Good grace: Acts 2:14, 36–41
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service over the Internet.
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Our reading today comes from Acts 2, starting at verse 14, and then going on to verse 36 to 41.
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:
‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other disciples, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’
Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord will call.’
With many other words, he warned them, and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
I don’t know what you think about messages. Once upon a time, I would look forward to the postman, putting his letters through the letterbox on the off-chance there might be something there for me. In my time, I've had a couple of penpals, and there was always a bit of anticipation waiting for a letter to drop through onto the mat. Now, it's a bit different. It's often a bill or often a bank statement, not particularly exciting at all.
That said, this week I did receive a handwritten letter from somebody which brought me some joy. Nowadays, of course, there’s little waiting for messages. We have email, online forums, and home deliveries for which we are eternally grateful, but not everything is instant, of course. I'm still waiting for my EasyJet and Ryanair refunds for my cancelled flight.
For the next few weeks, we will be looking at the lectionary readings for Sundays. This in some way will connect us to the wider Christian church, who also use the lectionary. It also reminds us that we’re in the season of Easter. Today is the third Sunday of Easter. It helps us to continue to remember the ongoing story of the risen Jesus and will eventually lead us to Pentecost.
Interestingly, the Book of Acts gives us some insights as to how the early church began. What did they exist for? What was its main purpose? How was it arranged? How would it differ from the former way of being religious? For us in this weird Coronavirus hiatus, what can we learn, become, or even develop in order to become better placed to be the fellowship that Christ calls us to be? Today’s readings points out there are four things that are always going to be central to the message of Jesus and the community of the church.
As the people were cut to the heart, they respond to Peter’s message. One, they had to repent. Two, they were called to be baptised. Three, they were to receive forgiveness for sins, and finally, four, they would receive the Holy Spirit. No wonder 3,000 were added to the community that day. One of my favourite Christian speakers is a chap called Rob Bell. At a conference that I went to once, he pondered what was the least you could do , to have, and still call it church. His view was a table. In other words, it was Eucharist, what we now call communion. Bell went on to explain that the origin of the word Eucharist was good grace, from eu and charis. Perhaps he was right. Perhaps good grace is what was required.
The New Testament instructions from Paul and others seems to bear this out with instructions on how to bear with one another in love, to have the good grace to deal with situations as they arose. Perhaps we all need a bit of good grace today as we deal with our situations.
Peter’s message in Acts 2 culminates in a challenge. His heroes are in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. More deeply, he admonishes them for thinking he'd had too much to drink that first Pentecost morning, and then he gives a short sermon history about the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, culminating in his message now. God made Jesus the Messiah, the Jewish Messiah, for the whole world, not just for the Jewish people. The one that Jewish people crucified, that was the Messiah. It's an important and hard message you have to hear Peter was saying, ‘You were waiting for a Saviour. You ignored his kingdom message of peace and forgiveness. Then you sided with the Roman enemies, and you had him put to death for being exactly who he said he was, the King of the Jews.’
No wonder the people were cut to the heart like a sword through flesh. In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples on the road to Emmaus had a different experience which had a similar thought. Luke writes on this occasion the more tender, “Then their eyes were opened.”
That moment when they, and we , become patently aware that there was more going on than we ever imagined. That somehow we are complicit in the crucifixion of the Messiah, in the slaughtering of the Saviour. This is what cut people to the heart. With any good sermon, the people respond, ‘What should we do?’ Peter is able to give God's rescue plan. It's those four points we've already imagined and looked at. Turn again, make a u-turn, repent, be baptised. As with John the Baptist, be baptised with water, but Jesus uses water baptism as a new and updated rite of passage, to be immersed with the Holy Spirit. These actions somehow made for a further response from God. People's wrongdoing is washed away.
People are forgiven. They are clean. They are forgiven. God is then able to deposit the Spirit of Jesus in those who have turned and been baptised. Of course, that doesn’t mean that those who haven't experienced water baptism in a font or a river or a swimming pool or a baptistry haven't been baptised. If you're living for Jesus and He lives in you, that transformation of baptism in the Holy Spirit has taken place. You are a new creation according to 2 Corinthians 5:17. For some, you may have never experienced this but might want to consider this as a public declaration of your faith. Maybe after we can gather again, you might be baptised.
To be part of Jesus’ family, you don't have to be baptised by water. What is clear from what Peter is saying is that we need to have turned around from the way we were going, and choose the way of Jesus, the way of the kingdom of God. When that happens, Jesus lives in you more fully. Jesus was always God's rescue plan. At the beginning, the new community that became known as the church began with the very presence of Jesus becoming available to all his followers through the coming of the Holy Spirit. God gave Peter what he needed to stand up and make this challenging sermon, to turn again, to be baptised, to have their sins forgiven, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
No longer was there a need to go to a priest for sin forgiveness. Go directly to God, be clean, be a new creation, and live it. Know that the Spirit-filled church is part of God’s rescue plan. It shows Jesus in action. Know that the Spirit-filled church is God's plan for the rescue of the world. It shows Jesus in action, and that's why 3,000 people were added that day. They had been reminded about what they had already knew but needed putting into context that they could understand and identify with. The Holy Spirit had made a difference in Peter and in the Eleven. Now, Peter was challenging the people to a new way of living and being. He is inviting them to change communities from a corrupt generation to one of being saved.
Today, we are being challenged into reflecting upon how we want our world to be post-COVID. Some are starting to get into a routine of living and being whilst COVID continues to take hold of our nation and our world. For some who are at home, perhaps with families, they are even enjoying this new way of slowing down. Others are starting to think about how life will be afterwards. What might it look like to have a post-COVID church? I’m unsure of practicalities as regards seating , for example, right now, but I am sure of the theology is what it always was. It was always about God's good grace.
His eu-charis, being part of the kingdom of God meant receiving God’s good grace. That's what was so powerful for those listening to Peter. The 3,000 that were added that day were already aware of their spiritual heritage. Peter brought their knowledge of that to the fore in a context, and offered them a challenge, and 3,000 took it.
In our context, in our world now, what’s our challenge? Perhaps to receive good grace from others, to accept the help and support of others graciously, even if you are usually the most active of people. Perhaps you can receive some grace. To offer good grace through a phone call, a voluntary opportunity to use the time you have to your honour God in new or different ways. The church in Acts had huge challenges. It met them in difficult times. Some people even died. Others lived, and others learned and joined the grace generation.
Today, we have a huge challenge. As we pray for a cure for this virus that has disrupted our whole way of living, and as we continue to pray for our loved ones, and our healthcare staff, let us also be reminded of our spiritual heritage.
The life, the death, and resurrection of Jesus, so that we may again, be aware that our sins are forgiven, that the Holy Spirit lives in us, and that we have a job to do. To be a giver and/or a receiver of God’s good grace. To continue to be filled with the Holy Spirit of Jesus, so we may serve him to the glory of God. May God bless us as we reflect upon His word this day. Amen.
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