According to Plan
One of the most important things that we can know about ourselves is that, as humans, we are fundamentally lovers. We are creatures who think, yes; creatures who feel, absolutely; but when it gets down to the essence, at the most basic level, we love. We are an affectional people who desire. We long. We crave. We are not just rational, we are romantic. As Blaise Pascal of the 17th century has said, “The heart has reasons for which reason does not know.”
When we perceive beauty, we don’t just categorize it in our heads as agreeable, but we are inclined toward it — we want to possess it. When we hear a good song, we want to hear it again. We are people who, from our gut, from our heart, are led by love are moved in certain ways.
Now this is has always been true in human history, and it has stayed true throughout the ups and downs of philosophical anthropology, but sometimes it takes an ancient book to remind us of this. Or we might say that it takes an ancient sermon within an ancient book to remind us of this — which is exactly what we find in Acts 2.
Luke has written the book of Acts as an ancient historian, and in chapter 2 he is telling us about a sermon that the apostle Peter preached in Jerusalem during the middle of the first century. What I’d like for us to do this morning — and what I think Luke would like for us to do — is to enter into this story and see what Peter says.
What Is Peter Doing?
Well, since we’ve already read the text, the next thing we should do is get our bearings on what exactly is going on here. What is Peter trying to do beginning in verse 22?
The answer is pretty simple: Beginning in verse 22, Peter defends what he has said in verses 14–21 just before it. And what he says there, in verses 14–21 is answer the question of what it means that the Holy Spirit has been sent. Let’s just look quickly to get a grip on this.
Acts 2:12 is the question. The crowd saw the Holy Spirit poured out and their response is: “[They] all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “‘What does this mean?’”
Peter answers in verses 14–21, basically, the Holy Spirit being poured out means that God’s ancient promises to Israel are now being fulfilled.
Now, we mentioned this last week, there are several places in the Old Testament where these promises are made, and there are a handful of different elements included in these promises. But central to the promises is that God’s Spirit poured out among his people will effect their unity together, the forgiveness of their sins, and a new, secure devotion to God.
We can see this in places like Isaiah 31:14 when the prophet says that the Spirit will be “poured upon us from on high” and the effect will be life, fruit, peace, trust in God. And then in Ezekiel 36:25–27, in the Old Testament, when God speaks,
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
You hear God say that his Spirit within you means forgiveness and cleansing, and that he gives you a new appetite for God. And Peter is saying that these promises of a new people and a new day — promises that come with the sending of the Spirit — Peter says they are starting to be fulfilled here and now in first-century Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. The time has come, Peter says.
But how does Peter say this? How does he back this up? How does Peter support this claim? Well, that is what he begins doing in verse 22, and that’s what we are going to focus on the rest of the time.
In short, Peter’s explanation for why the Spirit has been poured out and thus fulfills God’s promises goes like this: Jesus has been raised from the dead according to the sovereign plan of God.
The reason the Spirit is poured out, the reason these promises are being fulfilled is because Jesus has been raised from the dead according to the sovereign plan of God.
There are two main pieces: the resurrection of Jesus in the context of God’s sovereign design.
Resurrection of Jesus . . . sovereignty of God — now what do they have to do with one another and how do they back up what Peter has said?
Let’s start with sovereignty . . .
The Sovereignty of God
Look at verse 23,
“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Pretty straightforward here is that Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God being crucified (which is the most atrocious murder in human history) that Jesus being crucified was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” God knew it would happen, and in fact, he planned it.
Now, if you try to philosophically work around passages like this, and say things like God didn’t really know it would happen, or that he actually just tried to make good out of a bad situation, if you go there with verses like these, you’re not a bad person, you just can’t read.
Peter is saying, crystal clear, that Jesus dying on the cross is according to the definite plan of God. Now why does that matter?
It matters because of the intuitive connection between design and significance. Things that are happenstance tend to be less valued than things that we create. Where there is intention, there is worth.
This is the same reason that I don’t throw away little index cards I find on my desk. Every now and then I step into my study and find little pieces of paper or notecards waiting for me, and on them are sweet messages from my little girls. Now, I can’t always decipher what it says. The handwriting has improved, but there have been times when the symbols are so illegible that I don’t even know exactly what I’m looking at, and if I were to find these anywhere else, I would get rid of it. But those cards are special to me, and I have never trashed one. I actually cherish them, and the reason why is because I know that behind these notecards there is the design and intention of my two little girls, and when I hold the notecard in my hand and what it says doesn’t even quite make sense to me, it has significance because I know they planned it — I know it makes sense to them. It was their little hands that held the marker or the crayon, and it was their little minds that had the idea. I don’t trash those, I love them. Where there is intention, there is meaning.
You know, when it comes to the death of Jesus, we really have two options:
Either . . .
The death of Jesus was a fiasco, and the followers of Jesus just tried to import meaning after the fact
2) The death of Jesus was according to the definite plan of God and therefore the event itself, as it really happened, was loaded with significance.
It’s either 1) all catastrophe and fabrication; or 2) Jesus was really doing something when he died. And if we are honest, and we really look at what these people are saying in the first century, rooted in what others have said centuries before in the Hebrew Scriptures, we see unequivocally that things went down exactly how they were supposed to go down. Jesus died on purpose. And his death means something for us.
And the clearest thing that Jesus did to show us this is that he did not stay dead.
The Resurrection of Jesus
This is how the resurrection plays in here. Showing that God has power over death is proving that God planned this. If death has the last say then it is death calling the shots. If Jesus is still in the grave then it doesn’t matter what kind of plan there may have been in his dying, death would end it. Death would ride in, disrupt everything, and tell us to just make the best of this we can. Death would be in control. But that’s not what happened.
Jesus was delivered up, crucified according to the definite plan of God. But God raised him up. Jesus is alive. And then Peter makes this clear. He continues his sermon and does two things: first he says, yeah, the resurrection was planned, too. And the secondly he says, we’ve actually seen this happen.
The Resurrection Was Planned
So Peter makes his case for the design of the resurrection by quoting ancient passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. He says in verse 24 that God raised Jesus from the dead, and then in verse 25 he says, Actually, King David talked about this in Psalm 16. This has always been known in the history of its interpretation as a resurrection psalm. See the quote verse 27, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades [the grave], or let your Holy One see corruption.” So everyone has known this is about resurrection, but now Peter helps us to see how this is more specifically about the Messiah. That’s in verse 29.
He says, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day” (Acts 2:29). In other words, I can go show you the bones of king David. Quick note here: see the word for “confidence” in the sentence “I say to you with confidence” — well the Greek word behind “confidence” is really important in Acts. We’re going to see it’s importance three weeks from now in Acts 4, but for now know that the word is always connected to speaking and it means, basically, to be frank or outspoken.
So the way Peter prefaces his interpretation of Psalm 16 is to say, basically, “I know what I’m doing here.” I’m being straight with you right now.
And what does he say?
He says that David, being a prophet, knowing that God had promised him a son who would reign forever, the Messiah (2 Samuel 7 in the Old Testmanet) — Peter says that because David knew this, he wrote Psalm 16 about that Messiah, about the Anointed One who would not be left in the grave.
And guess what? Jesus is not left in the grave. See, this was all planned. This is the design. Just like it was supposed to happen, just like David had said, Jesus the Messiah is raised.
But not only that, Peter then says, and we have seen him. Verse 32, “and of that [the resurrection] we are all witnesses.”
We Have Seen Him Ourselves
This is why Christianity is not fideism. You know what that is. Fideism is the belief that all that we can really know and rely on is revealed to us and ascertained by faith. It is faith over reason. It says that someone solely relies on and builds their entire worldview on the faith they have in something they think God has said. That is fideism — and really it is every religion in the world except Christianity.
Christianity can’t be that because at the heart of our faith is the fact of an empty tomb. Christianity has a historical event on its side. We have the validating fact that a man was killed, three days later he rose from the dead, and people saw it happen.
In his sermon, Peter reminds his audience that Jesus is alive, and they all knew it. They knew it was planned, and they saw it for themselves. And that’s when Peter throws in, to answer the question that he started out answering, Jesus raised from the dead, according to God’s plan, is the one who has sent the Spirit. That answers the question in 2:12. Then in verse 34, he brings in another supporting text from Psalm 110 about the enthronement of Jesus, and then he closes,
“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)
It is amazing that the sermon ends on who Jesus is. That is he Peter’s crescendo: he points us to Jesus and says this is who he is. He is King and Christ. He is Lord and Savior. He is Sovereign and Gracious. Peter just says, he’s the one. Jesus is the one.
And look how the crowd responds. They want to go read some more, have a debate, crunch some numbers — no. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart” (verse 37).
See, they are fundamentally lovers. Like us, they are affectional creatures. They long. They crave. They are not just rational, they are romantic. And in that moment, being confronted with who Jesus is, seeing that Jesus is the risen Messiah, that he is the one, it was their hearts that were provoked. They knew that if Jesus is who he is, that their loves and what they long for had to be reconfigured. They knew something had to change from deep within, and so they asked, What do we do?
It really does go this way, both for them and us.
We see here the historical fact of the resurrection. There are actual witnesses. This is reality. No one argued about it. But Jesus didn’t come back from the dead to win an argument, he came back from the dead because it was not possible for death to hold him, because death is not in control, because defeating death is what a death-defying Savior does. He makes the way, he sits on his throne, and from there he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to him.
The reason what Jesus did affects our hearts is because he did what he did for our hearts. He did what he did for us. He didn’t do it to win an argument, he did to win you.
And when we see him, when we see his glory and his beauty, when we see his grace and his power, when we see him we want him. When we see Jesus for who he is, we want him.
And he says come.
In fact, he has set for us a table. He has laid for us a meal. The Lord’s Supper is a drama that represents our union with Jesus by faith. And one thing that we must remember is that it is by faith. Jesus put the meal here. We didn’t work for this bread. We didn’t earn this cup. Jesus has broken his body for us. Jesus has poured out his blood for us — according to the definite plan of God. And what can we do but receive it? Jesus has set this table, and if we want him, all we can do is say yes. We turn from all the false gods of this world, and we say to Jesus yes.
That is what we dramatize this table.