There is a key phrase in this morning’s lesson from the Book of Acts I want to call to your attention. It is “by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge.” Peter’s sermon on the first Pentecost makes it plain that everything that Jesus had done, up to and including the events his hearers were seeing and hearing, were the result of God working to fulfill his plan and purpose for the salvation of mankind.
God at Work through Jesus of Nazareth
God was working through the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter pointed to the signs and wonders that Jesus performed and said they were evidence that God was working through him. Never in the history of the world had anyone done as many miraculous works of mercy as Jesus had. But God had also testified concerning his Son at his baptism, when he said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” and bestowed the Holy Spirit in all of his fullness upon him. Jesus said that the works he did were the works that the Father showed him and they were accomplished by the power of God’s Spirit. So Jesus’ works were God’s works, his words were God’s Words. Father, Son, and Spirit working as one to accomplish God’s deliberate plan and purpose.
That plan and purpose included Jesus’ death. Peter says he was delivered according to God’s plan and purpose to those who crucified him. The Spirit had foretold these things as he spoke through prophets. Long before the man Jesus was born they spoke and wrote by the Spirit of his betrayal and death. Peter told his listeners that in Psalm 16 David spoke of what the Spirit had shown him concerning the death and resurrection of the Christ. Isaiah also spoke of them and of the works of mercy he would do. These things were said long in advance so that we would know they had not happened by accident or misfortune, but because God had carefully set them into motion so that his purpose would be accomplished by evil and lawless men.
God at Work in Jesus Resurrection and Ascension
God’s plan also included raising Jesus from the dead. Peter says, “death couldn’t hold him.” Elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus speaks of his coming death and resurrection saying he will lay down his life and he will take it up again. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul attributes the resurrection to the Spirit of God. Once again, Father, Son, and Spirit work as one and God accomplishes his purpose and fulfills his Word through Jesus of Nazareth.
Likewise, the scriptures speak also of Christ’s ascension into heaven where he sits at the right hand of God, far above all other rule and authority. He is now King of kings, Lord of Lords. The Spirit spoke through David saying
“The Lord said unto my Lord, sit at my right hand while I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
and he spoke through Daniel about the authority the Christ would receive saying,
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
What was said through Isaiah came to pass, the virgin’s Son is called the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. God’s perfect plan had been executed. It was time for the next phase of that plan to begin.
God at Work through the Church
Before he ascended into heaven Jesus had told the apostles to disciple every nation by going to them, baptizing them, and teaching them to do what he had commanded. He also told them they would need power to do that and that that power would come from the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost that gift was given. Through His Spirit, God now works through the church to bring salvation to people of every tribe and race, every nation and language.
This, too, is part of the Father’s plan announced beforehand through the prophets. The Gospel of Luke says that when Jesus opened the apostle’s minds to understand the scriptures he told them,
“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
The plan, the commission, and the power come from God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The purpose is his, to reconcile the peoples of the earth to himself through Jesus Christ. The commission is his and was given to the church by the Lord Jesus himself. The power is his, for we must work in the Spirit’s power rather than our own. Flesh and blood accomplish nothing by themselves. For Jeremiah says,
Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,[a]
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
At the moment we are in a time when it seems difficult to bear fruit. It would be easy to despair. We call ourselves the greatest nation on earth. Yet the last few weeks and months have shown us how weak we truly are. We have been threatened by a worrisome sickness for which there is no immunity and no cure. Our livelihoods have been threatened by actions taken to fight that threat, and our union seems in danger of collapse. We are learning again to ask God for our daily bread.
Yet, we have hope, because all this has been foreseen by our God who knows the end from the beginning. Whose set plan and purpose will be accomplished. The almighty creator of the universe, the almighty redeemer who atoned for the sins of the whole world, and the Spirit who calls, gathers, and keeps the church of God by his almighty power will do all that he has said and more. For these three are one in purpose, one in holiness, one in power. God’s will shall be done. In us, through us, and for us. Amen.