Sermon: Repent and Believe

Good morning and welcome to you on this Pentecost morning. Pentecost is the Sunday in the church calendar where we remember the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the church. The name comes from the fact that it took place on the biblical feast of Pentecost, fifty days after the Passover. This morning, we will be hearing again the story of that first Pentecost morning from Acts, chapter 2. So turn there with me. Acts is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and then Acts. Acts 2:1-45. Though it’s full name is the Acts of the Apostles, the central actor of the book is none other than the Holy Spirit himself. Acts 2:1-45.

This is a long passage, but one that moves me every time I hear it. As we prepare to hear it, I want to share with you a word from the pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer that may shape how we hear these words this morning. He says,

When we go to church and listen to the sermon, what we want to hear is his Word – and that not merely for selfish reasons, but for the sake of the many for whom the Church and her message are foreign. We have a strange feeling that if Jesus himself – Jesus alone with his Word – could come into our midst at sermon time, we should find quite a different set of men hearing the Word, and quite a different set rejecting it. That is not to deny that the Word of God is to be heart in the preaching which goes on in our church. The real trouble is that the pure Word of Jesus has been overlaid with so much human ballast – burdensome roles and regulations, false hopes and consolations – that it has become extremely difficult to make a genuine decision for Christ (Cost of Discipleship, 35). 

Friends, my goal this morning is to get out of the way so that you can hear the word of Christ and be enabled to make a genuine decision for him. It’s Acts 2:1-45, but before we hear God’s Word, please take a moment to pray with me. 

Lord, may we find that in hearing your Word we are hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. In our hearing, may we be cut to the heart so that we can truly respond in repentance and faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each of them heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked, “Aren’t all of these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” 

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and addressed the crowd, “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you. Listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you supposed. It is only nine in the morning. No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“In the last days, God says,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people,

Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.

Your young men will see visions

and your old men will dream dreams.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

and they will prophesy.

I will show wonders in the heaven above,

and signs on the earth below,

blood and fire and billows of smoke.

The sun will be turned to darkness

and the moon to blood

before the great and glorious day of the Lord,

and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested by God to you through miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 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. David said about him, 

“I saw the Lord always before me,

because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore, my heart is glad

and my tongue rejoices,

my body also will live in hope,

for you will not abandon me to the grave,

nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

You have made known to me the paths of life,

you will fill me with joy in your presence.”

Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he would not be abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to live and we are all witnesses to the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven and yet he said, 

“The Lord said to my Lord,

‘Sit at my right hand,

until I make your enemies 

a footstool for your feet.”

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

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.”

With many other words he warned them and pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who received his message were baptized and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the Apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and good, they gave to anyone as he had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

No one should leave here wondering what God wants them to do.

There is more here in this chapter than could be covered in any one sermon. We could focus on the Pentecost event itself. It is the coming of the Holy Spirit, God himself, the third person of the trinity. The feast of Pentecost, the filling of the house of God with his Spirit. The tongues of fire – the empowering, sanctifying, purifying, and consuming presence of the Spirit. The speaking in tongues – the Spirit’s power to translate the message into all the languages of the world that is carried on to this day. We could spend all our time on the event of Pentecost itself. 

Or we could focus on the Pentecost sermon. Peter spends almost half of his sermon quoting the Old Testament, grounding his proclamation of Christ in the prophecies of Scripture. He interprets the present reality of Pentecost in light of God’s promises. He proclaims Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ with his words and works of wonder. Jesus Christ rejected and put to death by those gathered that morning. Jesus Christ raised from the dead and seated in power at God’s right hand. Peter’s sermon proclaims Christ promised, crucified, risen, and reigning. We could focus this morning on the Pentecost Sermon of Peter.

We could also focus on the Pentecostal life of the Christian church. A life of giving, sharing, and caring for one another. A life of eating together, praying together, sharing the sacraments together and studying God’s word together. A life that bore fruit in people being saved. We could focus on the life of the early church.

Yet, this morning I want us to get abundantly clear on the Pentecost response. I do not want to us to fall before the charge Bonhoeffer lays before his own church, that because of preaching “it has become extremely difficult to make a genuine decision for Christ.” In light of the word of Christ that has been proclaimed this Pentecost morning, how are we to respond? It’s verses 37-39:

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

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.”

Those who heard the preaching of Peter were cut to the heart. Fire came from heaven and filled the very mouth of Peter, so that he not only received Holy Spirit fire but preached fire. And those who heard it were cut to the heart.

They could not hear the proclamation that Jesus Christ – the promised savior – had been rejected and crucified on the cross – that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead by the faithful power of God – they could not hear this message and not be moved.

They were cut to the heart. The message called for a radical recalibration of their life. They were not okay. The life they had been living, even if all looked good from the outside, turned out to be bankrupt. Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man attested by God to you through miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

They had heard Jesus, seen Jesus, and instead of receiving him, instead of praising him, their sin put him on a cross. And he went there, not by accident, not by force, but by the very plan of God. He went for the forgiveness of our sins. 

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Are you? Are you cut to the heart by the word of Christ, the lengths he went to for you to be forgiven? Is the crowd’s question your question this morning? 

What shall we do?

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.”

Peter gives two responses and three promises for us, just as much as for those who first heard. First, two responses: repent and be baptized.

Repent. Repent here is a change of mind that results in a change of life. It is a change of mind about who Jesus is and what he has done. Jesus is the very Son of God and he went to the cross to save sinners like you. It is a change of mind about yourself and what you have done. You are a sinner. This is both what you and I do, but it is also our standing before God. We are those condemned and cut off apart from the saving work of Christ. To repent is to turn away from ourselves and our sinful life and cling to Christ and his cross. It is to place our life, all of it, before the cross of Christ and find – to our delight – not condemnation but forgiveness there. 

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins

Repent. Turn from everything in your life and in your self that is away from God and contrary to God and turn to Christ. Put your faith and trust in Him. 

No one should leave here wondering what God wants them to do.

Repent and be baptized. Be baptized. I know a woman who came to faith in Christ as an adult. She has so much joy and passion. Her church only did baptisms twice a year and the first time she was not able to be there to be baptized. And she so longed to be baptized. She knew that having come to Christ, it was only right for her to washed and claimed in his name. When she was finally baptized, those who were there told me of the joy that filled her face. 

Repent and be baptized. Baptism is a washing with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some are immersed in water, others have it sprinkled on their heads, and still others have it poured out on them. As a washing, it is a sign of the blood of Christ which washes away our sins. Being immersed is like a burial, where our old self is buried in death with Christ and we are raised to new life in Christ. When poured out, it points to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit here on Pentecost. As a rite of initiation, it is a mark of belonging to the church, as being part of the visible community of God’s people. In baptism, God acts to claim his children, he acts to promise to wash away our sins through the blood of Christ, and he acts to promise to fill us with the Holy Spirit. Never needing to be re-baptized, it points to God’s faithfulness to us even when we wander astray. 

When Peter, filled with the Spirit, joins baptism and repentance, he is not setting out another law, but a gift. Baptism is a gift of God. Like that woman I know, those who have come to Christ should long with joy to be baptized. 

No one should leave here wondering what God wants them to do. Repent and be baptized.

Together with the call to all who have heard the Pentecost message, there are promises for those who respond. 

First, their sins are forgiven. Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. When we come to Christ in faith we find forgiveness. Christ who reigns on high is the Christ who went to the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Whatever you have done, no matter how deep it goes or how much you tremble to even speak it, there is forgiveness for you in Christ Jesus. Your sins are not a barrier to you coming to Christ, but the very reason you need to come to him and no one else. The first promise given to those who come to Christ is forgiveness of all our sins. 

Second, we receive the Holy Spirit. Not only are our past sins wiped away, but we receive the presence and power of God through the person of the Holy Spirit, so that we walk forward in the way of God. Having forgiven you of your sins, God now promises to go with you, even to fill you with his own presence. The Holy Spirit is not for special, spiritual, or super Christians, but is the promise of God to all who repent and believe in Christ. 

The promise of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit was not just for the three thousand that gathered on that first Pentecost morning. Peter says, The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call. It is for us, for our children (which is why we extend baptism to children of believers), and to all who are far off. It is for all of us. 

If you have grown up in the church, but never truly known Christ – the promise and call is for you. 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.” 

If you have wandered away, if you are far off and never known Jesus Christ, if you have rejected him – the promise and call is for you. 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.”

Wherever you are, whatever you have done, let today be the day to stop running and turn and place your faith in Jesus Christ. 

No one should leave here wondering what God wants them to do. 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.

Even you, even me.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

[Lord, we thank you for the pouring out of your Spirit on Pentecost. We also thank you for the preaching of Christ and the promise of the gospel. I don’t know all who are watching this sermon, but you do. If there are those who have never known Christ, never put their faith in him, I invite them to pray with me a moment:

God, I admit that I have sinned against you and done wrong and I cannot make it right. I cannot fix myself or my relationship with you. I thank you for sending your Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for my sins and to rise again so that I may have life enteral with you. Forgive my sins in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Teach me daily to turn from my sinful ways and lead me to walk in the way of Jesus Christ. Put Christian brothers and sisters in my life to encourage and guide me and fill me with your Holy Spirit. I thank you for the wonderful gift of salvation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.]

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