Epistle: Acts 2:14a, 22-36 (Trinity Sunday: Series C)
Following hard on the heels of Pentecost is Holy Trinity Sunday. Christians have held a festival in honor of the Holy Trinity since the 800’s, when it was celebrated in French monastic communities. In the fourteenth century, the festival was added to the Church calendar and has been celebrated throughout the world since that time.
Every celebration of holy baptism and holy communion is a trinitarian celebration, just as every gathering, “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” is done in union with the Sacred three. In the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church gathers on Sunday—the day of the Resurrection—to offer thanksgiving to the Father for Christ’s saving-life given to us at the table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist. Listen carefully to the opening greeting, the baptismal “formula,” the Athanasian Creed traditionally confessed on this Sunday, the Eucharistic prayer, and the final blessing. We are accompanied in life’s journey by a community of persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who together are the one and only living God. And so, we are not alone. Indeed, the Church is intended to be a sign to the world of the Holy Trinity’s unity-in-diversity.
The Series C text for Trinity Sunday continues Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Verse 14a resets the context, saying, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them.” Then follows an ellipsis which enjoins verses 22-36, launching into his great Jesus of Nazareth announcement. Essentially, Peter attests to God’s testimony, that is, the witness of both the Father and the Spirit, that Jesus was and is both Messiah and Savior — the world’s rightful King.
There could not be a better day for remembering our baptism than the Festival of the Holy Trinity. How were we baptized? “Into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Why? Because this is how Jesus commanded us to baptize, into the name of the Triune God. It is a Biblical teaching because it is a dominical teaching.
This could hardly be more specific. It says precisely which God it means, the one who is Father, Son and Spirit. It also says precisely which gods it does not mean. By affirming one, it denies all others. It speaks only of the God revealed to us as, “in many and various ways God spoke to His people of old in the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). But most specifically it speaks of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The God of creation, the God of history, the living God. There is only one. He brings history to the point of Pentecost.
This is the God who was proclaimed in the sermon of Peter at Pentecost. The sermon itself was both short and extraordinary. It proclaimed Jesus Christ to people who did not know Him. But they did know about King David, and so Peter’s sermon proclaimed Jesus as both David’s son and David’s Lord. It declares Jesus to be attested by mighty works and wonders and signs, to be exalted at the right hand of God, and to be both Lord and Savior or, in a word, Messiah. This sermon also says, and it says is in no uncertain terms, you crucified Him. Here we have the Law and Gospel as twin pillars of the sermon.
If we jump to the end of Peter’s sermon and just one verse beyond our pericope, we will see how people reacted to the news that there was, at the right hand of God, His only Son, both Lord and Christ, and they had, in fact, crucified Him. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37).
Can you imagine what would happen if they asked that question of anybody else on earth? You could pick any time in history, any place on earth. What would people say if they were asked, “What shall we do?”
You might address the question to the great religions of the world. Those to the west of Peter in Jerusalem would mostly say one must live the most pure and devoted life possible, so in the final judgment the good deeds might outweigh the bad ones. Those religions to the east of him might warn that the repercussions of their guilt would take many generations, many lives to purge. But little by little one can strive to redress the evil with acts of love or meditation or simple suffering, and finally there could be escape from it. You could also turn from religion to philosophy. Pose the question to the existentialists of the last century and perhaps they would tell you how killing the Christ is an inevitable part of the human condition, and finally nothing can be done, except in the choices one makes and the person one is becoming. Ask, if you like, the man in the street, what can be done to compensate for our wrongdoing. Mostly you will hear how one should do one’s best, live the best one can, and try to get over the destructive sense of guilt. Ask a Muslim and, of course, Jesus was never actually crucified.
If the men of Jerusalem had asked their question of anyone else, the answers would all have this in common: they would tell you to look within yourself and to make your very best effort to be the best you can. They would probably never say, “You can do nothing, but something can be done to you.”
This is exactly what Peter says. “Repent,” he declares, “and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). His sermon had already accomplished the first part: leverage the Law. Confronted with the truth of God, already they were drawn to repentance. We read they were cut to the heart. They did not do this themselves. They did not reach the conclusion of themselves. The Word of God, the Law of God worked within them, accusing them and condemning them, and bringing them to repentance. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, to illuminate the Law in human hearts and minds and, “to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
This, however, is no cure. To know the problem is not to solve it. So, he went on, “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This is where the answer Peter gave stood apart from what anyone else would be able to offer — the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. His advice was not to go and do something, but that something must be done to us (because what he says does apply to us too). Namely, to be baptized. The action here is entirely from the Triune God towards us, and that is what sets it apart from every religion and philosophy as Gospel, good news, as opposed to confected religious obligation.
St. Peter’s words apply also to us. Not, of course, that we have crucified Christ, save for our sin and our treasonous heart, for which He died. So, crucifying Christ is the crime of humanity, not just of history. Earlier on we hear these very people are bewildered by the outpouring of God’s Spirit and the proclaiming of Christ in their own languages since they were pilgrims for Pentecost from all over the Diaspora. Yet Peter told them, “You did it.” They were spiritually implicated, and so are we.
But just as the condemnation embraces us even now, so too does the remedy and the promise. There are two aspects of the promise, in particular. The one is forgiveness of sins. The second aspect is tethered to it, as Martin Luther says: “Where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation” (Luther’s Small Catechism). This is what Peter says: "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.” So not only is sin removed, something is also given. In your baptism you received the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is to say, the gift that is the Holy Spirit.
Notes on verse 22:
τὸν Ναζωραῖον — “the Nazarene” (not “of Nazareth”). This precise designation of which Jesus (a common name in those days) Peter proclaims unmistakably identifies the One crucified under Pontius Pilate and announced by the superscription of the Cross.
ἄνδρα ἀπὸ τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀποδεδειγμ — “a man attested to you by God.” The attesting (or, equally good, “demonstrated” or “approved”) by God was to the messiahship of Jesus. This is the Messiah of God, so says God Himself. The attestation was, by way of both miracles and signs, grounded in the Word of God. Peter, therefore, testifies to God’s own testimony concerning Jesus.
εἰς ὑμᾶς — “in reference to you” or, better, for you. God the Father and Spirit did this attesting, demonstrating and/or approving of Jesus the Son for our benefit so that you, “may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31)
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Acts 2:14a, 22-36
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Acts 2:14-41.