Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, September 19, 2020
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April 26, 2020

Acts 2:36-41 and 1 Peter 1:17-23

We could say that Acts chapter 2 is the first “Christian” sermon. Well, maybe not. Obviously, Jesus preached some sermons before this, but this was the first time we know of a Christ-follower preaching a message about Christ after the resurrection.

This is, of course, Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on the Church gathered in the upper room. The commotion attracts a crowd, and people wonder what it all means. There are some who mocked what was happening, as there always will be.

Peter speaks up and says, “This is what God foretold would happen in the last days.” The coming of Christ is the beginning of the “last days,” in case anyone ever asks you if you think we’re living in the last days, you can say yes. “Jesus came. He did miracles. And you crucified him. But it’s okay. He rose again. He is the one the prophets foretold, the descendant of David who reigns forever. He is Lord and Messiah.”

And the people, convicted by the gospel message, respond, “What must we do?”

First, you must repent. To repent is to turn away from sin. Sin is self-centered living. It is living in a way that puts oneself at the center, rather than God. And you must turn to God. You must put God back in the center of life, depend on him, and be obedient to him.

The Greek word for repent was METANOEO. Literally, it meant to change one’s mind. But a change of mind is meaningless without a change of action. The alcoholic who says, “I should quit drinking,” has not repented until they quit drinking. The adulterer who says, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done,” has not repented if they don’t stop committing adultery. My lovely wife, Sharon, has said to one or the other of our children at least 500,000 times, “You’re not sorry if you keep doing it.” Repentance is meaningless without a change of behavior.

Second, be baptized. Baptism is a public identification with Jesus. It’s not a private matter. Faith in Christ is not private. It must be personal, a choice that you make, but it can’t be private. If you want to irritate me, say, “My faith is a very private thing.” That’s not how it works. Faith is a profession, and a profession means nothing unless it is public.

Baptism represents our identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ. Peter is speaking to first century Hebrew people, and for them, baptism was a rite of conversion. It was a new start. Gentiles were baptized when they converted to Judaism. And a Gentile convert was said to be a “new person.” They were even called a “newborn.”

For a Jewish person to be baptized into Jesus was to say that their “Jewishness” could not save them. That was a controversial thing to say! It was offensive to fellow Jews. This public identification with Jesus was the kind of thing that could you in a lot of hot water. You could be thrown out of the synagogue, disowned by family, regarded as a traitor to your own people. This was a significant change of life.

“Then you will receive the Holy Spirit. This promise is for those who are near and those far away.” Does that refer to the Gentiles? We read it that way, and I think rightly so. But it’s unlikely that most first century Jews in Jerusalem that day would hear it like that. They probably still thought in terms of “Jewishness” being necessary for salvation. But the time will come. The point is that salvation is available to all, but it must begin with repentance.

“Save yourselves from this generation gone astray.” Are they gone astray because they called for the death of Jesus? Maybe. But it’s not as if we couldn’t say that about every generation since! Ours, for example!

1 Peter is a similar message, but directed at a church that is both Jew and Gentile.

“God judges impartially.” Perhaps this is a warning to Jewish Christians not to think that they have a “leg up” on Gentile believers. “He will judge or reward all according to what they have done.” This is not a question about salvation, but rather about our eternal rewards. What are we doing with the life we have received in Christ? Are we living in a way that reflects who we truly are in Christ?

“We must live in reverent fear.” Reverent fear is not abject terror. Rather it is a holy awe and awareness of God. God is holy, and we are his children. As such, we should be holy. We are freed from sin for holiness, not freed from sin for sin. What sense would that make!

“We must live in reverent fear during our time as ‘resident aliens.’” The word used there describes those who are not “recent immigrants,” but are also not citizens.

Sharon and I have two members of our extended family who were not born in the US. My uncle was born in Cambodia. He immigrated to the US at the end of the Vietnam War, when Cambodia fell under the control of the Khmer Rouge. By the time he and my aunt were dating in the early 90s, he had become a US citizen. Sharon’s cousin is married to a man who was born in Uganda. He came to the United States for college and never went back. He’s lived here longer than he did in Uganda but he has never become a citizen. He knows that because of the politics in his home nation that if he were to renounce his Ugandan citizenship, they would in all likelihood not let him back in the country to see his family that still lives there. So he is a “resident alien.” He lives here, but in a certain sense he doesn’t “belong” here. That’s what we as Christians are to be. We live here, but we shouldn’t belong to the world, “this generation gone astray.” We are to live by different values, different ethics, different behaviors, and different priorities. And so often, we are tempted to “go along” with the world, to conform to its patterns, ethics, and priorities.

By the way, a lot is made right now of “citizenship” in politics. I think we would do well to remember that the Bible tells us that we are NOT citizens of this world. Perhaps that would influence our thinking.

“God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited.” The word empty was how Hebrew people described idolatry and idol worship. It was an empty way of living. And truly it is. What could be more empty than worshipping something you made when you could worship the Creator of all things.

Ransom is the price paid to set a slave free. We are not ransomed with gold or silver but with the priceless blood of the spotless Lamb of God. There is a recollection of Passover here, when lambs were sacrificed and God freed Israel from their Egyptian slavery.

Have you ever held something of immense value? It’s a little nerve-wracking, isn’t it? Well, you are of immense value. God paid the highest possible price to free you from slavery to sin and death. So we must live as people who were bought with the highest price.

We live with confidence. We live a new life. And we live a life of sincere love for others because of what God has done for us. And we must live a holy life. We are children of a holy God, and so we must live holy lives.

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