By God’s grace, repentance brings forgiveness through Christ, and that forgiveness is available to all who call upon His name.
“Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:17-21 NKJV)
Here Peter is declaring that God’s answer to man’s guilt, God’s answer to man’s condemnation of his Son and rejection of the Lord of life, is forgiveness and a restoration that takes into account man’s ignorant blindness. Peter is saying to these men,
“As God sees what you did, he sees it not as the deliberate act of a perverted and twisted will trying to strike back against him; he sees it as the blundering act ignorant minds that did not realize what they were doing.” I wonder if, in these words, we do not have an echo of Peter’s memory of those words he heard from Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do…”(Luke 23:34).
Perhaps nowhere else in Scripture do we see more clearly how God sees a man?
He sees him as ignorant, as blind and stupid, blundering along in his darkness, not knowing what he is doing.
This is the problem today, is it not? Is this not what all the events of our time are bringing sharply to a focus in our lives — that we do not know what we are doing in trying to run this world?
We do not know what we are doing in trying to run our lives. How many people have said to me, “Oh, I had no idea what I was doing! I look back now and all of a sudden I discover that all my sincere efforts to do what I thought to be right were wrong, and I’ve loused everything up!”
Well, that is what God expects of us. That is what he has been trying to tell us all along. You see, it is only man’s pride that starts boasting about all his achievements while ignoring his weakness and his folly and his atrocious blunders that he makes in all areas of life. But God’s grace is revealed by the fact that he is ready to write it off on that basis and say, “I know that you didn’t mean to; you’re just blind, stupid.”
What Peter is saying, is this is humanity — ignorant, blind, stumbling along, patting itself on the back, priding itself on its achievement, and yet making the most atrocious blunders, all of which catch up with us sooner of later. Not only in the realm of politics and economics is this true, but even in the field of ecology — so that every time we flush the toilet something terrible happens to our environment!
“And yet,” says Peter, “what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.” That is, by the means of human stupidity and ignorance, God’s purposes were nevertheless worked out.
That is grace, is it not — that through all the blindness and the folly, the foolishness of human life, God is still working out his purposes?
And now Peter goes on to announce what they are: “Repent, therefore, and turn again, onto the blotting out of your sins”, and two great things will happen:
“Times of refreshing will come from the face of the Father,” and “he will ultimately send Jesus Christ unto you to restore all the things which were spoken by the mouth of God’s holy prophets from of old.”
That is a remarkable statement. Peter is looking down the course of the full age, and he says, “Here are the principles by which God is going to operate: Wherever there is a turning back to him, there is immediately a dealing with the problem of guilt. God blots out sins.”
I do not know anything harder to get people to believe than that. It is amazing how many Christians have heard all their lives that God forgives their sins, blots out their sins, deals with this great problem of guilt which is at the root of all human ill — and yet they still do not believe it! They are still trying in some way to work out some standing or merit before God, or to do something in them, which will make himself acceptable to him.
But Peter says God arouses guilt only because he has the solution to it, and that is the blotting out of sins in the name of Jesus. Faith in the name of Jesus blots out your sins. “And from that,” Peter says, “two things will happen: first, there will come times of refreshing,” periods in human history characterized by relative peace and prosperity, times of order and joy and happiness and relative contentment in society. We need only to look back through history to see how true this is:
After the spiritual awakening of the Wesley’s, England was saved from the disaster of a revolution that the French had just gone through. The country turned around, and there emerged a period of relative prosperity and joy and contentment. There were still many problems, granted, but it was a time of refreshing.
And there have been other such times in history. The Protestant Reformation in Germany under Martin Luther was such a time. And other times have been recorded, but these times of refreshing, seasons of refreshing, come when a people turns to God and seeks the blotting out of sin.
“Furthermore,” says Peter, “it will result, ultimately, in the return of Jesus Christ.” That is, only when God’s people turn back to him, in the end, is God going to return his Son again from heaven. That is very, very significant.
It confirms what I have long suspected from the Scriptures — that when Jesus Christ returns again, he is not coming back in a time of low ebb of faith. He is not coming when faith is almost burned out, and God’s people are going through a time of barrenness, a spiritual desert.
Rather, he is going to come back at the height of an awakening, a time when God’s people have returned to him, and there has been a blotting out of sins, and there is a release of the fullness of the power of the Spirit. In the midst of that, Jesus Christ will return. The world around will be barren and disconsolate, despairing; but there will be a time of life and vitality on the part of the people of God. Peter closes with this appeal to act:
“For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.” (Acts 3:22-26 NKJV)
Paul tells us that, historically, the gospel was to go to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. And that is the program that followed in the book of Acts. Soon it will turn to the Gentile world, for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile; they all come on the same ground.
But Peter’s argument is, “Look, you are Jews, you know the prophets, you have been reading them. And your Scriptures urge you to believe in Jesus.” Peter brings it home with a personal emphasis: “God has sent him to you to turn you from your wickedness.”
I wonder if Peter did not learn all this knowledge of the Old Testament application to the Christian life from what Jesus taught him during those forty days after his resurrection. When he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself…”(Luke 24:27). Peter is recounting those words here. And he is saying, “The final issue is this, and each of you must settle it for himself:
Will you allow God to turn you from your wickedness? Will you begin at the place where God begins?
Not out at the periphery of life, clearing up a few surface problems, but right at the heart, with your question of guilt, with your lack of acceptance of yourself before God, with your sense of inadequacy and inferiority.
And deal with that before Jesus Christ and, in the name of Jesus, believe that God loves you and receives you and makes you his own, and you are privileged to live as his child, his son, in the midst of this present life?
That is where Peter leaves the issue. Perhaps you would like to answer this question Peter leaves with us:
What are you doing with Jesus? Will you allow God to turn you from your wickedness — in the name of Jesus?
Our Father, thank you for these searching words. We see the truth of them, and we know that all of the Scripture stands behind this grand proclamation — that you are eager to deliver men and women from their sins. May there be some who, right now, will turn in faith to the Lord Jesus and, receiving him, begin that marvelous process of being turned from wickedness, that process which restores humanity and makes possible the fulfillment of all the hopes and dreams of every heart. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.