Weeks before Ben Franklin died Yale President Ezra Stiles asked him about Jesus. He responded, “I don’t give it much thought, and think it needless to trouble myself with it now, expecting soon I’ll get to know the truth.” A classically American response! “He’s a good guy, I’ve been a pretty good guy, suppose I’ll figure things out when I die.” But Franklin’s response entirely misses what the Bible declares: 1) God’s perfect 2) Imperfect people are damned 3) Deciding who Jesus is determines everything! And, that’s the point Peter proves in a portion of his first sermon at Pentecost…
MIRACLES PROVE JESUS IS THE MESSIAH
Acts 2:22 Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know… Imagine the shock and awe: Jewish people had been waiting, searching, longing for Messiah…now Peter stands up and announces that the messianic age of Joel 2 has begun. Immediately the thousands who had gathered to listen would have been stunned, for if the messianic age had begun it meant the Messiah had come!
Peter continues declaring the name of Messiah, Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs, which God performed through Him in your midst… Note the first evidence of Jesus as Messiah was the miracles He had done. Both the Jewish listeners of Peter’s sermon and the Jewish-Christian readers of Luke’s narrative (Acts) would have immediately connected “miracles, wonders, and signs” with the miracles of Moses when he led Israel out of Egypt’s clutches during the Exodus.
True biblical miracles are a sign of God’s new work. In the Bible we see a confluence of miracles at creation, the time of Moses when God ordains a new theocracy, at the arrival of Christ, and again in the last days during the tribulation. In fact, Acts 14:3 describes the last mention of a biblical miracle between the apostolic era and the end times tribulation.
It is also important to distinguish between God’s providence and miracles. God is always working marvelously through people and timing, yet this normally happens inside the historically accepted laws of nature. Miracles however, break the laws of nature. For Jesus, the particulate matter of water became wine (John 2), two fish became thousands of fish (John 6), and the dead became alive (John 11). God works powerfully in many ways but it is important to clarify our definitions.
Finally, miracles weren’t dependent on faith. Jesus never failed at a healing and then blamed the seeker for supposed “faith” issues. Certainly, there were times Jesus referenced faith as his reason for healing but 25 out of the 35 gospel miracles had nothing to do with faith and everything to do with Christ’s sovereign choice. We must be wary of ever presupposing faith as ultimate litmus for miracles lest we bring into question the faith of many great Christians who continue in suffering.
In verse 22 Peter continues, just as you yourselves know… In preaching terms Peter moves from explanative to imperative, catching a few eyes of fellow “Ben Franklin” Judeans who’d been around, heard the message, seen the works, but yelled, “crucify!”
Acts 2:23 (this man) delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God… Predetermined plan horizo (fixed boundaries) and foreknowledge prognosis (instrumental case “selective knowledge”) stand directly against the popular Greco-Roman teaching of fate because they mean God saw and ordained everything! This was a vital point because these were the Jews who had scoffed that a true Messiah would have gotten down off the cross and surely now stood staring at Peter questioning how Jesus could be the Messiah if he died. Peter leaves no doubt by explaining that Jesus died because He had planned to! But he doesn’t leave the responsibility on God…
v.23b you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. Immediately after declaring that God guided every aspect of the horrific crucifixion scene two months previous, Peter lays full responsibility on the crowd and Roman executioners. So, was Christ’s death on God or on men? Is God sovereign or is man responsible? The Bible teaches both.
Mature Christians will accept that God is sovereign over all things.
The Bible teaches God is sovereign over all things. A student of Scripture and follower of Christ must accept that God has decreed the beginning from the end:
- God knows all things actual. Heb 4:13 “there is no creature hidden from His sight, all things are open and laid bare to His eyes.” You can’t hide your actions from God. You can’t hide your thoughts from God.
- God knows all things future. Isaiah 46:10 “Declaring the end from the beginning… My purpose will be established.” Eph 1:4 “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” God’s not learning, not surprised, not changing, and there’s no other cosmic force swaying Him.
- God knows all things simultaneous. Ps 90:4 “A thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday when it passes by.” A stunning example of Christ’s omniscience rings in Matt 26 when Peter puffs his chest to defend Christ and Jesus says, “Tonight, before rooster crows, you’ll deny three times.” How much more detailed could Christ be? When liberal critics say Jesus was simply a well meaning prophet whose wisdom was able to read the “tea leaves” they must be reminded that Jesus specified who would deny Him, when he would deny Him, how many times He would deny Him, and even how a rooster would crow after the denial!
The Bible teaches mankind is responsible for his actions. Right alongside the teaching that God is sovereign over all is the teaching that mankind is responsible for each choice:
- My heart makes my choice. Prov 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for from it flow the springs of life.” Every human has been granted a level of free will.
- My choice makes my consequence. James 4:2 “You have not because you ask not.” John 3:16 “whosoever believes in Him will not perish.” God ordained events to include my cause. God knows the end but has ordained my means for that end.
- My consequence makes my future. 2 Cor 5:10 “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may be recompensed for his deeds in the body…”
In an overpowering Matthew 11 moment Jesus places both of these truths in one sentence declaring against one small town, “Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Note, Jesus knew the eternal, the actual, even the possible!
The Bible expects us to accept both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Christians are not allowed to veer into fatalism or determinism stating that because God has decreed they’ve no reason to try. Conversely, they are not allowed to veer into humanism stating that God is merely reacting to man’s free will:
- You’ll never understand. Our human mind cannot reconcile this paradox and this is a reminder that God, is in fact, God! God is free, I’m free, but He’s more free than me and my comprehension is not the litmus of truth. A trite illustration can help us: Imagine if two dogs used their bark and sniff communication to discuss the human ability to communicate by phone texting. One of the dogs explains that humans can use their five fingered paws to push down and a message goes to another human and they never bark of sniff. But, the second dog scoffs and says, “Communication without barking and sniffing is impossible!” Of course, we’d call that dog ignorant because a dog’s comprehension is not the litmus of possibility. Likewise, humans must not use their level of reason to define what God says is possible.
- You’ll be less prideful. Rom 9:20-24 is the great pride crusher, “Does not the potter have a right over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” Paul is simply reminding people that the One who makes something has the right to determine the rules of love and justice.
- You’ll trust God more. Some of our most beloved verses are Matt 6:34 “Don’t be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself…” or Romans 8:28 “God causes all things to work together for good…” We must remember that those verses comfort because of God’s sovereignty. Because God is sovereign, you pray. Because God is sovereign, you’re not a fatalist. Because God is sovereign, evil or cosmic fate won’t change heaven. Yes, God being in control is reverently frighteningly, but God not in control is much more frightening.
- You’ll thank God more. When we accept the tension of sovereignty and responsibility we’ll thank God more. Before God said, “Let there be light” he already knew you, the hairs on your head, each thought you’d ever have, and guided you to be sitting here today, meeting Him, preparing to serve Him forever in glory.
The humanistic man-centered part inside may dislike the idea of God as sovereign but that’s just pride speaking. I had a man once tell me, “I like churches that avoid these verses on Sunday morning.” I was confused. So which texts must we eliminate? Genesis 15 -18, Exodus 33, Deuteronomy 7-9, Nehemiah 9, Isaiah 65, Jeremiah 18, Matthew 22, John 3-17, Romans 8-11, First Corinthians 1, Galatians 3, Ephesians 1-2, Philippians 2, Colossians 3, 2 Thessalonians 2, First Timothy 1, Second Timothy 2, James 1-2, First Peter 1, Second Peter 1 to name a few. When we take out the teaching of God’s sovereignty, we take out the Bible!
RESURRECTION PROVES JESUS IS THE MESSIAH
Acts 2:24 continues, But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. Peter says evidence #1 was the miracles and clear proof #2 was the resurrection!
An interesting study in the New Testament is how many times the apostles describe Christ’s resurrection (Acts 3:15, 4:10, 5:30, 10:40, 13:30, Ro 4:24, 6:4, 8:11, 10:9, 14:9, 1 Cor 6:14, 15:22, 2 Cor 4:14, Gal 1:1, Eph 1:20, Col 2:12, 1 Thes 1:10, 2 Thes 2:8, Heb 13:20, 1 Peter 1:21 are only a few examples).
Why were they so adamant about the resurrection? It’s because a Jesus who stays dead is normal and not God. If Jesus had simply died, he’d be another martyr, madman, or fraud, and there’d be no storyline. The resurrection sets Christianity apart! And, friends this is what makes liberalism, modernism, and Mormonism so absolutely baffling… when they cut out the miracles and resurrection they cut out the message! Tim Keller:
“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”
In 1985 Harry Pritchett told the story of his Sunday School classmate Philip who had Downs Syndrome. He was a pleasant boy but never quite fit in with the other 8-9 year olds. On a spring Sunday before Easter, their teacher brought in ten of those old pantyhose egg-like containers and told all of the kids to go out and find something representing “new life.” The kids came back, he opened them one by one, flowers, buds, butterflies, even a rock from the class clown. The next one had nothing in it. Kids erupted – not fair, that’s stupid etc. Suddenly Philip tugged on his shirt, “It’s mine!” One kid blurted, “You don’t do anything right…” Philip said, “I did do it. It’s empty. The tomb is empty!” A couple years later when Philip died from an infection, his classmates put empty egg containers on his casket.
Friends, the empty tomb is new life! Not just for Jesus, or for the apostles, but according to Paul, as the first fruit for all who believe. You see every one of us has a sure fire date with the mortician. One day soon, all of us will keel over and be whisked away in an ambulance, they’ll dump our cold limbs in a cold coroners lab. Eventually the mortician will strip us bare, pump us with an injection, paint our plastic face up to look presentable, and clothe us so people can walk by our casket and cry. But, we’re not there! If we don’t know Christ, we’re in darkness, loneliness, burning hellfire. But, if we do know Christ we’re in our new mansion (John 14:1-3) and we’re looking at those weeping faces down by the casket, begging, “Leave the body alone, I’ve been given new life!”
PROPHECY PROVES JESUS IS THE MESSIAH
Peter culminates the body of his first sermon with a final evidence of Christ’s authority, in Acts 2:25 for David says of Him, ‘I saw the Lord always in my presence; for He is at my right hand, so that I will not be shaken. Proof #1 was miracles, proof #2 was resurrection, and finally Peter points to proof #3, which was their own OT Scriptures! Over a thousand years previous, in Psalm 16, David began writing in the first person, the thoughts of Jesus heading to Calvary.
v.26 ‘Therefore my heart was glad and my tongue exulted; Moreover my flesh also will live in hope; Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. ‘You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.’ This is a powerful description of Christ’s heart while going to the cross, knowing the Father was at His right hand (the place of bodyguard), His heart remained glad, He continued in hope, He would not stay in the abode of death, His body would not decay. This remind us that Jesus was not a surprised bystander but a willing participant, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” by stepping upon the altar of sacrifice. This flies in the face of William Paul Young and others who speak of God “cosmically abusing” Jesus. Jesus chose to die!
Peter explains that David didn’t write this Psalm about himself. v.29 “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. David knew he would die, he did die, and his body decayed. At the time of Peter’s sermon his body was buried just a few hundred meters away and everyone knew where the famous crypt was.
v.32 This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, 35 Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”’ 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”
What a conclusion! All of these Jewish people had heard the rushing hurricane sound of Pentecost, come running, and asked what it meant. Peter responds using their own famous Psalm 16 Scripture 1) Psalm 16 referred to someone 2) It wasn’t David 3) It was someone from His lineage 4) Jesus is from the house of David 5) Jesus was raised from the dead 6) Jesus was the Messiah 7) You killed the Messiah.
The miracles proved it, the resurrection proved it, the prophecies proved it. Whether a Jewish bystander from 1 anno domini, Ben Franklin, or a modern reader, all must choose what they do with Christ.
The preceding was transcribed from “First Church Sermon P.2” recorded live at Mission Bible Church, Tustin CA 5/28/17