The book of Acts starts with the end of Jesus’s time on earth. The Bible tells us He lived, died, was resurrected, and spent 40 days with his disciples. At the end of those 40 days, He told his disciples that he was leaving, but that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and be with them. They asked when He would restore the Kingdom of Israel. When was He going to be back? What was His next move? They were eager to know what was next. But Jesus answered with this:
“It is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power with the Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Translation? Don’t worry about it.
No, really. Don’t worry about it. It’s not for us to know. God has this whole thing figured out—the times, the dates, all of it. And it’s not for us to know.
But Jesus gives them this charge: you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. Up until this point, these disciples felt empowered because they walked with Jesus, next to Jesus, within arms reach. But Jesus gave a new perspective. It’s not just when you’re in the physical presence of Jesus. The power is now going to come from the Holy Spirit. And when it does, you’re to be witnesses. You’ve seen and heard and observed, and you’re going to tell people all of those things. You’re going to be witnesses in Jerusalem—on our home turf. Right here in our neighborhood, on our streets. You’re also going to be witnesses in Judea and Samaria. These places are further out. They’re the neighboring states, the places it takes effort to get to. But we’re to go be witnesses, here and there. And finally, we’re to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. Jesus left them with those words and returned to heaven.
I imagine those disciples standing there in awe, until someone made the first move back to their homes. They probably walked back in silence, staring down at their feet covered in dirt. It says they went back and went to an upper room, and I imagine not knowing what else to do, they started praying.
And then Peter speaks up.
We’ve read a lot about Peter in the New Testament. As one of the first followers of Jesus, Peter is referenced many times in the Gospel of Matthew. To refresh your memory, here’s a few of Peter’s shining moments. His resume, if you will:
- Peter was called by Jesus when he was out fishing. Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
- Peter was the one that freaked out when Jesus walked on water and ran out onto the water after Jesus, and then took his eyes off of Jesus and sank until Jesus saved him.
- Peter was the first disciple to profess Jesus as the Christ, son of the living God. And immediately after, Jesus said “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
- Shortly after that, Peter rebuked Jesus—he called out Jesus—for saying that he would suffer and be killed and on the third day raise from the grave. Peter. Called. Out. Jesus. That’s when Jesus pulls out the famous line “get behind me, Satan.”
- Peter was one of three people who went on top of the mountain with Jesus when he transfigured right before them and “his face shown like the sun.” Peter then comes up with the genius idea to pitch some tents and stay put. They were the privileged ones, why wouldn’t they stay and just soak it all in?
- Peter asked Jesus how many times he was required to forgive his brothers. He was probably tired of people messing up, and he wanted a black and white answer of what his requirement was. He wanted to make sure he was meeting the quota.
- Peter falls asleep in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asks him to keep watch while Jesus goes to pray. This leads to Jesus being arrested and taken away.
- Peter is probably known best for his next role, where he denies Jesus three times.
Peter doesn’t have the greatest track record. He goes back and forth for nearly three years. Every time it seemed like Peter had it figured out, he dropped the ball. He messed up often and he messed up in big ways.
In the beginning of this book, we see Peter stepping up. These guys just saw their best friend murdered, like he said he would be. Then he defeated the grave, just like he said he would. And then he hung around for a little bit, like he said he would, and then he returned to heaven, LIKE HE SAID HE WOULD.
Can you imagine the feelings they felt? The confusion and the excitement and the pressure and the fear? Jesus was gone, the Holy Spirit was coming, and they were to go be witnesses. Everywhere.
That’s a mighty charge they faced. And so I think they sat in that upper room. And I think for a long time, they sat in silence. And then I think they prayed hard. And then Peter stepped up. I can just imagine Peter in that moment; in his mind, knowing how many times he’s said the wrong thing. Knowing how many times people have seen him fail. But that didn’t hinder what Jesus asked him to do.
Acts 2:1 “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”
Pentecost is a holiday that commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the early followers of Jesus. So Jesus said back in chapter 1 “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” and chapter 2 is saying: this is when that happens. Historically, Pentecost is the beginning of the Christian church. Spiritually, it is the day that the church began because the Spirit came upon the group of believers. Because the church could not move until the Spirit was present. A group of people gathered together is just that: a group of people gathered together. If the Holy Spirit is not present in that place, it is not the church, but rather a group of people gathered. So both historically and spiritually, Pentecost acknowledges and commemorates the beginning of the Christian Church.
So as Pentecost is going down, as the Holy Spirit is coming and showing up and moving within this group of people, the skeptics start talking. They start pointing fingers at Peter and his homies, accusing them of being drunk.
Have you ever had that happen to you? That you’re so filled with joy about Jesus, that your life is changed, that your actions are different, that your attitude is alarmingly contrasting to what the rest of the world sees and views and portrays that people can’t find a way to explain you? They can’t explain the way you act and the way you love and the choices you make, so they start talking? That can’t be normal, they must be weird or confused or blinded or drunk.
That’s what’s happening here. Peter and his crew are associated with this, and Peter has a choice to make. The last time he was associated with a group, he denied it hard. But not this time. Peter speaks up, for what is his first sermon:
"But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jersualem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day…Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.'
Peter throws down. He calls out the people of Israel, the chosen people. And he says this: God gave Jesus to you as proof. God did mighty works and wonders and signs through him RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. The guy that was your proof, you delivered him when he was innocent and you killed him when he was blameless. That’s on you. But Jesus was raised up because death can’t hold him. That’s on God.
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:36
Can you imagine the crickets in that arena? The silence that comes after that? Peter stood up for his 11 and for his King. He called out the chosen people who saw and heard and witnessed all that Jesus did, and they looked the other way. I imagine that awkward silence. But here’s what came next:
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’"
They were cut to the heart. Peter’s words went straight for the heart. And the Holy Spirit was present and it moved and these men now understood.
“What shall we do?”
“Repent and be baptized. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness….so those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”
And so began the church.
The book of Acts is all about the church beginning and the church moving. And Peter shows us that the church began with his courage.
Peter's time with Jesus had one monumental moment in it. Jesus said,
“Peter, who do you say I am?”
“You are the Christ, son of the living God.”
“And you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”
In that moment, and I’m sure in all the other moments too, Jesus saw Peter not for who Peter was, but for who Peter would become. Jesus knew Peter. Jesus had Peter’s resume, but it didn’t look like this. To Jesus, Peter’s resume was all about where he was headed. Jesus was more interested in where Peter was headed than all the places he had been.
And when Peter realized that, he moved and the church began. It began just like Jesus said it would.
God is more interested in where we're headed than all the places we’ve been. And I think Jesus wants to use us to move his church. To grow his church. But that requires us to do what Peter did: we need to step up.