Text: Acts 2:14-36
This morning is Pentecost Sunday, and it marks roughly one year since I accepted the call to pastor Christ Church here in Lakeland, Florida. I preached from Acts 2 when I was visiting at that time, and I used the sermon to show the diversity which made up the kingdom from the very beginning. This diversity was a blessing, an expansion of God’s kingdom, and yet it was also a kind of judgment, specifically against Israel. This morning I want to continue that theme of judgment, showing how Pentecost demonstrates Christian evangelism to be a sort of prophetic judgment, a proclamation of the Last Days.
As we will see, the Apostle Peter explains that the reason the Holy Spirit has been poured at Pentecost is because it is the beginning of the “Last Days.” The Spirit’s coming was a direct response to the death and resurrection of the messiah, Jesus, and its coming is meant to convict the 1st century audience, as well as every audience afterwards, of the sins for which they will have to give an account when that same Jesus comes again. That Jesus who was crucified by evil men has now been made Lord by none other than God Himself, and so we can know certainly that He has all authority to judge both heaven and earth. He is coming back, and the question which we all ought to ask is the same one that the Jews asked in the first century: “What shall we do?!” More than that, the answer is the same as well, and, as we will see, that answer doesn’t just tell us how to get saved but also what we must do once we are saved. We must join in the apostles’ work, and we must spread their same message.
The Last Days Are Here
That first Christian Pentecost was a strange event, and once the apostles began speaking in tongues, the people around wondered what it was all about. Some thought that perhaps they were drunk, and so Peter took the occasion to explain. He says that it is in fact a fulfillment of Joel 2.
For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.” (Acts 2:15-21)
Notice what Joel’s prophecy is saying. The Spirit will be poured out, and many people, not just the religious leaders, will exhibit the signs of being prophets. Then larger heavenly signs will follow, and finally “the great and awesome day of the Lord” will arrive. This is an end-times prophecy, and Peter says it is beginning at Pentecost. The way to be saved from this terrible judgment is to call on the name of the Lord.
Jesus is the Prophesied Messiah
This fulfillment of prophecy did not come out of nowhere. Peter connects it to Jesus:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. (vs. 22-24)
To add to this, Peter says that Jesus was the messiah who was prophesied by the Old Testament and even His death was a fulfillment of prophecy:
For David says concerning Him:
“I foresaw the Lord always before my face,
For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken.
Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad;
Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Hades,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
You will make me full of joy in Your presence.” (25-28)
This quote is from Psalm 16, and Peter proceeds to exegete it for us. It was never about David or the events of the Davidic kingdom. It was always a prophecy about Jesus:
Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Therefore, being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne, he, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. (29-32)
Notice those last sentences. David was speaking of the resurrection of the messiah, and the apostles are bearing testimony that Jesus Christ is that messiah. It was God who raised Him from the dead, and now it is God pouring out His Spirit in response to Jesus’ work.
Peter then ties this back to the beginning of his sermon by saying that what is happening is a part of the messianic kingdom, specifically God’s subduing of the messiah’s enemies:
Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear.
For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. (33-36)
It’s no wonder that the people respond as they do. “What must we do?” They have just been told that they were a party to killing the messiah. More than that, God has noticed and responded by raising the messiah from the dead and raising Him up to heaven to sit at His right hand. While the messiah is sitting there, God also promises to defeat all of His enemies. And since the messiah is Jesus, as the apostles said, then that means that the messiah’s enemies, those men whom God Himself has promised to defeat, are the enemies of Jesus, the religious leaders of the first century who conspired against Him. They killed the messiah, but now God has raised that messiah up to heaven and made Him Lord.
What must we do?
When you take in the overall thrust of Peter’s sermon, you should be knocked off your feet. Imagine being in the audience that day. This is more than hellfire and brimstone. Basically Peter is saying, “You people killed the messiah and now God is coming for you!” Whoa.
The gospel message, then, in this context is both that Jesus is Lord and messiah and the way in which the messiah’s enemies can escape His wrath and be saved. “Men and brethren, what shall we do? …Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).
Now stop for just a moment. Connect this question and answer with the previous sermon. Peter has just convicted his audience of killing the messiah and being about to receive divine judgment. He put it right to them, “Jesus of Nazareth… being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death (vs. 22-23). And yet Peter then tells them that they can be forgiven, and on top of that, they too can receive the Holy Spirit. These guilty people can not only be forgiven, but they can also be given one of the end-times’ signs which will both allow them to be saved and empower them to also testify about the messiah to others. In short, they can join in on the same thing that the apostles are doing. They can be filled with the Spirit, and then they can go out and do what the apostles are supposed to do. This is amazing. God turns His enemies into His friends and into His ministers.
The sermons which the apostles preached in the Book of Acts can be tricky to preach and apply today. Several aspects of them were specific to the historical context in which they were given. For instance, we do not believe that Christians ordinarily speak in tongues today. That miracle was unique to the 1st century. The same thing is true of the specific edge of Peter’s sermon. After all, none of you in this room took Jesus and handed Him over to be crucified. You were not alive at the time to do it. And yet, when viewed from the perspective of cosmic sin and the reason why Jesus had to be crucified in the first place, you did participate in that insofar as it was for your sins that Jesus had to die. You didn’t personally kill Christ, but you were involved in His death because you have sinned, and your sins need the atonement which can only be found in His blood. And so each of us today must also “repent and be baptized.”
But if this part of the application is true, that we still must identify with the conviction of Peter’ sermon, then it must also be true that we receive the blessing. We receive the remission of sins, and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we receive these things for the same reason that they received them in the first century, in order to join in that prophetic testimony about Jesus to the world. You see, your salvation is not meant only to save your soul and get you into heaven. No, it’s meant to enable and empower you to join in that same apostolic band, the sons and daughters of God who bear witness to the messiah and His kingdom. It has already come on earth, and our job is to tell others about it, what it means, and what they must do.
This is a profound truth for us today. We are apostolic and prophetic messengers, and our very existence is a testimony to the messiah. We proclaim who He is, what He has already done, and what He is about to do. We prophecy about the Last Days, and we are to call others to repent, be baptized, and join in the same prophecy. This is what evangelism is all about, even today. It is an eschatological work, done by the power of the Holy Spirit, by all of the people of God.
So do you do it?
Now, I know that most people do not evangelize with any regularity because it seems awkward or intimidating. Most of us don’t like to talk about personal matters with others, and we certainly don’t want to come across as intrusive or religiously bossy. And so now I’ve added an extra burden to all of that. Your evangelism should be a lot more awkward, as you pull people into this story about Israel’s messiah, end-times judgment, and the present work of the Spirit. That will take a bit of explaining to do, and yet, if we believe the Bible, that is our message. And if we believe the Bible, divine judgment is coming, and so we must proclaim this message no matter how it is received. Remember, we are simultaneously the aroma of life and the aroma of death (2 Cor. 2:15-16). Our job is not, first and foremost to get anyone “saved,” but rather to proclaim the message of the gospel: Jesus is Lord, He’s coming back to judge, and so here is what you should do.
But remember also the promise, to all who do repent, they are themselves made prophets in this kingdom, and they are made to join you—to join us—in this same preaching about the messiah. We are all of us filled with the Spirit, and we are, as one body, end-times people spreading this message.
So I have given you all a mandate to evangelize, and I’ve tried to help give you the content of what you should be saying. You should go out and tell people about Jesus. But, at the same time, you should remember the doctrine of vocation. You are not all professional or full-time evangelists. You are not all called to go out and proclaim the message indiscriminately. Instead, you should use the vocation God has given you, your job and the specific opportunities in your life, to evangelize the people around you as you form relationships with them.
In one sense that might sound a bit easier. You don’t have to go out and speak to strangers or bring up sensitive topics right away. But, on the flip side, you will have to build relationships, and not just superficial ones, with the people in your lives, especially those who do not already know the gospel of Christ. Think of yourself as a prophesying evangelist in all that you do, in the decisions that you make, the conversations you have, and the lifestyles you lead. Having said that, though, I do not want you to interpret that as doing what you would normally do anyway and call it “evangelism.” No, I want you to seriously think about the ways in which you can evangelize through your callings. I do expect you to talk to people about Jesus and what He asks of them, and you should be getting reactions of either rejection or the fearfulness which leads to conversion.
This is why the Spirit was given to you, after all. It was so that you could have the power of God within you to prophesy about His messiah. It was so that you could be an instrument in His fulfilling eschatological prophecy. It will be through you that God works His saving power, converting sinners or bringing judgment upon them. And so go! Tell people about Jesus, and believe that He is coming to judge the earth in righteousness. Believe that Jesus is Lord and that His kingdom is victorious. Tell them about the Last Days and invite them to join you in fulfilling them now.
Let us pray.