Sermon from 1/14/18
Have you ever heard of the double cure? Augustus Toplady coined that phrase in his most famous hymn, Rock of Ages. “Rock of ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, From Thy riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure, Save from wrath and make me pure.” Our tendency today is to excuse sin by saying we all fall short and although that is true that is also the problem we face. You see, we have double trouble in our lives: we have the wrath of God because we have sinned and our sin has kept us from being pure (which Jesus told us was the only way to see God).
Just seeking forgiveness is not enough because although it might make us feel better forgiveness by itself does not address our tendency to sin in the first place. It is much easier to talk of immediate and momentary change rather than the profound transformation of life that can result from such a change. It is the difference between repentance and remorse. We need both: Remorse means we are sorry or we feel bad about what we did but repentance means we want to change our direction. The blood of Jesus not only removes the guilt we have when we sin it also takes away our desire to continue in sin. Does that mean we never sin? No – but it does means that we recognize sin for what it is. The question is how is that desire to sin taken away? I believe part of the answer to that question is found in Christian baptism.
Probably the clearest passage of Scripture concerning the meaning of baptism is found in Acts 2:38 and 39. These two verses are so important that I am going to preach from this text in my sermon series on baptism not only today but next Sunday as well. In context, Jesus had ascended back to heaven with instructions for his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit descended on them. That happened in a very spectacular way when they heard what sounded like a violent wind from heaven, saw what appeared to be tongues of fire resting above them, and began to speak in other languages. It was the day of Pentecost when this happened, a Jewish feast, and the apostles went out to the crowd gathered in the streets and began to preach to them. Peter was the chief spokesman and told the crowd about Jesus and how he had died for their sins. The question Peter answers in verse 38 is asked in verse 37 so let’s begin there, Acts 2:37: 37 When the people heard this, (that is what they heard about Jesus) they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Now let’s look at our text for this morning, Acts 2:38 and 39, which answers the question: 38 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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call."
These two verses became the centerpiece of the Restoration Movement, the spiritual heritage which Sterling Park Christian Church is a part. It was used so often in our early days that others would criticize us for only preaching one sermon: repent and be baptized. In fact, one of the early evangelists in our churches, Walter Scott, developed a simple formula to attract crowds to his revival meetings. He would go to the local school yard and he would gather the children around him and teach them the following exercise: he would tell the children to raise their left hand and beginning with his thumb have them repeat after him – “faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit.” He would do it over and over until the children had memorized it then he would tell them to go home, show their parents what they had learned and say that the man who taught them the exercise would be preaching that evening. (Times have really changed, haven’t they? There would be all kinds of trouble if someone tried to talk to children on the school playground today!)
We are in DOUBLE TROUBLE this morning because God’s wrath and our guilt. Our text, Acts 2:38 & 39 show us the DOUBLE CURE we need.
I. THE DOUBLE CURE ADDRESSES OUR DOUBLE TROUBLE
The most pressing problem caused by our sin is guilt. We have broken God’s law and deserve to pay the penalty and face his wrath. Paul wrote in Romans that the wages of sin is death. As sinners we are in a wrong relationship with God and there is nothing that we can do to fix the problem. But God offers the solution for our guilt through the death of Jesus. He paid the penalty and faced God’s wrath for our sins on the cross. He suffered for us and as a result God is able to offer us a full pardon, full remission, complete justification, complete liberation and we no longer need to fear condemnation or hell.
This is the “forgiveness of your sins” that Peter offers in our text. However the idea of forgiveness is not new: it was something that God had been offering to his people since the creation of the world. The difference now is that it is offered only in the name of Jesus. I know sometimes we can become confused when we talk about baptism thinking it is only the water that saves us but it is not the water that saves us rather we are saved by the blood of Jesus and only by his blood.
However, Having our sins forgiven takes care of only the first part of the double trouble we have in our lives. We still have the guilt that sin brings: we still feel under the bondage of sin. Have you ever felt like you may cross the line someday and God will become tired of you and zap you? Have you ever been afraid that while you are committing a sin you will die and not having been able to repent of that sin you will be doomed? Are you sitting in the pew this morning and not certain you will go to heaven? Those are all real fears and are the second part of the double trouble we are in. You see, sin is like a disease that enters our body. And like a disease, it weakens us and keeps us from being healthy and makes us more susceptible to other disease.
We become weak in the face of temptation and we tend to sin more and more. My son and daughter-in-law bought me a small box of chocolate for Christmas. As we sat around the tree opening other gifts and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I found myself opening that box up and taking another piece of candy. Before I knew it, I had consumed the whole box. That’s why there is no such thing as a little sin: even the most unimportant sin opens the door and makes it easier for us to become involved with more sin. One piece of candy will not hurt us. Like a virus that enters a computer, sin has corrupted our lives.
That’s why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel offer includes a divine cure for the disease of the soul. It is called the new birth or regeneration. The gospel offer not only includes forgiveness of our sin but the cure for the disease of our soul.
The people asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter’s response in verse 38 to repent and be baptized is the first part of the double cure. The second part is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Chances are the ones who asked Peter the question were not expecting that – they were only looking for a way to have their sins forgiven – but Peter shows them how not only to be forgiven but to receive power that will really heal us.
And, oh how sad it is that we so often ignore, deny or shut off this gift! That’s why we as Christians so often continue to wallow in sin; that’s why so often we stop trying to resist temptation; that’s why, as George Barna reported several years ago, statistically there is no difference between a Christian and a non-Christian when it comes to lifestyle, morals or sins we commit – because we don’t use the gift God has given us. We don’t seek or call on the Holy Spirit to lead us.
Now don’t misunderstand: I do not believe that we can be sinless – 1 John 1:8 plainly says, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But you know that small voice you hear in your head that says that what you are thinking about doing is wrong? You know that sick feeling you have in the pit of your stomach when you witness injustice? You know the emotion you feel when someone is in need? Many try to dismiss those things as just your conscience bothering you or worse, they call them restraints placed on you from too strict an upbringing but for us as Christians, what we are feeling is different. It is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and we would do well to listen to what he says if we want the Double Cure.
II. THE DOUBLE CURE MAKES US HOLY
We tend to shy away from wild manifestations of the Spirit, don’t we? Primarily because of some outlandish examples from extreme Pentecostal groups we prefer our worship to be conducted in a logical, orderly and non-offensive (and often dull) way.
However, even within our very rational heritage there is an intense example of all the outlandish happenings of the Spirit that we would prefer to ignore. In 1801 a revival broke out in Cane Ridge, Kentucky. It is often cited as the event that gave birth to our movement yet during this meeting some of the strangest things happened – things that would be considered odd even in charismatic circles today. They were called “religious exercises” and included such things as people falling unconscious to the ground – and they would remain that way sometimes for hours – then when they awoke they would begin to preach about the love of God, some would jerk around in violent motion while standing in place, some would run around until they collapsed, and some began to dance wildly, or bark like dogs, or sing in a way that was described as not coming from the mouth or nose but from the chest.
This very weird supernatural phenomenon happened only that one time and since it was so long ago we tend to brush it off today as an interesting but totally irrelevant relic of the past. However, the Cane Ridge Revival has precedent in Bible history. What happened over 200 years ago in Kentucky is very similar to what happened some 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. And both times, the supernatural events caught the attention of the people and God was able to do something remarkable.
Now we need to understand that the Holy Spirit was present and working among God’s people before Pentecost. There are examples of that in the Old Testament: in Psalm 51:11 for instance, David cries out, 11Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. And the Old Testament as well as the Gospels promised a new and special outpouring of the Spirit associated with the coming Messiah. Isaiah 44:3 says 3For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. Ezekiel 36:27 adds, 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. While Joel 2:28, which Peter quotes in this sermon from Acts 2: 28 "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. In addition, John the Baptist had preached that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit and Jesus had promised that believers would have the indwelling presence of the Spirit.
Now, let me clarify: this outpouring, I believe, is slightly different than the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The outpouring primarily is a way for the Spirit to get our attention while the indwelling presence is the gift promised to us in our text. I’ll talk more about the indwelling and what that means in a few minutes but for now, note that this miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirit apparently was to mark the inauguration of a new age and what happened at Pentecost was without a doubt the beginning of a new age – the Christian or church age. The miraculous signs seen on that day were not the main point of the day but evidence of God’s approval of what the apostles were preaching. Seeing the miracles, especially the speaking in tongues, got the attention of the crowd and they wondered, according to verse 12, what this meant? Peter explained that it was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (something that good Jewish people would have been aware of, hoping for and expecting with the Messiah) and so what Peter was saying was that Jesus was the Messiah they had been waiting for and they had killed him.
So, as verse 37 tells us, what the outpouring of the Spirit here did was to cut them to the heart. In other words, the Spirit convicted them of their sin; the Spirit filled them with grief over their sinful state; the Spirit was poured out to open their eyes and show them how far away from God they had fallen and exposed them to the potential of God’s wrath. May I suggest that the Holy Spirit still does that same work today?
However, it is not always wild and outlandish. We limit the Spirit when we think his outpouring can only be seen through supernatural and miraculous events. I will not say it cannot happen in a spectacular fashion (that would be limiting the Spirit as well) but most of us, I would venture to guess, experienced the outpouring of the Spirit in a different way. C.S. Lewis, for instance, was convicted by the outpouring of the Spirit when he read the Scripture. Has that happened to you? Some people hear the word of God and are convicted of their sin and need for Jesus. Have you ever felt that? Others understand how far away they have fallen when they associate with Christian people. Has that taken place in your life? And there can be other ways as well. But you see, that’s why people criticize and demean the Bible; that’s why they say the church is full of hypocrites; that’s why they call Christians mean-spirited bigots – they are resisting the outpouring of the Spirit whose job it is is to convict us of our sinful state and our need for Jesus. Rather than admit our need, it is easier to become defensive and attack the messenger.
Now, since the work of the Holy Spirit before conversion is to convict people of their need for Jesus may I suggest two quick things we can learn from that? First, it is the Spirit that works on our hearts – we do not win souls, as if we are good enough to do that, rather it is the work of God. The church has it all wrong when we approach evangelism like a sales technique. And second, the fact that conversion is a work of the Spirit does not give us permission to sit passively by hoping for the best – we still have a job and our job is to make sure the Spirit has the opportunity to do his work. In other words, let’s not re-enforce the idea that Christians are mean or that the church is full of hypocrites or that the Bible is not all that important. Our attitude should be to try to show Jesus in our lives thereby clearing the path so the Spirit can work. We need to be teaching the truth and we need to be living it so God can be glorified and His Spirit can be poured out.
When the Spirit is poured out and people are convicted of their sin, Acts 2:38 clearly show they are to be shown how the blood of Jesus saves us and to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. That was Peter’s complete answer when the crowd wondered what all this meant.
So what we see is…
III. THE DOUBLE CURE IS GIVEN IN BAPTISM
We like to think that there are no conditions for salvation. After all, God offers his grace to everyone and the blood of Jesus is sufficient to cover the sins of all. While all that is true, salvation is never offered by osmosis in the Bible. Never is it a matter of just thinking good thoughts or really wanting it. Conditions have been set by God and, except for one of them, Christianity has readily accepted all the other conditions. As I wind this sermon up this morning, let us briefly consider the three conditions for salvation.
First, faith is a condition for salvation. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that condition. Obviously, if you do not know about Jesus you cannot believe in him. You cannot have faith in something that you have never heard about before. Peter does not mention faith in his invitation from Acts 2 because it is apparent that he was talking to people who knew and believed in God. They also accepted that Jesus was the Messiah that is why they were cut in their hearts: they knew they were guilty and were seeking a way to be forgiven. That’s why Paul approached the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 differently. He told him to believe in Jesus and he would be saved. The jailer, who was not a Jew and therefore was unacquainted with the teachings of God and did not know the story of Jesus first had to learn about the Savior. As a side note: although Scripture never tells us Paul told the jailer to be baptized, after he learned about Jesus that is exactly what he did.
Second, repentance is a condition of salvation. Again, this condition is not controversial because all Christians would agree that repentance, or a turning around or change in how we live, is a pre-requisite for salvation. God not only allows U-turns but it is what he expects from us if we truly believe in him. And the good news is, it is not too late. It is not too late even if you have been a Christian all your life; even if you were baptized years ago and you find yourself mired in sin today you can still turn around. You can still repent and come home.
But for some reason, the third condition for salvation causes people to balk. However, just as clearly as Peter says to repent he also says to be baptized. I don’t know if it is the confusion over baptism that has grown up over the centuries or if it is a stubbornness to break from tradition or what we want to do or if it is simply a refusal to obey but so many Christian people ignore or avoid this part of the plan. Yet there it is just as plain as anything in our Bibles: “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.”
Now I included verse 39 as part of my text this morning but I have not said anything about it yet. Note again what it says: “The promise” what promise? In context he is talking about the promise of forgiveness. “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 was not only preaching to the crowd gathered at Pentecost in Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago but he was preaching to us. We are the ones who are far off. We are not of the Jewish heritage, we are not from that part of the world, and we are not of the generation who heard Peter preach that day. But the double cure has been promised to us as well.