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Dying to Rise: Relationally

The Feast of the Holy Trinity, 7 June 2020

A Sermon on Acts 2:14, 22-36 by Samuel D. Zumwalt

Acts 2:14, 22-36  English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them… 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 25 For David says concerning him,

“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

29 “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35     until I make your enemies your footstool.”’

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Rules for Reading

Just as there are rules to grammar that one can obey, ignore, or simply not know, so there are rules as to how to read the Scriptures rightly in practicing and passing along the Christian faith.

Anyone can quote Scripture including the devil himself. Just as a very inept or a very wicked researcher can cite a quotation that completely distorts what the author wrote, so can the person quoting Scripture misuse and abuse a text to try to make it say what it does not. The “misquoter” may simply know too little to know she or he is passing along misinformation. The “misquoter” may also misuse and abuse a text while expecting the reader or hearer won’t notice or know the difference. So.. never put your trust in people just because you like or admire them. Even those we love must eventually disappoint us even if that occasion is a death they could not prevent.

The Church figured out very early that the Old Testament was not only the Word of God, but that the key to reading the Old Testament was Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God. Notice that both of Peter’s quotations in the Acts text are from the Old Testament. Why? There was no New Testament at the time. So, then, how did Peter and the other apostles and disciples figure out that Jesus is the key to reading the Old Testament? They had a three-year relationship with Him during which He showed them how to read the Old Testament through Him. Then, they saw Him crucified. They saw Him raised from the dead. They saw Him ascended. And, they received the Holy Spirit, who inhabited them, as He had the Old Testament prophets, and guided these apostles and disciples in the use of Scripture. They went on to write the New Testament.

The three creeds we Lutherans confess are hermeneutical keys to reading Scripture rightly. In response to inaccurate, inept, or wicked readings of Scripture, the early Church had to set down the rules for the right use of Scripture and the right practice and passing along of the faith. It is not the case that the early Church did not know as much as we. In fact, they knew more, because they were guided by their own firsthand experience with Jesus or by those who had previously followed Jesus, who had learned from Jesus and knew who He is. As Peter tells his hearers, then and now, before Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, He is God and Lord. They did not dream up the idea of the Holy Trinity, namely, that God is one God in three persons. No, they learned from Jesus that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a community of persons within Himself.

Who’s the Greatest?

Christ, as you all doubtless remember, is not Jesus’ family name. It is His title. Christ, from the Greek, and Messiah, from the Hebrew, are synonymous. They both mean “the anointed One,” which refers to the King from David’s family. David was anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel as the sign that he was God’s choice to be king over His people. God had promised David an everlasting dynasty in 2 Samuel 7, but God’s people had been without a Davidic king for 600 years. They looked for a David, the warrior king, who united the 12 tribes of Israel, made Jerusalem his capital, and brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem as the spiritual and emotional center for those living in the Land promised to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 12:1-3).

Peter explains to his hearers, then and now, that David is not the greatest by which Jesus must be judged. David is dead and buried. David himself acknowledged he can’t be the greatest. Rather, Jesus, who is God and Lord in Jewish flesh, is the true Man and true King against which David, and all people, are measured and found wanting. The people, then and now, have done their best to throw God’s Son out of the world, but it is impossible to do so. God the Father raised His Son from the dead, and, at His ascension gave Him power and authority over everything, and now, as the eye-and-ear-witnesses in Jerusalem can attest, the Father has through the Son  poured out the Holy Spirit. The God, who is a community within Himself, wants none to be excluded from the eternal life and love that the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) have always shared.

Living Relationally in the Holy Trinity

In Holy Baptism, we are joined to the death and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus. We are crucified with Him, raised to new life with Him, and filled with the Holy Spirit who works faith through the Word of God. As Paul wrote to the Romans, so “faith comes through hearing” (10:17). When the Word of God is spoken in our Baptism as the pastor declares, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” the Holy Spirit begins His work of creating trust in God’s promises in Christ through that Word of God.

When little children hear parents reading to them from a Children’s Bible, when a pastor speaks God’s Word through a children’s sermon, when a Sunday School teacher tells the story of salvation, and even when little children overhear a so-called “adult” sermon, the Holy Spirit is working to create trust through the hearing of that Word of God. When a child receives her or his First Communion, begins Confirmation instruction, and learns to listen more carefully to the Word of God, the Holy Spirit is working to create trust through the Word of God.

As we will hear later this summer in Romans 12, we are in but not of the world. We live in relationship with the Holy Trinity, who gives His life to us through the Word and Sacraments.

Conversely, unbelief comes through hearing, too. The original sin was and is unbelief – which means fearing, loving, and trusting in someone or something other than God. It’s called idolatry.

Now, there is a vast difference between indoctrination and critical thinking. Most education is actually indoctrination through repetition, wheedling, cajoling, shaming, and peer pressure. The Soviets used such indoctrination effectively. So did the Nazis. So have the Wahhabist Muslims, the Chinese and North Korean Communists, and Antifa today. These all despise the Christian faith, because we do not coerce anyone to believe what we believe. We teach critical thinking based not on mortal human beings as the center of all things but on God alone as the center. French mathematician Blaise Pascal posed the wager that such a worldview has less to lose than others.

The Holy Spirit invites us to live relationally with the Holy Trinity and all the people of God. Because God has made all people in His image, life in the Holy Trinity means every life matters regardless of skin pigment, biological sex, language or country of origin, socioeconomic status, and even whether one is baptized. God’s Son Jesus died for everyone’s sins that none be lost.

Because life in the Holy Trinity is a free gift given through our Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, we follow Jesus in lives of limitless humble service to our neighbors. What harms the neighbor, as the fourth through tenth commandments teach, is contrary to God’s will. So, we ask critical questions, such as, “If everyone were to act in this way, what would become of this world?” The history of socialism, the history of atheism, the history of dictatorships, yes, the history of hedonism have all given us more than enough data critically to assess what fruits such ideologies produce. They are poisonous to the neighbor. They are from the pit of hell, because they bring misery and destruction in their wake. Critical thinking leads to rejecting all of these!

At the conclusion of Peter’s sermon, persons in the crowd ask: “What must we do?” Peter replies: “Repent and be baptized” (2:38). Luke, then, goes on to describe what life in the Holy Trinity looks like: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and the prayers” (2:42). Faith comes through hearing. The Holy Spirit works through the Word and the Sacraments to build up the new life and to drown the old.

Two critical questions: “To which voices will you listen? In which relationship will you live?”

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

©Samuel David Zumwalt

St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina USA