Repent, and Turn to God, March 27th, 2022
Soften our hearts, O God, as we listen to the words of scripture, so that our hearts may be fertile soil in which you plant your living Word. Help us see where you are working in our lives and where we should put our energies in the coming week. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
New Testament Reading: Acts 3:11-26
Our reading this morning from the book of Acts continues on with the story of the healing of the lame beggar by the two disciples, Peter and John. What we had read last week was that they were entering the Temple to pray when they met this lame man begging for alms. He asked them for money, and Peter says to him, “‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’” Peter takes him by the hand and lifts him to his feet. Through the grace of our Lord and Saviour and the work of the Holy Spirit, that man, for the first time in his life, is able to walk.
Now this morning we’ll see how he reacts to his healing and how Peter uses this miracle to tell those witnesses of that event how the power of God can heal them as well.
Our reading opened with this line, “While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.” So here we have this healed man, in his unbounded joy, holding onto Peter and John with both arms. They are trying to get away, but he won’t let them go. He hung on to them with all his strength. And now, the people around there, seeing this commotion, rush over to Solomon's Portico of the temple and recognize the former lame man who sat at the gate of Temple for so long standing there on his feet and they are astonished at what has happened to him.
And Peter, seeing the crowd that had gathered in amazement at what they saw, seizes the opportunity and says to them, “‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?’” Peter saw the crowd continuing to gather and he also sensed the mood of the crowd. These people recognized that a wonderful miracle had happened. And he saw that they were giving himself and John the credit for that miracle, that this healing had taken place due to the power and faithfulness of themselves.
Immediately Peter nips this in the bud, he doesn’t want any credit to go to himself or John. They had just spent the last three years of their lives with Jesus, being taught by him and witnessing his miracles. They had been there at his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. They had seen the empty tomb, spent forty days with him after his resurrection, and had seen him ascend into heaven to be at the right hand of the Father. Both Peter and John knew who was truly responsible for that healing. It was faith in God through Jesus!
And so, Peter says to the crowd who had gathered, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus…. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.”
Such is the strength of Peter’s faith in Jesus that he takes no credit himself for the healing but gives it all to him. And if you really think about it, that is truly wonderful. Remember that the first thing Peter said to the lame beggar was, “‘I have no silver or gold’”, so we know that Peter and John were broke, and so the temptation would have been strong to line their pockets from such a miraculous healing. Just think of all the so-called “faith healers” today who profit handsomely from healings which are often dubious at best. This was not the case with Peter and John, they weren’t there to profit themselves, they were there to do the work that Jesus asked of them before he ascended.
Peter gives all the glory to God. He knew that if God uses us to bring physical healing to another person or to lead that person to saving faith in Christ, it is not because of anything in us. We are just the clay vessels that God the potter uses for his own purposes. To take any credit for anything that God does through us is to rob him of the glory rightly due to his name. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” All good things come through Jesus for God’s purpose.
Having assured those gathered before him that it is Jesus who is due all credit for curing the lame beggar Peter continues on to remind them of their part in causing the death of Jesus. Peter says, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” That’s a pretty strong accusation, and one that many in that crowd couldn’t deny. They would have been in the mob that dark Friday crying out to Pilate, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Yet, all is not lost, for Peter continues on to offer them hope, saying, “‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.’”
And while Peter stresses the fact that both they, and the religious leaders, were to blame for the death of the Messiah, he tells them that he knows that they acted mainly out of ignorance. And didn’t Jesus himself confirm this in his words from the cross, “‘Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.’” Like us today, we often act before thinking and do things we later regret. Jesus understood this clearly from his time on earth and gives us hope through forgiveness of our sins.
Peter tells them what they must do, “‘Repent therefore and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus,’” And the key word in that sentence is “repent”.
For Peter this repentance was much more than admitting you’ve made a mistake and saying you’re sorry, it required a complete change of attitude. For those in the crowd who had called on Pilate for the crucifixion of Jesus, it wasn’t enough just to say that they were wrong. No, they had to go far beyond that. What was necessary for true repentance was for them to come to accept Jesus as the true Messiah and their Lord and Saviour.
This idea of repentance is so important to our Christian faith that in the first three chapters of the book of Acts, Peter twice gives sermons to two different crowds calling on them to repent of their sins. The first time was on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and gave them the ability to speak in other languages. Peter used this gift to address the crowds who were in Jerusalem at that time and the main point of his sermon was that they were to repent for having not accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but rather encouraged the authorities to have him crucified as a common criminal. With God’s grace, they now had a chance to repent.
The second time was the sermon we heard this morning given to those gathered in amazement at the healing of the lame beggar. This time as well, Peter reminds them of what took place that fateful day when they were part of that crowd which called on Pilate to crucify Jesus. Peter calls on them to, “‘Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.’”
Jesus also understood the importance of repentance for he told this parable to the chief priests and elders. “A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.”
And that is the meaning of repentance. The first son refused the request of his father to go and work in the vineyard. But on reflection he had a change of heart, and he went and did as his father asked him. That’s repenting, it’s not simply saying you’re sorry, it’s a total change of heart.
And that’s the same message which the world needs to hear and to understand today. First of all, a person must recognize his or her need to repent, to change their view and accept Jesus for whom he really is, the Way, the Truth, and the Light of the world. When someone hears and begins to understand the Good News of the Gospel that is the beginning the process of leading that person to repentance.
Secondly, they must then confess their sins to God and ask for forgiveness. Confession of our sins to God is also a necessary step in repentance. The Apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession of sins in humility is the next step toward personal repentance. After we realize our need to repent, we must make a heartfelt commitment to stop sinning.
Third, and finally, a person must change his or her life through the Holy Spirit. Once we have recognized our need to repent, had a real change of heart, confessed our sins to God, and asked for forgiveness, the process of repentance continues through the rest of our physical lives. We must continue our efforts to change our lives by overcoming sin and growing closer to the perfect character of God in our lives.
The message of Peter to those in the crowd and to us today is the same, if you’re thinking that Jesus is nothing but a great teacher, or a great prophet, but that he is not the Son of God, and he is not the Lord of all the earth; well, think again. Jesus came to lead us to God the Father.
Let’s close with these words from Psalm 51, which is a prayer of repentance:
Let us Pray:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing spirit. Amen