Acts of the Apostles
The Message Demands a Response
Peter has either just finished preaching or he has been interrupted. A heartfelt question was put to him and it was this question that caused him to carry on speaking. He knew the question was very important and he had an answer ready to offer. In fact he had some very clear instructions that he wanted to pass on to his hearers. You see they needed to know what they were to do in the light of all that he had been saying to them about Jesus. It really wasn’t good enough simply for them to listen they had to act upon what they heard.
You’ll remember how Peter had preached about Jesus, we looked at this last week. Peter hadn’t spoken about religious ideas or notions but had instead presented the historical facts about him. Over the centuries people’s ideas and notions change and alter but the historical facts about Jesus remain the same:
- He was a real man who did real things at a particular moment in space time history
- God enabled him to perform miraculous signs which caused a general amazement among the people
- He was handed over to the crucified and on the cross he died
- Death couldn't have the last word, however: it couldn't hold on to its prey and God raised him from the dead!
- The scriptures of the Jewish Bible had prophesied all this and the apostles have now added their eye witness testimony as well. This testimony would later form the basis of the New Testament. The whole Bible speaks about this extraordinary man, Jesus.
- Jesus was now exalted at the right hand of God from where he had poured out the promised Holy Spirit on his followers. And Jesus still occupies that place of honour and authority today.
- And this Jesus was the same one whom Peter's hearers had rejected. Well, they might have rejected Jesus but God most certainly had not. God considered Jesus to be both Lord and Christ
- These sinners, respectable religious sinners, were very much implicated in what Peter had to say for it was their sin as much as anyone else’s that had led to Jesus' death by crucifixion.
This was, and is, the message of Christianity. It was the message that Peter's hearers needed and it is this same message that we must hear and respond to today.
For Peter's hearers the message turned out to be a very uncomfortable one for them to hear. This was a message that didn't leave them indifferent for indeed it pierced right through all their defences and protective shields. They couldn’t deny what Peter preached and they certainly couldn’t justify themselves or their actions. They knew that they were implicated and they knew that they were responsible but what on earth were they to do about it? They didn't try to brush it all off and pretend it wasn't that important for they knew that it was. And neither must you! You must be careful not to brush it off either for this is the most important message you will ever hear.
Peter’s hearers that day felt the matter deeply and the reason they did so was because the Holy Spirit was at work.
I wonder do you know anything of this? When the account of ‘Jesus crucified for sinners’ is preached in your hearing, have you ever felt your own personal involvement? Have you ever realised that you are not a spectator looking on but a participant in the whole business? May the Holy Spirit pierce our defences and cut us to the heart too if only this will serve to bring us to Christ.
These people that Peter preached to were hurt and damaged by what they heard but they didn’t try to hide it or to deny it at all, they didn’t accuse Peter of hate-speech and walk away as if they had had been seriously
offended by his words. Why not? Because they knew that what Peter had declared was true and they were prepared to face up to the truth.
Do you know that you will never find a solution to your own sin problem which spoils your life and alienates you from God as long as you try to cover it up or perhaps to deny that you even have one? But there is a solution and the men who had heard Peter preach that day were about to find out just what is. They did not assume the worst, they didn’t assume that nothing could be done and that there was no hope. No, there must be hope – otherwise why were they hearing this message at all? So they spoke up, they interrupted Peter, and they asked him to tell them what they must do. They were very much in earnest about their lives and their never-dying souls – is the same true of you?
Peter doesn’t try to rub their noses in it. He has no desire to make them feel bad and when God convinces us of our failure, convicts us of our sins, his ultimate goal is not to crush us either but to bring us to Christ, his anointed solution. How foolish we are to think God wants to spoil our lives and harm us – yet that is just what many people believe God to be about. It is a lie of our arch spiritual enemy and he has duped many by it. Don’t you go believing that lie! God is good and, full of mercy, grace and loving compassion, he seeks to bring us to the only One who can really help us and do us good, everlasting spiritual good.
So Peter is ready with his answers and he is very clear and straightforward with them. Will his hearers follow his directives? And what about you? Have you followed them? Will you follow them?
This is what Peter said to the crowd:
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Repent – to repent means that a fundamental change of outlook must take place in a person’s thinking and attitude towards God. It is a change that admits to having been wrong in the past while at the same time recognizing that God has been and is right in what he has said and done.
Genuine repentance involves:
- acknowledging sin and confessing it. And this involves more than confessing that one particular sin which may have landed us in trouble we need to confess sin because we are sinners. It is not just that we do a few things that are wrong and we need to confess them – our individual sins are the fruit of a sinful nature and it is this that we must own up to.
- asking for forgiveness
- being ready to turn from our sins to God
What do you know of this? Do you know anything of this? Repentance will involve a repudiation of all sin including that awful sin of self-reliance that imagines that we can make ourselves good enough for God if only we try hard enough assuming we are not good enough already.
Repentance is intensely personal and to be genuine must involve the whole person – mind, heart and will. True repentance is not to be identified as simply an outward act that can be formally accomplished by merely following a particular pattern of words or following a particular course of action. You see it is possible to be sorry for a course of action that goes wrong without genuine repentance being expressed at all; Judas stands as a warning to us of this. Yes he was filled with remorse but he did not turn to God when he regretted his behaviour concerning his betrayal of the Saviour.
But Peter did not stop with the simple call to repentance he went on to call for baptism in the name of Jesus Christ and this was not to be limited to those who felt the that they might like to be baptized but he called for every one of those who heard him and believed to submit to baptism.
Some of you may think it is too difficult a thing to be baptized but what makes you think that it was any easier for them? Jews did practise washings and baptisms as we see from the example of John the Baptist and Jesus himself in his early ministry but generally Jews thought that baptism was something that necessary for proselytes who were entering the Jewish faith. They liked to think that they were alright before God because they were Jews – best leave baptism for the Gentiles and for the worst kind of sinner.
But baptism is the way of New Testament Christianity. To submit to baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means to publicly confess one’s faith and commitment to him and to mark oneself out as his disciple. It also, and more profoundly, pointed to a new spiritual union that the believer had entered into with his Saviour.
Well if Peter indicated these two elements of repentance and baptism as the appropriate response to being confronted with the claims of the historical Jesus he didn’t stop there but went on to indicate that there were also two goals that would be attained by those who honestly followed to his instructions:
- They would receive the forgiveness of their sins and
- They would receive the gift of the Spirit
Just as repentance and baptism go together so do these two outcomes, for the gospel does not provide an indemnity from sin that allows the sinner to merrily continue living in his sins. The forgiveness of sins is accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit who not only brings the necessary energy for ministry but also the dynamic for transformation so that the new believer can begin to live a sanctified life. No convert is totally transformed into a perfect disciple the moment he believes but every convert is given the Spirit and so enabled to make progress. Such progress is something that will go on throughout the believer’s life, it is a lifelong process. And when the Spirit is given the believer acquires the responsibility of not grieving the Spirit by living a life of deliberate waywardness.
And this promise of the gospel is not a limited one: it is available to those living geographically near or far and it is also available to those who are near or far off chronologically speaking. The crucial factor is not the century you live in or the continent on which you dwell but the call by which the Lord draws men and women to himself.
Have you heard the voice of Jesus softly pleading with your heart? Have you felt His presence glorious, as He calls your soul apart?
Have you heard the voice of mercy granting peace and pardon pure?
Have you heard the Saviour calling all to leave and follow Him?
If you have heard, have you responded with repentance and faith? And what about the command to be baptized?
This is how a person becomes a Christian. He or she hears the truth about Jesus and this truth is applied personally to him or her by the Spirit. The Spirit illuminates the mind so that we grasp the truth and he applies that truth that we have now understood in such a way that he convinces us that we are sinners and sinners who are in desperate need of God’s help and forgiveness. This is the convicting work of the Spirit – it can be terribly uncomfortable and painful but what a blessed work it proves to be when it brings us to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is how God issues his call and the response he expects of us is repentance and faith and the obedience of baptism.
This gospel is full of grace for God freely gives us what we stand in need of but can never, ever deserve. And this gospel is tremendously good news for God deals with our biggest problem. By means of our union with Jesus Christ who was crucified for our sin and raised for our justification, we are freed from the burden of God’s wrath and judgment. The old, the destructive, painful and sinful old, has gone to be replaced with a new life of restored relationship with God. We are given a fresh start and we are filled with a new and a clean power which enables us to live this new life.
The gospel is so good, so very good, that it is easy to understand just why Peter wanted to go on and on pressing his hearers and exhorting them to follow through on it all. He was experiencing this salvation himself and he longed for others to “save themselves from this crooked generation” v.40
Peter would muster every argument that he could so that he might present the truth convincingly and as winsomely as possible. Why so? Because, in harmony with God, he wished his hearers well! Any of the difficulties that they might face, any of the problems that might confront them should they follow Christ would be worth it for the benefits involved sins forgiven and the Spirit bestowed!
And what was the outcome of it all? What effect did this sermon full of historical facts about a man who was crucified produce? Well by God’s grace and with the anointing of the Holy Spirit this sermon was made the means of bringing a large crowd of sinners to faith in Jesus Christ and into membership of the fledgling church – 3,000 received the word and were baptised! It has been doing so ever since because the truth about Jesus does not change. His remains the only “name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Have you received this word? Have you believed in Jesus? Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”