3 more questions concerning Easter

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Title: 3 more questions concerning Easter

Text: Acts 2: 22-36

Time: April 6th, 2008

This week we return to our study of the Books of Acts after a short Easter recess break, but we aren’t actually done with Easter entirely, at least not yet, because we “happen” to be currently at a passage that deals with Easter and related themes – Acts 2:22-36. If you remember, Acts 2 opens with the coming of the Holy Spirit in wind and fire. The disciples begin to speak in tongues as they were inspired by the Spirit. I’ve already explained what speaking tongues is and what it means and how it relates to us today; so I won’t go back over that. Also, we’ve seen the famous prophecy of the Prophet Joel applied to the events of Pentecost – how it was predicted that the Spirit would be poured out on all people, not just a select few, and how they would be given the ability to do many amazing things under the inspiration of God. Now, today, we continue in the same chapter a little further with Peter’s sermon to the godly Jews present at the same Pentecost event where he answers three important questions: first, who is responsible for the death of Jesus; two, who raised Jesus from the dead; and three, who came to dwell with all believers because of the risen and ascended Christ? As you can see, these are all questions related to the Easter season, so really, this message is a continuation of Resurrection Sunday even as we transition back into our study of the Book of Acts. I didn’t actually plan it that way, but under the providence of God that’s how it worked out. Now it might be asked, “Why attempt to answer these simple questions concerning Easter, because after all aren’t they pretty straight-forward? Questions such as, who is responsible for Christ’s death, who raised Jesus from the dead, and who came as a result of Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension, aren’t these answered clearly from the Bible, and aren’t they common knowledge already?” Yes, in one sense these questions are ones for which we already know the answers, but they are also questions for which much controversy has been raised. For example, on the first question about Christ’s death, even though the Bible is very clear about who is responsible for it, still through the ages and even today there are many people who don’t accept the Bible’s answers on the subject. They claim that the Bible is anti-Semitic and bigoted. We’ll look into that. Also, in respect to the second question, there are those who dispute that any resurrection actually took place, but instead offer alternative explanations that seek to explain it wholly in terms of natural causes. And then, finally, in dealing with the third question about the coming of the Holy Spirit, there are those who would try to reduce the Spirit totally to emotionalism only and not a real spiritual experience. So even though the answers to these three questions are simple and well known, they are still necessary to defend because people continue to criticize them from an unbelieving view point. I hope to answer these questions and the charges against them today.

First Question: who is responsible for the death of Jesus? Acts 2:22-23, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Here in this short description by the Apostle Peter we have the answer as to who is responsible for the death of Christ – Jews, Gentiles, and surprisingly enough, God as well. To begin, it is clear not just from this passage but especially from the four Gospels that the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus. Today though, in our politically correct society, this straight-forward answer is very controversial because implies that Jews are guilty for the death of Christ – and it opens up Christians to the charge of being anti-Semitic, a very sensitive issue today, especially after WWII and the holocaust. The most blatant alleged anti-Semitic passage in the New Testament is found in the Gospel of Matthew, where during the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the crowd of Jews say, “Let his blood be on us and on our children,” Matthew 27:25. This verse is pointed to by critics who charge the Bible and Christianity with anti-Semitism. But what if that is exactly what happened at Jesus’ trial? Are we not to give an accurate account of an historical event? If that is what happened, why change the facts in order to fit someone’s modern politically correct agenda? Yet that is what it seems that a lot of people today want. But then we are not dealing with history, but with revisionism and illusion. If the Jews really were primarily responsible for the death of Christ, then history should show that they were, instead of covering up the fact. All of the available historical documents indicate that Jewish people were primarily responsible for the death of Jesus, and we can understand their motives clearly. Why re-write history to present a different account simply because the fact are unpopular or unacceptable to someone’s political thinking? No, Matthew was recording history accurately and Peter the Apostle also correctly puts the primary guilt of Jesus’ death upon the shoulders of the Jews. But we also see from the record that the Gentiles or non-Jews were also responsible for Christ’s death; they are to blame also. The Romans represent the non-Jewish world, and they were the instrument of death, even if the Jews were the primary cause. By blaming Jews and non-Jews, the Bible clearly shows how we are all ultimately to blame for the death of Jesus because we are all sinners in need of a Savior. Our sins put Jesus on the cross and also necessitated his death as an atoning sacrifice. So in this sense, we are all guilty of the death of Christ. But the strangest point that Peter makes, and one that many Christians overlook, is that not only are the Jews and non-Jews guilty for the death of Jesus, but also God the Father is responsible for his own son’s death as well. Remember the famous Isaiah 53 passage about the suffering servant? Here’s what verse 10 says, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him (the Messiah) and cause him to suffer.” That’s what Peter says in verse 23 when he says, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” But the primary human responsibility, Peter lays at the feet of his own countrymen, the Jews.

Second Question: who raised Jesus from the dead? Acts 2:24-32, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said this: ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hop, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and this tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead he spoke of the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” Peter is pointing out an Old Testament prophecy that many or most of the Jews had missed in connection with Jesus – Psalm 16:8-11. In it, King David says that God would not abandon him to the grave or let his body see decay. Peter’s point is that this prophecy can’t be talking about David himself because it was an accepted fact that David died and his grave was in a known location, so in fact, David’s body had experienced decay and had been left to the grave. So David must be speaking of someone else whose body wouldn’t be left to the grave and whose body wouldn’t see decay. In other words, Jesus. David was speaking prophetically of the Messiah Jesus. So Peter can say in verse 24, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” and verse 32, “God raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact.” Now today, we are all counting on the fact of resurrection because we are counting on God’s resurrection power to raise us up in some form after our own death. We are counting on that same power that brought Jesus back to life, that same power that David spoke about in the prophecy of Psalm 16, that same power to give us life again after death. That’s why the resurrection is so important – it gives us our hope for life after death. We don’t have to fear death. Sigmund Freud, the great atheist psychiatrist of the last century claimed that death was one of the great fears of men and women but that it was suppressed beneath the surface of our consciousness only to break out occasionally at certain times during our lives. But under the surface, he claimed, people harbored a great fear or neurosis of death because it represented the total extinction of self and presented a threat that no amount of ability could prevent. I think that analysis is basically true, although for a Christian because of the resurrection of Christ and faith in God’s saving power, the fear of death can be reduced to nearly nothing. That’s why the Apostle Paul can say in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace is one of the great benefits of a true and living faith in Christ. Do you have the peace of Christ this morning? Are you resting in that peace today?

Third Question: who came to dwell with all believers because of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ? Acts 2:33-35, “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. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord; sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Now we come back to the main theme of the whole Book of Acts – the Holy Spirit. Another point that Christians often overlook is that without the resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Holy Spirit isn’t sent from God the Father to His children on earth in all fullness like what occurred at Pentecost. Remember in the Old Testament that the Holy Spirit was sent to special people individually, those specially anointed leaders who were sent with a specific assignment from God to do an important task. People like Moses or David, etc. But the Holy Spirit was not normally given to the general popular of people, but only to special individuals; that was Old Testament. But because Jesus rose from the dead and ascended back to his Father in heaven, according to New Testament teaching, the Spirit is now poured forth from the Father through the Son to all of us believers on earth. What seems a fairly straight forward teaching, however, has been a great controversy within Christianity for many centuries. It’s called the filioque controversy. It’s mostly a division between traditional Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches since the 6th century when the Roman church added a clause to the Nicene creed that states the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, instead of proceeding from the Father alone. Most Protestant churches follow the Roman Catholic version of the creed, but the Eastern churches still today only affirm that the Spirit proceeds from the Father, not from both the Father and Son. In this passage, specifically verse 33, it seems to teach that the Spirit does indeed proceed from both the Father and Son: “Exalted to the right hand of God, he (Jesus) has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” So from this passage, it appears that the Catholic and Protestants are right, and that the Eastern Orthodox are wrong on this technical point of theology. But it’s such a minor point, it hardly seems worth disputing about. The bigger criticism comes from skeptics and non-Christians who charge that the only thing that happened at Pentecost was emotionalism, and that the Holy Spirit is just the emotions of believers whipped up in a frenzy. Now there is no question that the Holy Spirit can cause strong emotions and deep feelings and convictions within the believer, but to say that the only way to explain the Spirit is emotionalism – that’s going too far. The Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit cannot be fully explained by mere emotions. There is a clear reality there that is outside of anyone’s individual or a group’s corporate emotions. The Book of Acts could not have been written if the Holy Spirit were only the group’s collective emotions. This charge is ridiculous. That’s not to say we shouldn’t guard against emotionalism. We’ve all seen Christians get carried away by their experiences or circumstances and become emotional and even slide into emotionalism. But that is just a reminder that we must conduct ourselves and the church with everything done decently and in order, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians.

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