Pastor Gary Wong, April 11, 2021
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and spoke loudly and clearly to them: 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man recommended to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know. 23 This man, who was handed over by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, you killed by having lawless men nail him to a cross. 24 He is the one God raised up by freeing him from the agony of death, because death was not able to hold him in its grip. 25 “Indeed, David says concerning him: I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced. My flesh also will rest in hope, 27 because you will not abandon my life to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life. You will fill me with joy in your presence. 29 “Gentlemen, brothers, I can speak confidently to you about the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he saw what was coming and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, saying that he was neither abandoned to the grave nor did his flesh see decay. 32 “This Jesus is the one God has raised up. We are all witnesses of that.
Have you heard the story of a man caught in a flood? He had had plenty of warning that the flood was coming. But rather than evacuating to safety, he stayed in his house. He prayed to the Lord and was sure that God would save him. As predicted, the flood came. The water filled up his basement, then the first floor, and kept on rising. He went to the top floor and then the roof. Despite the raging waters, his faith was not shaken. He prayed again; then a boat appeared. He turned down their offer of rescue saying, “God is going to save me.” Pretty soon the only place left to stand was the chimney. He prayed again. When he looked up, he saw a helicopter hovering over him. But rather than taking hold of the ladder he said, “God will rescue me.” Not long after that, the man drowned and went to heaven. When he saw God, he asked, “Why didn’t you answer my prayers and save me?” The Lord replied, “Who do you think it was who sent the boat and the helicopter?”
It’s been a week since we celebrated Easter, a day when so many of us and our fellow believers praised God because Jesus has risen from the dead. His resurrection assures us that we are saved through faith in him. Is the joy of Easter still in our hearts; or has the joy started to fade since we’ve returned to our regular routines? If the drop off in attendance the week after Easter is any indicator, it seems as though the empty cross and tomb aren’t at the forefront of every Christian’s mind and heart. In today’s lesson, St. Luke takes us to Jerusalem exactly fifty days after that very first Easter. Thousands upon thousands of Jews from all over the Roman Empire had streamed into the City of David. What was the occasion? These pilgrims had come to celebrate the Old Testament festival called the Feast of Weeks, a festival for God’s people to thank the Lord for the bountiful harvest he had provided.
On the day we call Pentecost, Jesus’ disciples were gathered in one place. Suddenly, the sound of a violent wind filled the whole house. Flames of fire came to rest on each disciple who was then filled with the Holy Spirit. Each began to speak in a different language he had never known. A crowd had gathered because they had heard the commotion. Many of these foreigners were confused because they heard these Galileans speak about the wonders of God in their own native language. Others scoffed, saying that these men were drunk. Seizing this heaven- sent opportunity, Peter stood up and addressed the crowd.
So, what did Peter talk about? Peter wasn’t talking about recipes for Pentecost punch; his spirit inspired message was about matters of life and death. Peter talked about Jesus. He started by reminding them they knew Jesus very well. These Jews couldn’t claim, “I sort of remember something about some rabbi named Jesus. I think he was from Nazareth; but other than that, I really don’t know much about him.” They knew Jesus. Jesus had been among them, preaching and teaching in all their towns and villages and in the temple courts. Jesus’ miracles proved that he was the One whom God had chosen to save the people from their sins. Yet, knowing all of that, God’s chosen people deliberately and willfully put Jesus to death. Yes, it was the religious leaders who handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers were the ones who actually crucified Jesus, but Peter properly laid the blame squarely on the Jewish nation.
How did the crowd react to Peter’s stinging rebuke? They were shocked. These Jews were expecting to celebrate a festival; not to be harangued by a religious fanatic. Never mind that fifty-three days earlier Jesus had been crucified and that three days after that Jesus miraculously rose from the grave; it seemed as though Jesus’ death and resurrection had made no impression on them. Those Jews were going about their daily lives as though these soul-shaking, life-changing events had never happened. Peter’s words destroyed any notion they might have had that they had no personal responsibility regarding Jesus’ death. Peter told them that they were guilty of murder. What was their response? Luke tells us that they were “cut to the heart.”
What is our response to Peter’s words? It’s easy to agree with Peter when he was laying the blame for Jesus’ death on others. It isn’t so comfortable when the heat is turned up on us. In reality, Peter is also pointing the finger of guilt directly at you and me. We are just as responsible for Jesus’ death as those in the crowd. And like them, we cannot claim that we don’t know why. All of God’s prophets remind us that we were under God’s wrath because we are sinners. David declares, “Surely [we] were sinful from birth, sinful from the time [our] mothers conceived us” (Ps. 51:5). And just as bad seeds yield a bad crop, we sinners produce sinful thoughts, words, and actions. Isaiah crushes any delusion that we have made ourselves right with God when he said, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). What just punishment do we deserve for our sins? Ezekiel simply says, “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Eze. 18:4).
The prophets proclaim God’s law, which convicts us of our sins. We are the ones who deserved to be nailed to a cross and suffer the agony of hell. Yet, the prophets also proclaimed the gospel, the good news that God would send a Savior to rescue us. With extraordinary detail and uncanny accuracy, the prophets foretold the Savior’s birth, life, and death. Micah pinpointed the place where the Savior would be born. Isaiah prophesied that he would be both true man and true God when he said, “the virgin …will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). As we well know, Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of every prophecy concerning the Savior. The Gospel writers and the apostles testify that the virgin Mary gave birth to her firstborn son in Bethlehem. As Immanuel, God with us, Jesus lived a perfect life. Isaiah prophesied that even though Jesus “had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isa. 53:9) he would die a violent death at the hands of evil men. His hands and feet were nailed to a tree; yet none of his bones were broken, just as Moses had said. Having been crucified alongside two thieves, Jesus was certainly “numbered with the transgressors”; yet he was “assigned a grave …with the rich in death.” Just as the prophet foretold, Jesus’ lifeless body was laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
The question is why would Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, be willing to go through hell and die the most horrible death imaginable? Jesus did all of that because of his all-consuming love for all people. Because of his love, Jesus “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” He was “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 55:5). What were the blessings that resulted from Jesus’ death? Isaiah tells us that “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Because of Jesus, we have forgiveness. peace, joy, and hope.
Not only did God’s prophets foretell Jesus’ death, they foretold his rising from the dead. In his Pentecost sermon, Peter tells us that King David was also one of God’s prophets. David trusted God’s promise that one of his descendants would sit on his throne and that his kingdom would last foever. Even though David never lived to see it, God kept that promise. Jesus is the fulfillment of David’s prophecy quoted by Peter. God did not abandon Jesus to the grave. Because Jesus is the Holy One of Israel, his body did not see decay. On that first Easter Sunday morning, the women went to the tomb, expecting to find Jesus’ body in the grave. When they arrived, they were surprised to see that the stone had been rolled away; they were shocked when the angel told them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Lk. 24:5,6).
What effect did Jesus’ resurrection have on those women and on Jesus’ disciples? The women had gone to the tomb heartbroken; they went away overwhelmed with joy. Some of the disciples had been cowering in fear behind locked doors; many were wondering what they were going to do now that Jesus was gone. When they saw Jesus, their fears and doubts vanished. They boldly shared the good news of our risen Savior and served him the rest of their lives. What effect does Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection have on us? Like the crowd on Pentecost, we are cut to the heart, knowing that we killed Jesus. With contrite hearts, we humbly confess our sins. Jesus’ death and resurrection assure us that we are completely forgiven. Because of Jesus, we know that one day, we will live with him in heaven forever.
So, what is our response to God’s incredible, undeserved gifts of love? Since Jesus has freed us from sin, death, and the devil, we are now free to worship and serve him. We can live godly lives guided by God’s Word. The gospel strengthens our faith and helps us take hold of God’s promises. The gospel gives us the ability to cope with our problems. When we are facing financial problems, we trust that God will provide for our needs. If we are experiencing strained or broken relationships, we remember that Jesus has reconciled us with our heavenly Father. We are then motivated to reach out and forgive, just as God forgives us. When we or a loved one is suffering from a serious illness or facing death, we remember that Jesus has healed our sin-sick souls. Jesus has conquered death. Because of Jesus, we know that God will not abandon us to the grave. When Jesus returns on the Last Day, he will raise up and glorify our bodies, and we will live with him in heaven forever.
Through Scripture and with eyes of faith, we see and know that Jesus lives and that we have eternal life through him. Like David, we praise God that he has “made known to [us] the paths of life.” That knowledge fills us with peace, joy and hope, not only for this life, but for the life to come. We are here today because we know that the tomb is empty. Let’s celebrate Easter every day, because we know we are saved. The Lord is risen; he is risen indeed. Amen.
“Rise, Shine, You People” (CW 556)
Text: Ronald A. Klug, b.1939, alt.
Rise, shine, you people! Christ the Lord has entered
Our human story; God in time is centered.
He comes to us, by death surrounded,
With grace unbounded.
See how he sends the pow’rs of evil reeling;
He brings us freedom, light and life and healing.
All men and women, who by guilt are driven,
Now are forgiven.
Come, celebrate, your banners high unfurling,
Your songs and prayers against the darkness hurling.
To all the world go out and tell the story
Of Jesus’ glory.
Tell how the Father sent his Son to save us,
Tell of the Son, who life and freedom gave us.
Tell how the Spirit calls from ev’ry nation
His new creation.