You have to give the apostles Peter and John some credit. They certainly knew how to get everyone’s attention. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” And the guy did! But he didn’t just walk, he jumped up. He then went around the temple jumping and praising God. And the people? The people couldn’t believe it. This beggar, lame from birth, someone they walked by every time they went into the temple, was cured and they, they were astonished. And that leads us to Peter’s next words “He said to them: Men of Israel, why does this surprise you?”
It’s a bit of a strange question, don’t you think? Peter why wouldn’t this be surprising – this guy, who never walked in his life, can walk! That’s amazing! But look, what did the people seem to think about this miracle? How did they think it happened? Peter tells us, he says “Why do you stare at us? As this beggar now healed, clung to Peter and John the people naturally thought these two apostles were something special. Peter corrects them, but he does it in a way that’s rather surprising.
“Look, you think this is amazing and unbelievable, it is, but it is not our doing. It’s God’s and he did something way cooler, but before we talk about what he did, let’s talk about what you did. And then Peter, Peter lays down some harsh law. He uses this surprising miracle to bring these people to their knees by revealing to them an awful, awful truth. They killed the servant of God; they killed Jesus. “You handed him over to be killed…You disowned him…You asked that a murderer be released instead of him…You killed the author of life.”
These are harsh words from Peter. He doesn’t sugar-coat any of this, but you almost wonder if he isn’t preaching these same words to himself. You go back to Luke 22:61 and you see that image of what Luke describes for us “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remember the word the Lord has spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And Peter after recognizing his failure before the Lord went and we are told “wept bitterly.”
So it must have been special for Peter to share with them this next truth – look at his next words in verse 15 – “but God raised him from the dead.” Here it is the most glorious message –the Easter message – He is risen! And Peter knew this. He said, “we are witness of this.” Peter stood there with the other disciples locked in a room trembling with fear only to hear these words as Jesus appeared to them “Peace be with you.” Peter the man who had denied Jesus received peace from Jesus – forgiveness! Does it surprise you, then, that he is now sharing this same message of peace to Jesus’ murderers?
That’s why Peter brought all of this up. It wasn’t to chastise and send this crowd away, so they could weep bitterly with no hope, to tremble in a room until the day of judgment when they would be denied an eternity of peace because of their sins. No, Peter shared because he wanted to show them that even though they waged a very foolish war against the author of life, against God himself, they still could have that same peace because look at what God did with their ignorance. Verse 18. “But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.”
God did not order these people to act as they did or will that they do it – he did not cause their ignorance that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. But through their ignorant actions, he accomplished what had to occur because his Word prophesied it. This was God’s way of delivering all sinners from eternal suffering. And now through Peter, God was holding out that deliverance, that peace, to sinners. Peace that came about by the very cross that the author of life was put to death on. That is surprising.
It’s surprising simply because it’s something undeserved, unexpected, something that doesn’t make sense. This is how God deals with sinners. This is how God deals with me. I may not be Peter who denied Jesus three times. I may not be these “Men of Israel” who disowned and killed the author of life, but their sins are no worse than mine. But, we, we have no excuse, there is no ignorance to blame. We know God’s will. We have God’s Law, his commands…yet we still sin. We miss that mark that God demands again…and again…and it hurts, not just us, but him, our Lord, who looks straight at us and reveals the shameful truth that we already knew deep down: I don’t deserve this peace, look at what I’ve done, look at who I am, and we with Peter weep bitterly.
Yet here is Peter sharing that message, that good news, the simplest of gospel truths “He is risen!” And he shares it with sinners. Because this is what God meant when he had John write, “God so loved the world…” His love wasn’t reserved just for some, it was offered to all, yes, even to those who chanted “Crucify him!” That is grace. That is God reaching his hand down with terms of peace and that peace was a one-sided agreement that left his Son to die on a cross.
So I call myself a sinner worthy of death and find that it is on this hinge that the door of Christianity swings open. “But I love you,” Someone says and lifts my downcast eyes. “Come and see how much.” It is God come near in the dying and rising Christ.
It remains a defining truth in every Christian life: We must see our sins if we are to see our Savior. If we would just once witness the crucifixion of Christ through the tears of Peter, or through the eyes of this crowd stunned into silence at his words, we would know what the Scriptures call “godly sorrow…that…leaves no regret.” How hungry are you for that? While the world fears the psychological damage of calling ourselves sinners, the real harm is done when guilt, unacknowledged and unresolved, is left to poisons a life. And that is what makes the rest of Peter’s message so important.
Verse 19: “Repent, then, and turn to God, Peter had acknowledged the people’s ignorance in putting to death the Savior, but that ignorance didn’t equal innocence. So he called them to repent, that is to turn to God by confessing that the one whom they killed was in fact God’s anointed and their Savior. And look what Peter says would happen once they would repent, “Repent so that your sins may be wiped out…” That is the power of Jesus’ name. Yes, it healed that man crippled from birth, and we might think that by itself is amazing – and it is! – but this, in Jesus’ name as sins are repented of confessed and acknowledged for what they are, damning acts of rebellion against God, this is even more incredible, those sins are wiped out; there is no trace left of them. They are obliterated.
I don’t know…it still amazes me how God does this. I mean, again, think of the audience! These were Christ’s murderers. Yet, even they are offered this forgiveness being called to repentance so that they might receive as Peter calls it a “time of refreshing that may come from the Lord.” Refreshing! Words can’t express how our spirit soars at these words. Because of this this, no one can condemn me – no one in this world, no one outside of it, not anymore, because God, my God, rushes to my defense and says I sent Christ, he “has been appointed for you.”
But this all starts here in the recognition of what I am, what I was, without Christ, a sinner. Seeing this shows us our need for him, for as we weep those bitter tears over our sin, there comes words of confession – not embracing the sinful self but putting it to death – and then there arises a life that is free, finally free, and a new thing in Christ. So, I join these “men of Israel,” I join Peter, and sinners everywhere, and I repent. I turn from my sin, I want nothing to do with it and I know, that in Christ, God calls us forgiven…and we believe him. Because right here Peter tells us what happens to those who fix their eyes on Christ and put their faith in him: Our sins will be wiped out and we will be refreshed.
Does it still surprise you now, this grace and forgiveness that God offers to sinners? Does is still surprise you that God offers us daily opportunities to confess and repent of our sins? I kind of hope it does. I hope that every day we are surprised at God’s never-ending love for this world, for us. And I hope this surprise leads us to want to know more, to say, “I want to know Christ. I want to know him and what he gives to me.”
- S. Lewis wrote, “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him everything else thrown in.” Let us then, brothers and sisters, look to Christ. Let us continually be surprised and stand in awe at what he offers to us each day. For a crippled it was healing and faith. For a crowd it was the offer of sins forgiven. For us today it is peace. A peace through him who refreshes our souls at the eternal well of forgiveness. Does that surprise you? Good. Share that surprise. Share the author of life raised from the dead, appointed for you because today like Peter and John, we are witnesses of this. Amen.