The dilemma in Eastertide for preacher’s hoping to use the Old Testament pericope is there is, of course, NO Old Testament reading. So, I suppose that could be the untimely end for this homiletical help! However, rather than capitulate and claim some hidden Machiavellian, Pseudo-Marcionite motive behind the lectionary, we shall soldier on and see what we can do with this preaching challenge.
Each week we are in Acts, 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 strikes me that the apostles preaching was rife with Old Testament “quotation,” “allusion,” and “echo.” So, even though our assigned text does not have a “quotation” and even less of an “allusion,” I want to explore the “echo” our text has with a passage from Deuteronomy 21:22-23. In Acts 5:30, it says: “God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging Him on a tree.” This curious way of talking about the cross as a “tree” would have echoed something in the mind of a Torah observant Israelite about people who hung on a tree as a means of capital punishment. Namely, that such a person was “cursed.” Then tie that together with what the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree,” and now, by means of a pun and a paradox, you can have a sermon to proclaim the Gospel in much the same way the apostles originally proclaimed it in the book of Acts based off of a Holy Spirit inspired “echo” from Deuteronomy. This New Testament use of the Old is critical to recognize because there is “continuity of a unified history of redemption which progresses from the old to the new, and a single Scripture consisting of two Testaments. The Old Testament and the New are both parts of the Christian Bible; both reveal the Gospel of God’s grace; both show God reaching out to His disobedient children with the promise,” and both were brought together so that through authoritative public proclamation people might hear the Good News and be saved.
Since our text is both a pun and a paradox, it is fitting to use the Paradox Maintained structure for our sermon this week.
We will use this structure to identify a paradox within the framework of a pun in our text. Then we can sequentially examine each side of the paradox (such as when the apostles fashion Israel’s treatment of the Messiah as rude when they put Jesus on the cross; the cross has become a “holy rood” that we glory in and proclaim), so our people are encouraged to live within this paradox in faithful tension without resolving it.
In preaching this way, the “paradox asks people to hold together two truths that are in tension with one another.” For example, Israel was waiting for the Messiah, and when God sent Him they were very rough and rude and “hung Him on a tree” (verse 30) (a word of judgment to the sinful). In love (as a merciful act), God turns the rudeness of their rejection into a “holy rood” which we reverence and glory in as a means of God’s salvation. Since this tension is uncomfortable, the preacher may want to actually solve the tension by emphasizing one side of the paradox over the other. However, you must resist solving the tension in the sermon.
“When the paradox is not maintained, the hearers often end up in some form of heresy. Consider the paradox that “good works are an unnecessary necessity” and the errors that happen when one denies that good works are necessary or denies that they are unnecessary. The preacher, therefore, desires to maintain the faithful paradoxical tension for the hearers rather than resolve it.”
In love (as a merciful act), God turns the rudeness of their rejection into a “holy rood” which we reverence and glory in as a means of God’s salvation.
To help us maintain the paradoxical tension, the sermon will make use of the pun (rude/rood) to keep the paradox in tension.
“In the opening, the tension of the paradox is something that would lead a hearer to believe something is wrong with his or her faith. In the closing, however, the hearer is led to name that tension and confess it as the authentic paradoxical experience of faith. In between this opening and this closure, the preacher walks the hearers sequentially through each side of the paradox, helping them maintain the tension. In developing each side of the paradox, the preacher moves from the problem of how we deny the paradoxical tension, to the solution of how God keeps us within that tension in faithful living.”
Possible Sermon Outline
Introduction: Cursing is rude. To curse at someone is to drudge in the lowest form of rhetoric for effect. Calling someone “rude” for cursing someone or something is also a great way to get their immediate attention. This is how the apostles preaching in the book of Acts addressed Israel’s behavior towards the Messiah. The apostles proclaimed publicly that they were rude to God’s Messiah! They had waited for Him their whole history and when He arrived, they “hung Him on a tree” (5:30) because that is where cursed things go according to Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “Cursed is anyone who hangs from a tree.” Jesus came and they rudely turned His message into a cursed word to be proclaimed. Do not follow Him! He is not our Messiah. How rude! But watch what God does with Christ on the cross: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3:13).
A: It is important to see how the apostles preached about Christ in the book of Acts. There were typically two ways they delivered the message depending on the crowd. To the gentile’s they made the case that God has left everyone without excuse to believe in Him. Through natural revelation He has made Himself known as God, and through the special revelation of His Son Jesus Christ He has revealed salvation to all peoples. To the Israelites, though, they had a different sort of message. To call their preaching rough would be generous. They typically preached the message that the Messiah which they had been waiting for their whole lives was sent by God in the person and work of Jesus. As mentioned earlier, God’s people were rough with Him and rude. They rejected Him and in their rudeness they condemned their own Savior by hanging Him on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Talk about rude! But God raised Jesus from the dead and by that act He has proven Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.
- We may protest saying that if we were there, we would not have treated Jesus rudely! We would have followed Him and done everything He said. This is exactly what Israel sounded like at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:8). We are as incapable as they were, though, in keeping God’s commands.
- We would have failed too just like Israel did! We have nailed Jesus to the cross with our sins and we rudely treat Him as only a part time Savior (Romans 5:8-10). However, God in merciful grace does not reject us for our sin and rudeness but, instead, He takes it all. He carries it all the way to the cross, where He transforms our sinful rejection of the Son of God into a beautiful and holy salvation. The cross, which once represented our ugliness, has become the holy symbol of God’s merciful grace by the power of Jesus resurrection.
B: To exploit the pun for our sermon, I will now rely extensively on the brilliant homiletical mastery of Francis Rossow in his Concordia Journal article from November 1977.
People who love the English language will “recognize the term “Holy Rood.” It is another designation, of course, for the cross or the crucifix. For example, Lord Stanley in Shakespeare’s play, Richard the Third, says, “...by the Holy Rood, I do not like these several councils.” The term is hardly used today, and I think its disappearance is unfortunate. At any rate, let us revive the term for our preaching. I would like to do what I am surprised Shakespeare failed to do (in view of his fondness for the practice) and that is pun on the term.
“Rood,” of course, in the expression “Holy Rood” is spelled “r-o-o-d” (and I see no point for the present in annoying you with its linguistic history). But permit me to pun off of the word “r-u-d-e.” Spelled that way, does the designation “Holy Rude” not capture the paradox of the cross? That rude, crude tree, more shameful than the gallows of modern times, was made holy by the death of one of the many condemned to be suspended on it, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. How people regarded the cross at one time is evident from Philippians 2:8: “He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” “Even death on a cross” tells the story. Jesus was so obedient, that He even went that far. The cross not only hurt, but it also humiliated. Today, we revere the cross. It is one of our most sacred symbols. The rude has become holy by the power of the “r-o-o-d,” all the result, no doubt, of the continuance through the centuries of the practice begun by Paul, a practice he himself described in Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Unfortunately, we are sometimes pressured to take down our crosses, so we are not rude, “r-u-d-e,” to other people. We do not want to offend and be seen as rudely pushing our beliefs on people. But it was by this sign that God has confronted our rejection of Him in His Son Jesus Christ. The cross, the “r-o-o-d,” is (in fact) a rude, “r-u-d-e,” reminder of sin which we sorely need today to shock people to the point of the cross. It is God’s confrontation with sin and our only salvation.
- “In fact, “Holy Rude” in this sense is characteristic not only of the end of Jesus’ life but also of its beginning and its middle. God becomes man, taking on flesh, thereby making the rude holy. Plain and ugly things like mangers and swaddling clothes because of the Incarnation assume an almost idyllic, romantic charm. A wedding at Cana sanctifies wine and festivity. An entry by donkey into Jerusalem becomes a thing to celebrate with palm branches. An institution here, an institution there, and what happens? Why, the most unheard-of things become vehicles for salvation: Words (many of them “koine/common” words at that) for the Good News; water for Baptism; bread and wine for the Eucharist!”
Conclusion: “Come to think of it, “Holy Rude” captures not only the paradox of the God-Man but also the paradox of us. We too, thanks to Christ, are the “Holy Rude.” Take it in either sense, the justification sense or the sanctification sense. A death on the cross and God suddenly calls black white, sinners saints. Jesus dies in our place, and by a divine decision beyond our comprehension but not beyond our faith, punchy, sweaty, bumbling, stuttering, money grasping, lust-filled, food-filled creatures like you and me are declared righteous by God, a declaration on the basis of which God graciously gives us eternal life. And then, miracle of miracles, whom God declares righteous He begins to make righteous as well. We begin to become, in fact, what God calls us in grace: Saintly, righteous. That rude, crude creature of clay called man, thanks to God’s artistry in Christ, begins to shape-up into a holy being in the image and likeness of God Himself.”
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Acts 5:29-42.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Acts 5:29-42.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Acts 5:29-42.
 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.
 Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 45–46.
 A “rood” is a crucifix, especially one positioned above the rood screen of a church or on a beam over the entrance to the chancel.