225.REPENTANCE IN THE MINISTRY OF THE EARLY CHURCH. St Peter’s messages remain a challenge to us today!

Peter preached repentance.  The early church began on the day of Pentecost with a challenging message by Peter the apostle. In a sermon designed not to ‘win friends and influence people’, he told them to change their ways! Not only that but they were to demonstrate that they were willing to change by going down into the river Jordan and allow him to baptise them! He told his hearers to repent! What a hide! That was no way to get new members for his cause! Peter would never get a gig as a speaker in a Church Growth conference today with that sort of approach! (More’s the pity!)

However he did level with them and told them that there would be a blessing for them if they responded to his message. If they did repent and demonstrated that choice in being baptised, then they would receive two great blessings, namely the forgiveness of their sins and also the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell them. Peter preached, Act 2:38 “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” As we noted in previous articles there are two main words used for “repent”. The one used in this verse is the Greek word [metanoéō, μετανοέω] meaning to change one’s mind and to change one’s behaviour. The other word we will meet is [epistréphō, ἐπιστρέφω] a derivative of [stréphō, στρέφω] meaning to turn.

Later Peter healed a lame man in Solomon’s portico. He explained the miracle and then challenged his hearers to repent and turn back to God.  Act 3:17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20  that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord …..”  (“repent” here is the usual word [metanoéō]. However that is followed by another word which also refers to repentance. It is “turn back” in verse 19.  It is the Greek word [epistréphō, ἐπιστρέφω] meaning to turn to or to convert.) In other words, he tells them to change their minds about their sins and to turn away from them to God. Once again there is the link between repentance, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit who brings refreshment to those who receive Him.

The two words are linked again in Acts 26:20, where Paul addressed King Agrippa, Act 26:19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20  but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent [metanoéō] and turn to [epistréphō] God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance [the noun form metanoia, μετάνοια].” Here there is the added aspect of repentance, that people should change their minds about their sin, turn away from them to God and in addition show the reality of that change by living lives that reflected they were in the process of changing for the better.

 When Peter and the apostles were charged with preaching Jesus, after they had been forbidden to do so by the high priest and some Sadducees, they responded by preaching Jesus to them, Act 5:29 “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32  And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Repentance leading to forgiveness was a gift from God to those who obeyed Him and who had received His Holy Spirit.

On another occasion, Peter was faced with a man named Simon who was jealous for power. It was the power of distributing the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. He had seen Peter and John used by God in this way and he wanted to be able to do the same. Peter told him to repent in order that he might be forgiven. Acts 8:20  ‘But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! 21 You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”’ They were strong words but were calculated by Peter to make Simon realise what spiritual peril he had placed himself in due to his jealousy and covetousness. Simon had to change his mind and his attitude. He had to repent otherwise he would not be forgiven and would perish.

Peter had preached to some Gentiles. He recalled what had happened, in Acts 11:15-17, “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 baptised with water, but you will be baptised 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?” As he shared this in Jerusalem they were surprised. It now appeared to them that God had poured out His Spirit on Gentiles who believed. Then they praised God saying, Act 11:18 “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” They had to recognise that God was at work in the Gentiles who believed, by enabling those Gentiles to repent and respond in faith to Peter’s message.

Peter wrote about repentance.  Much later Peter wrote a letter in which he reminded his readers that God wanted all people to come to repentance,  2Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” That was God’s desire but people had to exercise their free-will and choose to turn to Him in repentance lest they perished. It is a similar concept to what we will see in Paul’s preaching while standing in the midst of the Areopagus in Acts 17:30, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Repentance is a gift from God but people need to respond to the gift by actually repenting before God.

There were times in my ministry as an ordained clergyman [which began in 1968] when some church leaders were not all that pleasant or considerate towards me and my family. I tried as much as possible to bring the Lord’s healing into those relationships but not always successfully. I began to think that if there ever was a revival, a deep movement of the Holy Spirit in Australia, some of those who hadn’t recognised their hardness might be convicted by the Holy Spirit and contact me saying, “Sorry Jim. I was pretty mean to you. Would you please forgive me?” Then I would know that God had brought a great revival, that He had been doing a deep work in them bringing them to repentance.  In truth, a couple of folk did do that. Others didn’t and have never apologised.

I learnt a couple of truths in the process. One was that it was necessary to look at one’s own life and make sure that one’s own life is  right in every respect before God. As I have written in previous articles, the prayer of openness in Psalm 139 was helpful in this, Psa 139:23 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” When He searches us and reveals the results of His search to us, it is humbling, cleansing, healing and strengthening!

The other truth was this. One had to learn to forgive immediately and hand the situations over to the Lord for Him to deal with, while one tried to love the offenders with God’s agape love. That meant seeking their best interests at all times in every way. In that way bitterness would not affect the family nor the people to whom one was ministering.

In brief, all of need to reflect on the early preaching of the church and consider again the words of John the Baptist as he prepared the way for the coming of Jesus, Mat 3:2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  AND the words of Jesus as He began His ministry, Mat 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” AND the words of St Peter as he preached at Pentecost, Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” AND later, Acts 3:19 “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” 

Remembering this truth, unless we are willing to maintain a repentant heart towards the Lord, always being willing to be open to His scrutiny, our exhortation to others to repent will have little impact on them! Unfortunate, but true! Repentance has no short cuts! It involves everything about us, our relationship to God and our relationship to everyone else we know and meet!

Blog No.225.  Jim Holbeck. Posted on Thursday 27th July 2017

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
This entry was posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Bible verses. Comments, Evangelism, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, Healing, Prayer, Salvation, Sanctification and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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