Acts 2:22-36

masolino_peter_preaching2Acts 2:22-36

22 “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— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ 29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 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. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Christopher Buckley is the son of the late William F. Buckley, the man largely credited with being the father of the modern conservative movement in America.  In his book about the deaths of his parents, Christopher writes about being raised as a Christian but eventually losing his faith.  When he had lost his faith, he struggled with whether or not he should tell his father that he was no longer a believer.  His words are sad and telling:

This was not the moment to break what remained of his heart by telling him that although I greatly admired the teachings of Jesus, I had long ago stopped believing that he had risen from the dead; it’s an honest enough doubt, really, but one that rather undercuts the supernatural aspect of Christianity.[1]

That is an understatement if ever there was one:  denying the resurrection “rather undercuts the supernatural aspect of Christianity.”  In fact, denying the resurrection rather undercuts Christianity.  When one considers how often and how passionately and how frequently the other believers drew the attention of all who would listen to the fact that Christ had risen from the dead, it is safe to say that the apostles would have considered the idea of a resurrection-less Christianity to be an absurdity.  This is nowhere more evident than in Peter’s justly famed Pentecost sermon, a careful consideration of which leads us to certain unavoidable conclusions about what the early Church was primarily concerned with proclaiming.

The resurrection of Christ is the central message of the Christian Church and the cornerstone content of our witness in the world.

It is not an overstatement to say that the resurrection of Christ was the central message of the early Church and the cornerstone content of their witness in the world.  Having declared to the gathered crowd that the coming of the Spirit signaled the beginning of the end, Peter then moved to a consideration of Jesus.

22 “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— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

It has been pointed out by many that in these words we find one of the earliest New Testament examples of the paradoxical tension between the sovereign acts of God and the ostensibly free acts of men.  Many theologians, reformed and non-reformed, view the tension between God’s predetermined plan and man’s actions as an “antinomy,” a word closely connected to paradox:  the idea that two claims can be mutually contradictory yet both somehow true.  This is probably a valid word to use here.  We must tread carefully.  We can fall into a deep abyss of speculative theology if we do not.  Even so, let us content ourselves with these two thoughts:  (1) Jesus went to the cross as a result of the definitive, sovereign plan of God and (2) the men who crucified Jesus were responsible for their actions.

24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

So great is the plan of God that it cannot be thwarted, even by the so-called laws of nature.  There are no laws above God’s laws and there are no true laws that are not, in fact, God’s laws.  Thus, the law that dead men stay dead cannot eclipse the greater law of God that His Son would lay down His life on the cross then rise victorious over death.  “God raised him up.”  Easter is ushered in by the strong hand of God, over whom “the pangs of death” hold no authority.

Peter then turns, once again, to scripture, quoting verses from Psalm 16.

25 For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; 26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

Peter acknowledges that these words were written by David, and it is clear that the Jews had interpreted them to be about David.  Peter rejects this interpretation, applying the words instead to Jesus.  “David says concerning him.”  The “him” to which Peter is referring is none other than Christ.  On what basis does Peter conclude that these words cannot be about David?  He concludes thus by using a logical process of elimination.

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.

Peter argues that this cannot be about David because everybody under the sound of his voice knew exactly where David was buried.  David’s body was still with them.  New Testament scholar Ben Witherington offers some helpful background on David’s tomb, the tomb assumed by Peter to be known by all.

The tomb of David is mentioned in the postexilic text Neh. 3:16, and we are told by Josephus that this tomb was opened and robbed by John Hyrcanus during the siege of Jerusalem (135 B.C.).  In addition, Herod the Great apparently attempted the same sort of sacrilege, but tradition says he was stopped by divine intervention, and made amends by building a white marble monument at the tomb of entrance…The location of David’s tomb according to ancient tradition is thought to have been near the old city of David, which is south of the present city, thus near the pool of Siloam.

Peter’s point is that David’s tomb was still in plain view for any Jew to see and there was no evidence of David having vacated the premises.[2]

Of interest to our modern day consideration of Peter’s words, Clinton E. Arnold points to French archaeologist Raymond Weill’s claim to have discovered the tomb of David in 1913.  In “the southern portion of the City of David” Weill discovered “nine burial tombs” the largest of which “measured over fifty-two feet long, eight feet wide, thirteen feet high at the front and…six feet at the deepest portion.”  Weill claimed that this was David’s tomb, a claim that is dismissed by many, though not all, modern archaeologists.[3]

Regardless, the present day location of David’s tomb is, in fact, much less important to the point at hand than the fact that Peter could essentially point to David’s remaining body and burial place in contrasting the author of Psalm 16 with the risen Christ.  In other words, these words could not really be applied to David, but they can be applied to Christ, whose tomb was empty.  Peter takes great pains to argue the core of his message:  Jesus, who was crucified, lives!

The resurrection is the cornerstone doctrine of the Church.  By that I mean it is the doctrine on which all others depend.  For instance, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then Christ is not divine but a man.  If Christ did not rise from the dead, then His teachings, which pointed to the coming resurrection, were lies.  If Christ did not rise from the dead, we are still in our sins and are without hope (1 Corinthians 15:17).  If Christ did not rise from the dead, we have no real hope (1 Corinthians 15:19).  If Christ did not rise from the dead, then the cross was His, and our, ultimate defeat.  If Christ did not rise from the dead, we have no basis for real and abiding joy.

Do you see?  The central message of the early Church must be the central message of the modern Church:  the crucified Christ is the living Christ.  He has risen in confirmation of all that He said about Himself and the Father.  This means that what modern man most needs to hear is that Christ is alive.  As a result, modern man must come to terms with Jesus in His totality:  all that He said and all that He did.

On the basis of the resurrection, we proclaim the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.

The resurrection is the foundation on which proclaim the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life.  Peter moves next to explain the outpouring of the Spirit and the mission of the Church in terms of the resurrected, exalted Christ.  It is Christ who sends the Spirit so that His people may bear witness to Him.

33 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.

Peter repeats his point about David bearing witness to Christ because David’s words simply could not be applied to David himself.  Here, Peter appeals again to the Psalms, this time to Psalm 110:1, a passage that was very important to the early Christians.

34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Some early heretics argued that the phrase, “God has made him both Lord and Christ,” meant that Jesus was not really Lord or Christ until after His resurrection.  The early Church rejected this idea as false teaching, arguing instead that Jesus was divine from eternity past and that this was not the meaning of these words.  Many of the early church fathers in fact argued that this phrase was referring to the humanity of Jesus, not His deity.  Thus, Gregory, the 4th century bishop of Nyssa, wrote:

Who then was “exalted”?  He that was lowly, or he that was the highest?  And what else is the lowly but the humanity?  What else is the highest but the divinity?  Surely, God needs not to be exalted, seeing that he is the highest.  It follows, then, that the apostle’s meaning is that the humanity was exalted:  and its exaltation was effected by its becoming Lord and Christ.  And this took place after the passion.  It is not therefore the pretemporal existence of the Lord that the apostle indicates by the word made but that change of the lowly to the lofty that was effected “by the right hand of God.”

Also, Theodoret, the 5th century bishop of Cyr, wrote:

Now it was the humanity, not the Godhead, that became a corpse, and he who raised it was the Word, the power of God…So when it is said that God has made him who became a corpse and rose from the dead both Lord and Christ, what is meant is the flesh, and not the Godhead of the Son.[4]

The late Jaroslav Pelikan admitted that “the initial impression” upon reading this statement about God “making” Jesus Lord and Christ might be “that Jesus had been neither ‘Lord’…nor ‘Christ’…and Messiah until the resurrection,” but he argued that “this passage needs to be considered in the light of the entire confession of the early church.”[5]  He is correct in this.

In point of fact, the early Church considered Jesus to be divine, the second person of the Trinity, the eternal Logos, the Word.  Whatever Peter meant by this (and it seems reasonable, as the church fathers quoted above argued, that this was a way for him to explain the exaltation of the resurrected Christ in His humanity), it was not intended as a denial of the central Christian confession, “Jesus is Lord.”

The message of the early Church is the message of the modern Church.  The proclamation that Christ lives and reigns is the hope and challenge that the world most desperately needs to hear.  Without this proclamation, we have no message.

Charles Colson once recounted a powerful story about the bold witness of a Russian Orthodox monk.  It happened in 1990 in Moscow on the Russian May Day.  Mikhail Gorbachev and other Russian leaders were standing on a platform in Red Square watching a procession of tanks, missiles and troops rumble past them.  That year’s May Day celebration was different, however, for, behind the tanks and missiles and troops, followed a massive throng of protesters calling for freedom and heralding the collapse of the old Communist state.  It was out of this mass of protesters that this monk made his bold statement.  As they passed before the platform, this monk hoisted a huge crucifix into the air, stepped out of the mass of protesters towards the leaders on the platform and shouted, “Mikhail Sergeyevich!  Christ is risen!”  At this, Gorbachev turned and walked off the platform.[6]

Yes, Christ is risen!  You cannot proclaim that fact without proclaiming that Christ has came in flesh, born of a virgin.  You cannot proclaim that fact without proclaiming that Christ taught the Kingdom.  You cannot proclaim that fact without proclaiming that Christ worked mighty and miraculous works of power.  You cannot proclaim that fact without proclaiming that Christ cast out demons.  You cannot proclaim the resurrection without proclaiming that Christ modeled the mercy, love, and justice of God.  You cannot proclaim the resurrection without proclaiming that Christ was crucified.  You cannot proclaim it without proclaiming that Christ rose and ascended on high.  And you cannot proclaim the resurrection without proclaiming that salvation is in His and only in His name.  As a result, you cannot proclaim the resurrection without proclaiming that men and women and boys and girls need to come to Jesus and be saved…here…now!

This, then, is our message:  the crucified Christ is alive!  He lives!  He lives and He is holding out His saving hand to all who will come to Him!

 



[1] Christopher Buckley, Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir. Kindle Highlight Loc. 1643-45 | Added on Thursday, September 09, 2010, 05:00 AM

[2] Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998), p.146.

[3] Clinton E. Arnold, “Acts.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol.2. Clinton E. Arnold, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.235.

[4] Francis Martin, ed. Acts. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. New Testament, vol.V. Thomas C. Oden, gen. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), p.35,32.

[5] Jaroslav Pelikan, Acts. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2005), p.57.

[6] Charles Colson, The Enduring Revolution, p.28-29.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *