Peter’s Pentecost sermon – which a portion of it is our first reading today, the full sermon is in Acts 2:14-41 – is worth pondering deeper.
What gives Peter the opportunity to preach? Something has happened. We know from reading the story that what was happening is the Holy Spirit has come, but nobody else understands that. In fact everyone else, all good Jews who have gathered in Jerusalem for one of the travel holidays, think that what has happened is something scandalous and embarrassing. Peter and the disciples are drunk at 9 AM. The modern environment of the church can be described as being surrounded by good Jews to the extent that Americans right now seem to be in a moralistic and judgmental mood. There are unwritten rules of society that gets enforced in quite extreme ways. You can find yourself canceled. And what the church has to say on many things is scandalous and embarrassing. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told those disciples this before the passion. “And when [The Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgement. (John 16:8).” It is the work of the Holy Spirit in what from the world’s perspective are scandalous things that is the opportunity to proclaim the good news.
How does Peter’s sermon start? He grounds his proclamation firmly in the prior works and words of God. Peter quotes a long passage from the prophet Joel, an apocalyptic passage. What do I mean by apocalyptic? I mean in the simplest definition of that word, a revelation. God has revealed himself. Any time God reveals himself is in an apocalypse. And there are all kinds of apocalypses. There are personal revelations. When the sinner is convicted of their sin, it is an apocalypse. All the way up to the final apocalypse, when every knee shall bow at the revelation of Jesus Christ in all his glory. When the man comes around. The church’s message is always grounded in the self-revelation of God.
What particular revelation is Peter bringing before his audience? “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.” The greatest of these signs is his crucifixion and resurrection. You killed him, but God raised him up. Whatever prior revelation you are holding onto. In the case of those Jews Peter assumes it is the Davidic promises. We all might have revelations that we are holding onto. Like Peter himself wanting to build booths on the mount of transfiguration. These are all insignificant compared to the bare facts of the passion and resurrection. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that the Father has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
That proclamation is both law and gospel. It is law to the extent that I and my sin crucified him. To the extent that I want to keep my revelation about him, it is a judgement. But it is also the sweetest gospel. This Jesus whom we know is Lord and Christ. The Lord is not Caesar or any other tyrant, but Jesus. The Messiah, the one we have been looking for, is not some political personage or charismatic movement, but Jesus. This Jesus whom we crucified, but who prayed for our forgiveness. Being convicted of sin is also being convicted of righteousness. My sin killed him, but His Grace has given me his righteousness.
Being convicted the crowd asks, “what shall we do?” Peter’s simple answer is “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Receive the Holy Spirit.” This revelation is not just for some Jews. This revelation is for you and for your Children. This revelation is for all who are far off whom God is calling to himself.
Peter’s sermon has new relevance in our world. The church scandalizes the world. But the church is still a revelation. It reveals to the world its sin, its righteousness and its judgement. It places before the world Jesus Christ. Here is your Hope and Salvation.