Acts 2:37-47

Peter has just finished the first sermon of the church age and the first public proclamation of the gospel.  The people listening – several thousand – have just heard that they are responsible for killing the Messiah.  The Nazarene crucified outside Jerusalem seven weeks ago was indeed the Promised One Israel has waited for from the time of Abraham – and they have His death on their hands.  They stand before God convicted of the murder of His Son.

The remaining verses of Chapter 2 tell the story of how the first church forms and of the first examples of everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (21).  Peter has good news for the hopeless and through the Holy Spirit they joyously believe and repent.  Thousands join the new movement and begin to change Jerusalem through their behavior.  The people are baptized in the name of the One they killed and begin to live in the power of the One they once rejected.

The people’s reaction to Peter’s sermon shows what happens when the Holy Spirit makes the gospel clear in a listener’s soul.  They are pierced to the heart – overcome with guilt and panic and a sense of their own sin.  They desperately seek a way out of their condition and a way to stand before God without condemnation.

They are not entirely without hope, however.  Peter said God raised the Messiah and that He now sits at God’s right hand.  And he said God’s Spirit has been poured out and that it is the Spirit who causes the followers of Jesus to speak in different languages – which the people witnessed.  If both are true then there must be a way out of this guilt.  There must be a way to share in the blessing of the Spirit and enjoy fellowship with God.  Certainly there is something they can do to escape God’s judgment on those who murdered His Son – right?

With this in mind the people frantically ask the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?

Peter does have an answer – he does have good news for them.  They are not hopelessly lost and there is something they can do.  Peter replies to the people, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The people must repent – turn away from their sinful lives and turn toward God.  They must forsake their wrong perspective on Jesus and instead accept Him as the risen Messiah.  They must acknowledge and confess their guilt in the death of Jesus and place Him on the throne of their lives.  In Peter’s challenge to them, repentance is the precondition for the forgiveness of sins, which in turn is the prerequisite for receiving salvation (Eckhard J. Schnabel, “Acts,” Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 161).

The people must also be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.  To the Jews listening to Peter, baptism is only for Jewish proselytes – Gentiles coming into the faith.  What Peter insists they do, however, is to be baptized to show their belief in Jesus the Messiah.  They must be baptized in the name of the One they rejected.  By submitting to baptism they declare their submission to Christ and their willing acceptance of His Lordship in their lives.  Baptism demonstrates clearly that they repudiate the thinking that put Jesus on the cross and that they instead exalt Him to His rightful place as Messiah and Lord.  Immersion in Jesus’ name does not just make them clean for a time so they can participate in temple worship – it signifies that they are purified once for all and are now accepted into the presence of God for all eternity.

Note that baptism is not stated as necessary for salvation.  Peter says to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins because baptism signifies the belief that is necessary for repentance and forgiveness.  No Jew would submit to baptism without first believing.  Other references support baptism as commanded but not required for salvation.  In 3:19-21 Peter presents the gospel to another group and does not mention baptism.  In 10:44-48 believers receive the Holy Spirit before baptism.  And in 19:1-6 Paul bestows the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands after baptism.

Peter promises two gifts as a result of repentance and belief.  They will receive forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  They will be forgiven for all sins – even the sin of killing the Son of God.  And they will receive the same gift that the apostles and other followers have – the Holy Spirit.  Forgiveness allows them entrance into the presence of God and the Holy Spirit enables them to live as new creatures enjoying His fellowship and obeying His commands.

The gospel is good news not only of what Jesus did (He died for our sins and was raised, according to the Scriptures) but also of what He offers as a result.  He promises to those who respond to Him both the forgiveness of sins (to wipe out the past) and the gift of the Spirit (to make us new people).  Together these constitute the freedom for which many are searching; freedom from guilt, defilement, judgment and self-centeredness, and freedom to be the persons God made and meant us to be.  Forgiveness and the Spirit comprise ‘salvation’, and both are publicly signified in baptism, namely the washing away of sin and the outpouring of the Spirit.  (John Stott, “The Message of Acts,” The Bible Speaks Today, 80.)

Peter goes on to explain that the gift is not limited to those now hearing him or even to the Jews alone.  He says the gift is for you and your children, and for all who are far off.  This further explains what Joel meant when he said (21), “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  The gift is limited only by God’s call – as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself (further explained in vs 47).  It is ultimately God who causes people to accept the gospel through the work of His Spirit.  Without the Spirit’s help no one believes the remarkable story of the risen Jesus, but all types of people will in fact believe.  Gospel acceptance is not limited to any group.

Peter speaks many other words to the people (this shows that Luke does not transcribe Peter’s entire sermon word for word) and keeps on exhorting them saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!”  Peter’s exhortation recalls how God and Moses referred to the Israelites in the desert who rejected God’s deliverance from Egypt when they refused to enter the land (Num 14, Deut 32:5, Ps 95:10-11).  That generation rejected God’s first great act of salvation – Peter wants to make sure this generation does not reject God’s second.

Note the urgency with which Peter addresses the people.  He solemnly testifies and keeps on exhorting them to believe.  This is the effect of the gospel on the one who knows and believes it.  The gospel is good AND critical news.  The one without the gospel has no hope and faces a life without the Spirit and an eternity without God.  Gospel-saturated people long for others to know what they know and to be saved from this perverse generation.  Gospel witness is not casual – that eternity lies in the balance makes the message urgent.

The people respond.  Their desperate question has been answered and there IS a way out from under the guilt of what they have done.  Showing they understand the gospel message they gladly repent and believe – and willingly submit to baptism in the name of Jesus who they rejected.  The message resonates with so many that THREE THOUSAND profess Christ and add themselves to the number of Jesus’ followers.  The huge number shows the incredible power of the Holy Spirit – He changes the hearts of 3000 people at once and brings them into His kingdom.

[How is it possible to baptize 3000 people in a day?  Several items help explain the logistics of the process.  First, in Jerusalem around the temple are several very large pools used for ritual purification (a process required to participate in the temple worship).  The pools are large enough to accommodate many people at a time because of the large numbers who come to the temple.  Second, Peter began preaching at 9:00 AM (15), so they have the entire day to baptize.  Third, if each of the 120 original followers baptize, it comes to 25 baptisms per person.  If women do not participate and we assume anywhere from half to three-quarters of the group are men, then at most it comes to 50 per person which is certainly doable.  If only the apostles baptize it is then 250 per man – an enormous number but still likely possible using the whole day.]

They show the effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit with changed behavior.  They spend their time in four ways.  They continually devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching (they long for more knowledge of God and commit themselves to learning), to fellowship (they crave the company of other believers), to the breaking of bread (this likely includes the Lord’s Supper as well as sharing meals), and to prayer (they love communion with their Father in heaven).  They are not compelled to do this – this is what they want to continually devote themselves to.  The Spirit in them changes their desires and affections.

[Luke explains how the early church begins through the mass baptisms of 3000 people.  However, nothing is said about the original group of 120 who gathered to await the Spirit.  Are they (or were they) – including the apostles – baptized also?  Virtually no commentator addresses this and almost nothing is written on it.  Perhaps the fact that they were part of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus means they do not need baptism.  The exchange between Peter and Jesus at the Last Supper as recorded in Jn 13:8-11 (see also Jn 15:3) may shed some light on this – they do not need baptism because Jesus has already made them clean.  It could also be that their baptism by the Holy Spirit is unique and makes it so they do not need water baptism.  Lastly, perhaps they baptize each other during the mass baptisms of the 3000 (although Luke specifically says 3000 people are added on Pentecost – making it sound as if the others are already part of the church and need do nothing else to be in).  In the end there is no way to be sure of what the answer is.  It is interesting, however, that so few have apparently ever thought of the question.]

The last verses of Chapter 2 further describe the life of the new church.  The people feel a sense of awe as they witness many signs and wonders that take place through the apostles.  The work of the Holy Spirit is very evident as He shows Himself through supernatural acts by the apostles.  The effect of these on the new converts is to cause them to revere (or fear – this is what God’s presence does – I Pet 1:17-19) and glorify God (miracles are always for the purpose of bringing people to God and for glorifying Him – they never occur just to impress).

They grow together in unity and love.  Those who have decide to share all things in common and sell possessions so they can give to those who do not.  This is not a political statement – it is a way to meet needs within the congregation.  The new converts believe they no longer own their possessions and so gladly make them available to the group.  They and their property now belong to Jesus – thus they happily use what they have for the needs of others who belong to Him too.

Luke expounds on his earlier comment about their desire for fellowship with each other.  Day by day they continue with one mind in the temple (they love to worship), and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all people.  They LOVE each other and so love to BE with each other.  They spend their time worshiping and praising God and they do it together.  People with the Spirit love others who have the Spirit.  The Spirit unifies those He indwells.

The last part of verse 47 explains more fully what Peter says in 39.  The Lord adds people daily to the new church.  It is always the ministry of the Spirit that brings people to Jesus.  Man does not cause anyone to believe.  Man spreads the gospel but it is the Spirit who causes it to be accepted.

Acts 2 gives us several characteristics of the one in whom the Spirit dwells.  He proclaims Jesus – as the 120 did as soon as the Spirit came upon them.  He devotes himself to teaching – he wants to know more about the One who saved him.  He loves the fellowship of other believers as the Spirit who leads him is attracted to other Spirit-led people.  He celebrates his redemption through the work of the Son by observing the Lord’s Supper.  He loves worship – loves praising the One who redeems him.  He continually prays as he longs for his thoughts and actions to reflect the One he lives for.  And he ministers to the physical needs of poor believers as he genuinely loves others and feels no sense of ownership of what God provides.

It makes no sense to claim the gift of the Spirit and yet have few or none of these characteristics.  The Spirit does not leave unchanged those He baptizes.  To feel no sense of urgency to spread the gospel, to feel little desire for the fellowship and company of other believers, to love possessions and comfort more than brothers who have needs, to rarely pray or feel the need to pray, to see worship and the gathering of the saints as strictly an obligation, and to take the gospel so casually as to rarely think about it at all – is to defy all that the Spirit instills in the one He claims.  The one who takes the name of Christ and yet lives as if the Spirit does not exist is either deceived or hypocritical and in both cases damned.

Here, then, is a fourfold message – two events (Christ’s death and resurrection), as attested by two witnesses (prophets and apostles), on the basis of which God makes two promises (forgiveness and the Spirit), on two conditions (repentance and faith, with baptism).  We have no liberty to amputate this apostolic gospel, by proclaiming the cross without the resurrection, or referring to the New Testament but not the Old, or offering forgiveness without the Spirit, or demanding faith without repentance.  There is a wholeness about the biblical gospel.  (John Stott, “The Message of Acts,” The Bible Speaks Today, 81.)

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