In our study in the book of Acts last week, we saw that after the Holy Spirit descended upon the Jewish believers who had gathered from all nations for the festival of Pentecost, Peter explained to them how what had just occurred was in fulfillment of what the Old Testament prophet Joel had declared and that this pouring out of God’s Holy Spirit couldn’t occur until all of the events in Christ Jesus’ life had come to pass:
from his initial Incarnation, God in Christ coming to earth in the person of Jesus;
to his teaching and performing many miracles, signs and wonders, that were also in fulfillment of Scripture and evidenced that he was, indeed, God’s promised Messiah;
to his death on Good Friday as he, though having never sinned himself, nonetheless took upon himself the penalty for humanity’s sin;
to his resurrection on Easter Sunday demonstrating that his sacrifice had been accepted by God, our heavenly Father, as Christ Jesus not only rose from the dead, never to die again, but also was able to give eternal life to all who would receive him as Savior and Lord;
to Christ Jesus’ ascending to the Father’s right hand to rule with him and then, at long last, pouring out his Holy Spirit upon those who were his, thus guaranteeing their eternal life. And we left off with Peter summarizing these key doctrines in declaring: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” The Jesus whom those listening to Peter had crucified had been confirmed by God to be both Lord and Messiah.
This morning’s passage picks up with the reaction of Peter’s fellow Israelites’ to his preaching. In verse 37 we read, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” Now why do you think they ask this question of Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
They ask this because they, as Peter had established to his fellow Israelites, had been complicit in putting Jesus Christ, God’s promised Messiah, to death. Recall that we saw last week how God’s carrying out his plan of salvation for humanity through Christ, though in complete fulfillment of “God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge,” verse 23, nonetheless had also occurred by means of Peter’s fellow Israelites “with the help of wicked men.” And as stated in verse 36, these same fellow Israelites had been those who had crucified God’s Lord and Messiah. So having heard from Peter the significance of the Holy Spirit’s falling upon the disciples and “declaring the wonders of God in [their] own tongues,” verse 11, and realizing through Peter’s preaching that they themselves had been responsible for putting God’s Messiah to death, their response is one of repentance. They were “cut to the heart” over what they had done and so now turned to Peter and the other disciples asking what they should do.
Peter’s response, as we had read for us this morning and beginning in verse 38, was “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.” And I think that the very first word of what Peter says by way of reply is probably the greatest stumbling block that keeps people from following Jesus Christ today: “Repent.” It’s such a negative word to us. It’s such a religious word. In a society that would rather speak of different values instead of shared virtues, there seems to be no place for repentance. For to repent is to feel and express genuine regret about one’s wrongdoing or sin. It is to feel remorse for a wrong that’s been committed. And at least in the western world, I think repentance has fallen out of fashion for many reasons, not the least of which is that we don’t view ourselves as being sinners either because we don’t believe God exists or, if he exists, we don’t believe he expects anything of us. In essence, deep down we don’t believe there is anything fundamentally wrong with ourselves in the moral realm.
And this isn’t unique to our time. Writing around the 1950s, Flannery O’Connor was often asked why she used such “grotesque southern characters” in her short stories. And the reason she gave is a sobering one for O’Connor noted that because evil and immorality had become so commonplace, unless she had her characters perform extreme evil acts, her readers would never recognize them as being evil in the first place.
And though I’ve also shared this before, I’m reminded of a skit I once heard by African American comedian, Chris Rock. I mention his race because it’s relevant to what he had to say. Rock—who is a rock star in the comedy world (yes, pun intended!)—is aware of the fact that many young black men look up to him. And when they meet him, sometimes they’ll list for him things that illustrate just how well they’re doing—they’ve never been in jail, they’ve never hit their girlfriends, they’ve never mugged anyone, they’ve never stolen anything. Yet ever the incisive social critic, Rock will point out to them that there’s no virtue in not doing those things we’re not supposed to do in the first place; that not doing wrong things is a bare minimum of decent behavior, not a cause for bragging or self-congratulatory praise. The phenomenon Rock is addressing isn’t unique, of course, to his young black admirers. It’s the lot of all of us, isn’t it? It’s not so much that we think we’re perfect, but, to take a few examples from just this last week of news:
We would never shout out a racial slur at a Red Sox game as twice was alleged to have occurred this past week;
and we would never shoot people at a birthday party as occurred in San Diego this week;
and we would never push someone out of a helicopter as Philippine leader Duterte claimed having once done;
and we would never steal almost $500,000 from a church as a Dallas pastor was accused of doing.
You get the idea. There are so many incidents in the news of easily identifiable wrongs—of wrongs that we would never do—that we can feel downright virtuous in comparison. But, again, need I say that no one should have been behaving in any of these ways in the first place?! As with the deeds of O’Connor’s grotesque caricatures of humanity, these individuals have behaved in ways that even society recognizes as being immoral.
But though society may still be capable of identifying extreme immorality, it can be a hindrance to helping us recognize sin. For it’s easy to take cultural definitions or expectations of right and wrong as being preferable to those presented to us in Scripture. For in his Word God doesn’t dally just in external deeds, but time and again we’re told that sin’s source is deeper. The source of sin lies in our heart.
So though society may tell us that murder is wrong—Jesus tells us that so is hatred;
though society may tell us that adultery is wrong—Jesus tells us that so is lust;
though society may tell us it’s okay to hate our enemy—Jesus tells us we’re to love and pray for our enemies for this is what he, who is also God, does therefore in doing so we demonstrate that we are, indeed, his children;
though society encourages us to let others know how generous we are (have you ever seen the list of donors at the end of a musical program?)—Jesus tells us to let our giving be in secret for our heavenly Father knows what we do, even in secret, for he knows our hearts;
though society encourages us to build up earthly treasures—Jesus tells us to store up heavenly treasures.
And perhaps most challenging of all, in the religious and moral realm society tells us that what matters most is that we try to be good people. So in the end whether we are atheists or agnostics or Muslims or Sikhs or Jews or Christians or Hindus, it doesn’t make any difference for, again, what matters is that we simply do our best to do right by others—but Jesus tells us he, being the way, truth, and life, is the only way to our heavenly Father and that no one comes to the Father but through him. And of all of the sins we can commit, this is the worst—to think that we can have God on our terms rather than realizing that we are only permitted to come before his holy, just, loving, and merciful presence on his terms. Ultimately, to repent is to change one’s attitude—to change how we think and feel and act—with the result that we turn away from self-centered ways and instead turn to God. It is to turn away from how we would have things be and turn toward the way God in Christ would have things be, as declared in his written Word and as lived out by Christ Jesus when he was on earth.
So what is there to do? “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This is the starting point of a relationship with the God who made each and every one of us in his image. “Repent”—acknowledge our hardness and indifference toward him and his Son, toward him and his ways. And then “be baptized” as an expression of our dying to our former sinful—which is to say our former hard and uncaring nature—and rising with Christ’s nature, with the new nature he gives us. For Jesus Christ will forgive any and all who confess their sins and turn to him. This is part of what we will be celebrating in this morning’s communion service. Forgiving us is why he came.
And when we do turn away from our selfish ways to seek to live according to his holy and loving ways, he will never leave us. Notice what Peter says at the end of verse 38. If we repent and are baptized in Jesus Christ’s name, for the forgiveness of our sins, then we “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” So a relationship with Jesus Christ is not only the means God has provided for a relationship with our heavenly Father, but it is also the means God has put in place for our receiving his Holy Spirit—“you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And once he gives his Spirit, that giving is forever for he will never leave us or forsake us. This is a promise he gave to those who were his during Old Testament times; it’s a promise whose truth he confirms again during New Testament times; and it’s a promise we can believe today.
And in verses 39–40 we see, again, the mysterious conjunction between God’s will and our own. On the one hand, verse 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.” This promise isn’t simply for the Jews who were gathered but also for those who were “far off”—meaning the Gentiles. But again it’s also worth noting that salvation is impossible apart from God’s calling us to himself. The Lord our God will call those who are is. But this shouldn’t cause us to be complacent for notice, on the other hand, how we’re told in verse 40 “With many other words [Peter] warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’” So although salvation is impossible apart from God’s calling us to himself, he has chosen to use us as the means of leading others to himself. And so Peter warned and pleaded for those present to hearken to his words.
Christianity isn’t a solitary religion; Christianity is a communal religion. God never intended for us to be Christians by ourselves but rather he calls us to become part of his family. And so he uses Christians—he uses us—as the means of reaching out to others so that his family might be expanded. And this is precisely what happened on that Pentecost in which the Holy Spirit fell upon God’s people. As Peter preached, people responded to his preaching. In verse 41 we read, “Those who accepted [Peter’s] message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
And notice what we’re next told about those 3000 new converts starting in verse 42:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
We have here a thumbnail sketch of what authentic Christian living looks like. First, it involves learning about our faith. These believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. They sought to learn how God’s promises in the Old Testament had been fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ and in the giving of his Holy Spirit. But, second, though authentic Christian living requires knowing and studying Scripture, it isn’t genuine if it isn’t lived out. These believers also devoted themselves “to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” They were involved with one another. They shared meals together. They prayed with and for one another.
Now in verse 43 we are at a loss for we no longer have apostles living among us but during this time, part of the way in which the apostles were recognized as being God’s spokesmen was through “the many wonders and signs” they performed. But with the exception of this one verse, everything else described here as typifying these new converts is also available to us. In verses 44–45 we’re told, “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” Though some have suggested that these verses support a communist way of life, this isn’t Communism for this isn’t a lifestyle being imposed by the government but it’s a lifestyle arising from a recognition that belonging to God means that we also belong to one another. The selling of property and possessions on the part of these believers arose from their own initiative. They took seriously their responsibility to care for one another for isn’t this what families do? Isn’t this one of the first lessons parents seek to teach their children—to share their toys with other siblings and other children? So if Christians are the family that Scripture says we are—all equally children of our loving and heavenly Father and therefore equally one another’s brothers and sisters—then our possessions aren’t ours but are intended by our kind Father to be shared with one another and to be held in common. And I am convinced that our sharing our goods with others brings our Father in heaven as much joy as parents derive joy from seeing their children share with other children. And this is what we see these 3000 believers exemplifying as they sold what they had that they might be able to give to anyone who had need, verse 44.
What is more, starting in verse 46, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” This was a Pentecost festival unlike any other for it resulted in dramatically changed lives. So much so that others noticed. And at the end of verse 47 we see again how God desires to work through those who are his. By means of this joyous living and sacrificial giving that arose from the study of God’s Word and the devotion to fellowship demonstrated by God’s people, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” What a contrast we have here with the joyless, dutiful living people sometimes equate with Christianity. Yet this joy-filled living for God and caring for one another is what should exemplify true disciples of Christ. Life is hard but we were never intended by God to live it on our own, by ourselves. He has always desired that we live our lives not only in reliance upon him but in caring for one another.
And it all begins with the question that those who were listening to Peter asked: What is there to do? And, again, the answer to that question is that the first step to knowing and loving God is to repent for, as Jesus also taught, only we who know we are sick will ever see our need for Jesus, our Physician who then adds, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” So it all begins with our acknowledging our need for God in Christ and receiving the forgiveness he so freely offers. But, again, this feeling of conviction and repentance is but the first step of a changed life. Having come to faith in Christ, we begin to see our lives through a different lens. We begin to understand that we have been made by a God who desires us to know and love and live for him.
And that this very God has sacrificed himself that we might never have to pay the penalty for our previous disregard of him.
And that he has poured upon us his Holy Spirit that we might never be alone.
And that he has given us other believers that we might have a family to help us live as he called us to live.
And that any material goods he has allowed us to have are intended to be shared with those around us.
And that all of this should be a source of great joy for us.
So as we’ve noted before but which is so beautifully illustrated in the lives of these believers in Acts, authentic Christian living will exhibit not only orthodoxy—right belief—but also orthopraxy—right living—and even orthopathy—right feeling. To know that God is for us—and that he’s given us others to care for and be cared by—should result in our praising our kind Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who loves us so much; and it should result in gratitude for the family he’s given us. And my hope and prayer is that as we, God’s family here at Linebrook Church, seek to live our lives committed to him and committed to one another, we too, as we’re told in verse 47, will enjoy the favor of all people and that the Lord will add to our number daily those who are being saved.
This past week I’ve been pondering some sobering statistics that have increased my burden and desire to see this happen. According to a Pew Research Center study that set out to measure religiosity by state, where do you think Massachusetts ranked out of the 50 states, and including the District of Columbia? Well, we tied for last alongside neighboring New Hampshire. This study measured four factors:
1) Those who say religion is very important in their lives (33%—ranks us 49th);
2) Those who say they attend worship services at least weekly (23%—ranks us 48th);
3) Those who say they pray daily (37%—ranks 48th); and
4) Those who say they believe in God with absolute certainty (40%—ranks us 51st—dead last).
Again in adding up all of these measures, Massachusetts tied for last. I can’t tell you how grieved I’ve been as I’ve been thinking about this—that approximately 67% of those now living in Massachusetts, once the home of religious revivals led by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, no longer self-identify as religious, much less Christian. It’s increased my burden and desire to share Christ’s truth and love with those around us. For as Paul also tells us, “14 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? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”
But it’s also increased my desire to see that we here at Linebrook continue to live faithfully as together we study God’s teaching, and commit ourselves to fellowship—to spending time with one another—to breaking bread together; to praying with and for each other; to sharing what we have with those in need—through our weekly offerings and special offerings for Deacons and Missions each communion Sunday; to breaking bread in one another’s homes and eating together with glad and sincere hearts; to praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And as we seek to live faithfully, may the Lord add to our number daily those who are being saved.
Let us pray.
 Matthew 5:21–22: 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
 Matthew 5:27–28: 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
 Matthew 5:43–48: 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
 Mathew 6:2–4: 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
 Matthew 6:19–21: 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
 John 14:6: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
 Deuteronomy 31:6, 8: 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you…. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
 Hebrews 13:5–6 (quoting Deuteronomy 31 above): Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (quoting Psalm 118:6–7: The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?
7 The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.)
 Mark 2:15–17: 15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Luke 5:29–32: 29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Matthew 9:10–13: 10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[Hosea 6:6] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
 http://pewrsr.ch/24wScqE: “What does it mean to be “highly religious”? In our analysis, this includes any adult who reports at least two of four highly observant behaviors – attending religious services at least weekly, praying at least daily, believing in God with absolute certainty and saying that religion is very important to them — while not reporting a low level of religious observance in any of these areas, such as seldom or never attending religious services, seldom or never praying, not believing in God and saying that religion is “not too” or “not at all” important in their life. We also define a person as “highly religious” if they report three highly religious behaviors and a low level of religiosity on a fourth measure.”
 Romans 10:14–15.