From time to time when I am preaching I will say something about the death of Jesus and how the Jewish leaders handed Him over to Pilate to be crucified. Whenever a study like that appears on the radio later (as many of my studies do), I get letters from people who object to my saying that Jews demanded the death of Jesus. That is understandable, of course, because it is a sensitive point in Judaism. And I usually answer by pointing out that the Gentiles in the person of Pilate were also guilty. We are all guilty of Jesus’ death. And if we had been there at the time we might all have joined in the cries of those who demanded Jesus’ death. But I notice here that, sensitive as that point may be, it was certainly never any more sensitive than it was in this early day when Peter preached in Jerusalem and that, in spite of the sensitive nature of the issue, Peter did not allow people’s feelings to stand in the way of preaching clearly. He did not say “Jews” to the exclusion of others. He included Pilate in his “you.” He included the Romans. They had actually put Him to death. But that was not what concerned Peter in this sermon. Peter’s “you” meant everybody, including the Jews and perhaps even the Jews particularly. He was not pulling his punches.
We need to realize that we are all to blame for the death of Christ in one way or another. Even though we were not there at the time Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified, it was our sins that took Him there. And if Jesus were here today, we would spurn Him today just as the masses of Israel spurned Him in Jerusalem long ago.
3. Peter’s sermon contains an appeal. This is because, in the final analysis, Peter was not interested in merely condemning his hearers. On the contrary, he wanted them to repent of their sin and believe on Jesus.
He begins with the words “Now, brothers” (v. 17). He does not treat them as foreigners, aliens or enemies. Indeed, how could he since, when he said earlier, “You disowned him … you disowned the Holy and Righteous One” (he repeated it twice), it was the very thing Peter himself had done? Peter had denied Jesus on the night of His arrest. So he does not stand aloof now as he appeals to these people. He calls them “brothers,” saying, “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” Their ignorance did not make them guiltless. Nevertheless, they were not fully aware of what they were doing, and Peter was in exactly that category himself.
Where our English text has Peter encouraging his listeners to “turn to God,” the Greek text actually says “flee to God.” That was probably intended to suggest a powerful image. In Israel there were cities set aside from other cities as “cities of refuge.” If an Israelite accidentally killed someone else, he could flee to one of these cities and there be protected from an avenger of blood, a relative of the deceased who might try to kill him in retaliation. These cities were not to protect real murderers. If somebody intentionally killed someone, well, he was to be tried and punished, as he should be. But if the killing was accidental—if it was what we would call “manslaughter” rather than “murder in the first degree”—then the killer could flee to the city and be protected there. He was to stay there until the high priest died. Then he could go home.
There is something like that in Peter’s sermon. Peter told the people that they were guilty of killing Jesus, but he taught that God would forgive their sin if they would repent of it and flee to the refuge that He has provided in Christ. Peter tells them to “repent, then, and turn to God” (v. 19). These two things always go together. People will say, “I feel sorry for my sins. Isn’t that enough?” No, that is not enough. Sin sometimes makes us feel sorry for what we have done. But it is not enough merely to feel sorry. Sorrow is not repentance. Repentance is feeling sorry enough to quit, and quitting means turning from sin to Jesus Christ. When Peter tells the people, “Repent and turn to God,” he makes the connection apparent and indicates exactly what we need to do.