Acts 2:22-23, “Man Proposes…”

22] “Men of Israel, hear these words:  Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know – 23] Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death;”  (NKJV)

In our last post, we looked at the first part of this chapter and its description of the events of that extraordinary day.

Remember, it was only 50 days since the crucifixion of Christ.  Many of the men and women in Peter’s audience, for we need not suppose there were only men, many of them had no doubt witnessed the events surrounding that sad day.  Though many of them lived elsewhere, they had traveled to Jerusalem to participate in Passover and the Feast of Weeks, one of the names by which Pentecost was known.  Little had they known when they started out that they would see the fulfillment of what those two days foreshadowed.

Peter reminds them of the facts of the Lord’s ministry, v. 22.  In the words he used on another special occasion, Jesus “went about doing good,”  Acts 10:38.

“He went about doing good.”

I can’t think of a better epitaph.

But he also reminded them of the Lord’s murder, v. 23.

It is here we get into muddy waters, so to speak, not that the Lord died, the Scripture is clear about that, but on the processes or principles that lay behind that death:  “Him being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by wicked hands, have crucified and slain.”  Or as the KJV put it, “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.”

This tells us that the death of Christ wasn’t an accident.  It wasn’t a mistake, as some have taught.  It wasn’t the result, as one writer put it, of “a hastily called meeting of the Divine council.”  How could a professed believer have such a dishonoring view of God?

In one of his writings, Peter put it like this:  He [Jesus] indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world…, 1 Peter 1:20.  And Revelation 13:8 refers to Him as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

“Wait!’ says someone, “Peter says it was done according to the foreknowledge of God.  God foresaw what would happen, just as He chose those whom He foresaw would accept Jesus, 1 Peter 1:2.”

This is a common viewpoint, that God merely reacted to what He foresaw in the actions of men as He looked down from heaven.

Is it Scriptural?  Does God really just “react”?

There’s a lot that could be said about this.  In fact, we did a post a while back on this subject.  For now, let’s just say that Scripture itself uses this imagery of God looking down from heaven.  Psalm 14:2 says,

The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God
.

If the “foreknowledge” view were correct, we would expect to read that God does indeed see many “who understand, who seek God.”  Is that what the Psalmist describes?

On the contrary.  Psalm 14:3 says,

They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt:

There is none who does good,
No, not one.   (emphasis added)

Paul refers to this in Romans 3 in his teaching of the universal sinfulness, rebellion and condemnation of mankind and concludes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, v. 23.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t good, humanly speaking, among men.  I expect even Hitler did “good” to those whom he loved, in spite of the misery and suffering he caused a lot of other people.  It means that there is nothing good in men as far as God is concerned.  Isaiah 64:6 puts it like this,

But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags:
We all do fade as a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind,
Have taken us away. 

That phrase, “filthy rags”?

It refers to a cloth used by a woman during her time of the month or used by a leper for his sores.  Not a very pretty description.

And that’s “our righteousnesses,” those little acts of goodness we do once in a while.  What must our “unrighteousnesses,” our sins be like?

I’m glad God didn’t decide to give us what we deserve, but sent His Son to do what we couldn’t do.  No force on earth could have put the Lord Jesus on the Cross if He hadn’t been willing to go.  And no force on earth could have kept Him away from it since He was willing.

But Peter doesn’t stop with the counsels and purpose of God.  He goes on in v. 23,

“you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.”

The question is often asked,  “If God is sovereign and foreordains everything, how can man be responsible for his actions?”  And that’s a good question.

The Scripture never answers it.  It just says that they’re both true statements.  There are many instances of this in Scripture.  Perhaps the best known one is found in Genesis 50.

You remember the story.  Joseph had been the favorite son of his father Jacob.  Moreover, he apparently was a tattle-tale, telling his father of the misdeeds of his eleven brothers.  They got back at him by selling him into slavery and, for 13 years, Jacob lamented the death of his son.  Fast forward, and Joseph has become second-in-command in Egypt.  His brothers needed to go down to Egypt twice to get food, and the second time, Joseph revealed to his brothers that he was their brother.  Naturally they were terrified and begged him not to pay them back for what they had done to him.  He replied, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?  But as for you, you meant  evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive,” vs. 19, 20.

The brothers meant only evil toward their brother and were responsible for what they did.  God meant only good.  So here, with Peter’s message.  The crowd who crucified Jesus meant only evil and were fully responsible for their attitudes and actions.  God meant it for good.

Two  parallel truths.

God is God.

Men are responsible for their attitudes and actions.

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“The Kindness of God.” Part 2: “Sin Entered.”

We began our post last time using the question in Psalm 8:4 as a starting point, what is man, that you are mindful of him?   We looked at the creation of Adam and Eve and their subsequent disobedience to a simple command of God: a single tree in the Garden is out of bounds.  And He told them why, they would die.  We discussed what that meant to them.

In this lesson, we want to look at what that means to us.

The Scripture speaks of man being created “in the image of God,” as we’ll see below, and so there are those who talk of  “the divinity of man,” and the “divine spark” in his heart that only needs to be fanned a little for man to show what a wonderful person he really is deep down inside.  This isn’t what the Scripture means.  God did not create another “god.”

B. The Condition of the Family of Adam and Eve.

In Romans 5, Paul built upon the historical fact of the Fall of our first parents in his development of its effects.  Scripture from Genesis to Revelation shows us the condition of the human family.

1.  Man is fallen naturally, Genesis 5:3.

More attention should be paid to this verse.  Genesis 1:27 says that God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him. However, Genesis 5:3 says that Adam…fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth (emphasis added).  There are those who believe that every infant is born “in the Garden,” that is, innocent and without sin.  Innocent they may indeed be of actual transgression, but, as there was never an infant born in the actual Garden, so there is no infant born without a sin nature.  It doesn’t take very long in real life for an infant to demonstrate that he is indeed a sinner, “born and bred.”  No parent ever has to teach his child to be selfish, be dishonest, to lie or to cheat.  They go astray as soon as they are born, Psalm 58:3.  There is no “divinity” in man; there is only, if I may coin a phrase, “devility.”

2.  Man is dead spiritually, Ephesians 2:1-3.

Paul described the unsaved as dead in trespasses and sins.  Clearly, this doesn’t mean non-existence or unconsciousness, as some erroneously teach about physical death.  However, spiritual death cannot be compared exactly to physical death.  A corpse is totally passive and unresponsive, seeing nothing, feeling nothing, knowing nothing and doing nothing.  It is completely indifferent to its surroundings.  It is dead.  However, according to Paul, spiritual death is a condition of separation from, rebellion against and resistance to God.

“Death” refers to both an event and to a condition.  We say, “So-and-so died,” referring to the event that ends physical life.  We say, “So-and-so is dead,” referring to the condition that results from the event.  For mankind spiritually, the event took place when Adam disobeyed God.  From that time forward, beginning with Cain and continuing down to us and our children and grandchildren, every single one of us has been born into the condition of spiritual death.  We are “born dead” spiritually as surely as we are “born alive” physically.  This condition has two elements:

a.  separation.

Physical death separates us from our family and friends; spiritual death separates us from God.  To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote of their pre-conversion life in part as being separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, having no hope and without God in the world, Ephesians 2:12, (emphasis added).  In spite of all the religion in the world, without the Lord Jesus Christ we are all afar off from God, Ephesians 2:13.  We are dead to God.  But there is also –

b.  alienation.

Paul wrote to the church at Colosse that they once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, Colossians 1:21.  In our natural state, so far from our being His children and He the Father of all mankind, as many believe, – so far from our struggling toward Him in some dim and obscure fashion, – so far from our being on one of the many roads which lead to heaven, – we are His enemies, Romans 5:10.  We have turned every one to his own way, Isaiah 53:6.  We are dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1 (emphasis added).

3.  Man is dysfunctional personally. 

Another term for this is “total depravity,” which conveys an inaccurate picture.  When we think of someone who is depraved, we think of a Hitler or some vile criminal.  However, that’s not really the meaning of the word.  Even Hitler did “good” on occasion.  The word itself comes from the Latin.  “Pravus” means “bent” or “crooked,” and “de” is a particle emphasizing the meaning of the word.  So then, being “totally depraved” means that we are “thoroughly bent.”  We are dysfunctional; nothing works right.

As to his personality, man may be considered in three aspects:  mind, emotions and will.  With his mind, man thinks, reasons, understands.  With his emotions, he has feelings and desires.  With his will, he makes choices and decisions.  The Fall has affected all three of these areas, even the will.

a. the mind.

Part of our difficulty lies in the fact that we are finite, that is, mere creatures, trying to understand the works and ways of One who is infinite.  As well might an amoeba try to understand physics as for us to “understand” God.  Still, our main difficulty lies in the fact that we are fallen, sinful creatures.  Even what little we do know is messed up.  Jude wrote, whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these they corrupt themselves, Jude 10.  No part of our lives or being has escaped being “messed up” by the fallenness, the sinfulness, of man.

However, the fatal flaw lies in our lack of “spiritual” understanding.  In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul taught that the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Two things are in this verse:  1). We won’t receive the things of God because we think they’re foolish.  This refers to our attitude toward them.  2).  We can’t received the things of God because we don’t have the ability to receive them.  We are dead in regard to them.  In Romans 8:7, Paul wrote, the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot (emphasis added).  “The mind set on the flesh” is another way to describe “the natural man:”  us as we’re born physically.

b.  the emotions.

Our Lord taught that men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil, John 3:19.  For the most part, man loves his sin and is quite content to remain in “darkness.”  As long as the gospel “invitation” centers on his escaping the consequences of his sin, man will listen.  “Do you want to be saved from hell?”  Of course, he does, even if he doesn’t believe such a place exists.  Folks may joke about it or use it as a swear word, but no one in their right mind wants to go there.  However, if the question is, “Do you want to be saved from your sins?” the response is usually quite different.

c.  the will.

Here’s where the controversy lies.  Many who say they believe in “total depravity” believe as well, contrary to Scripture, man is able to understand and to receive the things of God, especially salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, without or perhaps with a little grace that leaves the final choice up to man.  After all, “whosoever will.”  However, Revelation 22:17 says, And let him that is athirst come.  And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely (KJV).  How many people out there in the world, or even in “church” for that matter, are “athirst” for the water of life?

At the same time, let us agree that man does indeed have a will.  When I say the will been affected by the Fall, I don’t mean that it has been destroyed, as some claim the doctrines of grace teach.  We make choices all the time, even about spiritual matters and about God and His Word.  Indeed, it is the choices we make that determine the kind of life we lead and the kind of person we are.  Man has a will.

The question is not whether or not we have a will, but how does it work?  In other words, how does a man or woman, boy or girl, decide something at any particular moment and in any given situation?  What “decides” the deciding?

Further, let us agree that the man or woman, girl or boy, actually makes the choice and does the acting.  We’re neither puppets or robots.  On the one hand, it’s possible to take a belief in the sovereignty of God to the point where that is what is really being said.  For example, I used to know a brother who would always say, “I was caused to believe.”  He would never say, “I believe.”  Cf. 2 Timothy 1:12.  The sovereignty of God does not negate, diminish or undermine the will of man.  On the other hand, it’s possible so to emphasize man’s will that a “No Trespassing” sign is, in effect, put up, and God can’t do anything in our lives without our permission.  Though much more prevalent, this view is as wrong as the other.

In order to understand how the will functions, look at two examples of its working:  one before the Fall, and one after.

Genesis 3:6 says, …when the woman saw that the tree was food for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…. Her mind and her emotions were both involved.  The fruit of the tree was good for food and could make one “wise.”   These appealed to her thought, her mind.  The tree was a delight to the eyes, and its fruit desired.  These appealed to her feelings, her emotions.  Based on these factors, Eve “willed,” deciding to take and eat the fruit.  Her choice did not happen by itself.  Neither do ours.

We see the other example, after the Fall, in Joshua 7, especially v. 21.  Compare the two incidents.  They are identical.

If a person is hostile toward God, thinks His Word is foolish and wants no part of righteousness, it’s unreasonable to assume that his will, his choice, is not affected and determined by these things.  As much as modern man might want it, the will is not isolated and insulated from what we are.  It’s in the same boat we are, and goes along for the ride quite “willingly.”

Beside the will does “decide,” but follow through isn’t always successful.  How many of you have decided to lose weight, or quit smoking or some other bad habit?  How about starting some good habit, like exercising or reading Scripture more faithfully or more regular prayer?  Paul knew this:  to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good, I find not, Romans 7:18.

4.  Man is declared guilty judicially, John 3:18. 

In Ephesians 2:3, Paul wrote that even believers, though elect from the foundation of the world, 1:4, are by nature children of wrath, just as the others.  See also John 3:36; Romans 3:19.  There is a mistaken notion that everybody is headed for “a better place,” regardless of what kind of life was lived by the person going there, or what kind of person they were.  However, John 3:18 says of those who do not believe in Christ that they are condemned already.  We may not want to believe it, but Scripture reveals that it is already too late.  It’s too late for good works, for reformation, for turning over a new leaf!  Apart from the Lord Jesus, we’re condemned already!  It’s too late for religion, for ceremony, for good intentions.  The verdict has already been reached:  we are guilty before God and sentenced for execution.  Apart from the Lord Jesus, this life is little more than a cell on death row, and life is simply a waiting for the executioner to come and carry out the sentence.   He who does not believe is condemned already, John 3:18.

5.  Man is disapproved individually, Romans 3:10, 11. 

 It’s human nature to believe that we’re better than Scripture says we are.  After all, look at so-and-so!  The trouble is, with Scripture, we are the “so-and-so” – there is no difference…, Romans 3:22.  In the verses at the heading of this section, Paul tells us:

a.  there is none righteous.  

This means that none of us measure up to God’s holy standard, as revealed in His Word and demonstrated by the Lord Jesus.  Our very best, our “acts of righteousness,” are nothing more than filthy rags in the sight of God, Isaiah 64:6.  What must our unrighteousness be in His sight?  The term “filthy rags” refers to a menstrual cloth, or a rag that a leper might use to wipe his sores.  Not very pretty, but a graphic description of our natural state before God.

b.  there is none who understands.

“Understands” what?  Our condition before God, in contrast to His perfect holiness and righteousness.  Man can and does understand much of the world he lives in, but forgets he must answer to the One who created, sustains and governs it.

c.  there is none who seeks after God.

Because of our innate belief that “loincloths” are sufficient to cover whatever deficiencies we might have, we don’t realize that God is the only One who can do that. We don’t understand that our “answers” are all wrong!  And too often, we don’t care.  In our sinfulness, we refuse to come to God, yet He is the only One with the answer to our sin problem.

In our next post, we’ll begin to look at how He has answered it.

Questions

 1.  Whose image did Adam pass along to his children?

 2.  What is the effect of this?

 3.  What does “spiritually dead” mean?

 4.  What are the two elements of spiritual death?

 5.  What does “total depravity” mean?

 6.  How does total depravity affect our mind?

 7.  Our emotions?

 8.  Our wills?

 9.  What is our standing before God judicially?

10. What is our standing before God individually?

11. What is “righteousness”?