Mentmore Sunday 26 April 2009
12Peter addressed the people, ‘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? 13The 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. 14But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16And 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.
17‘And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.’
36While the eleven and their companions were talking about what they had heard, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
44Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.’
Period after Easter – good time to read Acts. Second volume of Luke’s gospel. Addressed to same man – code name Theophilus. At start, Luke reminds his readers it was he who collected all the information together about the life of Jesus, and wrote it down. He ‘investigated it very carefully’ and ‘wrote it all up in an orderly fashion.’
But now Luke slips from being narrator to speaking with his own voice. In his excitement, does not say what second volume will contain, but dives straight in with account of ascension of Jesus.
After questioning Jesus for last time, disciples witness ascension at Mount of Olives, then return to Jerusalem to await gift of Holy Spirit as he had commanded them. Peter takes lead – speaks to 120 followers – proposes 2 possible choices to replace Judas as one of 12: Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias. After prayer and casting lots, they chose Matthias.
Then familiar account of Pentecost – sound of rush of violent wind – divided tongues as of fire – all filled with Holy Spirit and started speaking in other languages. Wind was always associated with the Spirit – word actually means wind – and metaphor of tongues provides the link with the new powers of speech that enabled the apostles to speak to the nations in a way could understand.
Peter again acts as chief spokesman. He addresses crowds. He answers 2 questions: one, what does all this mean? And two, what should we do?
At first, his message is to the men of Israel. Quotes Hebrew scriptures – prophet Joel. Associates new gift of tongues to Biblical prophecy – it is the same Spirit of the same God which inspires the apostles, he says.
But events of Pentecost cannot be explained as just an outpouring of God’s Spirit in the manner of the Old Testament. It can only be understood as referring to Jesus Christ. The OT witnesses to the ministry of Jesus, but the miracles he performed and the words he spoke were part of God’s continuing plan – Peter quotes from Scripture to illustrate his point.
Crowd had been part of the mob baying for Jesus to be executed – hearing all this and seeing the outpouring of the Spirit they are convicted and ask what they must do to make amends and seek forgiveness. Peter tells them they must repent of what they have done, be baptized, and receive the same Spirit. As a result, several thousand new converts were made.
These are the glory days – church united – sharing possessions between them – well regarded by the people – a paradise where praise and growth are spontaneous.
We then move on to Act I Scene II – the healing of a lame man by Peter at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. This is followed by another address by Peter in Solomon’s Portico. Once again, he attributes the healing to the power of the risen Christ, whom the people had handed over to be killed, preferring the release of a known murderer and calling for Jesus to be crucified.
But far from railing against the crowd or blaming them, Peter says they acted in ignorance. They must repent and turn to God, so that their sins may be wiped out.
Here we have a model of forgiveness and repentance. How do we repent? Is saying we are sorry and turning back to what is right good enough? Or do we have to try and put matters right before we can be said to have truly repented? Do we have to make reparations for what we have done before we can receive forgiveness, both from God and from the person we have wronged, or is the grace of God sufficient in itself?
Repentance is a change of heart and mind. It involves thinking differently after we repent than we did before. That’s the meaning of the Greek word metanoia. But thinking and acting differently is not enough. There are other steps we must take.
Firstly, we must confess and ask for forgiveness, both of God and also to the person we have wronged. But that in itself is not enough. We must make a genuine restitution. Finally we must resolve to forsake our sin before receiving forgiveness.
Remember the parable of the Prodigal Son, which is the model given us by Christ of true repentance. The point is that repentance in itself does not earn God’s forgiveness. It is a necessary step on the way.
God’s forgiveness is lavish. The fatted calf is killed. The feast is spread. All friends and neighbours are invited to the celebration. There is no recrimination – if the sinner wishes to be found, like the lost sheep the shepherd will do everything possible and more to recover him and bring him back to the fold. That is the grace of God.
Every service in Common Worship has a prayer of confession and repentance, followed by the assurance of forgiveness. Often the words have become so familiar to us, they tend to lose their meaning. Saying sorry can also be perfunctory and also meaningless. Even politicians have to constantly say sorry these days, whether it is truly meant or not. The whole process is a devalued currency.
It should not be that way with us. Confession is a necessary process on the road to forgiveness. So is restitution – God’s forgiveness requires us to leave our baggage at the altar steps, return to the person we have wronged, and put matters right with them before we return to the communion table. Then we must turn from the error of our ways and have a change of mind and heart before we are put right with God and receive the assurance of his grace.
That’s the process of repentance. That’s what Peter was explaining to the crowd who had send our Lord to the scaffold only a few days beforehand. Even the means of confession is important. Remember the Pharisee and the Tax Collector:
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." Luke 18