May 4, 2014
While you’re opening up your Bibles to the book of Acts…
Let’s begin with a little introduction as to the context of Acts.
Context is important…
And I would say for any piece of media – book, film, even status update!
Context tells us who is speaking and for what kind of audience…
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,”
could have been just a novel…
but put it into the context of the segregated south
and publish it in the north
and it becomes an abolitionist tract that supports an anti-slavery movement.
So as you turn to the beginning of Acts,
Write at the top these 3 things about the context of the book:
- The author is Luke – the same person who wrote the gospel of Luke. Acts is a continuation of the gospel.
- It was written somewhere between the years 70 and 100 CE – so about 40 or 50 years after Jesus died.
- It was written to Theophilus – a common name meaning “lover of God.”Theophilus might have been a person, but more likely it was meant to be read by more than one person – rather all who love God, and at that time, to an audience who expected Jesus to return to earth within their own lifetimes.
In today’s reading, we heard the conclusion of Peter’s first sermon.
I must confess, this passage from Acts makes me a little bit discouraged.
Look at verse 41:
“So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.”
(Anyone have a translation that says anything other than 3000?)
Circle “3000” – and if I were you, I’d put an exclamation point in the margin!
Peter, who’s never been to seminary, never had a preaching class,
preaches his very first sermon
and 3000 people join the church!
What am I doing wrong?!
I’ve read Peter’s sermon several times this week,
And frankly I don’t get it…
He doesn’t have a single joke!
There’s no poem or cute little story from Chicken Soup for the Soul!
If I went to Old Town with a megaphone and read his sermon do you think 3000 people
would ask to join Good Shepherd?
(Because if you do, I’ll be glad to do it!)
What about Peter’s sermon connected with people?
What inspired them to be baptized?
His sermon begins at verse 14 and continues through verse 41…
Here’s three things that Peter does in his sermon:
First, he quotes the Jewish Scripture – the Old Testament which his audience knew.
Circle “Joel” in verse 16 – this is the prophet Joel.
And circle “David” in verse 25, and in verse 29, and in verse 31, and in verse 34 – this refers to King David who wrote the psalms according to tradition.
So Peter uses Scripture
to say that Jesus is the one who was foretold in the Old Testament.
Secondly, Peter asserts this is not just hearsay – he and the other disciples saw it- – they were witnesses.
In verse 32 he says, “This Jesus God raised up…
and of this we were all witnesses…”
Underline “witnesses” in verse 32….
Throughout the book of Acts we will see the disciples convincing others
of the truth of the resurrection because they were witnesses.
Thirdly, I think Peter uses a little bit of fear in his sermon.
Twice he says to the people – Jesus – whom you crucified—
is Lord and Messiah.
Well, after the sermon, my translation says they were “cut to the heart,”
The King James Version says they were ‘pricked in the heart;”
Other translations say they were “moved deeply,”
And 3000 of them are led to be baptized.
His sermon connected with them profoundly.
It moved them, it inspired them,
it created in them a desire to act immediately –
a desire to jump in the water and be baptized
To join this movement which did not yet even have a name.
So if I preached this sermon in Old Town,
Do you think that 3000 people would jump into the Potomac to be baptized?
I can’t say for sure, but I doubt it.
I doubt it because of context.
(You can put aside your Bibles now.)
Peter preaches a sermon which shares the gospel – gospel means “good news”
To people who were longing to hear the gospel.
I don’t think that that is any different from our context.
People are longing to hear the good news – the gospel.
I think what’s different in our time, however,
Is what the gospel means.
The good news is still that Jesus is alive – Jesus was raised from the dead,
But what has changed is the reason why we should care.
Those first early Christians to whom Peter preached,
Had grown up hearing in their Scriptures of a time in the future when there would be a messiah
who would bring in a new era – an era of peace and justice.
They heard this good news from Peter that Scripture was fulfilled.
God’s promise of a messiah was fulfilled in Jesus.
So they were compelled to be baptized, to become part of this movement
That there would be a new kingdom ruled not by their Roman oppressors,
But ruled by the messiah, a king of justice and peace.
This was good news – really good news!
But is that good news on King Street today?
I would guess that most people on King Street have not grown up hearing any Scripture;
Most are not looking for a new government ( I said most, not all!);
Even if they were looking for a new government, Most would resist a notion of government led by a new king.
If things are pretty good for us, as it is for many on King Street,
then we are not longing for much of a change,
We are longing for good news, for gospel,
But perhaps not in the form of a messiah who will change things around too much.
But also remember there’s a different context 40-50 years later.
This is the context in which Luke writes.
His audience includes those who have been waiting for gospel,
Waiting for the good news that Jesus has come again.
They thought he would come again in their lifetimes,
But it hasn’t happened yet,
and most of his early followers have died, and others are near death.
Luke reminds them through Peter’s sermon,
that there were witnesses who had seen Jesus raised from the dead,
And this gives them encouragement – this is good news.
Don’t give up hope – people saw him. He will come again.
Is that good news on King Street today?
People saw him…He will come again.
Again, I think it has to do with the level of ease which we live our lives.
If things aren’t too bad, why wait for someone to come to change it all?
So, what is good news in our context?
What is the good news on King Street in 2014?
Are people still longing for gospel?
I think they are.
I think the good news is still that Jesus is alive- Jesus was raised from the dead,
But what it means to us may be different from 2000 years ago.
This has been an awful week in world news…
We have been asked to confront racism once again.
We have been faced with violence and possible genocide in South Sudan.
Nearly 300 girls were abducted in Nigeria and no one seems to know where they are.
Where is good news?
We are longing for gospel.
The good news is still that Jesus is alive.
When we have an awful week…
When we hear about a racist NBA team owner,
Good news is that God came to earth as a man of color.
Jesus is alive – and we can see him in all persons of color, in all who have suffered for being a minority, if we are looking.
When we are faced with violence and the horrors of war,
Good news is that God desires peace.
Jesus is alive – and we can see glimpses of him in those who dare work for peace in Sudan and Syria, Ukraine and U Street.
When we hear about 300 girls kidnapped in Nigeria,
Good news is that God created those girls, God knows them, God loves them.
Jesus is alive – and Jesus weeps with their families and remains with them when we cannot be.
There are people longing for gospel on King Street.
There are people you know who are longing for gospel…
They are longing for the good news that Jesus is alive…even now.
We are witnesses of his resurrection.
The question I leave with you this morning is,
“Where have you seen him this week? Where have you seen the good news that Jesus is alive?”