Peter in the Pulpit
"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." (Matthew 16:18 NASB)
In this passage from the book of Matthew, the Lord Jesus was talking with his disciples and asking them who the people thought he was. In response, they replied that people were saying he was any of several people from John the Baptist to the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah back from the dead. After hearing their response, he then brought the conversation to the crux of the matter: "But who do you say that I am?" That brought the question home. The issue wasn't what other people thought, the issue was what they thought. It was time to take a stand.
This question is also the crux of our current lesson. As we'll see, it's one thing to hear the truth; it's another to act upon that truth, to embrace it as your own and to weave it into the fabric of your life. Truth that remains merely a philosophical idea in the mind of the individual is only an intellectual diversion -- it produces nothing of real substance in that person's life. It's only when that truth is fitted with shoe leather and worn day in and day out through the trenches of life that its benefit is truly realized.
One of Jesus' disciples understood that.
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God," Simon replied without hesitation. With loving affirmation, Jesus turned to his brash, outspoken disciple and said "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." He then went on, in the passage above, to give his friend Simon a new name -- Peter (which means "rock"). His new name was appropriate, for Peter was to be given the honor of laying the foundation for the soon-to-be-born church of Christ, first with the Jews and later with the Gentiles as well.
In our lesson this time, we see the beginning of the fulfillment of these words as the New Testament church begins to emerge.
Recall from last time that the Holy Spirit had just been given
to the apostles during the Jewish celebration of Pentecost. As a result, the
apostles had begun speaking in numerous foreign languages, languages they had never
Intrigued, the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost began to gather around
to see what was going on and were amazed to hear the apostles, for the most part
uneducated men from the unprestigious region of Galilee, speaking fluently in
their own languages. In verse 12 of Acts chapter 2, they wondered together
aloud, "What does this mean?"
In response to the accusation by some that the apostles were simply drunk (v. 13), Peter stands up and says, "Hey, pay attention! These men aren't drunk! Why, it's only 9:00 in the morning!" (By the Jewish way of keeping time, each new day started at 6:00am. (This compares to our current way of keeping time which begins each new day at 12:00am.) Thus, the "third hour" meant three hours after 6 o'clock in the morning, or 9:00am.) Peter is about to clarify that what the people are witnessing is not an early-morning party but the very fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy determined by God before the world was ever created and spoken by one of the revered Jewish prophets centuries before.
The prophet Joel, Peter argues, said this day would come -- and here it is! Centuries before it had been prophesied that a new age ("the last days") would begin with the Spirit of God being poured out upon the whole world -- on anyone who believed. For the duration of these "last days" (what we've also referred to as the Church Age), the Holy Spirit would relate with man in a different way than before -- He would actually indwell any and all who called upon the Lord Jesus Christ. This special relationship between God and His people would continue until the end of the Church Age when Jesus returns for his people. This "second coming" will be preceded by various supernatural signs:
Using a single quotation from the prophet Joel, Peter summarized God's plan for world following the earthly life and ministry of Jesus. But he didn't stop there. Filled with the Spirit of God, Peter boldly went on to explain to the crowds how this eternal plan had been set in motion right before their very eyes.
Peter minces no words here. God had come in the form of the man Jesus. This should have been obvious to them because of the miracles he had performed among them. But their hearts were hard and they refused to see the truth. Instead of recognizing him and heeding his words, they chose to reject him and even went so far as to turn him over to the Romans to be murdered by crucifixion.
To further make his point, Peter quotes from another great Old Testament figure, King David.
Quoting from Psalm 16:8-11 (written by David), Peter goes on to explain how the death and resurrection of Jesus was planned by God from the beginning. In this psalm, David refers to having hope despite the prospect of death. Why? Because God would not "abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow your Holy One to undergo decay". "But wait!", Peter argues. "We all know that King David did die and his body did decay like everyone else's. So David must have been talking about someone besides himself in this passage. When he wrote this, he wrote not of himself but he wrote as a prophet predicting the future death of one of his descendants. Unlike his own death, however, this future death would not be followed by decay of the earthy body because it would be resurrected! This descendant of King David who died and rose again was none other than Jesus -- the very man who had been killed a few weeks earlier by the Romans in Jerusalem.
And now that he was resurrected where was he now?
Quoting from another psalm of David, Psalm 110:1, Peter then explains where Jesus had gone after his resurrection. He had "been exalted to the right hand of God"; that is, he had returned to his place of honor in heaven until God the Father made his enemies "a footstool for his feet". (Jesus himself quoted from this same passage in Matthew 22:41-45. There he presented this argument: The Jews knew from various Old Testament passages that the Messiah would be a descendant of David. But in this psalm David refers to his descendant as "Lord". Why would he refer to his own descendant as "Lord" since the father is always more esteemed than the son? The reason, Jesus implies, is that David knew the descendant he was writing about would be the promised Messiah from God -- one infinitely greater than David himself.)
Peter concludes his spontaneous presentation with a final, blunt statement of the truth.
With that, Peter concluded his sermon and sat down. An awkward silence must have followed -- the crowds had merely gathered to see what was going on, they hadn't banked on this. As Peter's words began to sink in, the truth finally began to dawn on many of those in the crowd -- and with it the agonizing realization of what had happened: They had betrayed and murdered their own Messiah, the one for which their nation had longed after for centuries. As this realization grew in their minds, the pain of grief and remorse in their hearts became too much to bear.
Points to Ponder:
"What shall we do?" This, friends, is the key question. Peter's audience had just heard the truth presented to them -- just like many of us have. But simply hearing isn't enough. We must act upon it. In the gospels, Jesus told a story where he compared those who hear the truth but do nothing with it to seed that gets dropped on a sidewalk where it can never grow. The end result is nothing. So with us. If we are to benefit from hearing the truth we must do something with it. If you've never accepted Christ as your savior, all the Bible studies in the world might make you a little smarter but they'll do little else for you. Do something about it! Your life will never be the same.
If you find yourself in a similar place as Peter's listeners, realizing your need for help and wondering what to do next, then follow the same prescription Peter offered the Jewish crowds -- the only one which will be able to meet your need.
Repent. Many think it means "to be sorry". It includes that, yes, but it means much more. Repent is a word of action. It means not only to be sorry, but to actively turn away from those things for which you are sorry. Peter's instructions were direct: Deliberately choose to turn away from your sin, and turn to Jesus Christ. If you do, you will receive the free gift of the Holy Spirit -- meaning the spirit of God himself will literally come and live within you. And this promise is not only for a few select chosen ones; it is for everyone who will simply ask. That includes you.
Peter's sermon that day resulted in the salvation of 3000 people. In a single day the Holy Spirit had come, the church had been born, and the membership roles had exploded! Those who became believers that day and received God's grace had their lives forever changed because they decided to take action on the truth they had heard.
Next Lesson: The Early Days