Last week, we celebrated Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, who empowers and compels us to tell the story of Jesus, break down barriers, and build bridges.
Today we continue in our series on the Holy Spirit, asking “what exactly does the Holy Spirit empower Jesus’ followers to do?”
In just a moment, we’re going to hear the second half of Peter’s speech to the crowds on Pentecost, after he’s reminded them that the miracle they saw and heard was the fulfillment of God’s promise made long ago—that everyone, men and women and young and old, would proclaim to the world what God has done.
Usually, on Pentecost, we stop there because we only have so much time—but Peter doesn’t stop there. He goes on.
Scripture: Acts 2:22-47
‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
are a couple of things to notice right off the bat about Peter’s sermon here. The
first is that he specifically addresses “those of you who are Israelites.” This is important because as he goes on, he
addresses specifically how Jesus interacted with the Jewish community, both in
living and in dying.
Peter notes again that Jesus performed great works in the name of God – their God – and that despite this, he was handed over to be killed by their religious leaders. Then, God raised him up and trampled all over the forces of sin and death. This was not an accident, but part of God’s plan for the salvation of the whole world. He quotes from the Psalms, and points to the moments when King David (widely considered the greatest of Israel’s kings) pointed to a king even greater than himself—then says “that was Jesus!”
The second interesting thing to note is that throughout all of this, Peter is using the second-person plural, or as we might say: “all y’all.” While there were probably some in the crowd who also stood outside Herod’s palace on Good Friday shouting “crucify him!”, there were probably even more who weren’t even in Jerusalem that day. So when Peter says “all y’all crucified and killed him, using the hands of the Romans who are conveniently outside of the Jewish law,” that brings up a serious question about our responsibility for the things done in our name by the leaders we choose.
Peter is not saying that every Jewish person throughout history is now personally responsible for Jesus’ death. Remember: at this point, Peter and the disciples still consider themselves faithful Jews. And this might seem like a small detail, but it’s many, many Christians throughout history twisted passages like this to mean that Jewish people who didn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah were just as guilty of causing his death as the crowds on Good Friday. This has led to violence, persecution, and genocide, and is a popular excuse for anti-semitism even today.
What Peter is doing is telling the truth – that Jesus’ death was unjustified and cruel, and yet through that horror God has crushed both sin and death and brought new life to the world.
Jesus’ resurrection is still his central point, even as he explains to the crowd the miracle before them and tells them exactly what they’ve missed since they were gathered last in Jerusalem.
The events of Pentecost tell us that the mission of God in the world is to make God’s love and God’s goodness known to the ends of the earth, so that all may see and follow Jesus. And in order to make that happen, the Holy Spirit empowers Jesus’ disciples to tell the truth about what’s happening in the world and what God’s doing.
But as we go on, we’ll also notice that the Holy Spirit is already at work in the crowds of people listening. Our passage tells us that they were “cut to the heart.”
Some of them, at least, internalized what they heard and believed that Peter was telling them the truth.
You’ll notice they didn’t argue with him or try to minimize their complicity.
They didn’t defend the religious leaders who advocated hardest for Jesus’ death.
They didn’t point at Peter and say “well, didn’t you run away and deny you even knew him?”
They didn’t test his credentials or remind him that five years ago, he was just a teenage fisherman in the middle of nowhere.
They simply asked: “what do we do now?”
The Holy Spirit gives us the power to tell the truth, even when it’s hard – but the Holy Spirit also gives us the grace and humility to face the truth: to be cut to the heart and survive the heartache long enough to ask what’s next.
Some days, I think if I hear the words “fake news” come out of anyone else’s mouth, no matter which side of this political brawl they’re on, I might just scream.
Whether we like it or not, we now live in a world where we are actively encouraged to ignore, minimize, spin and deny any truth we don’t like. If it’s inconvenient, if it makes us look bad or feel bad, if it might have consequences for us, or even if we just don’t like the person who said it, then somehow the fact that it’s true doesn’t matter.
As Christians in an insanely polarized society, I fully believe it’s necessary to be able to tell the truth and face the truth, even when it’s inconvenient or it challenges our deeply-held beliefs. This requires not only some critical thinking skills, but the same empathy and curiosity that we talked about last week – to be able to see from another point of view and wonder if there is more truth out there than what you currently hold.
There were about 3000 people in that crowd who did exactly what Peter asked of them: to turn around, to be baptized, and to receive the Holy Spirit. They opened themselves to something new and they invested their time and energy in listening and learning new things about what God had been doing among them from Jesus’ disciples. They entered into a new community and devoted themselves to eating together, working together, and praying together.
It doesn’t say they were never wrong again, that they got it all right and everyone got along perfectly and there were no further questions about who God is or what God is calling us to do. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite: the early church was just as much of a hot mess as the global church is today, with a thousand variations of different beliefs and practices all floating around and bumping into each other. The rest of the New Testament is mostly just a scrapbook of family squabbles and theological disagreements as this new faith community tried to wrap their heads around how Jesus changed everything.
Even with all that, however, each person and each community was primarily devoted to one task: to telling the story of Jesus, God’s love made flesh for us and for our salvation, to saying in millions of times and ways and places that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.”
So as we encounter this moment of truth-telling, I think there are two separate yet related questions that we need to confront as the Church learns to live and move and grow in this time and place:
What do we need to do, to know, to experience, before we’re willing to speak up and be heard? What do you need from the Holy Spirit to be able to share your own faith?
What truths do we need to face before we can move forward as a community? What stories need to be told? What old lockboxes need to be opened up and aired out?
To speak and to listen well both require immense courage. Thankfully for us, the promises made in baptism—that we belong to God in every situation and every conversation—are ours yesterday, today, and tomorrow. This is good news, indeed.