The Rise of Peter 07.25.2021
Back in the late 80’s, there was a Gallup Poll put out called “vital signs” that was covered in a leadership magazine. And one of their conclusions was this, “There’s little difference in ethical behavior between the churched and the unchurched. There’s as much pilferage and dishonesty among the churched as the unchurched. And I’m afraid that applies pretty much across the board: religion, per se, is not really life changing. People cite it as important, for instance, in overcoming depression –but it doesn’t have primacy in determining behavior.” I read that last week and I found it just absolutely heart-breaking. It should not be this way! The people who have no faith are living the same types of lives as those who claim to follow Jesus all their lives. The poll says, “religion is not really life changing,” and seeing as our goal in this place is to transform lives – that’s a devastating statement. Religion does not change lives.
But I guess that’s fair. I grew up in the Christian faith, so did a bunch of my friends. Some of them grew up to be good people, some of them did not. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s probably true. This building, this institution, the things we do, the rituals we go through – is not a guarantee someone is going to grow up living a righteous life. So how does it work? If it’s not the building, the music, the rituals – if it is not religion that changes lives, where DO transformed lives come from? Because they DO exist! In my ministry, I’ve only been doing this for 6-7 years, and yet I have whole list of lives that have been transformed in radical ways by the power of God. I have seen marriages healed, addictions overcome, family reconciliation achieved. I have seen incredible transformation, beautiful change. And so if religion does not change lives – where’s that change coming from? Because all that other stuff that’s just the frosting – I want to know where does the cake come from. If religion is not the source of changed lives, and yet we have evidence of lives being changed – where does it come from? This is the question I have today. Today is part two in our series called the Birth of the Church, and we are going to hold that question in our minds as we dive into chapter two of the book of Acts.
Last week, before Jesus ascended he told them, “wait in Jerusalem, I’m going to be sending you the Holy Spirit.” There was a promise, the Holy Spirit will come. We open up chapter two and bam – guess who’s coming to dinner? [read v.1-4]. The Holy Spirit is often talked about as the inspiration of God, the fire in our hearts, a flicker of hope in the darkness. The Greek word for Holy Spirit is Ruah, and you’re supposed to say it as you exhale. Ruah, literally translated it means “breath.” The spirit is a fire in our heart and the breath in our lungs. [read v.5-12]. So there’s this incredible miracle going on in Jerusalem. The words of the disciples are being translated as they leave their mouths and the people are receiving good news in their native tongue. The promise is fulfilled, the Holy Spirit shows up, and immediately the group goes from cowering in fear to proclaiming Jesus’ name in the streets. The promise is fulfilled. There’s a story about the great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundson. He did a lot of things, mostly exploring the Artics, but his big thing was that he was the first person to make it to the South Pole. On one of his trips on the top part of the world he brought a homing pigeon with him. When he finally reached his goal, he opened the bird’s cage and set it free. Can you imagine being the wife of this explorer who was always setting off on dangerous expeditions? Back in Norway when that pigeon came home, she would find it circling the sky near their house and no doubt she would cry out, “He’s alive! My husband is still alive!” It’s kind of the same thing when Jesus ascended. He was gone, but his disciples clung to his promise to send them the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine their excitement and joy when the Holy Spirit shows up. Jesus is alive, he’s really alive and he’s up there with God in heaven, sending his homing pigeon, the Spirit of God, to us. And so the disciples rush out into the street, and this message is being brought to all the different people of Jerusalem, no matter where they are from, and no matter how impossible their country is to pronounce.
And I’ve read this story a thousand different times, and I always focused on the miracle, but I never really focused on the message. But this last time I was reading it, it seemed so obvious – the point here is that the message of Jesus is for everyone. Clearly if we’re translating it to every language, to make sure every person gets to hear it – the message of Jesus is for everyone. There is no one who does not need to hear it. Your friendly elderly neighbor up the road, they need to hear about Jesus. That guy who pulls up at the stoplight with his windows down and his terrible music WAY too loud – he needs to hear the good news about Jesus. Those guys playing on the basketball court I drive past every single day – they need to hear about Jesus. The good kids who play sweet and innocent games down the street, the not-so-great kids who took a sharpie and vandalized our boat playset – the message of Jesus is for them too. (don’t worry, we took care of it). The atheist, the muslim, the agnostic, and the “i-don’t-care-about-God” crowd – the message of Jesus is for everyone.
And at first everyone is amazed. How are they doing this, speaking to each of us in our own languages? Then, of course, there’s the hecklers who say, “Go home disciples, you’re drunk.” This is no miracle, they’re just about bunch of booze hounds finishing off a bender. But Peter’s not going to let that slide. He gets up in front of everyone and says, “No! They’re not drunk. Listen up.” Verse 22 he gets started, [read v.22-24]. Peter gets up in front of the crowd and says, “alright, listen up jerks. Jesus was awesome, and you killed him.” Pastor Andy Stanley puts it like this, the message of Peter to the Jews had three parts: “You killed him. He rose from the dead. Say your sorry.” And you can see that laid out – verse 24 “you nailed him to a cross and killed him”, verse 25 “God released him from death, raised him back to life”, say your sorry.
Then Peter does this weird thing where he starts quoting Old Testament passages about Jesus. He starts using prophecies to describe Jesus, he quotes King David and says, “King David was clearly talking about Jesus!” Verse 31 says [read v.31-32]. Now I want you to catch what’s going on. This is Peter’s big moment. He gets up in front of all these people and starts talking about Jesus. But he delivers that message to a Jewish crowd, and so he uses sources they are going to understand. Right? He quotes the Old Testament in his argument to prove and convince them that Jesus is the son of God. Three times he does this. Verse 17-21 he’s quoting Joel chapter 2, Verse 25-28 he’s quoting Psalm 16, and then in verse 34-35 he’s quoting Psalm 110. (and I should note, I don’t want you to think I’m just up here with my bible, like, totally memorized. It’s in the footnotes.) Peter has a message that is for EVERYONE, but he is presenting his argument in a way that is specific to a particular group. Using quotes from the Old Testament is a great way to legitimize Jesus to the Jewish people. Peter is coming to them on their level. Because the message is for everyone, but you don’t use the same Method for everyone. People will hear the story of Jesus in a lot of different ways.
Verse 36, after all the Old Testament quotes, Peter reminds them that they killed Jesus, “remember how you guys killed him?” [read v.36-37]. Peter tells them the truth and it pierced their hearts. They found out they did something wrong, and they’re devastated. And what’s crazy is that this happens in every single one of our lives. The first thing the Holy Spirit does when it shows up in our lives is convict us. It makes us feel guilty! Oh, some of you might be surprised. I know, we like to associate the Holy Spirit with the warm fuzzies. I listened to that worship song and I just felt so wrapped up in the presence of God, and we think that’s all the Holy Spirit is good for – giving us the feel goods when we worship. But the first thing the Holy Spirit does in our lives is convict us. For Peter and the Jews it went like this: you killed him, God raised him, Say your sorry. But you can bring that into the modern world: you sinned, God gives us hope through Jesus’ resurrection, say your sorry. Peter’s words pierced their heart, and so they ask, “what do we do?”
[read v.38-39]. The reason the first thing the Holy Spirit does is convict us, make us feel guilty about our sins, is so that we will turn to God and repent. We say sorry and turn our lives towards God, and we receive forgiveness and a new life. The Holy Spirit doesn’t like making you feel bad, but it LOVES when you walk away from your sin. Do you see how different this is from the modern church? Right, like our “religion” is coming to church for an hour on Sunday, maybe reading my bible, praying when I get sick and volunteering once in a while. But Peter says, no, no, no – it’s not about a building. You don’t need the church, you ARE the church. What you need is to be convicted by the Holy Spirit, see the sin in your life, say you’re sorry, repent, receive the GIFT of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins and a brand new life.
Listen to this picture, this is the end of the chapter, [read v.42]. Like, what if this right here is supposed to be the cornerstone of church in the modern world? Devoted themselves to the teachings, so like – the bible, reading it and figuring it out together. Fellowship, hanging out together, sharing of meals (that’s where we get it from! You know all those potluck jokes? Right? Like, “you know those Methodists love to have their casserole at the potluck” – of course we do! It’s in the bible. Teaching, fellowship, sharing of meals and to prayer. These are the four pillars of the original church – and I think if we get really good at those things, our church will literally never go out of style. And here’s what I want you to catch – you don’t need a building for any of that stuff. You do need the people sitting next to you. You can’t “church” alone. You can’t live the Christian life without each other! We are the church. This family that we have been given. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I like our building a lot. I’m very grateful for indoor plumbing and heating and cooling, and cool technology and amazing decorations, but if we lost everything we would still have each other. Like they did back then. The chapter finishes up [read v.43-47]. Religion can’t do that. But the Holy Spirit can.
The good news this morning is that God sent the Holy Spirit. He lived up to his promise! Like that homing pigeon, Jesus said, “I’m going to go up to heaven and then I will send you the Holy Spirit” and he did it! The Holy Spirit showed up for the disciples, and that promise is good for you too. The message of Jesus is for everyone. No matter what mistakes you have made in your life. Jesus is for you. No matter how far you have gone, no matter who you have lied to, no matter who you have hurt, the secret pride or envy or lust you carry in your heart. No matter how many times you have fallen – forgiveness is available to you. Jesus is for you. The Holy Spirit shows up, convicts us. Makes us feel bad about our sin, so that we will turn to God’s forgiveness. Like shining a light on the mud on our clothes, we see the sin in our life, the dirt on our clothes, and because of the Holy Spirit pushing on us, we want to be washed clean. Because God forgives those who repent. God forgives those who repent. I don’t know how else to say it – God forgives those who repent. And that means you. But it doesn’t stop there. God forgives us, and then the Holy Spirit stays with us to help us live the life we committed to.
Paul tells the people, “I want you to repent AND be baptized.” And like we say every time we have a baptism, this is not about one moment. Baptism is the beginning of a journey. Baptism is the beginning of the rest of your life. Baptism is where we invite the Holy Spirit to walk with us, to set up shop in your heart and help you live as a new creation in Jesus Christ. This is the difference between religious structures that don’t help anybody, and the transformation we find in true Christianity. Religion that says, “the church is this building” – that’s not going to change anybody’s life. But the movement of the Holy Spirit connecting people that are completely different, no blood relation, but through the blood of Jesus become brothers and sisters in Christ – studying the scriptures together, fellowshipping, sharing meals together, and praying for one another – that’s the church. We are the church. The Holy Spirit makes all the difference. The Holy Spirit specializes in changing lives. It’s literally the ONLY way we can create a community like what we find in Acts 2. God sent the Holy Spirit and so we need to repent and be baptized.
So I’ve got two challenges for you today, and you’re going to need the Holy Spirit to pull off both of them. First – repent. Remember the first thing the Holy Spirit is going to do in your life is make you feel guilty for your sin. The Holy Spirit convicts us. It gives us a peek at what it looks like to be holy, and the mess of this life is so far away from that. And I don’t even think it’s about guilt or shame. When the Holy Spirit shows up, we get a glimpse of heaven. We get a glimpse of what life COULD be, and suddenly we don’t want to settle for this broken life anymore. We want holiness, we want perfection, I don’t want this limited sinful life. The Holy Spirit shows up, convicts us, and then we look at this life we’ve been living and we start to see the sin everywhere. And it’s kinda gross. Like turning a black light on in a hotel – you ever see that? They used to do it a lot on the news, they’re take a reporter in and the UV lights will expose stains of blood, semen or urine, and they turn on the lights and there’s just stains everywhere. And you’re looking at all that and you’re thinking, “man, I hope it’s pee.” When you start to see how God WANTS you to live, and you hold that up against the life you’ve been living – that’s called conviction. God shows us a deluxe apartment in the sky, and we’re looking at our sin like it’s a pee soaked hotel room. So throw it away. Throw away your sin. When you find sin in your life, whatever it is – throw it away. The Holy Spirit is offering you something better – so the first thing we do is repent.
Peter says, “repent and be baptized” but I’m going to update it a bit for us this morning. Repent and live into your baptism. Once the Holy Spirit has convicted you, and washed you clean, then you are free to start living your life as a new creation in God. Let the Holy Spirit get to work transforming your life. Start living your best life as a child of God. And we should probably model it after the four pillars of the church in Acts 2. First, study the teachings of the apostles, which for us means study the scriptures. We have to get together and read the scriptures and try to understand them together (it’s what we’re doing right now!). So go to church, so we can study the scriptures together. Another great model for that is bible studies. Life Groups! Getting together to study the teachings, to learn about Jesus and how his life affects the way we live ours. Study the scriptures. The second pillar – fellowship. There is a legit biblical command to hang out with each other. You heard it here folks, coffee hour is biblical. We should be there for one another, not just when things are bad and when we need help – but in fellowship. Go out for coffee, play cornhole. Spending time together in community. Study the scriptures, fellowship, and the third pillar is: share meals together. [fist pump the air, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes]. I knew I loved the bible. Study the scriptures together, fellowship together, eat meals together and the final piece is prayer. If you’re letting the Holy Spirit work on your heart, let it push you to prayer. Pray to God every single day, and pray for the people in this church. It draws us closer together, to be united in prayer. Peter stands up in front of the crowd (you’re going to notice he does that a lot), and he says, repent and be baptized. So let’s listen to what he’s saying – let’s repent and live into our baptism.
Thirty years ago Gallup took a poll that said religion can’t change lives. And they were right. Religion, institutions, denominations, buildings – they can’t change lives. But when Jesus left and ascended into heaven he said, “I’m going to send the Holy Spirit” and ever since the Holy Spirit showed up He’s been changing lives. And so I’ll leave you with this. May the Holy Spirit convict you. May your sins be exposed and may you throw them away. And then May the Holy Spirit inspire you. May you be inspired to live into your baptism – with fellowship, sharing of meals, prayer and devoting yourself to the teachings of Jesus. And in this way we can reclaim the spirit of the early church. Amen.
 George H. Gallup, “Vital Signs,” Leadership, Fall 1987, p.17