Sermon Options: April 16, 2023

March 3rd, 2020

ACTS 2:36-41

What do you do when you've been cut to the heart? In this passage, we find ourselves in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Peter preached, and the people felt such guilt over their sin that they begged the apostles, saying, "Brothers, what should we do?" The focus of the Lenten season is understanding the depth of our sin and separation from God. As Easter came closer, we began to understand more about Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Perhaps, like Peter's hearers, you have come to realize your role in the death of Christ. You see, Christ didn't die just for people who lived two thousand years ago. It was for our sins that the Savior suffered, bled, and died. When we are cut to the heart by this realization, what must we do? Peter gives us direction in this passage.

I. Repent

The first thing Peter told his audience to do is repent. Peter is not simply saying that his hearers should feel sorry for their sin; he is calling them to a new way of life. Repent is one of those "church words" we often throw around without explaining. Repentance is much like the military term about-face. To repent is not to look over our shoulders and say, "I'm sorry, God." To repent means that we stop going in our own direction, turn around, and choose to live in obedience to Christ.

II. Receive Forgiveness

Something amazing happens when we repent of sin and ask God for forgiveness. The Bible tells us that the past is washed away and all things become new. We are given a new heart, a new start, a second chance in life. If you've ever wished that you could start all over again, free from the baggage of your past mistakes, God offers you that opportunity. Though physical or material consequences of your past may remain, in a spiritual sense, you are set free. There aren't many places in life where you get a second chance.

III. Be Baptized

Peter also called on his hearers to be baptized. While scholars seem to agree that Peter was not setting forth some ritual path to salvation, the rite of baptism was certainly emphasized in the early church. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward change in a person's life. The baptismal ceremony is symbolic of death and resurrection in Christ. The old person dies, and a new creature is born, emerging from the water to a new way of life.

IV. Receive the Holy Spirit

A person who is "born again" comes into a new realm of life. It is called "abundant life" in the Scripture. In addition to the Holy Spirit's role as a comforter, the Spirit provides direction and guidance in life. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in a person's life, he or she begins to understand things from a different perspective.

The basic premise of Charles Sheldon's classic book In His Steps is that Christ has called us to do the things he would do if he were in our shoes and had our opportunities. As we learn to live the Spirit-filled life, we will find ourselves seeing, thinking, and acting differently from before. What do you do when you are cut to the heart? Repent, ask for forgiveness, be baptized, and receive the Spirit. Peter's audience heard him gladly, and the Bible says that three thousand were added to the church that day. Throughout the centuries, others have responded to this same invitation. There is room for you to come today. (Greg Barr)

1 PETER 1:3-9

Peter sets the theme of the entire Epistle in this passage. In writing to Christians who face trials, persecutions, and difficulties, he reminds them that they have been birthed into a "living hope." So Christians live in circumstances identical to those of unbelievers (in the world), but Christians' life-view and perspective are qualitatively different because of this living hope—a hope not "of" the world. That difference is afforded to us by the Resurrection.

Christians rejoice in this life although we may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials (v. 6). All humans live in a world impacted by sin. Life in all its fullness, as God meant it to be, is lost in the reality of our broken human estate. Bad things happen to good and bad people. Believers face even more opposition in that faith is challenged on every hand because of its radical claims and resistance to society's "worldly" values. But in light of these difficulties, Christians have three promises and three characteristics that give more intrinsic meaning to the trials.

People with faith in Christ can find a purpose in the trials and grow from them in the context of these promises and personal characteristics.

I. Three Promises Worthy of Our Rejoicing

The first promise is found in Peter's exclamation of praise in verse 3. Christians have been shown God's mercy by being birthed into a "living hope." Christian hope is more than a faint possible dream. It is a "living" or vibrant hope resting squarely on the fact of Christ's resurrection. If Christ was not raised from the dead, our faith would be futile and our hope emptied of value to the point we should be pitied among all humanity. But the power of the Resurrection makes Christian hope a living reality.

The second promise is no less real than the historical fact of Christ's resurrection, but it is grasped only through faith. This promise is an inheritance that can never spoil but is kept in heaven for the believer (v. 4). The New Testament is not shy about speaking of rewards or awaiting an ultimate resolution and justice. This may not bode well in a contemporary Western society bent on instant gratification. However, the hope of the Christian's inheritance to be received after passing from this life is beyond human comprehension and well worth any time of waiting.

The third promise is that of protection in this life until the consummation of the believer's salvation in the afterlife. The believer is "protected by the power of God" (v. 5). The New Testament notes the enemy of God is the enemy of God's children. This promise is one of protection from Satan. The result of this promise is the release from fear and anxiety. The Christian resides in the protective power of God.

II. Three Characteristics of Our Rejoicing

The purpose of trials is that our faith may be proven genuine. Our faith has greater value than gold (v. 7). Christian rejoicing in trials proves and strengthens our faith. Many of us rebel against the thought of continuing in difficulties with a purpose of strengthening our faith. But here Peter says the ultimate result is praise, glory, and honor as Christ is revealed through us. We too often lose sight of the fact that our attitude and demeanor tempered by faith during trials and difficulties reveal Christ to unbelievers and bring praise to God.

The second characteristic of our rejoicing in trials is the joy that flows from our faith (v. 8). We love and believe in Christ, though we have not seen him. The result of such faith is being filled with "indescribable and glorious joy." How joyful are we? The verse seems to indicate the level of our joy acts as a barometer for the level of our faith. The intensity and singleness of our faith are directly proportional to the ecstasy of our Christian joy. Can individuals discern a qualitative difference in us as Christians when viewing our level (or lack) of unspeakable joy?

The third characteristic of rejoicing is receiving the goal of faith: salvation (v. 9). The process of redemption is nothing short of miraculous or glorious. The fruit of that redemption should be obvious in our lives. It should be demonstrable in difficulties because of our joy and faith through the living hope. (Joseph Byrd)

JOHN 20:19-31

Thomas, called Didymus, is the only disciple whose name has become a household word. "Doubting Thomas," the disciple from Missouri. He may also be the most mysterious of the Twelve. He is paired with Matthew, is there any significance to that? We have the Acts of Thomas and the Gospel of Thomas, and they aren't anything like the canonical writings. Some legends say Thomas was a twin of Lydia of Philippi, and others that he was a twin brother of Jesus. Some traditions say the Twelve divided up the world for evangelism, and Thomas got India. Tradition has it that Thomas was killed by a spear thrust while he prayed, and that a church was built on that spot. In the 1500s there was a group called Saint Thomas Christians in India.

What do we really know about Thomas? Aside from the lists of disciples in the New Testament, he appears in three passages of Scripture, all in the Gospel of John. In John 11:14-16, at the death of Lazarus, Thomas is willing to go with Jesus back to Judea, even if it means going to die with Jesus. That doesn't sound much like doubt, does it? In John 14:1-5, Thomas asks a question about the way to heaven, and it sounds more like confused ignorance of what Jesus is really saying than genuine doubt. Finally, in John 20:24-29, we read that when Thomas is told of the Easter evening appearance to the disciples at which he was not present, he responded by saying he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he, Thomas, could see the wounds of the Crucifixion and actually touch them. Now that sounds like doubt, doesn't it? Or shock at hearing what you desperately want to be true but cannot assimilate for joy?

I. Doubt Is Common to All

Have you ever doubted? Doubted God? Doubted your salvation? The typical response of an honest person is that "I often wonder about such things, but I try not to let myself." Every honest person has doubts. It is simply not given to human nature to have certainty in some areas of life. There are two kinds of doubting people and two kinds of doubt. There is dishonest doubt. It is rooted in the proud, sinful mind. This kind of doubt says it must have verification, in its own way, on its own terms, in order to accept and believe. The person harboring this kind of doubt really does not wish to believe.

Then there is honest doubt. For instance, consider the healing of the child at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration and the father's honest doubt: "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). And Jesus did not rebuke that man. Here we see the character of honest doubt; it is agony and yearns for light. There is something strong, something good, in honest doubt. It is not negative or neutral; it is actively seeking faith. Remember the words of Tennyson's In Memoriam, written upon the death of his friend, Arthur Hallam:

Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.
He found his doubts and gather'd strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the specters of the mind
And laid them; thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own.

Those who pass through the valley of honest doubt emerge with stronger faith than those who never dared face their doubts. Few things are more worthy to be despised, or of less value as a witness, than a pale, inherited, convictionless, untested faith. God grant us all doubt rather than such a faith.

II. Doubt Isn't the Problem—Discouragement Is

But Thomas's problem is not doubt. We have tied that label on him for being late once to church. If only Thomas had been there. And we speculate on why he was absent. Overwhelming grief? Some business or family problem? Meeting with some group of followers of Jesus? Checking out the rumors of Emmaus Road? I think Thomas's rash demand to touch the wounds of Jesus was born of regret that he was absent from that first meeting with the risen Lord and maybe a mixture of feeling that one should not joke about such things, if the other disciples were joking. We are all aware that when the proof was offered—when Jesus offered to let Thomas actually touch the wounds—Thomas didn't take him up on it. The problem is not doubt—we never should have labeled Thomas that way. We could equally well have labeled him "Thomas the loyal" in light of his willingness to go and die with Jesus. Or "Thomas the committed" as, on these weeks after Easter, Thomas fell on his knees without availing himself of the proof and declared, "My Lord and my God!"

No, Thomas has a problem shared by many other Christians; he is a melancholy, discouraged personality. He sometimes sounds like somebody who has been reading Ecclesiastes too much. His emotions were bigger than the rest of him. He illustrates a danger of the gloomy temperament, the hesitation to cast off for new and distant shores.

The cure for the gloomy spirit is the fellowship of the committed. Eight days after his absence he is back, surrounded by other personalities, and in the presence of the Lord. And all is well.

Here is what Jesus says to all those of Thomas's temperament and spirit. First, there is a higher form of faith than that based on sight (v. 29). Second, Thomas—and all who are his brothers and sisters in temperament—is important even if he is out of step. It is noteworthy that Jesus took seriously and followed through on Thomas's request, even if Thomas didn't! And, third, Thomas can move out of the shadows into the sunshine of a stronger, more robust faith. Surely, there is much truth in the traditions of his exciting ministry in India. And maybe the Lord is saying the same things to you. (Earl C. Davis)

ACTS 2:14 a, 22-32

Do you enjoy those courtroom dramas on television or in the movies? The attorney skillfully accumulates the evidence and puts it on display in order to demonstrate the defendant's guilt or innocence. No courtroom ever held the drama of that remarkable day portrayed in the second chapter of Acts. The Holy Spirit has just been poured out on that band of Christian believers gathered in Jerusalem. As a result, they launched into the streets proclaiming the gospel, with each person miraculously sharing the message in his or her own native language. As you might expect, the entire scene created both questions and criticism.

Peter used the opportunity to speak to the crowd and to announce the reason for these strange events—the result was the first evangelistic sermon! Peter marshalled his evidence and demonstrated that Jesus was, indeed, who he said he was: the Messiah, God's Anointed One, sent to save his people from their sins. In our own day, living in a society more secular by the hour, people want to know if there is some message of hope. How can we know Jesus is actually who he said he was? Peter offers three different types of evidence.

I. There is the Evidence of His Life (v. 22b)

Peter's first level of evidence was the life Jesus led, particularly the "deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him." Many in Peter's audience had seen Jesus in action for themselves; they provided vivid confirmation of the evidence provided by his activities in their midst. One of the ways we can know Jesus is Savior is the evidence provided by his unique life: born of a virgin, sinless before men, compassionate and loving, one who can heal the blind and lame, even raise the dead, and can also "teach as no man taught before." It is a life unlike any other, because only Jesus Christ was the incarnate Son of God, Word become flesh.

II. There is the Evidence of His Death (vv. 23-24)

There is another form of evidence to confirm Jesus' identity: his death and resurrection. Unjustly accused and tried, Jesus was brutally executed on a cross, hanging among thieves. Yet on the third day, "God raised him up." Again, there were many in Peter's audience that could confirm such evidence, for they had also seen him following the resurrection.

What remarkable evidence of his divinity: even the grave could not hold him. As Peter said, "it was impossible for him to be held in its power." Every man and woman must ultimately face death—but Jesus is no mere man. He is fully man and fully God. His death and resurrection demonstrate it.

III. There is the Evidence of His Disciples (v. 32)

Do you remember Peter on the night before Jesus was crucified? Confused, shaken, angry—when on lookers recognized him as one who had been with Jesus, he denied it with curses. When Jesus went to the cross, Peter—"the Rock"—was not to be found.

Yet look at Peter now: bold, confident, willing to proclaim the gospel before all of Jerusalem. What happened? He had been transformed by the power of the resurrection and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Peter and his fellow disciples had seen the evidence for themselves, and made the difference in their lives. They would serve Christ with boldness and power throughout their lives. They would come when nearly all of them would lay down his life as a martyr for the cause of Christ. Only the most compelling evidence would justify such sacrifice.

The most compelling evidence of who Jesus is continues to be the difference he makes in the lives of those who have given their lives to him. If you have never experienced the transforming power of Christ in your own life, there is no better day than today. (Michael Duduit)

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