Today for the first time since I had my cancer treatment, I was invited to preach at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch.
I was delighted to be there today and the fellowship were pleased to have me with them.
I preached on one of the set readings for today from the Revised Common Lectionary.
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.” 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Our Bible reading from Acts 2 is one of the set readings for today. It surprised me as you would think it more appropriate for Pentecost Sunday. But it does contrast the boldness of the Apostles and the other believers with what we read about them in the aftermath of Jesus’ death on Good Friday.
It is amazing how the lives of those early believers were turned upside down when God’s Holy Spirit came upon them on that day of Pentecost. These men and women who were going about afraid of the Jews as we are told in the gospels, suddenly are proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ not only in their native language but in so many other languages that many of the foreigners there in Jerusalem could understand them and hence understand the message.
We know that there are many spiritual gifts given to believers through the Holy Spirit but this gift of speaking in different languages seems to be unique in the New Testament.
The whole question of speaking in tongues can be very divisive from the “if you don’t speak in tongues you are not a Christian” end of the spectrum to what one very religious church goer once told me “speaking in tongues is witchcraft!” She clearly hadn’t read and understood her Bible.
Many of the crowd on hearing the believers speaking in different languages instantly decided “they are drunk!” We can’t understand them and we are not going to think anymore about this. Its obvious they’ve been on the razzle.
Often God’s people have been slandered as being intoxicated or mad when they have proclaimed the good news. It’s a defence mechanism used by folk who don’t want to hear the truth for a variety of reasons.
Just imagine a preacher having to start a sermon as Peter did in v15 with “We aren’t drunk! Its only nine in the morning”.
Most people get drunk in the afternoon or evening. Having said, that I took the funeral of an alcoholic who would cycle to work in the early morning, and by the time he somehow reached his place of employment he had downed a bottle of vodka.
So having put the record straight on the question of sobriety, Peter emboldened by the Holy Spirit goes to town. This is the man who denied Jesus three times after Jesus had been arrested. What a change. John 13:37 & 38 “Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!”
Do bear in mind, the crowd were made up of Jews, from all over the then known world. The Jewish people had been saturated in the scriptures literally from birth. In Deuteronomy 11, Moses tells the God’s people: “ Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates,”
So those listening to Peter would know the scriptures and no doubt recite them from memory. They would put us to shame as I am sure that many of us with our printed Bibles, Bibles on smart phones, tablets, Kindles and the internet don’t know the scriptures as well as these 1st century believers.
But perhaps they hadn’t put all the pieces together to get the picture. It’s a bit like having a jig saw puzzle and looking at the pieces, not noticing the picture on the box and not realising that the pieces fit together to make a whole picture.
Peter simply takes the pieces out of the box and puts them all together. The crowd then see the whole picture.
This is similar to when the Holy Spirit sent Philip into the desert to meet an Ethiopian who is reading the Bible as he travels home from Jerusalem. We read in Acts 8:29 – 31 “The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
Paul in Romans 10: 13 – 15, puts it this way: “ for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?”
Very few people come to faith in Jesus Christ without having the good news presented to them, and by reading the Bible themselves.
I’m sure that many of you here have good memories of these who helped you come to faith, who helped you put that picture together. Maybe it happened all at once or maybe over a period of time. For me and my wife Gaynor the pieces finally came together when we moved to Rainham after we married and started attending the Parish church. The then vicar, a great man of God, Peter Ratcliffe helped us put the final pieces in place.
Peter in this great sermon lays out the proof that Jesus is the son of God and the Messiah, or promised one, mentioned throughout the old Testament.
Many of those who hear Peter have what you might call a “light bulb moment” when everything becomes very clear and they realise that they need to do something. They cannot let the moment pass them by.
Acts 2:37 “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 replies straight away in Acts 2:38 & 39, “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.”
Its as simple as that. Repent, be Baptised.
Sadly many people today still think that you can bypass Jesus and get into heaven by your own efforts.
The billionaire former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg thinks God likes him. He said in a recent interview: “I am telling you, if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
Sadly Mr Bloomberg is wrong. Peter in Acts 4:12 says of Jesus“ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Also Jesus himself made the matter very clear and straight forward in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
No matter how sincere and devote they may be, followers of other religions will not be saved as they do not put their faith in Jesus.
So what do we have to do?
We have to realise that we cannot bring people to faith on our own.
We need God’s help through the Holy Sprit, so that we not only recognise the opportunities God gives us, but also have the courage to seize the moment and have the right words to say.
We also need to know our Bible well enough to be able to give a reasoned explanation of the truths we are trying to put across. So that when we are asked “what shall we do?” we can give an answer that brings the person to Jesus and to eternal life.