By J.R. Miller
Everyone had a theory of the strange things that had happened. Some accepted the events as divine manifestations. Some mocked and ridiculed. Some said the disciples had been drinking wine too freely. Peter spoke to the throng and explained the meaning of the wonderful event. He brushed away the thought that the disciples were drunken, by reminding them of the early hour. He suggested the importance of the matter by saying it was something an old prophet had foretold, and then declared that it was the work of the Messiah.
Jesus had been crucified and had risen, and "he has poured forth this, which you see and hear." Jesus told His disciples it was better that He should go away, for if He did not go away, the Comforter would not come; but if He departed He would send Him unto them. It seemed strange to the disciples that anything could be better to them than the staying with them of their Master. But now, when the promise had been fulfilled, they began to understand it.
If Jesus had stayed on the earth with His disciples, not going to His cross, there would have been no atonement, no Lamb of God bearing the sin of the world. There would have been no resurrection with its glorious victory over the last enemy. There would have been no intercessor in heaven pleading for struggling souls in this world and offering evermore the blood of His own sacrifice for sin. There would have been no Holy Spirit coming to stay with believers and to live in the heart of every Christian. Pentecost made it plain, that it was indeed better that Jesus should go away.
In the plainest, clearest way, Peter declared the full, glorious meaning of the events of the past seven weeks connected with Jesus Christ. "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God has made him both Lord and Christ--this Jesus whom you crucified." The Jews had killed their Messiah! This would seem to be the defeating of God's purpose of redemption. Yet that was not the end. Though the Son of God was dead, God's plan of love for the world could not fail. Jesus was raised up and exalted to be Lord and Christ. The Jewish people had missed their chance, had lost their Messiah--but Jesus was still the Messiah for all the world. God's purpose was not allowed to fail. The blood shed upon the cross by the rejecters of Christ, became the very blood of eternal redemption. The love of God is greater than human sin.
Peter's words went to the hearts of the men to whom he was speaking. The Holy Spirit gave divine power to the words. "When they heard this, they were pricked in their hearts!" It was as if their hearts had been pierced with sharp iron. Their souls were filled with remorse. They saw now what they had done. God had sent His Son to be their Messiah, and although they had been looking and praying for the Messiah--yet they had killed Him! No wonder they felt the power of remorse. Jesus comes to each one of us now personally, as He came to the Jews. If we reject Him as our personal Savior we crucify Him afresh. What have we been doing with Jesus since we first heard His Name? People sometimes say they are not great sinners; they have done nothing very bad. They forget that the greatest of all sins is unbelief, and the rejection of Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Lord.
The people asked in their great distress, "What shall we do?" They saw their sin and cried out to know what they must do to be saved. Could they undo the terrible crime they had committed in crucifying their Messiah? They were in sore perplexity, and they did just what they ought to have done--they asked Christ's apostles to tell them what they should do. If we have been rejecting Christ, we should ask the same question. We cannot change our past; we cannot undo our rejection.
A soldier lay dying in a hospital. A chaplain was passing through the ward, and seeing the dying man, knelt beside him and asked him, "Can I do anything for you?" The soldier opened his eyes and looked up with despair in his face, and cried, "Oh, sir, can you undo?" They followed a sad confession of a wasted life. The young man had not only ruined his own life--but had also been a tempter to many others. "Oh. Sir, can you undo these things for me?" he cried again. No! there is no possible undoing. What is done--cannot be undone. But although the past be wasted, the future remains. God is ever giving us another opportunity to be saved. We shall see in Peter's answer, what we must do.
Peter put his answer in a few plain, clear words, "Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus." There was still a way of salvation, though they had so dealt with their Messiah. Repentance was the first step. What is repentance? It is more than dropping a few tears over a wrong life. The wrong must be given up, turned away from, forsaken forever. There must be a change of mind, and that change of mind must show itself in the conduct.
A little way outside of Dayton, a young man met an old gentleman one day and asked him, "How far is it to Dayton?" "Twenty-five thousand miles," was the answer, "if you keep on as you are going now. But it is a quarter of a mile if you turn square about." If an impenitent sinner, facing away from God, asks how far it is to heaven, the answer is "Millions and millions of miles, if you go on this way; just two steps if you turn right about." We never can be saved--if we keep our sins. We must repent. Baptism implied that the penitents had received Jesus Christ as their Savior and accepted Him as their Lord. If we would be saved we must do the same--give up our sins and receive Christ.
The penitents were baptized unto the remission of their sins. It is sin that is the trouble. Our sins have destroyed us. But there is one way of being saved from our sins. It is through Jesus Christ. Remission is more than mere forgiveness. It means sending away, dismissing forever. This tells in a word what God does when we come to Christ. Merely to remit the penalty would be a poor blessing. In our heart the old sin still would live, with all its old power. The only way really to be freed from our sins--is to have the sins themselves cleansed out of our life.
God's forgiveness is complete; He remembers our sins against us no more, forever. Then He sends His Spirit to live in us. He breaks sin's power and gives us a new master. Christ says, "Take my yoke upon you." The final result is the lifting of the life up to glory. One summer day the sun found some foul, stagnant water lying in a gutter. It lifted it up and the winds bore it on their wings through the air, and on a mountain top, far off, it settled down again upon the earth, no more foul and stagnant--but cleansed and pure now, white, spotless snow, as radiant as an angel's garment. So Christ takes souls stained and defiled by sin, lifts them out of the foul corruption of earth, and brings them at last to the mountains of glory, whiter than snow.
Peter assured the penitent people before him, that they need not despair. There was hope for them. "To you is the promise, and to your children," he told them. Although the Jewish people had crucified Christ, the offer of salvation was still made to them. Even hands, which had been stained with blood of the Messiah, were washed white in the very blood, which they themselves had shed!
The gospel was not for the Jews only--but for all the world; it was for "all that are afar off." The circle widens out, as when a stone is dropped in the center of a lake and little waves roll in circles wider and wider, until they splash on all the shores, even out on the farthest bays and creeks. The promise was given first to the company that stood there and heard Peter, and then it reached out until it came to those who were afar off--the farthest off in space, living at the ends of the earth; the farthest off in time, down to the end of the world; the farthest off in character, the worst and the guiltiest.
Those early followers of Christ "continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching." Continuance and steadfastness are essential. It is not enough to begin a Christian life; one persevere unto the end, through all discouragement, through all temptation, through all trial, faithful unto death. These first believers kept themselves in the school of Christ, coming continually to the meetings to receive instruction from the apostles.
The Christian life must always be a growing life. There must be growth in knowledge. Young Christians will never grow, however if they feed only upon trashy novels and newspapers. They must get the apostles' teaching, God's good bread for souls. They kept themselves also in the fellowship of the apostles. We would say they attached themselves to the Church and made Christian people their friends. They went regularly to the communion--breaking of bread. There were faithful in attending the meetings for prayer. Thus they took up the new life with great earnestness and faithfulness.
At once love awoke in their hearts for fellow Christians. Some of these were poor, and those who were rich shared their plenty with them. "They sold their possessions ... and parted them to all, according as any man had need." That is, they were large-hearted and generous. They gave to Christ not only themselves--but all that they had. They understood that the strong must help the weak, that the rich must help the poor. They lived together as one family. Whatever there was exceptional about the condition of things in the early Church, the principle is always the same. Those who have blessings, must share them with those who lack. Those who are strong, must help those who are weak. Those who have abundance, must share their plenty with those who are in want.
The result of such beautiful Christian living, was that they greatly increased. "The Lord added to them day by day." This is the way a church should grow. The Lord added those who were added; only the Lord can truly add souls to His Church. Men's converts do not amount to anything, if that is all they are. There is no use in our urging people to join the Church, until they are first joined to Christ and have been renewed by His grace. We might as well tie green branches to a bare pole, and think we have a living tree. It is interesting, also, to notice that the Lord added "day by day." Converts were not made merely at communion seasons or at revival times; day by day men came to Christ and took His as their Master. In every true, living church--there should be continuous revival.