There is a well-known question that goes like this: Imagine you were standing before God and He asked you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” what would you say?
On the Day of Pentecost, 10 days after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the disciples were together when, suddenly, God poured out the Holy Spirit as He had promised. There was the sound of a violent wind, tongues of fire, and the disciples spoke in languages they had never learnt. Peter stood up and preached. Let’s read two segments from his sermon. READ Acts 2 but verse 22-24, 36-41 in particular.
By the end of the day there were 3000 new Christian believers. We have been looking at faith and faith is closely associated with salvation. What part did faith play in this passage?
Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
Grace is God’s generosity. Salvation is a gift from a generous God. The passage explicitly says that: this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God. It says it again: not by works, so that no one can boast. It is by grace; it is a gift; you cannot do it yourself; you cannot earn it by your works.
How did you answer the question at the beginning? I need to say something quite harsh: If your answer was about you then you have not understood the gospel and I would suggest that you are not saved. Was your answer anything like any of the following?
- I have tried to be a good person
- I haven’t committed any major sin
- I have served God to the best of my ability for many years
- I have given my life to serving other people.
- I have tried to follow Jesus’ teaching
If your answer was about you, it is about your works; you think you will get into heaven because of what you have done. That is exactly what the Bible says is not how the gospel works. So how does it work? How were those 3000 people saved? Did they do anything to earn their salvation?
- God revealed Himself in a miraculous way
God took the initiative. These were not good people seeking God. True, they were in Jerusalem for a religious festival. Maybe they had some openness to God, you would think, wouldn’t you? Except, look at what we know about them. Look at what Peter said about them. They were not good people, close to God. They were deceived people who had killed Jesus and who were in eternal danger.
And yet God took the initiative to try to save them. That is grace. Despite everything, God performed miracles to save them. He revealed Himself though the miracle of the disciples all preaching the wonders of God in languages they had never learnt, such that the people who had gathered from many nations could each hear the message in their own tongue. It was a stunning miracle.
That miracle not only got the crowd’s attention but raised huge questions for them. “What is going on here? How can this be? Are these not all ignorant Galileans? How come we all hear this message in our own language? The Bible says that they were amazed and perplexed and asking questions.
No matter what God does, some people will react against Him. Some mocked the disciples and said they were drunk. Think of how people responded to Jesus. Some loved Him; some hated Him. It is always the same but let us focus on the 3000. How were they saved?
- Jesus was proclaimed
The miracle drew the crowd and made them question. That provided the opportunity to give an answer.
Peter stood up and preached. God had promised this through the prophet, Joel. This was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This was an act of God, not a result of overindulgence in wine.
But even Joel’s prophecy linked the outpouring of the Spirit and God-given signs and wonders, with salvation. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
How were these 3000 saved? By calling on the name of the Lord. We will come back to that.
Peter then talked about the Lord. Jesus is the real point. It was Jesus that people needed to know about.
God had worked through Jesus in miracles, wonders and signs and thus God had proved who Jesus was. But Jesus had been handed over into their hands –this having been God’s plan all along – and they had killed Him. But God had raised Him from the dead. God had prophesied the resurrection of the Messiah and the disciples were eyewitnesses of it! Now Jesus was sitting at the right hand of God and had poured out the Holy Spirit as they had seen and heard. Peter summarised the whole sermon in one sentence: Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.
There are two points there. Firstly, the declaration of who Jesus is: Lord and Messiah. Secondly, that they had killed the Messiah. That is a very serious accusation.
- The crowd came under conviction
They realised how serious this was. They realised the danger they were in. How could they ever be forgiven for killing the long-awaited Messiah? Nothing could guarantee God’s wrath more than having killed the Messiah! These were not good people seeking God. They had killed Jesus. They were far from God. They were in eternal danger.
I have used the word “conviction”. The passage actually says they were cut to the heart. Did they cut themselves to the heart? No, this was an act of God, bringing them to this point of realisation of the truth, and fear. The cutting to their heart was again the grace of God.
They didn’t know what they could do. They had no hope. Could they do anything to make themselves right with God again?
Actually, Peter did mention two things they were to do. Having told them the bad news, he then told then the good news. Repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ and your sins will be forgiven and you too will receive the Holy Spirit.
What an incredible turnaround. Having done the stupidest, evillest thing in all history (killing Jesus) they have the opportunity to be forgiven and to receive God’s generous gift of the Holy Spirit. Expecting God’s judgement, they were offered God’s forgiveness and His gifts.
- Peter pleaded with them to respond
Look at v.40. With many other words he warned them and pleaded with them “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
Salvation is not a take-it-or-leave-it thing. Salvation is not something we can be casual about. Peter used many more words and he pleaded with them. For good reason: God’s judgement is real. Hell – much as we might not like it – is real. They were a corrupt generation. They were in danger of God’s wrath. His pleading arose out of his compassion for them.
Do we plead with our family members and friends whom we do not want to see go to hell?
“Save yourselves”. Now that’s an interesting phrase. Haven’t we been saying that we cannot save ourselves? What did Peter mean? What did these people have to do to save themselves?
All they had to do was respond to God’s grace. That is where faith comes in. We are saved by grace. It is entirely God’s doing. It starts and finishes with God. God is the only one who can forgive. We cannot forgive ourselves. We cannot force God to forgive us. We cannot neutralise the bad things we have done by doing good things. Remember? We are not saved by our works. We are completely dependent on God’s willingness to forgive. And, incredibly, God is willing to forgive. God is merciful. God is gracious.
We are saved by grace through faith. Just like in the stories of David and Elijah and so many examples in the scriptures, God responds to faith. It is God’s grace but that grace is received when we put our trust in Him. The 3000 were told to repent and be baptised. Both repentance and baptism are responses to God. They had already come to believe that Jesus truly was the Messiah and that they had killed Him and were under God’s wrath. God had convicted them of that. But, big question: Did they also believe that they really could be forgiven this most heinous of sins? Did they believe that? The reality of their faith would be seen in whether or not they repented and were baptised. True belief leads to repentance. Baptism is a statement of belief – “I have put my faith in Jesus.”
- 3000 did respond. They could do nothing but they called on the name of the Lord.
- God saved them
They were added to the church that day.
To use last week’s analogy: the power station is again God; it is the grace of God that saves, but faith is the socket by which the grace of God is received. Without faith there is no salvation. Faith means saying, “I believe that Jesus is the Saviour. I believe He died for me, taking my sins on Himself so that I can be forgiven. In the past I have lived my way, or maybe believed I could save myself by my works. I am no longer trusting myself. I believe my only hope is Jesus. I trust myself completely to Him.”
Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (Heb 11:1). God had promised forgiveness. The 3000 could not see it. They had no proof; but they believed it to be true. They staked their eternal happiness on it. They repented; they left behind their old way of life so as to follow Jesus.
Faith is believing what God says and acting accordingly. They believed what Peter said, including the scriptures he referred to. They believed that Jesus was Lord and Messiah. They believed they had sinned. They believed God offered them forgiveness, and they repented and were baptised.
Think again of David and Elijah. Both staked everything on God keeping His promises. They had no Plan B. Salvation involves saying, “I put my whole trust in Jesus and His death. I have no other plan. My only hope for eternity is Jesus.”
For both David and Elijah, the consequence of failure was death. If I am wrong about trusting Jesus, then my eternity is at stake. But I don’t believe I am wrong. I will trust Him. God has said it; I believe Him.
The faith that saves us is exactly the same as the faith that David and Elijah showed.
Have you said, “My only hope for eternal life is Jesus. I am trusting utterly in His death in my place.” Or are you trusting yourself? Do you think you will get yourself into heaven? The stakes are incredibly high – heaven or hell. Remember how Peter, with many other words, warned them and pleaded with them. We have all sinned against God but God sent His Son to die in our place. God graciously offers forgiveness. Can I likewise plead with you? Have you put your faith in Jesus? Have you come to the point of saying, “I am a sinner in need of the grace of God. My only hope is Jesus. I trust Him entirely for my salvation”? Have you repented? Is your life now entirely about serving Jesus? Have you been baptised? Is today the day you need to stop trusting in yourself and confess your need of Jesus?