“The Living Room of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon” (Acts 2:14a, 22-36)
Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. On this day we sing hymns emphasizing the Trinitarian nature of the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On this day we say that really long creed with the funny name, the Athanasian Creed, which goes into the most detail on the relationship of the three persons in the Trinity. Today we are celebrating, not some dry doctrine with no connection to life, no, rather we are celebrating a living reality–the reality of who God is, as he is, as he has acted to save us and give us life, as he has revealed himself to us in Holy Scripture. Today we are confessing the truth of the Holy Trinity, over against all heretics that have arisen in history, from the Arians of the fourth century to the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses of our day. The living reality of the triune God and the true and saving doctrine concerning the same–that’s what this Holy Trinity festival is all about.
Now there is much about the mystery of the Holy Trinity that is hard for us to understand. How can there be three persons and yet only one God? How can this triune God have always been, uncreated, from eternity? I suppose that if we could fully understand God, we would have to be God!
But while there is much that remains hidden to us mortal creatures, there is also much that has been revealed. God wants us to know him, in a living, vital relationship, and to know what we need to know about him in order to be saved. And that’s where our Scripture readings today come in.
Today I want us to focus on one of the readings, the one from Acts chapter 2. This reading picks up where our reading from last week left off. It’s Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Last week we heard the first part of his sermon, the introduction, what I called the “front porch” of his sermon. Today we continue with the main part of that sermon, what I’ll call “The Living Room of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon.”
If last week was the “front porch,” this then is the “living room.” Last week’s introduction got us into the house. Today we come into the main room, the living room, because this is where we hear in more detail the life-giving message of the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So let’s go. Peter is standing up and preaching to the crowd that has gathered outside. He has already told them that the phenomena that has gotten their attention–the sound of the rushing wind, the Christians speaking of the mighty works of God in all those foreign languages–that this is a sign that God is pouring out his Spirit, in order to get the good news to all nations, so that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Now Peter goes on from there. And notice throughout how Peter will weave his message around the work of the three persons of the Trinity to save us. He begins: “Men of Israel, hear these words: 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–this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Peter’s starting point to get into the meat of his sermon is Jesus of Nazareth. Which is at it should be. We only come to know God as he is through Jesus Christ. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” So Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth–that’s where Peter is going to focus his message.
And the people in this crowd will have remembered this man Jesus of Nazareth. They’re in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost. And it was only seven weeks earlier, in Jerusalem, at the time of the Passover festival, that many of these same Jewish pilgrims would have witnessed Jesus of Nazareth being sentenced to death by crucifixion. In fact, many of the people in this Pentecost crowd would have been among those calling for Jesus’ crucifixion. And everyone would have heard of this man, Jesus of Nazareth. He was the talk of the town at the time of the Passover, and the echoes were still reverberating seven weeks later.
Jesus’ miracles done during his ministry–his “mighty works and wonders and signs”–even before social media, the word of these things had spread far and wide. It should have been clearly known, self-evident, that this Jesus was a man sent by God. He could not do the works he did unless God were with him. And yet–and yet, Jesus’ enemies, out of jealousy and spite, had whipped up a mob to call for his death. The people in this Pentecost crowd, many of them, had gone along with that.
And Peter lets them know it: “This Jesus,” he says, “you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Whoa! Talk about laying a guilt trip on people! Talk about speaking a hard word to your audience! That’s what Peter is doing. He’s showing unrestrained courage by speaking this hard, condemning word to his audience. This was a very dangerous thing he was doing. The crowd could have turned on him. But Peter needed to do this, to convict his listeners of their sin, of their willful ignorance and unbelief, so that they would know they have blown it with regard to God. Preachers still today need to preach the Law to their hearers, so that people will then be ready to hear and receive the Gospel.
How about you? Do you realize how you’ve blown it with regard to God? Are you aware of your sin and troubled by it? How many times have you given Jesus short shrift in your attention, in your daily living? I know I have, many times. We need to know our need for the Savior God has provided. We need to be stripped of our righteousness in order to receive his.
Well, even though those Pentecost hearers had called for Jesus’ crucifixion and blown it big-time, even so, God was working good in spite of, and even through, their evil. This Jesus was, in fact, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” is what Peter is saying here. God was working out his plan and purpose by Jesus being delivered up unto death. For there was no other way for mankind to be saved, other than by the sacrificial death of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. The Father sent the Son into the world, in the flesh, to do just this: to carry the load of our sins to the cross. By shedding his blood for us, in our place, this Jesus has purchased forgiveness and righteousness and redemption for us poor sinners.
This was the way, the only way, it could happen. We were too blind and ignorant and sin-bound to work our way out of the mess we had gotten ourselves into. Only God could save us. And he has! This is God’s perfect and eternal plan for us, from before the foundation of the world: that the Father would send the Son to be our Savior. And it happened through Jesus’ death on the cross.
But the story doesn’t end there. Peter continues: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” This is speaking of the resurrection of the Christ on Easter Day. God the Father raised up his Son, the Son having accomplished the mission on which the Father sent him. Mission accomplished! Well done, my Son! Rise in victory! Return to the glory that is yours from eternity! The resurrection shows forth the victory of the Son. God is well-pleased.
Peter quotes from Psalm 16, to show that this resurrection of the Messiah was even predicted in Scripture: “Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” This is Christ speaking. But dear friends, you who have been joined to Jesus in baptism and in faith, this is you speaking, too! You will share in Jesus’ resurrection victory! God will raise you up, bodily, with a glorified body, on the last day! You can say with the psalmist–and with Jesus–you too can say to God: “You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
Well, from here Peter goes on to explain the present situation: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all 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 yourselves are seeing and hearing.” Notice all three persons of the Trinity here, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God the Father raised Jesus up. Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father and has poured out the Holy Spirit on the church. And that’s still happening today. Christ now is seated at the Father’s right hand, ruling all things for the good of the church. The Holy Spirit now continues to empower the preaching of the church, so that more and more people will hear the good news and believe and be saved.
This is you! This is me! We are on the receiving end of God’s good gifts. We who have been baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” we are the beneficiaries of his goodness. God, the one true God, the triune God–our God has blessed us beyond measure. In spite of our sins, in the midst of our sorrows and confusions, the Holy Trinity is continuing to bless us with the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Peace for our consciences, hope in the face of our struggles–the living God is supplying us with all we need for this life and the next. Truly we are in the living room of God’s house! And we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.