Sunday’s Sermon from April 27th, 2014. The text for the sermon is Acts 2:22-36.
It Was No Accident
In the Gospels, Peter is not known for his speaking ability. In fact, he’s really more known for quite the opposite. He’s known for sticking his foot in his mouth. He’s the one who passionately declared that he’d stand with Jesus through anything, and then within hours had denied him three times. He’s the one that jumped out of the boat to walk on the water towards Jesus, and then looked down like Wile E. Coyote and started sinking, and said “Jesus, help me!” And Jesus said, “What did you think I was doing?”
So I think it comes as a little bit of a surprise, when on the day of Pentecost, it’s Peter who speaks to the crowds that have gathered around the commotion.
Our passage from Acts is a part of this speech that Peter gave to the crowd. It passage begins right after Peter reassures them that the people babbling in the street aren’t just a bunch of drunkards.
His speech is simple and direct. It sums up the highlights of the Easter story. Jesus, a man attested by signs and wonders to be from God, came to Jerusalem. He was handed over and killed. But God raised him up, because it is impossible for death to hold him. It’s the Easter story in a nutshell. But Peter adds this emphasis that I think shouldn’t be missed. When he talks about Jesus being handed over and killed, he says it was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.”
In other words, what happened with Jesus was no accident. Jesus’ death and resurrection were not just parts of the plan, but important, necessary parts of the plan. There are a lot of people who think that Jesus was just a nice guy who said nice things. They think he had great things to say (and I agree with them on that), and they may even try to follow the ones they know about. But when it comes to the cross and the resurrection, all they are willing to say is that maybe he died a little bit too young. This is a pretty common belief. People say that all Jesus was was a good teacher from a long time ago who came with a message of love and hope and died before it could spread.
But Peter says that’s not right. Jesus was not just a nice guy who said nice things. And Jesus didn’t die before he could accomplish his mission. Jesus died in order to accomplish his mission. According to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. It was no accident.
For Peter, the words that Jesus said are only part of the story. They aren’t the whole story. Because if you think that all this world needs to turn from what it is into the kingdom Jesus talked about is a few more sermons about love and charity, you don’t understand this world very well. Because just as Jesus could not be bound by death, neither can we escape from it. Our world and our natures are so dominated by sin, suffering, and alienation that death is the inevitable result.
That’s how Jesus ended up on the cross. It’s just what happens when someone tries to break the cycle of destruction that we live in. The cycle breaks them. God knew that. God knows the insurmountable pressure of sin and suffering that alienates us from God. And God chose to put an end to that alienation by taking it into his very being by suffering through it on the cross. Through this even in our suffering we are connected to God, who suffers with us and for us.
This was accomplished by God in Christ, that we might not be doomed to separation and alienation from God but united with God through Christ. And what Peter is saying to the people in the streets of Jerusalem, is that what they are witnessing now is not some craziness or insanity, but the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon God’s apostles, who are the messengers of this reconciliation accomplished on the cross. Because this is also according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God. This also is no accident. Jesus is a part of God’s plan of salvation, and so are we. Because just as God sent the Son to redeem us God sent us to share that redemption and the Holy Spirit to sustain us. To give us courage and strength, to show us talents we didn’t know we had. The Holy Spirit keeps us in that love so that we will not be separated from the love and goodness of the God who redeems us.
This is what God chose to do in order to redeem the world. He sent Christ into the world to reconcile Godself to us, and through Christ God birthed the church, to be sent out into the world as ambassadors of that reconciliation. And he sent the Holy Spirit to those first disciples and apostles of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is with us to this day, continually being poured upon us in abundance, so that we can go out in the assurance of the resurrection and in the conviction that our redemption is being forged according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.
And through the sustenance of the Spirit, we often find that we can do more than we thought we could. When someone asks us to do a job that we think is more than we can handle, but we flourish in it. Not only do we do it well, we find that we love doing it and want to do more. Or when we run into someone and they need someone to talk to, and we try to be there but our tongue sticks to our mouth, and we try to say something honest and true but it sounds to us like it’s muddled and dumb. And then we run into them a few months or years later, and they say “You were exactly what I needed.” So next time you think you’re in over your head, or that Jesus is calling you to something that is impossible for you to do, remember that God chose you as a part of his church and sent the Holy Spirit with you to give you what you need to accomplish that mission. And that is no accident either.