This morning we begin to look at some of the Apostolic speeches that Luke recreates for us in the book of Acts. As we go through these speeches on our way to Pentecost on June 9, my goal is that you appreciate how indispensable the resurrection is to the Apostolic preaching of the Gospel. Moreover, these speeches function as wonderful summaries of the history of salvation.
Today’s text takes us to Peter’s message in the temple, occasioned by the healing of the man lame from birth, who daily sat at the temple gate and begged. His speech to this crowd of worshipers is replete with references to God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel, both implicit and explicit. I will focus on the connection that Peter draws between the resurrection and the promise that Moses gave to Israel, that God would raise up for them a prophet like himself.
The first thing that we can note about Peter’s speech is that it is anchored in what we would call a double meaning. In 3:15 Peter concludes his indictment of their complicity in the death of Jesus with this powerful contrast: “You killed the author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” This raising of Jesus from the dead informs Peter’s citation of the promise of God “raising up” a prophet like Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15. This “raising up” takes on two meanings, the second of which is introduced by the event of Christ’s resurrection itself.
In its original setting in Deuteronomy 18, the promise of a prophet like Moses certainly does not appear to have the character of a prophecy about the remote, Messianic future. Instead, it provides specific direction to guard the people against adopting the ways of the Canaanite when they enter the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 18, the subject is the Canaanite way of seeking knowledge about the future. Their practice is to consult diviners, soothsayers, sorcerers, augurs, and medium. The Israelites are not to do this. See18:14. However, it is not that the Israelites are left to face the future without divine guidance. When Moses is taken out of the way, the Lord will raise up another prophet to bring the word of the Lord.
So, in Dt. 18:18, “raise up a prophet,” means to bring someone to prominence as God’s appointed spokesperson. It does not, in the first instance, mean to raise a prophet from the dead. It just means that God will prepare and call and grant credentials that identify his spokespersons, down through the years of Israel’s history. However, when one considers that history is moving toward the time of universal restoration announced long ago through the holy prophets, it is reasonable to expect that there will be a final word from the Lord, a last prophet, if you will, to announce that that time is at hand. Moreover, if the prophet who heralds the universal restoration is given credentials by God, what credentials could be more compelling or decisive than being raised from the dead.
Notice also that this double meaning of “raised up” spills over into the pre- and post-resurrection work of Christ. “When God raised up his servant, he sent him to you first, to bless you, by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
Now when did God raise up and send Jesus to Israel? Certainly, in the first place, when Jesus was baptized by John at the Jordan and returned in the power of the Spirit to carry out his ministry, introduced in this way, Mark 1:15: “proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” Jesus ministry was one of calling people to repentance. Or as Peter ends his speech, one of turning people from their wicked ways.
However, because of the resurrection, it is impossible that Jesus should be viewed as no longer active or at work in the world. Luke begins the Book of Acts by referencing the Gospel he wrote. His gospel, he says, was about what Jesus began to do and teach. It was just the beginning. He is still at work. Likewise, Mark 1:1 starts, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” The implication is that there is a sequel.
When Peter says to the crowd in the temple precincts that day, that God sent Jesus to them first, he is not referring only to Jesus public ministry inaugurated at the Jordan. He also means that God is sending Christ to them now through his ambassadors. He means that in his preaching, Jesus is preaching. As surely as Jesus raised the lame man to perfect health, Jesus was addressing them through his own words. Through Peter, Jesus was offering forgiveness to sinners who would repent. In turning from wickedness they would be first to taste the blessing of Abraham that God was sending to all the families of the earth. In this way they would begin to experience times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. In this way, they would speed the coming of the Lord on its way.
As far-fetched and implausible as it may seem to some of you, Jesus is addressing you today, in the same way, through me. You weren’t the first in line, like Israel, for the blessing, but it has come to you all the same in your window of opportunity. So as you prepare to partake of the Lord’s Supper today, let me ask you, on behalf of the risen Christ: When God blesses you—maybe you think he hasn’t fully delivered on that yet—what do you think that should look like? If you were in the crowd listening to Peter and you heard him say that God would bless you by turning you from your wicked ways, which way would you go—back out through the Beautiful Gate feeling insulted or would you draw nearer to the Apostolic band to find the blessing?
Every gathering at the Lord’s Table is a reminder of the blessing of Abraham. The cup is called “the cup of blessing for which we give thanks.” Every time we lift it up it is declared to be “for the forgiveness of sins.” So, let me ask again: If you receive the Lord’s Supper praying that in it you might share in the blessing of Abraham—the one through which all the families of the earth are blessed—what would the answer to your prayer look like? From what ways would Christ turn you, such that you might walk with greater freedom and joy in the path of life? That is the blessing of Abraham: the ways that hold us fast, from which we are unable to free ourselves, Christ turns us from them and grants us new life. Thanks be to God! Amen.