The Lord's Day Evening
May 28, 2006
“The ‘This is That’ Sermon ”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me to The Acts of the Apostles, and the second chapter, and I'm going to read from verse 14 through to verse 41, and before we do so, let's pray.
Our Father, we thank You again for the Scriptures that holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We thank You for this particular book, The Acts of the Apostles. We pray, Lord, as we study it this evening that by Your Spirit we might read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now, you remember at the end of verse 13, following Pentecost and the attendant signs of Pentecost: the rushing mighty wind and the cloven tongues of fire, but especially the fact that these disciples were enabled by the Spirit to speak in tongues (that is to say, to speak in foreign languages unknown to them but understood by the hearers), that some (in verse 13) suggested that it was all due to that sweet wine, at nine o’clock in the morning. And now Peter is responding to that:
“But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: ‘Men of Judea, and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:
‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon My bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit and they shall prophesy. And I will grant wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be that every one who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know–this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him,
‘I saw the Lord always in my presence; for He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; moreover my flesh also will live in hope; because You wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. You have made known to me the ways of life; You wilt make me full of gladness with Your presence.’
“Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:
‘The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’’
Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ–this Jesus whom you crucified.’
“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.’
“And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
Amen. And may God bless that reading of Scripture to our hearts.
Now a quick word about the sermon title, as some of you may be puzzling over, “The ‘This is That’ Sermon.” It's the title of a very famous book written back, I think, in the middle 1960's, by F.F. Bruce. And it comes, of course, as some of you will readily know, from the King James translation of Acts 2. In verse 16, in the New American Standard, it says “and this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel....” but in the King James it's rendered “This is that....” In other words, Peter is saying ‘What you see today on the Day of Pentecost is that...namely, what was prophesied in Scripture. So Pentecost is the fulfillment of prophesy.’
What has happened to Peter? What in the world has happened to Peter? Something extraordinary has gripped the heart of Peter. We've already seen him in chapter one in the company of the disciples, reading Scripture, reading Psalms, exhorting the disciples that Judas must now be replaced by another in order that the number be made up to twelve again, and then the election of Matthias. But now not just in the company of the disciples, but now before the populace, now before all the throngs gathered–and the hostile throng–gathered in the temple, Peter stands up and proclaims this wonderful and extraordinary and powerful sermon.
One of the great preachers in history is John Chrysostom, in the fourth century, the patriarch of Constantinople (or Istanbul as it is now called, or Byzantium as it was originally called in the Greek). And John Chrysostom was the “golden-mouthed” preacher, and his sermons...there's a series of sermons on The Acts of the Apostles1 that have been kept and recorded, and you may go to the internet and you may read these extraordinary sermons preached 1600 years ago. And the sermon — I was glancing at his sermon on this particular passage, and he says, “See here...” (speaking now of Peter), “See here his boldness and his great freedom of speech.” Well, it gripped Chrysostom: What in the world has happened to Peter?
And what has happened to Peter of course is that he has seen the resurrected Jesus spoken of in I Corinthians 15, a private meeting that he had with the risen Lord. And in the six weeks from the resurrection to Pentecost, God has brought this errant, backslidden, timid disciple, fearful disciple...and He's brought him back to a place of extraordinary usefulness and power. And you understand that half of the Book of Acts is about the Apostle Paul, but half of the Book of Acts is first of all about Peter, and the exploits of Peter, and the preaching of Peter, the extraordinary power that God has manifested in this restored disciple.
There's a wonderful lesson there: that no matter how great our sins are, no matter how poorly we may have failed Him in the past, that doesn't mean that in the purposes of God we are forever confined to some back room closet in the purposes of God. God can restore, and God can forgive, and God can take a broken vessel like Peter and remake him, and refashion him. And isn't that an extraordinary truth, a wonderful truth, that should, I think, minister to many of our hearts tonight.
Now this is the first (excluding the little speech of Peter in Acts 1) of fifteen sermons in The Acts of the Apostles. Many of them, of course, are by Paul; one of them is by James; another one is by Stephen; and at least seven, possibly eight, are by the Apostle Peter. It's a very important sermon. It tells us something about what preaching is. I don't suppose that you ask yourself the question all the time, as preachers tend to ask themselves the question all the time: “What is preaching?” But the answer to “What is preaching?” is partly given to us here. What is Peter doing here?
Well, he's taking a text. He's taking a text from the Old Testament, Joel 2. Actually, he's got seven texts, and what he's doing is expounding those texts, and applying those texts, and drawing men and women to a place where they will decide for Jesus Christ as a consequence of the message of those texts. Peter is, in fact, giving a response to the charge that has been made: that these disciples (because of the speaking in tongues phenomenon) are filled with new wine. And what follows is this sermon. And you understand, all we have here is a summary. Now, don't get carried away. I read this passage in about five minutes...don't draw the conclusion that New Testament sermons were just five minutes! Luke himself says here “with many other words”. In other words, this is just a summary of the sermon.
But in summarizing the summary, there are five things I want us to see; five convictions about the gospel. The five points — well, of Peterism! But the five points of gospel grace (how about that?).
I. Peter has a conviction about the Bible.
The first is this: that Peter has a conviction about the Bible. He has a conviction about the Bible.
Peter's been reading the Bible. We saw that in chapter 1: he was reading Psalm 69 and he was reading Psalm 109. Now he's been reading Joel 2, and he's been reading two more Psalms: Psalm 16 and Psalm 110. He's been immersing himself in the Scripture. If he's to understand and if he is to explain to others what Pentecost is all about, what these phenomena are all about, what has just happened on this day six weeks after Passover, he goes to Scripture. He goes to the word of God. And notice what he says: “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel” in verse 16. “This is that.”
In other words, he has a conviction, you see, about the nature of the Old Testament, that the Old Testament is God's infallible word. It's God's authoritative word, and although in the case of Joel scholars differ — some scholars think that he was around the time of the exile...some conservative scholars think that; and then some conservative scholars push Joel all the way back to the eighth and possibly the ninth century BC. Words written 500 years, 900 years before this time, and yet as relevant and as authoritative and as meaningful and as purposeful as on the day that they were written. Peter has a conviction about the Bible; he has a conviction about Scripture. True, he tells us here in verse 16 that Joel wrote this piece of Scripture, and in two other locations in this sermon he talks about David's having written Psalm 16 and having written Psalm 110. Men wrote these words. Moses wrote Bible words. David wrote Bible words. Jeremiah wrote Bible words. And yet these are the words of God. And do you remember what Peter will say when he comes to reflect on this later, as he writes his epistle, his second epistle? “That holy men of old wrote...” yes, holy men wrote...men like Joel, men like David...but “holy men of old wrote as they were carried along [borne along] by the Holy Spirit”–this same Spirit who had come down, been poured out on the Day of Pentecost.
He has a conviction about the Bible. He's immersing himself in the Bible. He wants to understand what's happening in his day. He wants to understand the phenomena, he wants to be able to explain the phenomena, and what does he do? He goes to the Scripture. He goes to the word of God, and he says “This is that.” This is but the fulfillment of what God had promised in the Scriptures.
It says to us tonight that we should have convictions about the Bible, not just the Old Testament, but the New Testament - all 66 books of the Bible. That's part of the reason why we're having this series on Wednesday evenings; to confirm, to underline in our hearts and in our minds and in our consciences the veracity and the truthfulness of the Scriptures; that the Bible can be trusted; that it's not just the mere record of religious experiences that others have had, but it is the infallible, inerrant, breathed-out word of Almighty God.
Love your Bible. Spend some time this summer in your Bible. You’re going on vacation, you’re going to some exotic place–oh, what places you are going to this summer! Well, in that suitcase of yours, make sure you put in your Bible. Get a little notebook. Get a little fancy one like Ligon has here, and write notes so that you and I might become known as men and women who love the word. We love our Bibles. We love the Scripture. We love to be in it. We love to be studying it. We love to be asking it questions, because we trust it to be the word of God.
II. A conviction about providence.
Secondly, a conviction about providence. You notice...oh, it's halfway through the sermon...he speaks about the death of Jesus in verse 23. And the death of Jesus, he says, on the one hand is by the hands of godless men who put Him to death. But at the same time, do you notice what he says? “It was by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God....” Men put Jesus to death. Men of Jerusalem put Jesus to death. Yes, however awkward and difficult and sensitive that was for Peter to say in Jerusalem, and however difficult post-holocaust it is for us to say, that's the truth of history. It's not an anti-Semitic statement; it's simply a statement of fact that it was the people of Jerusalem who put Jesus to death, and they were responsible for it. They were culpable for their action.
But at the same time, there is an over-ruling providence of God. Men put Him to death, but at the same time it was by the predetermined counsel and foreknowledge of God. It didn't take God by surprise. It was all part and parcel of the way God had planned it. And for Peter, do you see, that's the explanation of the horrendous day on which Jesus was crucified. It's his understanding of history that events happen and terrible things happen, and awful things happen — like Katrina — and men and women lose everything, and they lose their homes, and they lose all of their possessions. And there was this thing today, and it really hadn't dawned on me of how they need to go out and start shopping for everything — for absolutely everything, because they have lost everything. The smallest incidental, they have to go and acquire that again.
And what does Peter say? It is by the predetermined counsel and foreknowledge of God. However tempting it may be for us to run along the lines of all kinds of philosophical explanations when evil things happen — that God doesn't know, or that God's hands are tied, or whatever it may be in the modern and current fads — Peter is absolutely sure and categorical: God was in this; God planned this; that things happen because God wills them to happen. They happen because He wills them to happen before they happen. Things happen because He wills them to happen in the way that they happen. Things don't happen and take God by surprise. He has a confidence, a certainty, a conviction not only about the Bible, but a conviction about providence, a conviction about history, a conviction about where he is at this moment in time on this Day of Pentecost, with all of what lies before him.
And what does lie before him? If Jesus had been crucified, his Lord and Master, and now he's standing up and proclaiming the same message as Jesus, the future isn't going to be wonderful and rosy. He knows that. He understands that. Jesus had warned him. He knows the losses and the crosses that face him; he knows the responses that may well come upon him. And they will come upon him in the next few chapters: he’ll find himself in prison. And in that prison cell he will console himself, and he will comfort himself in the knowledge that God is in this prison; that He's right there in the midst of this difficulty.
Some of you may be facing a difficulty this very week, something you’d long to run away from. And here's the conviction: God is in this; He's planned this; He's known about it from eternity, and you need not fear for one minute that He will leave you or forsake you.
III. A conviction about Jesus.
Peter has a conviction about the Bible, and he has a conviction about providence, but he has a conviction, thirdly, about Jesus. That's the heart of the sermon. He wants to say that what they have seen in the outpouring of the Spirit is the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ, and what Peter does — and he does it in an extraordinary way, it's a wonderful way — he traces the life of Jesus through His death and through His burial and through His resurrection, and through His ascension and exaltation to the right hand of God...and he's been reading the Scriptures. He's been reading Psalm 16, and he's been reading Psalm 110, which speak about Jesus.
He does an extraordinary thing at one point when he's talking about the resurrection. He's talking about Psalm 16 first of all, in verses 25-28 (you’ll see it cited there), and he quotes the Psalm: “I saw the Lord always in my presence...” and so on. And then in verse 27, “Because He will not abandon my soul to Hades nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.” And Peter says ‘Now look, I can say this with absolute confidence,’ and I think there might even have been a smile on his face as he said so, because he could have taken them on a tour through the streets of Jerusalem to the very place where David was buried, that his corpse was still there, his rotting bones were still in that tomb.
And of whom, then, did David speak when he says, “He will not abandon my soul to Hades nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay”? And do you see what Peter is saying? He's saying this could only be true of Jesus Christ. It couldn't be true of David. It can only be true of Jesus Christ, because you've seen Him raised from the dead, and ascended, and now sitting at God's right hand; that what David had written had come true in Jesus.
Now, this says something of great import, and we don't have time to go into it, but only barely scratch the surface of it, but it's of tremendous significance in the way that we read our Old Testament. Peter isn't saying that what Psalm 16 is saying was once true of David, but has now become true of Jesus Christ. No, he's saying it was never true of David. It never at any time applied to David. It couldn't possibly be applied to David. It was always, even when David wrote it, it was always about Jesus Christ. And do you see what that says about the Old Testament? That the Old Testament is about Christ! It's about the seed of the woman that God had promised in the Garden of Eden, that seed that will usurp and throw down the forces of darkness and of Satan.
He has a conviction, do you see, about Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit has come because Jesus has been exalted, because Jesus is at the right hand of God. And what he wants to say is that what Pentecost is essentially about is — well, it's not about the Holy Spirit essentially. Well, that's a strange thing to say, isn't it, that Pentecost isn't about the Holy Spirit? But do you see what Peter is saying? The Spirit is the representative agent of Jesus Christ. He's the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ. It's not that there was a ministry of Jesus but now there's a ministry of the Spirit. The Spirit in the New Testament is often called the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit sent by Christ, the Spirit who indwelt Christ, the Spirit who understands everything there is to understand about Jesus Christ.
You see, he does the same thing when he quotes the Joel passage in Joel 2, and you see it there quoted in verses 17-21. But notice what he does in verse 21: “And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord...” Now, in the Old Testament, that Lord of course was the divine name: Jehovah, Yahweh, the covenant Lord. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And who is that Lord? He goes on to say: “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene...” That's who this Lord is.
Now we sit here and we don't bat an eyelid at that. But do you understand how tremendously significant that was for Peter as a Jew to say? That the one God...and as a Jew, he would have repeated the Shemah of Israel: “Behold, the Lord your God is one.” He's not saying, do you see, that there is more than one God; he still believes in the unity of God. But he's saying the Father is God, and Jesus is God, and it's an extraordinary thing. It will become one of the creeds of the early church: “Jesus is Lord.” That's what these Christians began to say, that Jehovah, that Yahweh, the covenant Lord of the Old Testament is none other than Jesus Christ. He is the sovereign king of heaven and earth. He is the covenant maker and covenant keeper. It's all about Jesus. It's all about Jesus Christ. That's what the Spirit has come to say: It's all about Jesus Christ and the salvation that He offers.
IV. A conviction about salvation.
And that brings me to the fourth conviction that Peter has, and it's the conviction about salvation. Not only a conviction about the Bible, and not only a conviction about providence, not only a conviction about Jesus, but a conviction about salvation and our need for salvation.
You notice what they say when they listen to this sermon. In verse 37 they begin to say, “Brethren, what shall we do?” and Luke says by way of description that “they were pierced to the heart.” They were cut to the heart that the word of God had come. And do you see, it had come in power — this word about Jesus had pierced their hearts. It was like a dagger thrusting them in the side, and it had rendered them in such a state that they’re crying out now at the end of the sermon, “What are we supposed to do?” There's a sense in which every sermon should do that. There's a sense in which, as the Spirit comes and as the word comes home, not just to our minds but to our hearts and to our consciences, that it renders us conscious of how sinful and naked we are in the presence of God. What can we do now?
And you notice Peter says they’re to do two things. He says to them first of all that they’re to repent. Repent. And the word that he uses is the word that suggests a change of mind, a change of attitude. You must change your attitude, you must change your stance, you must change your thinking about God, about yourself, about sin, about Jesus Christ, about these fundamental things. It's of course the great theme of the preaching of the New Testament. Jesus came preaching, “Repent.” Those were His opening words as He's introduced to us on the pages of the New Testament. Thomas Watson says, you know, that repentance and faith are like the two wings of a bird whereby we fly into heaven. Repentance and faith are like the two wings of a bird whereby we fly into heaven....
Not only repentance, but baptism: baptism with a view to the forgiveness of sins; baptism which pictures what the forgiveness of sins as the washing away of our stain of our sin; the sign and seal of God's covenant promise; the outward picture that we can trust what God says, and that His word is true.
It's interesting that for Peter especially, when he comes to write his epistle, the picture of baptism that Peter employs is of Noah and the flood: that Noah and his family were saved from the deluge, from the waters (which he calls the water of baptism); a water of judgment, you understand. That's actually the same thing that you find in Psalm 69 which he's just been quoting in the first chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. And Peter may well be thinking here as he's telling them that they need to be baptized, he may well be thinking that the judgment that baptism pictures has actually been taken by Jesus Christ. He underwent the baptism of judgment in order that you and I, through faith in Him, might receive that blessing of being rescued and delivered. And that's what baptism points to; that's what it's a picture of.
V. A conviction of urgency.
But not only a conviction about the Bible, and not only a conviction about providence, and not only a conviction about Jesus, and not only a conviction about the need for salvation, but a conviction, too, about the urgency of it.
Peter does one very interesting thing. I wish I had time to go into all the details here, but it's a very interesting thing that he does. If you were to have the time and were to go back and read the Joel prophecy that Peter quotes here, and read it as it is in the Old Testament, in the Old Testament (and I'm quoting now from verse 17) “And it shall be in the last days....” In the Old Testament it doesn't read like that. In the Old Testament it reads, “And it shall be afterwards....” And Peter interprets now what Joel meant by the afterwards, and he uses this particular phrase the last days, which will become very significant in the New Testament.
Because you see what Peter is saying: After Pentecost, what? The Second Coming. The next great redemptive event is the Second Coming, and you understand he's saying to these people ‘Do you understand the significance of the time in which you live? You’re living in the last days. You’re living in that period of time between the two comings of Jesus. We are those upon whom the end of the ages has dawned, and there's a sense of urgency that we need to be converted, that we need to repent of our sins, that we need to trust in Jesus Christ, that we need to experience the forgiveness of our sins, we need to experience peace with God. And it's urgent, because these are the last days.’
As a result of this sermon, three thousand souls were added to the church. And it reminded me of February 1739, when George Whitefield, that great evangelist whom God raised up, was preaching outside a colliery in Bristol, in England. In the 1730's, coal mining was a very dangerous and difficult business, and was very arduous, and some of the men would be underground for days on end. And when they would eventually emerge, their faces would be blackened by the soot, and as they emerge from the colliery George Whitefield is there, and he's preaching a sermon, a sermon full of Christ, as Peter's was on the Day of Pentecost. And the description of what happened is a very moving one, because as these coalminers listened to George Whitefield preach about Jesus, tears came down their cheeks, and there's this extraordinary description of hundreds upon hundreds of coalminers with these white streaks down their faces, their blackened faces, as the tears gushed forth as they hear the message of the gospel, and were added to the church.
You see, Pentecost isn't just about that day. There's a sense in which we, too, long for and should pray for the outpouring of the Spirit, that God would bring not just tens, and not just hundreds, but in His sovereign power — yes, thousands! to the feet of Christ to trust Him. May God make it so.
Let's pray together.
Father, we thank You for this extraordinary sermon that Peter preached. And, oh, for such attendant power in the days in which we live as Your word is proclaimed and Jesus set forth. Now bless this word to our hearts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
1. Chrysostom: The Acts of the Apostles
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