The Spirit Explodes
Part 3 of 22 – Peter explains and challenges
by Roger Kirby
TThen Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
‘‘Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
‘“I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.”
‘Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
‘“The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”
‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:14 – 2:31)
This is a great speech by Peter, or rather two speeches. The first argues convincingly about the meaning of what has happened. The second details the best response to the first one. Luke is only giving us an outline of them, as he says ‘with many other words he warned them’; as we have them they only take about 3 minutes to read right through. The first sets the scene for the whole book and is very cleverly constructed. It starts off defensively, explaining what has happened and what the crowd are seeing by using a quotation from the book of Joel in the OT. Then it switches to the attack explaining why these things have happened with 4 quotations from the book of Psalms.
We read the first speech verses 14 – 37. We shall read Messiah, as in the NIV footnote, at verses 31 and 36. We tend to hear “Christ” as a name but here it is a title or a status and Messiah gives that impression better. The argument of that speech goes like this:
The apparent drunkenness of the disciples is the result of the gift of the Spirit given by the Lord that is by the LORD God of the OT that Joel prophesied about. The crucifixion clearly points to Jesus being the one talked about in Psalm 18 ‘the cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me’ and Psalm 16 refers to the resurrection ‘you will not abandon me to the grave’. Psalm 132 identifies this one as being a descendant of David saying to David ‘one of your own descendants I will place on your throne’. Then Psalm 110 speaks of this descendant as being the Lord. Thus from ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ we have linked through to ‘this Jesus, whom you crucified, is both Lord and Messiah’, from the Lord of the Old Testament to Jesus as Lord. However difficult it may be to have a human being equated with the LORD God that is what has been done and it did not cause any problem amongst those strongly monotheistic people.
Question 1: What explanation is there for how Peter was able to give such a coherent and compelling response to a difficult situation without prior notice when he had so often got it wrong while Jesus was on earth. How far is this an example for us?
This can only have been a product of the 40 days of intensive instruction the disciples received from Jesus between his resurrection and his ascension. We are told not to worry in times of stress because the Holy Spirit will speak for us but it is doubtful whether that will always apply and it is much better to follow the example here with much study of the story and the teachings of the Bible. We should note that Peter talked about Jesus being raised to life only 7 weeks after the resurrection.
Question 2: What was the obvious thing for the Roman and Jewish leaders to have done if they wanted to stop this new movement before it had even started? Why didn’t they? So what?
Producing the body of Jesus would have stopped the new movement. But they didn’t, obviously because they couldn’t! They could have produced a well decayed body and claimed it was Jesus but they didn’t, so the fact of the resurrection must have been well accepted on the streets of Jerusalem. Thus immediately we see that the resurrection of Jesus is the fundamental foundation of all the Christian faith.
Peter made two additions to his quotation from Joel. Joel said ‘I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth’, but Peter said ‘I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below’.
Question 3: Why did he do that?
He wanted to emphasise that his hearers had just seen some of the wonders. Perhaps, too, he wanted to suggest that Jesus was in heaven and that was a wonder.
Peter changed one phrase too. Joel spoke of ‘the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord’ but Peter changed that to the ‘glorious day of the Lord’.
Question 4: Why did he do that?
Joel had thought that the day of the Lord would be the great final day of this earth as was common Jewish thinking, but Peter realised that that day was happening ahead of the time that everyone had expected.
Question 5: What are the 3 main points that Peter made in this first speech? To give you some clues: a gift, a recent event and a range. What do they mean for us?
Of course you may argue with me saying there are exactly 3 main points! I see them as:
- That the Spirit was a gift. Promised long before but now given to every follower of Jesus – including you and me!
- That the central fact on which all else depends is the Resurrection of Jesus. As Paul said later ‘if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile … we are to be pitied more than all men’. This is the solid ground of our faith.
- That the gift of salvation and the Spirit was to ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’. The promise is to ‘all who are far off’. The range is the whole wide world. That includes you and me! Hooray!
Question 6: Why were Peter’s hearers so upset – ‘cut to the heart’?
Very probably many of those who heard Peter were in the crowd which had cried ‘crucify him!’ not so long before. They would be feeling very guilty.
Now we read the second speech verses 38 – 41.
Question 7: What two things did Peter want his hearers to do? How do we do these two things?
He wanted them to repent and to be baptized. To repent is to change the whole direction and purpose of one’s life. That is not an easy thing to do, but it is within the power of every one of us, particularly with the help of the Holy Spirit. To be baptized may be difficult, particularly if you have already been baptized as a child. Baptism is the sign and seal of the new life beginning. As we shall see as we read on through Acts this usually, but not always, followed repentance and was closely associated with the gift of the Spirit.
Question 8: What two things, one visible and one invisible, will always happen as a consequence of our repentance and beginning of the new life?
We shall receive the gift of the Spirit, which should be clearly evident to those around us, and we shall receive forgiveness of sins, which cannot be seen but will also always happen.
The 3000 people who responded positively to what Peter said that day each began a personal and communal journey. The rest of the book of Acts tells us about that journey, telling us mainly about that of the whole community but hinting at the personal journeys too: the exciting bits, the difficult bits, the nearly impossible bits, the fun bits. That is the way journeys are if they are worth making. If they are just boring they are not worth making. Also – they need a goal. This journey has the greatest of all goals – the immediate presence of our Lord and Saviour.
I hope you are on this best of all journeys – following Jesus.