Peter’s Pentecost sermon (March 16, 2014)

Uniform Lesson for March 16, 2014

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Acts 2:22-32

Making a good speech to an apprecia­tive audience is hard enough. Imagine trying to speak to a skeptical crowd that thought you and your colleagues were drunk. Moreover, you are eager to tell your audience that God had raised a recently crucified bandit from the dead and had inspired a group of his followers to speak in many foreign languages by sending them his Holy Spirit. That was the situation the apostle Peter faced on Pentecost.

Reporting Peter’s sermon several decades after it had been preached, historian Luke followed a Hellenistic pattern and reconstructed a sermon that exactly fit the situation and Peter’s character. It is a masterpiece of the earliest Christian preaching and Luke’s inspired history writing.


Acts 2:22-23 — Jesus was killed by human beings according to God’s plan

Luke begins Peter’s sermon by des­cribing Jesus as a person empowered by God to perform signs and wonders that his hearers had personally expe­rienced. Then Peter bluntly accuses his hearers of handing Jesus over to “lawless men” who crucified him. That death was not an accident, Peter explains, because it was in accordance with God’s plan, a special emphasis of Luke throughout his Gospel and Acts.


Acts 2:24-28: David prophesied that Jesus would be raised from the dead

Luke contrasts the deadly actions of his hearers with God’s life-giving act of raising Jesus from the dead. Using phrases found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that Luke knew very well, Peter claims that God loosed Jesus from the pains of death that had no power over him. Then Peter quotes Psalm 16:8-11 and links it directly with the resurrected Jesus. This passage celebrates David’s sense of God’s presence and includes the prophetic words, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corrup­tion.” Hades refers to the realm of the dead, sheol in Hebrew. Early Christian evangelists like Peter saw messianic significance in David’s words. They were convinced that the resurrection of Jesus, of which they were eyewit­nesses, had been foretold by the prophet David.


Acts 2:29-31: David’s prophesy has been fulfilled by Jesus’ resurrection

In his sermon Peter assumes that his hearers consider David to have been a prophet. Furthermore, they know the location of King David’s tomb, an as­sumption corroborated by the Jewish historian Josephus. Peter then reminds his hearers of the promise to David: “God had sworn with an oath” that a descendant of David would occupy the throne. These words mirror Psalm 132:11, where the preceding verse says, “For your servant David’s sake do not turn away the face of your anointed one.” For early Christian preachers like Peter, the Messianic significance of Psalm 132:11 and Psalm 16:10, confir­ming God’s promise to David in 2 Sa­muel 7:12-16, was undeniable. The re­sidents of Qumran who produced the Dead Sea scrolls also had a messianic interpretation of these passages. Luke masterfully weaves in clear allusions to these Messianic texts.


Acts 2:33-36: God has raised Messiah Jesus to God’s right hand

Peter tells his audience that Jesus is now with God and has sent his Holy Spirit to the disciples. That is why they are able to speak in different lan­guages about the power of God that raised Jesus.

Luke has Peter close his case by citing Psalm 110:1, perhaps the most frequently mentioned messianic prophesy referred to in early Chris­tian preaching. “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Early Christian interpretation of this passage understood God to be the Lord who addresses the exalted Lord Jesus Christ, not David. Jesus and not David had ascended to the right hand of God. And the resurrected Jesus, Peter told his hearers, is the Christ, the Messiah.

Luke concludes Peter’s sermon with its central point: all Israel should ac­knowledge with certainty that God has made Jesus the Lord and the Messiah.


For discussion

  • Do you think Luke had reliable information about the exact words Peter spoke at Pentecost or was Luke inspired to compose his own account of Peter’s sermon?
  • Peter bluntly says “lawless men” crucified Jesus. To whom is he refer­ring? Most Christians today reject the anti-Semitic tradition that labeled all Jews as “Christ killers.” Who was responsible for the death of Jesus? To quote a well-known song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

James BrashlerJAMES A. BRASHLER is professor emeritus of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Va.