Tuesday, September 16, 2014

God Grants Repentance

11:1 Now the apostles and the brothers [1] who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” 4 But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6 Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7 And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:1-18 (ESV)
“Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” This is finally the confession of the circumcision party in regards to this event. But now they have made their appearance. Peter may have held the keys, but you can see from this he did not lord it over the congregation. He did not expect his word to just be accepted and the congregation to just go along with whatever he said.  It’s hard for me to comprehend all the details hinted at here. But there was a circumcision party, and they were part of the church. They were concerned about Peter, and why Peter had done what he had done.
It had to be hard for these Jewish converts, who really did not think of themselves as converts. After all, they believed in the Jewish messiah. They believed the messiah was coming, and now they believed he had come. There wasn’t a conversion here. Not as we normally think of conversion. And all the implications of the messiah had not yet been worked out. However, the first thought of a Jew upon being baptized would not have been “Yippee! Now I can eat bacon!” Their identity had been molded for centuries by laws and customs that were meant to set them apart from the unbelieving gentiles. And to now give up those laws and customs, and to let gentiles in with disregard to those laws and customs was something even Peter needed convincing of, and more than once in his life.
The circumcision party criticized Peter. It’s a harsh word. You went to the uncircumcised and you ate with them! You can hear the Pharisees speaking about how Jesus received sinners and ate with them. This will always be the criticism of Christians in one way or another. They accept sinners, take them where they are at. What’s even more remarkable is that Peter is concerned enough about the souls of sinners in both ditches that he does not come down hard on the circumcision party. If he takes offense at their criticism, he doesn’t blow back hard on them, he doesn’t say “who are you to question me, I’m an apostle!?” But rather he takes time to explain to them what had happened, why he did what he did. He understands that their criticism comes from weakness on their part, even if they think it is strength.

Then again, the circumcision party is also willing to listen to Peter, and hear what he  has to say. God grants them repentance too. When Peter explains all that has happened, they see that God grants the gentiles repentance that leads to eternal life. God grants repentance. We can never forget that. Repentance is not something we do, but something that is done to us. It Is the flipside of faith in reality, because you can’t have one without the other, even as you can’t have justification without sanctification. Repentance is given. It is not the same as giving up one sin or another, though often this is accompanied with repentance. Any  sinner can choose not to do this or that particular sin. Unbelievers have been known to abstain from sexual immorality, from drunkenness, from murder, theft, bearing false witness etc. That isn’t repentance. Repentance though is centered on the first commandment, and the only way to repent of breaking the first commandment is to believe, and they only way to believe is to be called by the gospel, and be given the gift of faith that comes by the work of the Holy Spirit. And this is the repentance that God grants, repentance that leads to eternal life.  

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