Speaking to the authorities, Peter summarized the message of the earliest church this way: “God exalted [Jesus] at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit.”
Why does this message of forgiveness bring persecution? Luke says the Sadducees (a priestly ruling group) were jealous (see Acts 5:17-18). As has been true in later reforms in Christianity itself, the religious authorities disliked having unofficial centers of spiritual power offering divine forgiveness apart from the established rituals.
This was not just a call to individual penitence but a repentance and forgiveness movement. It called to mind other unauthorized reforms, like those associated with John the Baptist and the Essenes. To modern individualists, repentance and forgiveness sound purely personal. But such a movement had wider implications in the ancient setting. It aimed at the reformation of the entire religion and society. That was what got Jesus into trouble, and now it is his followers’ turn.
Note that Peter did not speak of Jesus as a “personal Lord and Savior.” Instead, he saw him as the head of an entire renewed people of God. Zacchaeus exemplified this renewal (see Luke 19:1-10). Forgiven for collaborating in unjust taxation, he expressed his repentance by undoing the harm he had done. But then he could not go back to his old ways. Enough penitents like Zacchaeus would have undermined the system that benefited those at the top at the expense of the working poor. Zacchaeus’s personal salvation was one piece in a reform that was spiritual, societal, and political.
Have you ever sought forgiveness for sins that were structural as well as personal? Have you ever led others to such repentance?
After the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples are unable to remain silent. They go to the Temple to proclaim the gospel. Some people receive the message, while others do not. This causes turmoil within the community, but the apostles stand firm in their testimony, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Psalm 150 might be on the lips of those early apostles. Everything that has breath should praise the Lord! The author of Revelation recounts a vision that he receives from the risen Jesus Christ, who one day will return as Lord of all nations. In John we learn more about the source of the confidence of the apostles. They have experienced Jesus in the flesh, and this experience gives power to their proclamation of the reality of his resurrection.
Read Acts 5:27-32. When has your faith compelled you to rise up, stand up, or kneel down in obedience to God rather than earthly authorities?
Read Psalm 150. When have you praised God with great celebration? When have you praised God with quiet service to creation?
Read Revelation 1:4-8. How do you see peace arising out of violence in the Bible and in the world around you?
Read John 20:19-31. How have your experiences of witnessing violence or the results of violence helped you to understand that violence does not have the last word?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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