Sermon delivered on Easter 2C, Sunday, April 24, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
Lectionary texts: Acts 5.27-32; Psalm 150; Romans 6.3-11; St. John 20.19-31.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Who is Peter? Who is this man we just heard about in our reading from the book of Acts? Surely this is not Simon Peter, the disciple of Jesus. The man brought before the Council who boldly proclaims the good news about Jesus seems quite different from the man we heard about on Passion Sunday, the man who fearfully denied Jesus three times. This Peter seems like a completely different person. But of course, he’s not. The man who once stood outside the home of the high priest and lied about even knowing Jesus now stood before the same high priest and testified about Jesus as the Savior. How can we account for this change? Why is Peter so different?
Before we answer that question, let’s set the stage with a bit of background about what’s going on here. This is actually the second time Peter has been brought before the Council, also known as the Sanhedrin, this ruling body of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. In Acts 4, Peter and John had caused quite a stir around the temple complex by healing a crippled man in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:1-10) and by “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). They are arrested and brought before the Council—rulers, elders, scribes, and the high priest—to be questioned and tried (Acts 4:3, 5-6). Council threatens Peter and John, admonishing them “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Their warning could not have been clearer, but as soon as they left, they “continued to speak the word of God with boldness” and to give ‘their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:31, 33).
And so, Peter, John, and all the apostles are again arrested, thrown into prison, and brought “before the Council” (Acts 5:27). This second meeting would have much higher stakes. We should note that this is the same Council and the same High Priest that tried Jesus after He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:54, 66-71). These are the same religious leaders sat into motion the plot to kill Jesus, the same assembly that took Jesus to Pilate that he might be condemned and crucified (Luke 23:1). Peter ran the risk of suffering the same fate as his Lord. He had already been given a warning by the Council “not to teach in [Jesus’] name” (v. 28) and presumably they would not be so lenient a second time. But even in the face of possible execution, Peter is unwavering. Not only does he refuse to stop proclaiming the good news about Jesus, but he makes it clear that the Council is responsible for putting to death the Messiah, the Savior God had sent for His people Israel.
Is this really Simon Peter? It was just a few weeks prior that Peter had stood by a fire in courtyard of this same high priest so overcome with fear that he refused to acknowledge he had ever even met Jesus. And now, here he was, standing before the same body that handed Jesus over to be crucified, and knowing that he might be next, is adamant that he will go on proclaiming the gospel, no matter the consequences. What has changed? How can we explain this 180-degree turn in Peter’s demeanor? Where did this courage, this boldness, come from?
The answer is the Resurrection, the momentous event that changed the course of human history and transformed Peter’s outlook on the world.
At the beginning of our gospel reading, we see a much more familiar Peter. On that first Easter night, Peter was hunkered down somewhere, huddled together with the other disciples behind a locked because they were “[afraid] of the Jews” (v. 19a). But all of a sudden, in the midst of their fears, the Resurrected Jesus appears among them (v. 19b) and shows them the wounds in His hands and side (v. 20). They witnessed with their own eyes that the same Jesus who had been crucified, died, and was buried had risen from the grave and lived again!
Did you notice the words Jesus repeated to his disciples throughout the gospel reading? Three times Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” This phrase, shalom aleichem, was (and is) a common Hebrew greeting. But this is much more than a hello. This is a resurrection promise.
In the Upper Room, shortly before He was arrested, Jesus had warned His disciples that like Him, they would be persecuted (John 15:20); they would be thrown out of synagogues and threatened with death by those whom think they are serving God (John 16:1-2). It is in this context that Jesus assures them, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In John’s writings, “the world” is the unbelieving world, the powers, both human and demonic, who oppose God, Christ, and His people. It was through His death and resurrection that Jesus had overcome the world. Sinful people inspired by Satanic powers had conspired to kill Jesus, but He rose again in victory, foiling their plans and triumphing over even death itself. Jesus’ resurrection had brought peace to those who belong Christ—assurance that God’s plans and purposes cannot be stopped and hope for eternal life.
This is how Peter was able to stand before the Council with such boldness. Peter recognized an important truth that Gamaliel, a member of the Council, later voiced: “If [this plan] is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them” (Acts 5:39). God’s work cannot be stopped! And if they put Peter to death, so what? Through His resurrection, Christ swallowed up death in victory and had taken away its sting (1 Cor. 15:54-55). He knew He would be raised just as Christ had been raised.
Brothers and sisters, the resurrection of Jesus brings us peace and gives us boldness to face the many trials that we face as we live in a fallen world. Jesus’ words in the Upper Room ring just as true for us as they did for His first disciples— “In the world you will have trouble.” None of us need to be reminded of this; it’s our lived experience every day. I see it in my work as a hospital chaplain as I witness people living with debilitating illnesses, suffering from chronic pain, and dying from horrible diseases. I see it in my family as we face the mundane difficulties and challenges that daily life brings. I see it in my own heart as I wrestle with sin and try to live faithfully. I see it, and I know you see it too.
But may we not forget that the second half of Jesus’ statement is just as true as the first. Yes, in this world, we will have trouble. But Jesus encourages us, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” And so, Christian, when you or those that you love are plagued by disease, when you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, remember that sickness and death don’t have the final word; Christ does. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, [they] will live” (John 11:25). When darkness overshadows you and evil seems to surround you, remember that God is making all things new, that His purposes and plans cannot be stopped, that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).
The Resurrection brings us peace and gives us boldness. But we should notice that there was something else at work that had changed and emboldened Peter: He had received the gift of the Holy Spirit (v. 22).
Peter tells the Council, “We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts. 5:32). In our gospel reading, Jesus breathes on His disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This symbolic act anticipates the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the apostles at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13).
Just as Jesus connected peace to the resurrection in the Upper Room Discourse, He also connects peace to the work of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus speaks these words immediately after He promises to send the Holy Spirit to guide them when He returns to His Father. “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). On another occasion, Jesus told His disciples that when they “delivered over to the courts” and “dragged before governors and kings for [His] sake,” they did not have to be anxious about what speak, for “what you are to say will be given to you at that hour” and “the Spirit of the Father” will speak through them (Matthew 10:17-19). This is exactly what we take place when Peter is before the Council. The Holy Spirit fills Peter with peace and gives Him boldness to face the very men who had handed over Jesus to be crucified.
In the same way, the Holy spirit empowers and emboldens us today. As we navigate the challenges and trials that life brings, God does not abandon us to do it alone. He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit who grants us wisdom, “guides us in all truth” (John 16:13), and reminds us of God’s Word (John 14:26). We are also not left to our own devices in our struggle against sin. God’s Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8), empowers us to put to sin to death (Philippians 2:13), and changes our hearts so that we can walk according to God’s ways (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Through the resurrection of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives us peace and grants us boldness to face the trials life brings.
This morning, we are privileged to stand alongside Evan and Marlene as they receive the sacrament of baptism. In the waters of baptism, we see a portrayal of both the hope of the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In our epistle reading (Romans 6:3-11), we learn that through baptism, we are identified with Christ; we die with Him and are raised with Him. Baptism signifies that those who are united with Christ have died to sin, have been raised to “walk in newness of life,” and that death no longer has dominion over us. Likewise, Scripture connects baptism with the indwelling of God’s Spirit. In His sermon at Pentecost, Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Indeed, as our priests pray over the water, they will ask God to “send the Holy Spirit” on those who are being baptized and to “bring them to new birth in the household of faith.” So now, as we come to the baptismal font, may we see in its waters God’s promised peace—signed, sealed, and delivered by the work of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.