Having just read a lengthy and powerful section that demonstrates the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I think it’s probably worth noting very plainly that the Gospel is a powerful message. For some of you that might go without saying and taken for granted. It shouldn’t be taken for granted though. The power of the Gospel to save men, in fact to convert men by its preaching, is central to the Gospel itself.
I fear that, today, many people don’t actually see the power to save as coming from the Gospel but see the power to save as coming from within. Many of the most popular preachers on TV and in books today are proclaiming a message that man’s problem is not tapping into something that God has made available to every man inside of them. The power of salvation, they say, is found in our sincerity or in our experience of God. The idea that the power to save comes from outside of us is now a foreign idea to many. The reason it is foreign is that it is not being taught like it used to be. Preachers no longer talk about Christ and His work – instead it’s our sincerity that becomes the work that improves our condition.
Even the words we use about the Gospel can communicate whether or not we believe salvation rests on the inside of us or comes from the outside of us as an announcement. Too often, men talk about an invitation to believe. An invitation, though, is something you get to a special event and you have the option to accept or refuse. We might not say it out loud but many probably believe that the invitation is given because God will just spend eternity in misery if we don’t make Him whole by accepting Him.
But God is not made whole by us. No, we are made complete by Him.
What if the Gospel was not an invitation at all but a command? What if the Gospel had within it the power of salvation to actually convert the hearts of men? What if the God who said “Let there be light” and there was light was able to raise dead men to life by the preaching of the Word?
Honestly, I don’t think there’s any if about it.
Romans 1:16 calls the Gospel the power of God for salvation. There’s a reason why we preach the Gospel to the world: because the Gospel saves and if men had it within themselves to save by coming to God then we would not need to go to them as ambassadors of Christ. The Gospel is much more than helping men come to a self-realization that God loves them. Christ didn’t have to die on a Cross for the message that you just need to wake up and realize that God loves you.
Peter continues in his powerful presentation of the Gospel here by reminding all the Jews present of an obvious fact: Jesus the Nazarene was attested to them by God with miracles and wonders and signs that God performed in their midst. These men were without excuse for not believing Christ because, as Nicodemus noted, no man could have done the things that Christ did unless He came from God. This was so plainly taught in the Scriptures that these men were blameworthy for not believing that He came from the Father just as He said. It wasn’t as if they were being asked to have a blind faith like the Mormons who accept tales of Joseph Smith’s encounter with an angel. Christians have a faith based in the evidence of Christ’s power and that ultimate power was displayed in a historically recorded event known as the Resurrection.
But, in spite of the evidence, these men were blind. They were blind in their sin and Christ Himself had regularly condemned them for their blindness and unbelief. It’s not that they needed to have a blind faith but their problem was that they were blind so they had no faith. Jesus even told Nicodemus that a man cannot see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again in John 3. These men were dead in their sins and, even though Christ was clearly manifest, they fought tooth and nail against Him.
Christ did everything that the Scriptures foretold the Son would do and they missed it. Instead of embracing His feet and calling Him Lord they actually put Him to death. Notice in verse 23 he condemns them for what they did to Christ: “…you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death….”
Many in attendance were probably Pharisees that had long schemed how they could trip up Jesus or how they could put Him to death. Many more were those who had stood in a crowd and called that a robber be released and yelled to crucify Christ.
But it wasn’t just these men who had sent Christ to the Cross, it was God Himself. Christ did not go as a helpless victim but He gave Himself up freely. Christ was “…delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God….” God was not pacing back and forth in heaven, biting His nails, and wondering how things could have gone wrong. No. God had foreordained that this would happen.
But even as God ordains all that comes to pass, this did not relieve these wicked men from their responsibility. God is able to use the wicked deeds of men for His purposes even while He does not tempt them to sin. Men act according to their own desires – their wicked desires – but God uses it for His glory. God ordained things so that Christ literally died at the very hour that God had planned He would while these men were completely blameworthy because they planned his death according to their own desires. God did not have to plant sinful desires within them or twist their arms: they put the Son of God to death willingly.
But, Peter continues in verses 24-32, Christ did not remain dead. “You failed to kill the Son of God like you planned. Oh, you murdered Him but little did you know that the Son of God could not be held captive by death.”
Peter quotes David in Psalm 16 who proclaims:
‘I SAW THE LORD ALWAYS IN MY PRESENCE;
FOR HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, SO THAT I WILL NOT BE SHAKEN.
26’THEREFORE MY HEART WAS GLAD AND MY TONGUE EXULTED;
MOREOVER MY FLESH ALSO WILL LIVE IN HOPE;
27BECAUSE YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES,
NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.
28’YOU HAVE MADE KNOWN TO ME THE WAYS OF LIFE;
YOU WILL MAKE ME FULL OF GLADNESS WITH YOUR PRESENCE.’
Peter uses a very obvious object lesson here by pointing to the very tomb of David. Obviously, Peter declares, David couldn’t be talking about himself not decaying because his tomb is nearby. Everyone knows that David is in the grave.
But not Christ. Christ is risen from the dead. Christ was not abandoned to Hades nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus, that you crucified, God raised up again just as Christ foretold. You thought this Man to be deceived. You thought this man false but God vindicated Him and proved Him to be the Son of God by raising Him from the dead just as He foretold He would. All of us standing here proclaiming the mighty works of God in your tongue are witnesses to the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of the hearers of this news. Remember that they put Jesus to death and were deceived into thinking they were pleasing God while they were doing so. Can you just imagine that the hair on the back of their necks is starting to stand on end as they begin to feel the weight of their guilt? If you think that’s bad, wait until Peter really nails them with the Ascension of Christ that we talked about two weeks ago.
In verse 33 Peter proclaims the Ascension of Christ to the right hand of God in heaven where the resurrected Jesus assumes His place of power and majesty on high. Christ had promised His disciples at His ascension that, after He went to the Father, He would send the promise of the Holy Spirit to them. Just as He promised, the Spirit has been poured out on His disciples. Men of Israel have witnessed this power, which attests to Christ’s place of power and glory on high.
He quotes David again with a Psalm that would have scared the life out of the Pharisees. It’s the same Psalm that Christ Himself had quoted to them in Matt 22:44.
THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.”
It’s from Psalm 110 and Christ asked the Pharisees: “Who is David talking about?”
Of course it was Christ but, in their hard-heartedness the Pharisees only wanted to kill Christ for claiming to be God.
Do you understand that? The Pharisees and, indeed, the men present had put Christ to death for claiming to be God.
And they thought they were honoring God for doing so.
But here is the bad news for these men in verse 36: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Verse 37 says very simply that when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart.
What pierced them?
The Gospel did. The power of the Gospel cut them to the heart. The Word that is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword laid out the plain truth: These men were guilty of putting the Son of God to death on a Cross.
Guilty! Deserving of judgment! Deserving of condemnation! God had every right to destroy them, to judge them for their great sin.
But God was rich in mercy toward them. Even as Christ was in agony at the hands of these wicked men – men just like you and just like me – He prayed for them: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
That prayer was about to be answered for them.
They asked: “Men and brethren, what must we do.”
We’re guilty of treason against God. We know we’re toast. How can we escape the wrath of a Holy God. Tell us, please, what must we do?
38Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39“For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
Are you serious?
Repent and be baptized in the name of Christ and this great offense will be taken away?
God intends to bless me?
God intends to save me by the work of this Man?
This is the truly mind-boggling thing about this News they receive. It is the mind-boggling thing about the Gospel: Sinful men intended to kill the Son of God and they succeeded. They were under the judgment of God for killing the Son of God. But the very act that condemned them is the work that saved them!
It is Christ’s death on a Cross that saved these men! It was His work for them and not any work they could do in return to make up for their wicked deeds that covers overed their wicked deeds.
It was His resurrection on a Cross that pointed to the acceptance of that sacrifice for their great sin that paved the way for their eternal life.
It was His ascending on high where He interceded for them powerfully and prayed that these men be saved by the power of the Gospel and, so, the power of the Gospel went forward and cut them to the heart. It opened their eyes so they could see their sin. It opened their eyes so they could see the Son of God who had died on a Cross.
And now, the Man they once hated because they were dead, they now loved because they had been made alive by the power of the Gospel. The man they once hated because they were blind, they now loved because they could see. Though they were once under condemnation for putting the Son of God to death, they now ran to the very Cross of offense and held onto it for dear life because only in that sacrifice of Christ would they have any hope of forgiveness. The place of the Curse was the place where the Curse was taking away. The stone of stumbling that would have crushed them became the very Rock of salvation.
Do you understand the great power and beauty of the Cross? God, in His foreordained plan uses that which man wants to kill and to hate and to call a curse to turn it around to bless them, to love them, and bring eternal life. It’s glorious.
That powerful Gospel went forward that day and, by the grace of God, men who had once hated the Son of God and been blinded to His power were now awakened in newness of life. 3000 souls were added that day to the Church.
Beloved, the Gospel truly is the power of God for salvation. The Power of that Gospel is in its command. Indeed it is a command that Paul declares in Acts 17:30-31: “30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Even as the Gospel is going forward as a command, though, the glorious thing about it is that the power of God is going with the command. It is bringing dead men and women to life as the News of Christ’s death and resurrection is announced.
We need not fear then that we are not persuasive. We need not fear that we are not perfect. We need not fear that men might have objections. Of course men will deny God and His Son but we have the power of the Gospel to proclaim. We ought to trust in its power and not our power to persuade men but trust the power of the Gospel to convert men. We are simply happy bearers of the message and allow the power of God to do the rest.
The question for you and me, though, is always: Have we believed the report? Are we still blind and deaf to the things that God has done by sending Christ to die on a Cross? Are we still offended by the idea of judgment and that God is just in condemning men who reject the Savior?
Do we believe the report that Christ has risen from the dead and reigns on high?
Indeed, may the power of the Gospel cut us all to the heart. May the Gospel convince us in a fresh way that we do not deserve the grace shown us. May the Gospel remind us that we too would have rejected the Son had He not died on a Cross and interceded for us that we too would hear the News of His victory and dominion on high. May we all continue to put away the vain idea that we contributed anything to God by our belief. Instead, He has done all the work, He has put away the offense all by Himself and we only cling to the promise that He saves those that trust in that work by faith.