On Evangelism

Acts 2:22-36

Peter concludes his sermon here, right after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church. Having begun by explaining the Prophecy fulfilled by quoting from the book of Joel, he begins to show how the Resurrection was also foretold. And he goes to great length to explain it in such a manner as to not offend the sensibilities of those who are listening, which would thereby get them on the defensive.

Look at what prudence he uses when he begins this. “Men of Israel,” he begins. While this seems like such a small matter, and certainly is not used as a means of flattery, he addresses them as such so as to put them in the mind of their ancestor, Israel. “Hear these words,” he continues. Not a harsh command, not “LISTEN TO ME!” or even “do as I command,” but simply hear these words. It’s important to realize that he is addressing them very matter of factly, but not confrontationally. “Jesus of Nazareth,” he continues. He realized that in beginning this way, he was showing no bias, no matter of opinion that could be contested. None could argue that Jesus was indeed from Nazareth. To the opposing side, so proclaiming would actually set them at ease, considering that Nazareth was not a place of high esteem. Remembering the words of the apostle, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” And, again, it’s important to note that there is no great claim made in his beginning about Jesus that would set them on the defensive. There was no claim about His divinity, or about His wisdom. Merely His name and His earthly origin.

“A man attested to by God to you by signs and miracles which God did through Him.” Again, we see this slowly building up, and yet, he makes no claim that it was Jesus Himself who had done these things, but rather God working through Him. This is vital, because, having put them in the mindset of their ancestors, they could not deny God’s ability to work through people. And lest anyone question that God had in fact worked through Jesus, Peter uses their own witness against them. “miracles, signs, and wonders which God did through Him, as you yourself know.” They had personally seen it all themselves, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the mute speaking. There was no room for disbelief; through their own witness they could not deny the signs which God had performed through Jesus.

And this is important. Peter had thus far sought to prove to them that Jesus had done nothing wrong in the eyes of God. All of these signs and miracles were truly of God, and they themselves bore witness to this fact. For only God Himself could raise the dead, could restore sight to the blind, could make the lame to walk.

And then, he does something which seems to make no sense to anyone. He seeks to acquit them of the grievous crime which they had been a part of. “By the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you delivered into lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.” It’s the first part which is ever so important here. “By the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God.” He draws on this to show the comparison to them of Joseph and his brothers. They (the brothers) had sold Joseph into slavery, and yet God allowed it to happen in His foreknowledge. In Genesis, we read the words of Joseph, “do not be grieved or angry with one another: for God sent me before you to save your life.” (Genesis 45:5 LXX). See how Peter continues to appeal to their knowledge of the Torah. Though they had sought the death of Jesus, it was not their will which they carried out, but God’s will. It was not they who had ordained the crucifixion of our Lord, but God the Father. And, as Joseph had taught to his beloved brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God used it for good.” (Genesis 50:20 LXX). Likewise, this wickedness that they had done, now revealed to them, was revealed to be not wicked, but rather a part of God’s plan, of which they were involved.

And Peter concludes this homily with the statement that “This Jesus, whom God raised up, of which we are all witnesses…and having received the promise from the Father of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now both see and hear.” He actively seeks to explain to them that it is not drunkenness which they are witnessing, neither any sort of “mental disorder,” but rather is the very fulfillment of the promise which was given by the Prophet Joel and reiterated by our Lord Jesus.

It’s important to note that throughout this entire message, this “homily,” if you will, Peter never once seeks to offend. He never seeks to argue, or cause discord, but rather appeals to the truths which his listeners already affirm. Rather than an aggressive approach, he takes what he already know them to believe, and merely seeks to teach Christ as the “missing link” which ties it all together.

This is an ever so important lesson for all of us to remember. When we seek to teach the truth about Christ to others, we have to bear in mind where they currently are, and show them His hand in the midst of it. The biggest mistake we could ever make is to attack what someone currently believes and seek to “fight” them on our terms. We so often seek to use the Holy Scriptures as a foundation of an argument with someone who doesn’t believe in the Scriptures. If someone doesn’t believe in the Scripture and that is the foundation of our argument, then our whole argument becomes meaningless. Or, we seek to use the Holy Tradition of the Church as our foundation in an argument against someone who believes in the heretical doctrine of “Sola Scriptura.” Again, in so doing, we make our arguments laughable, because we are using something that someone is opposed to as the foundation of why the should believe it. A homosexual who doesn’t believe in the Scriptures will never accept a reference to Leviticus as a reason that they should repent of their sin. Likewise, a “non-denominational Evangelical” will never accept the council of Nicea as an acceptable reference point. We must be well versed in the beliefs of any that we encounter, should we choose to challenge their beliefs. Someone who disbelieves Scripture must be reproved with science, someone who believes in “Sola Scriptura” must be reproved using Scripture. So often, rather than meeting them on their ground, we seek to argue with someone based on our own beliefs. However, much more effectively, as we see from Peter here and Paul elsewhere (Acts 17:23), it is much more effective to take what we know someone to already believe and show them the grace of Jesus in those beliefs.

Let us be cautious of falling into this very trap, my beloved brethern. Let us meet, instead, our neighbors on their own grounds, in their own beliefs, and show them the hand of God in the midst of those beliefs. Let us never attack someone, or condemn them, for such is not our job. Rather, let us reveal to them the truth of God in the midst of their own lives. Love them, pray for them, and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to help them. We can never argue someone into salvation, we don’t “score a victory for the kingdom” when we post random verses and offend people. Rather, when our lives are filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, others see that and seek it, and then we answer what they ask. “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” -St Seraphim of Sarov

Christ is Risen!

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