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The Spirit Delivers the Promise

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December 20, 2009

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2:36 (NIV)

We pick up our story today after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. A great crowd of people have gathered from many nations in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on the Apostles, so that as Peter speaks, people are able to hear and understand what he says in their own language.

When Peter describes the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, it’s quite clear that these people believed what he was telling them. If they didn’t, they would have argued with him or simply walked away.

Hearing and believing the Gospel

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (v37).

That’s faith right there. They believe that Jesus is Lord and Christ. They take this seriously. If Jesus is Lord, and you have spent much of your life ignoring him or resisting Him you are in trouble.

Peter replied “Repent…” (v38). He tells people who are believing in Jesus to repent. That’s important. True faith is shot through with repentance. True repentance is shot through with faith. These are like two sides of a coin, you can’t have one without the other.

You will not repent until you grasp the love and mercy of God for you in Christ. But when you see that love and mercy, how can you resist it? Repentance and faith are birthed together at the cross.

This faith and repentance lead to baptism: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ…” (v38). Peter tells them to publicly identify themselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and receive the mark, the sign, the seal of God’s promise.

What is the promise? The forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (v38). God will forgive you. He will reconcile you to Himself. Christ will give you new life by the Holy Spirit, whom He will give to you.

The scope of the good news

“The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:39

The promise of God is for you, if you have come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You feel the weight of your sin. You see your need. This promise of new life in Jesus Christ is for you.

The promise is for your children. It is not limited to one generation that lived two thousand years ago. It is not locked in the past. The promise is never outdated. It spans the centuries, and it is for us today!

The promise is for all who are far off. The promise of forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ is for people from every background. If you feel far from God today, this promise is for you. There is forgiveness and new life in Christ for those who are far off.

God promised that through the seed of Abraham people from every nation on earth would be blessed. Forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ is God’s promise for people in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, Australia, and Antarctica! The mission of the church is to take this good news of Jesus Christ to every person.

The promise is for all whom the Lord our God will call. How does God call us? He calls through the Gospel. God was calling those people right there as Peter was speaking about Christ. God is calling you today, as you hear the Gospel.

There is forgiveness for you in Jesus Christ. There is new life for you in Jesus Christ. So today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.

What does this new life in Christ look like? What does it look like when this promise becomes yours? What happens when the Holy Spirit delivers God’s promise in a person who repents and believes?

I want you to see the sweep of God’s redeeming work in a human life. What is true of you if you are in Jesus Christ?

What can be true of you if you come to Christ in faith and repentance today?

  1. Regeneration—You have new life

“I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’” John 3:5-8

When God created the heavens and the earth, we read that the earth was formless and empty “and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). The planet was a dark, watery chaos, then God spoke light into the darkness. He brought life out of death, forming the beauty of the world.

John tells us that the same Spirit of God who hovered over the darkness is like a wind blowing into chaotic, dark human lives that are dead to God. He gives light to people who cannot see Christ’s glory (2 Corinthians 4:4). He brings new life to people who are dead towards God, enabling you to respond to Him (Ephesians 2:1).

Regeneration means that you have new life. The Spirit gives birth to spirit. There’s new life that was not in you before, but it is now. You see Christ’s glory and you are alive to God.

  1. Union—You are in Christ

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Romans 6:3

When Paul says “Don’t you know…,” he’s speaking about something quite basic that every Christian needs to know:

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life…” (v4)

What is he talking about? Paul is not talking about baptism in water here. He is talking about the reality that lies behind baptism in water.

Here’s how the new life comes about: The Holy Spirit brings you new life by plunging you into Jesus Christ, making you one with Him, so that Christ’s death and resurrection become effective in your life and experience.

You are united with him in His death, and in His resurrection. You are in Christ and “in Christ” you are a new creation. The person you were is gone. You are a new creation in Christ.

When the Bible talks about this, it says that it’s like marriage. Martin Luther says:

“Faith… unites the soul to Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh. And if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage… it follows that everything they have, they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. 

 

Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has, as though it were its own, and whatever the soul has, Christ claims as His own…” [1]

I was having a bad day thinking about all the things I hadn’t done, all the projects I was behind on. I was thinking about folks in the church we served in England and how little I have done to keep in touch with them. I was having an “O wretched man that I am” kind of day.

The following morning Karen was sitting at our dining room table working on Christmas letters. She does a marvelous job each year, sending over a hundred letters to England—each one of them hand written. And she signs it “from Karen and Colin.”

Here’s me thinking about my wretched failure to keep in touch with these people, when actually I have written to them… every year for the last fourteen years!

If I consider myself in isolation, I have done a wretched job. When I see that I am united to my wife, I have joy because I share in what she has done. A letter has gone out in my name every year!

Christ has done what you have failed to do. He has lived the life that you have not lived and cannot live, and when you are “in Christ,” all that He has done is yours.

The believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has, as though it were its own! That’s union with Christ. What it meant for Him was being nailed to the cross. What it means for you is justification.

  1. Justification—You are declared righteous

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

“Justified” means that God declares you righteous. This is amazing. God justifies sinners. He justifies the ungodly.

How can God declare sinners righteous? “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood…” (Romans 3:25). As faith unites us to Christ, the power of His sacrifice of atonement becomes yours.

Thomas Chalmers used to say “What would I do if God only justified the godly?” But “God justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5). If God only justified godly people, which of us would have any hope?

But God justifies sinners through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and we are forgiven and declared righteous by faith in His blood.

  1. Adoption—You are loved

“When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4:4-7

“Adoption” means that God loves you as His own son or daughter. Notice the great initiative of God: “He sends His Son into the world…” (v4), and “He sends His Spirit into our hearts…” (v6). It is the special work of the Holy Spirit to persuade you of the love of God.

God communicates His love to us in two ways: He demonstrates His love for us through the cross (Romans 5:8), and He pours His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).

There is no love that you will ever experience in this world that will match the love of God. God loves you with an everlasting love. No one else can say to you “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you.” You might find someone who will say “I will never leave you… until death do us part.” But only God can say “I will never leave you!”

God rejoices over you because already He sees what you will be when His redeeming work is complete.

  1. Sanctification—You will be holy

“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

Sanctification is the progressive work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian believer by which you grow in the life that God is calling you to lead.

Bishop Ryle helpfully says:

“Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few… take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy…

 

What would an unsanctified man do in heaven if by chance he got there? To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while here on the earth.” [2]

The Bible says “Without holiness no one will see the Lord…” (Hebrews 12:14). That doesn’t mean we are saved by being holy, but that the pursuit of holiness is evidence that you are in Christ, who justifies you by His blood.

Sanctification here is both a prayer and a promise. It is a prayer because Paul says “May God… sanctify you…” It is a promise because he says “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it” (v24).

You will love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. You will love your neighbor as yourself. And every believer that you have ever known will find that God’s purpose for them is brought to completion. What God’s grace has begun will be complete.

  1. Glorification—You will reflect Christ’s glory

“When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Colossians 3:4

Here is what’s yours in Christ: You are going to be with Christ, in glory, forever! Your whole life is preparing for that.

Not only will you be in His glory, but the Bible makes it clear that His glory will be in you. Paul says “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

How do you view your Christian life? Right now, we Christians are a mass of contradictions. We love Christ, but at the same time we feel the pull of the world, the flesh and the devil. We trust Christ, but at the same time we struggle with many doubts and fears. We have new life, but at the same time we’re getting older and our bodies are subject to death and decay.

When you see Him, you will be like Him (1 John 3:2), no more contradictions. What’s at the heart of you will become the whole of you. Paul says our sufferings are not to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us.

  1. Consummation—You will see God

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.” Revelation 21:1

Not a different earth, but a new earth. This earth will finally be redeemed, liberated from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21). This planet will be free from the presence and even the possibility of evil.

And on this marvelous planet, John sees: “…the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (v2). Later John describes the wide open gates of the city, facing north and south and east and west. Here is a vast community of people from every nation on earth, redeemed by Christ, and rejoicing in His presence.

One picture isn’t enough: I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (v2). How can a city be a bride? It’s like a hologram with two pictures. First you see the life of the city, now add to that all the joy of a wedding.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’” (v3). Everything that separates you from God is gone. God shares eternal life with all His redeemed people.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes…” Isn’t it amazing that God does this Himself? “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (v4-5).

When Christians celebrate Christmas, it is because all this is ours in Jesus Christ. It can be yours. The promise is for you. The promise is for all who are far off. Repent! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! By believing you will find life in His name (John 20:31).

 

[1] Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, in J. Dillenberger, Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, p.60

[2] J.C. Ryle, Holiness, p. 23

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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