In a suburban area of Dallas, Texas, there is a popular attraction called “Miracle at Pentecost” – a huge art painting depicting the coming of the Holy Spirit at the time of Pentecost, and Peter’s sermon as recorded in Acts, chapter 2, verses 1 – 47. In the very dramatic narration which accompanies the light and sound presentation of the painting, the spokesman recalls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the day we now refer to as Palm Sunday. After describing the cries of the crowds, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest,” the narrator says very calmly, “A few days later He was dead.”
The huge painting, one of the most spectacular works of art on display in America, commemorates the birthday of the Church, the Church that Jesus said He would build. (Matt. 16:18) Peter’s sermon on that occasion, is one of the most moving, most enlightening Christian messages ever delivered, and focuses on the power of God as demonstrated in Christ’s resurrection, using these words, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost … therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” At this beginning of the Church of Jesus Christ, the Scripture records that following Peter’s sermon some three thousand believed and were baptized, and that from that moment on the believers expanded their witness, and “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
Thus it is evident that the message of the apostles in the first century following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, was concerning His resurrection and the fulfillment of the ancient promises of God. Last Sunday we observed Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and now we approach Good Friday when we remember His crucifixion, followed by Easter Sunday when we rejoice in His resurrection, events which were recorded in all four of the Gospel accounts of His life and ministry.
Even as His crucifixion and resurrection were the most important elements of the witness of the apostles in that first century, so those foundational pillars of the Christian faith are, and must always be, the most important elements of our Christian witness in this twenty first century. On this occasion Peter preached the first sermon for the Church which Jesus promised to build, established upon the faith which Peter himself had expressed to his Lord, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter, who had been so close a follower of Jesus, recognized the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel where God promised, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh,” and he recalled the words of Jesus which Luke recorded, “I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” Realizing what was happening on that day of Pentecost, the heart of Peter's message was the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the remission of the sins of all mankind. The people believed and responded, and the Church began to grow.
Nothing has changed in the two thousand years since. The acclaim with which Jesus was greeted as He entered Jerusalem was soon replaced with cries of “Crucify him.” And He was crucified, and He was buried, and He did rise from the grave and ministered to His followers until He ascended into heaven, to take His place – as Peter affirmed – at the right hand of God the Father. In the first century, in those days closely following upon His resurrection, this was the message that Peter deemed most important to proclaim. Later in the first century, Paul expressed the same conviction, “I am determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified … woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” (I Cor. 2:2; 9:16) In writing to the Galatians, Paul expressed his convictions very clearly, repeating this warning for emphasis, “So say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8-9)
No, nothing has changed. The Christian faith which Jesus left for us was once the rule of life here in America and in most of the civilized world, but the observance of that faith is not as prevalent as it once was in many parts of the world, and its enemies here in America are attacking it with more vigor than ever before. Within the world of Christendom, some have focused on a “gospel” of good works and social betterment and protecting the environment. And there is nothing wrong with those outworkings of the Christian life. But the true gospel message has not changed: Jesus Christ was crucified and rose again for our salvation. That is now, and has always been, the message of Easter. It transcends all other issues, and only as the Church of Jesus Christ emphasizes that message will its mission and purpose be accomplished.
Quote for this week: “Now let the heavens be joyful, let earth her song begin; let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein; invisible and visible, their notes let all things blend, for Christ the Lord is risen, our joy that hath no end.” -- St. John of Damascus, 7th-8th century