“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 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. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Act 3:17-26)
“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” It’s a strange sermon to be giving to a bunch of pious Jews entering the temple to pray. Here as Peter closes he allows that they acted in ignorance as did their rulers. This doesn’t let them off the hook, but it does soften their guilt enough for them to hear what is coming next. We sin a lot in ignorance. I imagine when we give an account on the last day, we will be surprised at what was sinful. Some of the things that we hold as our highest good will be condemned, I’m sure. Certainly, putting to death a man for committing blasphemy was thought to be a good thing by the people doing it. Now it turns out to be the greatest evil. And get this, they were just following God’s law… There is no salvation in the law, it gets you coming and going, and beats you over the head with a club all the same. This is especially true when you approach the law out of love for self rather than love for others, when you hold to it out of fear for your salvation, rather than it being an outflow of love that you have experienced in the forgiveness of sins by Christ’s death and resurrection. But it was for love of self, and a nominal love for God that drove the people to do what they did. And now they were feeling the guilt.
Now Peter doesn’t only soften his accusations with a reference to the ignorance, but he does this so that they will hear of how necessary it is for all of this to happen. He starts drawing on the Old Testament and pointing out all the prophecies that predicted just this, that foretold of Christ and his suffering. And God raised up this servant to turn you all from your wickedness. God raised him up, and now he has sent him to you. Jesus is the one of whom Moses spoke that would be raised up from among them. And raised up he was. Not merely raised up as input front and center before them to preach and lead. But these of whom he speaks are the white washed tombs. Those dead in their trespasses, who can do no good. And from among the dead, God raised up his son from death. Now he sends him to us, to you to turn us from our wickedness, from our sin and death, from trying to earn and preserve our salvation by obedience to the law which only kills. He sends him to us to turn us from our wickedness not with more law, but with the forgiveness of sins that he won for us by our love, that quickened with his love, we might ourselves be able to love. It was this that was missing before. Only by being forgiven are we turned from wickedness. Only by being forgiven is repentance given.