February 15, 2015 – Reversing the Fear of Disapproval

Acts 2:14-24 & 32-41

“Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, ‘Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel: “In the last days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.

In those days I will pour out my spirit even on my servants – men and women alike – and they will prophesy. And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below – blood and fire and clouds of smoke. The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before the great and glorious day of the Lord arrives. But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip. God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us, just as you see and hear today. For David himself never ascended into heaven, yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit in the place of honor at my right hand until I humble your enemies, making them a footstool under your feet’” So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!

Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter replied ‘Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles – all who have been called by the Lord our God.’ Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, ‘Save your selves from this crooked generation!’ Those who believe what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day – about 3,000 in all.”

The word of God for the people of God, praise be to God. Let us pray.

Loving God, we are thankful for you and the Holy Spirit surrounding us. Please open our hearts, ears and minds to the message that you have inspired in me, and may the meditations of our hearts be a joy to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Makeovers are a very popular TV subject these days, and no doubt you’ve seen more than one ugly duckling transformed into a swan. Crooked teeth are made straight instantly. Wrinkles are “ironed out” with lasers and scalpels and Botox. Excesses are trimmed; deficiencies are enhanced. Whatever is undesirable is nipped, tucked, vacuumed, scraped, sutured, injected, pinned, lifted, reduced or enlarged. There is always a fix for our outward brokenness. As we have seen in the past few weeks, Peter was broken on the inside. Outwardly he was a can-do, I’ll-do-it-myself kind of guy. Until…push came to shove.

For all his self-confidence and daring-do, Peter was also a man who had to learn things the hard way. He had to see that operating in his own strength would bring failure. Professing to never deny Jesus, even if it meant death, Peter would eat his own words when the rooster crowed three times as Jesus predicted. Humbled and humiliated, Peter slunk back to his fishing boat, resigning himself to a life of dashed dreams. And then, the risen Jesus showed up, not only forgiving Peter, but putting Peter to work to “feed His lambs.” Jesus would give Peter a new fountain of strength: the Holy Spirit.

Peter needed an inward makeover, and the Holy Spirit would transform this enthusiastic, take-charge, self-confident man into a charismatic, faith-driven man who was confident in God’s strength. Quite simply, God took some of Peter’s finer attributes, which ironically worked against him sometimes, and made them useful and dynamic when fueled by God-power, not Peter-power.

Today’s scripture is a case in point as Peter preaches a powerful message to the massive crowds who were in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. So convincing and forceful were Peter’s words, that 3,000 new believers came to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ that day.

You can imagine the tizzy that created with the Jewish religious leaders. Peter became a lightning rod for their wrath, drawing down the fire and condemnation of the religious leaders. He and John were thrown into prison for preaching about Jesus by the very leaders who had once condemned Jesus. Once again their authority, position and status were being threatened, so they flexed their collective religious muscle in an effort to strike down Peter and the other disciples.

Little did they know that they were messing not only with Peter, but with the Holy Spirit that dwelled within him. Instead of running into hiding or even taking a step back, Peter jumped at the opportunity the confrontation afforded. As stunningly recorded by the physician, Luke, in Acts 4:13: “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled.”

Peter, who had once sliced off the ear of a servant in his own impulsiveness, now boldly and confidently faced these once-intimidating religious men in the power of the Holy Spirit. The religious leaders, sensing that the people would disapprove if the disciples were harmed, turned tail and gave Peter and John a slap-on-the-wrist warning them not to preach about Jesus again. Trying to stop Peter from preaching, however, was like trying to stop a speeding train.

When warned again by the rulers to quit preaching about Jesus, Peter answered: “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Was this REALLY the same Peter who had denied Jesus just weeks before?) If Peter and the others were afraid of these guys, they didn’t let their fear stop them; because they revered God more than they feared any man.

Whoa! The tables were turned! Who was afraid of whom? Now it was the Sanhedrin who were scared of what the people might think of Who is no longer controlled by the fear of man but by love for God? Peter, that’s who!

Peter’s cup of fear was now replaced by a cup of faith and strength, the same cup that God had given to Christ in the garden at Gethsemane.

Peter’s journey didn’t just happen overnight, and our journey will be transitional, too, as we learn to claim the Holy Spirit’s help in overcoming our fear of man. Let’s look at the stages Peter’s transition took from coward to spiritual leader.

First, his own strength failed him. He had to go from full-of-self to empty-of-self humbly realizing in the end that he wasn’t who he thought he was.

Second, Peter had to do a lot of introspection, probably a difficult task for a man who was a do-er, not one who ponders. Like Saul, who was challenged by Jesus on the road to Damascus, Peter had to re-think what the cost of following Jesus would entail.

Third, Peter was humbled and forgiven by Jesus, whom Peter had just denied days before. Instead of denouncing Peter, Jesus called Peter into service to feed His sheep.

Fourth, Peter was radically transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the only possible explanation for the change in his behavior and actions. He now operated in the Spirit’s power, not in his own.

And lastly, through God’s grace, Peter realized that it is better to fear God than mankind.

In our culture we have witnessed celebrities who have taken a stand for God. Religious figures like Billy Graham and Mother Teresa are obvious ones. Many country music stars profess their belief in Jesus and often include a hymn on their CD’s. Tim Tebow, a star football player, made an astounding display for Christ when he played college ball for the University of Florida. He always had a line of scripture etched into the black light deflector goo that goes under a player’s eyes. He consistently knelt on one knee, his elbow resting on the knee, and with bowed head, he prayed before every game. This gesture became known as “Tebowing.” Some cheered. Some scoffed.

Earlier, in 1990, another precedent was set at an NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants. After the game a group of eight players, four from each team, gathered near center field, got down on one knee and prayed together. Soon it became a regular practice, and others joined. Naturally there was a big uproar from some quarters, such as a few fans who argued that sports and religion shouldn’t be mixed; from Sports Illustrated who chimed in that prayers should be said in private; and from NFL management, who considered banning the practice. However, these prayerful football warriors defied all authority and opinion, even if it meant being fined, and continued to pray after the games. Score 1 for God!

Peter probably would’ve been a linebacker if he’d been a football player! Undoubtedly he’d have aligned himself with the other NFL players on the field, “Tebowing.” He wouldn’t have cared if the crowd booed or the management screamed. After all he would have been playing for “Team Jesus” and coached by the Holy Spirit. Who is your coach and what team do you

May the meditations of our hearts be a blessing to God and fill him with Joy. Amen.