Holy Trinity • Acts 2:14a; 22–36 • May 26, 2013
By Timothy Dost
Acts chapter two presents us with the contrast between our own self-righteousness and the righteousness of Christ. It shows clearly our need to repent and the Savior who still lives as King to forgive the wrong we have done to him and the sin we have laid upon him at the cross. Jesus would have us in his kingdom, and through his love invites even rebellious and wicked servants to repent and follow him. Furthermore, it shows that ordinary people like Peter, can through the power of that forgiveness, become bold to witness to the death and resurrection of their Lord and Savior. Therefore, we too are emboldened by that witness and the Holy Spirit and one baptism we still share with them. As an aside, it is a good text to show how important the Old Testament was to early Christians and how it should be important to us as well.
Preceding context: One should consider the change in attitude of the Apostles when preaching this text. They have gone from hiding out, to preaching boldly in the name of Jesus. Pentecost has clearly had an effect on them.
Old Testament references: Prominent Old Testament references are an important feature both of the text and the section left out. Here we find a famous passage from Joel 2, as well as two Psalms—16 and 110. The Joel passage is essential to understanding the first portion of the periscope as presented, and so this reader does not understand its obviously intentional omission.
Flow of thought: Leaving in the omitted portions, this text makes more sense. First, it is essential for the structure of the latter material that Peter is preaching to the residents of Jerusalem. Given this fact, the text breaks down into three sections: First, the signs, wonders and miracles of Jesus, as well as the darkness surrounding his death, are fulfilled through the life, work and death of Jesus. Second, the resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises to David’s throne, for a king that will reign forever. Jesus is stronger than death, therefore the kingship of Jesus is stronger than the kingship of David, who is dead and whose grave was apparent. Third, the people have killed, but God has raised from the dead their King and Messiah. Peter breaks up his sermon with two uses of “fellow Israelites,” indicating both the Jews of Jerusalem and the Gentiles who lived there, and apparently his words had an effect, for the people were cut to the heart and responded, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Clearly there is a division into sections here and the structure of what was said highlights the Messiah yet reigns and rules following his glorious resurrection from the dead.
Preaching the law from this text: We must understand that living post-Pentecost and having grown up as Christians, we often behave as though we would not have acted in the same manner as these people did regarding the Messiah. Many in the crowd Peter was preaching to were not present for, nor directly responsible for the death of Christ, and yet their response, in many cases, is one of faith. They knew that their sins were responsible for the death of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and we need to know that we too are responsible, both due to our actions and our attitudes. Our sin is one of unbelief, not believing that we have sinned against the Messiah by our wicked actions and nature. Furthermore we often do not believe that he has forgiven us these sins and we do not live to spread the wonder of this forgiveness to others.
Preaching the gospel from this text: The good news here is that the kingdom is restored because the King himself is risen. Therefore, all who have faith in Jesus, do not need to fear his reign, but can rejoice in the victory over sin, death, and the grave. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). When we have faith in Christ, we can stand with Peter as “fellow Israelites.” Here reference should be made to the teaching of Paul about who the true Israel is (see Romans chapters 9–11), namely all who have the faith of Abraham in the Messiah. Peter was bold because he really did believe in the resurrection. He knew that although he had betrayed Jesus, his sins were forgiven and his standing before God restored. Peter invites all the betrayers of Jesus to repent, be forgiven, and live in the hope of eternal life with him. Peter does not leave the crowd in its guilt and sin, but provides them the same means of escape Christ has provided for him.
Two kinds of righteousness: God’s righteous forgiveness is found here in the work of Pentecost as well as in the great power of the resurrection of the dead. Because Jesus is risen, Peter knows Christ’s forgiveness and is emboldened to do the good work of preaching the judgment and mercy of God to the crowd. Because he has received and known the righteousness of Christ, he relieves those who repent and believe in the crowd by offering them forgiveness and a new start in baptism and the Holy Spirit.
These words in Acts 2 show both the power of the preaching of Peter on sin and the gracious Lord of the kingdom, and also the response of the crowd to this gospel of the merciful King, who because he is risen from the dead, can forgive the sins of those who have previously killed him. Death has no power over him, for he is risen and reigns with the Father, and has sent the Holy Spirit to be with us and lead us into all truth.