Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The First Christian Sermon

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Act 2:14-36)
This is a lot of text, more than usual for this blog. If you are wondering I tend to divide the text up according to the divisions given my by Bo Giertz in his commentary, which I read in conjunction with writing these posts. But honestly, it is hard to divide this text up any other way. What we have is Peter’s first sermon, at least the first one he gave since the death and resurrection of Christ. And it is a great sermon.
See this is one of those areas of Acts that can’t be said to be just history describing what happened. Now we have the earliest Christian proclamation recorded. What Peter says here, the law he delivers to convict, that applies to you, the gospel, the victory of Christ, the forgiveness of sins he proclaims in the name of Christ that also applies to you. Even his manner of reading the Old Testament and explaining the gospel from it is something we would do well to learn from. Here Peter does something that can’t be done with other religions, something that attests to the veracity of the Christian faith and is not easily dismissed by a thinking man, and that is the fulfillment of at least 4000 years of prophecy recorded in the Old Testament in many and various ways. Peter reaches back to the Old Testament, to the Torah, and says remember when God said he would do this? Well now it is happening. The miracle of Pentecost doesn’t rest on its own, but it is a testimony that sits on the Old Testament.
Peter then explains what it all means. Fifty days had passed since the resurrection. And this had caused a stir in Jerusalem. People were wondering, and talking. Jesus had been a popular man. As he entered Jerusalem it seemed as if all of Israel had placed their hope on him. They cheered as he entered. Sometimes we read the passion account as if it was the whole city that turned out to cry crucify. But this is unlikely on many accounts. The arrest was done in the darkness of night. Witnesses had to be bribed. The Pharisees pulled the whole thing off in fear that at any moment the people would catch on and blow the thing out of the water. They were afraid to stone him themselves. But in the morning light the whole city rose to the sound of cock crows announcing his crucifixion.  It was done. Finished as Christ says. But then the resurrection.
What happened to the body? Where was it? For fifty days this scandalized the city. Rumors floated about the guards falling asleep, and the disciples stealing it. Why would they do that? And if they had, why were they walking about town so afraid of that day, locking themselves in the upper room. Soldiers falling asleep on duty, sure one or two, but a whole watch? No matter how much the soldiers were paid, they themselves would act a bit weird when asked about it, as if the perhaps weren’t telling the truth, and what they said didn’t add up anyway. To be sure the bars and brothels had done good business in the days that followed. And where was the body? There just weren’t any good explanations for it. Maybe this resurrection thing did happen after all? One thing is for sure, no one would have believed Peter for a minute if that tomb had the body of Christ. But it didn’t. The Romans couldn’t produce the body, and neither could the Jews. Any way you cut it, that body was missing, and people had been looking for it, frantically.
Peter gives the most plausible explanation. The only one that fits with a man like Jesus who could raise others from the dead, heal the sick, and make the blind to see. This Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. God had raised him up, he had made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. It only needed to be spoken, the people already suspected it was true. They weren’t wrong after all when they cheered “Hosanna to the son of David” a month and a half ago. He really was the Messiah.

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