But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:
“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 – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. 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;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
“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. 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, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 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. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:14a, 22-36 ESV)
It is obvious in cricket, football, and rugby. It is not so obvious in tennis, the marathon, or snooker – that is, until the winner gets to speak and at some point there is often mentioned that the victory wasn’t a solitary affair but more of a team effort. Team sports rely on the other members of the team plus the people behind the scenes and individual sports people also have their helpers and supporters who have made the win possible. The crowds concentrate on the sport – on what they see – and rightly so but there are always others who are also making the sport possible. The victory is the result of more than what we see. There is a team effort here that we may or may not appreciate.
Actually this is true for much of life. We are responsible for our effort and behaviour but we are helped and enhanced by supportive people around us. We mightn’t say ‘team effort’ when referring to spouse or family or colleagues but we would understand the sentiment if it was said.
Today in the Christian Church – on this First Sunday after Pentecost – when we begin the Church Year that focuses on discipleship, we take note of something specific about following Jesus and that is while he may be our focus, there is always more associated with him, surrounding him, simply with him because of what he says and whom we have come to know as the Father and the Holy Spirit. It seems that when you meet Jesus you meet also the Father and the Holy Spirit and to understand, describe and teach God, Christians have found themselves trying to describe a mystery called The Trinity. ‘Three Persons in One Godhead’ to use ye olde language. 3 in 1 and 1 in 3 with no accurate analogy, just approximations, to help us understand this mystery that when Jesus died for us and saved us, he did not do this against the will of the Father and the Holy Spirit has not tried to keep it all hush hush but in fact to meet Jesus is to get the sense that he is close to God in a way one has never encountered before. Jesus speaks with a knowledge, an intimacy, an authority that surprises and shocks us because this leads us to think along the lines C S Lewis pointed out that taking all of Jesus’ words and deeds together you are left with only three options – he is mad, he is bad, or he is who he says he is.
What Jesus often said was ‘Son of Man’. Peter would say, “… the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Thomas would say, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). John would say, “… the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31).
And in that first Pentecost sermon, Peter would take the crowd through God’s promises to pour out his Spirit, that Jesus is the fulfilment of what God promised through David – who was dead – about the Lord not being abandoned to Hades – the place of the dead – or God’s Holy One not seeing corruption – and this could be true for Jesus even though he was crucified – remember that is code for being cursed by God – but God has raised this cursed Jesus and that makes this Jesus both “Lord and Christ” – and again remember that ‘Lord’ has echoes of God and Caesar reverberating – so Jesus is more than either – and ‘Christ’ is the Greek word for ‘anointed’ and the anointed One in Hebrew is the Messiah.
So in the first public sermon straight after the pouring of the Holy Spirit whose task is to make witnesses of Christ, Peter summarises the story of Jesus by saying that he is God, the Messiah, and more important than Caesar and yet Peter also keeps in the picture ‘the team’ whom he calls God and the Holy Spirit. He wants to make very clear that God has rescued people. That God has taken our situation of rebellion, sin and death seriously and has done something about it in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And following this Jesus now in daily repentance, walking wet as it were from our baptism, and breaking bread with God and each other defines and shapes our living in this world, in our relationships, in our lives.
It will take around 600 years for the Christian Church to articulate this truth, this relationship in the teaching of the Holy Trinity, in the words of the Athanasian Creed – the third of the 3 ecumenical creeds – after the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds – the denial of which excludes one from the Christian Faith because it would mean denying that God is a Trinity and that Jesus is fully human and fully divine – an incarnate God who has been crucified and raised to new life so that we could live with God.
Our salvation is a team effort. Our life with God is a team effort. And we, being the sorts of people that we are think, ‘yes, my life is all about me and God’ – I’m in the driver’s seat and God is the navigator and pit crew who will guide me when I ask and get out of the car when I’m stuck and push’. But when I say ‘team effort’ what I am saying is that God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – has worked, is working, and always will work graciously for me – never against me – and I might sense this in my creation but I encounter it most personally in meeting Jesus who died and who is alive again – and who is always drawing me to God and there I find a community, a trinity, relationships and the biggest surprise of all – the biggest challenge of all – is that my life is not about me. If it is only about me then I am so short changing myself of living but if it is about God and me – not me and God – then I discover my value, my worth, my identity and how precious I am to this Being – this 3 in 1 – this Jesus who died for me, this Father who created me, this Spirit who empowers me – and I can even realise that those very descriptions don’t do the mystery justice but this God forgives my sins and gives me a life to live without fear in this world – in service to others.
Holy Trinity Sunday is a marvellous way to look back over the life of Jesus and to see him and sense more – and that this wonderful Trinitarian God has taken the time and effort to rescue humanity – me – and so as I begin the second part of the Church Year – with discipleship as the theme, I can go forward with confidence and courage – with repentance and new beginnings each day – and with a hope that the past and the ways of death do not have the final say on any day I now live.
Knowing this God, living with this God, following Jesus is the best way to live.
- Acts 2:14 - 36