New Testament: Acts 2:14a, 36–41 (Easter 3: Series A)

Reading Time: 6 mins

Your listeners needed someone greater than Moses to ask for forgiveness (Luke 23:34) and make atonement (1 John 2:1-2). They needed Jesus.

Each week we are in Acts during Eastertide, the goal will be to find the Old Testament connection which can bring to light a faithful preaching of the Gospel that bridges the testaments during the Easter season. It is plain to see the apostles preaching was rife with Old Testament “quotation,” “allusion,” and “echo.”[1] So, even though our assigned text this week does not have a “quotation” and even less of an “echo,” I want to explore the “allusion” it has with Exodus 32:28-29:

“And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so He might bestow a blessing upon you this day.””

This text is key for any thoughtful Israelite who heard the account of what God did on Pentecost. When Acts 2:41 says, “So those who received His Word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls,” a thoughtful Israelite would not likely miss the allusion to what God did on the other mountain. No, not Zion in Jerusalem, but Sinai in the Exodus. They would note the contrast which was plainly revealed. On Sinai, when God gave the Law, it revealed their sin and idolatry, and the consequence was death. In fact, the purpose was death to sin. On Mount Zion in Jerusalem, God poured out His promised Holy Spirit (Joel 2:2-32 quoted earlier in Acts 2:16-21), so the Gospel might be proclaimed which states Christ destroyed the power of death by His resurrection. In fact, the purpose of the Gospel was to proclaim eternal life. Since the allusion creates a contrast between these two Bible events, it fits nicely into a Compare/Contrast Sermon Structure.

“This structure systematically explores relevant similarities and/or differences between two topics in order to accomplish a purpose for the hearer. In this sermon, the purpose of comparing/contrasting is crucial. While proverbial wisdom says you cannot compare apples and oranges, the preacher responds that you most certainly can, depending upon what your purpose is. The sermon, thus, does more than simply inform hearers of similarities and/or differences. It uses that information for a purpose, and the purpose often makes a difference in their lives. In presenting this information to the hearers, the preacher has a choice of two approaches. He can work whole-to-whole (offering all of the individual items of one topic before proceeding to a listing of the individual items of another topic: A1, A2, A3, and B1, B2), or the preacher can work part-to-part (offering one item from each topic and then proceeding to the next item: A1/B1, A2/B2, A3/B3). In part to part, a larger theme will be present for the hearers which slowly unfolds through the comparison.”[2]

For this sermon I will suggest part-to-part because it encourages us to remember the items that compose the topics (in other words, the purpose and difference between the Law and the Gospel).

Her is an outline using this structure:

Topic 1: There are two teachings in Scripture: The Law and the gospel.

(Unpack the textual exposition. Textual exposition communicates the intended meaning of the text in its historical context.)

            A1: Sinai is where we receive God’s Law.

            B1: Zion is where we receive the Holy Spirit for the purpose of sharing the Gospel.

Topic 2: There are two different results for each.

(Unpack the theological confession. This section makes a confession of the teachings of the faith. The craft here is to find a way of proclaiming the text and unfolding theology from it. When done well, it ties in another thread of preaching called Evangelical Proclamation. Evangelical Proclamation is the heart of Lutheran preaching. Through it, we enact Christ’s command that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His name, see below.)

            A2: Sinai exposes sin and brings death (for the worship of idols) for 3000.

            B2: Zion reveals a life past death in the public proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus’ Resurrection and 3000 were  baptized and saved.

Topic 3: Both teachings are given by God so we might know Him and be saved on account of Christ alone.

(Unpack the hearer interpretation. This is the language of the sermon that depicts and interprets the contemporary life experience of the hearers.)

A3: At Mount Sinai, they knew God through the Law and understood they needed atonement and forgiveness in the face of the Law which only brought death and judgement. When we know God through the Law, we have the same need in the face of our sin and idolatry.


B3: At Mount Zion, after Jesus’ resurrection we hear that repentance and forgiveness of sins are found in Christ alone. The Gospel proclaimed full and free atonement on account of Jesus’ death and new life by the power of the Holy Spirit which is guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus. When we are connected to Him by faith in the Word and in the waters of Baptism, we are connected to the Easter message of the resurrection (Romans 6:1-11). In your baptism, you have received this good news.

An often-underdeveloped part of the sermon is the theological confession. As preachers, we work hard to help the hearers understand the text and what it means. We also work equally hard to try and apply it to the hearer’s faith or life with some snappy illustration. However, unfortunately sometimes that makes the theological confession suffer the habit of mere mention without further development. In this sermon (and every sermon), you have an opportunity to explore the theological confession in such a way that it will serve every part of your preaching but chiefly the proclamation of the Gospel. For this, we will need to take a look at the apostolic proclamation from the book of Romans, which might be summarized as the Apostle Paul’s presentation of the Gospel of Jesus, much like we have Peter’s proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus in our reading from Acts 2. For the purpose of this sermon, we can talk about the function of apostolic preaching and insert this into Topic 2 of our outline.

An often-underdeveloped part of the sermon is the theological confession.

One of the questions people must have had for the apostles as they preached was the purpose of the Law in the Old Testament. If everyone is saved by faith, as Paul insists, and not by keeping all of God’s commandments, then why did God give all those commandments at Sinai in the first place: What to eat, when to worship, what sacrifices to offer, or even the Ten Commandments? The author of Hebrews will show how the laws given at Sinai, which deal with worship and sacrifice, point to and are fulfilled by Jesus. When Paul preached in Rome, he simply insisted how the laws at Sinai finally show that all humans are sinful. No one keeps them perfectly. Therefore, measured by the standard of God’s divine Law, everyone is sinful and stands in need of forgiveness.

“The Law speaks to those under the Law so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world accountable to God. For by the works of the Law, no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).

In other words, the Ten Commandments and all the other regulations were never intended as the means by which humans might earn a spot in Heaven. Rather, they were given to show humans have a problem. If you and I take the Commandments halfway seriously, then we realize we have broken them all. The commandments, therefore, are like an MRI for the soul. They provide an accurate diagnosis of human need before God. They expose the cancer of sin. The point Paul insists on is this: God gave the commandments at Sinai, not as the means by which people might earn His favor. God gave them, rather, to expose human sin. Why would God wish to expose sin? So, people will come to God for a cure!

The cure for human sin is the perfection or “righteousness” which comes from God in Jesus. At this point in the sermon, it would be a good idea to read or speak from memory Romans 3:21-26. Our “cancer,” that is our guilt and our sin, was placed on Jesus, who died for that sin in our place. Jesus was condemned by God for us. God now states we are forgiven and have a new and righteous life. This is not because of what we did, but because of what Jesus has done. It is a pure gift from God and received simply by faith. Paul uses Abraham to show God’s blessings come to people who trust in the promises, and not by their keeping all God’s commandments. Abraham did not know anything about all the rules and regulations at Sinai. They had not even been revealed yet. But simply because he trusted in God, he was declared righteous by faith in the God who saves.

This, really, is the heart and center of Christianity. All other religions of the world declare how people are to keep certain commandments and eventually earn eternal blessings. All other spiritual systems are concerned with the gradual perfection of the moral nature of humans. The Christian faith alone clarifies all God’s commands and insists people cannot keep them or use them as a means to earn God’s favor. God’s favor is purely a gift of love in Jesus. This is what we see clearly in Acts 2 after the resurrection of Jesus when the Gospel is being proclaimed as a free gift, by grace, through faith. Therefore, the Christian life is not all about moral improvement. Rather, it is about a restored relationship with God through Jesus. To put it another way, salvation is not a process. It is a declaration and a gift.

Your listeners needed someone greater than Moses to ask for forgiveness (Luke 23:34) and make atonement (1 John 2:1-2). They needed Jesus. So now, instead of Law, we get Gospel. Instead of death, we get life. Instead of bitter waters mixed with the Law and ground up like a fine powder in it (Exodus 32:20), we get life-giving baptismal waters with Jesus in it by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Acts 2:14a, 36-41.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Acts 2:14a, 36-41.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Acts 2:14a, 36-41.


[1] Dennis L. Stamps, The Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament as a Rhetorical Device: A Methodological Proposal,” in Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament, ed. Stanley E. Porter, McMaster New Testament Studies (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), 12.