“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:17-26 ESV)
I love this time of year. I love the cooler temperatures and the leaves on the trees turning gold, red and brown. But the cooler temperatures and falling leaves are an indication that winter is coming. Winter will put everyone and everything into survival mode. Winter strips away all of the pretense of life and takes it back to the bare essentials. Nature spends all year getting ready to survive the winter. You pull together those things you need to get through the months of cold weather when nothing grows and survival is a challenge. While I also enjoy the cold weather, once you get into the depths of winter you begin to hope and long for spring. That’s the cycle of life… Everything about God’s creation points towards His purpose and plan for redemption. Man (and nature) does everything he can to prepare for the winter but if not for the mercy of God we wouldn’t survive.
In a similar way, our lives mirror this same pattern. We’re in the depths of winter and we long for the new life of spring. I love everything about this time of year, except the political climate. Right now, it feels a bit like winter has settled upon us and without some help we will be consumed by its ferocity. We hear the claims by each candidate and the empty promises that political candidates are famous for making. We also look around and see people needing help but finding only hopelessness. In fact, even as I write these words there’s a growing mass of youth and children making their way across Mexico headed towards the southern border of the United States. Regardless of your political opinion on how the situation should be handled, the fact remains that we have a huge group of young people who have lost all hope for life and are seeking hope and life from this country. How our nation responds has no authority or impact on how the church MUST respond.
In the passage we consider today, Peter addresses a similar situation. The people had lost all hope, not only in a political response to their needs but also in God. Political tensions were growing and though their political hopes had failed the people continued to expect their religious leaders would respond and lead them out of this “wilderness.” Unfortunately, their religious leaders were ominously silent and offered no hope, but God was still at work. Just not in the way they expected…
Much like the people of Peter’s day, we long and hope for a political resolution to the social unrest and life issues we face, but a political resolution is always flawed and destined to failure. Why? Because it is a human response to a much, much deeper issue, an issue only God can address… human sin. The culture in which you and I live is one which views man as basically good. While we recognize and admit that there are a few rotten ones (people) that exist and must be dealt with, our basic belief is that most of us are really pretty good and we really ought to be able to get along. Therein lies the problem. At our core, we are really very selfish and believe we know what’s best for ourselves (and everyone else, if the truth be known). At the core of our being we’ve rejected the authority of God over our lives and made our sexual desires, our economic standing, and even our personal comfort authoritative over our choices and our obedience to God.
You see, at the heart of Peter’s message is the failure of these folks to grasp the truth of God’s presence in Jesus and His call to repentance. They thought a political answer could and would solve their problems. They encountered the very God who spoke life into existence but rejected Him because He didn’t fit their expectations or understanding of God’s Word. We are on the brink of doing the same. We have one group on the political left and another on the religious right and they stand on the edges of our culture tossing verbal bombshells back and forth and condemning one another. Unfortunately, we occasionally step into the fray and join the in the name calling (mostly on social media – and mostly against the political left).
Peter reminded these people that God promised a prophet, greater than Moses, who would rise up from among them and that they should listen to Him. His prophetic words still echo through the centuries, “but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 19:14 ESV) He also said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7 ESV)
We often want to sit in our comfortable chairs (or pews) and bask in the perceived blessings of God while we ignore or even snub our noses at those who struggle and seek hope. Somehow we’ve transformed the grace of God and the blessings on our lives into the expectations of earned privilege. In other words, we act as if the blessings we’ve received are deserved or earned. My place and position is indeed a blessing from God but one which He has every right to use for His own glory and goodness. Instead of being pawns in a political chess match between the two extremes, we must become agents of grace.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t be involved in the political process where you live. In fact, you should and must be involved but not with the mindset that politics can resolve all of the issues, for it cannot. But we are called to be engaged in our communities and with our culture in ways that demonstrate and engage them with our God. That’s the very issue being displayed in our story, today. When God acted in the life of the lame man through Peter it demonstrated the power at work in the message Peter delivered. Often, the Church’s message is ignored or dismissed because it is no different than those the people hear each day (or on the nightly news). “Vote for this political candidate who’s endorsed by the religious right and he will get our nation back on course.”
I can assure you, that’s not going to resolve the issues we face and it certainly won’t address your personal struggles. Just like Peter, we’ve been promised that the power of God will be on the Church of Christ but it doesn’t come through electing the right candidate or backing the right political party (see Matthew 16:15-19). I know that’s going to shock some of you. God’s not a Democrat but He’s not a Republican, either. The outcome of the midterm elections might impact our country politically, but they won’t change the redemptive plan of God and they don’t change the mission of the church. When the church begins to act in the power and authority of God we WILL see a miracle and it won’t just be a lame man walking. In fact, Peter notes the true miracle coming out of this story… “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” (Acts 4:4 ESV)
For the miracles and power of God to flow through the church again, we must embrace the plan of God. That plan specifically calls the church to action, not reaction. Our reactions are often fear filled but our actions must be grace filled. Instead of fearing for our safety we should act boldly and in full confidence of God’s power. There are times when we hesitatingly step forward not fully confident that we are being obedient to God, but I am certain that if we step forward when we KNOW we are acting in accordance with God’s will then God will respond and He will respond in power and glory.
I can also assure you of this, that if we fail to step forward when we KNOW God is calling us to respond then we bring shame and reproach upon the name of Christ and judgment upon our own action (or inaction). “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17 ESV) Those are ominous words, but it is even more ominous to hear Peter quote Moses’ prophetic words; “And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.” (See Deuteronomy 18:18-19)
So, what must our response to Christ (the promised prophet) be? Peter lays it out very simply… repent, turn back to God that your sins may be blotted out. Really, we’ve lost the meaning of “blot out” and how it relates to sin. Sin stains us in such a way that it’s results cannot be completely removed. It leaves a mark. While the sin stain can’t be removed, it can be covered and “blotted out.” The only thing capable of blotting out the stain of sin is the blood of Jesus.
The most shocking part for those hearing Peter’s message must be the “turn back” part. Turn back? Why would we need to turn back? We’ve not strayed away from God. We love God. See our Temple. Observe our worship. Just count how many sacrifices our priests offer up each day. This may be the most shocking part for us, too. We point at similar evidence to try and prove our love of God. Strayed? We’ve not strayed from God. See the size of our church buildings. Watch our spectacular worship performances. Just count the number of social media followers our church has attracted.
If those aren’t proper measures of our commitment, what are?
“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalms 51:16-17 ESV)
“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:15-16 ESV)
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8 ESV)
In other words, one way our faith in Christ and our love for God can really be measured is in our response to those children walking towards our southern border, and in our response to those who are hurting in similar ways that we encounter each day of our lives. We are always quick to condemn the various groups who endorse abortion rights but we are generally slow to respond when foster and adoptive parents are needed. If we truly believe in right to life then we must be willing to step up and love those who are neglected, abused or abandoned. We must become their voice in a world too busy or too distracted to care.
In conclusion, the blessings we experience from God are intended to be used in obedience to His commands.