Acts 2:14a, 36-42
3rd Sunday of Easter – 4/23/2023
Acts 2:40: And with many other words, he (Peter) bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation."
It was quite a morning. There has never been a morning like this one in the history of the world. It is the 50th day after Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Just ten days prior, Jesus physically left this world and ascended back to the Father. It began with a bang. With the sound of a mighty rushing wind that stirred up the whole city of Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus' bewildered, timid, and fearful band of apostles. Immediately, the Spirit caused them to rush out of the room they had been meeting in and out onto the streets. Then, shockingly, they boldly spoke of God's truths and great deeds through Jesus Christ in languages they had never learned.
How divinely providential this all was! This day was also one of the three big festival days in Israel. It was called the Feast of Ingathering, or Pentecost, so named because it was 50 days after the Passover. There were Jews in Jerusalem from all sorts of other lands. Rushing out to hear the commotion, these visitors to Jerusalem were astounded to hear these men preaching in their native tongues.
Just as they were all scratching their heads and questioning what this was all about in the world, these preachers suddenly fell silent. All eyes then became transfixed on one of the group members as he took a perch above the others. Word spread among the crowd like wildfire through the tall, tinder-like grass that his name was Simon Peter. He had been one of those who had followed Jesus of Nazareth—the very Jesus whom Pilate had only a few short weeks ago crucified.
Peter began to address the crowds of people in the common language of the day, Koine Greek. "Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem," he said, "let this be known to you and give ear to my words." At first, everyone was stunned by Peter's audacity. After all, it was quite apparent from his characteristic dress that he was nothing more than a commoner—a fisherman. His speech betrayed that he was not even a resident of Jerusalem but was, of all people, a Galilean. It became pretty evident that he was not an educated orator. Yet his words seemed to demand everyone's full attention. It was almost as if his words had the authority of heaven itself.
Peter began simply enough with an explanation as to how he and his fellow companions had been enabled to speak in all those other languages. He insisted that it wasn't that they had had too much wine, as some of the scoffers in the crowd had conjectured. But he said, rather convincingly, that what they saw and heard was all in fulfillment of the Prophet Joel's prophecy that God would pour out His Spirit upon His people in the latter days. These twelve men were receivers of that Spirit.
Then Peter proceeded to talk about Jesus. He relayed how Jesus had done many convincing miracles throughout His days of ministry among the people of Israel and how He was rewarded by being crucified. But Peter said something quite astounding. He said Jesus was not only the son of David but also David's Lord! David had but one Lord: God Almighty, Yahweh! Peter insisted Jesus was, in fact, God Himself.
Furthermore, Peter announced that Jesus was no longer dead. Jesus was raised from the dead. Jesus' resurrection verified his divinity. After all, who can defy and conquer death but God Himself?
Then Peter's words became very pointed and personal toward his primarily Jewish audience. He said, "Let all the house of Israel, therefore, know for certain that God has made him, this Jesus you crucified, both Lord and Christ." His words hit their hearts like a sharp spear. But Peter didn't simply leave his hearers writhing under this charge of murdering the Messiah. He also offered them vindication, even salvation from their most heinous sin! Peter continued to exhort them, saying, "Be saved from this crooked generation!"
If you and I wanted clear evidence of the immense grace of God, we certainly have it here! Through His Spirit-filled spokesmen, God offered the very ones charged with the unimaginable crime of putting to death the Lord of Life redemption, vindication, and forgiveness. Although they had placed themselves under the eternal wrath of God through their unbelief and heinous actions, God was allowing them to be saved. That is mercy! How loving and gracious God is!
Notice carefully, however, that for the salvation of these sinners to happen, as Peter said, they needed to be rescued from "this crooked generation." Obviously, with the term generation, Peter was not talking about their particular placement in the lineage of the people of Israel. This crooked generation referenced the whole anti-Christ character and works of the people of Israel. When they put Jesus to death, it culminated in their continued opposition to God's Word, will, and ways. Their sin of unbelief contorted them. Anyone who remained in that generation—that is, remained in that same unbelief and rejection of Jesus—would suffer eternal death under the wrath of God. Only those saved from this crooked generation could enjoy forgiveness of their sin and full and eternal communion with God.
This same call to be saved hits us squarely between the eyes today. We might not be rebellious Jews, but is our generation less "crooked?" Just look around you. Does much, if anything, among the people of our age comport with or in any way support the straight truth that Jesus is God and the world's only Savior? Is our generation one of belief or unbelief? Does our culture embrace Jesus as Lord and Christ? Are the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus anything other than curiosities to them?
Not hardly! More and more, we hear, under the threat of punitive legal action, demands the removal of all symbols, icons, or references to Christian doctrine or life from the public square. It is held that displaying a crucifix is too gruesome and not the appropriate symbol of a loving and accepting society. Even something as innocuous as the Holy Creche, the simple scene of the Nativity of Jesus, is labeled offensive, xenophobic, and even racist! Likewise, there is a systematic effort to re-invent the moral code of the Ten Commandments so that we can live any lifestyle we choose guilt-free. Then there is a constant effort through a so-called critical biblical scholarship to deny the reality of any of the miraculous claims made by the Bible, including the divinity and resurrection of Jesus. On top of all this, in many so-called Christian churches, there is a steady and purposeful dumbing down of Biblical truths into a pabulum of "Jesus loves you," a message that will not offend anyone and is entirely acceptable to everyone!
I would say, yes, ours is a crooked generation just as hell-bent on murdering Jesus and getting rid of Him as the generation of the Jews of the first century. All this means, therefore, that for anyone to travel upon the straight path of true, eternal salvation—that is, to be added to God's redemption—they must be rescued from the clutches of this generation!
By the way, you and I cannot save this crooked generation. Many of our English translations need to be more accurate here. They are reflecting a bias on the part of their Reformed editors. Peter does not say, "Save yourselves," but literally, "Be saved from this crooked generation." The imperative verb Peter uses here is written in the passive voice. This saving is something that someone must do for you. After all, if a person could save himself, then he doesn't need saving! Only those who can't save themselves need to be saved!
So, how is one rescued from this crooked generation? When those who heard the apostles' preaching on that Day of Pentecost were, literally, "cut to the heart," they cried out to the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" That was not a question from people who were confident they would save themselves if they knew what they could do. It was a question of utter guilt, helplessness, and submission to the apostles to lead them to relief from their awful guilt (Lenski).
Peter replied by filling the ears of these poor, convicted sinners with a glorious hope. God, in His mercy, had provided the means to save them. Peter said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit."
Their salvation depended upon the fact that they turned from their rejection of Christ..., denounced their sin and the crooked generation that held them..., and instead of seeing Jesus as their enemy, they embraced him as their Savior. Such a turning is repentance. But again, this turning, this change of heart, this repentance was not something these people or any of us could do ourselves. If, as Holy Scripture teaches, we are dead in our transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1–5; Col. 2:13), then we can't make ourselves alive through repentance and faith.
The One and Only One who has power over death must accomplish such new birth or conversion. That one is the Incarnate One, God in human flesh. As Jesus taught, the sinner must be born again of water and the Spirit (John 3).
The very plea of Jerusalem's poor, guilt-laden sinners to the apostles for help revealed that God had already brought them to repentance through Peter's message. They wanted more than anything for God to complete their salvation.
Their salvation would come to them in the waters of holy baptism. In that water, comprehended by God's command and joined with God's Word of Promise, 3,000 souls that day were washed clean of their unbelief and rejection of Jesus. They were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, which brought them into full communion with God. God added them to His church through this wonderful means of grace—those called out of this crooked generation into His body of the saved.
As those now born of water and the Spirit, their old nature was put to death in Jesus' death, and they were given a new nature through the resurrection of Jesus. Now they could live a new life on the straight path that leads to eternal salvation (Romans 6:1-4). They no longer needed to live in opposition to Jesus and in fear of God's wrath. They could now resist conforming to this world. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the renewing of the Holy Spirit in their baptism, they were transformed by the renewing of their minds. They were still living in this world, but now they were brought to the clear truth that they were no longer part of its crooked generation. As we see in the very next verse, those who were saved from this wicked generation by the Gospel and Holy Baptism continually lived set apart from the crookedness of the generation around them by meeting together with their fellow saved, "devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers."
You baptized Christians have also been blessed to have been saved from this crooked generation by the preaching of Christ crucified and the administration of Holy Baptism to you. Your sins, too, have been washed away in the blood of Jesus. Instead of Jesus' crucifixion, where you are charged with the guilt, it has become where your guilt was atoned for.
Baptism has brought you God's full pardon, which Jesus earned for you. The reconciliation between God and the sinner that Jesus died to procure has been personally granted to you in that holy water. The Holy Spirit has been given to you and has been pleased to dwell in you. You have been restored to the straight and right generation—the family of the saints of God—the heirs of truth and all that is Christ's.
Yet, as long as you live in this world, you will still live among the crooked generation. Its tentacles will still try to turn you from the straight path to life in Jesus Christ. The Day of Pentecost, however, assures you that God, in His immense grace, has also made provision to keep you straight in the way of your salvation in Jesus Christ. Our generation's temptations and crooked influences no longer need to control you. Like your first-century counterparts, God has graciously given you the inspired teaching of the apostles of Jesus, which are the mighty Words of Christ, as well as the very body and blood of the crucified and resurrected Jesus, under the consecrated bread and wine of the Holy Supper, to nourish you and keep you on the straight way of salvation. As you meet with your fellow redeemed, devoting yourselves to this teaching and this bread, you will remain saved from the crooked generation. You will be given the faith and ability to daily resist and turn from every crooked way and to take up every day the salvation God has mercifully granted you. Avoiding this gathering will be at your peril!
Holy God, keep us safe from this crooked generation and empower us with Your Spirit and straight truth, that we might remain faithful with the proclamation of Your Word and the administration of Your Sacraments, and that through us, You might save others from our generation! Amen.