Is there something we’ve forgotten? With all our attempts at explaining the faith, we often forget an essential element. We can know all the facts of the gospel and still miss it.
Let’s not be so convinced that we miss it.
We live in a culture that is beginning to look more like the pre-Constantine world of our for-bearers. Our culture is losing its memory of Christ and the elements of faith. Many of us realize that the chasm between belief and unbelief has become greater. With that situation, our ability to help people experience life in Christ has gotten a bit more difficult and involved. I grew up with Evangelism Explosion and Steps to Peace With God. Those like me were taught to provide the wake up call and once our hearers were awakened, we just explained how to get across the line.
Whether or not that was ever a good plan, many of us came to faith in that way. Hopefully from there, we learned faith was not about just getting across a line, but it was a life of entering into God’s Kingdom and living with forgiveness under the reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today is a different day, which requires a new tack. It may be time to get back to the example of the apostles and see how they shared the faith. We have many examples in the book of Acts that record the most important elements of the Christ-story.
Acts 3:11-26 is one of those examples. In this passage, Peter addressed the crowd that gathered because of a healing. A man born without the use of his legs got up and walked. Peter explained to the crowd who actually did this miracle. He also taught them how they could become part of this work God was doing in the world.
In the middle of Peter’s explanation two verses reveal an element of our own gospel presentation that’s often missing. And in fact, I would propose that the more frustrated we get with our culture and its resistance to all things faith-based, or evangelical, the more we leave it out. Let’s look at Acts 3:17-18.
“Now brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.”
Can you see it? Peter didn’t excuse away their sin and sinfulness. He’s very clear in previous verses about the role they played when Jesus was put to death. In verse 19, Peter went on to invite them to respond by repenting and turning to God.
But what Peter offered is mercy. Mercy is that essential element of the gospel that we so often neglect when presenting the message of sin and salvation to others. There is kindness and tenderness to Peter’s words. Look more closely.
Mercy and Ignorance
“I know that you acted in ignorance…” Peter was saying, I know you didn’t know. This was God’s servant, this was the Holy and Righteous One, this was the Author of life, but you didn’t know. They weren’t stupid, or irredeemably rebellious. They weren’t spiritually aware. Peter’s statement echoes the words of Jesus on the cross when he said, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Not knowing is not an excuse, it’s an explanation. We are all ignorant when it comes to the things of God. 1 Corinthians 4:11 “no one knows the the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” It’s true the Spirit reveals God’s mind to us. But he hasn’t revealed it all. We all miss things that God is doing around us. It’s easy to overlook the warnings against sin. We don’t think through the consequences of our choices. Ignorance is our constant condition to varying degrees.
We must be tender toward those who don’t understand the gospel of Jesus. Remembering our own ignorance will help guide us. And we must pray for the awakening of the Spirit. Let him spark the conscience, imagination and will of those who are hearing of Jesus.
Mercy and Sovereignty
Verse 18 is also filled with mercy. “But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.”
Many of these people in the crowd had an active hand in trying, convicting, executing the servant of God, Jesus. But look how Peter lightens the weight of their guilt by reassuring them that they didn’t derail the plan of God for the world. Instead, their actions were used by God to fulfill his promises to the world.
There are people we share the good news with, who are weighted down by their own history of failure. They feel that their lives are ruined anyway. They assume they’ve stepped over some imaginary line that makes them irredeemable. At this point, if there is a God, they surely missed his plan for their lives. At best, their lives will be a patched-together story that never reaches its full potential.
These people need reassurance that in Christ, God actually transforms our failures. And those failures actually become part of God’s story for us. These things aren’t wasted. Like the scars from my heart surgery, they become beautiful reminders of God’s healing and give testimony to his power of restoration.
Mercy builds a bridge to faith
When we speak the good news with mercy, we are offering a bridge to forgiveness and faith. Presenting truth without mercy is harsh. It deepens the chasm. What might have happened if Peter would have ended his message at verse 16? You’re all guilty! Period.
Peter didn’t. He went on to reflect a Holy God who has a tender heart. This God understands that we are only dust. And he actually became one with our dustiness. How can we do differently when presenting him to the world?