Sunday, April 17, 2005

Sermon on Acts 2:36-41

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text for this Third Sunday of Easter is Acts 2:36-41,

36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, 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. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

When the Apostle Peter first preached this sermon in Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection, he addressed a crowd of Jews and Gentile proselytes from many different nations. They were living in a corrupt and wicked generation just as we are today. It can hardly be questioned that today’s generation is every bit as corrupt as it was in the first century A.D. Despite the fact that statistics claim the United States is largely a nation made up of Christians, our generation’s morals don’t always reflect that claim. Instead we find widespread moral permissiveness, and the collective conscience of society is growing more and more numb. Things that were once considered unacceptable to society, such as homosexuality, are gradually gaining more and more acceptance in our generation. We are witnessing what St. Paul described as people “glorying in their shame” (Phil. 3:19). In areas of scientific research, technology has progressed to a point where life can be manipulated in ways not possible until now, and science and medicine are crossing into realms that ethics haven’t yet explored. Often the rationale for doing such things is simply, “If we can do it, we should.” An “end justifies the means” philosophy is prevalent in this generation. But who will save us from this corrupt generation?

It’s at this point that I have to make a very important side note about the NIV translation of Acts 2:40. The NIV reads, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation,” which is a major mistranslation, that also occurs in several other English translations. What it should say is “Be saved from this corrupt generation.” And this is not just a matter of translator’s preferences, or some ambiguity in how the original Greek reads; the grammar is simple and clear, “Be saved.” And why is that so important? Well, for Peter to have told the gathering of Jews and Gentiles to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation,” would have been about as useful as telling them to grow purple wings and fly. It’s just that absurd. They could not save themselves from their corrupt generation any more than you or I can save ourselves from our corrupt generation. “Save yourselves” makes us the ‘actors’; make us the ‘doers,’ when in fact we don’t have the capability to save ourselves. Rather, with Peter I say to each of you, “Be saved” because there is One Actor who is capable of saving us from this corrupt generation, and He is Jesus Christ. When Peter said “Be Saved” it was clear that he was telling them to be saved by Jesus Christ, in the same way as he had just said a few verses earlier “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus is the One whom the Father made both Lord and Christ, who is powerful to save us.

So if Christ is the One who saves us, where are the cries of sorrow and repentance from this generation? Where are the cries of “What shall we do?” The Apostle Peter’s listener’s were cut to the heart when they realized the wickedness of what they had done, and said with sincere grief and mourning, “What shall we do?” Peter had made it clear that the Messiah promised to the Jews, for whom they had waited for so long, was the very man Jesus who they despised, rejected, and crucified. What greater guilt could they feel than that from killing their promised Lord? There they were, standing guilty of a man’s blood, and it was not just any man, but the very Son of God! And knowing that the One they had killed had risen from the dead probably struck fear in their hearts as well. Who was this man who defeated death, and was He coming back for vengeance? They were very clearly convicted by Peter’s words, and their cries of “What shall we do?” showed their sorrow over their sin.

But where is the sorrow of this generation over our sin? Instead of being sorrowful over sin, our culture seems to glory in it. People are dying in unbelief and unrepentance, quite content with their sins, and with no visible signs of remorse. How can our generation be brought back to repentance and sorrow over sin? The answer is that we need to shine as lights in this world, in the midst of this crooked and twisted generation (Phil 2:15), to awaken our corrupt generation to its sinfulness. And we shine as lights because we are light in the Lord Jesus. It is His light that shines through us to awaken this corrupt generation. Our present culture and society needs to hear God’s Law, because the world needs to have its conscience reawakened to recognize the sins we have committed against God. People of our generation will see no need for a Savior until they realize that they have sinned against God, and are in need of saving. This starts with us standing up for what is right even when it isn’t popular. Among our families, and friends, and at work, we must be Christians of conviction—not willing to let the sins of this corrupt generation go by unnoticed and uninhibited. But rather we are to call our generation to repentance, so that they may receive Christ’s forgiveness.

We too, as believers need to have sorrow and contrition over our sin. We are regularly taught God’s Law; so we, of all people should know our own sin when we break those commandments. We should be cut to the heart whenever the Law rightly strikes home in condemning our sin. Here we stand, guilty of a man’s blood, and not just any man, but the very Son of God, Jesus Christ. We too are guilty of His blood, not because it was we who hung Him on the cross and crucified Him, but it was for our sins that He died. But the miraculous thing is that His blood is not on us for guilt, but for innocence! God does not condemn us for our guilt in Jesus’ death, but rather He counts us as innocent by faith in Jesus. And so we, along with the Pentecost crowd who asked Peter “What shall we do?” find great joy in Peter’s answer. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of 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.” There is great joy in these words, and these words welcomed about 3,000 souls into the Christian church that Pentecost, and these words continue to call people to the Lord today.

And these words need to be spoken to our generation today. For a wicked generation that has broken God’s commands, Jesus Christ comes, not bringing vengeance, but forgiveness and salvation. And He offers it to all who hear His Word, repent, and receive His baptism. From this short verse we learn so much about God’s gift of Baptism to us. Peter teaches us how forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit are brought to us—by baptism into Jesus name. How great a miracle it is that by simple water God cleanses our corruption? But Christians especially of this generation, and of the past few hundred years, stumble at these words of St. Peter. How can baptism bring forgiveness, they ask? To answer, we must not forget that it is not just plain water, but the “Word of God in and with the water that does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.” And that very Word of God which gives baptism its power, is the Name of The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, into whom we are baptized. It is the power of God’s name, of Jesus’ name, which gives baptism the power to forgive.

Peter not only said “Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” he also showed the power of Jesus’ Name by performing miracles and casting out demons, as recorded in Acts. Jesus’ Name will one day bring every knee to bow and tongue to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; so how much more will that name bring forgiveness to those who are baptized into it? The forgiveness Jesus won at the cross is washed over you in your baptism, as His Holy Name is marked on your forehead.

And Peter also promised that in baptism we would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For us who are living in this present corrupt generation, baptism is essential to our survival. It brings us Christ’s forgiveness, as we fail and sin along our way, and it brings us the Holy Spirit, who teaches us Christ’s Word and focuses our faith on Jesus. The Spirit guides us in right paths and battles for us and with us against the attacks of the sinful world against our flesh. See how great God’s love for us is? He repays our sin with grace and our rebellion with free gifts! The Holy Spirit also teaches us to know our sins, so that we may continually live in repentance and forgiveness, so that we are not swept away with this unbelieving generation. So here we learn from St. Peter how closely tied together are baptism, the forgiveness of sins, Jesus’ Name, and the Holy Spirit. All this is God’s way of pouring out His mercy on poor repentant sinners.

This is certainly an amazing promise for Peter to make to guilty sinners, asking “What shall we do?” But who does he make this promise to? To just anyone? To any broken sinner, no matter how great their sin, no matter how deep the hurt? Yes, ABSOLUTELY Yes! This promise of forgiveness by baptism into Jesus name is for everyone! “Repent and be baptized, every one of you,” Peter says. “This promise is for you AND your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Peter explicitly says this promise is for adults and children, and all afar off. Adults and children alike need this promise, because all are sinners in need of grace. And Christ has lived in and redeemed every stage of life, from the womb to the tomb, to eternal life! This promise is open for all, and it will be given freely to every person called to the waters of Baptism by the Lord our God—irrespective of age, gender, race, social status, and irrespective of the greatness of our sins. Since God valued each person’s life so much, that He sent His only Son to die for us, He wants to have each one of us for eternity with Him. And so He has blessed the waters of Baptism by the Word of Jesus Name, so that forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a renewed life in His name are literally poured out on us in a cleansing flood. And so Christ saves us from this corrupt generation. Not by our own efforts at purification, but by the purifying waters of Baptism in Jesus’ Name. For He has made those waters pure and holy, and He has called us to be clean in Him. Amen.

Now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

1 comment:

Stuart Floyd said...


Nice sermon. I am glad you corrected the mistranslation. Interesting that our two official translations, NIV and ESV use the middle voice for their translations. The aorist middle 2nd plural, swsasthe, is a far cry from the aorist passive 2nd plural, swthhte. I guess I will just keep using the NKJV... it says, "Be saved from this perverse generation".

It is a shame that most Lutheran pews heard the "Word of the LORD" in the Reformed mistranslation of the passage with their NIV and ESV translations.