Summary: Repentance, baptism, the remission of sins, and the gift of the Spirit.
AN APPROPRIATE RESPONSE TO PETER’S SERMON
Peter’s address at Pentecost consisted in, first, an explanation of the phenomena surrounding the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-21). Second, in what must be considered the first truly Christian sermon, an elucidation of Jesus’ works (Acts 2:22); Jesus’ death (Acts 2:23); Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:24; Acts 2:32); and Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33-36). In Acts 2:23, and in Acts 2:36 (where we began today’s reading), Peter unambiguously accuses his hearers of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus - but these must be understood in the context of the call to repentance following (Acts 2:38-39).
My point is this: yes, certain of the Jewish leadership were responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion - and the crowd went along with them. However, this was not accomplished without the complicity of the double-speaking Roman Governor, who, whilst washing his hands and proclaiming Jesus righteous, handed Him over to be crucified. The Roman soldiers, too, played their part: but not out of wickedness, as some of our translations suggest, but as those ‘outside the law (of Moses)’ (Acts 2:23).
Were YOU there when they crucified my Lord? I know I was. We are all just as guilty.
However, the one calling us ALL to repentance is one who himself had denied Jesus - three times, no less - on that awful day. Now, he had found repentance, and had been restored by the risen Lord Jesus in the Easter sequel. Thus, he had every right to be calling others to repentance.
Likewise, ‘the eleven’ (cf. Acts 2:14), (apart, perhaps, from John), had all run away, and had plenty to be ashamed of: yet here they were, standing with Peter, standing up for Jesus, standing in the power of the Spirit. When ministers call people to repentance, it is only as those who have found repentance ourselves. ‘I speak this as much to myself as to anyone else.’
Peter’s sermon had concluded that God had made the same Jesus whom we had crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). It is not that Jesus was not ALREADY both Lord and Christ: but rather that, through His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation to the right hand of God, and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was DECLARED TO BE both Lord and Christ (cf. Romans 1:4).
This declaration alone, as the culmination of all that Peter’s hearers had seen and heard on that day of Pentecost, cut right to the heart of the matter, and they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). We mistakenly imagine that we have it in our own power to obtain eternal life (cf. Mark 10:17). The same question was on the lips of the Philippian gaoler when he was convinced and convicted of his need for salvation (cf. Acts 16:30).
In the longer ending of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus said, ‘He who believes and is baptised shall be saved’ (Mark 16:16). Peter’s answer is similar: “Repent and be baptised…” (Acts 2:38). Faith and repentance are twin graces, and are publicly acknowledged in our lives through the waters of baptism.
Yet, here was Peter, addressing ‘men of Israel’ (Acts 2:22), and asking them to submit themselves to the humility of being baptised. In context, this was normally a sacrament of initiation into Judaism for those from outside Judaism: but now it has become, “in the name of Jesus Christ” an initiation into Christianity (Acts 2:38). It appears on the surface of this verse that there is neither “remission of sins” nor the “gift of the Holy Spirit” - without inward faith and repentance, and without baptism in the name of Jesus.
The promise of the gospel is co-extensive with the free offer of forgiveness, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. “It is to YOU, and to your (covenant) CHILDREN, and to ALL THAT ARE AFAR OFF, even AS MANY AS THE LORD OUR GOD SHALL CALL” (Acts 2:39). We thank God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, that whereas once we were far off, we are now brought nigh by the blood of Christ (cf. Ephesians 2:13).
Luke adds, “With many other words did (Peter) testify and exhort them” (Acts 2:40). Three thousand souls “gladly received his word” and “were baptised” that day (Acts 2:41). The revival of Pentecost was not yet over.