Acts 2:37-47

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

Acts 2:37-47

May 31, 2015

 

On the church calendar, today is Trinity Sunday.  I’m not really preaching on the mystery of the Trinity except that in our story we see all three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit) in fellowship and reaching out to those who responds to Peter’s great sermon following the events of Pentecost.  Peter lays out what God is doing for us through Jesus Christ and as foretold through the Hebrew Bible.  Let me recall a comic strip for you…

Do you recall the strip, B. C.?  A while ago, on Good Friday, there was a strip showing two ants, obviously in love, sitting on a board…  One of the ants asks:  “Do you love me enough to die for me, Jake?”  “Sure, Honey,” the other ant responds.  Then she asks, “Do you love me enough to die for me if I wasn’t even born yet?”  Jake, the other ant, responds, “That’s asking a lot from a guy, ain’t it?”  “Some guys,” the first ant sighs.  The final frame of the strip is a wide angle shot and you realize the board upon which the ants are sitting while having their conversation is the beam of the cross.[1]

It’s hard to imagine a love for others so strong that someone would die for those not yet born (or for those who hate and despise the one giving up his life), yet that’s what God does for us through Jesus on the cross. He came to us as a babe born in a stall with animals to parents who would so become refugees.  He lived his life doing good and showing God’s love for the world…  And when the world had enough of him, he was crucified and buried in a borrowed tomb.

But the story doesn’t end there for we all know that he overcame the grave and lives even today… On that first Pentecost, Peter preaches a sermon, telling the crowd about how Jesus continues to live and is now at the right hand of God the Father.  This was a shock to the crowd whom Peter accuses of helping to crucify our Lord and Messiah.[2]

As we continue our look through the Book of Acts, I’ll begin my reading today with the 37th verse of the 2nd Chapter.

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In his sermon on that first Pentecost, Peter doesn’t mince his words.  He points out to the crowd the role they played in crucifying the Messiah, a troubling charge as we see in the opening verse of this passage.  They are horrified at thought of what they had done and they interrupt Peter’s sermon to ask what they should do.  Their request sounds like a desperate plea from someone who worries that it might be too late.

Peter, like John the Baptist at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, tells them that they must repent and be baptized.  Repentance is something Luke is serious about.  One half of the references to repentance in the New Testament are found in either Luke’s gospel or in Acts.  Conversion or salvation involves change.  Repentance, in the way Luke uses the word, is akin to its Hebrew meaning.  It means, literally, to turn around, to go in a different direction. [3]

Luke’s account here has Peter issuing this call followed by a promise to those whom God calls that their sins may be forgiven and they will receive the Holy Spirit.  Then, again in the style of John the Baptist, Peter cries out to his listeners: “save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  Although “save yourself” is one way of translating this, in light of Luke’s usage of the term it might be better translated as “receive salvation.”  Luke does not buy into the idea we can save ourselves.[4]  That’s God’s job.

After hearing Peter’s sermon, 3,000 people accept his message and receive baptism.  3,000 people at one event!  That’s far more lives changed in one day than Christ changed in three years of ministry.  This event fulfills Jesus’ prophecy that the disciples will be doing even greater works than him.[5]  Of course, they are fortified with the Holy Spirit.

But notice, Luke doesn’t dwell on the large number of conversions.  Today, counting things is how we evaluate our effectiveness.  We’d think Luke would be ecstatic about the number.  And I am sure he was, but he doesn’t brag about it, but moves on because he understands there is something more important than the individual, it’s building God’s kingdom.  We’ve lost this urgency to build up the church.  Starting in the early 19th Century, especially with the revivals of Finney and other revivalist in mid-19th century on through the modern era, there has been over-emphasis on numbers.  The focus is on individual salvation.  But Luke doesn’t dwell on this; he’s more concerned with how salvation of the individual plays out within the community’s fellowship and worship.[6]

Let me explain what I mean.  I have done some work on a long-forgotten but in his day a well-known revivalist, the Reverend A. B. Earle.  He was one of the leading revivalists in the 1858-59 Awakening in the Northeast and during the Civil War led large citywide revivals in Great Britain.  Following the war, he was invited by the ministerial union of San Francisco to work on the West Coast and he spent nine months of 1866 and 67 preaching in California, Oregon and Nevada.  He kept good notes of the number of conversions in each town.  He encouraged that those converted become involved in a local church.  A few months after he was gone, the Congregational pastor in Petaluma, California asked around of other pastors and discovered that nearly all those who had joined their churches during A. B. Earle’s revivals had stopped participating.[7]

As important as the individual is and the change within the individual’s life, what’s more important is how we live out our Christian life within this community, the church.  We’re called to exhibit God’s kingdom to the world.[8]  One commentator on Acts notes that Luke’s shift from individual conversions to the role of the community here is purposeful.  Luke’s main concern is the establishment of the church through which God’s kingdom is advanced.  You can’t have Lone Ranger Christians.  For us to fulfill our discipleship, we must be in a community.

At the risk of bragging, let me tell you a story.  Three weeks ago in Pittsburgh, the Cardinals were in town to play the Pirates.  The Cards are leading the Central Division of the National League and anytime the Pirates can beat them, they can move up a game.   On this afternoon, things were looking good for the Cards.  They had a man on second and another on third and no outs.  The next player at bat hit a high line drive.  It appeared to be going in the gap between centerfield and right field.  Both base runners took big leads as they waited for the ball to drop.  Then, miraculously, Neil Walker, the Pirate second baseman, learned how to fly.  He snatched the ball out of the air and then fired it to the third basemen who tagged out the runner and then threw the ball back to the shortstop now covering second.  It was a thing of beauty, a triple play.  And even better, the Pirates went on to beat the Cards and they won two of the three games of the series.

Although Walker made an incredible play, he couldn’t have done it by himself.  He needed the third baseman and the shortstop and let’s not forget the other teammates who moved into position just in case there was an overthrown ball.

The church is like a baseball team.  There is not a lot we can do as individuals, but working together and focused on God’s will and not our own desires, while inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish great things.  But it takes everyone and the focus has to be on what God wants and needs us to do.  We’re not to glorify ourselves.  “Thy will be done,” we pray, but do we mean it?

Luke tells us in verse 42, that these new converts “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  They listened to the teaching about Jesus, they enjoyed one another’s company sharing meals, and they prayed together.  Luke goes on to tells us that everyone was in awe of this community because of what they were doing.  Yes, there was some miraculous deeds done by the Apostles, but just as important there were some generous actions that were just as miraculous taken by these new converts.

Our passage ends with a description of this community in which sharing—time, food, money, talents—is paramount and goes together with worship and the praise of Almighty God.  This community is so inviting that it keeps drawing in new people, new converts.

What can we take from this passage?  What might we learn from it?  As I’ve said, too often in our culture, the needs of individuals are often lifted up over the needs of the community.  But in the community as described in Acts, such a concept would be foreign, even idolatrous.  The community in Acts, as described at the end of Chapter 2, is reflecting Jesus’ face to the world, which can best be done by the church working and praying and serving together.  And we’re told in the last verse that this community had the goodwill of all the people.  Why not, who wouldn’t want to be a part of such a fellowship.

I’m looking forward to our picnic this evening and pray that in breaking bread together, we can capture a bit of the true nature of the church as it was in the days after Pentecost. Let’s show Jesus’ face, let’s be the community illustrated in this passage.  Amen.

©2015

[1] B.C. (14 April 1995).

[2] Acts 2:14-36 (especially verses 35-36).

[3] Darrell L. Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 262.

[4] Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Acts (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 80-81.

[5]John 14:12,  F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids: Eerdamns, 1986), 79.

[6] Gaventa, 81.

[7] Charles Jeffrey Garrison, “Bringing in Sheaves: The Western Revivals of the Reverend A. B. Earle, 1866-1867” American Baptist Quarterly XXV, 3 (Fall 2006), 257.

[8] One of the Great Ends of the Presbyterian Church is the “exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the World.”  Presbyterian Church USA, The Book of Order, F-0304.


Comments

Acts 2:37-47 — 3 Comments

  1. Great sermon Pastor Jeff! I like this newsletter. It is full of great reads! Looking forward to the next one!

  2. Thanks Terri and Craig for your comments. Craig, I was just following Dr. Kelly’s hermeneutics–reducing Bible principles to living examples from the Pirates’ baseball diamond of the Steelers’ gridiron.

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