What’s on Your Mind? (Acts 2.12-16)
They were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” Others, mocking, said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke out to them, “You men of Judea, and all you who dwell at Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to my words. For these aren’t drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what has been spoken through the prophet Joel:
It may seem peculiar to think that the first gospel sermon (after the cross) began with a defense of the apostles’ sobriety. After all, what sermon have you ever heard that began with the words, “These men aren’t drunk”? But if we think about it, this was exactly where this sermon had to begin.
In the search for an explanation of what they were hearing, the some in the crowd came to the conclusion that the apostles were drunk. It’s difficult to imagine how they would have come to this conclusion. (Since when did an uneducated drunk speak perfectly in a language they had never studied? They usually have enough problems with their native language) Indeed, Peter could have stepped forward and begun speaking, but he would not have been as effective.
The reality is that Peter had to deal with this crowd where they were, regardless of how ridiculous that position may have seemed. If Peter ignored the accusation, that lingering question was going to be in this crowd’s mind. Considering what Peter was about to say, that would have been a problem. He was about to proclaim a risen Jesus as Lord and Christ. If the crowd thought that Peter was drunk while saying this, would they have taken him seriously? Probably not.
Thus, the first thing Peter did was give an explanation why the men could not have been drunk. Simply put, it was too early to have been drinking (third hour of the day = 9:00 am). But Peter did not stop there. It was not enough to declare their explanation invalid; he had to give them a reasonable explanation for the speaking in tongues. He did so by taking them back to the prophet Joel and pointing out what they were seeing was the fulfillment of significant prophecy. Once he had established the meaning of what they were seeing, he could proceed to declare to them Jesus of Nazareth.
This is an important point for us. When we try to reach people with the gospel, there could be barriers to them listening to our message. They may have preconceptions about us that cause them not to listen to a word we say. There may be questions about whether God’s word is even worth listening to. To the extent practical and possible, we’re going to have to deal with those issues so that the hearer can listen to the gospel message unhindered. It is intellectually dishonest for us to ignore the things that are stumbling blocks for them, preach the message, and then blame their hardness of heart for not being receptive to the word.
Follow the link to read more of Carl Peterson’s blog. It is important to note that while Peter did not address the issue of sobriety in detail in the first sermon (at least not from what is revealed), he does address it specifically in comments to Christians living in a pagan culture — see 1 Peter 4:1-6, especially the concluding phrase, “this is why the gospel was preached” — ESV).