, “How many of those 150,000 people who died, died without ever hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” How many around us could be taken just as quickly with us having no opportunity in the future to share the Gospel and proclaim the Gospel to them.
How many are asking questions, even in our own community, because of the tragedy regarding life, regarding eternity, questions for which the Gospel holds the answer.
There is a principle throughout Scripture that God intends for physical circumstances, both favorable and unfavorable, to awaken us to the opportunities to proclaim the Gospel and the necessity of proclaiming this Gospel. These physical reminders are all around us: terrorists hijack planes and crash them into the World Trade Center towers, young men and women die in Iraq defending our freedom, a hurricane rips open homes in Florida, and a little baby dies. It is not just the sorrowful physical circumstances that awaken us to Gospel ministry, but it is the pleasurable ones as well: a new baby is born, a couple covenants to join together as husband and wife for the rest of their lives, a friend celebrates his fiftieth birthday, a family purchases a new home. All of these physical circumstances are meant to remind us of a spiritual truth and that spiritual truth is that we have opportunities all around us to share the Gospel and that there is a necessity to proclaim this Gospel, of making it our passion and our focus within our lives.
Do you see how all of these circumstances open up opportunities and remind us to be fishers of men? Peter certainly did in Acts 3. Peter observed that this tremendous physical circumstance of the healing of this lame man became for him an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and remind him of the necessity of proclaiming the Gospel to these people who were gathered around wondering, “What is this physical circumstance all about,” as they saw this man who had been born lame, and for more that forty years had been crippled and had been assigned to begging, was now walking about and leaping for joy.
In Acts 3:11, it says,
While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.
A crowd had gathered on a section of the temple mount called Solomon’s Colonnade. It was an outdoors structure with double rows of marble columns and it had a roof of cedar. It was underneath this portico that people had gathered around these three men – Peter, John, and this lame man who had been made well. If this was us, and we were in Peter’s and John’s sandals, how might we respond and what would we talk about to this crowd? Peter could have talked about his own personal experience. He could have said, “Listen, I was born a simple fisherman, but now I God has made me into a worker of miracles. This is amazing. Let me tell you about what happened in my life.” By this, he would have fallen into the emphasis of the faith healers that we see on television.
Peter could have talked about the miracle itself. He could have said, “Listen, something amazing and powerful has happened. Gather around this man. You remember what his legs looked like before. Look at them now. Feel his legs and see the wholeness in them.”
He could have asked the man to give his testimony of his experience. This strategy of asking the man to get up and talk certainly drawn a crowd, and it certainly would have caused more people to gather around, but Peter didn’t do any of these things. What did Peter do?
Peter perceived that this physical healing was an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel and focus upon Jesus. It didn’t matter what his experience was and it didn’t really matter what the lame man’s experience was. What really mattered was that these people around them would hear about Jesus and here was a physical circumstance that caused a crowd to gather around and ask questions for which only the Gospel had an answer. Peter realized that and began to proclaim Jesus. In so doing, he communicated for essential elements of any Gospel message. It is the second sermon in the Book of Acts, and just as the first, it becomes a model for us and it is a model for what the Gospel is and what we must proclaim if we are to follow the apostles and the prophets of old in proclaiming this great message that God has entrusted to us.
What are these four elements: first, the Gospel explains who Jesus is and what He has done. Second, the Gospel confronts our sin. Third, the Gospel calls us to repentance, to faith. And fourth, the Gospel provides Gods eternal blessing.
Let’s look at the first element – the Gospel explains who Jesus is. It is all about Him. In Verse 12,
When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”
The Gospel refuses to glorify anyone else except Jesus and Peter recognized that he and John were on the verge of having a personality cult rise up right there on that day. If he could heal a lame man who had been lame from birth, the people would be interested and attracted to him and follow him, so he says, “Wait a second, guys, why does this surprise you? It is a though you are acting as if we were the ones; the power came from us and our own godliness.” The truth is that the Gospel resists any attempt to put the name of the human messenger in the lights. The Gospel any attempt to bring glory to the man or woman who is delivering the message. I urge you to be aware of pastors, teachers, radio personalities who put their names first and foremost, who would name their ministries after themselves or their radio programs after themselves. Do you ever hear about “Ritch Boerckel Ministries” or “Ritch Boerckel Fellowship Classes,” know that the wheels have gone off of the truck.
The Gospel’s affect upon us is to reject anything that glorifies us. That is why as long as Dwight L. Moody was alive it was called “Chicago Bible Institute”. It was only after he died that they got away with naming it “Moody Bible Institute,” because Dwight L. Moody wouldn’t have any of that.
Peter is saying, “This miracle should not surprise you, not when you understand who Jesus is so let’s talk about that.” Notice throughout this message the number of names Peter uses to describe this One called Jesus. First, he says, “This one is God’s Servant.” Again, look at Verse 13:
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.
He is speaking to a group of very educated Jewish people who knew the Scriptures so when he called Jesus, “His servant,” immediately their minds went back to the Scriptures because that is exactly what God called the Messiah who was to come in the Old Testament. Turn back to Isaiah. I believe that Peter had been meditating upon Isaiah because so much of his message comes from Isaiah. In Isaiah 52:13-14, God is saying,
13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—
Isaiah is talking about “His Servant” who would one day suffer under the hands of man to the point where His figure would be beyond to be able to be viewed as human, and yet, he calls Him, “My Servant”.
We jump into Chapter 53, that great chapter regarding the “Suffering Servant,” and we begin with Verse 2:
1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
If you understand why Peter, in this sermon, is going to say, “Listen, this is the One who is His Servant, Jesus,” because he recognized that Jesus fulfilled completely everything that is happening in Chapters 52 and 53 regarding this Promised One who is to come and who would bear the weight of the sins of the world, but this was something that the people themselves did not yet come to grips with. After all, they had just, not too long in the distant past, just crucified this One in rejection of Him being as being God’s Servant. Peter is saying all along, “Listen, this is what the Scripture has told that would happen to Him.” This is a title that Jesus would take upon Himself as He would say in Mark 10:45:
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Let’s look at the second title that Peter refers to in speaking Jesus. In Acts 3:14, he says,
“You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.”
This is another Messianic title, “The Holy and Righteous One,” that is given to the One that is to come all throughout the Old Testament. Let’s look at Isaiah 53:11,
After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
The phrase “and be satisfied” is a reference to the resurrection. We continue in Isaiah 54:5,
For your Maker is your husband— the LORD Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.
Twenty-seven times in the prophesy of Isaiah, Isaiah will refer to this Messiah as “The Holy One of Israel”. It is a title that first identifies this Jesus as the Messiah who had come to redeem this people who had rejected Him, but it is also a title that describes His absolute sinless perfection, that He is God Himself. “Who is holy but God,” the Scripture would ask. Here is One who is to come, who is to be born in this world, who is going to be given the title, “The Holy One”, and if that is not enough, let’s look at the third title that is ascribed to Jesus. In Acts 3:15, Peter says,
“You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.”
Again, who could stand up in front of a crowd and say, “I am the author of life”? Would such a one be a good teacher and be respected among men. No, if he is not God, because only God can make that claim: “I am the Author of life.” This is what Peter is ascribing to Jesus, saying, “Listen, this One who came was fully man, but He was also fully God. He was the Holy One of Israel. He was God’s Servant, and He was the Author of life itself.”
John’s Gospel begins this way:
3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life…
This is a clear claim to deity. God’s Gospel first tells us about Jesus, who He is and what He accomplished. What does it tell us about Jesus? It tells us that he was “fully man” and “fully God.” It tells us that He lived a sinless life; that He was the “Holy One,” “the Righteous One.” This Gospel tells us that He suffered as a Servant. He died upon the cross for sin. He bore our iniquity. This Gospel also tells us that the grave could not hold Him; He arose the third day and He is coming again to establish His Kingdom, to rule and to reign as King, as the Rightful Ruler. That is what this Gospel proclaims about Jesus – it is all about Jesus.
There are a couple of practical applications: first, I urge you to pursue knowledge of Jesus, to fix your eyes upon Jesus who is the Author and Finisher of your faith. The Christian faith is not primarily an intellectual exercise of knowing certain facts, or even certain teachings. It is first and foremost about loving God in Jesus, in knowing in Him, and in delighting in Him. We must not reduce the Christian faith into some ethical system, or even to a theological construct.
When we consider other faiths in this world, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and so on, these “religions” are truly nothing but teachings. That is all they are. They don’t make any greater claim than to have teachings of how to live life and what will happen if you do live life in the way they prescribe.
Christianity in not merely a religious point of view on how to live life, Christianity is a personal union with living, real Jesus Christ and that personal union with Jesus that comes through faith results in a radical transformation of life. But, it is all about Jesus, you see. If we take Jesus out of the Gospel and we make it only doctrinal statements, we have ungospelized the Gospel. That is a statement from Charles Spurgeon. We have taken the Good News, because the Good News is not just merely these doctrinal truths and doctrinal statements, the Good News is that there is a real Savior, and His name is Jesus, and He loves us, and He offers that we can be in Him and He in us in this dramatic union with Him.
If Christianity has become only an intellectual fascination for you, if it has become a religious interest, then you are missing the Gospel completely. If Christianity is of interest to you because it helps you with your marriage, your finances, the struggles in life, the temptations, the pain that you have to go through, then you will not be able to know what the Gospel offers you, because the Gospel is not first and foremost about those things. The Gospel is first and foremost about Jesus and it is very sad that the church sells the Gospel in such a way as to make it a list of “to do’s” or “how to’s” to successful living as opposed to pointing people to this real person named Jesus with whom we can have a vibrant relationship.
Peter points people to Jesus as the Living Lord and the Living Savior.
The second application is that the only way to know Jesus is through the Bible. Peter immerses himself in the Scriptures in order to know Jesus. That is apparent all through this sermon, as well as the one we studied earlier. Look at Verse 13, where he talks about
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…
Again, Peter is rooting himself back in Scripture and saying that these men, and the way that God dealt with them through the writings that Moses describes, all of that has come to completion in this One called Jesus. He goes on to say, in Verse 22,
2For Moses said, The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.”
Moses knew about this One called the Messiah and Peter was telling then that he wasn’t introducing any new teaching or person, but he is teaching the One whom God has been instructing and revealing all through Scripture. In Verse 24, Peter says,
“…all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken…”
He gets specific again in Verse 25, with Abraham, by saying,
“…you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’…”
Peter was able to know Jesus because Peter’s mind and heart were immersed in Scripture and he allowed the Scripture to be planted in his soul so that, as he received it, he came into a right understanding of who Jesus is and then into a personal relationship as the Scripture instructed him.
The point of this is: you and I do not have the right to create Jesus after our own image. We don’t have the right to say things like, “I think that Jesus is this,” and “I think Jesus is that.” We don’t have a right to say what we think Jesus is like. God doesn’t give us any privilege or authority to begin to fashion and mold Jesus after an image that we think He should follow. That is what is happening in most of the world today, even in the Christian world. If you read Newsweek, or if you read Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code, there is what you will have – a Jesus that is crafted in the minds of men.
If you want to know Jesus, there is only one source in which to find Him and that is in Scripture. Not only is that the only source, but if you don’t immerse yourself in Scripture you will never really be able to know Jesus because that is how He is known, and how He reveals Himself as the Holy Spirit and interacts with us through His Word. As you study the Bible, read it as you would a love letter from your fiancé. Read it to know the author so that you might love Him more deeply. The Gospel explains who Jesus is and makes us consider Jesus in all avenues in our life.
The second element of this Gospel message is that this Gospel confronts our sin. Peter’s sermon not only centered on Jesus, the person, but also it confronted personal sins in the audience. Four times Peter is going to be most direct with his audience, and I want you to read this very carefully and consider being a member of the audience. Remember, in this audience, undoubtedly was a part of the group that was there shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” They were the ones who were there as Peter talks to them. Notice what he says to them in Verses 13-15:
13”The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.”
That is more than blunt. That is downright meddling. Notice that Peter uses the word “you” four times in these three verses. Can you imagine that this is the crowd that was whipped into such a frenzy not long previous to this, that they had crucified this One who is the Messiah and Peter is standing in the very midst of them and saying to them, “Let me tell you what you did.” He said this in no unclear terms.
I am far more comfortable in talking about sin in the general sense. Let me talk to you about sin in the general sense all day long, but when I start to say things specific about your sin, that is when it gets really tough. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not for those who are unwilling to be confronted with their sin. None of like being confronted with our sin, but if we are unwilling to be confronted with our sin we will never respond rightly to the Gospel.
In the Bible, hundreds of sins are confronted, but notice that the greatest sin of all is specifically named. As an aside, some sins in the Bible are greater than others. Every sin, of course, condemns us before a holy God, but some sins are judged more harshly and this one that Peter mentions as the greatest sin of all is the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ as the Messiah, as the Savior, and as the Lord.
There are two applications here. First, Christians must confront sin even though it seems insensitive to do so. We live in a very sensitive age in this regard. We are at the point where it is wrong to be judgmental, and there is a sense where it is wrong to be judgmental, but so many buy that to mean that it is ever wrong to point out what Scripture says in regards to sin and how that Scripture interacts with your life. Christians, if we are to proclaim the Gospel we must confront sin even though people turn away in anger from us for it.
Some today promote the idea that we should not confront sin strongly; that if we confront unbelievers with their sin then they will turn away from Jesus, and if we would just be more sensitive to them in the confrontation of sin, then they would be more favorable and receive Jesus.
I want you to consider how deeply insensitive Peter’s confrontation was. You and I might confront sin directly. It may seem incredibly insensitive, but certainly I can’t imagine a context where a biblical confrontation with sin would be more insensitive than that one Peter performed that day. I cannot imagine how one could become potentially more offensive to an audience than Peter was that day, and it was done so very boldly. Four times Peter said, “You, you, you, you! This is what you did!” Peter is fearless. He is bold and he does so, not out of anger, hatred, and out of discussed. He does so out of compassion, affection, and the desire for the grace of God to reach even these people.
Someone may say, “I was not there. I did not commit the sins that Peter was addressing. I am not guilty of killing the Author of Life.” Granted, you and I were not there at the execution of Jesus, but each one of us was there spiritually; each one of us sins when the nails were driven into Jesus’ hands. He died to bear your rebellious acts upon His body and you and I are just as guilty. That is the teaching of the Scripture. It is important for us to know what an evil thing your sin is before a Holy God. Each sin is, as Charles Spurgeon calls it, “a God-killing thing.” Every sin rejects God’s rightful authority. Every sin says, “Let there be no God, for I am god.” That is what sin is, and it is a wholly, wicked thing, and if you turn to the Physician you must know that you are deeply, desperately ill for the healthy has no need of a physician, Jesus would say, in Mark 2:17.
Peter did not shoot his arrow up into the air in hopes that it would hit his target. Peter shot it directly at the hearts of the hearers and that is what you and I are called to do if we are to be Gospel ministers. If you wish to know if a church or a teacher is proclaiming the Gospel, I believe that the foremost evidence of that in this day and age is that teacher or pastor or person says directly a confrontation about sin. We need to listen carefully as to what they don’t say about sin. That is my admonition. If we don’t hear them giving a strong confrontation about sin, it doesn’t really matter what else they might say. They might give all the facts of the Gospel. They might even talk about the consequences of not receiving Jesus, but if they don’t confront sin then this huge, essential element of the Gospel is missing.
Thirdly, the Gospel always calls us to repentance. The Gospel reveals our sin, never to leave us in it. Jesus did not come into this to condemn the world but that the world, through Him, might be saved (John 3:17), and that the world through Him might have life. Peter only confronts sin so that the good news of the Gospel and the response to the Gospel might be readily received. So, in Verses 17 an 18, Peter will say,
17“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.
He wanted to tell them that their actions did not foil or alter the plan of God, in fact, God used their rebellious actions to fulfill the very plan that He had created from the very beginning of time to accomplish His eternal purposes. He is calling out them and they ask, “We committed these sins. We have crucified the Author of Life. Is there any hope for us?” The answer to that question from the Gospel is, “Absolutely, yes!” and it is in Verse 19:
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out…”
Peter not only pointed out the sins, but he prescribes specific commands in light of that sin. Once again, it is not enough for us to simply tell what the Gospel is or the results of dying without Jesus. We also must issue the Gospel command: repent, return to God and Jesus, and believe upon Him as Savior and as Lord. We have not communicated the Gospel until we have called people to such a response.
I ask you, in your Gospel ministry, is it often when you turn to that friend and say, “God not only says He loves you and that He died in your place for your sin, but God calls you now to repent of your sin and believe in Jesus.” That is an essential aspect of the Gospel ministry; to seek for a response to call the command of God upon that person to respond to Him in humility, repentance, and in faith.
The last element of the Gospel that we will consider is that the Gospel provides God’s eternal blessing. This is the joy and the fruit of the Gospel. There are three blessings listed in Verse 19:
“…so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…”
This is a reference to national Israel, I believe, that there is a time for the whole nation to be refreshed from their spiritual poverty and to have life and blessing that God had promised them throughout the Old Testament. I believe that Paul also speaks of this refreshing in Romans 11. Also, I believe that it is very personal, that it is possible for every individual to have this time of refreshing that will come from the Lord as they, also, respond to Him in faith, for Jesus Christ said, “For I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) He will not leave us in a deadness of soul or a joylessness of state, but that God would cause a gladness of heart to well up inside us; a time of refreshing.
Then Peter says, in Verses 20 and 21:
20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
The idea is, in Verse 20, as you repent, not only will sins be wiped out and times of refreshing will come, but also, that He may sent Christ who has been appointed to be Jesus, that is to say, there is a coming day when we will experience the blessing of the coming of Jesus Christ, a coming that is immanent, that will be sudden, that will happen at any time. He is calling them to repent that they might be rejoicing in the day the He comes.
Let’s close with a couple of thoughts about forgiveness. Forgiveness is the first blessing that we will receive. The phrase, “wiped out”, is a phrase that is used of erasing a parchment in the 1st Century, of taking that parchment and cleaning so that you couldn’t tell what had been written on it before. The idea is that is it possible for your sin, as heavy as the guilt of that sin might be, as heavy as the load is that you might be carrying, to be completely free. The world is not able to forgive you and free you of the guilt. The world can condemn you for your sin and there are some sins that the world condemns, or the world can overlook your sins and say, “That is not that really a big deal.” But, the world can never relieve you of your sins. There is only one way of having the guilt of sin removed and that is through Jesus Christ who died so that you no longer might be enslaved to that sin, so that you might no longer be condemned by that sin, but that you might truly be free.
Who can forgive sins but God alone? No one can but Jesus Christ. He is the Holy One. He is the righteous One of Israel. He is the God who is able.
Have you personally appropriated Jesus Christ by repenting, turning a purpose from your former life to Jesus Christ who will not only forgive you but will forgive you of all unrighteousness as well? What a delight it is to be clean. I call upon you to respond to the command of God: repent, believe, and be saved.