... continued from Saturday
But the heart of the sermons in Acts has to do with Jesus. Some aspects of the sermons may be a little surprising to us because we are so used to the fact that Jesus is divine. If anything, we struggle today to remember that Jesus was also fully human. But in the earliest days it was probably the other way around. They knew Jesus was fully human, and they had only begun to understand the fullness of his divinity.
So Peter speaks of Jesus as a "man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs" (Acts 2:22). These were things that God did "through" Jesus. We probably wouldn't put it quite this way today. We would probably prefer to say something like, "Jesus showed us who he was by the miracles he did." The way this sermon in Acts puts it sounds like the way you might talk about miracles God did through you or me.
And perhaps there is a point to be taken here. While he was on earth, Jesus played it by the human rules. Dare we say that, in one sense, there is nothing Jesus did while he was on earth that we cannot also do through the power of the Holy Spirit, just as he showed us? Now obviously we cannot atone for the sins of the whole world. None of us will ever go our whole lives without sinning.
But through the Spirit we at least potentially can live without intentional sin from today to the day we die. By the Spirit God can do miracles through us like he did through Jesus. Jesus tells his disciples in John 14:12 that they will do greater things than he himself did while he was on earth.
One pattern that emerges in Acts is an implicit comparison between the things Jesus, Peter, and Paul do. Jesus heals a cripped woman (Luke 13). Peter heals a lame man (Acts 3). Paul heals a lame man (Acts 14). Jesus raises a girl from the dead (Luke 8). Peter raises a woman from the dead (Acts 9). Paul raises a young man from the dead (Acts 20).
In each case, these three points make a line that points to us today. It says that, through the power of the Spirit, God can do miracles like healing the lame and raising the dead today through us. Jesus was fully human. You could argue that the things he did on earth, he did in part to show us what God can do through humanity on earth. He played it by the human rules to show us what the Spirit-filled human rules were.
Peter goes on to make it clear that the people and rulers of Jerusalem didn't pull one over on God or Jesus. Jesus' death on the cross was part of God's plan, something he knew was going to happen ahead of time. We will talk about this feature of Acts in later chapters. Acts has strong wording here and there about God's plans and foreknowledge, language that different Christians unpack in different ways.
Then we get to the climax of the sermon, the part that we always know is coming: "God raised him from the dead" (2:24). Again, we probably prefer to sing, "He arose! He arose! Hallelujah, Christ arose!" Acts and Paul put Jesus in the more passive position--God raised Jesus. God is the one who vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead.
With spiritual ears, Peter hears an echo of the resurrection in Psalm 16, which appears in more than one sermon in Acts. We will return to it when we look at Paul's sermon in Acts 13. God did not let Jesus' body disintegrate in the manner of mortal bodies, but raised him from the dead. More than anything else, the resurrection and all that it entails is what the apostles were sent to witness (2:32).
The significance of Jesus' resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand may also take us a little by surprise in Acts. "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah" (2:36). The train of thought goes in this way. You killed him. God raised him. God exalted him and gave him a seat at his right hand. That is to say, God has installed him as the Lord and as the anointed king, the "Messiah."
But wasn't Jesus always the Lord? Wasn't Jesus always the Messiah? Isn't Jesus the second person of the Trinity? Of course he was, and we find language in the gospels that refers to Jesus as Lord and Messiah prior to his resurrection.
However, we are so used to these truths that it is hard for us to get into the heads of the first disciples or to hear the full meaning these terms had originally. Again, they knew Jesus was human. They were only beginning to understand the extent of his divinity. In fact, it is possible the disciples never had the full understanding we now have, after centuries of the early Christians struggling to find the right words to describe Jesus' nature. We are blessed today to have the end result of those debates--the early creeds of the church.
It is also worth hearing the sense titles like "Lord" and "Messiah" had to the earliest Christians. In a real sense, they thought of Jesus' exaltation to God's right hand as a kind of enthronement. Jesus is finally installed as king in heaven as he is seated by God's throne. Perhaps in its earliest sense, it is at this moment that he most truly becomes king. He truly begins to rule.
We sing it in the chorus, "He is Lord. He is Lord. He is risen from the dead, and he is Lord." This is the timing of Acts. Jesus assumes his role as Lord most fully after his resurrection. Romans 10:9 embodies this timing: "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." What does it mean to declare "Jesus is Lord"? It is to confess that God raised him from the dead and installed him as king.
The "hymn" in Philippians 2 confirms this timing. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name... that every knee should bow... and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil. 2:9-11). The timing of the hymn puts this giving of the name after Jesus has suffered death.
The earliest Christians seem to have thought of Jesus' resurrection and subsequent exaltation to God's right hand as his enthronement as king of the cosmos. The reign of God through Jesus begins as Jesus fully assumes the titles of Lord and Christ, royal titles that God bequeaths to him. We will see this pattern throughout the sermons in Acts...