From the May/June 2014 issue of Discern Magazine

The Sermon That Launched the Church

Miraculous events drew a crowd to hear Peter’s Pentecost sermon. His message helped to alter the course of history and has life-changing meaning for us today.

It was the morning of the Feast of Pentecost, and Jerusalem was abuzz with consternation and curiosity. Seven weeks had passed since the heartbreaking crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, whom some had believed was the Messiah who would free Judea from the Roman yoke. But His death dashed those hopes.

Stories were still circulating about His resurrection from the dead. Religious authorities scoffed at the idea and denied it, but Jesus’ disciples had no doubt of its truth. They had studied at His feet for over three years, and they—as well as over 500 others (1 Corinthians 15:6)—had actually seen and talked with Him after His resurrection from the dead.

He told the apostles and other disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received power from on high (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8), and now they were in the city, waiting.

Miraculous events on Pentecost

The disciples were gathered together to celebrate the annual holy day of Pentecost. Suddenly the rushing sound of a great wind filled the room. What appeared like small flames settled on their heads. Astonished people, attracted by the miraculous events that were occurring, heard the apostles speaking in their own mother tongues.

Later it would be understood that this was the gift of power, the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised. This gift marked the beginning of the Church Jesus had foretold: “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades [the grave] shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Under this divine inspiration, Peter rose and spoke with the power of the Spirit of God. In his sermon he explained the profound significance of what was happening. It was the sermon that launched the Church of God!

Peter’s sermon

What did Peter explain, and what can we learn from his sermon?

  1. God has poured out His Holy Spirit on the Church (Acts 2:14-21).

The sound of wind, the tongues of fire and the foreign languages were all manifestations of the gift God was bestowing on His servants. Jesus had earlier said that the Holy Spirit was with His disciples but would later enter into them to fully inspire and guide them (John 14:17). Now was that time!

Jesus had told them ahead of time that the Holy Spirit would reveal and remind them of spiritual truths, comfort them and give them strength (John 14:26-27). In fact, it is only when a person receives and is led by God’s Spirit that he or she truly becomes Christian (Romans 8:9, 14).

  1. Salvation is now open to the Church through Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 2:22-36).

Peter quoted David who, in a prophetic psalm, explained the effect of Christ’s death and resurrection: “I foresaw the LORD always before my face. ... You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life” (verses 25-28, emphasis added throughout).

The resurrection of Jesus opened the way to the resurrection of the dead for those who are Christ’s. Paul explained, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). The wonderful promise of a resurrection to life had, with the foundation of the Church, been opened to all those the Father would call (John 6:44).

  1. To receive forgiveness and God’s Spirit, which open the path to eternal life, we must repent, be baptized and live a new way (Acts 2:37-38).

God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Eternal life is a free gift (Romans 6:23), but God does require that we fulfill some conditions in order to receive that free gift. (You could think of this like being offered a priceless painting that you could never afford, but with the condition that you promise not to deface it. That promise can in no way be considered payment!) God’s conditions include repenting of sin and changing from a life of breaking God’s law (1 John 3:4) to a life of seeking righteousness.

Jesus said, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). No human being does this perfectly. We all slip and sin—and need to repent and be forgiven when we do—but we must still always strive for obedience to God’s way of life.

Once we repent and change our ways, we can be baptized, another condition for salvation. Then we will receive the gift of God’s Spirit, which empowers us to persevere in the way of God. The Bible shows that God gives the Holy Spirit through the laying on of the hands of the ministry of Christ (Acts 8:14-17; 19:1-6).

  1. God’s promises extend to the children of those He calls through the ages (Acts 2:39).

God reveals Himself in terms of family. God is our Father (Romans 1:7). Jesus is His Son and a Brother to believers (Hebrews 2:11-12). God’s purpose on earth now is to develop a divine family, to bring “many sons [children] to glory” (verse 10).

Since God is developing a spiritual family, it should be no surprise that He also works through physical families. When God calls a person to come to His Son and become a Christian, God also places the children of the one called in a different category, with special access to Him (1 Corinthians 7:14).

Once we accept God’s calling and become Christians, our children are invited to come to God and participate in His plan as well. The door is open. So the Bible encourages Christians to teach their children about God, to help them walk through that open door (Ephesians 6:4).

  1. Not everyone is called to know God now (Acts 2:39).

Notice that the promise of salvation is offered to “as many as the Lord our God will call.” Jesus said no one can come to Him unless the Father who sent Him “draws him” (John 6:44). The clear implication is that everyone isn’t called now. Every human being who has ever lived will have the chance to know God and accept His free gift, but not at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:22-23).

God chooses to work with different people at different times, which is why Christians are called “firstfruits” (James 1:18). They are the first people with whom God works; they have always been a relatively “little flock” (Luke 12:32) in the context of the population of the world.

This truth about different times of spiritual harvest is why God chose to start the Church on the Feast of Pentecost, a day also called the “day of the firstfruits” in Numbers 28:26. Pentecost reminds us that those in the Church are called by God in advance of most others. Most people will be called to God and have their minds opened to His truth in the time of a general resurrection when “all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (John 5:28-29). It is only then that most will come to know the true God (Ezekiel 37:6-14).

Some who object to this biblical truth claim it teaches that people have a “second chance” and that might discourage them from coming to God now. But Jesus said it was impossible for anyone to come to Him if the Father didn’t draw him. There is no chance to know God before that calling occurs, and the Bible shows it will happen in different epochs.

To learn more about the resurrections and God’s plan of salvation, read “Resurrections: What Are They?

  1. Christians must take care not to be assimilated by a “perverse generation” (Acts 2:40).

Though God is all powerful, the Bible says the society in which we live is not His. When Adam and Eve chose to believe the serpent rather than God in the Garden of Eden, the Creator stepped back from the immediate affairs of men to let the human family learn the results of that fateful and rebellious choice.

God is still working out His great plan, but inconspicuously, almost invisibly, in the background of human history. This is why the Bible calls Satan the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4) who “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). He is “the prince of the power of the air … who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Without their knowing it, this includes most of the people on earth. No wonder we see so much ignorance, violence and suffering around us—Satan has temporarily kidnapped the planet!

So Christians are to live in this “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4) without being spiritually part of it. Their “citizenship is in heaven,” from where Jesus will bring the Kingdom of God to earth at His return (Philippians 3:20). It is an ongoing challenge for Christians to live in this world, but by the standards expected by God, not men.

The seventh point is not in Peter’s sermon, but is a result of the truths it preached:

  1. There is a wonderful spiritual unity and brotherhood in the Church of God (Acts 2:41-47).

Members of the early Church showed great love, a fraternal bond of peace and concern, for each other. Jesus referred to His disciples as a family, and He said that those who were estranged from physical family members because of their commitment to God would find hundreds of others in the Body of Christ (Matthew 19:29). Under the leadership of Jesus Christ and with the unifying power of God’s Spirit, the Church of God is a true spiritual home that provides love, support and nurturing for each member.

The growth of the Church

Launched by Peter’s first sermon inspired by the Spirit of God, the early Church knew a period of powerful growth that laid a foundation for generations of Christians to follow—an unbroken line that will continue to the return of Jesus Christ.

The key truths illustrated by the Feast of Pentecost are still as exciting and motivational today. Just as in the first century, these fundamental truths of God are transforming lives in preparation for the coming Kingdom of God. Read more on the Life, Hope & Truth website in the articles “Pentecost: God Gives the Spirit” and “The Church: What Is It?

About the Author

Joel Meeker

Joel Meeker

Joel Meeker is a pastor, writer, editor and administrator. He serves as regional director for the French-speaking regions of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and as chairman of its Board of Directors.

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