December 23, 1990
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
GOD SENT HIS SERVANT TO BLESS YOU (Acts 3:22-26)
Moses said, "The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people." And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came afterwards, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, "And in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed." God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.
I want to persuade you this morning that God is moving toward you with great blessing. He is offering you this morning blessing beyond what you now enjoy. And if you will move toward him in faith, if you will believe his good will toward you and make it your hope and treasure, then you will receive the blessing of the Lord appointed for you.
What this passage teaches us this morning is that God brought Jesus onto the scene of history to bless people. God said to his Son in heaven: "The time is fulfilled; I have promised blessing; now is the time to make good on my promise; you will be my emissary of blessing; I want blessing to come to the world; I have so much to give; go now and bless my people, bless them; indeed bless all the families of the earth through them, bless them, bless them."
You can see this in verses 25 and 26:
You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, "And in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed." God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness.
So God's blessing is mentioned twice. In verse 26 it says explicitly that God sent Jesus to the people of Israel TO BLESS them. And when it says that God sent him to Israel FIRST it means that he will send the blessing on to others after that. Verse 25 makes plain that this was God's aim in the covenant he made with Abraham: "In your posterity ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH will be blessed." Blessing for the Jews and then blessing for all the peoples -- and that includes you.
So I say this morning that God is moving toward you with blessing this morning. You are in verse 25. It doesn't matter that almost 2000 years have passed. With God a thousand years is as a day. With him it is as though he made this promise two days ago. That's how fresh the blessing for you is this morning. If you will move toward him this morning in faith you will receive the blessing. That is what Christmas is all about.
Now the word "blessing" today is not an exciting word. It feels for many people unreal, vague, a kind of religious jargon that doesn't seem to have any wallop to it. So let me unpack the three things I see in this text that are part of the blessing God has for you this morning. When God sent his servant Jesus, what blessing did he bring? What does Christmas mean in this text?
First, the coming of Jesus is a blessing because it proves the truthfulness of God -- Jesus proves that God keeps his word, he's trustworthy.
To make that point Peter piles up promises. In verse 22 he says that Moses predicted the coming of a prophet like himself. In verse 24 he says that all the prophets from Samuel on down proclaimed these days -- the days of Jesus. In verse 25 he says that God made a promise to Abraham about these days. The point is that when Jesus comes he confirms the truth of all these promises. He shows that God is trustworthy; he keeps his word.
Here is the way Paul put it in Romans 15:8: "Christ became a servant to the circumcised (i.e., the Jews) to show God's truthfulness, and to confirm the promises given to the fathers." So there it is, stated crystal clear: Christ came to prove that God tells the truth, that God keeps his promises. Christmas means that God can be trusted.
Now I say that this is part of the BLESSING that he brings -- and that he offers this morning. It is a blessing because where it is forsaken moral and spiritual life disintegrates. The foundation of moral life is God's truthfulness. A society that forsakes the centrality of the absolute truthfulness of God forsakes the foundation of truth, the foundation of morality and the foundation of beauty.
Christmas is the reassertion of the foundation of all truth and goodness and beauty, because Christmas means: God is truthful. God's truthfulness is the constant in a universe of flux. God's truthfulness is the unwavering absolute. If we forsake God's truthfulness, the anchor is up, the rudder is loose, the keel is broken and the ship of life (political life, social life, educational life, scientific life, family life) is simply at the mercy of the wind of human wishes.
So I say it with all my heart: demonstrating the truthfulness of God is a great blessing. Give that blessing to your children. Say to the next generation again and again: God is truthful; God keeps his word; God does not lie; God can be trusted! That's the first part of the blessing this morning. Receive it as a wonderful Christmas gift, and give it to as many people as you can.
Second, the coming of Jesus is a blessing because he comes as a prophet like Moses -- a kind of second Moses.
Verse 22: "Moses said, The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you."
Now Jesus is that prophet. He fulfills that promise. But someone might say, "I don't think that's a blessing, because Moses was a lawgiver, not a grace-giver. I don't want another Moses. I want something that cancels out Moses. I want grace."
Something is wrong with that response. Because Peter thinks he is giving good news here. One like Moses has come! The promise is fulfilled! Peter didn't see a conflict between the grace of Jesus and the teaching of Moses. The truth is: we do need a prophet like Moses.
If God is truthful, and his truthfulness is the foundation of all truth and goodness and beauty, then we need someone to reveal to us the truth of God. We can't know this God and we can't know his way unless there is a prophet to tell us. Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me." That is what it means to be a new Moses. The truth-giver, the way-shower, the life-giver.
This is not the opposite of grace. This is grace. Grace not only pardons sin (v. 19); it also shows the path to life. We not only need Jesus as a priest; we need him as a prophet. If every lifestyle led to paradise then perhaps we would need no prophet like Moses to show us the way to Life. But all lifestyles do not lead to paradise. Some lead to destruction.
That's what Peter tells us in verse 23: "And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people." There is a narrow way that leads to life. And there is a broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14). And God sent Jesus as a prophet like Moses to lead us on the one and warn us against the other.
Suppose there were a strip of land in Saudi Arabia and suppose that it were strewn with buried land mines. If a soldier knew the way through the land so that you would not detonate any mines, and he came and offered to take you safely across, would you consider it legalistic and ungracious if he said: "I know the way across; follow me. If you don't, you will be blown to pieces." I say that is loving and gracious to demand I follow and to warn me that there is destruction if I leave him.
That is what Peter is saying here: Jesus is the new Moses who can guide you through the wilderness of life and bring you to the promised land of heaven. There are land mines of sin that can destroy you. Follow Jesus and you will be safe. He is the way the truth and the life.
That's the second blessing offered this morning. Christmas means, first, that God is truthful. And Christmas means, second, that a new Moses has come to show us the truth of God and lead us to life, and save us from destruction.
Third, the coming of Jesus is a blessing because he turns us from our wickedness.
Verse 26: "God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness."
Jesus comes not just to show you the truth of God, like a new Moses, but to work that truth into you by turning you away from evil.
But notice at the end of verse 26 that it says that he is turning "every one of you from your wickedness". What does that mean? Not all those who heard Peter were turned from wickedness. It means, I think, that this is a potential turning in everyone, if they will receive it; if they will trust God for it.
We can see this condition in Acts 15:9 at the end of the verse: "God cleansed their hearts by faith." Faith is the instrument of God's cleansing -- the instrument by which he turns us from wickedness. Or again we see it in Acts 26:18 at the end of the verse: ". . . those who are sanctified by faith in me [Jesus]." Faith is God's instrument of sanctification -- the way he turns us from wickedness.
This is why I said at the beginning that God is moving toward you this morning with blessing, and that if you will move toward him and trust him, you will have the blessing appointed for you.
So the third blessing offered to us this morning is the active help of Jesus to overcome wickedness. He will turn us from evil. Christmas means, first, that God is truthful. It means, second, that a prophet like Moses has come to show us the way of truth and life. And it means, third, that the new Moses does not show us the way and then stand aside to watch us struggle. Instead he joins us on the way, gets involved with our lives and actively turns us -- turns us away from evil, and works the truth of God into us. (Cf. Hebrews 13:20f)
This is the difference between the new Moses and what the scribes made out of the old Moses. Jesus said in Luke 11:46, "Woe to you teachers of the law! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers." The new Moses is not like that. His burden is light and his yoke is easy because he not only puts it on, he also helps carry it. He shows us the way of righteousness and he TURNS us from the way of wickedness.
In summary then, I want to persuade you that God is moving toward you this morning with blessing. You are among the "families of the earth" mentioned in verse 25. The promise of blessing is for you.
And I would offer that blessing to you this morning in the form of three Christmas gifts that Jesus came to give.
First, Jesus came to prove God's truthfulness. It is a precious gift and I urge to receive it: believe that God keeps his promises; God tells the truth; God can be trusted.
Second, Jesus came as a prophet like Moses. He reveals the truth of God and the God of truth. He is the way the truth and the life. He is a reliable guide through the mine field of sin; and he will lead you to the promised land. Trust him.
Finally, Jesus came to turn us from wickedness. He does not merely point; he empowers. He is not watching us struggle. He is with us on the way.
-- Christmas means that God is truthful. -- Christmas means that Jesus came to reveal the truth of God. -- Christmas means that Jesus came to help us live the truth of God.
Copyright 1990, 1998 John Piper