Don't fear the resurrection
Peter preaches the resurrection to the crowds in Jerusalem. We’ll officially hear the crowd’s response as part of next week’s reading, but we need to mention it today.
Peter announces that the Jesus they handed over to the authorities and murdered rose from the dead. More: “God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” What we take for granted as a happy thing – Easter – this crowd reacted to differently: “When they people heard this they were cut to the heart and said…, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”
That can’t be right. They hear, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” and get scared. Easter’s never scared me. You neither I bet.
Consider. This crowd put two and two together. “We betrayed and crucified Jesus. We participated in this crime. This Jesus is the Christ, more, he is the Lord God Himself. Now he’s back from the dead? How can we avoid his vengeance?”
Consider. What story about someone coming back from death is a happy-go-lucky tale? Don’t resurrection stories usually involve brain-eating zombies, trapped-between-heaven-and-hell spirits craving release, or murdered souls seeking vengeance?
Here Jerusalem doesn’t just fear that. They fear God’s retribution. “We killed him. He’s going to be ticked off.” They stand in the same shoes as the Philippian jailor in Acts 16. When the earthquake comes and the jail cells stand open, the jailor assumes the prisoners have escaped and he’ll not just get fired, but executed. As he prepares to kill himself, the apostle Paul stops him. The jailor says, “What must I do to be saved?” What can save him from the sure punishment coming from his superior officers? Just as Jerusalem asks, “What can spare us from God’s wrath?”
That’s the best question to ask. What can spare us from God’s wrath? Notice how personally Peter talked to this crowd. He didn’t say, “Your leaders killed Jesus.” He didn’t quote the Apostles’ Creed, “he suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Peter said “you.” “This man was handed over to you…and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death.” “This Jesus, whom you crucified.” Later, after healing a man, Peter says to another crowd, “You killed the author of life.”
Peter assigns personal responsibility for Jesus’ death to this crowd. Broader still, to all Israel. Remember, on Pentecost, Peter preached to a crowd of Jewish pilgrims from almost every nation in the known world. These weren’t just locals who had always lived in Jerusalem. These were out-of-towners. Yet faithful Jews, else they wouldn’t be in Jerusalem following God’s command to celebrate this feast. And Peter rebukes, convicts and condemns them. “You knew Jesus. You saw Jesus. You heard about the miracles. You had God’s testimony. You knew God’s testimony. Yet you killed him.”
Later, one of those who might have been in the crowd that day, Saul who would become Paul, put it this way to the Romans, “He was put to death because of our sins.” Expanding it still further, eh? We can understand Peter’s words. These crowds were in the city at the time of the great atrocity. They were of the Old Testament faith of Israel. They knew God’s promises and lived in expectation of a coming Savior from sins. And they, at worst, killed him, at best, stood silently by as their leaders jerry-rigged a “legal” murder.
But Paul widens the circle to “our sins.” Just as John does, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.” The world? What had the world to do with Jesus? Most knew nothing about this backwater nation and this tempest-in-a-teapot called the ministry of Jesus. Now the whole world gets lumped into Peter’s “you”?
In a word, “yes.” You did this. I did this. The world did this to Jesus. We handed him over by the simple act of sinning. So really, we should be terrified. We murdered God’s Son. We’ve also seen the films about a father going on a rampage to avenge the death of a child, like Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Hell hath no fury, eh? And this Father isn’t just good with knives and guns. Jesus said we fear God the Father because he “can destroy both soul and body in hell.” He has that power. And we killed his Son.
“But I didn’t mean to.” Really? You didn’t mean to be selfish and spoiled and self-indulgent. You didn’t mean to hurt feelings or take their things. You didn’t mean fill your heart with lust and greed and corruption. You didn’t mean to be unfaithful to spouse, family, or boss. You didn’t mean to spend most of your time on the trivial and little of your time on God’s Word.
And what will you say? It’s not your fault? The devil made you do it? You didn’t understand? You couldn’t help it? If all those are true, why didn’t you trumpet all those behaviors? Why didn’t you boast proudly about how many women you’ve ogled, how many insults you’ve hurled, how many times you haven’t been there as a parent, employee or student? You didn’t because you knew. You knew. Well now, here it is: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
It’s like finding out that the guy you screwed on your way up the corporate ladder is now your boss. You’re toast. You’re professionally dead. You’re damned. You are. You killed Christ. You killed God. The Jews aren’t the Christ killers, you are. Amen. End of story. Run to the mountains and beg them to fall on you and hide you from the God-pocalypse. It’s all you can do.
Except Jesus rose from the dead. “Yeah, I know, and now he’s going to tan my hide! He’s going to melt me with his laser beam eyes! He’s going to do all those things he probably thought about doing but didn’t while they spit on him and mocked him and tortured him.” Only Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Huh?
You expected maybe Jesus to appear in the disciples locked room and say, “You jerks!” The disciples had earned it, for sure. They betrayed him. Denied him. Fled from him. And now hide because of him. And he says, “Peace be with you.”
He comes and teaches them about the resurrection of the dead. It means forgiveness. It means peace, not “I smite you.” It means knowing for sure and for certain who our Lord and God is, and it’s not a brain-eating zombie or a vengeance seeking spirit. Our God comes speaking a promise that is “for you and for your children and for all who are far off.” Our God says that no one who calls on him will be left hanging, embarrassed, ashamed. Peter quotes Joel as part of his Pentecost sermon, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Our God isn’t some zombie. He came from heaven to do this. To die for our sins. Peter said, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge.” The Triune God didn’t just know this would happen, he planned it. The Father planned it. The Son planned it. The Holy Spirit planned it. That doesn’t lessen the wrong-ness of rejecting Jesus or sinning. That doesn’t excuse it, as Paul tells the Romans: “Just because God loves grace, let’s not sin so God can give more grace.” The plan tells us about God’s heart: “I know my people. I know their sin. I know their total inability. I will do it.” The Father, through His Son, works the peace we need, and breathes it upon us through the Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said, “if you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” Because Jesus rose from the dead.
Peter preached about it. And then wrote about it. We read him this morning. The resurrection, Peter says, means “new birth” and “living hope.” It means an unspoilable inheritance. It means the redefinition of suffering. Because Christ redefined life and death, living and dying. Now drowning is good, great, the best. We want to drown, we need to drown. Our sinful flesh needs killing and God the Father kills it to death in the water of Baptism.
Lily Ann Richeal, for one, gives thanks for that this morning. She received the new birth and the living hope because she received the “baptism that now saves you also…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Peter connects Baptism and the resurrection. As he did on Pentecost. “What do we do?” “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ.” Here God places his peace upon us. He lets us feel it, taste it, touch it. He puts it into human terms: washing clean, refreshed, removing sin’s dirt. Removing the guilt of murdering his Son.
So that, like David, “My body will live in hope.” Peter quoted those words from Psalm 16. The Spirit spoke first of Christ, that the plan always and ever was resurrection – life from death. Because Christ did it, and because we believe in it, we have the same hope: for our bodies. This fleshly thing that so often fails, that is wearing down and wearing out, has hope. Because Christ is risen, he is risen indeed. For us. He laid down his life. He let us take it from him. So that he could take it up again.
So this Pentecost Peter speaks, “Men of Israel, hear these words!” and his sermon carries the same power as that sermon the LORD commanded Ezekiel to preach, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!” That valley of dry bones started shaking and rattling. Bones got up. Muscles and sinews connected them. Skin started to reform. And then there was the breath of life. Resurrection!
God announced peace when God stepped out of that tomb to new life: the Father raised this Jesus to life. We have seen him alive, like Thomas. We have heard him say, “For you! For your life!” That resurrection, rather than striking fear in our hearts, instead makes the Word worth listening to, because that resurrection means that there’s resurrection for you: the resurrection of the body into life everlasting through faith in Jesus Christ, because everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved! This promise is for you: that you no longer need to fear the resurrection! I never told you how Paul answered the jailor. He echoed Peter: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” Amen.