By Justin Atkins
J.W. McGarvey states, in the introduction of his New Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, that the “Acts of the Apostles is a much neglected book . . . and, although it is not now so much neglected as formerly, it still needs to be brought more prominently before the attention of this age.” Times haven’t changed! McGarvey’s words ring loud and clear as we look at the religious division that characterizes our modern age. How sad it is to know that many are neglecting the answers found in the book of Acts.
It is with this confidence in mind that genuine biblical conversion is to be found in the book of Acts. In the first chapter, Luke records that Jesus, “presented himself alive, after his suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Here we find that after the third day of his death, Jesus arose from the grave, speaking of “things concerning the kingdom.” Surely this included the authority of Jesus and his right to rule over men, how one enters this kingdom and the means by which they can be strong members of the kingdom.
What a blessing to know that Christ told the apostles about “things con- cerning the kingdom” because in the second chapter, we find souls being taught the saving message that made them a part of that kingdom.
Jesus told the apostles that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (1:8). Notice that verse 5 says that the apostles would receive the Holy Spirit, and here again in verse 8 the apostles would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Although this article does not directly deal with the subject of the Holy Spirit and miraculous works, it is clear truth that the apostles received the Holy Spirit according to Jesus’ teaching. Having said this, look at the awesome events of Acts 2!
Some of us might say, “The most amazing thing in Acts 2 is how the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and allowed them to speak in multiple languages so that all the people could understand them.” I would agree that this is pretty amazing. It is the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel had spo- ken many years before, and Peter tells us that this is so (vv. 14-21). Others might say, “The most amazing thing about Acts 2 is the boldness of Peter and the apostles to stand up in this great gathering and speak the word of God without fear.” No doubt about it, this was a great display of courage and genuine zeal for Christ. We can learn from this example and speak the whole counsel of God without regard to threats from those who do not love the truth. There may yet be another who says, “The most amazing thing in Acts 2 is how the prophecies come together to show that the Old Testament bears witness to Jesus as the Christ.” Again, I can find no fault with this statement. Peter uses no less than four Old Testament passages to show that the coming of the Holy Spirit is according to the promise of God, and Jesus is the descendant of David who reigns upon the eternal throne (2 Sam. 7:12-16; Pss. 16:8-11; 110:1; 132:11-12; Joel 2:28-32).
However, the most amazing thing that happens in Acts 2 is found in vv. 37-41. It would not matter that the apostles received the Holy Spirit if no one believed in the works that they did through him. It would not matter that Peter and the eleven stood boldly if there was no audience to hear them. It would not matter that the prophecies concerning Christ came together so concisely if no one was convicted by the power of them. I am confident that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is pained no more than when helpless, sinful man turns his back upon the gift of eternal life.
Did some amazing things happen in Acts 2? Yes. Did some amazing things happen that led to something even more amazing in the end? Yes. What we find in Acts 2:37-41 is the dynamic process of a heart turning to the Lord, responding to the sacrifice of Christ. Notice that these people were “pierced to the heart” (v. 37) and in accordance with that penitent attitude, they asked the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Isn’t that beautiful?! Isn’t that what makes your heart sing? But we are not done. The preacher doesn’t pat them on the back and say, “You are all right now. Go away believing in Christ.” Peter told them what he was taught by the One who spoke of “things con- cerning the kingdom.” Peter preached the death, burial, and
resurrection of Jesus Christ, and that sermon includes telling men and women how to be saved. What a simple command, “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). One almost gets the feeling that the people hesitated because in v. 40 Peter was “exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’” Finally, these precious souls expressed their faith in God by being baptized into Christ, “and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (v. 41).
I am convinced, friend, that God planned to save men and women long before we came upon the scene (Rom.11:30-32), and should we ever lose sight of what really happened in Acts 2, then we have lost sight of the plan of God. Jesus Christ said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). This is what it is all about. God worked all the promises to the patriarchs, the prophecies of the Old Testament, the events of the Jews in Israel, and the suffering death of Jesus Christ to culminate in the events of Acts 2:37-41. What does all of this say about God’s love for mankind? What do you think this means in terms of my responsibility in teaching the lost about the great love of God?
I am afraid, good friend, that we have missed the message of Acts 2 and the New Testament teaching on conversion. I am afraid that we are all caught up in offering mint, dill, and cummin as sacrifices to the Lord while we are neglect- ing the weightier matters of the law (Matt. 23:23). It is my prayer that we learn how to purge our hearts of the dross that keeps us back from enthusiastic service for Christ. We must pray that in God’s merciful heart, we are given the time and strength to meet the true challenge of converting the lost.