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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Text:Acts 2:37-39 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:14-41

Ps. 122
Ps. 143:1,5,6, after readings
Ps. 87, after sermon
Hy. 1
Hy. 7
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ,

 This afternoon as congregation we may celebrate the joyful event of a baptism. Melissa, who started attending our worship services some years ago already, has been taught by the church and has come to that point in her life where she wants to make a public profession of her faith, receive holy baptism, and so be visibly and official incorporated into the Christian church and this congregation. A joyful moment for her and for us all!

Baptism is not something that the church thought up or invented. Christ commanded it. Before he ascended into heaven, he told his disciples to go out into the world to baptize. It is part of the great commission that you read at the end of Matthew 28. Jesus told his disciples, “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

The disciples of Christ started baptizing in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, ten days after Christ ascended into heaven. Peter preached a sermon that led to people being baptized. But before the baptisms began–3,000 baptisms–his sermon evoked a profound conversation.

Peter’s sermon evoked a conversation that got to the fundamental issues of life

In this conversation we hear:

1. An anxious question

2. A gospel answer

3. A generous promise

1. An anxious question.

 The anxious question is, “What shall we do? ”

 You can hear the anxiety, the worry, the desperation, in the question. This is the question you ask when you are frantic and at the end of your tether. If you are in a situation where you are distressed and distracted, then you will say to your friend, “I don’t know what to do! Tell me, what shall I do? ”

 Who were these people, and why were they so anxious? They were Jewish pilgrims who had come to Jerusalem, from the surrounding nations, to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost. They had heard the commotion that had erupted in the city when the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the church and had filled the 120 Christian believers. The 120 believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, had begun to speak in other languages. Those who witnessed this were stunned and amazed and wondered at what was going on. Some of them said that the Christians were probably drunk. “Carrying on like that, they must be drunk!”

 The apostle Peter then explained to the people what was going on. He said that, no, they were not drunk; rather, they had been filled with the Holy Spirit. Their OT scriptures (and he referred specifically to the prophet Joel) had said the day would come when the Holy Spirit of God would be poured out upon the people of God.

 In his sermon, Peter gave a summary of the life, passion, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus Christ all the way to what Christ had done on the day of Pentecost. And it is this sermon that sent a chill of fear running down the spines of the audience and aroused their anguished cry. Peter said that Jesus had lived among them, performing miracles, wonders, and signs. He had only done well to others while he was in their midst. But they, on Passover, had put him to death. The Jewish people who were there for the Pentecost festival had been there 50 days earlier for the Passover feast. And they had crucified Jesus. But God had raised him from the dead. It was impossible for Jesus, a sinless man, one who at the same time was the eternal Son of God, to stay dead. Not only did he arise from the dead, but he ascended into heaven. And from heaven he poured out the Holy Spirit upon his believers.

 In v. 36, Peter delivered the knock-out blow of his sermon: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. ”

 Now we can understand their anxiety, can’t we? Fifty days earlier they had participated in a mob event, a near riot, where a poor hapless Galilean rabbi, whom some had said was the king of the Jews, had been crucified. The pilgrims had gone back to their homes and those who lived in Jerusalem had gone back to the regular stuff of daily life. This Jesus fellow had been long forgotten. But now, fifty days later, they are back in Jerusalem, and what do they hear? God had made this Jesus, whom they had crucified, both Lord and Christ. Peter did not want them to miss what was going on. Be sure about this one thing: The man whom you crucified is now the Lord. The one whom you had put to death, and then forgotten about, is now the Lord of heaven and earth. They had put to death the Son of God, who at the same time was a sinless man. He, none other, is the ruler of the whole universe.

 Can you understand why they were rather worried? When they heard Peter’s sermon, they were cut to the heart. It was like a sharp knife had been plunged into their hearts and they were filled with fear: “What shall we do? ”

 Our past response and attitude towards Jesus may make us a little anxious, too. What do you think about the fact that Jesus, who was put to death by sinners, for sinners, is now the exalted Lord of heaven and earth? Jesus was put to death on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God against our sins. Our sins were the reason Jesus suffered and died. Perhaps in the past–perhaps up to this point–you have not paid much heed to Jesus Christ. Perhaps he has not really functioned in your life. You have not really thought about him much. Or, at one point in the past you did, but then you forgot about him. Now that you hear about him in this sermon, you are starting to feel like the people in the story. A bit uncomfortable, like the point of a knife blade is starting to prick and jab at the flesh of your heart. And you begin to ask, “What shall I do? ”

 That is the anxious question. Thankfully, the question does not remain unanswered, but receives a gospel response.

 2. A gospel answer.

Peter’s gospel answer to our anxious question is: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ”Peter is not teaching a rigid order in which the whole matter of salvation progresses. We ought not to take from his that the inflexible order of salvation is: repentance, baptism, forgiveness, and, finally, reception of the Holy Spirit. Repentance itself is the work of the Holy Spirit.

But let us consider these different words and things that Peter referred to.

He said, “Repent. ”What is repentance? It is the beginning of the only appropriate response to the sermon that convicts us of our sin. It is regret over sin and remorse over having behaved and lived in such a way as to make one worthy of the wrath of God.

Do not think that repentance is the work of man. Repentance is the gift of God to those who look to Jesus in faith. Repentance is something given. In Acts 11:18 we read that God grants people repentance unto life. God, through his Holy Spirit, gives and works repentance as a response to the preaching of his word.

Peter said, “Repent and be baptized. ”When people repent of their sin, they desire and receive baptism. Baptism is a sign of being washed by the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ. As Peter said: be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Baptism in the name of Christ is a sign and seal of having your sins washed away by the blood of Christ and being filled with the Spirit of Christ. It brings one into the possession of Christ and into fellowship with God and his people.

Peter said they are to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This does not conflict with what Jesus himself had said, that the church was to baptize into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the Trinitarian baptism, there is a singular name: It is the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. There is not a baptism in Jesus Christ followed or preceded by separate baptisms in the Father and yet another in the Holy Spirit. God is one, his name is one, and therefore there is only one baptism. As Eph. 4:5 says, there is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. To be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ means to be his, to belong to the family of God his Father, and to be filled with his Spirit.

We need to understand that this is all God’s work. Repentance is given to us. The forgiveness of our sins is a free gift received by faith. And the Holy Spirit is a gift. Peter used the word very specifically here: You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

You do not work for a gift. When someone gives you a gift, he just gives it to you. You do not earn it or pay for it. You just receive it. Think about a gift that you have received. You did nothing for it. You just received it. Someone said: Here is a gift for you. You opened your hands, and there it was. And after you received it, it was really yours. No one could take it away from you.

In the same way, when you look to Jesus Christ, you receive this gift from him–a threefold gift, you could say: repentance, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit. None of that is your work. It is all the free gift of Jesus Christ. And baptism is a sign of that gift–a sign of it and a seal upon it. Baptism means that your repentance, your forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit in and for you, is all signed, sealed, and delivered. All of that good news belongs to you. It’s the gospel answer to the anxious question of what we are to do when we reflect upon our sins and God’s wrath against our sin. Repent, be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, and be blessed by the Holy Spirit who will dwell in you.

3. A generous promise.

We have already heard about the generosity of God. In the gospel we hear, see, we taste the generosity of God. That he freely gives us repentance, forgiveness, and his Spirit, as a gift. That the only thing we need to do is nothing. We open up the hand of faith, and receive the gift of repentance, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit. There we see the generosity of God.

But I want to shine the gospel light, for a moment, yet in another direction as I speak yet about a generous promise. And that is in the direction of: for whom this is. V. 39 says it: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far offfor all whom the Lord our God will call. ”

The promised gift is for his audience, for their children, and for all whom the Lord will call.

As a minister of the word of God, I may tell you that this is for all of you. For Melissa who will publicly profess her faith and be baptized this afternoon, and for all of you. It is for old and young, parents and children, members of this congregation and visitors. This promise is for you. God promises you that if you repent of your sins, God will forgive you and fill you with his Holy Spirit. He will grant unto you, freely, graciously, as a gift, that of which baptism is a sign and seal.

This is, as Peter said, for all whom the Lord will call. What does that mean: For all whom the Lord will call? How does the Lord call? He calls through the gospel. It is an earnest call. All whom God calls by the gospel are earnestly called. God earnestly and most sincerely reveals in his word what is pleasing to Him, namely, that those who are called should come to him. He also earnestly promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.

He promises you forgiveness and his Holy Spirit. Repent of your sin and look to Jesus in faith. That’s the call of the gospel.

Hear the call! Accept the generous promise. Believe the gospel answer. Find in the good news of Jesus Christ the answer to that basic question: What shall I do? AMEN 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. George van Popta

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