Last week we looked at the wonderful promise that if you need refreshing, you can go to the God of all refreshing (verse 19). And if your life is broken, you can go to the God who has started the times of restoration of all things (verse 21). And this chapter ends by saying that this restorative work (which has already begun) will eventually be extended to all the families of the earth as well as to all Jews. And so, it is a very encouraging passage. But as frequently happens in restoration projects like Jonathan, Sean, and Mr. Fujan and others are working on, there is some demolition work that has to go on as well. And sometimes it ain't pretty. It gets rather messy before it looks better. And that's what we see in verse 23. "And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people." We should not think that God's restorative work of grace is incompatible with His destructive work of judgment. Just think of any remodeling project on a house: you have to destroy before you can rebuild, right? In fact, sometimes Reformed people speak of Redemptive Judgments in which God advances the cause of redemption precisely through judgment. It was God's judgment in 70 AD that led to an incredible increase of the Gospel. It was God's judgment in China under communism that led to the incredible advance of redemption. It was the Russian war against Afghanistan that opened the doors to the Gospel in that hard country. And you could go on. And so I have titled this sermon, Blessings and Judgments. Peter is convinced that the blessings and cursings of Deuteronomy 28 continue to function in this new Messianic Age. In fact, he quotes from Deuteronomy 18 which applies the covenantal cursings.
So, let's pick up at verse 22. "For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me…'" Moses said, "like me." Now isn't that interesting? How many times have you heard preachers insist that Jesus is a Prophet like Moses? I've heard many who have said the exact opposite. They don't want Jesus resembling Moses in any shape or fashion. I've got a book by Jon Zens that complains that Moses is in the camp. I have other books (unfortunately) that delight in making all kinds of contrasts between the two. Now there are legitimate contrasts, but they are making contrasts where this passage makes comparisons.
They claim that Moses brought the law while Christ abolished the law. And so the prophecy that Moses brought is utterly different in character than the prophecy that Jesus brought. That is absolutely false. In fact, according to the New Testament, it was actually the pre-incarnate Son of God who gave the law through Moses. He was the Messenger of the Lord. And so, 1 Corinthians 10:9 says that Israel was actually testing Christ in the wilderness when they disobeyed his Word. That means that Jesus was speaking through Moses. You've heard it many times, but Matthew 5:17 says, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil." Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses and then commanded us to imitate Him in 1 John 2:6. And so, what Moses prophesied and what Jesus prophesied are not utterly different. No. He was a prophet like Moses.
And so some will say, "Well, yes, He did fulfill the law, but it was in general strokes. Jesus wasn't a legalist." And they imply that being concerned about the details of the law makes you a legalist. One person implied that Moses was interested in all the tiny details of the law, whereas Christ was interested in the weightier matters of the law. And of course, they've got a verse that they can appeal to. But that passage that they quote (Matthew 23:23) goes on to say something that they conveniently leave out. Let me read the whole verse. Matthew 23:23 says, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith." [But notice this next phrase:] "These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone." Notice that Jesus doesn't say, "You guys are being too legalistic by even tithing on the herbs of the garde?!!. Come on, get a life!" No. Instead, Jesus wanted both done – both the weightier matters, as well as the details. The passage I quoted earlier from Matthew 5:17-19 goes on to say, "For assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." [So he is concerned about jots and tittles – the smallest details of the law. The next verse goes on to say:] "Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Jesus was interested in even the least commandment of the Old Testament– a reference to Deuteronomy 22:6-7 – and it's a passage which commands us not to take a baby bird along with the mother. That has nothing to do with legalism. Legalism is adding to the law, not being concerned about the details of the law.
And then some will quote John 1:17: "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." They contrast law with grace and truth. Now there is a contrast in that passage, but it isn't a contrast between law and truth, as if the law was false. In fact, Jesus said about the Old Testament Mosaic law, "Thy Word is truth." Psalm 119:142 says, "Your law is truth." Law is the very definition of truth. Speaking of Levi, the mouthpiece for Moses, Malachi 2:6 says, "The law of truth was in his mouth." So the contrast that John 1:17 was bringing out was not that the prophetic words that Moses spoke were inferior to the prophetic words that Jesus spoke. After all, Scripture indicates that the pre-incarnate Son of God was the One who spoke through Moses. The contrast is that Jesus is more than a prophet. Jesus is also a Savior. Where both Moses and Jesus had truth or had law, Christ brings truth and grace. That's the contrast. Moses had no ability to bring grace because he was not a Savior. Moses could point to the grace of Jesus, and the law could drive people to recognize their need of grace, but only Jesus could bring both law and grace; both truth and grace.
And so it is so important to realize that on the prophetic level, both Moses and Jesus spoke with the same infallibility, the same authority, the same inerrancy. In fact, is that not exactly what Acts 3:22 says? "For Moses truly said to the fathers…" God knows nothing of a red-letter edition of the Bible where the words in red are more important than the Words in black. No. Christ gave all the Words. Certainly there are many contrasts between Moses and Christ since Christ was greater on many points. Jesus alone was the God-Man; He alone was perfect; He alone is the King of the Universe; and you can look at many other contrasts. But this is not talking about those things. This is talking about prophecy. When it came to their prophetic revelation, Christ was like Moses. There was no inferiority of one to the other. They spoke the very Word of God. So let's not put the contrast where they do not exist.
Verse 22 again: "For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren.'" As to Jesus' manhood, He was a prophet, He was a Jew like Moses, He was anointed by God like Moses. And just as every jot and tittle of the Mosaic law was binding, verse 22 goes on to say, "Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you." Isn't that what the Great Commission says? We are to teach the nations everything that Christ commanded us to teach.
So there is Jesus , the Prophet that Moses said would come. I got into an argument with a charismatic who claimed that only scripture was inspired. That oral prophecy is not inspired. But think about it. Jesus didn't write a word, did He? Yet He was a prophet like Moses. And rather than taking a softer stand on the Word of God, we find here that Jesus is also interested in the details of the Word.
Now what does this say about people who don't believe in Biblical inerrancy? There's a large group of so-called evangelicals who believe in what they call "limited inerrancy," which is not inerrancy at all. They say that the Bible is inerrant only on what it intends to communicate, and it only intends to communicate about things like salvation, heaven and things which science cannot test. They claim that any time that the Bible addresses things that science can test, it is not necessarily inerrant. They've got far more faith in science than in this book. So these scholars claim that not every Word of Jesus needs to be taken at face value – only the essential meaning. But what does our text say? It says in verse 23,
Him you shall hear in all things, whatever HE says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.
Daniel Fuller, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, is a respect leader in the modern church, but I have zero respect for him because he does not respect the Words of Christ. Fuller gives several examples of what he thinks are mistakes that Jesus made. Can you imagine that from a so-called evangelical? One is Matthew 13:31-32, which says,
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.
Fuller says, there are many seeds that are far smaller than the mustard seed, therefore Jesus' words are not inerrant. And then he goes on to try to soften the blow by saying that what is inerrant is the message conveyed. But that is nonsense. If Christ can't be trusted to know information about seeds that He can see, how could you trust him to predict the future? That's ridiculous. And Fuller misses the point that Jesus was talking about garden seeds in the fields that were around Him. He's talking about seeds that were being planted by farmers then. And the mustard seed, was by far the smallest seed that they planted. I see this modern attack on inerrancy as being the chief heresy among many. If you give up the inerrancy of every letter and word of the Bible, then you will eventually give up everything else. This is why we cannot consider a person to be Christian who denies inerrancy. What's God's attitude toward such a person? Well verse 23 says. And this is also why it makes me so nervous when modern charismatics claim to have prophecies, but say that prophecy in the New Testament was not inerrant. I'm going to keep hammering it all the way through the book of Acts that the Word "prophecy" and "prophet" means infallible, inerrant communication of the very word of God. And we've already demonstrated that such prophecies ceased in 70 AD once the canon of the Bible was finished.
But let's look a little more at verse 23. Peter is quoting Moses: "And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people." Some say that this is a reference to Jews being cut off from the people of God and treated as pagans. So in a sense it would be an act of church discipline. Others see it as worthy of the death penalty in the New Testament just like they did in the Old Testament. Others as being consigned to hell. But the word "utterly" could include all four. After all, God wants the church to reflect His judgment. Those Jews who rejected Jesus were eventually treated by the church as Sodom and Egypt. In other words, they were disciplined and considered outside the people of God. Then, 70 AD God destroyed them as a nation through a historical judgment. And those who did not repent at that point would end up being cut off from the people of God forever in hell. So I don't see that you need to choose between those three, or four really. The next verse applies the passge to "these days," so it clearly has reference to historical judgments, but the word "utterly" seems to indicate that God wold finish that judgment for both time and eternity. If I was Daniel Fuller, I would be scared to death.
Now one question that was brought up to me on Friday evening was how a person could be considered one of the people of God and yet be destroyed from among the people. Does that imply that they lose their salvation? And the simple answer is "No." There is a visible church that we admit into and there is an invisible church which God alone knows. The visible church includes false believers while the invisible church includes only the elect of God. And 1 John 2:19 describes those who are cut off from the people in these words: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us." So it's not talking about losing salvation. John says that they never were one of us in the first place. So hopefully that helps.
And just as a side note, verse 24 is a good verse to keep in your arsenal of texts for dispensationalists who claim that the clock of prophecy stopped ticking when the Israel rejected Jesus and that no more prophecies were being fulfilled. They claim that the church age was totally unseen in the Old Testament. They call this the Great Parenthesis. In total contrast, Peter says that absolutely every prophet from Samuel and on spoke of things in our age. That's a great proof text for covenant theology.
With that warning given, Peter returns to the precious promises of God. "You are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers…" So they are sons of the prophets and sons of the covenant. But they weren't saved. Being a son of a Christian or even the son of a prophet like Abraham, Moses or others does not guarantee that you are a son of God. And you children need to recognize that each person must embrace Christ by faith. According to John chapter 1:13, you cannot enter the kingdom by being born of flesh or of blood or of the will of man. It's just a sovereign birth given by God's grace. And so we need to distinguish between people who outwardly look like they are in the covenant and those who truly and inwardly possess the grace of Christ. Profession is not the same as possession, is it? The Pharisees said that they were children of Abraham, and John the Baptist denied it, saying that God was able to raise up children of Abraham from these stones. That's the kind of power God has. It's just as easy for Him to give life to a dead heart as it would be to give life to a stone.
And if God is sovereign and can save the hardest hearts, why do people have a hard time believing the next clause in verse 25: "saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'" Who was the seed of Abraham? It was Jesus, right? The word "seed" is singular. So he is saying, "In Jesus, all the families of the earth shall be blessed." I want you to notice four things about that phrase:
First, it's universal scope: "all the families of the earth." Not just representative families. This is talking about the conversion of the world at some point in history. And is that not Christ's goal in the Great Commission: to disciple all nations? And is this not what Paul says that God is doing in Christ Jesus? Paul said, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). If the world's trespasses are not imputed, that means that they won't have to answer for those sins, and that they will be saved. And if God is in the process of reconciling the world to Himself, that means that it is gradual, and that they are not presently reconciled. And if He reconciles them only through the preaching of the cross, it implies that this is a historical growth of the church. So the extent of the church at some point in history will include all the families of the earth. Now here's the question: Is your God big enough for you to be able to believe that? I confess that it is sometimes hard for me to believe. I see so much hard heartedness around me. And yet, I have to admit that the church has grown from 120 disciples in Acts 1 to hundreds of millions of believers world wide. Who would have thought that this would be possible? And yet Isaiah had promised that of the increase of Christ's kingdom and of peace there would be no end. So the growth of the church has this goal: we should not be content until all the families of the earth are converted.
Second, notice that this blessing can only come through Jesus. Outside of Jesus there is no hope of salvation. And outside of Jesus there cane be no blessing. All the promises of God are yes and Amen.
Third, notice that right from the time of Abraham, God's purpose was to include both Jew and Gentile in the church. The Jews in Peter's day with very racist. But Peter points out that his had not always been so. On the day that Abraham was circumcised, he circumcised more Gentiles into the faith than he did of his own family. He brought at least 318 Gentiles into the faith that day. God's church has always been a multi-ethnically diverse church – every tribe and nation; not just Israel, but the earth.
Fourth, notice that God's concern in the New Testament continues to be the family, not just the individual. And that makes sense: if we are in the Abrahamic covenant, you would expect our families to be received, right? It was a family covenant par excellence. And by the way, this has always been God's way. From the time of Adam and on, every covenant God has ever made has included the family. And here God says that His goal is to continue to reach entire families. This is one of many, many New Testament passages which drive our church to hold to a family-integrated perspective on the church. Why do we have one vote per family? Why do we have communion as families? Why do we baptize families? Why do we include families in church rather than having children's church? Why do we not have age-segregated Sunday School? Why do we not disciple women without the father's or without the husband's oversight? Why do we try to encourage family ministries, and family entertainment? Because God's goal is to especially bless us through the family structure. Even single ministries are ministries that we hope will welcome singles into families. The Bible says God puts the solitary in families, and it's cool to see families reaching out to singles. Now as a balance I think we need to say that it is certainly God's goal is to reach out to each and every individual, as the next verse makes clear: "in turning away every one of you from your iniquities." Every one of you is important to God. But God knows that it is in the family context that you will be ost whole. So even if you are solitary, take up offers to be included in family activities.
Verse 26: "To you first…" This is simply a restatement of the Biblical phrase that the Gospel went "to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Now that brings up an interesting question: Why to the Jew first? If God's intention is to reach every family of every nation, why does He start with a cohesive group rather than a multicultural group? Why did Jesus say that His ministry was only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? Why did He spend His time bringing together a cohesive group of 120 disciples who were all Jewish? And we might go one step further and ask, why was every disciple that Jesus chose a Galilean except for Judas? And for that matter, why were so many of the disciples related by blood or close neighbors or friends? In chapter 1 of Acts, I already gave the theological and missiological reasons for this phenomenon. But there is a very practical reason why most people in Acts (other than Paul and His cross cultural team) were most effective in reaching their friends and family to Christ. Very few people are effective in reaching those that they do not know. If you are frustrated with trying to reach strangers for Christ, you might want to start focusing on your friends, relatives and neighbors. In the book of Acts you will see not only families coming to Christ at the same time, but business associates, in one case a school, in another case a synagogue – people who already had a close relationship. It's a very interesting thing that God frequently wins entire networks of similar people to Christ. I call this the Biblical pattern of oikos evangelism. But let me give you some statistics:
I have read numerous surveys that have been done over time asking Christians what factor was responsible for their coming to Christ and the church. And listen to this. You might think that most came to Christ through a crusade or through a pastor. But that is not the case.
1/2 of 1% evangelistic crusade
1-2% special need
2-3% walked into the church off the street on their own
2-3% Church outreach program
4-5% Sunday School
5-6% Pastor led them to Christ
75-90% Influence of a Friend/Relative
That was the only double digit number. Up to 90% were won to Christ by the people in their close networks of relationship. We need to begin to stop thinking in terms of individualism in evangelism and realize the impact that a Noah, an Abraham (who led 318 of his hired servants to Christ), a Phinehas, a Joshua a Zaccheus, a Justus, a Crispus a Phillipian jailor can have upon. When missionaries go to a new country, frequently it takes years before one person makes a profession of faith. But once there is a small group and those people begin to witness to those that they know and love, the growth of the church rockets upwards. And so it made sense for God to send the apostles to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles, because they had all of their webs of relationships with the Jews.
Verse 26 goes on to say, "To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities." I've already commented on this some, but I do want you to notice three more things: Even though God often reaches entire families and tribes within a matter of months, salvation is not a group decision. It is still "every one of you" who must repent and believe. And so there is a balance between the "families" of verse 25 and the "every one of you" of verse 26. Unforunately many evangelicals think that they are incompatible. They are so individualistic that they are utterly suspicious when a clan, a tribe or a large group becomes Christian within a matter of months. And yet it happens over and over. In Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Irian Jaya, India and many other countires, entire families, clans and sometimes tribes make such a profession of faith within weeks. And yet, it's an amazing thing how God turns everyone in a group to Himself. Even missionaries who were initially suspicious, look back over twenty years and realize that those hundred thousand or so people who had made profession of faith, made a genuine profession of faith, and show every evidence of the power of the Gospel in their lives. They see transformed lives. So we shouldn't pit group conversion against individual conversion. God works both. And for a group conversion to be genuine, every individual must have been converted as well.
Second, notice that this turning from iniquities is the blessing that God brings. "Sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities." Salvation is unto holiness and sanctification is a blessing. People sometimes think that the call to holiness is a call of someone who is trying to rob us of our fun. But it is actually the exact opposite. Since the wages of sin is death and misery and brokenness, turning away from iniquity is an incredible blessing that God bestows on people's lives. And if you continue to look at the path of holiness as a sacrifice, and as a misery, remember Christ words in John 15 when He said,
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
Not half; not empty; but full. The only way that you can have your cup of joy full to overflowing is in obedience to His commandments. This verse says that it's a blessing. I hope you are convinced that holiness is a blessing and that God saved us to be holy.
Third, it is Jesus (and Jesus alone) who turns every one from their sins. People cannot repent apart from sovereign grace. They cannot become holy apart from sovereign grace. It is Jesus who turns us away from sin. Philippians 2:13 says, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." You couldn't so much as want to be holy apart from His will. And if God has grabbed hold of your heart so that you love holiness, give Him the glory. Ephesians 2:8-10 says,
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, Ephesians 2:9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
When we understand that it is all of grace; not just our conversion, but our sanctification as well, then we will begin to be in a position to find joy in our Christian walk. Christianity is not pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. It is not toughing it out. Rather, it is entering by faith ever deeper into the riches of Christ's provision; it is walking in the Spirit's empowerment. It is from start to finish a supernatural work of God.
And it is my prayer that God may bless each of you by turning every one of you away from your iniquities. May He spare you from judgment and cause you to enter into His holy blessing. Amen.
Children of God, I charge you lay hold of the blessings of holiness to which God has called you. Amen.