Peter’s Sermon at Pentecost
By Rob Shaver
It had been 50 days since the Passover during which Jesus was crucified. Now, Jews from near and far were gathered again in Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks, exactly seven weeks and one day since the presentation of the wave offering on the Sabbath of the Passover week.
The disciples, too, were gathered together in Jerusalem on this day when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in many foreign languages, drawing a lot of attention, causing quite a commotion, and giving Peter an opportunity to preach the sermon that Luke records for us in Acts 2:14-41.
Peter would explain that just as the miracles Jesus had performed were evidence that Jesus was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah, so now God was displaying his power as a sign that the people must repent and put their faith in Jesus, whom they had put to death.
That day, God added about 3,000 believers to their numbers.
To begin his sermon, Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32:
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
This passage from Joel is well-chosen. The words “In the last days…” signal the beginning of a new era, the institution of a new covenant made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
God says, “I will pour out my Spirit (v. 17) …”. The public display of the Spirit through the apostles’ tongues is the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy; it was foretold long ago. Rather than being the result of drunkenness, it is a perfectly reasonable and understandable miracle. The contradiction of “reasonable and understandable” with “miracle” cracks me up, but it isn’t out of line with what Peter is saying: If you believe in God, and you believe in the prophets, then believe that what God said long ago through Joel is happening right now. In Acts 3:12, Peter heals a lame man. Then he asks the astonished crowd, “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?” Not only is God capable of healing a lame man, he “foretold these days (3:24)” long ago through the prophets.
Joel goes on to foretell “wonders” and “signs” that will accompany the last days. Peter connects this to Jesus, who “was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs… (v.22).” Jesus had, of course, performed miracles, which were the evidence of who he was. They were his credentials.
- The Apostle John tells us that when Jesus changed water into wine, “He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him (John 2:11).”
- When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Christ, Jesus told them to “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me (Matt. 11:4-6).”
- When the unbelieving Jews picked up stones to kill Jesus for the blasphemy of claiming to be God’s son, Jesus replied, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me? … Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father (John 10:31-32; 37-38.)”
But Jesus also spoke of the inability of miracles to convince people that he was who he said he was.
- After Jesus fed the 5000, they went looking for him across the lake. He told them, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill (John 6:26).”
- Matthew records Jesus’ warning to those who stubbornly refused to believe: “Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Matt. 11:20-21).”
- When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, “…many of the Jews… put their faith in him (John 11:45).” But others reported to the Pharisees what Jesus had done. “So from that day on they plotted to take his life (John 11:53).”
Now, God was performing another miracle through his disciples in front of all Jerusalem. How would the people respond this time?
Joel’s prophecy ends with a warning and a word of hope. In the last days, in addition to the outpouring of God’s Spirit, ominous signs will appear: “…blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood… (Acts 2:20).” These signs will precede “…the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord (v. 20).” For the unfaithful, the unrighteous, the unbelieving, these signs herald certain doom. But there is hope: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (v. 21).”
Peter says that God knew exactly what he was doing when he handed Jesus over to the people. It was part of his plan or “set purpose.” God was in control. But the people, “with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” God accomplished his purpose by handing Jesus over to the people; the people were guilty of killing the Son of God.
Peter’s concluding sentence in verse 36 restates it this way: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Through the death and resurrection of Christ (which Peter also explains from the scriptures), God has made him whom the people crucified the savior and ruler of the world. Stated another way, God accomplished his plans to exalt Jesus and save us from our sins by allowing sinful people who needed forgiveness to kill Jesus so that the people could then be saved from their sins, including the sin of putting Jesus to death.
Putting aside this logical conundrum, we must not miss Peter’s message: for the people who had put to death God’s only son, the coming of the day of the Lord will be terrifying. In keeping with the scripture, this Jesus, whom they had killed, has been raised to life. God has made him both Lord and Christ, and he will return to judge the world. But there is good news – this is all part of God’s plan to save the world, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already… (John 3:16-18).”
Clearly, Peter’s message resonated with the people. “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart… (v. 37).” The Spirit was working in their hearts by using Peter’s words to convict them. Here we see the dual nature of evangelism. We plant the seeds, but God makes them grow (see Mark 4:26-29). God sends people out to share the gospel, but he is the one who brings the lost to himself. As Paul said in Romans 10:14-15, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
Or, as Jesus said in Matthew 9:37-38, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
How, then, are we to take Peter’s message today? It depends on who is listening. For the lost in need of salvation, the call to repent is just as urgent now as it was then. As the writer of Hebrews said, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God (3:12).” God is alive, and he raised Jesus from the dead so that we can be forgiven and saved. This Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. So, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts… (Heb. 3:15, quoting Psalm 95:7,8).”
Finally, the people clearly understood the mistake they had made in putting Jesus to death. Desperately hoping that it wasn’t too late to turn to God and do the right thing, they asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “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 (Acts 2:38).” We, too, must respond to this call to salvation, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).” “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23).” Call on the name of the Lord and you will be saved.
For those who have already received God’s grace and forgiveness, the importance of sharing the gospel and calling the lost to repentance is just as urgent now as it was then. The great and glorious day of the Lord will come; it will be exciting and awesome for the faithful, and it will be certain doom for the lost. The fields are ripe, so ask God to send out workers to bring in the harvest. Let us work while there is still time, because there is hope, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”