Dec 7, 2003

Peter's Sermon - Part 3

Acts 2:34–39

No earthly ruler—even the most powerful throughout history—can claim the supreme title of “Lord.” This title belongs to only One. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul examines Peter’s bold declaration to the people of Jerusalem that the Jesus they crucified has been exalted as both Lord and Christ.


“For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself:

‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

The First Creed of the Church

During the first century, the cult of emperor worship spread throughout the entirety of the Roman Empire. Perhaps the most powerful of the Caesars who reigned during that first century, Octavian, took upon himself the title Caesar Augustus. There is no question in my mind that Octavian was a preeminent ruler worthy of titles befitting kings and emperors. Indeed, he was mighty and authoritative, but one thing he was not was august, for augustness is an attribute that belongs to God alone, calling attention to His transcendent majesty and eternal glory.

During the first and second centuries, emperors required Romans citizens to publicly say this loyalty oath: “Kaisar kyrios, Caesar is lord.” The Christian community, to the point of costing them their lives, responded to Rome’s by saying: “Dear sirs, we will honor you. We will pray for you. We will submit to your civil ordinances. We won’t drive our chariots over the speed limit. But we cannot say, ‘Kaisar kyrios,’ because our confession is, ‘Jesus ho kyrios, Jesus is Lord.’”

The first creed of the first century church was that short and that simple: “Jesus ho kyrios, Jesus is Lord.” We see that startling confession coming now at the conclusion of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.

David’s Lord

Up to this point, Peter has been speaking about prophecies, the psalms of David, not seeing corruption, and so on. In the preceding lesson, we looked at his treatment of Psalm 16, and before that, his treatment of passages from the book of the prophet Joel. But in this text, Peter turns his attention to another Old Testament text, which is the most frequently quoted, cited, or alluded to Old Testament text in the New Testament: Psalm 110. Peter says in verse thirty-four:

For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself,

“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’

This passage from Psalm 110:1 is quoted repeatedly in the pages of the New Testament. We recall the controversy Jesus encountered with the Pharisees regarding His claim to lordship. The question was this: How can one who is of the seed of David, who is a son of David, also be the Lord of David? In Jewish categories, the father always had dominance over the son. Since David lived one thousand years before Jesus was born, it was inconceivable to the Jew that David would look to Jesus as his Lord. That is why this text became so central to the early Jewish community. They were reminded to go back to this enthronement psalm, Psalm 110, in which David himself said, “The Lord said to my Lord.” The astonishing thing in light of the monotheism of Israel is this conversation to which David calls attention regarding God speaking to someone other than Himself who is David’s Lord.

When we look back at the Old Testament, we know that the sacred name for God was the name Yahweh, the name God gave to Himself when He spoke to Moses in the Midianite wilderness out of the burning bush. That was God’s memorial name. That was the name that the Jews protected with all manner of circumlocution, lest they be guilty of profaning the holy name. They heaped up titles for God in addition to His name. Of those titles, the most holy and sacred of them was “Lord,” Adonai.

In Psalm 110:1, David was saying, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand,’” and those two words translated “Lord” are the words Yahweh and Adonai. The title Adonai refers to God, Yahweh, but in this text, David says, “Yahweh said to my Adonai,” or, “God said to my sovereign one, ‘Sit at My right hand.’” The content of this discussion is within the Godhead between God Himself and the One He is appointing to be David’s sovereign, David’s Lord, David’s Adonai, which is translated by the New Testament word kyrios, or “Lord.”

Jesus’ Lordship Decreed

Peter now applies this to Jesus. Listen to what he says:

The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand.”

Essential to the Apostles’ Creed, after the confession of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, is the affirmation that He ascended into heaven for His session, where He is seated at the right hand of God. That means He is placed in the seat of cosmic authority, where God elevates Christ to His right hand and gives Him all authority on heaven and earth.

This is a powerful political statement. It is a statement of cosmic authority, that above every emperor, governor, king, and president is the One whom God has placed at His right hand, calling Him not just King, but King of the kings, and not just Lord, but Lord of the lords. That was what David prophesied in the Old Testament one thousand years before Jesus. He said, “God is going to receive His Messiah and elevate Him to His right hand, to the seat of cosmic authority.”

We are often tempted to reduce the significance of that affirmation. Much theology that is prevalent today has a sweet and blessed Jesus who saves us from our sin but is a Savior that does not reign.

One of the most divisive controversies of the last twenty-five years has been called the “lordship salvation” controversy. You may have heard it popularized by the idea of the “carnal Christian.” I talked to a young man a couple of years ago, and he had professed Christ. He said he was Christian. He was not only using drugs illicitly, but he was selling them. He was living with a woman who was not his wife and was involved in a completely hedonistic lifestyle with no manifestation whatsoever of any godliness. I asked him about this, and he said: “Don’t worry. I’m a carnal Christian—that is, I’ve received Jesus as my Savior, but I’m going to wait a while before I submit to Him as my Lord.”

The recent disjunction between Christ as Savior and Christ as Lord is as foreign and antithetical to the New Testament as anything can possibly be. I want you to notice that in this text where the kērygma is being preached, where the gospel is being preached, at the heart of the message is the affirmation of the lordship of Christ. I get terrified when I listen to the jargon of Christians who say, “I asked Jesus into my heart and invited Him to be the Lord of my life.” What was He before that invitation?

This is why I do not like “religion,” and Christianity can be a religion that has nothing to do with the truth content of the biblical message. The message is far more radical than this. Peter was saying that it is a matter of objective reality: God, who created heaven and earth, has made Christ the Lord of the universe. He rules. He does not wait for you to invite Him. He rules you whether you want Him to rule you or not.

You can be hostile to Christ’s reign, you can be a renegade in His dominion, and you may fight against His just empowerment as the King of the kings and Lord of the lords, but all of that does not reduce Him to impotency. What is impotent are our attempts to supplant Him as Lord, because God has decreed His lordship.

All Will Bow the Knee

The text says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand,’” for how long? “Until I make Your enemies Your footstool.” When we look at the imagery about the coming Messiah of Israel in the Old Testament, the metaphor of bowing the knee is used again and again, and even to this day we bow the knee as a gesture indicating worship. But the Scriptures tell us that there will be a day when every human being on earth will bow the knee to Christ as Lord.

You might ask: “How can that be? Most of the people in the world do not embrace the Christian faith.” In the final analysis, whether they embrace the faith does not matter. What matters is who God declares to be the Lord, and God said, “I will make Your enemies Your footstool.” As Psalm 2:9 declares, “You shall break them with a rod of iron.”

Many people come willingly and prostrate themselves before the King of kings. Others flee from the King of kings, and God says, “At that point, you’re going to bow down whether you want to or not, even if I have to break your knee.” How different is that from modern evangelism that gives an invitation to people? God does not invite people to come to Christ, He commands it. God requires it because He has put Christ at His right hand.

Hearts of Stone Cut Through

Listen to what the text records Peter saying next, and you might wonder how he survived that day. He said, “Therefore”—here is the conclusion—“let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Peter was saying to those gathered: “Who are we talking about, ladies and gentlemen? I’m talking about this Jesus, the One you took and crucified. I tell you with certainty that God has made Him both kyrios and Messiah—Lord and Christ.”

A couple of weeks ago when we started looking at Peter’s sermon, I asked you to use your imagination. I said that when we read what happened in history and see the conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus and the Romans, and now Peter and those heckling and skeptical of what he was saying, we always identify with the good guys. We think: “If I were there, I wouldn’t have been shouting out, ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ I would have been one of those who dutifully followed Jesus.”

I asked you to use your imagination and to imagine that you were there on the day of Pentecost, listening to this sermon from the lips of the Apostle Peter. As you are listening, you remember that you were part of that thronging multitude crying out for the blood of Jesus just a few weeks earlier. Now you hear Peter say, “This very Jesus, whose blood is on your hands, whom you despised, whom you rejected, whom you crucified, this very Jesus God has made both Lord and Christ.” When they heard that, Luke tells us, they were cut to the heart.

The last thing I am interested in doing when I preach is to make people feel guilty, but I also know that our hearts are calcified like stone, and it takes nothing less than the power of God to cut through them.

The people at Pentecost were just like everybody else in the world. They did not want to be invaded by someone making ultimate demands upon their lives, and their hearts had become hardened. Their necks had become so stiff and hard that they crucified the Son of God. You cannot get any more recalcitrant than that. But God was pleased that day, by His Word, to cut into that stone and pierce the heart.

Has that ever happened to you? Has the Word of God ever come to you, and when you heard it, you knew the arguments were over, and you cried out: “Lord, what can I do?” If that has not happened to you, then my dear friend, you have missed the Redeemer. That is what provokes genuine repentance, when the excuses and rationalization go, the self-applause is silenced, and we say, “Oh God, my God, what have I done?”

That was what happened on the day of Pentecost. Luke tells us that those in attendance said to Peter and the Apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” and Peter told them what to do. He said: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Guilt, Repentance, and Forgiveness

In this sermon, Peter was speaking to a group of people who were guilty. Part of my ministry and life has been to do the work of an apologist, to try to deal with the intellectual questions that arise about the truth claims of Christianity. I can remember many times I have talked to people and dealt with their philosophical objections patiently for hours, until finally I say to them: “Just a minute. Can we lay those questions aside? Let me ask you this: What do you do with your guilt?”

Every time I have done that, it stops the discussion because nobody can look me in the eye and say, “I don’t have any guilt.” There are people who have guilt feelings when they should not feel guilty. We are so easily manipulated by feelings of guilt that sometimes we carry burdens we should not ever have to deal with because they have nothing to do with the things of God. They are culturally imposed.

But there is a difference between false guilt and real guilt. There is such a thing as real guilt, and it takes place when we disobey the law of God. When we transgress the law of God, we are guilty. We may say we do not feel guilty. Can you imagine going before the judge after you have been arrested for armed robbery, and the authorities have the act on video, the gun, and a parade of witnesses. The judge says, “What’s your defense?” You say, “My defense is I don’t feel guilty.” Is the judge going to say, “Oh, then you must be innocent”? No, the judge will say: “You are guilty.”

Guilt is not measured by guilt feelings, and the worst thing that could happen to us is to have guilt and not feel it, because that is what happened to the people in Jerusalem. They had the worst of all possible guilt. They had crucified the Son of God, and they were not feeling it at all until the Word came to them and cut them to the heart. When the feeling came, they were crying out, “What do we do?”

Since the garden of Eden, human beings have tried every conceivable method and means to eradicate guilt and ease the pangs of conscience. But the only thing I know of as an authentic treatment for real guilt is real forgiveness. We cannot atone for our sins with our good deeds—we are debtors who cannot pay our debts. We cannot live so well the rest of our lives that it will atone for the past. The only thing that will ever take care of real guilt is real forgiveness.

I had a psychiatrist friend who some years ago said to me, “I deal with patients day in and day out who do not need a psychiatrist. What they need is a priest because they are dealing with unresolved guilt that destroys their lives, and it is tearing them up.” I responded, “The only cure I know for that guilt is forgiveness,” and he agreed.

The price tag for forgiveness is repentance, and that is when you say to God: “I know my sin,  and I am profoundly sorry that I have offended You. I acknowledge my sin. My sin is ever before me, and my only hope in life and death is the Redeemer.”

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.