Sermon Podcast Audio
Have you ever been given a task to plan or a project to oversee only to have your best laid plans go horribly awry?
In my previous life, when I was in banking, I had the job of overseeing bank operations. One of the tasks I was charged with was new projects. Back in 2005, our small community bank decided it was time to enter the 21st century and that we would pursue document imaging for all of our deposit and loan files, as well as the way we processed teller transactions. I was given the task to research and make a recommendation. This was not a small task nor would it be a small expenditure for the bank. So, I had to make sure I had done my due diligence and selected the right system. And I did.
I researched several companies. I saw many demonstrations of what the various companies offered. I got the quotes in and I made my determination. But even before I made the recommendation, I flew to South Dakota to visit 3 banks who were currently using the system to see it in action and get their feedback. I had seen and heard everything I needed. I made my recommendation to the bank’s board of directors; they approved the very large expenditure and we were on our way into the 21st century.
I spent more time, several months, getting everything ready for the day the change-over would happen. New procedures had to be written. Even new deposit slips and documents had to be designed and ordered. Training of the staff was done. Our operations center was in southeast Arkansas, and I spent two weeks down there just to be sure the switch-over went according to plan.
The day finally came and we flipped the switch, everything was in place and ready to work. Everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong. What was supposed to make our lives easier and save us time ended up making life a lot more difficult. People who normally could leave the bank by 6 p.m. were now staying until 10, 11, 12:00 at night. It was honestly a disaster. Day after day I received phone calls and made phone calls to the software vendor and the equipment vendor, doing everything I could to make this better.
I spent a year working out the kinks in this new system. It was not a pleasant year either. I am embarrassed to say, there was more than one moment of me yelling at vendors on the phone trying to get them to help us correct the issues.
Finally, after a year of dealing with the garbage, the vendors stepped up and helped us make it right. They replaced the equipment with different models. They refunded money to help alleviate my pain and suffering. And finally, the system began to work as it had promised. I must admit, there were days where I wondered if it was worth it. I wondered if we shouldn’t have just stayed with the old, antiquated system, because at least we knew it and it was functional, even if it really wasn’t as good as what the new system offered. Before I left to come to Ashworth Road, we had a functioning system with better features than we had ever had before. Before I left, finally, my plan had come together.
From the beginning, God had a plan, a design. To live in relationship with his creation. But that original plan was messed up, marred by man who willingly disobeyed God, severing that relationship. Even then, God had a plan to make things right again. The problem was, that through the years, not just one year or even a few years, but through hundreds and even thousands of years, it appeared that if God had a plan, his plan either wasn’t working, or it had gone awry.
God had made a promise to the people. God had given the Law to the people, guidance on how they should live. The people did nothing but rebel against God. They constantly broke his law. God allowed them to suffer the consequences of their actions. The nation was divided in two. One of the resulting nations was completely overcome and scattered. The other nation was defeated and taken into captivity.
Prophet after prophet rose up calling for the people to return to God. Prophet after prophet reminded the people who they were: God’s chosen people, through whom he would make himself known to the entire world. Prophet after prophet reminded them that God had a plan that included the coming of a Messiah, a Savior, who would be better and greater than anything they had ever seen before. Near the end of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi reminds everyone of something else to come, a better day, a fulfillment of the promise. After Malachi ends, there is silence. For 400 years there was no recorded prophet, no recorded word from the Lord to anyone. There was only silence. . .
Until one day, in a sleepy little town called Bethlehem, Jesus was born.
The Person of Jesus
Even if you weren’t raised in church, it is likely that you have heard a story or two about this man named Jesus. Maybe you heard about how he performed miracles, like giving sight to a blind man, or giving lame people the ability to walk. Maybe you heard about how he even raised the dead. You might have heard the amazing stories of how he fed 5,000 people with five little loaves of bread and two small fish, or possibly how he demonstrated his power over nature by calming a storm by just speaking, or how he walked on water.
Maybe you’ve heard about how he taught. He said things and people were amazed at the authority in his speech. He said things like “love your enemies,” “turn the other cheek,” and “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Maybe you’ve heard some of the stories he told, parables they’re called, stories that hold a greater truth, like the story of the wise and foolish builders, or the prodigal son, or the good Samaritan.
You might have heard about the love he showed people, the mercy he demonstrated, how he hung out with the outcasts of society, those discarded by everyone else. Maybe you heard how he looked at a woman caught in adultery, a woman that could have been stoned and said to her, “neither do I condemn you, now go and sin no more.” Maybe you heard how he wept as he looked over the city and saw people in desperate need of a Savior.
Maybe you heard that he died, nailed to a cross like a criminal. But maybe you’ve heard the outrageous claim that he rose from the dead and after his resurrection he walked around, talked with people, taught people again, until that day he was finally taken up into Heaven.
I am sure everyone here has heard something about Jesus.
We’ve been looking at the Big Story of God, and today we come to Jesus. We will see that he is the point of the story. This is the climax of the story and in the book of Acts, chapter 2, Peter speaks to a crowd and explains to them exactly why.
Let’s begin reading the story.
Fellow Israelites, 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… —Acts 2:22
As Peter preaches this message to the crowd, he wants them to understand something very critical: absolutely everything in the Scriptures, everything in the Bible, has been pointing to Jesus. Jesus is the point of every part of the Bible. He is the climax of every theme of the Bible. The promises of God to Abram centuries prior all point to Jesus. This is what God was talking about. The Law that was given to Moses and to the people pointed to Jesus. The system of sacrifices for the atonement of their sin pointed to Jesus and was fulfilled in Jesus.
When for centuries the people had wondered if this plan would ever come together, Peter says it has in the person of Jesus. Peter tells us a little about him. He begins by saying, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man.” He wasn’t just a character in a story, some 1st century Harry Potter that people read about. He was real, flesh and blood.
Peter also reminds them that Jesus wasn’t just an ordinary man. There was something different, something special about him. He was “accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs.” He wasn’t just a man. He was also God. In fact, he was God in human form. And as Peter mentions those words “miracles, wonders, signs,” the crowd knew exactly what he was talking about. They were there. They had seen or had a friend that had seen. They had watched Jesus do the absolutely miraculous. They gasped when they saw it. They turned to their friends and said, “Did you see that?”
Peter is reminding them that they know the man he is speaking of. They’ve seen him. They knew what he could do. In fact, no one questioned this. Even those that hated Jesus and wanted to discredit him did not dispute his power. They just tried to convince everyone he was a sorcerer, but it was very difficult for them to escape the compelling evidence of Jesus’ life and ministry that was available to them. He was a man, but he was also fully God. When Peter highlighted the signs, wonders, and miracles, he was saying that Jesus was God.
Let’s keep reading,
This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge. —Acts 2:23a
Think about this for a moment. From the very beginning, God had a plan. Even when it looked like he didn’t or his plan wouldn’t or couldn’t come about, he still had a plan. The plan that God designed from the very beginning wasn’t for you to go and do these twelve things and all will be right. It wasn’t even that you become something different, change your behavior or your personality. His plan from the very beginning was for him to come to us, to live among us. It was a very deliberate plan. It was the plan he put into motion in Genesis 3 and it has come to pass in Jesus. This wasn’t an accident. It didn’t come about by random chance. It was on purpose. And only by viewing Jesus through the lens of the Old Testament, through the Big Story of God, do we fully understand the good news of the gospel of Jesus.
Peter continues preaching and makes things very uncomfortable.
. . .and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. —Acts 2:23b
He tells them that even though this was part of God’s plan, they were still responsible, they were culpable, they had put him to death on the cross. Even then, God was not done. His plan had not been thwarted. Peter continues:
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. —Acts 2:24
Again, this had all happened about 6 weeks ago. They were there. They had heard the rumors about Jesus being risen from the dead. Peter tells them:
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. —Acts 2:32
To put to rest any question in the minds of the crowd about whether this Jesus was just another crazy guy who’d been killed for crossing the wrong people or if he was the real thing, Peter says:
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah. —Acts 2:36
Peter calls Jesus “Lord,” emphasizing the sovereign kingship of Jesus. By using the term Messiah, he is emphasizing the salvation he brings. If you’ve read the last few blogs, you know that there has been a theme running through every message. We have seen a personal God, who created us to live in relationship with him. Restoring that broken relationship has been what the Big Story of God is all about and that restoration cannot happen without Jesus. Peter is telling us there is one and only one way for our relationship with our Creator to be fixed. That way is through Jesus, his death on the cross and his resurrection.
The Response to Jesus
Look at how the people responded to this message.
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” —Acts 2:37
“Cut to the heart.” They heard what he said and they were moved beyond agreement. They were broken, stabbed by the truth of the message. Their sin was no longer just an idea. It was now something very personal and they knew it needed to be dealt with. Peter answers their question:
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.” —Acts 2:38-39
Peter calls them to repentance, a change in direction of their life. He calls them to not just feel bad about it, to not just make a mental change, but to make a complete about-face, turning away from sin and the godless way of life. He calls them to a radical reorientation of life with respect to Jesus. And after repenting, and experiencing inward change, Peter says “be baptized,” which is an outward sign of repentance.
Notice what happens when we repent and believe. There is forgiveness of sin, a wiping away of all our past mistakes and failures, and we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, a seal that secures us until the perfect restoration comes about. We are made new. John Stott said, “And together, these two things constitute the freedom for which many are searching, freedom from guilt, defilement, judgment, and self-centeredness, and freedom to be the persons God made and meant us to be.”
This message that Peter preaches was to a Jewish audience, but at the end he makes a bold statement. This message of Jesus isn’t limited in its audience. It isn’t for a select few. This message is for all who will believe in Jesus. The promise and blessing of God to Abraham many years before is now coming to fruition with the offer of salvation to not just the Jews but to the entire world.
Now I realize, for most of you, this message hasn’t said anything new or something you haven’t heard before, but what I hope we all take away from this message is this truth: The point of the story is Jesus. He is the resolution to our sin problem. He is the restorer of our relationship with God.
Trying to grasp the Big Story of God with our grasping Jesus, will lead us to religion and trying to work and earn that restored relationship, but you cannot earn it. You can receive it, but only through a personal relationship with Jesus. This moves beyond just believing in God. It is repentance. It is Jesus as, not just Savior, but also Lord of your life. He came and died and was resurrected not so we could have a moment of salvation, but so that we could live for a lifetime and beyond in relationship with him.
The truth is that if we miss Jesus, we miss everything. As Tim Keller wrote, “Jesus Christ came and lived the life you should have lived and then died the death you should have died, took the punishment we deserve, so now the Bible is not basically about you; it’s about him. It’s not basically about what you must do to be saved; it’s about what he has done in order to save you.”
Just like when Peter preached this sermon to the crowd that day and they responded, so too we must respond to Jesus. The gospel of Jesus demands a response: either repentance and belief or rejection. We can’t come face to face with the claims of Jesus and do nothing.
How will you respond to Jesus? In books and movies, you get to the climax and the story is almost over, or so close there is very little of the story left to tell. The boy and girl get married and you see them riding off in the car together. The jury reads the verdict and the person walks out of the courthouse. The person taken hostage is freed and reconnects with their loved ones. The climax occurs and the story is over. We never see beyond that, but in the Big Story of God our story is not done. There is more, much more to come. We will continue in the next blog with the next chapter in this story that God is writing. We will look at The Church.