Acts 3 (AD 30)
Pentecost wasn’t a one-off – Peter didn’t have some temporary moment or liquid courage on that day. Rather, filled with Holy Spirit, he had become a fundamentally different person. He was completely aware, finally, of exactly who Jesus was, and totally committed to telling everyone about him because it was a matter of life and death.
After healing a lame beggar at the beginning of this chapter, he was inspired by the surprise of the masses at the healing, to preach again. He was still in Jerusalem – epicenter of the opposition to Jesus. He was in public, and he was preaching to whoever showed up. And after his bold accusation in the first sermon in chapter two, this time he REALLY wasn’t holding back. He accused the crowd, en masse, of:
- Handing Jesus over to be killed
- Killing the Holy One
- Asking to have a murderer released
- Killing the author of life
At least as remarkable as Peter’s great boldness in speaking truth to the crowds and leaving himself exposed to persecution, was the grace he showed in v.17:
“…fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders”.
Bear in mind that Jesus had previously called the religious leaders “hypocrites” (Matthew 15:7 etc.), “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7, 12:34, 23:33); “blind guides” (Matthew 23:16) and “fools” (Matthew 23:17). Reading Matthew 23, Jesus called them terrible things, many times. So why did Peter say they acted in ‘ignorance’?
Peter was not excusing their guilt or saying they were blameless for what they did. He had literally that previous moment accused them of heinous crimes, but he also needed them to know that there was a way to forgiveness.
It presages what Paul said to the Corinthians:
“None of the rulers of this age understood [God’s wisdom], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Cor 2:8).
Were they ignorant?
Were they guilty?
Because their ignorance was self-nurtured and willful. They didn’t know who Jesus was because they didn’t want to – they ignored the abundance of evidence. Like a smoker who refuses to accept that lung cancer or other sickness will almost happen to them, despite despite the mountains of evidence. The Israelites looked at the life, teachings and miracles of Jesus and thought it wasn’t true, because they didn’t want it to be true.
Peter told them to repent, and encouraged them to view their sins as the ‘unintentional’ sins that Moses spoke of (Numbers 15). He helped them to see – notwithstanding their terrible crime – that the grace of Christ was still enough to cover them if they will repent.
Notice, God did not forgive them automatically, as if ignorance was an excuse – it wasn’t and it isn’t. Rather, anyone who fully comprehends what they are doing is beyond repentance, because God has clearly handed them over to their sinfulness, granting them no sense of conscience to pull them back from the brink. All those not in that position – i.e. almost everyone we meet – needs only to repent to see their sins forgiven. They are conscious of their evil – that is, not ignorant of their sin – but wilfully ignorant, like the Pharisees, of the seriousness of their rebellion.
It was one thing to have theological truth available to him, as Peter did. It was another thing for Peter to put himself in harm’s way, to remind the very people who crucified his best friend and his Saviour, that they could still be saved from the consequences of their sin.
Nobody is beyond the reach of God’s grace, so everybody is still worth praying for.
Do you know anybody as hardened and anti-God as the pre-conversion Paul the apostle? Or as the wretched religious leaders who murdered Jesus?
No, me neither. But if there was hope for Paul – and there clearly was – then there is hope for everyone you know. Everyone is worth praying for. Nobody is worth giving up on.