14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and spoke loudly and clearly to them: 22 “Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man recommended to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know. 23 This man, who was handed over by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, you killed by having lawless men nail him to a cross. 24 He is the one God raised up by freeing him from the agony of death, because death was not able to hold him in its grip.

25 “Indeed, David says concerning him: I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  26 Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced. My flesh also will rest in hope, 27 because you will not abandon my life to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.  28 You have made known to me the paths of life. You will fill me with joy in your presence.

29 “Gentlemen, brothers, I can speak confidently to you about the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his descendants on his throne,  31 he saw what was coming and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, saying that he was neither abandoned to the grave nor did his flesh see decay. 32 “This Jesus is the one God has raised up. We are all witnesses of that.”

2 Acts 1:14a, 22-32

I was on my way to Jerusalem carrying my bushel of grain for the thank offering.  I had help from my cousin, Stephen, because it weighed more than 40 lbs!  God had given rules to Moses that said 3 times a year God’s people were to go up to the temple and bring our offerings.  Then the strangest thing happened.  We heard what sounded like a windstorm, but the dust was not blowing around.  People started rushing around us toward the temple.  Rumor was there were fishermen from Galilee speaking in all sorts of foreign languages.  We hustled up to the temple and sure enough, about a dozen men, whose faces were glowing from excitement and seemed to be on fire were talking to people from Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs!  They were talking in their languages about the wonderful works of God!  This was weird because Galilean fisherman generally were not very educated.  My cousin said they were drunken sailors!  I told him, “Shhhh!  One of them is on the stone wall waving his arms.  He wants us to listen to him!”

This was the scene 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection.  Peter had quite the audience.  He was beaming from ear to ear. He was smiling because Easter joy filled his heart and he wanted to share it.  Peter had been on an emotional roller coaster—sweaty feet washed by Jesus in the Upper Room, sweat pouring down his face while wielding a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, nervous sweat around a camp fire during Jesus’ trial, cold clammy sweat while locked up with the other disciples on Easter night, and sweat from running out to find an empty tomb.  Then joy beyond joy when meeting Jesus on his way back to Jerusalem.  Yes—Peter was an emotional wreck!

So, how are your emotions today?  How close as Covid-19 come to you and your family?  Are you still working?  School going okay?  Have you been keeping tabs on someone ill, or maybe even had to endure the death of a loved one in the family recently?  You might be the one listening right now filled with shame, fear or loneliness.  We have all faced and felt sadness and are bound to face it again.  So, may the Holy Spirit fill our hearts to pray:

Lord, Grant Us Easter Joy!

From the Bottom of our Hearts

God’s answer to our prayer is recorded in Peter’s Pentecost Sermon in Acts 2.  And what are the first words out of his mouth? Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus the Nazarene….. JESUS!  This isn’t just any “Joshua” or “Yesus.” And for the sake of the foreigners who didn’t know the story and for those who knew it well, this is about Jesus from Nazareth!  Many doubted he could be the Messiah because prophets had said the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  But, they didn’t know the story.  Jesus is God.  Some of the other disciples were off talking with their groups and telling about the angels who said, Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  For three years the people Galilee and Judea had witnessed his divinity through his miracles.  He calmed storms by a word, gave sight to the blind, deaf people hearing, paralyzed people walking, lepers with clear skin and even raised people from the dead.  These miracles were like YouTube videos that went viral to show what Joy Comes Through Jesus to the bottom of our hearts!

Peter had more to say, Men of Israel, hear these words! Jesus the Nazarene was a man recommended to you by God. I could see the smile on his face as I heard his say, “Do you want to know why I’m smiling with tears running down my face even though I’m talking about a man we accompanied through the valley of the shadow of death?  It’s because we found out just what I’m telling you.  This Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah!  He is God-come-to-us.  We don’t worship a distant God, an unknowable God, or a God who lives to crush us.  God wants to be with us, took on human flesh, lived a perfect live among us.  So, we have smiles on our faces.  We know Jesus’ identity.  Jesus is the Messiah!”  Stephen and I looked at each other in amazement.

My cousin and I had no idea Peter was going to take us on an emotional roller coaster.  We stood there spell-bound.  Peter continued, “Why is it important for you to know who Jesus is?  I’m going to tell you right now.  I hope the words don’t come rolling off my tongue too fast!  You see, this all stems from the story of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and their horrible rebellion against God.  God should have tossed them aside, let them remain in the grasp of their new buddy, Satan, and started all over again.  But God executed a plan to rescue everyone, yanking them out of hell and bringing us all back into the tender embrace of his loving arms.  Jesus was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan.  All through history there was opposition to his plan.  Satan gave it his all to destroy our peace and joy by ruining God’s plan.  He enlisted his demons and every person born with a natural rebellion against God as his enemy.  In fact, he enlisted you!  23 This man, who was handed over by God’s set plan and foreknowledge, you killed by having lawless men nail him to a cross.

That’s when my cousin and I dropped the bushel of grain.  Peter just stuck a knife in my heart.  He pointed his finger at me and said I was responsible for the brutal execution of Jesus.  I tried to duck, but Peter’s gaze seemed to bore in on me personally.   Everyone in the crowd felt the same way.  I felt so sad to the bottom of my heart.  Even though I was a grain farmer from Northern Israel, I learn there were basically three things that made me so sad.  Shame – Because I knew that I had not led a perfect life.  Actually, the bushel of grain I was carrying wasn’t quite a bushel.  Fear—because while I had convinced myself that God didn’t know about my sin, he did.  I knew I deserved to be whipped like my dad used to whip me when I was home alone for the first time and promised I wouldn’t have a party, and I did.  Loneliness—because my fiancé was on a girl’s trip to Mary’s cosmetic shop in Bethany.  She stepped out of the house and was run over by a Roman chariot and died.  I know loneliness!   Then Peter talked about the trifecta of his sadness!  Shame when he denied his Jesus 3 times.  Fear when he thought God would damn him on the spot for his actions.  Loneliness when the sound of that stone rolled over the tomb’s entrance and left him all alone.  And now with his sermon Peter had picked the scabs off my shame, fear and loneliness.

Are you listening to Peter?  If Jesus walked into your house right now and looked through your computer searches, or reviewed your timecard of prayer would you feel shame?  What if God sent you a bill to make restitution for every time you cheated, lied or failed to defend your neighbor?  Would you be filled with fear because you know you couldn’t pay it?  What if God took away your idols—Amazon Prime or Netflix shows?  All your sports?  And even took away your family from visiting you because you must shelter in place?  Would you be filled with loneliness?  I know, some will hear God’s Word and cast it aside as foolishness.  They will try to cover their shame, ease their fear and occupy their loneliness with the things of this world.  Until the day of death.  Then the truth will be revealed.  Then who will be the fool?   When I think of these things it doesn’t take long for a wave of sadness to make me feel to the bottom of my heart.  I’m done, spent, without joy.

From the Top of our Voices

But, just while we were standing there listening to Peter on that Sunday morning I was shocked to hear his next words.  He didn’t downplay my sadness, he didn’t come down on my like a hammer from on high, he leaned toward the crowd, paused for a second, and with a smile as wide as the Mediterranean Sea said, 24 He is the one God raised up by freeing him from the agony of death, because death was not able to hold him in its grip.  Peter gave me the answer, the cure, the relief for my sadness.  He said, “Yes, death is a cruel monster.  It grabs and doesn’t let go.  Death wants to drag us down to hell and into fire that doesn’t go out.  But, God raised up Jesus from the agony of death.  Jesus took the teeth out of the monster.  It could no longer hold on to Jesus.  Through faith in Jesus, neither will death hold on to us forever.  Jesus turns our sadness into joy from the bottom of our hearts to the top of our voices!”

Then Peter made some practical application.  He explained to us how Jesus turned sadness into joy.   He used King David’s example. 29 “Gentlemen, brothers, I can speak confidently to you about the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.  King David’s tomb was just down the street.  But Peter quoted a Psalm written by King David a 1000 years ago.  At first we had a hard time understanding this Psalm, but now it all makes sense.  The words are actually the Messiah talking to his Father in heaven!  “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  26 Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced. My flesh also will rest in hope, 27 because you will not abandon my life to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.  28 You have made known to me the paths of life. You will fill me with joy in your presence.  Peter made the connection as he explained, 31 he saw what was coming and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, saying that he was neither abandoned to the grave nor did his flesh see decay. 32 “This Jesus is the one God has raised up.”  Peter explained, “If Jesus was sent by God to live a perfect live, die to pay the penalty of all sins, and to wash all our sins away and he had failed, he would either still be dead or he would still be paying.  But, Jesus’ resurrection proves that the work he came to do is complete.  Jesus’ resurrection is the game changer!  It turns sadness into joy!” Then Peter said, 32 “This Jesus is the one God has raised up. We are all witnesses of that.  “That’s why I’m smiling.  That’s why I’m not afraid for losing my own life to stand up in front of the crowds that once yelled, “Crucify him!”  If Jesus were still dead, why in the world would be willing to risk my life to tell as many as I can just who Jesus is.  Jesus is the One who Grants Easter Joy!

You might be carrying a bushel basket full emotions from shame, fear or loneliness.  I’m glad my cousin and I were there to hear Peter’s message.  Stephen and I picked up our grain offering and presented it to the Lord like we have never done before…..with a heart of thankfulness because The Lord had Granted Us Easter Joy!  Amen!