In the 1940’s a group of Christian businessmen in Los Angeles joined together with a common vision to reach the city for Christ. They formed a committee called, “Christ for Greater Los Angeles,” which would sponsor evangelistic meetings with an effort to reach Los Angeles. In those days, big evangelistic meetings the thing to do. They were yielding great evangelistic fruit all over the nation.
Beginning in 1943, they sponsored citywide campaigns every year with great success. In 1945, they packed out the Hollywood Bowl for a youth rally. Some 18,000 people attended. Some 1,000 people made a decision for Christ. As successful as these evangelistic meetings were, nothing could compare with what took place in 1949. That fall, they invited Billy Graham to come to Los Angeles.
Billy Graham had already done some evangelistic campaigns in some other states with a measure of success. These meetings would normally run for a week or two, with meetings every night. These campaign would build to a crescendo as those who often come the next night with some friends that they invited. The campaign in Los Angeles was scheduled to run for three. That is, meetings every night for three weeks, including two meetings on Sundays.
Billy Graham sensed that the rallies in Los Angeles had great potential. But he had some concerns. He was concerned about the number churches involved. He wanted more. He wrote in February of 1949, seven months before the campaigns, "I stand upon the brink of absolute fear and trembling when I think we might come to Los Angeles with only a small number of churches.” He was also concerned about the budget. He believed it to be too small. He was praying big and dreaming big.
Come September 1949, they had a huge tent set up at the corner of Washington and Hill streets in Los Angeles. It was the largest tent ever constructed for evangelistic meetings. They aptly referred to it as “The Canvas Cathedral.” Each meeting consisted of beautiful gospel music, testimonies of those who have given their lives to Christ, and preaching of the gospel. People came in droves. The campaign averaged some 3,000 people every night, with 4,000 on Sunday afternoons.
The campaign was planned to go for three weeks, 21 consecutive days of meetings. But as Sunday, October 16th approached, their last scheduled Sunday, they sensed more. More and more people were coming. More and more people were interested in hearing about Jesus. And after much prayer, they decided to continue on. So, they extended the campaign a week.
During that first extended week, news reached William Randolph Hearst about the events. Hearst was the owner of two prominent newspapers in Los Angeles. He had heard the testimony of one of his friends who converted to Christ and was encouraged by all that Billy Graham was doing. So, he gave orders to his editors “Puff Graham.” The next day, the news of the campaign ran front page. The stories were picked up by papers in New York, Chicago, Detroit, and San Francisco.
That next day, Graham and his team were met by scores of reporters and photographers as they arrived at the tent. Graham said, “They had taken almost no notice of the meetings up until now, and very little had appeared in the papers.” But now, all was changed. Listen to how Billy Graham describes it all, ...
The newspaper coverage was just the beginning of a phenomenon. As more and more extraordinary conversion stories caught the public’s attention, the meetings continued night after night, drawing overflow crowds. Something was happening that all the media coverage in the world could not explain. And neither could I. God may have used Mr. Hearst to promote the meetings, as Ruth [his wife] said, but the credit belonged solely to God. All I knew was that before it was over, we were on a journey from which there would be no looking back.
Indeed, Billy Graham would identify the Los Angeles campaign of 1949 as the “watershed” moment of his ministry. With the publicity of that event, Billy Graham’s ministry was launched worldwide. He would continue on to conduct over 400 crusades in 185 countries.
The campaign in Los Angeles ended up carrying on for eight weeks. That was 72 meetings in all. Billy Graham had preached 65 full sermons and had given hundreds of evangelistic talks to small groups. Further, there were interviews with reporters and talks on the radio. In all, Graham preached to 350,000 people in Los Angeles. They recorded 3,000 people who were converted to Christianity. Now, in our text this morning, Acts 2:37-41, we also see 3,000 people converted to Christ.
The words of Acts 2:37-41 are the response of the crown to Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Peter preached the sermon in response to the Holy Spirit being poured out upon his disciples and they all began speaking in tongues, that is, in languages that they didn’t know and never studied.
For the past few weeks, we have been looking at this sermon. It’s an amazing sermon! It is filled with Scripture. It is filled with Jesus. It is preached with passion and power. The response was incredible. We read in verse 41 that 3,000 people were converted on that day, the same number that is reported for the eight weeks of meetings held in Los Angeles in 1949.
There were many similarities between Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and Los Angeles in 1949. There was an obvious blessing of God, as so many people were interested in spiritual things. God’s people would certainly have been encouraged by so many people gathering to hear the gospel. And crowds create excitement and enthusiasm. During these days of COVID-19, our enthusiasm for the major sporting leagues is down. Why? Because there are no crowds. Without the crowds come less enthusiasm.
The common term for what happened on Pentecost and in Los Angeles is "Revival." Revival happens when the Holy Spirit moves in an extra-ordinary way in the church, working in the lives of unbelievers and believers. During revival, the Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers, bringing them to repentance and salvation. During revival, the Holy Spirit gives believers a fresh experience of the power of God in their lives, leading to confession of sin and greater passion to pursue the Lord in the word an in prayer. These sorts of things happened in 1949 in Los Angeles. And these sorts of things happened on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. That’s why my message this morning is entitled, “Revival in the Early Church.”
Now, certainly, there were vast differences of what happened at Pentecost and in Los Angeles. At Pentecost, there were only 120 known followers of Jesus, whereas in Los Angeles, there were millions of followers of Jesus worldwide at the time of the campaign. So, adding 3,000 to the church was minimal in 1949. But when the church increases 25-fold, as it did on Pentecost, it’s a big deal! Especially when all of this happened on one day, not spread over 8 weeks of meetings.
Further, in Los Angeles, there were years of laying the groundwork for such a large event. The had years of meetings, where people became somewhat acquainted with the evangelistic style campaigns. People who had come in previous years were inclined to come again the next year. This is often how ministry works. An even one year leads to greater success the next year, building even further the year after that. Also, there was massive coordination with other churches in 1949. There was a large budget. There was a tent erected for everyone to gather.
Not so in Jerusalem. This was the first time anything like this had ever happened. People had little to no category for what was taking place. There was no planning on the human level. There were no meetings and no budget and no tent. It was a sovereign display of his power. This is true revival, when the work is clearly the Lord’s work. And that’s what we see in Acts, chapter 2.
The chapter begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. They speak in tongues. This miracle gives Peter the opportunity to stand and speak. He begins by explaining what is taking place. He tells the people that they are witnessing the fulfillment of Joel, chapter 2, which prophesied of the day when the Spirit would be poured out upon God’s people and they would prophesy. And these days signaled a time of revival, such that "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21).
After explaining Joel 2, Peter transitioned to speak about Jesus. Peter mentions his life and death and burial and resurrection and ascension and exaltation. Particularly, Peter focused upon the resurrection, which most of those present didn’t really comprehend. They had seen his life with their eyes. They had witnessed some of his miracles. They had seen his death in Jerusalem during the days of the Passover, a few weeks before. But, they had only heard about the resurrection, as Jesus appeared only to a chosen few. I believe that there was uncertainty in their minds about Jesus raising from the dead. This is why Peter spends so much of his sermon on the resurrection.
Peter opened up Psalm 16, which required a resurrection of the Messiah, as the Psalm teaches how the Messiah wouldn’t experience decay in the grave. He also preached from Psalm 110, which prophesied of the Messiah exalted at the right hand of God! Finally, Peter concludes with some pointed application in verse 36, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
At this moment, conviction of sin set in upon those listening. And here is where we pick up our text.
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
As we work through our passage this morning, I simply want to point out some characteristics of revival that we see in these verses. What we see in these verses are always present in true revival. They are also always present in true salvation. The first characteristic is this, ...
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Those in Jerusalem came to realize exactly what they had done. They had killed their Messiah. The one who had come to save them and give them life, they rejected and put to death. In chapter 3, and verses 14-15, Peter gives practically the same message, ..
You [delivered over and] 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.
In other words, life was offered to you, and you chose death. Those in Jerusalem felt it deep within. We read in verse 37, “they were cut to the heart.” That’s a good translation. The New American Standard Bible says that “they were pierced to the heart.” The King James Version says that “they were pricked in their heart.” Something deep within was paining them.
Other translations, that are a bit more interpretive help to fill out the meaning of these words. The NET Bible says that “they were acutely distressed.” The Contemporary English Version says that “they were very upset.” The Good New Translation says that “they were deeply troubled.” That’s why the Holman Christian Standard Bible says that “they came under deep conviction.” They saw their sin and were mourning over what they had done. They were experiencing conviction of sin. They were fulfilling the words of Zechariah 12:10, "When they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn."
Nothing touches the heart of people when one of their children dies, especially if it’s their only child. Do you remember Pharaoh? He was unfazed by the multitude of plagues that came upon him and upon Egypt during the days of Israel's bondage under his rule. But when the LORD came and struck down his firstborn son (Exodus 12:29), the sorrow was too much for Pharaoh. He ordered the Hebrews to leaved the land, saying, "Up, go out from among my people, ... and go, serve the LORD, as you have said" (Exodus 12:31). This is because of the "great cry in Egypt" over the number of sons who had died in the night. There was deep mourning and sorrow.
Such sorrow was taking place here in verse 37, only it wasn’t a child, it was the messiah. That’s why they cried out to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?” Their conviction of sin led to a cry for help. This is always what takes place when a sinner is saved from sin. There comes this conviction, this weight of the world upon their heart, when they realize what they have done. And then, there’s a cry for help, a plea for mercy and grace.
Have you ever come to that place, where you have seen your sin and have reached the end of yourself? Have you embraced the knowledge that you have no hope in standing before God on your own merits? This is the first step of salvation: conviction of sin. If you claim to be a Christian, you need to come to this place. You need to know that you have come to this place. Perhaps, you have come to this place often. Remember the apostle Paul, who described his own battle with sin, "Wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:24). His repentance was continual and ongoing. Remember Martin Luther, who wrote his 95 Theses. Listen to the first of his theses: "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent' (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
During revival, this takes place in mass. In other words, revival is when many people all come to the conviction of sin in the same season. Here in Acts we see the crowds all coming to the same realization together. Did you notice the plural usage? "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). "They" and "they" and "we" are plural words. They refer to the crowds. This is a sign of revival, when multiple people of sin all come under conviction of sin.
This cry for help may come in various forms. Here, it’s a direct cry for some sort of direction. “What shall we do?” Sometimes, this cry is simply an expression of the heart. When Isaiah saw his sin, he said, “I am undone!” (Isaiah 6:5). When Peter saw his sin, he said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). When the tax collector in Jesus’ parable came under conviction, he beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Sometimes, there aren’t even words. When the sinful woman was in the presence of Jesus, she simply wept at his feet, wiping the tears off of Jesus’ feet with her hair.
However this conviction of sin manifests itself, it comes with a promise. The promise in is Joel 2, which Peter quotes in verse 21, "It shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." That’s what this cry is in verse 37, "What shall we do?". It’s a calling upon the Lord. In this case, it’s calling upon people to help know what to do. And Peter is crystal clear in verse 38, ...
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s my second point, ...
They asked, “What shall we do?” Peter gives them two things: repentance and baptism.
Repentance is the act of turning from sin in sorrow. It includes confession of sin. It includes a resolution to turn from that sin. It includes crying out to God. Deep down, repentance is change of mind about one’s life. It signifies a life-changing decision to change the direction of one’s life. Rather than living for self, the repentant one will life for God. The repentant one will hate his sin which he once loved, and he will love the Lord, whom he once despised.
Baptism is the expression of that repentance. It is the outward sign of the inward reality of one’s life with God. It symbolizes a cleansing from sin, as a sinner is immersed in water, bathed, if you will in the cleansing power of God to forgive. It’s a symbolism of life, as coming out of the water demonstrates the newness of life that comes with conversion. In Romans, chapter 6:4, Paul uses the symbolism of baptism to describe salvation. "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).
Now, there are many who would look to this verse and say that baptism is necessary for salvation. They say, “Look there! Isn’t that what it says?” "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." There are two things here required for salvation: repentance and baptism. They say, "Both of them are necessary for forgiveness. Both are necessary for salvation."
I agree, if you would take this verse alone, it might appear that way. However, when we look to other places in the Scripture, we don’t find baptism as necessary for salvation. It would be unwise and incorrect to stand on one verse, when others put forth a clearly different story. Consider the following verses, where we find Peter preaching to the when Peter preaches to much the same crowd of those gathered on Pentecost. After telling them, “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15), he said ...
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.
There is no mention of baptism in this verse at all. And Peter can’t be accused of giving a half-message here because he didn’t mention baptism, because thousands more were saved through his preaching. And they were being saved because they repented and believed, not because they were baptized. "But many of those who had heard the word [i.e. “repent and turn back that your sins may be blotted out"] ... believed and the number of the men came to about five thousand" (Acts 4:4). It is significant that there is no mention of baptism in the story of their salvation.
Further, if you survey the rest of Acts, you don’t see baptism as necessary for salvation. One of the clearest cases comes in Acts 16, when Paul and Silas were in prison for preaching the gospel. There was an earthquake, which set the prisoners free. But, they didn’t escape. It brought the jailer to conviction of sin. He asked them plainly, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). He didn’t say believe and be baptized and you will be saved. He simply said, “Believe.”
So, why did Peter say "repent and be baptized ... for the forgiveness of your sins?" Because, in his mind, these two things always came together. You see this in the book of Acts. There are baptisms all over the place. But it’s always faith first. And then baptism comes afterwards as a sign of that faith as a public identification of yourself as a follower of Jesus.
The best example of this comes in Acts, chapter 8, when Philip was preaching to the Ethiopian Eunuch. When the Eunuch came to faith along the dry, desert road in the south, he saw some water and said, "See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:36). And Philip says, “If you believe with all your heart, you may" (Acts 8:37). And the Eunuch said, “I do.” So, he was baptized that very moment.
Often in the book of Acts, we see people baptized immediately after coming to faith. When the gospel came to the Gentiles (in Acts 10), the Holy Spirit came upon them right after Peter said, “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43). Forgiveness of sins comes through belief (not baptism). When the gift of the Holy Spirit came upon them, Peter said to those around him, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47). So, they were baptized, because “God ... granted [them the] repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).
Did you see the order here? It was faith, then baptism. It was faith and forgiveness, then baptism. But if baptism must come before forgiveness (as those who appeal to Acts 2:38 say), then it must also come before receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). But this is contrary to the experience of those in the household of Cornelius. Because they believed and received the gift of the Holy Spirit before baptism.
Sadly, in churches today, baptism doesn’t follow so quickly after salvation. There are several reasons for this. I think that the biggest is that we have established churches, with generations of Christians. This was not the case in the early church. But in our time, kids will grow up surrounded by the Scriptures. They hear about Jesus from their youth. Often, for kids who don’t outwardly rebel, there’s no great point of change in their life where they turn from sins of the world because they have been protected from many evils that ungodly homes bring into their lives. And so, ... baptism gets delayed until they are old enough to fully understand and embrace the gospel. And their delay often leads to the delay of others.
Now, in pagan nations, this is not the case. In my missionary journeys to Nepal and India, I have witnessed baptisms quickly after salvation. Because, they are making a clean break with their past. They are proclaiming their allegiance to Jesus in their baptism, and not to Buddha or Vishnu or Shiva. And we can learn from these nations.
Before I leave this point, I need to ask you, "Have you been baptized?" I know of a handful of you who haven’t been baptized. You have talked with me about baptism, and we hope to have a service at some point. But COVID-19 has sort of put a twist on when we will have this service. Especially since some of those who are wanting to be baptized are not with us in person right now, choosing to be online instead. But we will have a service at some point. So, if you want to be baptized, please come talk with me.
Let’s move on. We have seen, ...
1. Conviction of Sin (verse 37)
2. Repentance and Baptism (verse 38)
Let’s look now at ...
The promise is clearly stated there in verse 39, ...
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Now, the “promise” referred to here goes back to the gift of verse 38, in which Peter states, "... and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." That is, the Holy Spirit will be given to you when you repent and believe. The presence of the Spirit in one’s life is a sign of salvation. We know of how the Holy Spirit works in conversion. "God saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5). The Holy Spirit is active in regeneration. The Holy Spirit is active in sanctification. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).
And the presence of the Holy Spirit won’t come and go as he did in the Old Testament. He will always be with us. This is the promise. It extends beyond us. "For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off." That is, we have a generational change that has come in Jesus. He promises the Holy Spirit to those of Peter’s day who would repent. He promises the Holy Spirit to the children of those in Peter’s day who would repent. He promises the Holy Spirit to those who are far off who would repent.
In these words, Peter is foreshadowing the conversion of Gentiles who are far from God now, but will come near to God through the cross of Christ. You might put it like Joel 2, (which Peter quoted earlier), "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21). Salvation is available to all who call upon the Lord! But salvation will come only to those who God calls. This is what verse 39 says, "the promise is for ... everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” This is why we have hope in the gospel, because God is the one who is working in the lives of people. He will convict them of their sin. God grants repentance that leads to life. God gives the Holy Spirit.
If it were left up to unbelieving people to believe, they never would. Because they are dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). God needs to act! God needs to make them alive (Ephesians 2:4-6). And act he will! He is calling many to himself! If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, know this, that God has called you to himself. He has broken into your life, granted sight to your sin-stained eyes to see the glories of Christ, and given you the faith to believe (Ephesians 2:8-9)!
This is our hope! This is why we pray for the salvation of our loved ones, because God is the one who will call them to himself! So we pray that God would break into their lives and cause them to see their sin, and bring them to conviction and bring them to repentance. And this happens in revival.
Revival happens when God is doing the work. There are plenty of man-made methods that will get people to make "decisions" for Jesus. Many times, such people will fall away. But when God coverts a soul, it will never fall away, because God has made a change in them deep within. It will be true and will last forever. And so we pray.
Let’s look at our last point this morning, ...
And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
This sermon here in Acts 2 wasn’t the only message that Peter preached on the day of Pentecost. Luke (the author) is telling us that after the sermon Peter preached in verses 14-36), and after the people cried for help (Acts 2:37) and after Peter told them to repent (Acts 2:28-29), there were “many other words.”
Just as Billy Graham preached a bunch of sermons publicly to all in Los Angeles in 1949, he also said that he gave many other evangelistic talks with small groups of people. He had many interviews. He had many phone calls. I read in his biography that he was summoned to the hotel rooms of people who had been attending the campaign to talk with them. Also, he and his wife (Ruth) wouldn't leave the meeting until everyone who wanted to speak with him was done speaking.
I can’t help but to think that this was Peter’s method as well. Not only was he preaching to the crowds. He was also speaking to smaller groups and individuals. And his main message? "Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” There could not be a more applicable message for us today. Our generation is a “crooked generation.”
This has especially been on display during the presidential elections. We hear name-calling that goes back and forth. We have candidates that are hated from both sides. Our country has many sins that show up in our racial conflicts that we have. We have high crime rates and many people in prison. We allow abortion upon demand. We encourage people in their sexual sin. The internet is used to expose the corruption of others. It is all around.
Even our society knows how bad our society is. I heard this past week someone comment on the situation we are in, saying, "I’m really bummed. I heard someone predict that someone will win the election on Tuesday.” In other words, there are many who like neither presidential candidate, because they have no hope.
This world is not our home. We need to be separated from the world. We need to be saved from this generation. If you go the way of this generation, you won't be saved. You will be lost. I think of the way our society is going. It's not good. If you simply ride the wave of our culture, you will ride it all the way on the wide way to destruction. But we need to save ourselves from this to go the narrow path that leads to life (see Matthew 7:13-14). And there are many who went that narrow path on the day of Pentecost. We read in verse 41, that 3,000 followed the path to life, through trusting in Jesus.
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
So, those who received the message of Peter, realized their guilt (Acts 2:37), repented, and were baptized (Acts 2:38). The number of them were 3,000. The picture here is that Peter was preaching to the crowds, including many follow-up meetings and exhortations. Throughout the day, 3,000 people were immersed in water as a sign of their cleaning and identification with Jesus.
How appropriate is all of this happened on Pentecost. Pentecost was the feast of the first fruits. That is, the first of the harvest. Pentecost was when they celebrated the barley harvest, which came in earlier than any other crop. So likewise, these are the first believers that come into the church.
I love how God planned it all. I smile when I think about the LORD instructing Moses in Exodus 23:14-17 about the three national feasts that Israel should celebrate together in Jerusalem. I think of how God was thinking about the day of Pentecost when the illustration would come true in the church. Jesus died and resurrected according to plan. Then, seven weeks after his resurrection, God brought his first fruits into his church that he is building. What a wonderful plan of redemption the Lord has brought to us!
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on November 1, 2020 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rockvalleybiblechurch.org.
 "Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham," p. 144.
 Ibid., p. 149.
 Ibid., p. 150.
 If you are interested in reading further, here are some online links that you may find helpful.
 This verse (Acts 8:37) isn't in many of the best manuscripts. Even if it was added by a scribe later, it demonstrates an attempt to clarify the teaching of the church, that baptism is for those who believe.