After celebrating Pentecost this past Sunday, I was reading through the beginning of the book of Acts and noticed a scene I had always missed before. After the Holy Spirit is descended upon the disciples, Peter and John go to the temple to celebrate the feast of Pentecost/Shavuot and heal a lame man who had been begging at the entrance. When the many other worshippers at the temple are amazed to see the beggar walking (and even dancing), Peter takes the opportunity to preach the gospel to them (Acts 3:11-26). Two things struck me about this speech.
First, Peter flatly accuses his listeners of “delivering up and denying” Jesus unto his death – the same God who had healed the beggar. Yet even while Peter does not mince his words on this, his message is not that the persecutors of God should tremble – it is that the outpouring of God’s love in the Holy Spirit is an invitation to repent and be joined to God. The crime of those Jews who clamored for Christ’s death is only one among the many crimes of all people, “voluntary and involuntary, committed in knowledge or in ignorance” – only one occasion, albeit a particularly poignant one, for God’s forgiveness under the New Covenant.
Second, Peter recounts to his audience how the coming of Jesus was foretold by their prophets, quoting Deuteronomy and referring to “Samuel and those who follow.” This is a reminder that for the Gentiles who will soon come into the Church – whose coming has just been prepared by the Holy Spirit in the gift of tongues – embracing Christ means not only replacing pagan with Jewish sacred books, but being invited into Jewish history. It is to the Jews that the forefathers have prophesied a Messiah; it is the Jews who can recognize and introduce Him to all nations.
And they do – the Scriptures report that, upon hearing Peter, five thousand were converted, even though he and John were quickly scooped up by “the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadduccees” and prevented from talking further.