What is essential to the gospel, according to Luke? Part 2
An apostolic account of what is truly essential to the gospel.
An apostolic account of what is truly essential to the gospel.
Last time, we saw Peter’s first spirit-empowered sermon, on the day of Pentecost. Now, Peter’s next recorded sermon, in Acts 3. Again, the occasion is a miracle. Peter heals a crippled man “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” This draws a crowd. Time for a sermon! (Acts 3:11-26)
Let’s see if it adds anything to the essential points we looked at last time. That is, what must be accepted and/or done in order to make this deal, to enter into this new covenant?
While [the healed man] clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you from your own people a prophet like me. You must listen to whatever he tells you. And it will be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people.’ And all the prophets, as many as have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, also predicted these days. You are the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant that God gave to your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
As before, there is a threat of divine judgment which is specific to this generation of Jews. But as to what must be accepted or confessed by anyone who wants to make this deal, there is little here that was not implicit in the message before. Our (the Jews’s) god, the god, God, has raised Jesus from the dead, proving that he (God) really was with him (Jesus). Notably, he twice characterizes Jesus as God’s servant. But that’s what the obedient Messiah of the gospels obviously is. And now he’s a prophet like Moses, who must be obeyed. Sure, the Messiah is a prophet, though a unique one, to put it mildly.
Peter doesn’t sound much like a contemporary Jesus-is-God-apologist, does he? Some of them would probably accuse him of sounding like a Muslim!
It is striking that he calls Jesus “the Author of life.” Eternal life, I assume. He’s the one who can tell you how to get it. (Luke 10:25-28) Jesus as the source of our eternal life is certainly a much bigger theme in John. Not because he’s God, of course, but rather because God has empowered him to be a source of eternal life. “For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself…” (John 5:26) Jesus has been made the “Author” (other translators suggest instead “Originator,” “Founder,” “Founding Leader,” “Source,” or “Prince”) of life.
What you must do, again, is repent, to turn away from your sin and towards God, of course accepting Jesus as God’s Messiah. This will result in your being forgiven.
Part of the Messiah’s job description is made more clear: he’s coming back! He won’t stay in heaven forever. But, this was implicit in the first sermon, where Jesus is said to be the fulfillment of Ps 110:1, where the Lord (i.e. Yahweh) says to this other “Lord”: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” When those enemies are footstooled, this man, the Messiah, will be in charge, literally, of the earth. This is, eventually, part of what it is for God to make Jesus “Lord.” He’s being put in charge!
That is incredibly exciting. Our governments so far have enjoyed only limited success. Each has good points, but we always, always manage to foul things up. We have come nowhere close to actualizing the Kingdom of God on the earth. But Jesus, by God’s power, fulfilling his eternal plan, is actually going to pull it off! Democracy, and all the other forms of government, will give way to the monarchy of the Messiah. We know from elsewhere that this is in fulfillment of Daniel 7, where God awards “one like a human being” with “dominion, and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages, should serve him.” (Daniel 7:14) And this in perpetuity. (7:15) He’s the King of the Jews, yes (Luke 23:38), but he’s also been made the Lord to whom every knee must bow, to the glory of God. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Meet the new boss. Not the same as the old boss.
What must you do? Repent. Turn to God. This time Luke doesn’t mention being baptized. That’s OK though – he mentioned it in the previous chapter, and will again.
What must you accept or believe? We can slightly amend our list from before:
Great message! This is what all true Christians preach and believe. And it’s very simple. Again, in can be summarized as: Jesus is God’s Messiah. Which, coincidentally, is the thesis statement of each of the four NT gospels. (Matthew 16:16, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20, John 20:31) This first-century apostolic crowd, they have a single core message, despite their different emphases, styles, and so on. Here, you’ve just seen Peter preaching that message twice, c. 30 A.D.
Zero mentions, so far, of the tripersonal God, Jesus as God-in-the-flesh, or of his “two natures.” Is Peter incompetent to preach the gospel? Or is he just what he sounds like here, a unitarian Christian who holds to a “mere man” understanding of the man Jesus, or more positively, a “Spirit Christology.” Peter seems to think that Jesus didn’t do miracles, or rise up from the dead because he’s divine. Rather, God has empowered Jesus by his spirit, working miraculous deeds through he, to testify to him.
For Luke, and if you trust his summary, for Peter, Jesus isn’t God. Instead, he’s God’s special servant, a prophet, but more than that, a Messiah, with the astounding job description above. Peter (or Luke) says he’s a man, and does not anxiously clarify that he’s also divine, so not a “mere” man. They don’t seem to thing that there’s anything “mere” about this man who’s been exalted to the right hand of the Almighty.
So far, Luke’s been pretty consistent in what this core message is. But he’s got more sermon-summaries for us. Perhaps he’s saving some theological goodies for later. Start with milk, till they’re ready for meat?
Next time, Peter and John have to face the Jewish religious authorities. Will they change their tune? Will they now reveal that to be saved one must believe in the Trinity or the Incarnation? That Jesus always existed, and that he created the cosmos? How about that only a divine victim can atone for the sins of humanity, or an Augustinian-Calvinist doctrine of grace? How about an account of divine providence, like Arminianism or Molinism? Divine timelessness? Simplicity? Isn’t Luke interested in these things?