Acts – the clue is in the title. It’s about the Acts of the Apostles, what the early church leaders did, about the early church being set up and spreading. It’s about Christianity on the march. Is our Christianity on the march today? Do others in the community see us as being insular? Christianity on the march suggests action – getting out there. The early Christians did not consider it an action not to march. Jesus Christ said, “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace.” (Acts 18:9).
- What does a Christianity that is on the march do?
We live in a society that is hostile to Christ and the gospel. How do we march? Acts 2 tells us exactly how. Acts chapter 1 links to the end of the gospels. After Jesus’ ascension the disciples are to be witnesses to the ends of the earth but they stay in Jerusalem. Why? Because they are constantly in prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit. ‘And, while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “You heard from me; for John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”’ (Acts 1:4-5).
Chapter 2 is the Day of Pentecost. 120 disciples were altogether in one place. Here we see the wonderful miracle of tongues of fire and the other wonder of wonders, Galileans speaking in other languages. They were filled with the Holy Spirit. There was a mixed reaction to this. Jews from all known corners of the world were there. Some utterly amazed, others made fun of them, saying they were drunk. It’s here Christianity begins its march.
‘But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.’ (Acts 2:14) Peter stands up. This is a very different Peter we see to the Peter of Matthew 26:74 ‘The he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” It is also a very different group of disciples compared with the disciples in this chapter of Matthew. There has been a dramatic change. This is not a Peter who is terrified of what others think of him. He shows remarkable authority. He is standing up physically and spiritually. He sought out Jews who had been mocking them and says, ‘For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.’ (Acts 2:14). It’s customary for Jews not to drink on the Sabbath or during festivals. They would fast, having not eaten or drunk. It was only 9 a.m.
What has brought about this change in Peter and the other apostles? ‘This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.’ (Acts 2:32). These disciples had seen Jesus being crucified on a Roman cross and being brought back to life three days later. Jesus had beaten death, proving He was really who He said He was. The disciples were transformed by the resurrection of Jesus. We serve a risen Saviour. We trust in Christ who lives forever more. As Christians we are going to be resurrected one day because of what Jesus has done. ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.’ (1 Corinthians 15:20-21). This is also seen in 1 Thessalonians 4:16
These disciple weren’t only able to stand up for Christ in front of hostile Jews, Peter and the other disciples stood because they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). The resurrection and ascension of Jesus meant that His promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit would be fulfilled. Peter stood because he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Do we have God in us? Do we crave to be filled by the Holy Spirit in such a way that we can stand for the cause of the cross, whatever the cost?
- Christianity that is on the march has confidence in the Bible (Acts 2:16-21)
The scriptures prophesied what was seen. Peter quotes Joel, ‘”And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.”’ (Acts 2:17). God’s plan for the world is much bigger than you or I think. It includes not just Jews but Gentiles as well. This would have been a very big deal for the crowd. Peter is showing he has confidence in the Bible. He knows he is part of the purpose and promises of God as prophesied in the Old Testament. They have God on their side. They are living out the very purpose of God. They are part of something huge – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as prophesied in the Old Testament.
Peter trusts the Bible. Do we have the same trust in the scriptures? Are we confident that the Bible is the inherent word of God and that we are in the Bible? ‘By grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.’ (Ephesians 2:6). Fantastic! See also John 17:20.
There are over 300 Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ, some in minute detail. Jesus fulfilled everyone to the letter. We need to tell people about them. Do we spend time meditating on it? Does it pepper our conversation? Do we live by it?
- Christianity on the march makes much of the death, resurrection and reign of Christ (Acts 2:22-36).
Peter talks about the historical Jesus, but he is not merely giving a history lesson. There’s one pronoun repeated time and time again here. ‘You.’ Peter makes it personal to his listeners. He’s telling them ‘You saw Jesus yourselves, you put Him to death. Peter is not being subtle! He means for his listeners to see the horror of what they have done. The death of Jesus is not an awful accident. The key phrase is in verse 23, ‘This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.’ God meant for the death of Jesus to happen. Jesus’ death was purposed by God. Christianity on the march makes much of the death of Jesus Christ; it is God’s answer to the world’s greatest problem – sin. Without sin being forgiven we can never be with God. But, the fantastic thing is sin can be forgiven because God planned for Jesus to die as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Do we make much of the death of Christ?
Christianity on the march also makes much of the resurrection of Jesus. ‘God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.’ (Acts 2:24). It is plainly obvious that Peter is at pains to prove that the resurrection of Jesus really did happen and it was also prophesied in the scriptures. Christianity is on the march because the resurrection of Jesus really did happen.
Peter also quotes Psalm 110 in which David points prophetically to Jesus’ resurrection, ‘The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ (Psalm 110:1) The climax can be seen in Acts 2:26, ‘Let all the house of Israel therefore known for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ Christianity is on the march here because God’s plan goes beyond the resurrection of His Son. Peter answers the question of verse 12, ‘What does this mean?’ by showing that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s own answer to the problem of sin and death.
Jesus ascended and poured out His Holy Spirit. Do we have the same confidence? Do we believe in the reign of Jesus Christ? ‘Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the sun, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:9-10).
- Christianity is on the march because it tells the world to repent (Acts 2:37-41).
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, convicts His listeners of their sin and need for righteousness. Peter had just called the listeners murderers. They were not offended. By the Holy Spirit they feel the need of an answer, asking “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They know they are in trouble. In order for us to be saved from our sin we need to see our sin and need. The answer is not popular. Our message is the same as Peter’s, “Repent and be baptised 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.” (Acts 2:38).The people needed to repent. Nobody wants to be told they are wrong, they are sinners. Repentance shows a change of heart. From the mess of our lives we can receive forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Do we ache for the lost to be saved? Do we warn people and plead with them? ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ (Acts 2:40).
What is the result? ‘So for those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.’ (Acts 2:41). Isn’t that what we want – 3,000 added to our number this day!