Theme: The gospel is the message about what God has done in Jesus Christ. We share it because we believe it is true. But we will also share it because it works. Because hearing this message and responding to Jesus Christ changes lives.
In the series, “God’s Mission; God’s Method,” we will be looking at the Book of Acts to see God at work in the early church. The series will help us start our life together by looking afresh at what it means to be God’s people, caught up in the world-changing action of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to “play church,” just going through the motions. I want us to be the church, the church God calls us to be. ~Rev. John Schmidt
Reading from the Book of Acts. Now, it is a long passage, so I’m not going to read all the verses. I’m going to read just some of the verses that pertains to what I will be saying this morning. But, by all mean please read the whole thing on your own. We are in Chapter 2 and this is Peter speaking to the people who are surrounding the disciples on the morning of Pentecost; when the Holy Spirit has come upon the disciples, so I’m go to begin on verse 14:
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
Now, let’s go down to verse 22. Listen to this.
“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Let’s go down now to verse 32.
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you see and hear.
And then now we will finish up the passage by reading verses 36-41.
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “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. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Let’s pray. Father, we thank you for this your Word. We thank you now that we have the freedom to spend a moment thinking about it together. So, bless this time and open our eyes to what you want us to know. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Well, Calvin Hunt lived in a doghouse. Now, by that I don’t mean that Calvin Hunt was constantly in trouble with his wife. Calvin Hunt really lived in the doghouse. Because Calvin was a crackhead, and his need for drugs was so bad that eventually he stopped living at home and moved into an abandoned lot that was right next to where his pusher lived. And he lived in a doghouse there so he could be close to his supply of drugs. Now, Calvin was married to a Christian woman and she went to her church in Brooklyn and asked them to be praying for her husband. And so they began to pray for him regularly. Not these sort of cheap prayers, you know. Oh God, bless so and so and turn them from their evil ways, you know sort of thing. No, this was serious prayer where they held him before God and held on to the promises of God and asked that God would change his life fully and finally, and they did this repeatedly. Now, Calvin got into the habit that when his wife was gone he would sneak back home, pick up some things to eat, change his clothes and take bath and then leave again before they would return.
One day when she was at prayer meeting he came home and while he was in the house he started to hear crying in the house, so he figured that maybe she was still there and so he looked around the house and couldn’t find anyone in the house, but he couldn’t stop hearing the crying. And then on top of that he started to get this irrational fear that if he fell asleep in this house, even took a nap,that he would never wake up. Being thoroughly spooked by this whole experience he decided he would find out whether his wife was actually at that prayer meeting, and so he went out and got on a train, got off at the stop by the church, went to the church and came into the back of the church, only to discover the entire church calling out his name at that moment. God bring Calvin Hunt to this place and free him. Set him free fully, finally and forever. And at that point the pastor looked up and saw him in the back and said, “Thank you Jesus. He is here.” Now talk about a party in that sanctuary at that moment. On that night, Calvin Hunt responded to this same message that Peter preached. Calvin Hunt responded to the good news of Jesus Christ and became a changed person. I met Calvin, because Calvin is now one of the worship leaders and soloist for the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir. A changed man. An answer to prayer. But it is just not Calvin. This has been going on for a while.
200 years ago a slave trader responded to this same message of the gospel. If you go into London in the church of St. Mary Woolnoth in London, you can find a memorial plot near a pulpit that says this, “John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and a libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith that he had long labored to destroy.” John Newton heard the gospel as a child from his mother, but he pushed it away and lived his own kind of life, lived selfishly, lived destructively and by his early 20’s was the captain of a slave ship making his living by selling other people into permanent bondage and almost certain death. One day in a storm he is despaired of his life and finally said, “God save me, I give up.” God answered that prayer and John became a Christian. He stopped being a slave trader and eventually he became a pastor and a hymn writer, and he is the author of Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. It means something when you realize what a wretch he was. He was lost and then found.
200 years ago this experience. In just the last decade or two the same kind of experience John Newton and Calvin Hunt. But it has been happening for 2,000 years. 80 generations of people have recognized that Jesus Christ makes all the difference. And it is a response to the very message that we read in these passages. And, I would like to just go through a few of the verses with you.
We begin with Verse 22. Where it says that Jesus Christ was a real person. Men of Israel listen to this. Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and sign, which God did among you through him as you yourselves know. In other words, this message is preached in front of an audience of people who have actually witnessed some of the things that he is talking about. We are talking about history, an historical figure when we talk about Jesus. He did things witnessed by thousands of people.
Go to Verse 23. Another core part of this message is that this man was handed over to you and he was put to death on the cross and yet this was because God had a purpose in it all. You see, because when Jesus went to the cross, God had a purpose in working out the forgiveness of our sins, paying the cost and making a foundation that we could have a relationship with God. This is part of what Prada preached. This is part of what John Newton heard. This is part of what Calvin responded to.
Let’s go on. Verse 24. He died, but God raised him from the dead. We start getting to amazing stuff here. We can believe that somebody is killed, and we could even believe that somebody is killed in the purposes of God, but here is someone raised from the dead and it shows to us that Jesus accomplished what he set out to do. And he proves that he is God’s chosen leader for the world. This is all part of the core central gospel message.
Verse 33. This Jesus who is resurrected from the dead is now alive and he is ruling the world. When we celebrate communion, we celebrate what happened until he comes again because right now he is alive and ruling in heaven.
And then Verse 38. Right before that they say, “What shall we do?” and then Peter says, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There is always a call for response in the gospel. We have to wrestle with what it means to turn our lives from the way it used to be and turn our lives to God and say, “Yes God, come into my life and make it the kind of life that you want it to be.” The gospel has always had that call to response and in that when we do respond, God responds back by giving us the Holy Spirit. The member of the Godhead that indwells our lives and can make us live like different people. This is an old, old story. Peter preached it. Paul preached it. If you look in Acts 9, you see an incredible conversion experience there. And then Paul being a new creation. Then in Acts 17 preaches this message to an entirely different kind of audience of Gentiles, but at its heart has the same message. This real man Jesus has died and is now in heaven and ruling, and we are to respond to him to have our lives put right with God. God has done something about the world. And that is what Central Presbyterian Church has always said. God has done something decisive about the world, and he has done it through the cross of Jesus Christ. That is what we have stood for and that is what we will proclaim in the future, as well.
We will continue to share this message and the reason is, we will share it because it is true. Here is Peter in this passage, he is sharing this stuff about Jesus Christ in front of an audience that could have shut him up by simply producing the body. Then it would have been a little blip in history and disappeared forever, because the whole audience would have walked away laughing, saying “Yeah, resurrected Jesus. There’s the body.” This message was proclaimed early enough that there were still eyewitnesses left alive, and so we have a message that even though there are parts of it that seem incredible that we can have a reasonable confidence that it is still true, it still happened. So we will preach this because we believe it is true. But we will also share it because it works. Because hearing this message and responding to Jesus Christ changes lives.
Now, we are surrounded by advertising. Think about all the advertising we hear in a given day. Hundreds and hundreds, billboards, magazines, radio and television. There is toothpaste out there that promises to do things to my mouth that, and make me so attractive in a way that I don’t believe losing 20 years, 20 pounds and getting plastic surgery would actually do, but it promises that. And chances are it probably doesn’t even whiten your teeth quite as much as they promise. So we hear this all the time and we build up these filters where we recognize that most of what people are telling us is not true. I don’t want to be a part of a religion that gets to be part of that problem where we are making claims that aren’t true. We share this because we believe it changes lives and because we believe it works. We share the gospel because we have experienced something, even here in this passage, why is Peter preaching? Think about it for a moment. He is preaching to this group of people because there are tons of flame on their head. Something has happened. Something has happened that he has to point to and interpret and explain to the audience around them. God has done something and he explains this to the people.
Now, we don’t often get the chance to explain miracles of this magnitude to people in order the share the gospel. Usually, what we point to as the reality, as the fame, is a changed life. For example, my son and his friend Jessie went to Kaluga, Russia. Now in Kaluga they went on a short-term mission trip, helped out a church for two weeks with their music ministry. When it was all over a guy named Dima, which I think is short for Dimetri, I don’t know how they get Dima in it, but anyway. Dima took them from Kaluga back to the Moscow airport. Now, any of you who have been to Russia and there might be a few here, recognize that there are certain roads that have police checkpoint repeatedly on them, even now. And so they go through several checkpoints on the way to the airport and at one of them the policeman asked Dima to get out of the car and come into the police office. Now, my son John and his friend Jessie are sitting in the car and they are waiting, and they are waiting. It is taking some time and John is trying to figure out how do get to an airport in a strange country where you can’t speak the language when your driver has been arrested. But, a few minutes later, Dima comes out laughing with his arm around the policeman. You see what had happened is the policeman took him in and pulled up Dima’s records on the police computer and Dima had been a drug abuser and a drug pusher for years and had been in trouble with the police, but he also noticed that just a few years ago, his police record disappears. You know, he stops having these episodes with the police. And so the policeman said, “Look I have a nephew who is a drug user, what happened that you live a new life?” So Dima needed to have those two Americans wait a little while, while he had a chance to share the gospel. Now why did Dima have a chance? Because there on the record, on his rap sheet was proof that Jesus Christ made a difference.
Where is the difference in our lives? Where is the proof? Now look, we might not have the kind of lives that Calvin Hunt, John Newton and Dima had. We might not have that level of change, but any of us who have responded to Jesus Christ have a very real testimony. There is something that genuinely has happened. There are places that we can point out where the old has passed away and things have become new and different, and it is in this reality of what we have experienced of Jesus Christ that we get to share with the people around us. Because they don’t want more advertising, they just want to know if something really works. Where is the proof in our lives? Because out of that, out of that reality we get opportunity to share the gospel.
Now, if you haven’t responded to this love of Jesus Christ, what I would like to ask is what’s holding you back? You know if you have real questions that are keeping you from making this step from turning your life over to God, then go ahead and answers those questions. That’s a noble quest. But just take it seriously. This is far too important to get careless with. If you have questions, look for the answers. Talk to people that you can see that change or your can sense that something different and ask them to help you struggle with these issues. It is okay to look for answers. And if you are a Christian and have responded to that truth, then how are you sharing this message with the people who surround you? There are important people in our lives and how are you sharing that? What’s holding you back if you are not sharing it? That’s also a struggle. I can’t stand up here and tell you if you do these two things, you are going to be able to share with everybody and share it successfully. It is not the way life works. But, it is worth struggling with if you are not able to share this with others. What’s holding you back?
I am here in this church because I believe this message is true. And I believe it works. I believe it works because it changed my own life. Thirty-one years ago, I was a college sophomore at the Louisiana State University and one day I sat in front of the Dairy Science Building and wrote out a list of all my sins on a piece of paper, and I tore up that list and I dropped it down the drain in the street because on that day, that old life was gone and I had become someone new. On that very day some things changed immediately. It was absolutely amazing. Some things I still struggle with thirty-one years later. I wish it would change, but we are working on it. But I did change. There is no doubt that there is a new person here because of what God did. I followed God from that Dairy Science Building into Bible studies, into prayer meetings, ultimately even into churches and then to seminary, even to Japan. I followed Jesus even to Japan and now here to Baltimore. Why? To share this central message about what God has done in Jesus Christ. It is worth it. I am here to share it because it is true and because it works.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you. We thank you that this gospel has changed so many of our lives. What you have done in Jesus Christ, in history 2,000 years ago still has impact on us today and I thank you for all the joy its brought. I thank you for all the wholeness it has brought, and I thank you for the many ways we would have hurt ourselves and other people that we have it because we are following you. And so we pray that all of us might deal with you seriously on whatever level we are on, whether we are still searching, whether we have been walking with you for most of our lives, help us to take whatever the next step is. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.