Easter 2A

April 13, 2020

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    John 20:19-31

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    Acts 2:14a, 22-32

    Author: Stan Mast

    For those who follow the RCL, Easter is not just a one off event.  The RCL devotes 7 Sundays to the Easter season, so that the church has ample opportunity to reflect on the most earthshaking event in history.  As a relative newcomer to the Lectionary, I think that is a superb idea.  But it does present the average preacher with quite a challenge.  What can you say about Easter that hasn’t already been said on Easter Sunday?

    The RCL is very helpful here, as it takes us through Acts where the effects of Easter are played out on the stage of history, particularly the history of the church.  For the next 3 Sundays, for example, we will focus on the first Christian sermon, preached on Pentecost by Peter, as reported in Acts 2.  That chapter shows us the centrality of Christ’s resurrection to the Gospel, the stunning response to the preaching of the resurrection gospel, and the remarkable community created by that gospel.

    Any student of preaching should pay careful attention to Peter’s sermon; it is a model of gospel preaching.  First, it begins as a direct response to a crisis, addressing a felt need in its audience—confusion about the phenomena associated with Pentecost.  In other words, it begins by hooking into its audience with a felt need.

    Second, it is completely Christ centered.  While God is clearly the actor here, God is active precisely in Jesus, particularly in his miracles, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and his enthronement.  The main focus is on Christ’s resurrection.

    Third, it preaches Christ with a heavy reliance on Scripture, particularly Old Testament prophecy.  But it also has a very personal dimension, as Peter claims to be a witness of that resurrection.  Fourth, it comes to a thunderous climax with a summary sentence that stuns the hearers and cuts their hearts open.

    Fifth, it doesn’t stop until Peter tells his audience exactly what they must do with the news they’ve just heard.  The sermon has a clear application of the Gospel.  “What must we do?  Repent and be baptized.” Finally, by the power of the Holy Spirit, three thousand people were converted and baptized as a result of this sermon.  Now that was a sermon!

    The question is, how do we preach on someone else’s sermon?  Where do we connect with people on this second Sunday of Easter?  Well, here at Calvin Theological Seminary, we teach Paul Scott Wilson’s The Four Pages of the Sermon, which encourages preachers to look for trouble and grace in the text and then relate that to trouble and grace in the world.  So, where is the trouble in the text?  What’s the problem to which Peter speaks?

    I see two problems, both of them having to do with confusion.  First, there was confusion about the church.  Who were these people who could speak in many languages, even though they were clearly hicks from up north in Galilee?  How can we explain what we see and hear in this bunch of preachers?  “What does this mean?”  “They have had too much to drink!”  The first part of Peter’s sermon (verses 14-21) speaks to that confusion about the church, a confusion that is very much a part of the world today.  The RCL leaves out that section of Acts, so we will, too, for now.

    The second confusion is not voiced by the crowd, but Peter is obviously attuned to it, because his whole sermon addresses it.  The crowd was confused about Jesus.  They thought they knew who he was, but Peter knows they were disastrously wrong.  The trouble in the text is that these people don’t know who Jesus really was.  Our world is troubled in the same way.  So we can preach on Peter’s sermon as the definitive way of addressing that confusion about Jesus.

    The first part of Peter’s sermon ends with a quote from Joel 2.  “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (verse 21).”  The rest of Peter’s sermon is an explanation of who that “Lord” is.  This Jewish audience assumed it was Yahweh, their covenant Lord, and they were right.  What they didn’t know was that Yahweh had proclaimed Jesus both Lord and Christ, which is exactly how Peter ended his sermon in verse 36.  In between that introduction and that conclusion, Peter sets out to prove who Jesus is.

    As any good preacher would do, Peter begins where his audience is, with what they already know about Jesus.  “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.”  Even the hostile Jewish authorities had to acknowledge that (recall the words of Nicodemus in John 3:2), though as their hostility grew they began to attribute his miracles to the Devil.  But the vast majority of his countrymen and women admitted that Jesus was a miracle working prophet, or at least a teacher.

    But that’s all he was, just a man accredited by God through his miracles.  The problem was that Jesus didn’t leave it at that.  He went on to claim that he was much more than a mere man, a claim that Thomas voiced so clearly after Jesus resurrection, “My Lord and my God.”  That dual claim was why he died an accursed death as a blasphemer and traitor.

    Peter’s explanation of Jesus’ crucifixion is rife with difficulties, but it is crucial in his preaching of Jesus as the Christ.  The first difficulty jumps out at us in these words: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge….”  Quite apart from the whole issue of predestination which these words raise, they clearly teach that the death of Jesus was not some accident of history.  It was part of God’s plan, what God had intended all along, as evidenced by all the prophecies about the suffering servant.

    But God didn’t do it.  It was a divine necessity, but it was also a human conspiracy. Yes, the death of Christ was at the heart of God’s saving purpose for the world, but God didn’t kill Jesus.  The Jewish leaders and their followers aided by the Gentile authorities did; “you with the help of wicked men put him to death.”

    There’s the second problem with Peter’s explanation of Jesus crucifixion.  It has led to centuries of anti-Semitism that have grown like a weed out of Peter’s words.  The Jewish people are “Christ killers,” so they deserve to be killed or at least treated with contempt.

    As we preach on this text, we must take great care to point out that Peter was not talking about the Jewish people as a whole, but about a certain set of leaders and followers at a particular place and point in time.  “You” meant the three thousand plus Jews who listened to Peter, and then became charter members of the Christian church.

    Here is Peter’s point in this first part of his sermon about Jesus. The man who had been accredited by God through his miracles was killed as a man accursed by God because of his blasphemy against God and his treason against Rome.

    But now, says Peter in verse 24, God has accredited Jesus again, proving that Jesus claims were precisely true.  “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.”  This is the central Christian claim about Jesus of Nazareth.  God raised him from the dead.  You can almost hear Peter’s audience gasp and then begin to object that it wasn’t true, that it couldn’t have happened.

    That’s when Peter pulls out his Old Testament to prove that it was impossible for death to keep its hold on the crucified Jesus–because the Bible says so!  Quoting from Psalm 16, Peter puts David’s words in Jesus’ mouth: “my body also will live in hope because you will not abandon me to the grave nor will you let your Holy One see decay….”  Peter proves that David could not have been talking about himself there, because “David died and was buried and his tomb is here to this day.”  No, David was speaking as a prophet about Jesus.

    Then Peter elicits more biblical proof that Jesus death and resurrection were part of God’s long term plan.  David knew God had promised that one of his descendants would sit on the throne of David in perpetuity (II Samuel 7:12), a promise that sustained Israel through the troubled times of its history).  Prophetically seeing what lay ahead for his nation and his immediate descendants, David spoke about the resurrection of the Christ in Psalm 16.  So, says Peter, we have biblical proof that the Christ would die and rise again, as I’ve just told you Jesus did.

    Peter will quote more Scripture to make his case about Jesus Christ (verses 33-35, which lead to the stunning climax in verse 36), but the RCL inexplicably leaves those verse out of our reading for today.  Verse 32 adds one more crucial bit of evidence to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. Not only did the Old Testament clearly teach it, but we have also actually seen it.  “God raised this (prophesied) Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of the fact.”

    Pointing to his companions, the Eleven apostles standing beside him and perhaps the one hundred plus who crowded around them, Peter claims multiple witnesses—not just one or two deluded fools, but we, all of us, are witness of the fact.  Interesting choice of words, isn’t it?  The resurrection of Jesus is “the fact.”  That’s exactly what it is, The Fact, the central fact of the Christian faith, the fact that proves Jesus’s claims, the fact that gave new hope to discouraged disciples, the fact that moved thousands and then millions to repent and be baptized into the church, the fact that inaugurated a new age in history, the fact at the heart of history.  By this fact, the man Jesus who had been discredited as a blasphemer and traitor has been re-accredited by God as Lord and Christ.

    “Who do people say I am?”  That was Jesus’ question of his disciples.  It’s a question that reverberates through history.  It never grows old.  It needs to be answered.  On this second Sunday of Easter, Peter’s old sermon gives us the perfect opportunity to answer that question for a whole new generation of confused people.

    Illustration Idea

    What counts as proof?  Peter offers two kinds of proof about Christ’s resurrection in his sermon—Scripture and experience, or what we might more philosophically call revelation and reason, some word from God and some thinking about human experience.

    In my Seminary days, logical positivism had a death grip on philosophy.  It taught that the only meaningful claims were those that could be proven by observation and experimentation.  Only if you could see it and test it was it true.  A supposedly authoritative word from beyond or above was completely unverifiable, so revelation had no role in establishing the truth of a statement.  Logical positivism lost its iron grip on philosophy when it was demonstrated that its claim about the verification principle was itself unprovable by observation and experimentation.

    Both revelation and reason/experience can help establish the truth of the claim that Jesus rose from the dead, but in the end only the Holy Spirit can cut open a heart and implant the seed of faith.

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 16

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Peter 1:3-9

    Author: Doug Bratt