“Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). This comes at the end of the powerful speech that Peter gives after the descent of the Holy Spirit upon him and the other Apostles in the upper room where they had been gathered together in the days after the resurrection.
They had heard something like a “strong, driving wind” that suddenly entered and filled the room they were in. They saw tongues of flame that then parted and settled on each one of them. At that moment they were filled with the Holy Spirit and were moved to go out onto the balconies of the house they were gathered in and to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Jews who were hearing them were from many parts of the Mediterranean world and spoke many different languages, but they heard the Apostles proclaiming the gospel to them in their own languages. Many among them began to accuse the Apostles of being drunk.
It is now that Peter, the leader, steps up and begins his speech. He knows his audience. They are fellow Jews who knew the prophets and what they said about the Messiah and how he would be recognized and how he would be treated. He pulls no punches with them about what they had done to Jesus. We might ask what his motivation here is. Is he accusing and condemning them for what has been done? Well, yes. But that is only the means to the more profound end that he, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wants to lead them to. His speech is intended to get the Jews to come to Jesus, to see him for who he really is, that he truly is the Promised One. Rather than condemning them outright, he is inviting them to see the truth, to repent, to be baptized, and to follow him. He is telling them that even though it is true that they have crucified the Lord, his mercy is greater than their guilt. Forgiveness is still theirs, if they repent. He is telling them, that any sin is forgivable, if the sinner’s heart comes to see its complicity in sin, feels true sorrow for it, and is truly repentant. No act, indeed, no one, is beyond God’s forgiveness. Not even those who took part in the crucifixion actively, or were complicit in some passive way, are beyond God’s love and desire to forgive.
The Holy Spirit is speaking to us directly here too. He is saying to us: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation” (verse 40). For our generation is as corrupt, as that which crucified the Lord in the flesh. Our generation’s sins drive the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet, just as much as that generation. Our generation, so corrupted by ego, greed, and sexual excesses as great as any in Sodom and Gomorrah, is as guilty of Christ’s crucifixion as that of the people alive in Jesus’ time. Yet, we too, need to hear Peter’s words. They are as true today as they were in the moment that the Spirit moved Peter to say them at that time. We, too, no matter how great or small a sinner we are, can hear these words, take them to heart, and repent with truly humble and contrite hearts. As the Psalmist tells us through the Spirit: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
Lord, as we celebrate your Resurrection, let us not forget the death that was necessary in order to make it possible. Help us to joyfully honor your resurrection, and our salvation, by turning away from our sins and toward your generous, loving forgiveness. Inspire in us a joy so profound that we, too, will joyfully proclaim your gospel to all we know and meet in both our words and our deeds. We pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!