Have you ever been given a gift that you just weren’t all that thrilled about? Or downright disliked? Maybe the giver didn’t know you all that well, or maybe they thought that you would like something that you just didn’t see as desirable.
Look up or click Romans 5:6-8. This passage tells us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. His action doesn’t happen because of some action on our part, some realization or repenting in which we realize we’re sinful. We can’t even know that without His help.
Think back to our first study, where we explored the passage from Ephesians 2:1-7. (Or click here to review that post.) We were dead, but God made us alive in Christ. This begins with the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Repentance is what opens our hands to receive the gift of grace that God has paid so dearly to give.
Repentance itself is a gift!
Sometimes the gift of repentance might seem like one of those unappreciated gifts.
“What I’m doing isn’t that bad. Others need to repent more than I do.”
This is a problem for some people in who hear the apostles speak about Jesus; let’s read about it in the Book of Acts.
The Book of Acts is filled with the work of the Holy Spirit. Some people contend that the book that is called “The Acts of the Apostles” should really be called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit”, because what the apostles are doing is all by the power of the Holy Spirit. As you’ll see, they’re not off-base at all. The passage we’re going to examine is fairly early in the life of the Church, before much time has passed and before strong opposition has begun. The apostles were in Solomon’s Portico, an outer court of the Temple, teaching in the name of Jesus. Now, the Sadducees were the group of people who maintained the Temple, and the High Priest was chosen from among them. They worked with Herod and, by extension, the Romans; many of them liked the power and prestige that came with their position, and when the apostles were teaching in the name of Someone they hadn’t endorsed or approved, and converting many people, they became jealous and wanted to stop the apostles. So they arrested them. During the night, an angel came to release the apostles, and told them to go to the temple and speak to the people about Christ Jesus. Of course, when the Sadducees found that the apostles weren’t in the prison, but back teaching in the name of Jesus…well, let’s read to see: Acts 5:27-32 (click the reference for a link to read it online).
Right away, we see that the Sadducees aren’t happy to hear the message that the apostles are sharing. It’s like a parent who told his child yesterday, “Don’t stand on the couch,” and comes into the room today, only to find the child standing on the couch. “I told you not to stand on the couch, and here you are, standing on the couch!”
Imperfect analogy, yes, but for the Sadducees, it fits. They oversaw the temple, and they didn’t like for anyone to impinge on their influence. That’s exactly what the apostles were doing; at Pentecost, just three chapters previous, three thousand people joined with the apostles in believing in the name of Jesus. Since then, the number had been steadily growing. Repentance and forgiveness of sins had been proclaimed and was being given – at an alarming rate, if you’re a Sadducee. They did not care for this new teaching that was drawing away their followers.
How did the apostles respond? “We must obey God rather than men.” They understand that their calling is not one of timidity, of repenting their own sins just to keep the message hidden among themselves. They have been called to spread this message as far as the Holy Spirit will carry them with it. It might be that, had they stopped there, things would not have escalated as they did. Had they ended with, “We must obey God rather than men,” the Sadducees might have at this point simply rolled their collective eyes and let it be.
But the apostles continued, in Acts 5:30-31. Just in case the Sadducees were in doubt as to the part they played in this whole drama, the apostles remind them. And remind them that not only did they ensure the death of a popular teacher, but God raised Him from the dead! This was the thing they wanted to avoid by having Him killed – that is, His popularity and influence growing – was now continuing in unprecedented ways.
The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
And we come to the heart of it, of why this Jesus came. To give repentance…and forgiveness of sins.
Repentance is a gift. Not the gift that we should be skeptical about (though we sometimes are). Not the gift that should be shoved into the back of the closet and pulled out only when the giver comes to visit (though sometimes we do). This is a gift that we can treasure because of who gives it. Because of where it leads. Because of the astounding grace attached to such a gift.
For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 143.
For further contemplation or journaling, consider what other gifts accompany the gift of repentance. We already mentioned God’s expansive grace and the forgiveness of sins, as the apostles spoke in the passage for today. What other gifts follow these? How do these gifts equip you for the task of sharing the Good News of Jesus?
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Note: Dear readers, I apologize for missing the posting-date for this study. I’ll be posting three times this week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), to catch us up with our outline. Thank you for your patience with me!