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PETER’S FIRST SERMON
‘This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. 34. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand, 35. Until I make Thy foes Thy footstool. 36. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. 37. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 38. Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. 42. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45. And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47. Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.’—ACTS ii. 32-47.
This passage may best be dealt with as divided into three parts: the sharp spear-thrust of Peter’s closing words (vs. 32-36), the wounded and healed hearers (vs. 37-41), and the fair morning dawn of the Church (vs. 42-47).
I. Peter’s address begins with pointing out the fulfilment of prophecy in the gift of the Spirit (vs. 14-21). It then declares the Resurrection of Jesus as foretold by prophecy, and witnessed to by the whole body of believers (vs. 22-32), and it ends by bringing together these two facts, the gift of the Spirit and the Resurrection and Ascension, as effect and cause, and as establishing beyond all doubt that Jesus is the Christ of prophecy, and the Lord on whom Joel had declared that whoever called should be saved. We now begin with the last verse of the second part of the address.
Observe the significant alternation of the names of ‘Christ’ and ‘Jesus’ in verses 31 and 32. The former verse establishes that prophecy had foretold the Resurrection of the Messiah, whoever he might be; the latter asserts that ‘this Jesus’ has fulfilled the prophetic conditions. That is not a thing to be argued about, but to be attested by competent witnesses. It was presented to the multitude on Pentecost, as it is to us, as a plain matter of fact, on which the whole fabric of Christianity is built, and which itself securely rests on the concordant testimony of those who knew Him alive, saw Him dead, and were familiar with Him risen.
There is a noble ring of certitude in Peter’s affirmation, and of confidence that the testimony producible was overwhelming. Unless Jesus had risen, there would neither have been a Pentecost nor a Church to receive the gift. The simple fact which Peter alleged in that first sermon, ‘whereof we all are witnesses,’ is still too strong for the deniers of the Resurrection, as their many devices to get over it prove.
But, a listener might ask, what has this witness of yours to do with Joel’s prophecy, or with this speaking with tongues? The answer follows in the last part of the sermon. The risen Jesus has ascended up; that is inseparable from the fact of resurrection, and is part of our testimony. He is ‘exalted by,’ or, perhaps, at, ‘the right hand of God.’ And that exaltation is to us the token that there He has received from the Father the Spirit, whom He promised to send when He left us. Therefore it is He—‘this Jesus’—who has ‘poured forth this,’—this new strange gift, the tokens of which you see flaming on each head, and hear bursting in praise from every tongue.
What triumphant emphasis is in that ‘He’! Peter quotes Joel’s word ‘pour forth.’ The prophet had said, as the mouthpiece of God, ‘I will pour forth’; Peter unhesitatingly transfers the word to Jesus. We must not assume in him at this stage a fully-developed consciousness of our Lord’s divine nature, but neither must we blink the tremendous assumption which he feels warranted in making, that the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God meant His exercising the power which belonged to God Himself.
In verse 34, he stays for a moment to establish by prophecy that the Ascension, of which he had for the first time spoken in verse 33, is part of the prophetic characteristics of the Messiah. His demonstration runs parallel with his preceding one as to the Resurrection. He quotes Psalm cx., which he had learned to do from his Master, and just as he had argued about the prediction of Resurrection, that the dead Psalmist’s words could not apply to himself, and must therefore apply to the Messiah; so he concludes that it was not ‘David’ who was called by Jehovah to sit as ‘Lord’ on His right hand. If not David, it could only be the Messiah who was thus invested with Lordship, and exalted as participator of the throne of the Most High.
Then comes the final thrust of the spear, for which all the discourse has been preparing. The Apostle rises to the full height of his great commission, and sets the trumpet to his mouth, summoning ‘all the house of Israel,’ priests, rulers, and all the people, to acknowledge his Master. He proclaims his supreme dignity and Messiahship. He is the ‘Lord’ of whom the Psalmist sang, and the prophet declared that whoever called on His name should be saved; and He is the Christ for whom Israel looked.
Last of all, he sets in sharp contrast what God had done with Jesus, and what Israel had done, and the barb of his arrow lies in the last words, ‘whom ye crucified.’ And this bold champion of Jesus, this undaunted arraigner of a nation’s crimes, was the man who, a few weeks before, had quailed before a maid-servant’s saucy tongue! What made the change? Will anything but the Resurrection and Pentecost account for the psychological transformation effected in him and the other Apostles?
II. No wonder that ‘they were pricked in their heart’! Such a thrust must have gone deep, even where the armour of prejudice was thick. The scene they had witnessed, and the fiery words of explanation, taken together, produced incipient conviction, and the conviction produced alarm. How surely does the first glimpse of Jesus as Christ and Lord set conscience to work! The question, ‘What shall we do?’ is the beginning of conversion. The acknowledgment of Jesus which does not lead to it is shallow and worthless. The most orthodox accepter, so far as intellect goes, of the gospel, who has not been driven by it to ask his own duty in regard to it, and what he is to do to receive its benefits, and to escape from his sins, has not accepted it at all.
Peter’s answer lays down two conditions: repentance and baptism. The former is often taken in too narrow a sense as meaning sorrow for sin, whereas it means a change of disposition or mind, which will be accompanied, no doubt, with ‘godly sorrow,’ but is in itself deeper than sorrow, and is the turning away of heart and will from past love and practice of evil. The second, baptism, is ‘in the name of Jesus Christ,’ or more accurately, ‘upon the name,’—that is, on the ground of the revealed character of Jesus. That necessarily implies faith in that Name; for, without such faith, the baptism would not be on the ground of the Name. The two things are regarded as inseparable, being the inside and the outside of the Christian discipleship. Repentance, faith, baptism, these three, are called for by Peter.
But ‘remission of sins’ is not attached to the immediately preceding clause, so as that baptism is said to secure remission, but to the whole of what goes before in the sentence. Obedience to the requirements would bring the same gift to the obedient as the disciples had received; for it would make them disciples also. But, while repentance and baptism which presupposed faith were the normal, precedent conditions of the Spirit’s bestowal, the case of Cornelius, where the Spirit was given before baptism, forbids the attempt to link the rite and the divine gift more closely together.
The Apostle was eager to share the gift. The more we have of the Spirit, the more shall we desire that others may have Him, and the more sure shall we be that He is meant for all. So Peter went on to base his assurance, that his hearers might all possess the Spirit, on the universal destination of the promise. Joel had said, ‘on all flesh’; Peter declares that word to point downwards through all generations, and outwards to all nations. How swiftly had he grown in grasp of the sweep of Christ’s work! How far beneath that moment of illumination some of his subsequent actions fell!
We have only a summary of his exhortations, the gist of which was earnest warning to separate from the fate of the nation by separating in will and mind from its sins. Swift conviction followed the Spiri-given words, as it ever will do when the speaker is filled with the Holy Spirit, and has therefore a tongue of fire. Three thousand new disciples were made that day, and though there must have been many superficial adherents, and none with much knowledge, it is perhaps not fanciful to see in Luke’s speaking of them as ‘souls’ a hint that, in general, the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah was deep and real. Not only were three thousand ‘names’ added to the hundred and twenty, but three thousand souls.
III. The fair picture of the morning brightness, so soon overclouded, so long lost, follows. First, the narrative tells how the raw converts were incorporated in the community, and assimilated to its character. They, too, ‘continued steadfastly’ (Acts i. 14). Note the four points enumerated: ‘teaching,’ which would be principally instruction in the life of Jesus and His Messianic dignity, as proved by prophecy; ‘fellowship,’ which implies community of disposition and oneness of heart manifested in outward association; ‘breaking of bread,’—that is, the observance of the Lord’s Supper; and ‘the prayers,’ which were the very life-breath of the infant Church (i. 14). Thus oneness in faith and in love, participation in the memorial feast and in devotional acts bound the new converts to the original believers, and trained them towards maturity. These are still the methods by which a sudden influx of converts is best dealt with, and babes in Christ nurtured to full growth. Alas! that so often churches do not know what to do with novices when they come in numbers.
A wider view of the state of the community as a whole closes the chapter. It is the first of several landing-places, as it were, on which Luke pauses to sum up an epoch. A reverent awe laid hold of the popular mind, which was increased by the miraculous powers of the Apostles. The Church will produce that impression on the world in proportion as it is manifestly filled with the Spirit. Do we? The s-called community of goods was not imposed by commandment, as is plain from Peter’s recognition of Ananias’ right to do as he chose with his property. The facts that Mark’s mother, Mary, had a house of her own, and that Barnabas, her relative, is specially signalised as having sold his property, prove that it was not universal. It was an irrepressible outcrop of the brotherly feeling that filled all hearts. Christ has not come to lay down laws, but to give impulses. Compelled communism is not the repetition of that oneness of sympathy which effloresced in the bright flower of this common possession of individual goods. But neither is the closed purse, closed because the heart is shut, which puts to shame so much profession of brotherhood, justified because the liberality of the primitive disciples was not by constraint nor of obligation, but willing and spontaneous.
Verses 46 and 47 add an outline of the beautiful daily life of the community, which was, like their liberality, the outcome of the feeling of brotherhood, intensified by the sense of the gulf between them and the crooked generation from which they had separated themselves. Luke shows it on two sides. Though they had separated from the nation, they clung to the Temple services, as they continued to do till the end. They had not come to clear consciousness of all that was involved in their discipleship, It was not God’s will that the new spirit should violently break with the old letter. Convulsions are not His way, except as second-best. The disciples had to stay within the fold of Israel, if they were to influence Israel. The time of outward parting between the Temple and the Church was far ahead yet.
But the truest life of the infant Church was not nourished in the Temple, but in the privacy of their homes. They were one family, and lived as such. Their ‘breaking bread at home’ includes both their ordinary meals and the Lord’s Supper; for in these first days every meal, at least the evening meal of every day, was hallowed by having the Supper as a part of it. Each meal was thus a religious act, a token of brotherhood, and accompanied with praise. Surely then ‘men did eat angels’ food,’ and on platter and cup was written ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ The ideal of human fellowship was realised, though but for a moment, and on a small scale. It was inevitable that divergences should arise, but it was not inevitable that the Church should depart so far from the brief brightness of its dawn. Still the sweet concordant brotherhood of these morning hours witnesses what Christian love can do, and prophesies what shall yet be and shall not pass.
No wonder that such a Church won favour with all the people! We hear nothing of its evangelising activity, but its life was such that, without recorded speech, multitudes were drawn into so sweet a fellowship. If we were like the Pentecostal Christians, we should attract wearied souls out of the world’s Babel into the calm home where love and brotherhood reigned, and God would ‘add’ to us ‘day by day those that were being saved.’
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