This Sunday, the Lord willing, I will be preaching from the text of Acts 3:17-26. It is the latter half of Peter's impromptu sermon after the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. (Who can forget the, "I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!"). From this text, and with an eye to the one preceding it, I am approaching this text as a clear word on what must take place for "revival," or as Peter says, "Refreshing."
Peter says to those gathered in ESV English, "Repent, therefore, and turn again, 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." It looks like at least three promises are contingent on repentance from this text, we should unpack what those are.
Before we do that, let me be a typical theologian and backtrack a tad. I do not want this repentance to be a faithless type of sorrow. Such a repentance, I believe, is possible. The repentance that Peter speaks of here is connected to what he has said in verses 15-16, namely, that "you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name--by faith in his name--has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all." Note, they killed the Author of life. If they believe this, then the need for repentance becomes obvious.
Now, back to the promises. The first is the most controversial in the minds of some. That is, in order to have one's sins "blotted out," one must repent. That's what the man said. If you want forgiveness, then you must repent. This is problematic for some because they believe that salvation comes "sola fide", by faith alone, that means no repentance required. They teach that if one adds repentance to the equation of salvation as a necessity, then we have denied the rule of salvation by faith alone. For repentance, they say, is a work.
I affirm, with Peter, that where there is no repentance there is no salvation. The concept of believing oneself to be a murderer of the author of life, and yet still feel no shame at such a dispicable act, is absurd. I further argue that repentance is no more a fleshly work than spiritual living is a spiritual work. Repentance, saith the apostle, is granted from God as a gift to men (see 2 Timothy 2:25). We may no more boast about such a gift than we may boast about faith itself. Both are God's gracious gifts to men. If repentance be a work, then faith be a work, and if faith be a work, then I am theologically skewered.
Now that I have dealt with that, I feel better about telling the first promise attached to repentace: the blotting out of our sins. What a wonderful promise it is! If only we could feel the weight of our wickedness for a moment, then we would be inclined to throw it off immediately! May God, in His mercy, grant us to see the depth of our sin that we may know the greatness of His grace.
The second promise of repentance is that we will be refreshed from the Lord. Specifically, Peter teaches that this refreshing comes from the presence of the Lord. Since I believe "the Lord" refers to Jesus, I can only imagine that Peter means the refreshment sent will be our Wonderful Comforter, the Holy Spirit Himself. At the cross, the Lord Jesus paid for our sins, at regeneration the Spirit washes us clean. The Spirit is the agent of our cleansing, as I understand it. He applies what our Savior bought for us.
The third promise is that repentance will usher in our Savior. But who must repent? Should we read the previous verses in context of only Israel and yet not the third? Is it the repentance of Israel, physical Israel, that must occur before the Messiah will return? It is a tricky question, and much hinges upon our answer of it. Do we need to turn to "already" and "not yet" eschatology to understand this promise? Being the cautious, semi-dispensationalist that I am, I venture to say that the promise is peculiar to Israel. God will, I believe, work the restoration of all things when He has finished His work in this world, and I believe that the final act will revolve heavily around Israel. I believe this for two reasons from this text:
1. Peter is obviously talking to Jewish people in this sermon. The first two promises are universal to all who repent, the third seems special and particular to God's working with Israel. The first two promises are repeated to Gentile audiences, the third seems to be peculiar to this text.
2. Peter mentions Gentiles in this section. After talking about this promise that comes with repentance, he says that through them the blessing of God will come to all the "families" of earth, meaning the Gentiles.
So how does this third promise relate to universally? We are bound to preach this gospel to every nation, tribe, and tongue. When this gospel is preached in all the world as a witness, then the end will come. At the last, when repentance has come to the last child of God, then I believe that Jesus Christ will be revealed from heaven. That seems to be the third promise of repentance.*
*If you disagree with this, please let me know why, I have to preach it Sunday and God will judge me on the sermon's content.
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