On Movements and Moving Speeches (A Sermon on Peter’s Speech in Acts 2)

Movements have happened all over the world. They all have different characteristics and accomplish different tasks. Movements never mean that everything changes from that moment on definitely. However, a movement, or the day a movement begins are momentous occasions that symbolize the beginning of systematic change.

Think about the civil rights movement and how important that movement was to a massive systematic change in the way that the political systematic structures of the United States oppressed coloured people. It would be difficult to pinpoint one event and say “that’s where the movement started” or “this person lead this entire movement.” This movement does however, bring back images of specific events in its history of a movement that we can recall or refer back to.

Quick Q: When you think of the civil rights movement, what symbols, people, moments come to your mind?

Martin Luther King Jr. is a beautiful example of how a speech has an important part of movement as a rallying point for people who all agree to come together under one banner or statement. A good speech reinterprets history and mobilizes people into action for justice. This is how Martin Luther King Jr’s speech ends:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

With over 200,000 civil rights supporters, this day/speech solidified a movement. We could analyze the speech, and understand the context of the speech and what was happening and what the response was like and we could learn a lot about this movement and understand what they cared about and what they rallied around and what they believed in. Many people highly praised the speech and it was considered by many the high point during this movement.

If we see Christianity as a movement that started 2000 years ago, then we can see this next part of Acts as the Martin Luther King Jr. speech of Christianity. The speech isn’t what the movement is built on or even dependant on, but the speech was a tool that was used to propel the movement forward and bring validity to the movement. Last week we read about how there was around a hundred and twenty people when the Spirit showed up and it landed on these people in quite a drastic way. These people started speaking in other languages that other people around knew and it started turning into quite a spectacle. Joe ended with this line last week.

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

So this is where we will pick up from this morning. Like most movements I think they start with the accusations flying around about the people in the movement being delusional, or drunk. So Peter, (who by the way we haven’t heard a peep from him since he denied Jesus three times) decides to stand up and address the crowds and let them in on what’s going on. So it is this speech of Peter that we are going to go through this morning. This folks, is the first recorded sermon of the Christian church. This is the first of nineteen different sermons recorded in the book of Acts.

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

So looking back into the oracle shrines such as that of Delphi of this time that Peter and the people there would have been familiar with, this whole event of people speaking in weird sounds and different languages has happened before and normally it was seen as the utterances of gods. Luke is following the archiving practices of the Greeks of how he summarizes Peter’s speech. What would happen is someone would stand up, normally seen as the messenger of God, or a ‘prophet’ and he would make the utterances make sense and translate them for everyone that was listening in. So this entire event isn’t that uncommon. However, what happens next is a bit of a twist. First, the languages that are being spoken aren’t just random sounds, they are actual languages. So Peter in standing up doesn’t have to translate anything. So instead of interpreting the utterances, he ends up interpreting the entire event of what is happening and why it is happening.

We need to understand the kinds of people that Peter was talking to. There was thousands upon thousands of people present in and around where this speech was taking place. Remember this was in Jerusalem and most of the people there were Jews who were there to celebrate a religious festival in which they were a part. So this speech was for them. In Peter’s speech we are listening to a Jew speaking to the fellow Jews, linking the story of Jesus with the scriptures of the Jews. This speech wasn’t for us. It was for the Jews in Jerusalem. Without understanding that we cannot understand Peter’s speech. So the imagery he uses, the quotes he uses, the references he makes all pertain to the history and beliefs of the people listening to him there that day. So if we are to really understand the this movement and this speech we need to understand why what he is saying touches the hearts of the people who are listening. The Jews read the scriptures inside and out, they saw themselves as a generation where it would all come true, all those prophecies. So Peter is playing right into their expectations and explaining what it all means. Only by understanding this world, where the people there have created and formed their entire lives reading these scriptures and prophecies and finding hope in times of sorrow can we ever really understand how Peter could even think of launching to a quote from the Prophet Joe. to explain what was happening.

The very first thing Peter does is launch into quoting the prophets to give validity to why such an event is happening. Peter did not proclaim these events in a vacuum, but in the context of scripture and history. To us, this means very little. So big deal, he is quoting something else in the Bible. But to them, what was happening in the present wasn’t in the Bible yet so when the scriptures were being quoted everyone knew what he was talking about. Not only did they know what he was talking they had built their lives on the words of these prophets. And Peter was not re-interpreting them to make sense for a current situation. Not only that. But he also is making an indirect statement that we are now in the last days! So he helps people see the reason for the craziness that everyone was observing to try and give it some historical validity through an story that they knew and understood. Peter continues.

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:

Now Peter moves from linking this event with the life of Israel and their prophets to the life of Jesus. Peter’s technique is to constantly point out this promise and fulfillment throughout. First the event is happening was a promise through Joel and now Jesus has come as a God had setup from the beginning. Peter is asserting here that the community that the Spirit is forming which they are observing falls into a patter of expectation and realization of Israel, they are used to this. So according to Peter, Jesus was born and was foretold. Jesus was filled with the Spirit and that confirms the messianic hopes of the Jews. Jesus suffered and died, and it’s all part of prophecy here and Peter is just connecting the dots. After Jesus’ Resurrection, it suddenly becomes clear to the disciples that the all of this was part of God’s plan all along and Peter (after denying him three times) in his boldness to stand up in the crowds is now ready to speak.

So Peter not only makes the connection with this event to the life of Jesus. He also make the connection between all the people listening in on his sermon to the death of Jesus. He says it like it is. He points to the evidence and points out that the Jews here have blindly rejected and killed their own Messiah. But not to worry. This was all part of God’s plan all along.

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.

He then goes into a quote from David in the Psalms in which Peter claims David was never talking about himself because well, David is dead. In fact, he was talking about Jesus all along. Jesus was raised and is no longer dead. He might be giving David a little bit more credit than he deserves but he basically pointing out that even David, the King of Israel was pointing and hinting towards Jesus all along. Now it all made sense!!

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”‘
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

This is really the crux of his sermon. Now keep in mind, this was never his entire sermon. Luke used certain practices to summarize and put together what he thought would best represent what happened that day and what was said. But this next section is a real sermon. This is where we start to better understand the idea of salvation. This is where he points out that not only is this true because of the scriptures and because of the King of Israel said so, but also because the apostles said so. They saw this happen with their own eyes. So now we are at two steps of proof of why this event is happening. On top of this he is bringing the history and the accumulation of their history to a glorious climax in pointing out how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that they were waiting for.

Q: In verse 37 it says that “when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart (very upset)” What do you think they were upset about?

They were probably upset because they realized that they killed their Messiah and they needed to figure something out now to do with their guilt.

Despite what we think was the reason as to why people were upset, there was definitely an appropriate response for this kind of realization. Right here, for the first time, people are starting to make the connection that everything they live for and have fought for and think about is for real and finds it’s fulfillment right here and now in Jesus. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s answer to the question what should we do was to have an appropriate response to the news and realization that they had just heard, it wasn’t to work up enough initiative in their lives, or to threaten them or else. This was a response to how these people were feeling and to the realization that they had that they missed what was going on but now wanted to join into the revolution, the change. This was not so much of a conversion of convincing people that they were on there way to hell. He’s saying THIS HAS HAPPENED. Jesus is who we were waiting for! Join in the revolution! This isn’t about saving yourself through this new knowledge. This is about allowing yourself to be saved because the reality of God saving the world through his son has already happened, so join in.

God’s plan of salvation, Peter was saying was always intended by God from the beginning to reach it’s climax with Israel’s Messiah undertaking the ultimate task of rescue. Israel’s King would come to the place when evil had reached his height and where human systems were at it’s ultimate form of corruption (not just Rome and it’s horrible justice system, but Israel with it’s corrupt Temple system.) This evil would accumulate itself in one massive act of violence against this King, a person who had done nothing to deserve it. This is what the early Christians believe God has always intended.

This is the beginning of this talk of salvation – pointing to a very concrete and particular reality in the future. Salvation regularly refers to specific acts of ‘rescue’ with the present life: being ‘saved’ from this potential disaster, here and now.

“Being saved in this context of what Peter is talking about here doesn’t just mean “going to heaven when you die.” It means knowing God’s rescuing power which anticipates in the present, God’s final great act of deliverance. Peter then goes on to encourage people to know that salvation, that rescue as a present reality and also a future hope.” – N.T. Wright

I’m sure we’ve talked about this numerous times here at theStory, but I’m just going to continue to keep iterating the fact that you will have a hard time creating a theology from the scriptures that says salvation is about going to heaven when you die. Over and over again it’s about some form of rescue here and now on this earth from something. Whether it be living a purposeless life or from the dangers of sin, salvation here is about the present.

So after this we can see that through Peter’s sermon, the story of Jesus was told at three levels as a historical event (witnessed by their own eyes), as having theological significance (interpreted by the scriptures) and as a contemporary message (confronting men and women with the necessity of decision). This isn’t also a call to personal salvation, this is a corporate call and to have a public identification with other believers (which will come more in a few weeks when we do the end of this chapter).

Q: Is salvation real to us in this way? Witnessed by us, interpreted through scriptures (past story) and confronting people with the necessity of decisions? Is it any of these things? Why or Why Not?

What God has promised for the ultimate future has come forward to meet us in Jesus Christ. We should expect signs of that future to appear in the present. And, whenever we are in a mess, of whatever sort and for whatever reason, we should remeber this: we are ‘ turn-back-and-be-rescued’ people. We are ‘repent-and-be-baptsized’ people. We have the right, the brithright to cash in that promise at any place and at any time. No wonder 3000 people signed up that very day. We are meant to see here the fulfillment of Israel’s hope for the permanent giving of God’s presence and power to God’s people. – N.T. Wright

The revolution confronts us every day
Do we want to join in?
Will we live as if Jesus is alive and well today?
Or will we sit back take in the sites?
Will we hope that believing it happened is good enough?

God has been orchestrating a story
It is so grand that it doesn’t leave anyone out
When things seem to go in a bad direction
God uses it to show he expected it all along
In God’s story, death is actually life, emtpy is actually full
What feels like chaos is actually order

What God has promised, has moved forward to meet us.
What we need, stares us in the face
From this point forward, we are getting back on track
We will finish God’s story out faithfully and not selfishly

May we remember that salvation has already happened.
May we live like salvation is real
May we respond well to the news before us
May we know your rescuing power.

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