Tonight’s sermon is yet another sermon-request sermon, and in this case, I was asked to preach on the difference between someone who attends services because they were "raised in the church" and someone who is here because they are a disciple of Jesus. This is a relevant subject to many of us because it touches on the two-edged nature of having been brought up by godly parents.
On the one hand, godly parents are a great gift. I myself benefited immeasurably because both of my parents were devoted Christians and raised me accordingly. However, with that gift, there comes a trap, the trap of free-riding on our parents’ faith and never developing a faith of our own. If all we do is show up here because Momma and Daddy did, but we never truly commit our hearts to the Lord, we’re no better off than if we spent our Sunday mornings watching Captain Kangaroo! Lest we ourselves fall into this trap, let’s consider this evening the difference between someone who is raised in the church and someone who is a disciple of Jesus.
I see three primary differences here, and the first is that someone who is merely raised in the church honors the traditions of the church, but a disciple of Jesus honors His word. Consider what Jesus has to say about the dangers of tradition in Matthew 15:7-9.
We often use this verse to wag our fingers at all those tradition-following denominations, but this can be just as big a problem within the Lord’s church. When people go to churches of Christ but don’t know the word of Christ, the practices of their church basically become their Bible. What they see becomes their standard of right and wrong.
This is problematic because it elevates human tradition to the level of God’s word, which is exactly what Jesus is criticizing in Matthew 15. Like every church under heaven, the Jackson Heights church has human traditions. However, if we don’t know the Scriptures, we won’t be able to distinguish between the things we do out of tradition and the things we do because they are commanded.
Let me give you an example. Several years ago, a preacher friend of mine happened to be waiting on the Lord’s table during the second serving, and afterward, when he offered another opportunity to contribute to the Lord’s work, he prayed before passing the plate. After services were over, an older sister came up to him and ripped him up one side and down the other. She said that her late husband had been a deacon and an elder in the church, and never had she seen anyone do anything as disgraceful as praying before the collection on Sunday night!
Now, is there anything unscriptural about offering such a prayer? Of course not! However, because the traditions of her church had become this sister’s Bible, when he violated those traditions, she reacted as strongly as if he had violated the word.
Brethren, that attitude is the fountainhead of apostasy! All of us are responsible for knowing why we do what we do, and being able to distinguish between God’s commandment and human tradition. There’s only one way to get there—by returning to the word again and again until we understand the commandments of the Lord for ourselves.
Second, where someone who is merely raised in the church will be content with staying the same spiritually, a true disciple will seek to grow in Christ. Consider the Hebrews writer’s critique of the failure to grow in Hebrews 5:11-14. Of course, there are all too many Christians who were not raised in the church who fail to grow anyway, but spiritual immaturity is certainly one of the hallmarks of the generational Christian.
Again, the basic problem here is making the church and not the word our standard. After all, when do all of us see the most Christians? It’s during our Sunday morning assembly. Thus, if you’re getting your information about Christianity from the practice of the church, you will conclude that the thing that you do in order to be a Christian is to come to church on Sunday morning.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think coming to church on Sunday morning is great! I know there are younger Christians here who are fighting hard to make regular church attendance part of their routine, and I applaud that.
Yes, being a disciple of Jesus involves coming to church, but it does not consist of coming to church. And yet, to all appearances, there are lots of Christians who think that discipleship is about churchgoing. There they are, year after year, decade after decade, filling a pew, but they never do anything, and they never seem bothered by their inaction. They are the thorny ground in the parable of the sower, and we know how Jesus feels about Christians who never bear fruit!
This evening, then, let’s each of us pause to take inventory of ourselves. Let’s each of us cast our mind back 10 years and remember the kind of Christian we were then. If you haven’t been a Christian for 10 years, remember who you were when you obeyed the gospel. Then, compare the old you to the current you. Has there been a change? For that matter, has the change been good?
Are you, for instance, better about reading the Bible regularly than you were 10 years ago? Do you pray more frequently? Do you spend more of your time in serving others? Are you more willing to share your faith with outsiders? Do you contribute more generously than you used to?
There are many other possible questions, but they all make the same point. If we are not changing for good, we are not growing, and if we aren’t growing, we aren’t faithful disciples of Jesus.
Finally, those who are raised in the church seek to please others, but the disciple seeks to please God. Look at Paul’s question in Galatians 1:10. Indeed, we can say that if we primarily are seeking to please others, we are not disciples of Christ, whether we are in this building or not.
Often, this has to do with our relationship with our families. Many of us have had the frustrating experience of teaching someone the gospel, pointing out the truth about baptism, and having them say in reply, “I can’t believe that, because if it’s true, then Grandma went to hell.” They are more loyal to their families than they are to God and His word.
Sadly, there are all too many church-of-Christ attendees who come out of family loyalty too. They belong to the Lord’s church because Grandpa did, but if Grandpa had belonged to a denomination, that’s where they would be.
Arguably even worse are those who attend services to keep peace in the family. They have no faith of their own, but they come because it’s easier than falling away would be. I saw a particularly tragic example of this in Illinois. A brother returned to the Lord after decades out of duty, and he came back with such zeal that he brought his family with him. They filled a whole pew!
However, some years after that, he died, and after the funeral was over, I don’t believe I ever saw any of them again. They weren’t following God. They were following Daddy. They were following Grandpa.
Brethren, ain’t nobody going to get to heaven by following their family! It’s not enough for Jesus to be Mama’s Savior and Daddy’s Savior. He has to be our Savior. We have to love Him ourselves, with all of our heart, and all of our mind, and all of our strength. We have to love Him so much that we are willing to abandon our earthly family. Only then are we truly His disciples.
Sometimes, I get the same sermon request from multiple sources. Such is the case with this evening’s sermon, on withdrawal. Not only has one of the members here asked that I address the subject from the pulpit, but the elders want me to do so as part of the congregation’s practice of teaching on it regularly.
This is, of course, not anybody’s favorite topic in the Bible. None of us like to think about any of the members here being so intent on sinning that they force us to formally separate ourselves from them. However, none of us are devil-proof, and bitter experience has shown all of us that time and again, he entices Christians to leave Christ behind. Not because we want to, but because we have to, let’s spend some time this evening considering how we should behave during withdrawal.
First, we must REMEMBER THE STAKES. Here, consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 5:4-7. This is part of his discussion of how the Corinthian church should handle the man who has taken his father’s wife. Obviously, this situation is a little different than ours. Paul is an apostle, and he is wielding his apostolic authority to tell the Corinthians, “You must withdraw from this sinful man.” Nobody can do that today.
However, the reasons why Paul has taken this action remain valid. First, he shows us that withdrawal is important for the sake of the soul of the sinner. These people by their practice of sin already have severed their relationship with God. When the congregation withdraws from them, that severing of relationship is a visible sign of the invisible disaster that has occurred. It’s one last desperate effort to get them to realize the seriousness of their plight. If we withdraw from someone as a matter of bureaucratic correctness rather than as a way to get them to repent, we’re doing it wrong.
Second, withdrawal is important for the sake of the church. This is what Paul is getting at in vs. 6-7. Sometimes in Scripture, leaven is used metaphorically of something that’s good. That’s not true here. Instead, when Paul is talking about leaven, he is talking about the corrupting influence of a sinner who is allowed to remain as part of the congregation. It is sad but true that once a congregation accepts one sin, it soon will accept every sin and become no different from the world. Ultimately, then, we practice withdrawal not only for the sake of the sinner, but for our own sakes as well.
Next, we must FOLLOW THE PROCESS. Jesus sets it out for us in Matthew 18:15-17. Sometimes, I think we read this process as having three steps. Really, there are four. Step One is confronting the erring brother with his sin. Step Two is involving others, typically the elders, in the process. Step Three is bringing the brother’s sin before the church. Step Four is regarding this brother as no longer part of our fellowship. Of course, if the brother in sin repents at any point of this process, we rejoice and don’t follow it to its conclusion.
The first thing that I want to observe about this is that all the steps of this process must be followed in order. Too much of the time, Christians want to skip Step One and go straight to Step Two. They know their brother is in sin, but they don’t want to talk with him about it because those conversations are unpleasant. Instead, they want to take the problem to the elders and dump it in their laps.
Brethren, that’s wrong. We have a God-given responsibility to go to our brother ourselves. Only when we have that conversation and they don’t listen to us should we go to the elders.
Second, we must honor its results. Once a Christian has been withdrawn from, things can’t be the same between us. They can’t continue to have a role in our assemblies. They can’t even be people we socialize with and have a good time with. Obviously, there are exceptions here due to family relationships, and I’ve discussed those things before, but that does not overshadow the general rule. Withdrawal has to mean a significant change in relationship.
During the withdrawal process, though, we must TRUST THE ELDERS. Consider, for instance, the admonition of Hebrews 13:17. I’m well aware that second-guessing the elders is one of the favorite hobbies of many Christians. Indeed, I have noticed that the difficult decisions that face elders often seem simple and straightforward to those who are not actually called on to make them. I think that’s generally problematic, but it’s especially problematic when it comes to erring Christians.
This is true for two reasons. First, we owe the elders deference because of their position. There is no such thing as a perfect elder, and ours are no exception. However, they are the ones who have been selected by God to lead our congregation, which means that it’s God’s judgment that they are better suited to make those hard decisions than any of the rest of us are.
This means that we should consider our own judgment with skepticism. If we think the elders should be doing something different with a Christian who is in sin, we might be right about that, but probably, we aren’t. If brethren were as quick to question their own wisdom as they are to question the wisdom of the elders, the elders’ job would be a whole lot easier!
Second, it’s often the case that the elders know more about the situation than we do. Brethren will often get upset about the perceived unfairness of the elders withdrawing from one in six weeks while continuing to work with another for a year. In my experience, that’s not because the elders are being whimsical. It’s because they are addressing different situations differently, often on the basis of information that the congregation does not and should not know. If the puzzle doesn’t make sense to us, that’s probably because we don’t have all the pieces!
Finally, we must SPEAK TRUTH IN LOVE. Look at Ephesians 4:15. There are three elements to this idea, and all three must be present for us to please God. First, we have to speak. Second, our words have to be the truth. Third, they must be loving. If we leave any of those things out, if we leave out speaking, truth, or love, we aren’t doing Ephesians 4:15 right.
This is challenging. It’s easy to say nothing to a brother who is sinning or even has been withdrawn from. It’s easy to make polite small talk that ignores the elephant in the room. For that matter, it’s easy to self-righteously blast the sinner without recognizing that we are directing our scorn at a real human being who fears and hurts and suffers like we do.
However, disciples of Christ aren’t called to do easy. We’re called to do hard. Jesus spent His whole ministry speaking truth in love with justice and compassion. He expects us to learn how to do so from Him. We shouldn’t expect to be good at this the first time we try it. Like so many other spiritual disciplines, this is a skill we develop with practice. However, the more we grow in our experience and especially our love, the better at it we will become.
One night last year, Lauren and I were driving home from a gospel meeting, and she asked me, “Am I allowed to request sermon topics too?” As all husbands know, there is only one possible answer to that question, and so here I am this morning, preaching a sermon on two of the most famous sisters in the Bible, Mary and Martha.
I think this is worth our time for two reasons. First, as we learned last week, our theme for the year is “Living for Jesus”, so it’s appropriate to consider the way two women lived for Jesus 2000 years ago.
Second, I think that Martha is in some need of character rehabilitation. She tends to get a bad rap from Bible teachers. There’s even a book out there called Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. However, when we look at what the Scriptures actually reveal about her and her sister, a different picture emerges. Let’s turn our attention, then, to the interaction among Mary, Martha, and Jesus.
There are three stories in the New Testament about these two women, and the first of these is about MARTHA’S COMPLAINT. Let’s read it, in Luke 10:38-42. This is certainly the story that people think of first when they think about Mary and Martha. In fact, for many brethren, it’s the only story they think of.
The first thing this story shows us is that Mary is kind of an odd duck. Today, we think nothing of a woman sitting and listening to a Bible teacher, but 2000 years ago, that simply was not done. By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary is not only declaring herself His disciple. She’s halfway to declaring herself to be a man.
The lesson here, I think, is that it’s OK to be a weird disciple of Jesus. Some people have an easy time fitting into the conventions of society, and they can be wonderful Christians. Others very much march to the beat of their own drummer, and they can be wonderful Christians too! Being godly is a whole lot more important than being conventional.
Second, notice that Jesus rebukes Martha not for serving, but for criticizing Mary. When Martha is bustling around serving while Mary listens, Jesus is perfectly fine with that. It’s only when Martha complains that Jesus defends Mary.
In life, some people are Marys. They’re not so great at adulting, but they’ll sit and listen to Jesus all day long. Others are Marthas. They’re the ones who make sure that all the Marys are fed, clothed, and pointed in the right direction.
It’s OK to be a Mary. The church needs Marys. However, the church needs Marthas too, and just like Martha doesn’t get to insist that Mary needs to become like her, neither should we insist that Martha needs to become like Mary!
The second of our three Mary-and-Martha stories is THE RESURRECTION OF LAZARUS. It’s funny that we associate this story with Lazarus, but from beginning to end of it, he doesn’t say a word. It’s Mary and Martha who do the bulk of the talking. Let’s read about their part of the story in John 11:17-35.
The first thing I see here is that in life, everybody gets their chance to shine. In this story, the one who impresses is not Mary. When Jesus arrives, she doesn’t go to greet Him, which is rude. When Martha summons her to Jesus, she storms out of the house, goes to Jesus, accuses Him of being responsible for her brother’s death, and then collapses in hysterics at His feet. Everything she does radiates mad and upset.
Not so with Martha. Despite her reputation as the one who cares more about housekeeping than God, she is the one who actually has a meaningful conversation with Jesus. In v. 21-22, even though she too holds Jesus responsible for Lazarus’ death, she expresses her conviction that He can make it right. Jesus tells her and not Mary that He is the resurrection and the life. She, not Mary, triumphantly concludes the conversation by expressing her faith in Jesus’ divinity and power. I daresay that if we didn’t have the book of Luke, our narrative about Mary and Martha would be very different.
Second, though, let’s pay attention to the way that Jesus deals with Mary’s emotional outburst. He’s not angry or condemnatory. He’s compassionate. Even though He knows what is going to happen in five minutes, when she weeps, He weeps along with her.
From this, we see once again that we don’t have to hide from God. Sometimes, we feel like we have to put on our church faces when we pray, and that’s exactly the opposite of the truth. If there is anybody we can be shockingly honest with, it’s God! He’s big enough to handle our anger, our upset, our rage. The problems come when we think we have to hide those things from Him (as if we could!) and end up turning from Him.
Our third story is the story of JESUS’ ANOINTING FOR BURIAL. Let’s look it, in John 12:1-8. By now, we should know what to expect. Martha is doing Martha things, and Mary is doing Mary things.
If, after our visit to Luke 10, we still had any doubt about whether Jesus was OK with Martha serving, this should dispel it. She’s not plopped down in the floor next to Mary. She’s bustling around making sure everything is in order, just like she was before.
That’s perfectly fine. Indeed, it’s always right for a disciple to tend to the needs of others, whether they’re male or female. In the very next chapter, Jesus Himself is going to perform a humble act of service to teach His disciples a lesson. In the Lord’s body, the people who paint the auditorium are just as important as the people who preach sermons in it, and we must never forget that.
Also, notice Jesus once again sticking up for Mary. Once again, this is a strange thing she has done. The only thing like it that we see in the gospels is the sinful woman in Luke 7 wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair as a sign of her repentance.
This is also a very expensive thing for Mary to do. In our terms, this is about a $50,000 perfume job! However, whether Mary knows it or not, this is also the right thing for her to do. She comes nearer to the meaning of the moment than any of Jesus’ other disciples do.
As a result, when Judas condemns her, Jesus defends her. In fact, He defends her so strongly that Judas gets offended at Jesus’ rebuke and ends up betraying Him to the chief priests. I think Martha’s motives were a lot better than Judas’s, who only wanted his cut of the 300 denarii, but Jesus is willing to protect Mary from Marthas and Judases alike.
I think that all of us find ourselves rolling our eyes at our brethren occasionally, but we must remember that the quirkiest Christian in the assembly is someone whom Jesus loves and values. We all take some bearing with, and some of us take a lot of bearing with! However, God put us all here for a reason, and just like Mary did, each of us has something unique to offer.
Today, it’s time for me to return to what has been my theme throughout 2019: preaching on sermon topics requested by members. On this occasion I want to take up a topic requested by one of the sisters here—the use of musical instruments in our assemblies.
I think this is a worthwhile subject for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s something that stands out about our services as compared to church services elsewhere. Visitors to our assemblies are nearly guaranteed to notice that we only sing together, that a praise band or a piano is nowhere in sight. It’s useful to offer them an explanation of why we do things this way.
Second, if we want to continue our tradition of a-cappella singing, we have to continue to teach on that tradition, to explain why it’s an important aspect of our obedience to God. It’s easy to assume that everybody here gets it, but too often, that assumption is unjustified. With these things in mind, let’s examine instrumental music in worship.
From a Biblical perspective, I see four main problems with the practice. The first is that IT DOESN’T FOLLOW THE PATTERN. For evidence of why this is important, look at 2 Timothy 1:13. Here, Paul tells us that his instructions to Christians aren’t random and unique to each individual. Instead, when we put them all together, they constitute a pattern, a coherent system of worship and service that Timothy, and indeed all Christians, are supposed to follow.
Because this is so, whenever we want to know if something is acceptable to God or not, all we have to do is look at the pattern. If it’s part of what we see in the New Testament, we should do it. If it isn’t part of what we see in the New Testament, we shouldn’t do it.
Within the New Testament, there are about half a dozen passages that talk about singing praise to God as part of worship. Some of them we’ll look at this morning; some we won’t. However, they’re there, and they make it clear that a-cappella worship is part of the divinely ordained pattern.
By contrast, when we search through the New Testament, we never find anything said about Christians using musical instruments in worship. The instrument isn’t part of God’s pattern for us. Of course, there are plenty of churches that pay no heed to this and use instruments in worship anyway, but that isn’t for us. In this congregation, we don’t want to follow ourselves. We want to follow God. We want to be Christians simply, and to be simply Christians. That means that we leave the instrument to others.
Second, instrumental worship is problematic because IT DOESN’T TEACH AND ADMONISH. Here, consider Colossians 3:16. According to this text, one of the main reasons that we are to sing to one another is because we learn from our song worship. It builds us up in the faith. In fact, it’s possible for someone to be taught the gospel merely by listening to our singing. On the other hand, no one ever learned the gospel from an instrument.
Let me give you an example. Back when I was in law school, I was leaving my apartment one day when I heard somebody playing a flute. I listened for a moment, and I recognized the melody as the tune for the hymn “Something for Jesus”. The flutist was very good. They did a beautiful job. However, if somebody who didn’t know Jesus had heard them playing, that beautiful melody would have taught them nothing.
As Clay taught us last Sunday evening, when we sing, we’re supposed to listen to the words. We’re supposed to take the meaning to heart. A-cappella singing is perfectly suited to accomplishing this goal. By contrast, no instrument ever created can add to the meaning of a hymn. It can only be a distraction from it.
The third problem with using instruments in worship is that IT UNDERMINES “ONE ANOTHER”. Let’s spend some time reflecting on the words of Ephesians 5:18-19. Notice that as described here, the Biblical model of worship isn’t a bunch of Christians passively listening to a performance. It’s ordinary Christians singing to one another.
In many ways, this resembles the Bible’s teaching on ordinary Christians studying the word and figuring out God’s will for themselves. This teaching is so important because most of the religious world believes that ordinary Christians can’t do it themselves. They say that we can’t figure the Bible for ourselves, so we need a priest or a pastor to tell us what it says. Similarly, the practice of instrumental worship implies that the singing of ordinary Christians isn’t good enough, that we need an organist or a praise band to do it right.
Brethren, I don’t believe either one of those things! When I’m in one of our Bible classes, what I hear is ordinary Christians figuring out the word for themselves. Maybe we aren’t great Bible students by ourselves, but when we come together, the class’s comments reveal great wisdom and insight into the Scriptures. We don’t have clergy here because we don’t need clergy. God’s word is our birthright.
In the same way, during our song worship, I hear God’s people doing a great job of praising and glorifying Him. Maybe by ourselves, we aren’t great singers. I’m sure not! However, when we come together, our combined singing is beautiful and edifying.
That’s God’s plan for us. He wants us to be a people of song. His worship is our birthright too. Whether they realize it or not, people who want to bring in the instrument want to take that birthright away. They want us to sit quietly and let the professionals do it for us because the professionals do a better job. I think that would be a terrible shame.
Finally, instrumental worship DOESN’T HELP THE CHURCH GROW. I want to explore this topic by way of analogy, using Psalm 33:16-17. This passage highlights another way in which the Israelites wanted to be like the nations around them. Those nations won their wars with warhorses and chariots, so the Israelites wanted warhorses too.
The psalmist warns, though, that warhorses were a false hope for victory. The Israelites couldn’t succeed by imitating their neighbors. They needed to succeed by being different and trusting in God.
Sadly, there are many Christians today who look at things like the ancient Israelites did. They look at these big denominational churches that use the instrument, and they argue that if we start using instrumental music, we’ll grow and become big like them.
However, that way of thinking is a false hope. If you’ve got horses, that doesn’t mean you’re going to win the war. After all, the other guy has horses too! In the same way, if we were to adopt the instrument, that doesn’t mean that our church would get super-big. After all, many other churches in town have the instrument too. It only would put us on the same footing as them.
In fact, it would put us on a worse footing. Those other congregations are bigger, so they can afford a better band and a more impressive show. They have decades of experience in the spectacle of instrumental worship that we don’t have. How in the world are we going to grow by doing the same thing they’re doing, only worse?
Like the Israelites, we don’t succeed by becoming like those around us. We succeed by continuing to be different and trusting in God. We show that trust by obeying His word, by worshiping Him with our voices and nothing else.
This morning, all of us are aware that this Wednesday, December 25th, is Christmas, a day on which people across the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Most of us also are aware that there is nothing in the Bible that says that Jesus’ birth should be celebrated on December 25th, or, indeed, on any other day. Nonetheless, it is true that at this time of year, more than any other, people are talking about Jesus.
What’s the big deal? What’s so important about a baby born in a stable in a backwater of the Roman Empire that we should still be talking about it 2000 years later? Certainly, the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin is impressive, but if that were the most noteworthy thing that Jesus ever did, He would be nothing more than an obscure historical footnote. This morning, then, let’s turn to the Scriptures to see why we should care about this Jesus.
I had the idea for this sermon about six weeks ago, when Mike Young preached for us on Acts 2 and the first gospel sermon. As I was following along in my Bible with him, I noticed something I’d never seen before. At least in the ESV, the phrase “this Jesus” occurs three times in Peter’s sermon, and the three uses of the phrase highlight the most important things about Jesus’ life.
The first “this Jesus” phrase points out that He WAS CRUCIFIED. Let’s read together from Acts 2:23. There are three things in this verse that I want us to focus on. The first is that Jesus was killed on the cross. This might seem like a duh point, but believe it or not, there are plenty of folks who want to argue about this. Muslims believe that Jesus only appeared to be crucified and was brought up alive into heaven. Many skeptics argue that Jesus only passed out on the cross and came back to His senses in Joseph’s tomb.
Not so. As Peter says here, and as everyone in Jerusalem at that point knew, Jesus died. He breathed His last on the cross, and he was taken down dead from the cross. Even extrabiblical writers like Suetonius and Josephus confirm that Jesus was killed.
Second, Jesus was delivered to crucifixion and death by the plan of God. Around this time of year, people like to put up nativity scenes, and even though I don’t think that the shepherds and wise men came to visit Jesus and Mary at the same time, there they all are, gathered around the manger.
Though of course it wouldn’t be historically accurate either, I think it would be thematically appropriate if all those nativity scenes also included a cross, because Jesus was quite literally born to die on that cross. Indeed, the Bible tells us that even before the world was created, God had determined that Jesus had to die. His death was the culmination of a plan that was older than the universe.
Third, let’s pay attention to “you”. None of the people in the crowd that day were directly involved in Jesus’ death, but Peter tells them that they were responsible anyway. This morning, I want us to consider our own responsibility. Before anything else existed, God looked into the future and knew that He would have to send His sinless Son to die, and it was our sin that made His death inevitable. We didn’t nail Jesus to the cross either, but neither can we walk away from our share in His suffering.
The second “this Jesus” statement in Acts 2 reports that He WAS RAISED UP. Look at Acts 2:32. Let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge how extraordinary a statement this is. In my time as a preacher, I’ve preached many funerals and attended many more, but never once have I seen the body in the casket come back to life. We know that dead people don’t rise from the dead, but Peter here is insisting that Jesus did exactly that.
In order to back up this extraordinary statement, Peter says that “we all are witnesses.” There are a couple of senses in which I want us to consider his words. First, he is obviously talking about himself and the other apostles who are standing next to him. They saw the risen Jesus, they talked with the risen Jesus, they ate with the risen Jesus, and they even touched the risen Jesus.
They were so sure that Jesus had risen that they spent the rest of their lives proclaiming that He had, and many of them even died because of their testimony. Indeed, our word “martyr” comes from the Greek martus, which means “witness”. Because they were willing to go to torture and death rather than take back their testimony, we can know that they were completely convinced Jesus had risen.
However, besides the human witness of the apostles, Peter’s sermon points out two other kinds of witness. The first is the witness of prophecy. Just before v. 32, Peter quotes from Psalm 16, which is only one of many prophetic passages in the Old Testament that foretold that God would raise His Holy One from the dead. Today, we know that weather forecasters can’t correctly predict the weather next week, but the prophets of the Old Testament looked into the future and predicted the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Christ, right down to the tiniest detail. This proves that both the prophecy and its fulfillment are the handiwork of God.
The third witness in this text is the witness of miracles. The apostles confirmed the word they preached with signs and wonders. In Acts 2, they display the miraculous ability to speak in foreign languages. Other miracles that are even more impressive appear throughout the New Testament. If somebody says they saw a dead man come back to life, you can safely ignore them. If they claim that, then raise a man from the dead themselves, then you’d better start listening!
Our third “this Jesus” phrase reveals that He WAS MADE LORD AND CHRIST. Consider Acts 2:36. Let’s begin by talking about what “Lord” and “Christ” mean. “Lord” is straightforward. God put Jesus in control of everything. “Christ” is less so. I suspect that most Americans believe that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name. It isn’t. It’s a title, like “King”. It means “Anointed One”, and it carries with it the idea that Jesus is God’s anointed prophet, priest, and king. In short, Jesus was the fulfillment of everything the prophets had told the Jews to expect.
Second, notice that Peter says that we can “know for certain” that Jesus is Lord and Christ. This is the consequence of the witnesses we talked about in the last section. If you accept the eyewitnesses, the prophecies, and the miracles, you also must accept the pre-eminence of Jesus. As the next verse shows, the people who saw these things certainly were convinced!
That, in turn, is a belief with consequences. We can’t accept that Jesus is Lord and go on living the way we used to live. That would be like acknowledging that we live in the United States of America, yet refusing to obey any of its laws. Like the Jews in v. 37, we also have to ask, “What shall we do?” Sometimes, the answer is the answer of v. 38. We have to obey the gospel. We have to become Christians through baptism for the forgiveness of our sins. Always, though, the answer must be that we will devote our lives to the One we call “Lord”.