"Speaking the Wonderful Works of God"
Acts 2:1-21, with 2:22-39
Now, to Peter’s sermon. This is the Peter who once acted like a bull in a china shop when he wanted to protect Jesus from suffering and dying. After that Peter acted like a cowardly lion when he denied knowing Jesus not just once, not just twice, but three times. Now, on Pentecost Day, we see him turned into a confident prophet of God, boldly speaking the mighty works of God. What changed him? Jesus’ forgiveness and the Holy Spirit! He tells the congregation that, no, the apostles are not drunk. After all, 9:00 in the morning is a bit too early for “happy hour”! Then he quotes his sermon text from the prophet Joel.
Peter proclaims that Joel’s prophecy is now fulfilled. God promised to pour out His Spirit on all flesh. That He did on Pentecost. What a miracle! Joel said that sons and daughters, young and old, would proclaim God’s Word. Christians have been faithfully proclaiming the Gospel for nearly 2000 years now. What a miracle! Joel said, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The Holy Spirit has been working that faith for centuries. That’s the miracle of Pentecost—speaking and hearing the mighty works of God and being saved by them!
But Peter knew it would be a travesty and a tragedy to give a sermon without preaching Jesus. Peter knew that his congregation on that famous Pentecost Day needed to hear the mighty works that God had done through His Son Jesus Christ. You see, Peter paid attention to Jesus. On the night when He was betrayed, Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26). Peter knew that a sermon that does not give you Jesus and what He says and does is not a sermon from the Holy Spirit. It’s not a Christian sermon if it does not have Christ at the center for you.
Here’s how Peter preached Jesus, on the first Pentecost Day and for you here today: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24). After Peter showed from the Old Testament Psalms how Jesus would rise again from the dead, he boldly proclaimed, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32).
Through Peter’s sermon, God the Holy Spirit performs two great miracles. First, He cuts like a knife as He shows you your sin, and second, He gives you the healing medicine of Jesus and His forgiveness. Peter concluded his Pentecost sermon with these words: “God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
So, what does all of this mean for you? You might think or say, “We were not there when they crucified the Lord.” Ah, but you were! You may not have been there physically, in space and time, but it was your sins that put Jesus on the cross. Your every ill thought of another person, your every hurtful action, and your every word meant to get even--they all put Jesus on the cross. Your every excuse for missing out on hearing God’s Word in church put Jesus on the bloody tree. Your every neglect of calling on God in time of need, of praying, praising, and giving thanks—they pierced His hands and feet. Your every worry and mistrust of God, even all the times you don’t even think about God--they all led to the perfect Son of God shedding His blood and dying in your place. And yet “God has made Him…this Jesus whom you crucified—yes, you sitting right here today, listening to these words of God in your own language—God has made [this Jesus] both Lord and Christ.”
Here is the miracle of Pentecost. “When they heard this, they were cut to the heart.” After all, God’s Word is sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12), sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel. They asked Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) Notice how the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God as it’s proclaimed. Peter preaches, and his hearers come to repentance. The Holy Spirit still works that way. When you hear the Word of God, the Holy Spirit brings you to repentance. The Holy Spirit leads you to say, “Oh, no! Look what I’ve done! I’ve sinned against God Himself! What shall I do?” It’s a wonderful work of God!
Peter does not leave the congregation in the throes of despair. He does not tell them to shape up or ship out. He does not even tell them, “Just try harder.” Listen to what Peter says, and, yes, take comfort from it: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness your of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This is the mighty work of God! This is the chief miracle of Pentecost! The Holy Spirit comes to you through God’s Word proclaimed to you and through the waters of your Baptism. Yes, your Baptism is your personal Pentecost. In your Baptism, the Holy Spirit gives you a new life. He gives you a new way of thinking about God, about yourself, and about your sin. Because Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose the third day, you are now pure and perfect and holy. Now you are forgiven and free. The Holy Spirit brings you that message. Through that Good News the Holy Spirit makes you alive. That’s the mighty work of God for you!
In his Large Catechism Dr. Martin Luther explained the Holy Spirit’s work this way: “Neither you nor I could ever know anything about Christ, or believe on Him, and have Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel. The work of redemption is done and accomplished. Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by his suffering, death, resurrection, and so on. But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew about it, then it would be useless and lost. So that this treasure might not stay buried, but be received and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed. In the Word He has the Holy Spirit bring this treasure home and make it our own” (II:38; Concordia, 403).
The Holy Spirit enables your pastor to proclaim the life-giving, soul-sustaining Word to you. The Holy Spirit enables you to hear in your own language the wonderful works of God forgiving you in Christ. What a wonderful miracle that you can hear these words from your Lord Jesus: “I forgive you all your sins.”
And the Holy Spirit enables you to speak these same wonderful, mighty works of God to people around you. We have an easy enough time talking about how the Cardinals are doing or the recent rains and flooding or even the latest terror attack in London. Well, what do you say we take just as much pride and ease—perhaps even more—in talking about and remembering the sacrifice our Lord Jesus made for us on the cross? What do you say we remember how easy it is to talk about Christ and His mighty works of saving us from sin and death? After all, you have received the Holy Spirit. Now, you too can speak the mighty works of God in your language and with your very own tongue! Amen.