Reading: Acts 2:14-42
Last week, Karla let me know that what stood out to her is how incredibly patient Jesus was with the disciples; in spite of the years He spent teaching them, they never learned. The last thing a disciple said to Jesus before he was taken up into heaven showed they still didn’t get it — and, arguably, the little meeting where they decided to roll the dice, and choose a random person who had been with them from Jesus’ baptism to the Crucifixion was a mistake. I noticed that all Peter had to do to get everybody to go along with this was to quote Psalm 109.
Now, unless you believe that Peter received a special gift of prophecy before Pentecost, he almost certainly got the interpretation of Psalm 109 wrong. This is one thing that I’ve noticed in my time as a Christian — so often, we are eager to go forward without the spirit — and somebody will quote a few lines of scripture which sound good, but rarely have anything to do with the situation, making it so that anybody who offers further discussion is `arguing against God’s Word.’ When people do this, I often doubt their sincerity when they say we should honor and respect scripture… but, anyways — the way I read this, Peter did something rash, and grabbed a hold of a few words from scripture to give his words some authority that he didn’t yet have. All they needed to do was wait, and God would bring the apostle that God chose to them.
When Pentecost comes, and the ends of the Earth journeyed to Jerusalem for the second most important celebration that Jews observe — the celebration of God giving the law on Mt. Sinai, a true miracle happens. The spirit comes, and the disciples prophecy. Just as Jesus promised them before leaving, they finally know what to say, because God gave them the words. Pentecost changes everything — the spirit comes, and Peter finally understands what Jesus had been trying to tell him all those years.
Imagine the opportunity; here is a chance to speak to thousands of people all over the world. The crowd is there, the disciples have their attention, and there is a chance that when people ask about their trip to Jerusalem for the holiday they will recount this odd experience. Peter had thousands of people from all over the Jewish world listening to his word; if you could give a single message to thousands of people from the whole Christian world what would you say? Peter was in an intimidating position — almost every time he speaks in the gospels, it is clear he does not understand what is going on. How will Peter, the man who’s foot is always in his mouth, address all these people? Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would give power, and in Luke 12, even what words to answer. If there is a time that Peter needed the promise of the Holy Spirit, this was it.
When Peter spoke on Pentecost, it was different then it was in the past. This little sermon was coherent; it had a structure that you can understand when you see it. When Peter spoke, you could tell that he spoke as somebody who understood, not as somebody who was utterly confused. It is quite amazing that the person who gave the first public sermon, speaking for the Christian community was the person who always had his feet in his mouth; and even more amazing that he mad it through this sermon without embarrassing himself and his community.
He somehow knew the questions the audience was asking and answered them. Peter took the opportunity to tell the world about the resurrection instead of letting them make guesses to explain away a miracle. “We are not drunk as you suppose, it is 9:00 AM” disarms what many people were whispering to one another.
The crowds were doing the exact same thing I would have done — they tried to make sense of something that was strange, so they found an explanation; once you can make a theory about what happened, you can stop being curious about it; and if you are not curious enough to test your theory and nobody challenges it, then you accept that first explanation. Can you imagine if Peter did not challenge this? Everybody would go home, and they would remember an encounter with a group of drunk people one morning, and give what they heard in their own languages very little thought.
Next, Peter explained what happened using a reference that would be familiar. While these people came from all over the world, they were in Jerusalem to celebrate God giving the law to Moses. Speaking to them out of scripture is speaking a language that they understand; and as they are there to celebrate God giving the law, the can understand how wonderful it is to see God pouring out God’s Spirit on human flesh.
After Peter dealt with the idea that everything that happened was induced by too much wine, and explained what had happened in a way that those listening could understand and accept, Peter went into something far more difficult; though any who accepted that this came from the power of God’s spirit would understand that these hard words were prophetic. Peter starts talking about Jesus, a man who was put to death 6 weeks earlier. What Peter says is hard though, as it makes it clear who had him put to death. Peter’s prophecy condemns the leaders of Judah — but he also told them that Jesus, though put to death was raised from the dead.
Peter then quotes from the Psalms, and identifies Jesus as being of David’s line, and announces that the risen and ascended Christ is set upon David’s throne. By doing this, Peter manages to identify the risen Christ as the Messiah that many people are waiting for, while separating Him from the idea that there would be a political Messiah to drive out the Romans and reestablish an Earthly kingdom. Just 6 weeks earlier, the disciples didn’t understand this — but today, Peter manages to communicate it to the crowds. Jesus isn’t a king sitting on a throne in Jerusalem, but a King sitting on a Heavenly throne.
This message was distressing for many who heard this — verse 37 says that they were cut to their heart by what they heard, and asked what to do. Peter told them to repent and to be baptized; preaching that they would receive forgiveness, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and he called on the group to “Save yourself from this corrupt generation.”
Now, I know that the scripture tells me that Peter testified with “many other arguments”. What we read in Acts is just a short summary of Peter’s sermon; While I don’t know how long it takes to make “many other arguments” I cannot imagine it took fewer than 20 minutes. I do know that whatever the exact words were, these words managed to convince about 3000 people to join the Christian community. I don’t know how many of these people were in the crowds who listened to Jesus — but, I do know that one day they were just 120, and the next they were a few thousand — it would be like going to the church where I grew up and seeing one Sunday was just like it had always been, and the next they had to have 10 services to fit everybody inside the building.
Now, I could get into the message of Salvation that Peter preached — one of forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Holy Spirit; but I notice that it is not at all fleshed out here — so that isn’t quite the point. I could lament that no matter how hard we try, we don’t seem to be able to recreate what happened. Our small community doesn’t suddenly become a group of thousands. The thing is, we don’t see this happen again; neither in our own experience, nor even in later chapters of Acts. Sometimes, we see people hearing the gospel, and remaining unconvinced. What we see is that the Jerusalem community suddenly became something similar in size to the influence of Jesus’ physical ministry on Earth; crowds came to Jesus to hear what Jesus taught, similar sized crowds then came to listen to the apostles of Jesus preach.
Acts 2 does not tell me why, it gives me no magic words, nor magic formula beyond Jesus. I don’t believe that the same crowd was shouting `Hosanna’ one week and `Crucify Him’ the next. When Jesus was raised from the dead, He gathered the disciples together, but Peter gathered the crowds. The good news for those who listened to Jesus teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven was that Jesus ascended to sit on Heaven’s throne. You finally learn that your teacher knows that Kingdom because your teacher was King. It really is good news to learn that Christ’s kingdom is lasting, and is not dependent on beating the Romans. Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven can live and encourage one another in Roman occupied Jerusalem, still praising God, living with generous hearts and having the goodwill of their neighbors. The good news is Christ’s reign continues no matter who is emperor in Rome.