A Journey Thru Acts 13: Repentance (5:30-42)
We continue in this our 13th post digging into the book of Acts. We are trying to build on the 53 sermons from 2016, our foundations series, where we dug into the Bible to understand what it means to truly elevate God, elevate Christian community, and elevate others (non Christians). So now through the end of June we are digging into Acts to answer the question, “What do we do NOW? What is the LORD building on the foundation of this local church? What does the Bible say the church is supposed to be and do? Not what does the suburban American culture say, but what does the Bible say?”
Acts 5:30-42 NIV
30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35 Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36 Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37 After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40 His speech persuaded them.
They called the apostles in and had them flogged.
Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Today we are going to focus on verse 31—repentance. This verse reveals that one of the purposes of the Lord Jesus Christ was (is!) to bring people to repentance so that our sins can be forgiven. Thus this is a staggeringly important word. The words repent & repentance occur 102x in the Bible: 29 in the Old Testament and 75x in the New Testament–it is an important ingredient in the grace of God! This is such an overlooked word today—it’s not fun, it doesn’t immediately make us happy & feel good, but it has long-term and eternal blessings that cannot be matched by anything else. Why is this important? Why does God bring up this term so many times in the Bible?
- It is one of the main ingredients in the Gospel. It is our mission, it is what we are to be filling Mankato with—THIS teaching: repentance/turning away from sin & turning toward the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness & new life & adoption! We must tell non-Christians about repentance, we must be able to humbly & gently explain what it means to repent, or else we are giving an incomplete Gospel, which Galatians 1 says is no gospel at all. Since we Christians rarely learn about this today, and thus rarely tell others of the importance of repentance, we must ask the question: with WHAT Gospel/message are we filling the city in which we live?
- Without understanding the importance of repentance, we will ultimately simply come to Jesus to help us with certain issues in our lives (be nice, volunteer more, share, be patient, etc.) but not THE issue (sinfulness, rebellion against God); we will go to Him for cosmetic surgery (external problems) instead of the total heart-transplant that we need (internal source of our external problems: Ezekiel 11:17-20; Ezekiel 18:30-32; Matthew 15:17-20). We will have people who may believe in Jesus intellectually—even the demons believe, but they haven’t repented—but who haven’t realized their sinfulness & separation from God & thus have not received the main gift from Christ that they need to have new & eternal life. Such people may be improved by Jesus but they aren’t saved by Him.
- Today, many hospitals have fantastic cafeterias/restaurants where you can get a healthy, delicious meal for a very affordable price. It is possible to go to the hospital simply to have lunch! Nothing wrong with that. 🙂 But while that is a benefit that some hospitals provide, that is not the main purpose of the hospital, meals are important but not the main point of the hospitals’ existence—healing is, getting cured is! You can be in the hospital regularly, eating meals and spending time talking with doctors & nurses, but if you are deathly sick and don’t know it, or do know it and are doing nothing about it, having lunch in the hospital will not cure you! You must be diagnosed of your illness & then agree with and submit to the doctor’s diagnosis and sign up for the humbling cure—surgery, chemo, whatever they suggest.
Loved ones, this is the situation of many church attenders—they have not repented of their sins, they have not realized their transgressions & rebellion against God, they know they aren’t Mr. Universe (perfect) but they think they’re in decent health (a pretty good person). They are only told to believe in Jesus and He will help your dreams come true, and so that is all they ask of Jesus—meet MY earthly needs and don’t let my life get too difficult, polish me up a bit, help me a little, improve my behavior. But as others have said before, the Lord Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good but dead people alive…
They are having lunch at the hospital regularly, maybe attending church and Bible studies but they haven’t agreed with the Lord’s diagnosis that they are rebellious sinners who need to receive the death of the Son of God as the payment for their sins. They see Jesus as someone who can help improve certain areas of their life, but they don’t go to Him as the only One Who can give them life at all; they don’t believe that they are spiritually dead in their sins as Ephesians 2 reveals so they don’t cry out to Jesus for new life. They want Him to help them get spiritual six-pack abs when they need a total heart transplant…
And so the importance of repentance: it is a turning from sinfulness in general and sins in particular–living life my way, being in charge of myself–and turning toward the Lord Jesus by faith to apply His death on the cross to our personal account, our debt to the Father to forgive us, to save us, to pay the penalty that we deserve and to make us new and change us to sin less and less over time. Repentance goes against everything that we have been pumped full of in this culture over the last 35 years: you’re amazing, you’re spectacular, be yourself, be happy, follow your heart, don’t change, work hard to achieve your dreams, you can do it, you deserve to be happy, you can do anything you set your mind to, etc. We are being pumped full of self when we need to be emptied of self and pumped full of Christ Jesus…
Repentance comes to Christ on our knees agreeing that we deserve nothing but God’s punishment & that we can’t do anything about it—we are at the mercy of a just & holy God, & an extravagantly loving God as well who poured our His wrath on His Son to forgive any sinner who will receive Him by faith! Repentance receives by faith the Lord Jesus’ free gift of forgiveness, new life and adoption as a reborn child of God.
Do you need to repent of every individual sin you’ve ever committed? That isn’t possible; we sin way too often in an average week or month to do that. But that is why it is a turning in general (big-picture) and a turning in particular (individual sins) as the Holy Spirit reveals our sinfulness to us. Deep down we will learn the ways that we grieve the LORD; He will not allow us to continue in sin for long, saying nothing, if we are truly reborn as His children through faith in Jesus Christ.
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
What a glorious promise of God, not only to forgive our sins but cleanse and purify us from them!
1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just
and will forgive us our sins
and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Please look below at just a few of the Bible verses with the word “repent” or “repentance”:
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”
“…& so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
[we must KEEP WITH repentance, humbling turning from our sinfulness and toward God—a daily lifestyle, not just a one-time event! This lifestyle of repentance shows that we are saved!]
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick.
I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Luke 24:47 (after Christ rose from the dead)
“45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.”
“When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying,
“So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
“First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.”
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
2 Corinthians 7:9
“…yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
2 Timothy 2:25
“Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…”
“Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God…”
2 Peter 3:9
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
And there are so many other passages as well!
Oh loved ones do you see the importance of repentance,
of turning from sin in general and specific sins as well!?
So what does this look like practically?
Please allow me to give you one perfect illustration from the Bible
and one imperfect but hopefully helpful illustrations from my mind:
Luke 15:17-21: “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’… 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
Prodigal son—realized he was in the pig-pen, and it was HIS fault! He “came to his senses”: this is a gift from God and the beginning of repentance–having God diagnose our soul-condition. Nothing changed in his life until he hit rock bottom and agreed that he sinned against God AND his dad, nothing changed in his life until he made the choice to leave his party-pig-pen (being in charge of His life) and return to his Dad, acknowledging that he didn’t deserve to be his son. He didn’t want the pig-pen anymore, didn’t want his so-called freedom that is just slavery wrapped up in a nice package—he just wanted his dad, a place in the household if not the family, and he was grieved over what he had done to break that relationship and dishonor his father. He didn’t get his life cleaned up but started walking back to his father still smelling like the pig-pen, still with slop all over him–yes! Don’t wait to try to get cleaned up, just run by faith to Christ and throw yourself at His feet!
But many local churches never let people get to this point—they never talk about sinfulness or repentance, they simply talk about God’s love over and over to those in the pig-pen but never teach them about repentance—leaving the pig-pen & going to the Father acknowledging their guilt! But it is the love & kindness of God that LEADS us to repentance—that is they only way for us to be saved—to repent and believe in Christ, to turn away from living life our way and turn to Christ the King! But we don’t want to turn from our sinfulness; we want to keep going the way we are going but just bring Him with on that old path of death…
Now by repentance, this doesn’t mean that you can only trust in Jesus once you have gotten your life cleaned up, once you have mastered your sinfulness and don’t sin as much anymore. No! It’s not that your actions need to get turned around before you receive Jesus as your Savior, but there is an inner turning that happens when we receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior.
It’s like a person who has been flowing with a river’s current, going with the flow; all of a sudden they are awake (come to their senses!) and they realize they are flowing FAST towards a 5,000 foot waterfall that will sweep them to their death. At that moment they have NO ABILITY to start swimming against the current, but they want to, and they cry out for help, they cry out for something to grab on to from someone on the shore, they don’t want to go in the direction they have always been going, though even at the moment of desperation they are still flowing in that same direction!
And they see a Man on the shore, running with them as they flow helpless toward the waterfall, holding out a sturdy branch to save them. And so they reach for such a sturdy branch, but even with their reach they cannot get it and they feel more hopeless than ever, so the Man on the shore brings the branch to them, He wades out into the middle of the swift current of sin and grasps their outstretched hand firmly in His nail-scarred hand while their other hand grasps the sturdy tree branch.
He doesn’t take them out of the river yet, but He forgives them & makes them new & transforms & strengthens & teaches them to swim in the other direction, to swim against that fierce current. There will be times when they get distracted & get smacked by a rock, stop swimming against the current and for a time are caught up in it again, flowing again towards that monstrous waterfall, but they regain their focus and start swimming again, they grieve over their relapse and trust in the Man’s promise that He will not allow them to actually go over the falls, that He is still with them in the river, that His hand & branch and promises are enough, though the current rages and the foam roars.
He teaches them to swim against that current, not that their swimming makes them alive (salvation because of good works), but their swimming shows that they are already alive by grace (good works because of salvation). Ultimately, it is not our swimming against the current that keeps us from going over the waterfall—only the Man’s firm hand and sturdy branch–Who waded into the current to grab us–can save us from the waterfall.
But our desire to not WANT to flow with the current anymore,
our reaching out for His branch to keep us from getting closer to the waterfall,
our confession that we have enjoyed the current in the past
(and still give in to it’s temptations at times!) and eagerly swam with it,
our desire that He transform us to swim in the other direction
though it is difficult & painful,
all this is our (newly!) natural instinct now that we are awake,
is our new response to our situation
because our eyes have been opened to the terribleness
of what we once celebrated & enjoyed (our sin):
THIS is an imperfect picture of repentance…
But teaching people to simply believe that God loves them without also teaching them to repent gives a false assurance; it is like telling that person in the river, quickly approaching the treacherous waterfalls, to simply think thoughts of a saving branch from the shore, but to not actually reach out for the branch! We are essentially saying, “Just keep going with the flow of the current, don’t worry about the waterfall, just imagine that even after you go over the falls you will slowly/calmly float down to a pleasant pool. It’ll be great, there’s nothing to fear, just relax!”
I know this is heavy, and while repentance often feels painful at first, it leads to joy that no sin can offer. Repentance is not walking around whipping yourself for the rest of your life—NO! Repentance leads to…
- Refreshment from the LORD
Acts 3:19: Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out,
that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…
We try to refresh ourselves by thinking our sin isn’t a big deal, or by convincing ourselves that our sins are GOOD, we double-down and sin MORE to try to refresh ourselves. But there is a refreshment from God that only comes through repentance, through acknowledging our guilt in specific ways and crying to the Lord Jesus both to forgive us from past sins and CLEANSE US from future sins (1 John 1:9).
Want true refreshment from God, soul-refreshment that nothing else can provide? Be truly repentant to God…being repentant doesn’t mean you are forever to feel depressed and forever to beat yourself up…but neither does it mean that the love of God will always make us feel good and happy and smiling all the time (Hebrews 12:4-13). Repentance means lifting up the rug—under which we have diligently swept our sins for years—and fully exposing them before the holy eyes of Almighty God. Repentance is turning from our general and specific sins and turning toward Jesus as our Savior & King!!!
- Being repentant to the LORD brings joy & peace
that covering up/ignoring/celebrating sin can never bring:
Let’s look at David, a man who knew a lot about sinning,
covering up sin,
and then repenting to the LORD and receiving His grace & mercy:
1 Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
[When we stop covering up our sin
and uncover them before the LORD in repentance,
He covers our sin with the blood of His Son Jesus!]
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
[Oh look how the LORD responds when we plead guilty
instead of pleading “the 5th”!]
6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found;
[not just praying in general but the prayer of repentance from sin!
Repent today–don’t count on having a chance tomorrow!]
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
[The 5,000 foot waterfall drop!]
7 You are my hiding place;
[I used to hide from You but now I hide IN You!]
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
[God responds to our repentance by surrounding us with songs of deliverance!]
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked, [those who won’t repent!]
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.
[Trusts in Him enough to expose our sin & shame & rebellion!
God surrounds those who repent with His unfailing love!]
11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!
[The Psalm starts out heavy, David suffering with the effects of sin,
and the psalm ends with joy and rejoicing and singing!
Oh repentance is a glorious gift of God!]