36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter was speaking before the crowd that witnessed the Holy Spirit falling at Pentecost. This crowd included a great variety of people from a major portion of the known world – “8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:8-11) But Peter especially wanted to address his fellow Jews, so he called them out specifically (v. 14): “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.”
After speaking briefly of the prophet Joel’s description of what has happened, he relates it to the recent death and resurrection of Jesus … and in so doing he confronts them quite bluntly with the role they played:
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (v. 22-24)
Peter looks them straight in the eye and says, “you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross”. What a sharp and brash thing to say, even if it was true!
The Gospels describe several times when the Jews were ready to kill Jesus for saying much less offensive things than Peter did, but this time is different. This time their hearts are pierced by sharp words; this time they are tender to the love of God; this time they are open to the Holy Spirit, and their response is one of grief and regret: “Brothers, what shall we do?”
What indeed? What can we do when we finally realize that we have been running from God for a long, long time? How can we atone for trampling the Son of God underfoot, for taking His precious gift for granted? How can we live under the burden of this tremendous guilt?
Therein lies the great joy of Easter! There is no huge penance to be paid, no long winding trail of misery and frustration to walk as punishment for what we’ve done. The debt has been paid! We are set free! A simple but profound change is needed: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (v. 38) Turn around and head the opposite direction; identify completely with Christ’s death, and receive His life!
But wait – there is even more for you! “You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This same Spirit that has fallen on us, His disciples, will fall on you as well! The gift never ends, for the Father’s love never ends – not just for you, but “39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (v. 39) Even in our day, the promise is for you!
Lent – that season for looking honestly into the darkest corners of our hearts and dragging all the sin we find out into the healing light of God’s love – past. The weight is gone, our burden is light. Let us with joy now run the race He has set before us.
Word of God: speak! Non nobis Domine+
by: Father Dana Jackson