Years ago, when I was in college at Olds, Alberta, I wanted to go to Edmonton, which was about two hours north, but I didn’t want to drive up there by myself. So I invited a friend of mine, Allan, to come with me. He wanted to look at some tools while we were up there and I agreed that we could do that. But once we got to Edmonton for the weekend, I totally forgot about my promise to Allan and spent all my time doing what I wanted to do, which was to get new contact lenses and hang out with my friends in Edmonton. Because I was driving, Allan had to go where I went. It was only later on, when my roommate, Marvin, lovingly confronted me that I realized what a jerk I had been.
There are times when we are not aware of the bad things we do or the good things we fail to do and we need someone who loves us enough to point those things out to us, like Marvin did for me.
Being confronted about our sin is not something that we human beings enjoy or look forward to. We want to think that we are good, and yet we have this bad stuff within us which reveals itself from time to time. How do we deal with that ? We could deny it, repress it, or minimize it, but all those coping mechanisms fail to deal with the darkness within us and, on top of that, enslave us to patterns that keep us from stepping into the rich, full, abundant life that God has for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. So what is God’s way for us to deal with the darkness within us? To answer that question, we are going to look at Acts 2:22-39. If you have a Bible or a Bible app, I invite you to turn there now.
God Poured Out His Holy Spirit on All Believers
What we find in these verses is the second half of Peter’s Pentecost Day sermon. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus promised his followers, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) And on the feast of Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, that promise was fulfilled, and that fulfillment was accompanied by unique supernatural events. People heard the sound of a powerful wind, tongues of flame separated and rested on people’s heads, and people began speaking in a multitude of different languages. All these were indications that God was pouring his Holy Spirit out on all believers. In the past, the Holy Spirit was given to certain people for a special purpose. But now, the Holy Spirit was being given to everyone who believed in Jesus as their Savior.
Peter stood up and addressed the crowd of people which had gathered at the Temple for Pentecost and witnessed this extraordinary event. In the first half of his sermon, Peter points out how the coming of the Holy Spirit was foretold by the prophet Joel and those present had witnessed God fulfilling that prophecy.
In the second half of his sermon, Peter turns his focus toward Jesus and the significance of his life for all people. As Peter spoke, he wove a narrative that connected the past and the present, connected God’s promises with his people, and connected present events with a hope for the future. Peter is showing his listeners how what they know from God’s Word fits with what they are experiencing, and how what they are experiencing will catapult them into a future filled with life, hope, joy and freedom. But Peter knows that, to make all this happen, his listeners need to first know, and then be set free from, their guilt.
So Peter begins part two of his sermon by showing how the things Jesus did proved his special connection with God. Jesus performed miracles, wonders and signs, things that one could only do if God were helping them do it. This is fact # 1 in Peter’s argument, and his listeners knew it. The second fact that Peter’s listeners knew was that Jesus had been handed over to be crucified & they had helped make it happen. Maybe they were in the crowd that was assembled before Pontius Pilate days earlier and called for Jesus to be crucified. Maybe they stood along the road as Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha and booed and hissed as the bloody and beaten prisoner passed by. Maybe they had walked on the highway beside the hill where Jesus hung on wood and mocked him as he suffered on the cross.
The third thing that was evident was that God had raised Jesus from the dead. This same crowd of people had gathered in Jerusalem fifty days earlier for the Passover Feast and they would have heard the amazing stories of Jesus’ tomb being empty and his resurrection appearances to his followers. Nothing had happened in the time in between to discount this miracle. In fact, there had been more resurrection appearances by Jesus and the number of people who had seen him alive after his death now numbered in the hundreds. The most recent resurrection appearance by Jesus was only three days before on the nearby Mount of Olives when Jesus ascended into heaven, promising to return in the future. These weren’t just stories, Peter was saying, these are facts foretold by God. The people present that day listening to Peter were in the middle of God’s great story of redeeming and renewing all things.
To prove it, Peter turns to a well-known and beloved voice from the past. In the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms were the hymnal of God’s people and everyone would have read or chanted some of the Psalms every day. Even now, if you go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, you will see Jews standing before the wall and rocking back and forth as they pray out loud from a little book. The words that they are chanting are the Psalms that we have in our Bibles. Many Christians also read the Psalms as a daily habit.
Though different people wrote the Psalms, the ones Peter referred to in his sermon were written by David, Israel’s former king who held a special place in people’s hearts. Though flawed in significant ways, David was an ideal leader, a man after God’s own heart, whom God had promised, Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:16) A thousand years later, that promise was still giving God’s people hope as they endured the burden of rule by the occupying Roman forces.
What Peter did is show his listeners that no less an authority than King David had prophesied Jesus’ resurrection. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalm 16:9-11) The body of every other human being who died has decayed, including the body of David. So David’s prophecy is not about himself. The faithful One whom God did not allow to decay points to someone else, and that someone else is Jesus. And not only was Jesus raised from the dead, and Peter and his company of resurrection friends were witnesses of that fact, Peter also states that Jesus was: Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. (Acts 2:33)
Then Peter drives a stake into the heart of that idea that we are all really good people deep down inside. He said, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36)
It sounds like Peter was being overly harsh, but you can’t fool around when it comes to sin. Just as it won’t work to put a bandaid on a cancerous skin lesion, so also it does not work to ignore sin or pretend that it is not serious. Just like cancer, you have to go all the way down to the root of the problem and dig that root out before the medicine of God’s forgiveness can bring healing and wholeness. Anything less will allow it to linger and fester into a worse problem in the future.
This is why Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross is so important, it reminds us of the depth and the seriousness of our sin. It was our sins that put Jesus on the cross. We were the ones who drove the nails into his hands and feet. We swung the whip that tore away his flesh when he was flogged. We curled our hands into a fist and struck our blindfolded Savior. You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh no! I would never do such a thing. I would never hurt Jesus. How can you say this?” First of all, I am including myself in this. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I do these things too. Second, because of our broken human nature, absolutely everything we do is tainted to at least some degree by sin. And third, the main way that we all sin is to break the First Commandment, where God said, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)
God’s solution for our sin problem is not for us to trust in our own goodness. God’s solution to our sin problem is to trust totally in his goodness. It was God the Father’s goodness that moved him to send his Son, Jesus, into this world. It was Jesus’ goodness that overcame all the darkness in our souls by taking that darkness on himself and destroying its evil power on the cross. Our sin goes deeper within us than we think, and the first step toward healing is to admit that and turn away from our old self-centered ways and toward God and his healing goodness.
Peter’s confrontation was done in love, and it had its desired effect. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
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. 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 2:38-39)
We Need the Holy Spirit
God’s goodness for us goes beyond the sending of our Savior and his death on the cross. By suffering in our place for our sin, Jesus won for us the forgiveness of our sins, and that is an objective truth. It is true whether we believe it or not. But how does that objective truth out there become a subjective truth in our hearts? How does God’s free gift of forgiveness become ours? The answer is that there is an internal process by which we move from blindness to our own sin to resting fully in the forgiveness we have in Jesus. And for that process we need the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to see the plank in our own eyes when we look down on others for the specks of sawdust that we see in their eyes. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to recall the times when we hurt or dishonored others. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to feel the real guilt that is truly ours and dismiss the false guilt we sometimes feel. When the Holy Spirit is revealing our guilt to us, he is very specific about what we have done wrong. But when Satan is trying to drive a wedge between us and God, he tries to deceive us in one of two ways. He might cause us to have a general feeling of guiltiness that is not attached to any specific action we did. Or he might cause us to question whether God’s forgiveness in Jesus is really true and really for us.
The Holy Spirit is the One who helps us sort through Satan’s deceptions and distinguish between true and false guilt. Once we have made that distinction, the Holy Spirit guides us to bring our true guilt to Jesus and allow to him lift that burden off of our shoulders. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to believe that Jesus really did pay the full cost of forgiveness for all our sins, both our sins that we are aware of and our sins that we don’t even know about. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to go through life trusting that we really are forgiven, that we really are loved and accepted unconditionally by God, that we are children of God who walk before the Lord in the land of the living, that the new life that Jesus has given us will endure through death, and that one day Jesus will raise us from the dead with new resurrection bodies to live with him forever in the new heaven and earth to come.
We need the Holy Spirit when we thirst for forgiveness because he helps us to personally receive that forgiveness. But the Holy Spirit also does more than that for us. Through the Bible, which is God’s Word, and ordinary things like water, wine and bread that are combined with God’s Word, and ordinary people who embody God’s Word and share it with us through words and deeds, the Holy Spirit interacts with us in our interior world, he speaks to our spirit. And there he guides, directs and transforms us to help us to grow to become more like Jesus. You were given the Holy Spirit when you were baptized, and ever since, your body has been his temple because he lives within you. Peter tells us, 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)
Allowing More of the Holy Spirit’s Living Water to Flow Within Us
So what does this mean for us? Everything that happens in our life is an opportunity for us to allow more of the Holy Spirit’s living water to flow within us. One way that we can do that is through our emotions, and here is how to do that. At the end of the day, think back to a time during the day when you felt some strong emotions. Ask yourself questions like: What was going on at that time? Why did I feel the way that I did? The Holy Spirit can use that time of reflection to point out to you an area of your soul that needs to be healed. Maybe there is a sin of which you need to repent and be forgiven by God. Maybe you need to ask someone else for their forgiveness. Perhaps there is someone whom you need to forgive. Then, as the love, grace and goodness of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit comes flooding into your soul, you will be able to live life with greater freedom, joy, and love.
God Helps Us to Forgive
Corrie ten Boom and her family were sent to a Nazi concentration camp during World War II for hiding Jews in their home. Many members of her family, including her dear sister, Betsie, died. Before she died on December 16, 1944, Betsie said to Corrie, “There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.” Twelve days later, Corrie was released due to a clerical error. A week later, all the other women in her age group were sent to the gas chambers.
After the war, Corrie traveled throughout the world to speak about the importance of forgiveness. In 1947, when she was speaking in a church in Munich, Germany, Corrie’s heart froze when she recognized a balding man in a gray overcoat at the back of the room. He was the cruelest of all the guards at Ravensbruck, the camp where Corrie has suffered the most and where her sister, Betsie, had died.
After her talk, this man came up the aisle to Corrie, extended his hand and said, “You mentioned Ravensbruck. I was a guard there. I’m ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. But since then, I’ve come to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. It has been hard for me to forgive myself for all the cruel things I did but I know that God has forgiven me. And please, if you would, I would like to hear from your lips too that God has forgiven me.”
In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie recorded her response:
I stood there–I whose sins had again and again been forgiven–and could not forgive. It could not have been many seconds that he stood there–hand held out–but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it. I knew that. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.
And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. “I forgive you, brother,” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
Dear loved ones, the encouragement that I want to leave with you today is this: Invite the Holy Spirit to come once again into your life and fill you with his living water of forgiveness. Amen.
(This sermon was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on June 12, 2022. For more info, please go to wglc.org.)