Bad news and good news

Sermon: Sunday, 5th November, 2023
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Acts 3:11-26

Last week we began to look at the extraordinary miracle where Peter heals a man who’d been lame from birth. The man is over forty years old, and has sat day after day, year after year, begging at the temple gate. he’s a well-known feature of the city. Imagine you were heading into the temple, and you see this same man leaping around and praising God. It’s no wonder we read in verse 11: ‘While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.’

Peter and John are now surrounded by a bewildered crowd. What will they do? Peter sees this as an opportunity to tell others about Jesus Christ. This great sign has drawn a crowd, and Peter does all he can to move the attention away from himself and onto Jesus: ‘When Peter saw this, he said to them: ‘Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?’ (Acts 3:12) He stresses that this healing was performed through the power of the living Jesus, and did not come from Peter or John themselves. And then he goes on to explain to the crowd both their problem of sin and the solution to that problem. He speaks to them boldly, directly and straightforwardly. All the time, his focus is on who Jesus is, and what our response to him must be. He does not wait to be invited to speak, but rather makes the most of the opportunity he has to hold out the words of eternal life to a crowd in great need of forgiveness. As we reflect on Peter’s explanation of this sign, it will help us to understand more of what it means to be a true follower of Jesus.

1. Peter confronts their sin

Like it or not, the Christian message is one of bad news, followed by good news. We need to begin with the bad news in order to understand the good. If we want to explain the gospel to a friend or neighbour, we need to begin with the bad news, and must not gloss over it. If a doctor wants someone to take a strong course of treatment, she will of course first explain the bad news. For example, ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you that you have cancer. However, the good news is that there is treatment available.’ Or, ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you that you have a serious heart problem. The good news is, there is an operation which will sort this out.’ The doctor is not being cruel by being honest about your problem. Quite the opposite.

For this crowd, the bad news is very serious indeed. God had sent his only Son into the world. They ought to have loved him and listened to him. Instead, they rejected him, tortured him and had him crucified. It is hard to understate this wickedness. Jesus was totally innocent. Throughout his life he had been loving and kind. He healed the sick, confronted evil, and taught the ways of God. How did they respond? ‘The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.’ (Acts 3:13-15)

In other words, you were completely wrong about Jesus! You thought he was unimportant. You looked down on him. When all the time, he was actually the Holy and Righteous One and the author of life. He was the Messiah, the Son of God. You probably think you successfully managed to get rid of Jesus, but actually, God raised him back to life. He is alive, and reigning from Heaven. And it is by his power that the lame man has been healed. Imagine being a man or woman in that crowd. Imagine the sick feeling in your stomach as you begin to realise: ‘I’ve made a terrible mistake’.

Peter does not ignore this wicked act, but speaks plainly and directly about it. ‘You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.’ What a contrast between the people’s attitude and action toward Jesus and God’s attitude and action toward him. The people ignore Jesus’ words and signs and have him killed. God calls on us to listen to him, and raises him from the dead. Many in the crowd were devastated when they realised what they had done. Not all of them, but some of them. Some were really convicted of their own wicked treatment of Jesus. How we treat Jesus is the most important matter in all the world.

What has this incident got to do with us today in 2023? We were not physically there calling for Jesus to be crucified. However, it is possible we are just as bad as they are, if not worse. In what way? They acted in ignorance (verse 17) because they did not know Jesus was the Son of God. That does not excuse their wickedness, but it remains true. But we have all been taught who Jesus Christ is. We know from God’s Word that he is God the Lord. He is the King of Kings. Thus, if we reject Jesus as our own king, and go our own way, refusing to give Jesus the love and respect he deserves, then we are in a very serious condition indeed. In fact, we are God’s enemies, because we are rejecting Jesus’ rightful rule over our lives. We break his rules every day and do not love him as we ought to. Peter deals with the sins of the people head-on. He doesn’t ignore it. We must do the same about the sin in our own lives. We must admit it is a massive problem, and that we deserve God’s punishment because of our rejection of Jesus as our King.

2. Peter commends Jesus to them

Peter has delivered the bad news to the crowd, in a plain and simple fashion, but he does not leave it there. He explains to them God’s solution to their wickedness and rebellion. This is the only solution. ‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…’ (Acts 3:19) Isn’t it astonishing that there was still hope for people who called on Jesus to be crucified? That’s why we sing about ‘Amazing Grace’.

If you are here this morning and you have not yet submitted to King Jesus, then this is what you must do too. You must repent. In other words, you must change your mind about Jesus. You must recognise that he is the Son of God.

Let me be personal here. What do you really think about Jesus Christ? Do you believe he has been raised from the dead and is in Heaven right now, reigning and ruling the universe? Do you accept that he is the one who decides how we ought to live our lives? Do we listen to him by reading the Bible? Or are we ignoring Jesus most of the time? If you are honest, perhaps Jesus is not the most important person in your life. If that is the case, you need to repent, which means turning away from living for yourself and going your own way, and asking Jesus to forgive you for this rebellion.

In our culture, we often like to blame others for our problems. We blame our parents or circumstances or our genes. God wants us to take responsibility for our own actions. He wants us to repent. He wants us to turn away from wrongdoing, and turn instead to Jesus, saying sorry to him, and asking him to pardon us. Have you done that?

Let’s spend the rest of our time thinking about the three amazing blessings which come to anyone who is willing to repent and believe in Jesus and follow him, whatever the cost. These blessings can be thought of as past, present and future: ‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything…’ (Acts 3:19-21)

3. The blessings of repentance and faith in Jesus

• Our past sins are wiped out.
The ESV says: ‘your sins may be blotted out’. (Acts 3:19) In Bible times, important documents were written on papyrus or parchment with ink. However, the ink had no acid in it, and didn’t bite into the parchment as our ink does on paper. That meant it could be wiped away with a wet rag. This means that when we repent and believe in Jesus, God takes a wet rag to the long, long list of our sins, and totally erases them. Our sins, as it were, disappear. God cancels our debt, as if we had never sinned in the first place. ‘And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.’ (Colossians 2:13-14)

But have our sins just disappeared? They have from our record. But that’s because they have been transferred onto Jesus’ record, and he pays for them with his own blood. That’s the amazing grace. A prostitute became a Christian and gave up her former way of life. For most of her life she had felt so guilty and ashamed and dirty. She was asked ‘how do you feel now’? She answered: ‘For the first time in my life, I feel clean’. Can you say that today?

Here’s a wonderful thing to consider – if God was willing to forgive the very people who called for his Son to be crucified, then he will also be willing to forgive your sins, no matter what you have done, if you repent, turning away from your sin, and turning instead to Jesus.

• Promises for the present.
God deals with the sins of our past. But he also promises something for the present – ‘that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.’ (Acts 3:19) Full refreshment will only come in Heaven; however, because we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God, we do know times when the Lord is dealing with us in a special way in this life. We have a new sense of peace. We have a new sense of purpose. We have a new sense of identity. We are greatly loved by our heavenly Father and adopted into his family. But how can we find more refreshment that we do? Often our Christian lives can seem dry. We must live lives of daily repentance.

• Future blessing.
What about our future blessing? ‘Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything…’ (Acts 3:21) We looked at this last week, so I will be brief. ‘The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’ (Isaiah 11:8-9)

Do you want to be part of this new and restored world? Then you must repent and believe in Jesus. I would say to you the same thing that Peter said to the crowd: ‘Repent… and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.’