Sunday, January 04, 2009

Homily 9

Acts 3:12 - 26

So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: "Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

"The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.

"But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,

"and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.

"And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

"Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.

"But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

"and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before,

"whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.

"For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you.

" 'And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.'

"Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days.

"You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham,

" 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'

"To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities."


Compared with Peter's sermon on Pentecost, this one is audacious. He flat-out accuses the Jews-- in the Temple of all places!-- of killing the Christ. There's still some caution, some softness: he doesn't say right out that Jesus is God (just that he's "Prince of life") and he does acknowledge that they did this thing in ignorance. But his sermon is very bold.

And, I suppose, he has the right to be bold because the people have just witnessed a miracle and now they want to know why it happened. The lame man walking has established Peter's authority, and he immediately defers this authority from himself over to Christ.

This sermon, like the former, ends by urging the listeners to repent. In the first sermon Peter said "be baptized." In this sermon, he says outright, "believe."


Chrysostom begins by acknowledging that this sermon is more direct than the previous. This, he says, is because it is directed not to the scoffers at Pentecost but to people who are "full of fear and amazement" (54), ready to pay attention. Peter began by "rejecting the glory which was to be had from them... And, in truth, much more did they increase their glory by despising glory." (54-5)

Peter right away "thrusts himself upon the fathers of old, lest he should appear to be introducing a new doctrine" (55)-- Christ is the fulfillment of the Fathers, not a contradiction. He "establishes the doctrine of the Resurrection" by calling Christ the Prince of Life (Chrysostom equates the title "Prince" with "Author"), and brings the Apostles into the same cloud as the Fathers by reminding the crowd that he and John are witnesses to Christ.

And now Peter no longer says "Jesus of Nazareth," but rather the Servant of the God of our fathers, and reminds the crowd that they had him, the Author of Life, put to death while setting a murderer free.

Peter is so straightforward now, says Chrysostom, because his hearers are ready-- you don't chide a drunk man while he's still inebriated, but instead you wait until he is sober and in a condition to listen to you (57).

Chrysostom notes the faith of the Apostles in speaking so boldly:

had they not been truly persuaded themselves that Christ had risen again, they would not have sought to establish the honor of a dead man instead of their own, especially while the eyes of the multitude were upon them. (58)

And Peter calls the onlookers his brethren, reminding them that Christ has come first for them, as a fulfillment of their Prophets: "For if He is your Brother, and blesses you, the affair is a promise." (59)

If Christ came first to save and bless those who killed him, says Chrysostom, then we must also "do all as we would for bosom-friends, as we would for ourselves so for those who have injured us." (60) Christ in fact made the leaders of the Jews objects of reverence-- he told the people to listen to the scribes and Pharisees, and told the cleansed lepers to show themselves to the priests.

Besides, when he might have destroyed [the Jews], He saves them. Let us then imitate Him, and let no one be an enemy, no one a foe, except to the devil. (60)

The remainder of the sermon is a follow-up from the last sermon, expounding on Chrysostom's attack against swearing and oath-taking. His thesis, essentially, is that it is impious to bring God into petty matters, and profane to make God accountable as a witness for our marketplace dealings. If I will not cheat my customer, then let me say that I will not cheat my customer without dragging God into it. Oaths do not stop men from cheating or swindling:

A man having once learnt to steal, and to wrong his neighbor, will presume full oft to trample upon his oath; if on the contrary he shrinks from swearing, he will much more shrink from injustice. "But he is influenced against his will." Well then, he deserves pardon. (61)

You stand holding God in your bonds: to get a few vegetables, a pair of shoes, for a little matter of money, calling Him to witness. What is the meaning of this? Do not let us imagine, that because we are not punished, therefore we do not sin; this comes of God's mercy; not of our merit. Let your oath be an imprecation upon your own child, upon your own self: say, "Else let the hangman lash my ribs." But you dare not. Is God less valuable than thy ribs?... Is this the end of your bills, and your bonds, that you should sacrifice your own soul? What gain do you get so great as the loss?... Do not imagine that the success of your worldly plans is to be ensured by transgressions of the Divine laws. (62)

And Chrysostom argues against the notion that nobody will trust a man who does not swear:

On the contrary, were it clear to all men that you do not swear, take my word for it, you would be more readily believed upon your mere nod, than those are who swallow oaths by thousands. (63)

And he says that it is not because of his office of bishop that he is respected without having to take oaths-- were he in the habit of perpetually swearing, even his bishopric would not uphold his honor.

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