Extending Mercy to the Enemy • Acts 2:34-41
When Peter points out that Jesus is the Lord David referred to, the one under whose feet Yahweh will soon crush all enemies, the Jews who are listening to him are appalled. They either participated in bringing about the crucifixion of Jesus or at the very least did nothing to punish those responsible for the travesty. They stand firmly in the camp of enemies soon to be crushed.
Thankfully, Peter’s message is one of hope, not of condemnation. There is something they can do to avoid disaster. There is no turning back God’s plan. There is no dethroning Jesus, no way to avoid the utter defeat of every enemy of the Christ. But there is a way to change one’s status from ‘enemy’ to ‘subject.’ Peter explains what they must do. The first thing they must do is repent. This is not merely regret or remorse. Repentance is a recognition that one has been in the wrong coupled with a firm decision to forsake that wrong, to be done with it, to give up that course of action. Repentance, in the context of the question being asked, means recognizing that the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus was a terrible evil, that they should have embraced him in surrender. It means a change, regarding Jesus, from resistance and hostility to love and surrender.
The second thing they must do is be baptized. This could be viewed as a humiliating demand. Baptism was something the Jews required of Gentiles who wanted to become full-fledged proselytes. In addition to being circumcised, they must be baptized. This ritual of purification cleansed them ritually so that they could be granted participation in the life of Israel. But the Jews listening to Peter already considered themselves to be a part of the people of God. Why should they have to be baptized? Peter is pointing out that they were not truly God’s people, as they rejected God’s Messiah. If they truly repent, they will have to recognize and admit that they have been in the wrong regarding God and his Christ. They have been in the camp of the enemies of God and his King. They have no privileges before God and must enter into the Kingdom of God as everyone else, as outsiders. Baptism was a public act of commitment to a newly-formed people of God. This time, the people of God are formed by individual commitment signaled through baptism. We can foresee in this demand that soon every distinction and every privilege will be made moot by Christ. No one is automatically included in the Kingdom. And, if Jews find themselves to be outsiders in this Kingdom, they are on equal footing with all the nations around them, with the many Gentiles. Soon the message of repentance will reach them as well.
What will be accomplished in this repentance made public through baptism? Peter assures two benefits: (1) God will forgive their sins (even the crucifixion of the Messiah!) and (2) they will be given the gift of the Holy Spirit. God offers full pardon and inclusion in his Kingdom even to his worst enemies. It is significant that the first public invitation to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ occurred under the power of the newly-poured-out Holy Spirit and was extended to those who had killed Jesus. The point could not be clearer. Jesus died for sinners, for the redemption of those hostile to him. He bled and suffered and died so that he could purchase the forgiveness of those who hate God, who despise his Messiah. Even for such as these, there is extended a genuine invitation to forgiveness and full inclusion in God’s eternal and wonderful Kingdom. God even gives himself, the Holy Spirit, as a gift to those who repent and obey in baptism. Where do you stand regarding God's Christ: enemy or subject?
This Sunday, May 6, 2012, I will be preaching from Acts 2:34-41. Worship begins at 10:45 am. Come and join us, 3201 W 15th St. Plano, TX 75075. Video and audio of the sermon is posted during the week at our website: www.pcbcplano.org. To access the messages directly, click here.