Summary: As we will see from Peter’s Pentecost sermon, the first step in becoming a witness for Christ is experiencing a radical transformation. And Luke’s primary point is this: The radical transformation that results from redemption begins with radical repentance.
As we have made our way through the first chapter of Acts, we saw Jesus refer to the sending of the Spirit as “the promise of the Father” (1:4). This promise was followed by Jesus’ commission of the disciples and His ascension. There were ten days between Christ’s ascension and the day of Pentecost which were filled with praise, prayer, and the replacing of Judas with Matthias.
Last week we saw the event of Pentecost: The sound of the rushing wind, the tongues of fire that rested on their heads, and the tongues that were spoken in the various native languages that were present in the crowd. By the end, the crowd was mixed with some who were amazed while others were skeptical (2:11-13).
This week we begin looking at Peter’s explanation of Pentecost.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
This is the Word of the LORD.
The miracles that accompanied the event of Pentecost were not self-attesting. They needed an explanation just like every other season of miraculous activity. There are three primary seasons of miracles recorded in Scripture: 1) Exodus, 2) Elijah and Elisha, and 3) Jesus and the Apostles. What is consistent about each season is that the miracles were accompanied by new revelation. It would seem—we cannot divorce the miraculous from revelation.
Some read of Pentecost and long to see a similar manifestation again. They long to see the great revival that resulted. But that does not appear to be Luke’s purpose. He records the event recognizing its once-for-all nature. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t long for revival, or a work of the Spirit that results in many conversions.
But, I am emphasizing the danger of obsessing over the signs and miracles that accompanied Pentecost. It is all too easy to focus solely upon the phenomena and neglect the proclamation of the gospel. As James Boice says, “The most important thing is that those who were filled with the Holy Spirit began to be Christ’s witnesses, as he had told them they would be.”1
As we will see from Peter’s Pentecost sermon, the first step in becoming a witness for Christ is experiencing a radical transformation. And Luke’s primary point is this: The radical transformation that results from redemption begins with radical repentance.
First, we will look at A Call to Radical Transformation (14-15). Second, we’ll see A Call to Radical Repentance (16-21).
A Call to Radical Transformation (14-15)
We have already seen Peter as the spokesman of the apostles when he spoke to the company of 120 in 1:15, but now Peter addresses a great crowd (v.14). This is the first of eight speeches he will give in Acts. It is only a summary of Peter’s sermon. It takes less than five minutes to read it entirely. As much as many of you would welcome the idea of having five minute sermons, Peter said “many other words” that Luke did not record (2:40). So don’t get any ideas people!
We should view Peter’s sermon as teaching us to proclaim the gospel to all people. Peter shows us how to preach a biblical, Christ-centered, and evangelistic sermon—from the Old Testament! We see in the sermon how Scripture points to Christ, and how the emphasis is upon the redemption Christ accomplished.
Those “who dwell in Jerusalem” were probably those temporarily present for the Pentecost feast. We begin with Peter’s exhortation for everyone present to listen. Notice that he isn’t making a distinction here between those who are in awe and those who are mocking. He addresses everyone assuming nothing about who will hear with faith.
Then, after having their attention, he addresses those who were mocking with an argument from common sense (v.15). These people are not drunk at 9:00 AM! They haven’t had time to get drunk! Peter and the eleven other apostles stood up and began addressing the crowd—which is filled with many who are in awe and others who are mocking.
Peter’s transformation is remarkable. It wasn’t that long ago that we saw him cowardly responding to accusations that he was associated with Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest. Now he is standing up in front of more than 3,000 people to proclaim the gospel. None other than the Holy Spirit could have brought this transformation about. Peter’s encounter with the risen Lord changed him.
GCPC Vision: We exist to transform the people of Clovis by finding, equipping, and multiplying followers of Jesus Christ for the glory of God. The Westminster Confession speaks of there being no ordinary salvation apart from the church, which implies the task of the church is to proclaim that salvation.
In addition, salvation always involves transformation (becoming a new creation). Not only do we see an example of this in the life of Peter, but we also see it exemplified in the expectations of Peter. He doesn’t withhold his explanation from anyone, even those who were mocking them.
Later on in Acts, we will see the disciples proclaiming the truth in the face of persecution. And in Stephen’s case, the result was his execution by stoning. How often, in each of these cases, did the cause of the gospel advance? It seems like every time an apostle opened his mouth someone was being converted. Persecution didn’t slow church growth. In fact, all indications are that persecution results in the expansion of the church.
The first part of Peter’s sermon is apologetic in nature. He assumes that a hostile crowd can be challenged and transformed.
Have you experienced that same result? Does the Spirit’s work in your life stir up in you a desire to proclaim the gospel to others? Even in the face of persecution? I know several of you do. You talk to me about conversations you’re having and invite me to pray with and for you.
But I also know that many of us are fearful at the prospect of evangelism. We want to be like the Peter of Pentecost, but we are often the cowardly Peter in the courtyard, doing anything to not be associated with Christ.
Peter knew the Old Testament and his study of it shines through in his sermon. If we are going to be effective witnesses, we must know the Bible. We cannot simply rely upon our charm or skilled rhetoric. He knew God’s Word. He quoted it without shame and filled with the Spirit.
Peter’s experience can speak to us on so many levels:
- We are not trapped by our past. Nor do our present circumstances dictate what will be true of us tomorrow.
- Peter’s experience may have given him the confidence to look directly into the eyes of the mockers and say, “Listen up!” Of the 3,000 conversions that day, how many mockers became witnesses?
- You might have denied Christ yesterday, but you can accept Him today! Your radical transformation can begin right now!
But radical transformation is only possible if you have ears to hear…
A Call to Radical Repentance (16-21)
It begins with a recognition of our sin. Luke is rapidly moving in that direction, but even this quote from the apocalyptic text of Joel begins to set the tone. This passage comes from a text that calls the nation of Judah to wake up to their need to radically repent.
Locusts have invaded the land in waves (Joel 1:4). This was a matter of life and death for most people. As the crops were devastated the animals were starving to death as well. They were in a desperate situation.
But Joel doesn’t bring a word of comfort like you and I might today. We might want to provide everyone with the assurance that we will pull through. Don’t worry! This too shall pass. Joel doesn’t give those kinds of assurances. The first half of the book is to say that the plague of locusts are merely a foretaste of a greater judgment that will come—the final judgment.
However, there is a message of hope in the midst of the text. The bad news for Judah is the locusts pointed to the fact that they had become God’s enemy! The good news is they could avoid judgment through repentance (Joel 2:12-13). There would be a blessing when God would pour out his Spirit. This blessing had begun at Pentecost! The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Church. It was being fulfilled at that very moment, before their very eyes.
“Last days” (v.17) – In Joel the phrases simply reads “after these things.” The “last days” was an expression that referred to the ‘last act of history’ and the salvation/judgment that would take place during that era. This is the inauguration of the last days. From Christ’s first coming until His return is considered the last days.
The Spirit will be poured out. We see this phrase two times. It is reminiscent of Moses’ desire to see all the Lord’s people prophesying (Num. 11:29).
Prophecy, vision, dreams—Fall upon men and women, young and old, even the servants. These “last days” are characterized by an extending of the ministry of the Spirit without distinction for sex, age, or rank.
My tendency is to want to play a little game of word association. What is the “blood” referring to? Or the fire and vapor of smoke? How about the darkness and the blood moon? Some suggest Jesus’ earthly ministry is in view (c.f. 2:22). Some think several of these were fulfilled at that very event along with the pouring out of the Spirit. Others think they refer to the apostolic miracles we will see later in the book of Acts. And still others see these events as occurring just prior to Christ’s return. Most people see some combination of these.
In Joel the outpouring of the Spirit is only part of the event. And before judgment falls there will be the opportunity to repent. Poetic literature often speaks metaphorically. We should not demand word-for-word fulfillment—such that each word is attached to a particular event or person. Several of the commentaries I read began to do that, but unsurprisingly, there was some significant disagreement. Unless Scripture plainly lays that out for us, we cannot know with any certainty what correlations are in the author’s mind.
Over speculation can divert us from our mission—the opportunity to proclaim the gospel. Rather than quibble over the correct timing of these signs (past, present, or future), we should keep the big picture in view. Here’s what we can be certain about. The “day of the Lord” as God’s universal judgment has not occurred yet. In the meantime, we should consider today the day of salvation! The primary point is this great opportunity we have to preach Christ between Pentecost and His return. Let us not squander this opportunity.
John Murray says, “Repentance consists essentially in change of heart and mind and will…respecting God, respecting ourselves, respecting sin, and respecting righteousness.” Repentance, of this type, is not possible apart from regeneration. In other words, repentance is linked to the work of the Spirit. When the Spirit comes there will be repentance. That’s exactly what we see in response to Pentecost (2:38).
There is a sense of urgency. This is a matter of life and death—eternally! Thomas writes, “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.”2
Radical transformation results in redemption that begins with radical repentance.
Could you imagine being there and hearing Peter recite this passage and realize that it is being fulfilled in your hearing? I could imagine getting goosebumps as a familiar text, one that had been around for at least 600 years, foretold the events taking place that very day!
Do you realize that every time a sinner calls upon the name of the Lord—this prophecy is fulfilled in our midst? His concluding promise, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” was and is still being fulfilled. There is an ongoing fulfillment as people cry out to the Lord for salvation and receive the Spirit. May this be true on a regular basis for us! Pray with me to that end.
1 James Boice, Acts, 47.
2 Thomas, Acts.