Nov 23, 2003

Peter's Sermon - Part 1

Acts 2:13–24

It is the Holy Spirit who brings awakening to a soul. And it is God’s grace that empowers believers to effectively proclaim His Word. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul teaches on Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, helping us understand the work of the Holy Spirit and the significance of this monumental biblical event for the life of the church today.


Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.”

But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.’

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” (Acts 2:13–24)

The Charge of Drunkenness

This morning, I will ask you to exercise your imagination in a little departure from our normal approach to the text of Scripture. I would like you to imagine you were a bystander, an eyewitness to the events that transpired in Jerusalem when God opened the heavens and poured out the Spirit upon the 120 that were gathered there. At that time, God, through the Holy Spirit, enabled the Apostles to speak in languages in which they were unskilled so that people from all over the region, even outside of Palestine, heard their proclamation in their native tongue.

When we hear stories like this, or read them in Scripture, it is our tendency as Christians to identify with the good guys, to see ourselves as being numbered among those who received this outpouring of the grace of God and welcomed it, rather than those who were skeptical and cynical in the presence of the power of God.

The unbelievers who were there that day did not hear the message of God in their languages but instead heard a cacophony. They heard noise. They heard gibberish and made no sense of it whatsoever, so their first assumption was that these Jewish men assembled in that place were completely drunk, intoxicated beyond all measure, and were babbling in their drunken incoherence. When that charge was made, Peter stepped up and defended the truth of the gospel and of what, in fact, had been taking place.

Peter began by answering the charge that theirs was simply a display of drunken incoherence, as the mockers said, “They are full of new wine.” Before I go on, let me say something parenthetically. For those of you have who have been taught all your lives that real wine is not to be found in the New Testament but only unfermented grape juice, this is just one text of many that indicates the wine used by Jews in the Old Testament and the New Testament was real wine and had the power to intoxicate. That was why they assumed this was one of those occasions in which wine had been overindulged, and not only that, but it was new wine. It was not even the most powerful wine of the day. In any case, that is just in passing.

Peter stood up with the eleven, raised his voice, and said, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.” He did not go into an elaborate defense against the charge of drunkenness; he simply mentioned what a ridiculous charge it would be to see 120 pious, Jewish men assembled at nine o’clock in the morning, all completely drunk.

In a sense, Peter was saying in his opening salvo: “You must be drunk to assume that so many people here are drunk. That’s not what’s happening.” He did not spend much time on what was not the cause of the phenomenon, but rather he took them immediately to a biblical explanation of the phenomenon they had just experienced.

Four Characteristics of Peter’s Sermon

In dealing with this text, Dr. James Montgomery Boice made note of four things that happened throughout the sermon of Peter, and I think I ought to mention them.

Thoroughly Biblical

First, the earliest recorded Apostolic sermon is biblical throughout. Peter’s sermon is fundamentally expository. Peter was not standing up and giving his latest views of public opinion, a psychology lesson, or scratching the itches of the people and giving people who have itchy ears something to lay their fascination upon. He took his hearers immediately to the Word of God, which is the only kind of authentic preaching there can ever be in the church.

Centered on Christ

Second, during this sermon, the Apostle Peter took people inexorably to the person and work of Christ. Christ is at the center of the preaching of the Apostles. So, it is biblical, and it is Christocentric.

Fearless in the Face of Opposition

Third, it was preached fearlessly. It is easy to be bold when you are preaching to the choir, especially when they are not standing with rocks in their hands, ready to throw them at you the first thing that you say that they disagree with. It is easy to be bold when you are in your own pulpit, among friends. But when there are manifestly hostile people breathing out fire against you, as Stephen would soon find out, you take your life into your hands if you are bold in your declaration.

That is why Martin Luther said that in every generation there will be the threat of the gospel going into eclipse, because every time the gospel is proclaimed clearly and boldly, opposition arises, and conflict comes. We have learned, even if we are going to be expository in our preaching, even if we are going to preach about Jesus, to do it in a fearful manner, lest we offend, lest we become incendiary, lest the stones are thrown in our direction.

There has never been a Christian minister who has ever mounted a pulpit anywhere in this world who was not absolutely aware of how dangerous it is to be bold. When we come before you in a spirit of fear, then I, as well as every preacher, must come back to this text and look at the way the Apostles preached with boldness, without respect for their lives or their worldly good, like Luther would say, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.”

Reasonable in Character

Finally, Dr. Boice pointed out that Peter’s sermon was preached reasonably. The Apostle Peter did not simply play on the emotions of his hearers and try to gain an emotional response. Rather, he reasoned with them, showing them the rational character of the truth of the proclaimed Word of God.

When I had only been a Christian about six months, a nationally famous faith healer was touring the United States, and he came into our area. I went, as a young Christian, fascinated by this phenomenon. I wanted to see what it was like.

When I arrived at the place where the faith healer was going to be, there were two huge tents. I walked into the first tent, and I will never forget what I saw. It had a sawdust floor, a shooting gallery, amusements, and a popcorn and hotdog stand. That was my first clue that there was something different about this from church.

Then I went into the main tent to hear the evangelist, but before he started his sermon, the warm-up act came on, and a man came out with a tambourine and started beating it rhythmically. You could just sense the release of emotion and people getting riled up. He said, “Turn around and tell your neighbor that the devil is a liar.” The lady in front of me turned around and said, “The devil is a liar.”

I was thinking, “I’ve never been in a church like this.” I was just sort of stunned watching it. One of the ushers came up to me and said: “What’s the matter, son? Don’t you feel the Holy Spirit?” I looked at him and responded, “If this is the Holy Spirit, I’m going to sleep in tomorrow morning.” If ever a service was held in the flesh, I was standing in the middle of it.

But when Peter proclaimed with boldness and in the power of the Holy Ghost, he did not leave his brain in the parking lot. He did not ask people to circumvent their intelligence because the gospel that moves the heart first gets to the heart through the mind. That is how Apostolic preaching is manifest.

The Spirit on All Flesh

Having covered some background, let us look at what Peter said. He said, “They’re not drunk, but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel,” and he cited the text from the book of Joel: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” and so on.

In our Sunday school class, we are looking at the New Testament. When we came to the chapter about the day of Pentecost, I tied that phenomenon back to an Old Testament experience, beginning with Moses.

Moses received counsel from his father-in-law, Jethro, who had another name, Reuel. Moses’ father-in-law asked him: “What is this thing you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?” (Ex. 18:14).

Moses responded, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws” (Ex. 18:15–16). In other words, “I give the law, I intercede for the people, I sit at the gate, I hear all of their complaints, I judge all of their suits, and I take care of all of their spiritual needs.”

While Moses was indulging himself with all his accomplishments and achievements, Jethro said to him, “The thing that you do is not good” (Ex. 18:17). God spoke to Moses through his father-in-law. Jethro then told Moses to select able men from among the people of God to make them heads among the people and help to bear the weight of ruling among Israel, and Moses followed Jethro’s advice (Ex. 18:18–26).

In Numbers, we read that when God told Moses to gather seventy men from the elders of Israel, the Lord said: “I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone” (Num 11:17). In other words, God told Moses: “I’m going to take of the Spirit that is upon you, Moses, and I’m going to distribute it to seventy elders so that they can work with you in taking care of My people. The Spirit that is upon you I will give to the seventy for the purpose of enabling them for ministry.”

We read in the text that God did take of the Spirit that was upon Moses and put it upon the seventy elders, and they began to prophesy. They began to speak in ecstatic utterances, and two of them wandered outside of the boundaries of the camp. One of their names was Eldad, and the other one’s name was Medad, two of my favorite people in the Bible.

Joshua, the chief lieutenant of Moses, saw Eldad and Medad manifesting the power of the Holy Spirit that up until this moment had been reserved for Moses. He was incensed by it because he sensed Eldad and Medad were involving themselves in some kind of revolt against the leadership and authority of Moses. So, Joshua came to report this perceived transgression to Moses, and he said, “Moses my lord, forbid them!” (Num. 11:28). He was saying: “Moses, Eldad and Medad are prophesying outside the camp. It’s not right that anybody else should be assisting in the leadership of ministry and take away from your exalted status, Moses. Stop them!”

Look at how Moses responded to Joshua: “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29). Do you hear the prayer and the plea of Moses? “Joshua, I ask that God would take the same Spirit with which He has anointed me and not just give it to seventy but to the whole congregation. That’s my dream: a laity empowered by God that is mobilized rather than satisfied with hiring professionals to do the work of ministry, people who will come next to their neighbor when their neighbor is in need and who will pray as a priest for their friends. Would to God that all the Lord’s people would do these things.”

The Prophecy of Joel Fulfilled

The prayer of Moses became a prophecy later in Jewish history with the prophet Joel, during a time of terrible crisis when the land had been ravaged by a plague of locusts. The locusts, similar to that which happened in the nineteenth century in the American west, came through the land, ate up everything green, and completely destroyed Israel’s crops. The scale of the locusts coming through could be compared what would happen if the stock market fell to one hundred. It was calamitous, and God spoke to the people through Joel, and He spoke judgment. He said, “This has happened to your nation because you’ve turned away from the Lord.” God announced the doom of His judgment upon the people.

But then God tempered His message of judgment with a message of hope. He said:

And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
And also on My menservants and My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth:
Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.
The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved. (Joel 2:28–32)

When Peter gave his sermon on Pentecost, he was saying: “This is what Joel promised would happen in the last days, and that prophecy from antiquity of what would occur in the last days is what you’ve just witnessed. The Holy Ghost has been poured out, not on seventy, not on 140, not just on men, but on women, servants, the rank and file, upon everybody in the flock of God. God has poured out His Spirit upon all of us who are His.”

There is no such thing as a Christian who is not anointed by God the Holy Spirit for ministry. Paul will say later, “Are we not all baptized into the same Spirit?” We do not all have the same gifts, but we have the same Spirit, and we are all called to be deeply involved in the ministry of the kingdom of God.

If you look at any church today, you can draw concentric circles. In the middle of that circle is the core of the church. Those are the people who are there every Sunday morning. Those are the people who are involved in every aspect of the life of the church. Then there is the next level of the circle. Those people are somewhat regular in their attendance at church, and maybe once a year you might see them at a function other than Sunday morning. Then the third level represents the people who come on Christmas, Easter, and maybe Thanksgiving.

The people on those outer two levels are, in a practical manner, denying Pentecost because the whole life of the church is to involve all the people of the church. Every one of you who is a Christian has received the same power that the seventy elders received in Israel and the same power that the people assembled at Pentecost received on that day.

The Mission of the Holy Spirit

The end of the text says this: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Rather than being concerned about the meaning of glossolalia, the tongue-speaking of the time, Peter was concerned about the significance in redemptive history of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to the whole community. At this moment He says to His people, “Anyone today who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Peter did not stop at that point and sing three verses of a hymn. He went on to proclaim the life and ministry of Christ, as we will see next week. There were three thousand people whose hearts were moved by the word of God to put their trust in the Christ who was manifest that day.

Finally, there are a lot of churches today that are very excited about the Holy Spirit, and that is fine, but the danger of that is to misunderstand the mission of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit always, not just mostly, always points beyond Himself to Christ.

If you are in a “Spirit-filled” church that is not focusing on the ministry of Christ, you are not in a Spirit-filled church. It is that simple. God the Holy Spirit is sent to empower the church to bear witness to Christ, to apply the work of Christ on the cross in terms of its redemptive significance to all who believe. The Father sends, the Son accomplishes, and the Spirit applies the work of Christ. That was true on the very day of Pentecost: the day the Spirit was poured out without measure, the focus was on Christ.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.