“Peter- From Denial to Street Preacher” Acts 2:14-21, 37-39 8-16-15
Peter’s message was simple in response to those who said, “What shall we do?” Or, “How can we be saved?” It was to repent and to show that repentance and faith by baptism. For people in our day, this is a really, really hard message to hear. We are almost blind and deaf to it. But, it is still the most important message for us. In our day in the West people are saying you don’t need to repent- you just need to feel better about yourself and get more coping skills. In our day in the West people are saying, you don’t need to commit- you just need to learn and be free to move on whenever you feel like it. We are called to repent. To get free of our debt, to get free of our addiction, to get free of our meanness- we have to acknowledge there is a problem and turn from it. But we don’t get free from debt by thinking that we just don’t believe in ourselves enough. Psychologists have said for decades now that the root problem of people is low-self-esteem. Their reasoning is that if people just felt better about themselves- if they had money, or work, or an education then they wouldn’t abuse their spouse or steal or be mean spirited. But this is just not true. Rich people can be greedy and steal from their employees or their companies. Educated people cheat they call it plagiarism. One person from the American government said that if we could just funnel money to ISIS and give them jobs, perhaps their problem would disappear. This is the reasoning that says we just need more confidence in ourselves. ISIS problem is not money or jobs or education or self-confidence. Tim Keller points out that up until the mid twentieth century every culture in the world thought the problem with people is pride, arrogance, and high self-esteem- or hubris. In fact, as Psychologist Lauren Slater points out in an article in the NY Times, high self-esteem is not the cure but the culprit of drugs, alcohol abuse, poor academic performance and harsh social skills. People with low-self esteem actually seem to try harder and achieve more. I look at the Geeks in high school as some of the most successful people around. I say all this to point out that we don’t want to repent- we want more and more self-esteem. The idea that we need more self-esteem avoids morals avoids God, and makes us want our own way. When you want to get your own way- you are feeding your self-esteem and there is no room for repentance. If someone disagrees with you- they are being cruel trying to squeeze you into their mold. But Peter said and still says to us- quit going your own way- repent. Years ago there were two brothers who went opposite directions. The younger brother was convicted of murder and the other brother had been a help to the needy and was very popular in the state. The free brother went to the governor and had obtained a pardon for the younger brother. He put the pardon in his back pocket and went to see his brother in prison. He asked, “What would you do if you got out of prison?” He said the first thing he would do is get that judge that put him here and the second is to murder the witness that testified against him. The older brother left with the pardon still in his pocket. There is no pardon without repentance. Forgiveness is what we want, but we have to stop the wound in order for there to be healing. The other thing he says to us is to “be baptized.” We don’t like that either. We are a non-commitment culture. Half the young people would rather live together without getting married and they have fooled themselves into thinking that living together will not hurt and develops just as much trust. We are not joiners- we are consumers. If we do not like something today- we, as consumers of all of life, want to be able to pack up our bags and leave. We are committed to being non-committal. In that sense we are committed to being alone- not trusting anyone but ourselves- living in fear of someone. We are building walls and making our island to live on by ourselves. In contrast Baptism- is joining ourselves to Jesus. It is like a permanent- non-erasable tattoo. You cannot be unbaptized. Some feel the same way about joining the church. There is freedom and blessing in commitment. It is like being a part of the family versus only being a guest. The church makes mistakes and messes up and does and says wrong things. I am not sure I want their name attached to me. Perhaps you feel like you never make a mistake, mess up, or do wrong things. Peter, the head of the church, was not afraid of sin anymore- because he knew the power of Christ to wash it away. Peter said, “Be baptized into the name of Jesus.” This means you are all in- no backing out. It means you are committed to making it work. It means that despite all the failures- and the early church had just as many as the church today- immorality, pride, divisiveness- despite it all- we are part of the family. The call to repent and be baptized is an acknowledgement that life does not revolve around us. Changed people who are really changed and know that God changed them can hold out with strength the power of change. Peter is perhaps the best example of this. Paul is another. Peter and Paul were both moral failures. They knew they didn’t need more self-confidence- they needed Jesus and to be set free. The two greatest preachers of the church are the greatest examples of something Jesus said long before- “He who has been forgiven much loves much.” , and he remembered Christ had washed his feet. To be baptized in Christ’s name means his washing is good once for your entire life. There were three transformative things in Peter’s sermon that can not only help us cope- but can help us turn our lives around in the right direction- and then keep them headed that way- the Spirit, the promise, and repentance. This sermon brought in 3,000 people to the church in one day. It is the birthday sermon of the church. Peter said to people who believed in God what they needed to do. In those days everyone recognized they believed in something or someone. Yet, it was these who believed in a concept of God who rejected God in the flesh. By Jesus’ standards, by Peter’s standards, by Paul’s standards, by Moses’ standards, by James standards- by Biblical standards- it is not enough just to believe in God. Peter said to people who believed in God and were asking, “What shall we do?” that they needed to do two things- repent and be baptized. Repent means to change the way you are living- start living in God’s way. Say in your heart I don’t want to go my own way- I want to go your way. It is a turn away from selfishness toward godliness. But the other thing was to be baptized. To be baptized meant you were all in- you had the water on you. You were signed, sealed, delivered to Christ. You weren’t playing about your faith you made the jump. Peter knew the power of God to change people because he had been changed- for good this time. Peter had many little conversions. I once knew a man in Asheville who said he had been baptized at least 15 times and he sure hoped one of them would stick. The baptism that counts is not how many times we have a religious experience- but the one in which God is truly at work in our lives. Peter gave them two reasons to repent and be baptized: the Holy Spirit and the promise. That is, God is working in your life today and in the future. He is not the God of just the past. I. THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT (14-17)- Peter began his greatest sermon- perhaps one of the greatest sermons in history- by talking about the unseen Spirit being revealed right now. He was saying God is at work. God did not just die on the cross- or disappear with the past. God is at work through His Holy Spirit. God is not just God of a previous generation- and today I hope we know better. Our decadence, our debasing ourselves in newer and newer ways; our lack of shame and the cruelty of life all point to a lack of moral progress. The continual epidemic of depression, anxiety, and lack of peace in our society and our families- all point the need for God’s Spirit to act right now. It is not that maybe the previous generations were weak and we are great. We are all standing in need of grace When we think all is lost and God has disappeared- that is when the Spirit is poured out in generous measure. I do not doubt He is poured out upon us today. The Spirit is at work today. I have seen it with my own eyes in looking at some of you. It is amazing to see God’s grace working in you. Lives changing. Hearts growing warm to Christ that I never thought would. Do not discount the Spirit. He works today.
- THE WITNESS OF THE PROMISE (39)- Peter was speaking of baptism as a promise- a promise to be bestowed on children. The promise of God affects all people of every age. Often people will talk about the effects of evil upon people- pulling them down, ruining lives. But we forget the power of the promise of God to pull us up when we could not pull ourselves up. The idea of covenant is tied to the idea of promise. God is tied to His Word and blessing. Peter was saying that if you have faith it is a blessing to you and for your children. This was literally true for the people he was preaching to. For in about 35 years the Christians would escape the city of Jerusalem as they had been warned of its doom by Jesus. But those who did not believe Jesus words were left in the city and all adults were killed or enslaved. Peter was saying that belief in Jesus is a blessing- he didn’t have to enumerate it. Having a promising life- with promising hope- is a whole lot better than what people have today- little hope, little promise. I hope that the recession we just went through begins to show us that our checkbook, savings accounts, investments- even investments in our house will not save us and bring us ultimate happiness. It is not our silly ideas of finding self-esteem that give us hope. One of the reasons we built this children’s building was because we believe the promise is not just for us- but for the next generation. Aaron and Virginia baptized Evie today believing the promise is not just for them- but for their children. Peter was saying to people then- and his words are saying to you- there is a promise from God for you. It is a promise of eternal life- a promise of a second chance and abundant life right here. The promise is there- just take it and hold onto it.
III. THE WITNESS OF REPENTANCE (21,38) Peter knew the power of repentance. He had repented himself and had been accepted. Peter did many things in threes. Be patient with me as we think about these: 1) 3fold confession: We believe and sure that you are the Son of God. You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man. 2) 3 fold boast Though all men shall be offended because of you, yet will I never be offended. Though I should die with you, yet I will not deny you. Lord I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death 3) 3fold warning: Satan has asked to have you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you. Get thee behind me, Satan, for you want not the things of God but desire the things of men. Before the cock crows you shall deny me three times. 4) 3 denials I know not what you say. No not me. I am not his disciple. With curses he said, I do not know the man. 5) 3 fold restoration- Do you love me more than these? Do you love me? Do you love me. Lord you know all things- you know that I love you. Peter had the best of intentions- great boasting- but he messed up big time. But God restored him from a denier to a street preacher- through the two things he told them to do- repentance and the washing of baptism. Christianity is not a backward looking religion. It is rather both present and future looking. The Spirit is alive today- today is the time of salvation. The promise is for the future- for your children and even those beyond them- those far off generations. If you will come to Christ in repentance and baptism, it allows you to move forward in your life- shrugging off the shackles of self-esteem freeing you to forget yourself and join. You don’t have to be the Lone Ranger out there battling the world by yourself as the one who really knows what is right. Be part of the body. Be part of the family. Be part of the church- repent and be baptized. I want to ask you to join us. If you haven’t been baptized, I invite you to come. If you haven’t joined the church but have been coming for awhile, now is a great time before the school year starts. Jesus needs not spectators- He needs committed people- we at LMPC need you too to go Christ’s way and to be committed.