Sermon preached on Acts 2:22-42 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/13/2014 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Be Saved From This Perverse Generation”
Every year at the service during the day of our annual church BBQ and open house, I particularly like to bring a message from Scripture that will present very clearly what the Christian faith is all about. And I particularly like to pick passages of Scripture that address some of the most common difficulties that people in this area seem to have with Christianity. I do that, not to try to offend, but to look to challenge our community with the Word of God with some of the key aspects about the Christian faith. Today’s passage certainly does this. It declares to us the central message that humans need to be saved; each of us, there’s not a single one of us, that doesn’t need the salvation talked about here. Notice specifically verse 40. It’s where I got the title of today’s message from and it’s the theme of out sermon for today. There the Apostle Peter says that people need to be saved from this perverse generation. That was true back then, and it’s still true today. And yet that very verse can offend people. I recognize that. People don’t generally want to think of themselves needing to be saved, nor do they tend to want to think of themselves as part of a perverse generation. But the fundamental question isn’t about whether you are offended or not by that statement. The question is, “Is it true?” Do you need to be saved from this perverse generation? The answer is yes for every human. Whether or not this truth offends someone, doesn’t change the fact that it is true. And yet the good news is that the Bible tells you here how you can be saved.
That is what we will be considering today then from this passage. As we think about this theme of being saved, we’ll consider this passage in three points. First, we’ll consider the need for salvation. Second, we’ll consider the means of salvation. Third, we’ll consider what it looks like to live out this salvation.
Let’s begin in our first point then about the need for salvation. The need for salvation comes out very clearly in this passage. Let’s remember, however, that this passage of scripture is set in a historical context. It’s a passage of Scripture that spoke first to the original audience, and then comes to us now, about two thousand years later by way of application. So let me help set the historical context here. This passage is historically set after Jesus Christ was born, did his earthly teaching ministry, was put to death on the cross, rose again on the third day, and then ascended up into heaven. Jesus told his twelve disciples that they would become his authorized witnesses, known as apostles. He told them to wait in Jerusalem and that Jesus would then pour out the Holy Spirit upon them to empower them in a mighty way for this work as apostles. And so our passage records the fulfillment of that promise. The Holy Spirit was poured out on them in a mighty way on the day recorded here in this chapter. It happened to be a special Jewish holiday known as Pentecost, which meant that Jews were there from all over the world to celebrate the holiday. And so when the apostles received the Holy Spirit, not only did they have lots of people to begin to preach to, but the Holy Spirit also caused a great miracle to happen. As the apostles started speaking about Jesus, everyone there was hearing the message in their own native tongue. As the people become astonished by this miracle, it causes the Apostle Peter to get everyone’s attention and give the sermon that we just read about here in Acts 2:22-42.
So then, Peter speaks up. He begins his sermon by showing the people their need of salvation. That’s again, our first point for today. And Peter does that in one specific way. Peter told that they had rejected the Messiah by rejecting Jesus. Look first at verse 22. Peter declares that Jesus had come with divine proof of his identity. That God had affirmed the credentials of Jesus by all the miracles, and wonders, signs, which God had performed through Jesus. Peter says that this is proof that Jesus was sent by God. These miracles showed God’s public endorsement of Jesus — that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
And yet the people had put Jesus to death. Verse 23, “Him”, Jesus, “You have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” Peter goes on to quote some psalms from the Old Testament to show that this was also even foretold about long ago. But he ends with the same accusation against them. Verse 36 — They had killed the Messiah and Lord. To further drive home their guilt, Peter says that he and the other disciples are witnesses that they were unsuccessful in getting rid of Jesus, verse 32. Though they had put Jesus to death, he was raised from the dead, and they were not witnesses to this fact.
And so Peter shows them how they had need of salvation here. As he went to on to say, they needed to be saved from this perverse generation. The Jews were guilty not just of murder of an innocent man, but rejecting the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus, the Christ. They were guilty before God and accountable to God because of this. Now, realize, Peter could have pointed out many different sins that they and us are guilty of. That would have also established how they would be in need of salvation. He gets at that a little bit when he talks about them being a part of a perverse generation. Yet Peter thinks it sufficient for her to confront them with their need of salvation as it pertains to Jesus. They had rejected the Christ, and they were guilty before God because of it. They needed salvation.
And so more could be said of their perverse generation. But this point is sufficient to show their need for salvation. And as we think about applying this point to us today, we realize the application is pretty much the same. Each of us could analyze how we have lived our lives in contrast with God’s Word. If we each did that honestly, we would see many ways in which we fall short of God’s holy standard of righteousness. But we don’t even have to go there to see our need for salvation. We can begin simply with our relationship with Jesus. Have you received Jesus as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which he is? Have you perfectly submit to his leadership? Or have your rejected his claim of leadership over your life? Have you denied his rightful claim to authority? Have you said instead that you yourself will be lord of your life, not Jesus? Or have you maybe assigned Jesus to some other category — just a good moral teacher, or maybe a misguided leader, or maybe a prophet even, but not what he claims to be, the Son of God and the Messiah? Whatever ways someone falls short of rightly honoring and obeying King Jesus perfectly is but one example of the sinful perversity of this generation. We live in a generation that does not openly acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. In all the ways we reflect that rebellion in our lives, we need to be saved. Because we are guilty otherwise of rejecting the one God has given to us as the Lord and Christ.
Don’t miss how serious of a need for salvation that this is. Look at how the people responded to Peter’s message about their guilt in rejecting Jesus. Look at verse 37. It says that when they heard Paul’s preaching, they were cut to the heart and asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” In other words, they believed Paul’s preaching. They realized they were in trouble. It says they were cut to the heart. In other words they recognized their need to be saved.
Don’t miss why they were cut to the heart here. It was not only that they felt bad about killing Jesus when they shouldn’t have killed him. It was more than just that they realized that they did something wrong. They were afraid over what might be the consequences for this action. They were afraid that by killing God’s promised Messiah that they would now be under the wrath of God. Notice that this is all right here in this passage. Peter first tells them that God raised up the Messiah — the one they put to death was no longer dead. You could imagine the fear that could come in that for them. They rejected him and killed him, and now that he’s alive again, they are surely afraid that he’s going to come back to exact revenge upon them. Notice verse 35 explicitly spells out that threat to them. Peter quotes Psalm 110 to them that specifically talks about how the Messiah would be ascended up to the right hand of God until all the Messiah’s enemies are made by God to be the Messiah’s footstool. Do you see the threat there? They had become the Messiah’s enemies by rejecting him! They had killed him, but he came back to life, and ascended up to the right hand of God, just like Psalm 110 predicted. And that means the other part of Psalm 110 is about to be fulfilled too. That those who are the Messiah’s enemies, are going to be subject to the wrath of God.
And so the people were cut to the heart. They knew they needed to be saved. They not only recognized that they were guilty, but that their guilt carried consequences. Apply this then to us today. Any who have rejected the Messiah have this same guilt, and thus the same threat of consequences. That is a scary thing, because we know the Bible spells out the wrath of God elsewhere in its teaching on hell. Hell is not a popular teaching either today, but it’s the truth according to God’s Word. This is why they and us today have a need of salvation. Each of us have earned hell. By all our sins, and especially for the ways we have rejected or not obeyed the Messiah.
This leads us then to our second point. We have a need of salvation, and so our second point is to see the means of salvation offered in this passage. It’s good news, by the way, that there actually is a means of salvation. If you are here today, and coming to realize your guilt before God, it’s great news that he offers a way of salvation. Don’t take that for granted. God’s not obligated to have offered that. That is surely part of the panic expressed by the people in this passage when we see them cut to the heart in verse 37. And so they wanted to know if there was any way for them to yet be saved. That’s why they ask, “What shall we do?” They are asking what hope they have? Is there anything they can do to be saved? This is the question each of us today needs to ask in our lives? What shall we do to be saved?
Thankfully Peter tells that there is a way of salvation. In the very next verse, verse 38, Peter tells them, “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.” This then tells us the means of salvation. Simply put, it’s faith and repentance. And you then begin to express that faith and repentance by being baptized. This is how we are to respond when we are presented with our guilt before God. Three components should be in our response. We need to believe. We need to repent of our sins. And we should then express that faith and repentance by getting baptized. Let me describe these each a little further.
Let’s start first with faith. Peter in verse 38 doesn’t actually mention the need to believe, but it’s surely implied. You can’t truly repent and be baptized as described here, if you don’t really believe your need of salvation or the means of salvation offered here. Faith elsewhere in Scripture is clearly described as our most fundamental response to the gospel. We need to believe the message of the gospel: that we are sinners condemned to hell, unless we are saved. And that we can be saved by turning in faith to Jesus Christ — to receive the salvation he won for us at the cross. If you say you repent and go and get baptized, but don’t really believe any of this, then you are a hypocrite. Faith is a prerequisite. And even though Peter doesn’t call it out by name here it is not only implied, but it’s also seen in the people being converted here. For example, we are already beginning to see the people express their faith in this passage by the very fact that they ask the question in the first place about how to be saved. It means there that they at least believe they are guilty and need to be saved and want to know how. That’s a start of their faith. And then verse 41 describes their faith when it describes the converts in this passage as those who gladly received Peter’s word.
Next then is repentance. For those who truly believe they have lived a life of sin and rebellion against God, they are called to seek to truly turn from that old life. They are to acknowledge their sin, hate it, and so want to turn from it. They turn from the path of rejecting God and his Messiah. And they turn now to the path of acknowledging God and his messiah and submitting to him as their Lord. We can put this another way. To respond to our guilt before God with faith and repentance, is to say that you are now going to seek to live your life with Jesus as your Lord and Savior. You are making a conscious change to say that I’m no longer going to look to myself as my Lord — Jesus will be my Lord. And I am no longer going to ignore that fact that I need to be saved — Jesus will be my Savior.
Well, for Jesus to be our savior, that includes that we need our sins to be forgiven. That’s what Peter promises to those who truly repent and are baptized. It’s why Jesus even died on the cross, to pay the price for our sins; he was the sacrifice for sin, in our place. This is why Peter calls then lastly here to be baptized. Outwardly, baptism is a washing with water. But the visible imagery is supposed to reflect inwardly what God is doing within us. In your faith and repentance, you come to be baptized into Christ’s church, and it’s saying you are coming to God to have your sins washed away. Of course, it’s not the water that saves you. It’s not even the physical act of baptism that in and of itself that saves you. But it’s the calling upon God in faith to wash you spiritually.
This then is the means God gives us to be saved. We need to respond to the gospel preaching in faith and repentance. And God then gives this ordinance of baptism to outwardly express your faith in repentance. When you are baptized them into Christ, you are visibly joining Christ’s church and being enlisted as his disciple. And so this is the means of our salvation. To be clear, this isn’t earning our salvation. The gospel tells us that we can’t earn our salvation. We need to see it for what it is — a gift of God. The means for receiving it don’t earn it. It’s all about the grace of God. Fundamentally we receive it in faith and repentance. The natural expression of that is in then in baptism and joining his church as his disciple. But at the end of the day it is all a gift of God.
So then, for the one who has taken hold of this salvation in this way, we are reminded here that we receive two immediate benefits. We are remission of our our sins. In other words, they are pardoned; forgiven. That means we will no longer be under God’s wrath, but are saved from that. We will spend eternity with God, having the promise of everlasting life, that though we will die, death will not hold us, but we will rise again. The second benefit here that is mentioned is that we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Every true believer has God the Holy Spirit come into their heart. That Spirit of God will do some amazing things in your life, such as helping you to understand the Bible, and growing you in godliness, and encouraging you that you are now a child of God. Much more could be said of the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit, but I’ll stop there for now.
So this is our second point about the means of salvation. Let’s turn now to our third point to consider what it looks like to live out this salvation. We see an example of this by the way the people responded to Peter’s preaching in this passage. In verse 41, we see that about three thousand received Peter’s word and did what he said — they repented and were baptized. When it says they were “added unto them,” it essentially means that they joined the church of Jesus Christ. They were baptized in Christ and were enlisted as disciples in his church. Three thousand based on this sermon of Peter! Praise the Lord. (I was praying for that kind of response today, but the day is still young!)
But then look at what else they did in response. What did this newly formed new covenant church begin to do? Verse 42, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Four things. It seems a snapshot of the church’s ministry. They were devoted to these four things. First, apostolic teaching — they were concerned with learning truth and doctrine about God and Christ. Second, fellowship — that’s a word about them being together and sharing together — think especially of church gatherings, though you can also think about the ways they would have tried to care for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Third, the breaking of bread — likely this has to do with the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which Christ told them at the Last Supper to do in remembrance of him. Fourth, prayer — probably especially here the prayer they did together.
These four things are a great description of the simplicity of their church ministry. And it is what we try to be about here at Trinity Presbyterian Church. We want to express the fellowship we have as a family in Christ. We do that in the ways we care for each other, and especially in both the informal and formal gatherings that we do together. And it’s in those formal gatherings when we are about the Word of God, and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and about prayer. We try to model our ministry in this same way.
In closing, I’d like to draw our attention again to verse 36, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” In a similar way, I want to make sure we all are confronted with this truth today. Jesus is the Lord and Christ. He demands you allegiance. If you have not yet believed, and repented, and become baptized into Christ, then I urge you to delay no longer. Talk with me or one the elders after service if you have not done this, but would like to change that.
And for those who have already been baptized into the church of Jesus Christ, I would urge you to then continue to live this out, as per verse 42. They continued steadfastly in the ministry of the church. You too, continue steadfastly today. Maybe you are here today visiting, having in the past became a follower of Christ, but you have not been continuing steadfastly in this. Repent of this today, and resume the discipleship you previous began. See the joy in following Christ with his people. See that Christ calls his people to be in fellowship with the saints, and that means that we need to be a faithful participant in a local congregation of Christ’s church. Continue steadfastly in the ministry and life of a local bible believing Christian church, where the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer are taking place together as a fellowship of believers. Not only is this a command of God’s Word — but it is a wonderful blessing and way in which Christ grows us as his disciples. Praise be to God. Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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