Tuesday, May 11, 2010
The Gospel Deed and The Gospel Word, Part 2
We are discussing the relationship between good deeds done by Christians in the name of Jesus, and the preached message of the gospel. Our text is Acts chapter 3, in which Peter and John do a gospel deed (take notice of a lame beggar and heal him in the name of Christ) that results in the gospel word (preaching to the amazed crowd). In Part 1 we focused on the gospel deed, and searched Acts 3 for Scriptural guidance in doing acts of compassion (you can read Part 1 here).
We have learned that the gospel deed alone, without the message of the gospel, does not save. We also learned that this does not make the deed unimportant. The Christian is commanded to practice both! The gospel deed prepares the way for the message of Christ; it can be used by God to prepare the soil of the heart to receive the gospel. It also creates an opportunity for the message to be proclaimed (the crowd gathered because of their amazement at the deed). Finally, the gospel deed backs up our preached message and proves that we are not hypocrites; lifestyle of love backs up message of truth.
Now let's focus on the Gospel Word in Acts 3:11-26. Let's learn to preach the gospel from the Spirit-filled Apostle. First, a breakdown of his sermon in Acts 3 and then a summary of what Peter did (and did not) say in his Gospel Word.
A Breakdown of Peter's Sermon:
1."Why do you stare at us?" (v 12). Only moments before Peter had told the lame man to "look at us." Now he asks the crowd why they are staring at them. There is a time to say "look at us" and a time to say "don't look at us." When doing the work of ministry, we need confidence in the Lord, calling men to look at Christ working in us; But when it comes time to give the glory – we need humility, calling men to look at Christ. Peter is quick to say that the apostles' own power or holiness has not healed this man – God did it through Jesus!
Humility in our preaching…
2.Peter draws a distinction between the people's treatment of Christ and God's treatment of Christ (vs 13-14). Just as he did in his sermon at Pentecost, Peter shows how the people have rejected and mistreated Jesus, but God validated him, raised him from the dead and exalted him at his right hand in heaven. In this sermon:
The people's treatment of Christ: Delivered over, denied, chose a murderer instead, killed him.
God's treatment of Christ: Glorified, Raised from the dead.
Man has rejected Christ, but God has exalted Christ. We have rejected his rule in our lives, seeking instead to be our own king. But God will not have several kings battling for the glory; he has set his king on his holy hill (Psalm 2); it is decided: Jesus is King! We must repent and agree with God's revelation of who Christ is and what he has done.
Boldness to confront sin in our preaching…
3."We are witnesses" (v15). Peter again affirms the role Jesus gave the Apostles as eye-witnesses of the resurrection. The apostolic witness is important – they saw Jesus alive!
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." 1 John 1:1-3
An appeal to the eye-witness of the Apostles in our preaching…
4.The people are not excused because of their ignorance (v17). Peter says he knows they and their leaders "acted in ignorance," but will still call them to repent (v19)! Our ignorance does not mean we do not need forgiveness (The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, Acts 17:30). Ben Witherington points out that in the Old Covenant Law there was atonement for sins committed in ignorance, but not for deliberate sins (Numbers 15:27-31). Praise God that in the New Covenant in Christ, by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:39).
More preaching on sin…
5.The people are also not excused because God predicted these things (v18). Peter assures his crowd that they are not excused by their ignorance, and neither are they excused by God's sovereignty! The Bible teaches that God is sovereign over all; he works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11); he decrees all things that happen and prophesies in his word what he will do and allow to be done, and no one can stop him from doing all his will (Psalm 115:3; Job 42:2; Isaiah 46:10-11)…HOWEVER, the same Bible teaches that man is responsible for his actions! Though God decreed that these men would reject his Son and nail him to a cross, they did it willingly are not excused – they still must repent and be forgiven of these sins (v19)!
God's sovereignty and man's responsibility in our preaching…
6.Peter calls the people to respond to the gospel by repentance for forgiveness of sin (v19). He does not give them a 'magic' prayer to pray, but calls them to turn from their sins. We must repent to be forgiven! This also implies faith in Jesus, as they must believe Peter's gospel to obey it by repenting. Those who repent and turn to God in Christ will have their sins "blotted out." The word is Exaleiphō – to wash off, erase, obliterate (Stott). as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12)!
Appeal for response in our preaching…
7.Peter gives 3 promises (vs 19-21). Those who repent will receive not only (1) forgiveness of sins, but also (2) "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord!" Negatively, our sins are taken away; positively, we are refreshed by the Lord! In the sermon at Pentecost, Peter spoke of forgiveness of sins and receiving the Holy Spirit. The Spirit from the presence of Christ is here spoken of as bringing refreshment. (3) Finally, Peter promises the return of Jesus Christ, who will come at the appointed time. The era of the end times has come, and when the gospel has gone out to all nations, the time will come for Jesus to come and restore all things, fulfilling all God's predictions. Jesus spoke of this time of the 'regeneration' (Mat 19:28) "when nature will be liberated from its bondage to pain and decay (Romans 8:19 and following) and God will make a new heaven and new earth (2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:5)" (Stott).
The promises of God in our preaching…
8.Peter appeals to the Scriptures to show what God has done in Christ (v18, 22-26). Through "all the prophets" God predicted, pictured, and pointed to Jesus suffering for sin! Now Peter mentions specific passages. Moses spoke of a Prophet who would come, and judgment for those who do not listen to him (Peter is preaching judgment for those who will not listen to Christ). Samuel and the prophets who followed all pointed to the days that have now come with Christ! Abraham was given the promise from God that blessing would come to him and through him to all the earth. Peter now calls on these sons of Abraham and the Prophets (as physical Jews) to recognize God's fulfillment of all his promises in Christ, and to respond accordingly. He declares that God has been faithful, sending Christ first to the Jews, the ones to whom he made the promises in the Old Covenant. Peter presents repentance as being a work of God in a person's life – "to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness."
Teaching the Bible in our preaching…
Summary of Peter's Gospel Word
So what has Peter preached in his gospel word? Far from the shallow fluff we sometimes give today, he preaches a deep, bold, convicting message that is filled with doctrine! Some of the key aspects of Peter's gospel word are: Christ-centeredness; boldly confronts sin, with promise of judgment for those who will not repent (v23); the deity of Jesus Christ (calls him the Holy One, an Old Testament title of God, v14); Christ as the suffering Servant of Isaiah (v13); Christ as exalted Messiah (v13, 20, 26); the death and resurrection of Jesus (v15, 26); Jesus' present power to work miracles (v16); A call to repent and turn to God upon receiving this message of Christ (v19); a promise of forgiveness of sins and refreshment from God upon repentance (v19, 20); end times – Jesus will remain exalted in heaven until time to restore all things (v21); the Old Testament pointed to these days in Christ (v24); the sovereignty of God over man's repentance (v26), to name a few! Does this not put much of our preaching to shame?!
Equally noteworthy is what Peter did not say in his gospel word. He never even mentioned the love of God!!! This is particularly noteworthy in our day because the love of God is usually the only thing mentioned by modern day evangelists; Peter does not even bring the subject up (in fact, look through Acts at all the evangelical sermons and see if anyone ever brings it up). [Before you send me hate emails, I want to be clear that I'm not against the love of God!! It is so important and so true. But "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" is simply not in the early church's evangelism]. What else is "missing?" How about a "personal relationship with Jesus," or "opening the door of your heart" or calling for everyone to bow their heads and raise their hand if they want to be saved ("Hallelujah, I see that hand")? Not there. Repeat this prayer after me? Nope. Walk the aisle? Sign the card? Shake the preacher's hand? None of that is there. Wow, sounds like Peter should have gone through an evangelism training class before preaching! OR….MAYBE…we are the ones who need to go back to school and learn how to do the Gospel Word from the Bible – in fact, from the Apostle who was freshly filled with the Holy Spirit and inspired in his preaching with divine revelation! Maybe he got it right and we are wrong!
The Gospel Deed and the Gospel Word work together. My prayer is that God will give us compassion for the deed and boldness for the word. Will you join me in that prayer?