Acts 2:22-24,32-36 4.23.20
So, we need a little background to set the context for this passage from the book of Acts… We have jumped right into Peter’s sermon to the Jews from many language groups who had gathered in Jerusalem 50 days after Passover for their Pentecost festival. Pente means 50. They have just experienced an amazing spirit-filling with the disciples suddenly able to speak in languages they could understand — like suddenly someone speaking your native Spanish or Twi or Kikuyu within your earshot. Everyone’s interest is piqued, and they are all ears as Peter speaks to the crowd of Israelites from many lands.
We read this excerpt of Peter’s sermon today, jumping ahead a bit in the order of the story of the unfolding of the Christian church, because Peter gives the gospel story in a very succinct and easy to understand manner. He tells them all what they need to know about Jesus.
First: Jesus worked deeds of power, wonders and signs in plain view of the people of Israel, proving that he was not just some clever teacher, but he was sent by God. Peter assumes his listeners have heard about the amazing actions of Jesus from Nazareth, like healing the sick, casting out demons, turning water into wine.
Second: Jesus was betrayed and put to death on a cross by some of the very same people who stood in the listening crowd. I imagine Peter was also blaming himself in that sweeping statement, for he too was one who denied ever knowing Jesus on the night he was arrested.
Third: God raised Jesus up! God freed him from death’s grip, since it was impossible for death to hold him down. Apparently at least some of the people around Peter that day were witnesses to the resurrected Jesus—they had seen him with their own eyes.
Fourth: God lifted Jesus to God’s right side (the right side was traditionally the side of power) — Peter quotes from Psalm 110, attributed to King David—interpreting Jesus to be the Lord, or Master, David is referring to as being seated at the right side of God.
Fifth: Jesus received the promised Holy Spirit—the outpouring of which the people had just experienced in Jerusalem with the speaking and hearing of many different languages.
Sixth: Because of all this action by God right in front of their eyes, Peter is insistent that everyone should now know beyond question that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah. There is no longer any doubt in Peter’s mind about who Jesus really is. He lives. He is to be obeyed and followed as Lord. He is the Messiah they all had been waiting for, the rescuer, the hope bringer, the answer from God to their longing for a Savior.
This proclamation about who Jesus is should sound familiar to us. Often during worship we repeat together the words of the Apostles’ Creed, a very early statement of our faith. Some of the words of the Apostle’s Creed echo Peter’s words: Jesus Christ was the Son of God and our Lord. He was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again, and ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Later in our worship this morning, I will invite you to say the words of the Apostles Creed along with me, of course, keeping your mic muted! We are not ready for the virtual Pentecost yet!
When you hear a stirring sermon, you are many times spurred to action. You want to respond, to do something different in your life, with your attitude, with your prayer experience. After Peter’s first sermon, his listeners were ready for action– they wanted to know what to do to respond to this good news that Jesus, the one who lived and died and rose again, had now sent the Holy Spirit to bring energy and hope to them all. They wanted to know what to do to respond to this good news that this Jesus was the Lord to be obeyed and followed, that this Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who connects us directly with God. So Peter invites them to be baptized in Jesus’ name, to make a commitment to follow him. Then it sounds like a huge mass baptism occurred and the church was born.
This morning as we sit separated in our own homes, I invite you to focus on a couple of the truths out of Peter’s sermon. I know from talking to you that many of you and your loved ones are feeling restricted and bored and tired of looking at the same four walls. The message of Peter’s first sermon is a message for you and for me right now: death could not hold Jesus. Jesus lives! As we fight the fears that rise up when we watch the news or wait for a call about a loved one’s health condition, as we wrestle with the ripple effects of physical isolation from people we love and care about, as our concerns mount for ourselves and others who deal with mental health issues, as the lines for food grow and people become more desperate, I invite you to claim that not even death could hold Jesus. He lives! That is our Easter proclamation. That is our Easter truth. He lives as Lord and Christ. He is the Lord to be obeyed and followed. That means always, not just when things are going our way. Not just when our schedules are “normal” and we can be in control of who we see and when we see them. That means always, even now. Jesus lives and we continue to be called to follow his teachings, his words, his actions even when we are at home or out on essential business, even when our income is reduced and we are getting anxious, even when a friend or a relative has been impacted by covid19 directly.
A second truth from Peter’s sermon that we can grab on to for today is that God raised Jesus up! God’s power is beyond anything anyone expected. God’s power works in ways that surprise and renew and bring life, not death. As we watch the numbers and the death toll continues to mount, we can not forget that God’s power continues to be at work in the face of covid19. I see it in the faces of the health care workers at all levels who are bravely fighting for life. I see it in the scientists all over the world who are madly searching for solutions—for the right combination of drugs to combat the disease, for the vaccine and the antibody tests. I hear it in the banging of pots and pans and clapping of hands as communities cheer on the heroes who continue to serve in all kinds of essential services. I saw it yesterday in the cooperation between National Guardsmen and Baltimore County Recreation and Parks staff as they waited together in front of the school in my neighborhood to hand out free food.
I see God’s power at work as many are suddenly realizing just how connected we really are to our neighbors in Italy or India or South Korea. I see God’s power at work in cooperative ventures between government and private business, and in the creative liquor companies and now even ExxonMobil as they have repurposed factories that once made alcohol to drink or rubbing alcohol for profit to now make alcohol based hand sanitizer to give away to those on the front lines of the battle against covid19. I see God’s power at work in the fingers of those who are making face masks for anyone who needs one, in the eyes of those who hand out food to those whose pantry shelves are empty. Just as God has the power to defeat death, truly there will come a day when all of this is behind us, when we have learned some new healthy practices and built new relationships, when covid19 will be history.
Yes, my Hunting Ridge family, this will not go on forever. The message from a one-time denier of Jesus named Peter is this: Jesus lives! He is Lord and Christ for you and for me. He is Lord and Christ for all. This is not just the Easter message. This is not just the Pentecost message. This is the daily message for us all. Jesus lives in the face of covid19. Claim it, believe it, live in such a way that this truth speaks from your actions and your attitudes right now. God’s power to defeat death continues to be our rallying cry, continues to ground us even when the whole world seems to be shuddering, even when we are, in the words of one of our church members, “home-ridden” for the time being. God is bigger than covd19. Jesus lives in the face of covid19. Let us hang on to those truths with all our might. Let us remember to remind one another of those truths within the all too familiar walls of our own homes, on phone calls to family, to friends or to fellow church members who are feeling the effects of isolation, in written cards or letters of encouragement and support, for indeed the mail is still running, thanks to dedicated postal workers! The apostle Paul’s words to the church at Rome ring in my head almost daily now: “We don’t live for ourselves and we don’t die for ourselves. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to God.” Jesus lives. We belong to God who has power over death. It is as simple, and as complicated, as that. Thanks be to God. Amen.