"The First 'Resurrection' Sermon"
(Delivered Easter Sunday, March 27, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
I'll bet that you came this morning expecting me to preach a sermon that I myself have prepared. But the fact is that I do not have my own Resurrection Sunday sermon to preach to you this morning. Honesty demands that I tell you the truth: Almost everything that I will be saying to you has been 'stolen' from a sermon that someone else preached. (You've probably suspected that preachers sometimes do that; and well . . . now you know!)
Don't worry, though. The sermon I'm 'stealing' from happens to be a particularly good one. It's very biblical, I assure you; and it was preached by a very good preacher. And here's something that really appeals to me about this sermon, and that really had a lot to do with motivating me to steal from it: The impact it had on those who first heard it was phenomenal, and clearly demonstrated the work of the Holy Spirit upon them through it. Three-thousand people believed on Jesus in one day because of it. Those who heard it were never again the same.
Hey, if I'm going to steal a Resurrection Sunday sermon, I might as well steal from a really good one; right?
Would you like to hear from this sermon? It's a very appropriate sermon for me to 'steal' from today; because it just so happens that it is the very first "Resurrection" sermon ever preached in the history of the church. It was preached by the none other than the apostle Peter - not long after our Savior had risen from the dead; and it's found for us in the second chapter of the book of Acts.
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There's a lot for us to learn from this first Resurrection sermon. It teaches us about the great impact the resurrection of our Lord Jesus had upon this world; and it teaches us how we - living twenty centuries latter - should react to it.
Let me begin by sharing with you . . .
1. THE CONTEXT OF THE SERMON (vv. 1-21).
Acts 2 begins by telling us about Jesus' disciples. "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1).
Pentecost was a very important feast for the Jewish people. It was celebrated in the third month of their calendar year. The Jewish people would celebrate the day in which they presented the first sheaf of their harvest to the Lord - which would occur around Passover. Then, from the first Sunday after Passover, they would count out seven weeks. This would make a total of fifty days after Passover; which is why it's called "Pentecost" (the Greek word for 'fifty'); or sometimes called "the Feast of Weeks" (Deut. 16:9-12).
It was a very important day of celebration for the Jewish people. For one thing, God commanded them to celebrate it (Exodus 34:22). For another, it symbolized the ingathering of the harvest that God had given them. And it commemorated the fact that the people of Israel had been slaves in Egypt, but that God had "gathered" His people and "harvested" them from out of bondage (Deut. 16:12). Jewish people from all around the world made the sojourn to celebrate this important feast in Jerusalem.
It was on this important festival day that the disciples of Jesus were collected together in one house - not feasting, but waiting.
You see; after Jesus has risen from the dead (just three days after Passover), He appeared to His disciples on several occasions over a forty-day period. But just before He ascended to the Father, He told them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things" (Luke 24:46-48).
It was their great task to preach repentance in His name to all nations. But before they began their task, He added these very important words of instruction to them: "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you" (and here, He speaks of the Old Testament promise made in Joel 2:28: "And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh") - "but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).
The disciples were going to be His witnesses, and were going to preach about Him. But they could not do so until power had been given them. They first had to be endued with the power of the Holy Spirit in order to preach the message they were given. And so, they were in Jerusalem in obedience to Jesus' command - waiting for this promise to be fulfilled.
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Then, this is what we read happened on the Day of Pentecost - fifty days after Jesus had been offered on the cross as our Passover Lamb:
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now, there were some in the crowd - I suspect some who couldn't understand any of the languages spoken - that came to their own conclusion about the whole thing: "Others mocking said, 'They are full of new wine'" (v. 13). To put it another way, they thought, "These folks pickled!"
Jesus was truly alive! And it wasn't just because the disciples said He was alive. He was actually proving it by having a radical impact on the lives of His followers. In fact, the impact was so dramatic that those who saw it couldn't make sense of it!
By the way; before we go any further, dear brother or sister in Christ, I need to ask you something on this Resurrection Sunday. Does the fact that Jesus is alive and active in the world have any impact on the way you live? He is a living Savior, able to transform the life of anyone who trusts Him - but has He transformed your life personally? Because He is alive, do you live for Him with a new power in your home? In your neighborhood? At your job? In your school? Does His Spirit indwell you? Do you live an unexplainable life in the eyes of the unbelieving people of this world? Do they have a hard time figuring out how you can have such joy and power for living?
Later on in the Book of Acts, we read that the leaders and authorities tried to silence Peter and John from preaching about Jesus; but the leaders couldn't handle their boldness. They saw that the disciples were uneducated and untrained men; and yet they marveled. And we're given this wonderful explanation, "And they realized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). I wonder: Can the people who see you tell - just by looking at your life - that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that you have been with Him? Is your verbal witness of the living Savior validated by a life that defies explanation?
Frankly, it would be better that the people of this world would look at us and completely misunderstand the work of the Spirit in us - thinking that we're drunk or something - than that they look and not see anything different at all! Oh, that the people around us would see genuine evidence that we have been touched by the living Savior!
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Now, back to our passage. Jesus had told His disciples a few days earlier, just before He ascended to the Father, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me . . ." (Acts 1:8). And now, the promise of the Father had come - just as Jesus had said. His disciples had been endued with power to preach. So, Peter stands up and introduces his sermon by explaining what it was that all the people were seeing.
I like Peter as a preacher. I happen to think that good preachers stick a little humor in the sermon here or there. Peter, it seems to me, takes a light-hearted jab at the way folks were misinterpreting the things that were occurring. We read, "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, 'Men of Judea, and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day' (vv. 14-15). They couldn't possibly be drunk! It was only about nine in the morning; far too early in the day for that to happen.
And then, he goes on to explain what really WAS happening:
"But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel [here quoting from Joel 2:28-32]; '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'" (vv. 16-21).
Every Jewish person had known about that prophecy from the time they were children. And I believe that their minds would have immediately made the connection between what Joel said, and what they were now seeing before their very eyes. The 'last days' commenced when the Messiah had come; and now, they were seeing a foretaste the events of those last days! And so, when Peter says, "This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel," you can just imagine how their attention would have been gripped. The Holy Spirit had so arranged the circumstances that their hearts were prepared to hear the message of the risen Savior!
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That, then, is the context. Now, let's consider . . .
2. THE CONTENT OF THE SERMON (vv. 22-36).
It was Peter who was boldly standing and preaching this message to his kinsmen, the Jews - Peter; the very one who, earlier had been fearful, and who had denied His Lord. He was a different man. We need to remember that when he preached, he was being given the power to preach by the Holy Spirit. He spoke as a man; but not in the mere power and authority of a man. If I may put it this way, he preached in such a way that they heard another voice and another authority than his own. Peter spoke, but what he said was given power and authority by the Holy Spirit.
I stress that because the content of what he said in his sermon was what God wanted said. Peter preached the whole gospel in this first Resurrection sermon - that is, the whole truth about Jesus. And he didn't speak just about His resurrection, but told the full story - the story of His sinless life, His obedience to the Father, His cruel death on the cross, His burial, His resurrection in victory, His ascension into glory, and His promised return in great power as the Judge of all . . . and all of it having happened just as it had been promised by God in the scriptures. That's the whole message of the gospel.
Look at how Peter does this. He first speaks of the testimony of Jesus' life. He says,
"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 . . ." (v. 22).
No one living in Jerusalem at that time could have avoided the truth about Jesus. Everyone knew what He did and said. And what's more, no one could deny that the Father had done great miracles and wonders and signs through Him in the plain sight of all. Even those who eventually plotted His death said, "What shall we do? For this Man works many signs" (John 11:47).
His enemies testified that they could not find fault in Him. The only thing that they could accuse Him of was that He claimed to be the Son of God - which they considered to be an act of blasphemy. When they interrogated Him, they asked Him in a straight-forward manner, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" And He said in an equally straight-forward manner, "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:61-62).
And this testimony about Himself was enough for them to condemn Him to death. But they could not condemn Him on the basis of any sin that He committed. They could not accuse Him of deceiving people by performing false miracles, or by only pretending to heal, or by only fooling people into merely thinking that He raise the dead. It was clear to all that God truly performed miracles, wonders and signs through Him. All they could accuse Him of was that He claimed to be the Son of God. Peter stressed that these are things that all his listeners themselves knew.
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Then Peter speaks of the Savior's death. He says,
"Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, having crucified, and put to death . . ." (v. 23).
As all this was being presented to them, imagine the unspeakable sinking feeling that would hit them as Peter said, "Him . . . you have taken by lawless hands, having crucified, and put to death!" They crucified the one that God had attested to before their very eyes! They had crucified the promised Messiah! Today, people often disbelieve Him, or ignore Him. Sometimes, they even mock Him or ridicule His cross. In a sense, they "crucify" Him to themselves repeatedly. But they do this to the one that was clearly attested by God with miracles and wonders and signs. What a grace from God it is when that sinking feeling hits, and they are made to realize the truth about this Jesus that they rejected!
But notice also that Peter says that they crucified Him "by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God". I believe that the preacher Peter was merciful in saying this. Though they sinned greatly, and crucified the Son of God, they nevertheless did as God had intended - crucifying Him in accordance with His determined plan. And they also did this according to His foreknowledge; because God knows in advance what it is that He had determined in His sovereign purpose would come to pass.
And I remind you that Jesus had said all this before. He had told His disciples, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again" (Luke 18:31-33). On another occasion, He told the Jews while in the temple, "'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' Then the Jews said, 'It has taken us forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?' But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scriptures and the word which Jesus had said" (John 2:19-22). The apostle Paul even preached the gospel in these words: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4).
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And this leads us to notice how Peter stresses His resurrection.
Peter says much about the resurrection of Jesus in his sermon. All of the elements of Jesus' life and ministry that Peter preaches about are important to be told; but the resurrection of our Lord is pivotal. As Paul said, "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty" (1 Cor. 15:13-14). Everything else that is said about Jesus is confirmed to us by His resurrection.
Peter says that this is the Jesus that they had crucified,
". . . whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it" (v. 24).
He tasted death in accordance with the plan of God. But it was impossible that He could be kept imprisoned in death. The chains of death could not hold Him; and He shattered them once and for all. This reminds me of something that we read at the beginning of the book of The Revelation. The apostle John is given a vision of the Lord Jesus in His resurrection glory; and Jesus tells John, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am he who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death" (Rev. 1:17-18). He who has the keys has gained the victory; and Jesus has the keys of Hades and Death!
Then, Peter shows his listeners how the scriptures promised the resurrection of Jesus. He quotes from Psalm 16:8-11, which contains the prayer of King David - from whom the Lord Jesus, in His humanity, descended. Peter says,
"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'" (vv. 25-28).
Peter attributes the things David says to the Lord Jesus. Listen carefully to the explanation that he offers in his sermon:
"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 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 (vv. 29-32).
What great boldness of preaching! As Peter says elsewhere, ". . . We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). And to all these things, the Jewish people who listened to him could not but agree. There it was - laid out before them in the scriptures!
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This leads him, then, to speak of the exaltation of our Lord; and in doing so, he asserts that what the Jewish people were seeing right then was the proof of it all. He says,
"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 [here, quoting from Psalm 110:1]: 'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool"'" (vv. 33-34).
Peter was a "one-sermon" preacher. His sermons had the same content. He was later told by the authorities to stop preaching about Jesus. They were upset with him, saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with our doctrine, and you intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" (Acts 5:28). But Peter boldly responded by refusing to compromise; repeating everything that he already preached - including the resurrection and the exaltation of our Lord:
"We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:29-32).
So often today, if we who are the Lord's witnesses are told to be quiet about Jesus, we respond by meekly saying, "Yes, sir." But that's not what this early preacher did! He held nothing back. He told the whole story, and trusted the Holy Spirit to drive it home to his listeners. May we be more like him!
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And then, after all this, came the summary of Peter's sermon:
"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (v. 36).
That leads us, finally, to . . .
3. THE APPLICATION OF THE SERMON (vv. 37-40)
Now; can you imagine the guilt that would have struck the hearts of those who heard? Imagine: God sent them the Messiah! And they responded by crucifying Him. And then, God responded by raising Him from the dead and exalting Him to glory! No wonder we read, "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (v. 37).
You know; many people get very angry at the hearing of the full message of the gospel. They're alright with hearing a piece of it here, and a piece of it there - so long as the facts are kept isolated. They don't mind hearing about the resurrection! The resurrection even has a positive ring to it. But if you tell them the whole story - that is, if you tell them that our condition of sin was so bad and so hopeless, that only the coming of the righteous Son of God could save us; if you tell them that He lived a sinless life before us, and that we hated Him so much that we crucified Him for it; if you tell them that He bore our guilt on the cross in our place, and that it was our own sins that placed Him there; if you tell them that He was raised from the dead to prove that God was satisfied with His sacrifice for our sins, and that He has ascended to the right hand of the Father in glory, and that He will one day return as Judge of all the earth; if you tell them what it says in the Gospel of John:
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he had not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil (vv. 17-19);
. . . in other words, if you tell them the WHOLE gospel message in context, they may become very insulted! They may become defensive. They will hate you for it. They may even say - as the Jewish leaders said to Peter - "You intend to bring this man's blood on us!"
But that's not the right way to react to the preaching of the full message of the gospel. That's not the right way to react, in fact, to the story of the resurrection. The correct way to react is to be cut to the heart, and to say, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Those words are the words of people whose hearts have been convicted by the Holy Spirit, and who now believe the truth of everything that was told them in the gospel. These who heard the truth about Jesus wanted to know what to do; and only someone who truly believes the truth would want to know that.
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And Peter is a good preacher. He tells his listeners what to do. He said, "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" (v. 38).
Three things are involved. The first is to repent. If you believe all that is said about Jesus - if you truly believe in the story of the resurrection; but you also believe it in the context of His life, His death, His burial, and His ascension into glory - then the proper response is to turn from sin! Thank the Father that He has provided the atonement for your sin in the Person of Jesus Christ. Thank Him that His resurrection is the proof that the Father accepts Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, and that it has satisfied the debt that is owed because of your sin. And then - by His grace - turn from sin and live for Him!
The second is to be baptized. Peter says, ". . . And let every one of you (that is, every one of you who truly believes on Jesus) be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission (that is, the forgiveness) of sins . . ." Peter isn't saying that, when you are baptized, your sins are forgiven by that baptism. You are only forgiven by means of your faith in the blood of Jesus. Rather, Peter is saying that you are to be baptized as a public testimony of your faith that your sins ARE forgiven in Christ. If you have believed, then your sins are forgiven; and you are to now confess that belief publically by being baptized.
And then, third, trust that you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise of the Holy Spirit was made to the Jewish people through the prophet Joel. But it's a promise that includes you and me too, if we will believe on Jesus. Peter says, "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call" (v. 39).
The same Holy Spirit who came down upon the apostles and worked through them mightily, the same Holy Spirit who worked mightily through Peter, and in fact - as the Bible tells us in Ephesians 1:19-21 - the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of glory, will also abide in you and work through you and live through you. He indwells all who belong to Jesus (Rom. 8:9). And He will empower you to live the kind of life that is pleasing to the Lord - the kind of life that displays to the world that Jesus Christ truly is alive, and active, and able to help anyone who trusts Him.
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I told you, at the very beginning, that I love this sermon of Peter's and didn't mind stealing from it. And one reason was because of the impact it had on those who first heard it. The impact was nothing less than a miracle! The results clearly demonstrated the work of the Holy Spirit upon Peter's listeners.
Just look at what happened after he preached. We're told, "And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (vv. 40-41). Three-thousand Jewish people trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior. Now I'd say that's some real 'Holy Ghost' preachin'; wouldn't you? When I steal from a sermon, I only steal from the best!
And by the way; do you - like those who heard this sermon - receive the message of the gospel 'gladly'? If I steal from this sermon, I hope you will steal from the original response to it. To be specific, I hope that you will accept the story of the resurrection of Jesus in its full "gospel" context. And if you do - and if you follow it up by repenting of sin, confessing a genuine faith in Christ through baptism, and go on to live in the power of the Holy Spirit with great joy and boldness - then you will be responding to the story of Jesus' resurrection as you should.
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