Acts 3:1–26

All right, well today we are going to talk about repentance. Repentance. What does it mean to repent? And already, as I’ve just said the word, there are images and ideas and past experiences that are probably filling our minds right now with what we think repentance is. For me, even after being in the Cities for eight years, there is this thing in me, from my rural South upbringing, that wants to slur the word a little. You know there is “repent” and then there is “repint!” And I’m going to try not to do the latter, but if I get going too fast and it slips out, I’m sorry. Please bear with me.

So we are going to talk about repentance — and that’s because repentance is central to Peter’s sermon here, which Luke describes for us in Acts 3. One of the many helpful things that happens when you preach through the Bible, is that what you talk about each Sunday is already given to you. You don’t have to come up with stuff each week, you just follow along with the text and say what it says. And today, being in Acts 3, repentance it is.

And I want us to get straight to the money of Peter’s sermon, which is what we see in verses 18–21. If the last letter of your Myers-Briggs is a J, and you like outlines, we are going talk about:

  1. Repentance Is a Response
  2. Repentance Has a Purpose
  3. Repentance — wait, what is that?

If the last letter of your Myers-Briggs is not a J, point #3 is for you, though you probably don’t really care anyway.

Verses 18–21. Let me read them again and we will get started.

[18] But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. [19] Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, [20] that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, [21] whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

What the Text Gives Us

The construction here is fairly simple, and it’s not hard for us to see how repentance is central. When Peter tells us to “repent therefore” in verse 19 he is building off of something he has already said in the previous verses. That’s what the “therefore” signifies — there is something before it, and so immediately we see that repentance is a response to something.

But then, after he tells us to “repent therefore” in verse 19, he follows it with the word “that” or “so that” — which is a purpose. Look at verse 19: “Repent therefore, and turn back, [so] that your sins may be blotted out.” That’s a purpose. Repent for the purpose of your sins being removed. Then he gives two more “so thats” which add up to three purposes. So there are three purposes given in verses 19–21 for why we should repent. Which means, as we can see here, repentance is a response (it follows something), and repentance has a purpose (it is for something). It is “repent therefore” and it is “repent so that.” We have incentive behind us and we have incentive ahead of us — both for why we should repent and turn.

So that is what the text gives us, and that’s what we want to look at.

1. Repentance Is a Response

So how is repentance a response? Well, let’s just back before verse 19. What is the event that unfolds and what does Peter say about it? That’s the beginning of chapter 3.

It all started on a normal day. It’s late afternoon, around 3:00, and Peter and John are going to the temple in Jerusalem. And as they are about the enter at this one gate, they meet this beggar — a man who has never been able to walk his entire life — and he is propped up at the temple entrance to ask people for money as they walk past him.

This lame man is there everyday, and people walk past him all the time, and never really pay him attention. But on this day he sees Peter and John, extends his hand, hopes for a little cash, but then Peter stops and stares at him. Luke tells us that Peter “directed his gaze at him,” which makes me a little uncomfortable. Peter is starting at him, looks him straight in the face, makes eye contact, and speaks these electric words, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6).

And the man walks. In fact, Luke tells us that he leaps (that’s an important word, we’ll see). This man is jumping around. He is blown away, he is praising God, and the people who see it are “filled with wonder and amazement at what happened to him” (verse 10). A crowd gathers. This is becoming a scene. Everyone is astounded, and then Peter sees a sermon opportunity. And so he preaches. Which is what we find in verse 11.

Peter Clears Things Up

And the first thing that Peter does in his sermon is clear things up. He wants to make sure that the crowd knows that this man is walking because he has been healed in the name of Jesus. He says, in verse 12, Hey, don’t think that we have done this. This is man is standing and walking and jumping because the God of Israel — your God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — glorified his servant Jesus.

And here is where Peter repeats a theme of what he said in Acts 2. He says to his audience, you crucified Jesus, but God raised Jesus from the dead, and we are all witnesses of this. We saw it happen. Jesus is alive. Jesus is glorified, and this man who is standing and walking and jumping — he has been healed to say something about Jesus.

Jesus, through the power of his name, through faith in who he is, is at work in the world. Peter wants us to understand that.

Verse 17 marks a turning point in the sermon. Rather than berate the crowd for their ignorance in killing their Messiah, Peter now tells them that what has happened is exactly what God foretold. The prophets of the Old Testament had written that the Messiah would suffer. That is not a new idea. For example, Isaiah 53 is all about God’s Messiah, who is called there his Servant, who suffers and is crushed for the iniquity of God’s people. So they have this information — they know the Messiah is God’s servant and that he would suffer — they just need to connect the dots that Jesus is that Messiah. Peter wants to help them with that. That is why, in verse 13, he calls Jesus God’s servant.

Did you see that in verse 13? “The God of our fathers glorified his servant Jesus.” Peter is referring back to Isaiah 53. Jesus is the Messiah — God’s servant — who would suffer. This has happened. He died, and then was raised from the dead. God fulfilled what he said he would do. Therefore, repent.

Repentance is a response, in broad terms, to what God has done, what God has fulfilled.

God has sent Jesus. Jesus has died. Jesus has been raised from the dead.

What God said he would do, he has done, and now, in this moment, here and now in human history, it is time for us to turn. This is where we find ourselves in the story of God’s redemption — it is time for us to repent.

That is how, repentance, in broad terms, is a response. We didn’t invent this. It wasn’t our idea. We are responding to what God has done. Repentance is a response.

But repentance also has a purpose, three of them actually, here in verses 19–21.

2. Repentance Has a Purpose

This is how Peter says it:

Repent so that you sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from God’s presence, so that he may send the Christ appointed for you.

Let me just restate each of these to explain more of what they mean.

First, repent so that you will be forgiven for all your sins.

That is what it means that your sins be blotted out, or wiped away. It is the same word used in Revelation 21:4 when God promises to “wipe away every tear” from your eyes. It means to have them removed. During our service, after we have confessed our sins, and I give you the assurance of pardon, when I say, “I now declare to you the entire forgiveness for all your sin” — this is what I mean. Your sins are gone — the entire forgiveness of all your sins. When you repent and you come to Jesus, everything, big and little, dark, addictive, foolish, evil — the guilt you carry for all your sins, when you repent and come to Jesus, it is no more. And when we confess our sins to God, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Repent so that your sins are blotted out.

Second, repent so that the Holy Spirit becomes a part of your life.

That is what it means when Peter says that times of refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord. In other words, the peace and rest that resides in the presence of God, when you repent, that enters into your life. I think the best interpretation, in agreement with several others, is to see this phrase as a reference to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, as we have seen, is sent from the Father and the Son to be with us here and now. And his presence, we know, from Philippians 4:6, is a peace that surpasses understanding. And we know from Ephesians 1:13–14, that the Spirit is the down-payment to us from God for the the full new creation redemption that awaits us. The Holy Spirit is the new creation of the future at work in this world in the present in you and me.

See, that is what this healing event is about. It is a symbol that points to the new creation that is already coming into our world but is not yet complete. Remember how Luke tells us that the lame man, after he was healed, was leaping? He uses that word twice in verse 8. Well, that is significant because of what the prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 35:6. Isaiah envisions the day of this new creation, when we world is put right, and he says in Isaiah 35:6, “then [meaning: in that day] shall the lame man leap like a deer.”

And Luke uses that same word to show us that, Yeah, it’s happening. Like Isaiah said, the lame man is leaping. The new creation is coming. It is here now — the presence of God is here now by his Spirit. Which leads us to purpose #3 . . .

Three, repent so that Jesus comes back for you to finish what he started.

See, the peace and the rest that the Holy Spirit brings us now is just a foretaste to the final peace and rest that Jesus will bring when he comes back. Next to chapter 1, this is the most explicit reference to the return of Jesus in Acts, and it is amazing how Peter says it.

For now, Jesus is in heavenly dimension of reality, seated on his throne, and from there he is waiting until the time, just like the prophets foretold, when he returns and finishes this cosmic redemption that he started in you and me. And that’s what Peter says. Notice verse 20: “so that he [God] may send the Christ appointed for you.” This is Peter’s way of saying, both to Israel and to all who believe, that Jesus is our Messiah. He is our Savior, and when he comes again, he is coming for us. So repent.

Repent so that your sins are forgiven, repent so that the Holy Spirit becomes a part of your life, repent so that Jesus comes back for you.

These are three good reasons for why should we repent — but wait, what does that even mean? What does it actually mean to repent?

And at this point, though there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that repentance is a good idea, we have to know what it is we’re talking about.

3. Repentance — wait, what is that?

And by now, if you haven’t already, some image or idea or past experience of repentance has probably lodged itself in your mind.

What do you think when you think of repentance?

If you are like me, you may have some messed up ideas.

Melissa and I are both from North Carolina, and we actually grew up about 15 minutes apart, and dated back then, and I remember when I would leave her house to drive back to mine — the scenery was typical country roads and woods, but there was this one spot in this one section of woods that I would drive by, and in these woods, nailed to a tree, was this dingy-looking sign with one word painted on it in creepy letters. Can you guess the word? It was “REPENT” — just “repent” in all caps. I was both creeped out and embarrassed by it.

And I think a lot of us might have some idea or experience connected to repentance like that.

One more story: I can remember this one night, early in college, when I went to hear this speaker who had been a professional athlete but became an evangelist, and now he goes around and speaks places. I remember that after his message, as people were waiting to meet him, he suddenly calls out this guy he was talking to, gets really loud, and tells this poor guy to repent. It was humiliating. He was yelling and causing a scene. Again, I was both creeped out and embarrassed by it. No one knew what was going on.

See, I think we’ve got a lot of stuff like this, things that we’ve seen or heard, maybe a sign in the woods or an angry preacher or something that has put us a bad taste in our mouths when it comes to repentance.

I think that many of us, if we’re honest, think repentance is a little bit weird.

Is that safe to say? I mean, it’s a churchy word, it’s a little esoteric, it has been mishandled so many times. If we’re honest, I think we think repentance is a weird.

But really it’s not. Repentance is not weird. And it’s not weird because people do it all the time.

Repentance Is Not Weird

People repent all the time in that people are always making changes that they believe will improve their lives. This is a superficial repentance, and Americans are addicted to it. The message goes: do this, get that, go there and your life will be better. That is the subtext that fuels our economy. That is what all advertising has said for the past hundred years. That’s why new technologies are created. Everyone wants to find and do those things that will make our boring lives better. And every time that we think we find those things, there is a little repentance that must take place. Before we add the new thing, we must say that what we’ve been doing all along is not good enough.

Okay, so I’m looking forward to the new Apple Watch. . . .

I do watches, I do Apple — it just seems like a great idea. But before I go and purchase this watch, it will require that I say, even unspoken, that this watch is not good enough. If it was, I wouldn’t be turning from it to go get the new one.

And we do this all the time. We turn and say that what we were doing before wasn’t right, wasn’t good enough, and now we are going to do this new thing. Americans do this all the time. So don’t tell me repentance is weird. Our country, and our city, is built on a culture of turning, of always wanting to find the next best thing.

The problem is not that we don’t know how to repent and turn, it’s that we are constantly, on a superficial level, repenting and turning from one wrong thing to the other, looking for it to do what it cannot do.

But what is repentance on a deeper level? What is repentance in the context of our souls? in terms of sin and brokenness and hope? What about repentance in terms of life and death?

What does it mean to repent from our sin and turn to Jesus?

There’s Nowhere Else I Want to Go

And this question is for everybody. Don’t think if you are here and you are a Christian that you are somehow exempt from all the repentance stuff. This is for you. The Reformer Martin Luther said that “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” This is an all of life thing — it is something that we do, in some sense, every moment of every day. So how could repentance be like that?

It’s because repentance is more like a cup of hot coffee on a snowy day than it is answering all your questions right. That is because faith in Jesus is more affectional than intellectual.

This is where our misconceptions begin to crumble.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus says to those listening, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). There is a parallel construction in what he says. Coming to Jesus, or believing in him, is described as eating and drinking.

Jesus doesn’t say: Come to me because I am the answer to all your problems. He doesn’t say: Come to me because I am the missing number in your life equation.

He could have used metaphors like that. They are not untrue. But what does he say?

Are you hungry? because I am a feast for you. Are you thirsty? because I’ll make it so that you never thirst again.

Okay, so here is how it looks . . .

See, we’ve been in this unending search. We know how to turn from one thing and try something new. In fact, our souls are worn down by it, and we still are not satisfied. We are stuck up to our waist in an avalanche of snow. We don’t have any coats, we don’t have any shade, unbroken wind is chapping our faces, our throats are frozen dry, the scorching sun is bearing down on us. Our stomach is empty. We can’t feel our toes anymore. Our heads are pounding. Our senses are completely disoriented. We are going to die.

And then someone comes, almost out of nowhere, and he throws a big blanket over us, and digs us out of the miry snowfall, and leads us to his cabin, and sits us next to a crackling fire, and hands us a cup of coffee and a warm slice of buttered toast, and he says to us: I am the blanket, I am the coffee, I am the toast, and you’re never be cold again, or hungry, or thirsty.

And do you know what we do then? We don’t get up, push that away, take the blanket off, and go back outside in the cold. No. Do you know what we do?

We say thank you and we drink the coffee and we eat the toast and we pull the blanket over us a little more and say: There’s no where else I want to go. I’m never leaving this place.

That is repentance. That is what it means to turn from your sin to Jesus.

And that, Christian, is what we do everyday. We say, we remember, there’s no other blanket like this blanket, there’s no coffee like this coffee, no toast like this toast. We know you can’t find this anywhere else, and so we indulge ourselves in Jesus.

So call it whatever — say “repent” or “repint” — just know that this is what it is. In response to what God has done, so that our sins are gone, so that we receive the Holy Spirit, so that Jesus comes back for us, repent. Turn from the cold scraps of sin, and instead feast — eat here, drink here, and stop looking anywhere else.