The New PeterErwin W. Lutzer | May 31, 1992
Selected highlights from this sermon
From the day of Christ’s Ascension to the day of Pentecost, Peter is transformed from a fearful, timid, discouraged, and confused man into an enlightened Apostle of boldness, determination and understanding. And we can be transformed just like Peter.
Well, let me begin with a question. Can people really change? Can they or can’t they? Are we all stuck with the personality that we have been given? If we were born rude and uncaring and hard-hearted and insensitive, do we have to stay that way, or does God like to remold human character?
I know, of course, that the Lord has given us a certain amount of raw material, and He just works with that raw material, but does God ever get inside of us and change our motivations and our attitudes so that we become different people? The answer, of course, is yes. And if you’ve been with us in the last few weeks, and really in the last few months, you may know that this is the tenth message in a series on the life of Peter. And today we come to a new chapter in Peter’s life.
If you were here for the first message that I preached, I pointed out that Jesus said to him, “You are Simon, and you shall be called Peter (or Cephas), which is a stone.” Christ knows who you are. Christ knows who you can be, and He has the power to make the difference.
And today we’re going to see how Jesus Christ did indeed have the power to change Peter because we’re going to notice quite a difference between the Peter of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – the impetuous Peter, the Peter who sometimes spoke far too soon, and thought far too late, and was fearful and timid and backed out when a servant girl asked him whether or not he knew Christ. He swore and said, “I never heard of Him.” We’ll see quite a transformation.
If in the Gospels we see Peter the cocoon, then in the book of Acts, we see Peter the butterfly. And by the way, if you like butterflies, you have to like cocoons, so don’t be impatient with people just because they may be in that cocooning stage. God is at work.
Acts 2 is a chapter of controversy because, after all, we have speaking in tongues in this chapter. And yesterday afternoon I was thinking about this passage and reminding myself that maybe at some point I should speak once again on tongues. I did that way back in 1979 when I was here as an intern. And if I asked you to raise your hand if you were here at that time, few of you would, and if I asked if you remembered the sermon, well, I’m sure no one would raise his hand, myself included. But it is true that I did at that time preach on tongues.
Just a couple of comments! And that is that the gift of tongues is controversial to be sure, but let us remember that it was basically a sign. It was a sign to the nation Israel that God was turning to the Gentiles. That’s the way in which the Apostle Paul interprets it in 1 Corinthians 14:21 and 22. It is basically a sign fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy that God would no longer just speak to the people in Hebrew, but in the diverse guttural sounds of Gentiles. That’s why all speaking in tongues, if it is of God, is always an actual language that exists.
Notice in chapter 2 it lists them. It was in verse 8, “And how is it that we hear each of them in our own language to which we were born?” And then two or three verses are given in which all the diverse languages spoken are actually listed. For our purposes today I’m more interested in the transformation of Peter’s life than the particular gifts that he may have had.
Remember that approximately 50 days had gone by since Jesus Christ’s resurrection, and then of course, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, and then ten days… Let me get this straight. There were 40 days between Christ’s resurrection and His ascension, and then an additional 10 days in the Upper Room of seeking God, so we have a total of 50 days from the time of the resurrection to the experience of Acts 2. What a transformation during that 50-day period. Yes, undoubtedly, seeking God in the Upper Room had something to do with it. But what I’d like to do today is to give you some contrasts between the old Peter (the Peter of the Gospels who was a converted man but still had many of his fears and his old nature intact) and the new Peter, who seems to come out of the experience as one who is strong and bold and full of faith.
First contrast: we see Peter move from confusion to understanding. From confusion to understanding! What do I mean? Do you remember Matthew 16? Jesus Christ said, “I am going to die in Jerusalem, and Peter said, “No way, Lord! You’re not going to do that.” Now remember that when Peter said that, in effect if Christ had obeyed his suggestion Peter himself would not have been redeemed but would have died an unbeliever and gone to hell. Why do I say that? It’s because the cross was absolutely necessary for Peter’s salvation as well as ours.
What a different Peter we have here. Whereas in the Gospels he understood some things clearly, but was also confused about such basic issues of the cross, Peter finally has it all together. We don’t have time to read his first sermon, nor the second. I hope that this afternoon you take out time to read chapters 2, 3 and 4 of Acts because we can only refer to a few of the verses. But notice in verse 14 of chapter 2 he begins that sermon. It goes on for 22 verses. Twelve of those verses are quotations from the Old Testament. Peter finally understood the Scriptures, and he also understood the purpose of God.
He says in verse 22: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know — this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Peter now understands that the cross was part of God’s predetermined purpose. The things that were so unclear in the Gospels now suddenly fall into place for him. Notice that the filling of the Spirit, which he received, enlightened his mind from confusion to understanding.
Now we know that Satan also has a counterfeit enlightenment of the mind. If you are into the New Age Movement at all, you know that there’s an esoteric experience. Esotericism has to do with the hidden knowledge, the belief that somehow we can go within ourselves and have a mystical experience that will give us enlightenment so that we belong to the initiated. I want you to know that that is Satan’s counterfeit. The experience that Peter had, and the experience that we have, is distinct because it is always based on a better, clearer understanding of the Scriptures that have been written by God through men.
So Peter here knows something and understands something he didn’t before. Why? It’s because Jesus said in the Upper Room that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Enlightenment. He said, “The Spirit will guide you into all truth.” He is the Spirit of revelation, of wisdom and of knowledge. You show me someone who is filled with the Spirit, and I’ll show you someone who has spiritual understanding.
Have you ever tried to lead somebody to Christ? And they don’t understand it even after you have made it clear. They keep stumbling over the business of works versus faith, and you think to yourself, “How could I have said it more clearly?” There’s a spiritual blockage there. That’s why the Bible talks about the need for the Holy Spirit to grant enlightenment, and grant that the knowledge of the truth be ignited in the heart by God. Spiritually, by nature, we are blinded, and we just don’t see it.
So the first change that we notice is confusion to understanding. There’s a second contrast, and that is fear to confidence. Oh, I wish that we had time to read all these passages. Do you remember last week we noticed how afraid Peter was when he was asked, “Do you belong to Jesus?” And he said no to a servant girl because he feared for his accuser. He really feared that if he came out with the truth that he might be identified and also put to death, and consequently he wanted to distance himself from the Savior whom he loved, just as we often do by our inability to share Christ with people whom we love because we feel awkward and we find it difficult to be identified with Him.
What a different Peter is on these pages! Look at the boldness with which he spoke. It says in chapter 2, verse 14, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them.” And the things that he said to them! He accused them of crucifying Christ. Though he knew that that was dangerous business, he now understood that there was no chance that he would die until his work was done. He understood that God’s purposes overrode the actions and the desires and the plans of wicked men.
Look at his boldness in chapter 3 where he preaches another sermon. He says in verse 14: “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” And he goes on to tell them that they had better repent. What a change! Here is someone who is fearful and timid, to someone who is bold, who in effect said, “Come and get me if you want to. I’m going to show you the truth no matter what.”
Don’t you wish that we had some of his boldness? I know that the New King James Version frequently translates the word boldness. It says, “When they saw the boldness of Peter and the Apostles…” My translation says confidence.
If, in the first instance, the Holy Spirit of God enlightened his mind, here in this second instance we can see the work of the Spirit in his emotions, as he moves from fear to faith or confidence. Why this bold transformation? Peter was no better than we are. He had the same fears, the same rationalizations. Why the change?
I’m going to ask you to take your Bibles and turn to John 14 just for a moment where Jesus was telling the disciples about the descent of the Spirit, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. And I want you to see what Jesus said about the Spirit’s coming. In John 14:16 He says: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever (That is the Holy Spirit.), even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” That’s a good definition of how the Spirit operated in the Old Testament. “He is with you,” Jesus said, “but He shall be in you.” “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Verse 16: “I will give you another helper.”
Now in Greek there are two different words for another. One means similar. For example, I have a pen in my pocket, and this happens to be the kind of pen I really love. I buy them in packages of three or six, and I’d buy a dozen if they sold them that way. It says Onyx Micro Japan. I hate to confess that, but I’m just reading it the way I see it here. Some of you will write me letters and tell me to become more American, but I just happen to like these Japanese pens.
Now let’s suppose I was to take a pen from you and say, “I’m going to give you another one.” In English it could be a ballpoint pen. It could be some other kind of a pen, a different brand, but if I said, “I’m going to give you a pen that is identical to the one I took from you,” then it has to be one of these pens made in Japan. Now my friend, today, when Jesus used the word another that’s the word He used. What he said was, “I am going to go to heaven, and I am going to send you a helper who is identical to Me. He is just like I am.” That’s who the Holy Spirit is. We say to ourselves, “Oh I wish that I had lived during the days of Jesus Christ. I wish that I could say I walked where Jesus walked. I would be so bold if I were there on the Sea of Galilee with Him.” Would you? When Christ was here on earth, Peter was denying Him. When He was crucified, the disciples forsook Him and fled.
Do you know what Jesus is saying? “It is good for you,” He said to the disciples, “that I go away, because if I go away I’m going to send you a helper that is going to be in you and stand with you no matter where my believers go.”
You think about this. Christ in the flesh could be with only one person. If He was in Galilee He could not be at the Jordan River near the Dead Sea. He could be only at one place at one time as a body localized. And by the way, that body is in heaven today, seated at the right hand of God the Father because what happened at Bethlehem has never yet been undone, and never will. But Christ said, “When I go to heaven I’m going to send the Holy Spirit who is going to be not only with you but in you, and will stand by you. So I am going to be near to every single one of my people just in the same way that I was near to the disciples when they were on earth. I’m going to send you a comforter who is identical to the way I am.” And that’s why the Spirit was given.
The Spirit was given to take the place of the physical presence of Christ on earth. That’s why He could not be poured out until Christ went to heaven. And because of that, you and I have the ability to be able to draw on resources given to us as believers by God, knowing that we will never face a single situation alone. He said, “I’m not going to leave you orphans. I’m going to come to you, and I’m going to stand with you.”
Do you understand now the transformation of Peter? You see, before that time, he was filled with timidity and filled with fear, and suddenly now he is speaking in boldness because, if I may say it very clearly, God is standing with him. And tomorrow morning when you go into the workplace, God accompanies you and stands with you, and He sits where you sit, and he talks through you as you yield to Him, and He is with you in a delicate negotiation, and His presence is ever so near that you can’t be in a single place in all the world without taking Christ with you at your side. Transformation! Confusion to understanding! Fear to confidence! It touched his emotions.
Let me tell you now that there is a third contrast that I want you to see, and that is from discouragement to determination. Look at Acts 5 now. We’re going to skip just ahead a little bit, and again we see the emotional part of Peter, but we also see incredible boldness and determination. You know, I want to say before I read this text that we live in a day in which people are terrified. They are scared to speak.
There was a pastor and someone in his congregation was involved in an embarrassing situation that had to do with pornography. And he phoned me and he said, “I just wonder what you would do if you were in my position.” He said, “Would you be willing to speak out on this issue? We have several attorneys who are investigating what I can say.” And I thought to myself, “Several attorneys investigating what you can say! Wow!” You see, everybody wants to be politically correct today, and if you are not politically correct, and if you are not saying the “party line” which is sort of the catch-all for the liberal side of the agenda, people are saying, “You don’t have a right to say that today because of all the implications.”
Well, guess what! The early church really never thought in those terms. I want you to notice their determination and it is in chapter 5, verse 40: “So they took his advice (that is, Gamaliel, who gave them some advice), and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them.” Parenthesis: Did you know that being filled with the Holy Spirit does not mean that you will be protected from physical abuse? Think of all the people who are filled with the Holy Spirit who died as martyrs under the early days of the Roman Empire. And here is Jesus in the disciples, speaking through the disciples, standing with the disciples, and He does not prevent them from receiving 39 lashes, which is usually what a flogging was. Forty was to be the maximum, so they had 39 to make sure that they would not meet the maximum. They were beaten. “And they charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”
And they went to their attorneys to check to see what their rights were so that they might be politically and religiously correct. Well you know that that’s the reversed vision (revised version), don’t you? It says in verses 41 and 42: “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” Don’t you wish you could be there?
Where does all this energy, all this determination and all this emotional wholeness come from, that they could be beaten and still find joy in their hearts for the privilege of having been counted worthy to belong to Jesus? Why this transformation? Why are these timid disciples who forsook Christ and fled at the cross now suddenly with boldness and with joy, and nobody could shut them up?
They were affected by their minds, their new understanding, their emotions, a new sense of wholeness, their wills and a sense of determination. Why the transformation? Well, you know, as I do, it was the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit, the second member of the Trinity.
Now I hope that you are sitting there saying something in your mind. Don’t say it out loud because maybe somebody sitting next to you will gently lead you away, but it’s okay to say it in your mind. Alright? You’re saying, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, all that is fine and dandy, but this was Peter. You’re talking about the Apostles. You’re talking about the book of Acts. What does that have to do with me?” Well, guess what! Good news!
Did you know that you and I can also benefit from the blessed Holy Spirit of God, and in similar fashion be changed? That’s why He was given to us. He was given to us when we believed in Jesus. Let me explain this very briefly.
John said in John 7 (in interpreting Christ’s words) that the Holy Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified. We look to the cross today for our forgiveness and our justification. And we know that because of what Jesus did on the cross we can believe and benefit.
In the very same way that we look to the cross for our justification and forgiveness, the New Testament teaches us that we need to look to the ascension of Christ for the fullness of the Holy Spirit because when Jesus ascended the Spirit was poured out to the church. Now everyone who believes in Christ and is saved has the Holy Spirit of God take up residence in his or her life. Paul said to the people at Corinth, “Do you not know that your body is the inner shrine of the Holy Spirit?” The Spirit indwells us.
You say, “Well, that’s fine, but where is His power?” Just as I look to the cross to receive my forgiveness and my justification, we are to look to the ascended victorious Christ in faith to receive the blessed power of the Holy Spirit of God who begins the work of transformation.
And let me say that the Spirit is not only a gift. If you were to go into a store and buy two volumes, and you forgot one or you left one on the shelf, you could go back the next day, and they’d say, “You can have this other one without making a new payment.” When you come to Christ to receive Him, you receive two volumes. You receive the benefits of the cross, and you also receive the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let me tell you that the Holy Spirit is not only a gift given but He is a very sensitive gift – very sensitive. You know when demons control somebody (if somebody is demon driven), they are compulsive. They are driven. They are torn in two. There’s an anxiety level that is just a spirit of agitation. That is not the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is gentle. He does not push. He leads. He is so sensitive that one of the emblems of the Spirit in the New Testament is the dove. Why? It’s because if you treat a dove badly, the dove is going to feel it and even perhaps want to fly away.
Fortunately the Holy Spirit doesn’t leave us, but the Spirit is sensitive. That’s why the Bible says, “Don’t grieve the Spirit.” And you and I know Christians who are living in disobedience day after day, and they no longer hear the Spirit’s voice. The Holy Spirit is within them but they are not listening. In fact, they are driven by guilt and by their own self-will. And the Spirit, who is resident, who wants to be president, is squelched. And that’s why Paul says, “Don’t grieve the Spirit.”
If you and I are sensitive to the Spirit, the Spirit will control what we say even. We will want to utter some criticism and suddenly we will be rebuked and we’ll know that this is wrong. We will be rebuked for what we say, for what we see, for what we do, and we will sense that the Spirit is guiding and leading because we have developed sensitivity to His work. And He begins this transformation process. We may be cocoons, but we are on our way to being butterflies.
But I want you to know that the Spirit is so sensitive that He will not manifest Himself, and He will not work as long as self-will is on the throne of our lives. That’s why Jesus said, “Except a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone.” But Jesus said, “If it dies, it brings forth much fruit.”
Back in 1968 I had the privilege of being in Egypt, riding to the pyramids on camels. That part of the experience I could probably have done without, but nevertheless, we crawled into the pyramids. And we went down where the bodies of the king and queen had lain. In one of those caverns in the pyramids when those tombs were uncovered scientists discovered grain because when they died in those days they would take some grain so that you’d have something to eat on your way to some kind of a happy hunting ground. But nobody ever used the grain. It was there.
After being in the dust and the dryness of the pyramid for four thousand years, they took the kernels out, put them in warm soil with some sunshine and moisture, and those kernels of grain grew. For four thousand years the life was locked up there, dormant, unused with no evidence of life, but when put in the right conditions, it was there all the time.
Listen to me very carefully. If you are here today as a born again believer, the Holy Spirit of God indwells you. He goes with you. He watches the television programs that you watch, and that’s why you should not grieve Him because He sees what you see. He goes with you wherever you may go. He is always at your side, closer than your elbow, but He is very sensitive. And if you override his authority and His power, you can just do your own thing, but the transformation never happens. You are just as negative as you’ve always been. You are just as bound by your past as you’ve always been. You are just as timid as you’ve always been, and nothing changes until you say, “I’m willing to fall into the ground and die.” And it is that death to self-will that gives the Spirit the liberty to begin the transformation process.
You know, we look at Peter and we say, “Well, you know after all, he was Peter.” I hope that one of the impressions that you got as we preached nine other messages is that he was incredibly human. I don’t think that Peter had any more going for him as a human being than you or I. But the change that was brought about was through the Spirit, in whose life and strength you and I are participants to change our mind, our emotions and our will. We can be different. And even some coping mechanisms that some people have to say, “I’m going to cope,” only hardens their hearts instead of giving in to the sweet voice of submission to God.
You may be here as an unbeliever and you say, “Well, I don’t know if I know Christ as Savior. Does the Holy Spirit have any ministry to me?” Yes – one! It is the ministry of conviction.
Years ago there was a miser. He used to count his money every evening, and then put it in the floor of his cabin. Maybe he thought that the more often he counted it the more that he would have. A thief was looking through the window and saw what he was doing, and that night after the man had a drink, the thief decided to break into that cabin and get all the money. And the thief began to try to open the door, and to pry it open, and the man’s dog began to bark. And the man became angry at the dog but the dog continued to bark. And the man told the dog to be quiet, and the dog wouldn’t be quiet, so he shot the dog. Well, you know the rest of the story, don’t you? Of course, the thief came in and stole the drunken man’s money.
Listen carefully. If you are here and don’t know Christ as your Savior, the voice that you are listening to now, the voice of conviction, the voice that tells you that you need Jesus is the only voice that can save you. Do not stifle the only voice that can save you.
And if you are here as a believer, why has the Spirit not been working in your life and mine as it should? I have to ask myself that question. You need to ask yourself, and all of us need to open up our lives to Him and say, “Lord, today I die to self one more time that Christ may live.” Do it by faith.
I woke up this morning distressed of spirit, but God enabled me to put all that aside. Why? It was, in faith, to receive the Spirit’s power just for today. And I’ll need it again tomorrow. Why do I have to be filled with the Holy Spirit so often?” D. L. Moody’s famous line was, “Well, it’s because I leak.” That’s why I’m going to need to be filled again tomorrow.
Oh Father, your blessed Holy Spirit is here. Your Spirit yearns to control us, yearns to lead us, yearns to guide us, and how often we’ve said no. We thank You for the transformation of Peter, but Father, we also need the same transformation. Do it in our hearts, oh God, we pray, as we say no to self and yes to Your sovereign grace and power.
Now, if you need to accept Christ as Savior, let me help you. I’m going to pray a prayer phrase by phrase, line by line. Just pray it in your heart to God.
Say, “Dear God, I’m a sinner. I’ve heard Your voice today, and I receive Christ as my very own. I trust Him, and in this act of trust I give up all attempts to save myself and look only to the cross. Thank You. Amen.