Sometime in the last week I read someone comment about the way the lectionary moves through the book of Acts. It certainly does not follow the order that Luke wrote it in. This can be a bit frustrating to some of our churches. I share some of that annoyance, but more than that, this week’s pericope seems truncated. I have heard it said that the lectionary makes a great servant but a terrible master, this week may be a way that you need to extend the passage some.
I say this because the whole speech is said in response to God’s actions through Peter in healing the crippled beggar in verses 1-10. The context of Peter’s preaching matters. As Kavin Rowe says, “The early Christian mission in Acts is best seen, therefore, not in terms of daring initiative or social creativity but in terms of response.” If you don’t read it this Sunday, then perhaps you at least allude to this incredible miracle. The miracle is what grants Peter authority to speak. Additionally, the pericope for this Sunday ends halfway through Peter’s speech. We would do well to contend with the entirety of his speech. He didn’t end it where we have, so perhaps we should trust Peter and Luke’s account of Peter. If we do not, we may miss out on parts of the gospel.
I fear that western Christianity has often misunderstood the gospel. If you were to ask many in my church what the gospel is, their response would probably have something to do with going to heaven. Or at least, they would have before I started preaching here. I do not think they are unique in their expression of Christianity. The folk evangelical theology is often summarized by what it takes to get to heaven. Stanley Hauerwas rejects such individual Christianity. He says, “Another hallmark of Christianity is that salvation is not individualistic-it’s not something one person receives for himself or herself. Salvation is the reign of God. It is a political alternative to the way the world is constituted. That’s a very important part of the story that has been lost to accounts of salvation that are centered in the individual.”
The sermon that Peter gives in response to God acting through him can help us as preachers move our people beyond the individualistic sense of gospel, but only in so much as we are willing to transform out preaching of the gospel as well.
In Salvation by Allegiance Alone, Matthew Bates clarifies the gospel by pointing that the gospel is not so much about sinful humanity. The gospel is about Jesus and that he:
preexisted with the Father.
took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promise to David,
did for sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.
appeared to many,
is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and
will come again as judge.
Bates writes most of his book arguing for why this is the gospel, and he can speak for himself concerning the matter. His steps to of the gospel, however, are helpful for understanding Peter’s sermon. For in it we catch most of the component parts. Some of them are assumed through Jewish jargon, and some need not be referenced because he was preaching to a Jewish audience, however, they are there.
Peter addresses the crowd by pointing them to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who has sent his “Servant.” The servant sent by God would have conjured up images of the suffering servant found in Isaiah. This is language of the coming Messiah. These when they combine with the “Author of Life” in verse 15 combine to reveal point 1.
This sermon is presumably happening fairly close to Jesus crucifixion. We do not know exactly when, but it is the first event post Pentecost. As such when Peter references Jesus, they would have known that Jesus took on flesh signaling point 2.
We find evidence of point three in verses thirteen through fifteen as Peter reminds the crowd of how they turned Jesus over, how Jesus was killed by Pilate. He does not say the word crucify, but this preaching is happening in Jerusalem. Peter is relying on the crowd knowing how Jesus was killed.
There is no specific mention of point 4 in this sermon, just as there is not an explicit reference to crucifixion, I believe that this Jerusalem crowd would have known that Jesus was buried.
Clearly verse 15 shows that God raised Jesus from the dead, and that Peter and John were witnesses to the resurrection fulfilling points 5 and 6.
If we stopped with the lection, then we will miss out on points 7 and 8. Those are found in 21 where it says that Jesus “must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration.” Jesus remaining there assumes that he has ascended and sits at the right hand of God. And in verse 23 where it says, “everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people,” speaks of future judgment.
Clearly Peter does not follow the Bate’s order, (which by the way is the gospel told in the Apostles Creed). But it contains within it the component parts.
We must note that the gospel presented here is not merely intellectual. Peter is telling the good news as an explanation for why the crippled man has been healed. Kavin Rowe points out, “According to Acts, it is rather that the resurrection confirms the identity of Jesus as the Lord of all and makes this identity effective now, in the present, for the whole world.” (1:23) Jesus’ resurrection and ascension have placed him at the right hand of God. This means that Jesus is powerful, and that by faith in Jesus this man has been healed.
The healing story here is consistent with the rest of Acts. For “in Luke-Acts [there is] no reduction of salvation to a purely spiritual transaction any more than there is a reduction of it to a purely physical or political reality. The whole person is affected.” This man has been given perfect health through the Author of Life. He is healed.
But the people are not yet healed. In Peter’s previous preaching in Acts 2, he told the good news without telling people how to respond. They asked, “What should we do? (2:37) Then he told them to “Repent and be baptized.” This time as he preaches, he includes the proper response within his sermon. He instructs the people to repent in verse 19 and then repeats the concept again in verse 26. In the second half of the sermon, Peter does not merely say to repent, but explains why.
They are told to repent (1) because of their previous actions of denying and killing Jesus, even if they were done in ignorance. They are also told to repent (2) “so that your sins may be wiped out, (3) “so that times of refreshing may come” (4) that you will not “rooted out of the people,” (5) that you will be able to fulfill the intent of the covenant with Abraham, and (6) in order to take “advantage of the privilege position granted to [the Jews] by God.”
If you are willing to move beyond the lection for this week, then this may be an appropriate place to focus. If you have previously explained the gospel to your people, perhaps this week is a week to expound upon repentance. In many churches the reason for repentance is individual sins, but there is more to it than that. You could focus on the times of refreshing. This is a reference to the Parousia. Repentance becomes a foretaste of that future time. Contrary to our narrative of individual salvation, you could focus on the importance of not being rooted out of the people. This could be a springboard for teaching ecclesiology. For the Jewish audience, exclusion from the people would have been awful. In the Western world with consumer Christianity and church shopping, preaching on the importance of belonging to a particular people becomes difficult. It ought to force a conversation on ecumenicism as well, but it could be vitally important for some in your congregation. You could also use this as a sermon on the Missio Dei. Or as a sermon detailing the privilege of repentance. This is not a burden, but a gift! Christ can wipe out your sins, and you can walk in a new life!
The whole sermon is good news. It tells Jesus story as the main factor which led to the healing of a crippled man. It calls for repentance. May your people hear you as you call them for repentance as well. May they see all the possibilities of a repentant life as it is the only way to embody resurrection.
 Rowe, C. Kavin. World Upside Down Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 122.
 Hauerwas, Stanley. “Christianity: It’s an Adventure” The Hauerwas Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. 533.
 Bates, Mathew. Salvation by Allegiance Alone. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017. 52.
 Rowe, 122.
 Talbert, Charles H. Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Pub., 2005. 37.
 Talbert, 40.