"Agents of Easter" Bible Study on Acts 2:14a, 22-32
April 16, 2020, 1:27 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passage from Acts 2:14a, 22-32 (Common English Bible translation).

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared,

“Fellow Israelites, listen to these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man whose credentials God proved to you through miracles, wonders, and signs, which God performed through him among you. You yourselves know this. In accordance with God’s established plan and foreknowledge, he was betrayed. You, with the help of wicked men, had Jesus killed by nailing him to a cross. God raised him up! God freed him from death’s dreadful grip, since it was impossible for death to hang on to him. David says about him,

I foresaw that the Lord was always with me;
because he is at my right hand I won’t be shaken.
Therefore, my heart was glad
and my tongue rejoiced.
Moreover, my body will live in hope,
because you won’t abandon me to the grave,
nor permit your holy one to experience decay.
You have shown me the paths of life;
your presence will fill me with happiness.

“Brothers and sisters, I can speak confidently about the patriarch David. He died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this very day. Because he was a prophet, he knew that God promised him with a solemn pledge to seat one of his descendants on his throne. Having seen this beforehand, David spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that he wasn’t abandoned to the grave, nor did his body experience decay. This Jesus God raised up. We are all witnesses to that fact.

First of all, it strikes me as quite remarkable that it's Peter who preaches this sermon.  Remember where we left Peter just a couple weeks ago?  He was with the maid in the courtyard as Jesus was being tortured.  And then, when accused of being one of Jesus' freinds, "I never really knew him," was all that Peter could mutter.

Now, just one Sunday after Easter, Peter boldly preaches that Jesus has been resurrected and now reigns in glory at God's right hand.  If we don't believe in the resurrecting power of the Holy Spirit, then how do we explain that once silent and frightened Peter now preaches with God's power?

Peter's sermon is delivered in two parts on the day of Pentecost, immediately after the Holy Spirit descended upon "Jews from every nation" (Acts 2:5).  We may think it curious that the lectionary assigns this passage this Sunday at the beginning of the Easter season.  But is it really that odd?  Here we have what is in Luke-Acts the first public proclamation of the gospel, the very first Easter sermon.

The setting for the sermon is the street.  The audience is the mocking mob that has gathered in the street.  They want to know if the followers of Jesus are drunk.  If they are not drunk, God's prophetic Holy Spirit being given to this international conglomeration of Jews on Pentecost is even harder to explain.

Peter's sermon is a defense of the Holy Spirit's gifts.  In the first part of the sermon (Acts 2:16-21), Peter cites Joel 2:28-32a to underscore the Spirit's role in empowering speakers to interpret God's deeds (read prophecy), and to announce the time of God's salvation.  Then follows the second part (this Sunday's passage).  Peter explains the meaning of Jesus' dying, rising, and ascending that resulted in the gift of the Spirit.  These spectacular events, taken together, establish Jesus as Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36).  Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek mean "anointed."

Peter's sermon, at least this second half of the sermon, covers lots of theological territory and draws on a psalm in its depction of Jesus as more exalted even than the greatest leader of Israel, King David.  In ascribing this psalm to David, Peter intreprets it as David's prophetic testimony about the expected Messiah.  He claims that Jesus' death unfolded ". . . according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23 - NRSV), and he characterizes God's work through Jesus Christ as definitive and powerful.

Peter's statement in verses 22-24 comprises a single sentence in the Greek and makes dramatic and strong theological claims for Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus functions -- both grammatically and theologicallly -- as the direct object of this long sentence.  Jesus was "handed over to you" (verse 23 - NRSV) and was the innocent one whom "you crucifed and killed" (again verse 23 - NRSV) through the mechanisms of the Romans.  However, because of God's intervention, this Jesus was "attested to you by God" (verse 22) and the one through whom God worked, is the one whom God "raised up" (verse 24).  This strong, ringing assertion is this: you killed, but God raised.  Humanity worked tragedy, but God's redemption transformed human evil into God's good.

Peter says more than that in the resurrection God corrected humanity's mistake.  His sermon says that it was impossible for Jesus to be held in death's power.  God intervened because Jesus was God's designated Messiah.  In Acts 2:25-28, Peter cites Psalm 16:8-11 which speaks of one who will not be abandoned to Hades or experience bodily corruption.  While David, the speaker in this psalm, did die and his body decayed (thus verse 29 refers to the still occupied tomb of David), the "Holy One" mentioned in this psalm must refer to someone other than the speaker.  Who?  The Messiah, the one and only who was ever spared bodily corruption through a resurrection.

I find Peter's assertion, "you crucified, but God raised" to be at the heart of what impresses me about his sermon.  Easter is when God publicly, dramatically, mysteriously, and miraculously asserted Jesus' sovereignty over death and over all creation.

Easter is at the heart of all that God does through Jesus.  Human ignorance, cruelty and evil ("you crucified . . .") do not stump God.  Just as Jesus, in his earthly ministry, constantly reiterated and boldly enacted the promises of God, now Jesus as the Christ does that in his heavenly exaltation.

As Jesus lived, so we are commissioned to live a new way of life.  When bad, sad things come our way, we can choose two different ways to live.  We can treat situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic like the tragedy that it is: complain, weep, seek consolation from our friends and family -- becoming agents of despair and negativity.  Or we can barge through this difficult time with a positive mental attitude -- becoming agents of Easter.  We can do this with the faith that eventually things will work out.  Out of death will emerge new life.  Resurrection continues.

Peace be with you!

Pastor Greg Rupright


04-19-2020 at 2:54 PM
Pat May
Once more, EXCELLENT and thought-provoking!
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