Sunday, September 9, 2012

Repent, turn again, turn away from your wickedness, in Acts 3:19

Peter’s next recorded sermon, in Acts 3:12-26, clearly linked repentance to a change in the believer’s life. Peter and John had just healed a life-long paralytic at the entrance to the temple. The healed man had entered the temple with them, “walking, leaping and praising God,” incidentally drawing a crowd. Peter explains that God’s servant Jesus, the Prince of Life, the same Jesus the people had recently crucified, God had raised again to life, fulfilling the prophecies about him. He further explains that it is by the power of Jesus’ name that the paralytic was healed. Peter then invites those in the crowd to repent and turn again, and to listen to Jesus:

19 “Repent (metano─ôsate) therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that he may send Christ Jesus, who was ordained for you before, 21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God spoke long ago by the mouth of his holy prophets. 22 For Moses indeed said to the fathers, ‘The Lord God will raise up a prophet for you from among your brothers, like me. You shall listen to him in all things whatever he says to you. 23 It will be that every soul that will not listen to that prophet will be utterly destroyed from among the people.’

Acts 3:19-23 (WEB)

It is interesting that Peter does not tell his listeners to “believe” in Jesus, or link the remission of their sins with faith (according to our modern concept of faith). Instead, he tells them to “repent,” using a strong word that often has clear behavioral connotations, and to “turn again” (or, turn around, come back to the Lord). He then quotes Moses’ prediction and command regarding the prophet like Moses himself whom God was later to send to His people. (Deut. 18:15, 18). What Moses commanded the people to do when the second great prophet came was to “listen” to him, not to let his words pass unheeded. (Deut. 18:18). As Peter reminds the crowd, God will call to account those who hear the words of the prophet, but do not listen. (Acts 3:23; compare Deut. 18:19). The only way we have to show that we have “listened” to the words of God is to obey them, to do what they say. It is quite possible to hear words proclaimed, even to ask God to please speak and welcome his words, but then treat them only as mere advice, or, even worse, as a form of entertainment, and leave without doing them. (Compare Ezek. 33:30-33; Jer. 42). Hearing the message in this way, without really listening and heeding, is inadequate.

Peter then drives home his point by saying that Jesus came to turn away his people from their wickedness:

God, having raised up his servant Jesus, sent him to you first to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your wickedness.

Acts 3:26 (WEB)

The behavioral aspect of turning a person away from his “wickedness” is obvious. This is the objective of the “repentance” in verse 19.