We have looked at the first three features of Peter’s sermon. Today we consider the last feature.
4. Peter’s sermon offers inducements to repent and believe on Jesus. The first is: “so that your sins may be wiped out” (v. 19), that is, “so that you might be forgiven.” Forgiveness is what people need, and the only place anyone will ever really find forgiveness is in Christ. A director of a large mental institution in England said to John Stott some years ago, “I could send half of my patients home tomorrow if only they could find forgiveness.”
Most people carry heavy loads of guilt. This may be true of you. You may not have told anybody what you have done. If you told someone else, you are afraid that person would reject you. Nevertheless, you remember what you have done, and you carry the guilt of your actions around with you day by day, week by week and year by year. Your burden keeps you from being what you might otherwise be. Moreover, you do not find forgiveness in the world. The world is not capable of that. The world can judge you for your sin, or pretend to overlook it. But it is not capable of forgiving it. On one occasion the Lord Jesus Christ said to a man, “Your sins be forgiven you,” and the religious leaders who were standing by replied, “Who can forgive sins but God only?” They were absolutely right that only God can forgive sin. But they were wrong when they failed to recognize that Jesus was God and, therefore, had the right to forgive sin. That is why the world is so unsatisfactory in this respect. Peter is saying, “God can forgive your sin. He can lift that great load of guilt.” Clearly this is one great inducement to turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ.
Peter has another inducement, too. It is the “times of refreshing [that] come from the Lord” (v. 19). This may be understood in different ways. On the one hand, it probably concerns a future day of blessing when the Jewish people will turn to Christ in large numbers, and a final age of national blessing will come. I think Paul talks about it in Romans 11. On the other hand, there are also “times of refreshing” for all God’s people even now.
Many of us go through much of life feeling pretty stale in what we do. We feel like the horse that eats hay and oats on Monday, oats and hay on Tuesday, hay and oats on Wednesday, and so on throughout the week. Many people find, especially if they are in an unrewarding job, that life is often quite dreary. And sometimes even their Christianity becomes stale. They say, “I’ve been coming to church every week. But somehow it just isn’t what it used to be. I feel so ‘flat’ when I come.” Well, that happens. We all go through “dry” spells. Times like that do not mean that we are far from God necessarily. They only mean that we feel far from God. Sometimes the cause is bad health. Sometimes the cause is the weather. A few days of gloomy rain and cold sometimes plunge me into a dark night of the soul. What we are told here is that in Christ there will be times of refreshing.
Haven’t you experienced that? Haven’t you known times when Jesus became so real and the Gospel so vivid that your whole spirit, soul and body was revived? If you want that—if you want times of refreshing, times that make life really worth living—so you can say, “Oh, it is good to be a Christian,” then turn from sin and follow close to Jesus.
There is another inducement here also, in verse 26. After Peter gets through saying that all that has happened in Christ is a fulfillment of prophecy—and that they ought to know it because it is clear in their Bibles (he quotes from Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, 19 and Genesis 22:18), when he gets to the end, he says, “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” The word “first” is what I find interesting. “First to you!” To whom? Well, to the Jews! But more than that, because it was not just to Jews generally that Peter was preaching on this occasion. Peter was preaching to Jews who had been instrumental in the death of Jesus. They handed him over to be killed, disowned him, asked that a murderer be released to them and that Jesus be crucified. It is to these people, the very ones who had been instrumental in the greatest crime in human history, that God now comes with the Gospel of salvation. And He comes to them first. It is God’s way of saying, “I know what you have done, but I do not hold it over you. I love you anyway. It is precisely for people like you that I caused Jesus to die.”
You and I cannot claim that in a literal sense. We cannot say that God sent His servant to us first of all. Many have come to Christ before us in former ages of human history. But the principle is the same. Regardless of what you have done, the low self-image you may have, or the guilt you may carry, God proclaims His Son to you. And the reason the Gospel is proclaimed to you is because God says, “It is for you that Jesus died.” Chuck Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship, tells how a prisoner was speaking to other prisoners, trying to encourage faith in Jesus Christ. And when he got to the end of his talk he said, “Now if that don’t turn you on, you ain’t got no switches.” I say the same thing to you now. If the message Peter preached in Acts 3, that I have tried to repeat in contemporary terms, doesn’t turn you on, it is because you “ain’t got no switches.” And what I pray is that God will give you a switch and switch it on—thereby turning you from sin to faith in Jesus Christ, who is the Savior.