Dear Radio Friends,
Today we continue our series on the love for strangers, the love for the brethren, and the love for children.
We do so by considering the words that are found in Acts 2:39, “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” The apostle Peter is recounting how Christ suffered, died, and rose again from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of God and has now sent the Holy Spirit. Some in the crowd were pricked in their hearts and asked Peter and the other apostles: “What shall we do?” And we read that Peter said, in verse 38, immediately before our text: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Then you will notice, as if to assure his listeners, Peter reminds them of the covenant of God, in the Old Testament, which now remains the same in the New: “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
The truth that God calls both from near and from far we consider together for a few moments today.
You know that it is the very preaching of the gospel that Christ died, arose, ascended to the right hand of God, and pours out His Holy Spirit upon His people that is used as the chief means in the hands of God to work repentance and faith in the hearts of men, women, and children from those near and those far. We, then, the people of God, no longer live as worldlings but as saints in the communion of God’s people.
Notice with me that the text speaks of three distinct groups. Peter says, “For the promise is unto you (1), and to your children (2), and to all that are afar off (3).”
First of all, then, the promise is unto you, adult men and women who come under the preaching of the gospel. No doubt the first and most direct reference was to the scattered Jews who had gathered together at Pentecost. You remember that Peter is preaching this sermon at Pentecost. And he had reminded the people that it was promised by the prophet Joel of old, that God would, in the last days, cause His Spirit to come upon all flesh. As the people are still wondering about the gift of tongues that had suddenly come upon the church, Peter declares that, indeed, this was the wonder work of God, who had promised that the Holy Spirit would come, and God would gather His people from all nations, so that they would speak of the wonderful works of God, each one in his own tongue. That, first of all, is the reference in our text. Who, then, are the called from near and from far? You adult men and women from all nations.
Secondly, notice with me also your children. Now that is striking. Understandably, these Jews who had traveled from different nations to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost had come with their families. God’s promise in the Old Testament was to save in the line of generations. That continues in the New Testament, notwithstanding the false teaching of the Anabaptists and others who say that salvation is now only for adults and not for children. Look at our text today. They are wrong who say that the text refers to spiritual children: “You and your spiritual children who come to repentance.” The reference is without doubt to these Jews who had gathered at Pentecost, but also to their covenant seed — children of believing parents, children who may yet be too young to express faith and repentance, but who, nevertheless, receive the promise of God.
Then he adds the third group: “and all that are afar off.” That is, not just you adult Jews. Remember that Joel said that the gospel will go to the nations, because the Spirit will come upon all flesh. The promise is given, not just to those who are within the church, not just to those who are born of covenant parents, but also to those who are gathered from the mission field.
God promised already to Abraham, in Genesis 17, that He would make His covenant with him and his children. We must not forget, however, that even there God not only promised His covenant to Abraham and to his seed after him, but God also told Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Now it has come to pass. When Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead, He was lifted up to draw all men. That is, He was lifted up to draw all the nations. That is why He said to the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all the nations.” The apostle Peter, you will remember, needed a vision from heaven in order to come to a full realization of this. We read in Acts 10 that God showed to him this vision, in which Peter had to take up and eat of the unclean animals. Peter cried out, “Lord, I have never eaten such things.” And the Lord said, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” And while Peter was receiving that word, there came a knock at the door and it was the servants of Cornelius the centurion. The day had come that the apostle had to enter into the home of a non-Jew and bring the gospel also to him.
Also the apostle Paul writes clearly in Ephesians 2:13, “Ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
The text that we are considering today does make a qualification. It is true that the promise of the gospel goes to adults in the church, the children born in the line of the covenant, and to those who are afar off. Nevertheless, the qualifier is this: “As many as the Lord our God shall call.” Not all who are under the preaching, not all our children, and not all who are afar off shall be called. That is simply not the case. The gospel must be preached promiscuously, universally, to every creature. But the promise is not that God wants to save all men, head for head. The promise is that God will save whomsoever He will. “As many as the Lord our God shall call.” And He is pleased to call His own elect, translating them out of darkness into His marvelous light. He calls. That is what our text is all about.
That is the irresistible call whereby Jesus cries out in Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” But even there He calls, not to all head-for-head, but to those that labor and are heavy laden. And He prays in that same passage to the heavenly Father, thanking God that God had revealed this to babes, but has hidden it from those who are the wise and the prudent. God reveals this to His own sheep. He works in their hearts a struggle over their sin. They labor over their sins. They hear the voice of Christ: “Come to me,” and they come and they find rest. We are all familiar with Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good.” To whom? To those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Those who love God are those whom God Himself has called according to His purpose, according to His divine election. And whom He called, them He also justified. And whom He justified, them He also glorified.
Who then are the called from near and from afar? The elect seed, the spiritual seed, the true children of Abraham, as Paul writes in Galatians 3:29, “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed.”
Now you might be listening to this and you might be asking, “What difference does it make whether God calls all or whether God calls some? And why is it important to understand that God is a sovereign God who only calls His people?” Think about that. The difference has everything to do with God Himself. For it points to who God is. Is the God of heaven earth the sovereign God, who accomplishes His purposes by His mighty power? Or is He some kind of a beggar, knocking at the door, pleading to come in, and then depending upon puny man to make the final decision? Behold your God. Behold the God of the Scriptures. Know that He is the calling God. When the triune God calls, He addresses the elect sinner through the gospel. And that sinner is translated from darkness into God’s marvelous light. God calls all things into being. He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. By the same call He raises Pharaoh. Do you know that it is by the sovereign call of God that all things happen, whether it be Tsunamis or earthquakes? He calls and one servant must stay. He calls and another must go. All by the bidding of the Almighty.
But our text today speaks of that particular, blessed call, the saving call to salvation. God, who quickens the dead and calls those things that be not as though they were (Rom. 4:17), has been pleased to call His people out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Pet. 2:9). That which He revealed in Paradise, and then published by the prophets in the Old Testament, has now fulfilled it all in His Son. The Lord Jesus Christ calls. He calls adults. He calls children. He calls those within the church, and He calls those who are afar off. He calls by the preaching of the gospel, by the preaching of the promise of God.
That is what Peter is doing here. He simply states Old Testament promises from the Psalms and the prophets. He illustrates them, and then he applies them to his audience. Notice, there was no altar-call of any sort. The Spirit worked as the apostle Peter was preaching. And the people cried out, “What must we do?” No, this is not “What must we do,” as if it is dependent upon the free will of man to do something in order to be saved. This was a cry of sorrow and repentance.
What does Peter declare? “Repent, and be baptized…. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off.”
What is that promise? There can be no doubt that Peter is declaring the promise of the Holy Spirit. That is what he referred to in the previous verse (”Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost”). Already in verse 33 he says, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he [Jesus] hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.” You see, the promise of God is the Holy Spirit of God. Of course, it goes beyond that. It goes beyond that to all that Peter has been talking about in his sermon — about Jesus’ death, His resurrection, His ascension to the Father’s right hand; about all the promises of God that are given to us in the Scriptures. But who, do you suppose, applies all those promises of God to our hearts? Who brings those words of God and gives to us a new heart so that we can now believe? Who works in us holiness so that we now long for the things of the kingdom of God? The Spirit of God. For, except we are born again, born from above by the Spirit, we cannot even see the kingdom of God.
What is important to remember is this: No spirit, whether it be a spirit in heathendom, or in the church-world, no spirit that does not point directly to Jesus Christ and to Him crucified, can be the Spirit of Christ. Christ told us that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will bring to our remembrance all things that Christ has taught to us. So let us always be careful, let us always test whatever we are taught with the Scriptures, and always test the spirits to see whether or not what we are hearing and what we are learning points us back to Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Important to remember, too, is that God’s promise is a promise. It is not an offer. When I promise my children something, I make a specific declaration of a certain good to a certain child, no strings attached. And then sometimes the children come to me and say, “A promise is a promise. You made a promise. You have to keep your promise.” An offer is something different. An offer is a declaration of something good that is dependent on the recipient. An offer is conditioned by the recipient’s acceptance or rejection. You know that the Bible never refers to the gospel as an offer — not even once! The gospel is a promise. It is God’s promise that He will call His people and He will save them. After all, it is the Lord our God who calls! “As many as the Lord our God calls.” God Himself calls. He calls adults; He calls children; He calls people from the mission field.
The church, therefore, should not introduce all kinds of gimmicks so as to draw the crowds in. Neither must the preacher change the message of the gospel to make it more palatable to man’s taste. God, who created all things by the power of His Word, is pleased to call His own by the preaching of that Word. We must never forget that. We must never forget, in raising our covenant seed, that we must bring the Word. And we must never forget that in the work of missions. God Himself calls.
If He is pleased to call by the lively preaching of the Word, then we must submit ourselves to that Word. In fact, I would say then that, whether we are adults or children or on the mission field, we must submit ourselves and look for a church that faithfully preaches the truth. We must attend the assembling of God’s people where that Word is preached.
But what I have been trying to do in this whole series is to hold before you the consistency that there must be in our love for those within the covenant and our love for those on the mission field. We must never give in to the foolish notion that some truths must be kept back from missions because those on the mission field will not understand them. Neither must we go to the other extreme: “Well, Missionary Mahtani, you should preach repentance to people out there. They have not come to salvation. But don’t you dare preach repentance in the church!” Why not? It is the same Word that must come both to God’s people in the church and to His people on the mission field. In fact, we must have a proper balance. We must not emphasize covenant instruction to the point that we have no time for missions and say missions are not important. Neither must we do evangelism and missions and be so busy in those things that we have no time for covenantal instruction. God’s Word calls us to do both. We must love our children, and we must love the stranger, and both out of the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Do you know why? Because God is always pleased to call His people, whether within the church or from afar off, by the instrumentality of the preaching of the Son of God Himself. God hath made Jesus both Lord and Christ. The risen Lord is the One who calls. God has delegated all power, all authority to Him. We must, therefore, go into all the world and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with the confidence that God will always bring forth a twofold fruit. Not all of our children will walk in the faith. Not all who hear the gospel on the mission field will believe. But God will call whomsoever He will.
The important thing to remember, therefore, is that we must remain faithful. We walk in love for the stranger and in love for our children and for one another. We faithfully bring the truth of the Word of God. And God will accomplish His purpose. Even on the day of Pentecost, not all came to repentance. There were those who mocked. There were those who laughed. There were those who said, “Ah, these people must be drunk with new wine.” But when the apostle Peter began to preach, and as the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts of God’s people, there were those who were pricked in their heart and cried out, “What must we do?” That is, they realized that they were guilty, undone. They were the ones who had so foolishly and so blindly caused the Son of God to go to the cross and to be crucified. What then did Peter say? “Repent and be baptized, every one of you.”
Oh, that is not because now, somehow, repentance is a work that they must do. Not that they are baptized and somehow their baptism will save them. Or that they will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost because of something they do. No, their very repentance and their very baptism will be the evidence that the Holy Spirit has now come to their hearts, that they, indeed, have come into fellowship with the triune God through Jesus Christ and have received that blessed gift of the Holy Spirit. Because the promise is to them, to their children, and to those who are afar off.
Notice in verse 40 (following our text), “And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” This means that it must not just be some few words, “Oh, I repent of my sin,” or “Oh, I’m going to be baptized and make confession of faith,” important as those things are. This must be a change of lifestyle. This must be evidenced by godly repentance. This must be shown by a commitment to the church of Jesus Christ by a confession of your faith, so that now you live as a distinct people, as a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, as I Peter 2 tells us.
Is that true of you? Is it? Do you know that God has called you so that you turn from darkness into His marvelous light, so that you turn from serving idols to serving the true and living God? There is another end, you know, to which God’s people are called. This is emphasized in the rest of Acts 2, which I would encourage you to read. It refers to communion with God and communion with the church. They that gladly received His Word were baptized, and there were added to the church that same day some three thousand souls, who continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. Sometimes we may be inclined to think, “Oh, that’s only for the New Testament church in its first love.” But notice the principles, and understand that that love for the children and love for the strangers and love for the brethren were all there in that New Testament church, so that they continued to be committed to God, communing with God’s people in love one for another under the preaching of the gospel.
The beautiful picture is this, as the last verse of Acts 2 tells us: They were “praising God, and having favour with all the people.” They were interested in the worship of God. They were interested also in evangelism to the people round about them. And in that way God added to the church daily such as should be saved.
So the Word of God mandates us to walk in love, not only for the stranger, not only for the brethren, but also our children! That is why we must focus on godly, Christian parenting. In the weeks to come, we are going to be very practical, speaking from the Scriptures to the calling to train our children, to pray for our children, and to love our children, so that we may be balanced in this whole matter of walking in love for our neighbor.
May God be pleased to continue to bless us as we consider the calling of God’s Word to exercise love for the stranger, for the brethren, and for our children.
Let us pray.
God of the covenant, who dost gather from afar off as well as from our loins, be pleased to bless our children and our grandchildren. Help us that we may be faithful in bringing the promise to those afar off as well as to those in the line of generations. Hear our prayer and bless us here at the Reformed Witness Hour and all who are privileged to hear Thy Word, in order that we, together, may serve Thee, that we, as Joshua of old, will say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.