Refreshment for the journey

OK, I’m just going to say it. Today is my birthday. Tonight I have to drive into Pasadena to get ready to spend nearly forty hours of the coming week in a seminary classroom. And it all just makes me feel a little old.

I know. Waaa, waaa, waaa. Get over it.

I will, I promise.

My wife has already retired from her teaching job, and it’s made me think about it. A lot. No, I’m not going to hang it up, not right away; I don’t think I’m “done” yet, and probably won’t be for at least a few years. But some days, I just feel tired. It’s been a long road, and I don’t know how much longer it will be.

I think what I need is a bit of refreshment now and then.

As we’ve seen, when Peter saw the crowds running to him at Solomon’s Portico to gawk at the lame man God had healed through him, he launched into an impromptu sermon. In it, he hammered his hearers with their guilt for what they had done to Jesus. If after his Pentecost sermon — which was mild by comparison — people felt the conviction of sin, it must have been doubly so after this one. And as he had before, he gave them an invitation to repent:

Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. (Acts 3:19-21, NRSV)

“Send” the Messiah? Didn’t God already do that? Isn’t that the point of their guilt, that they rejected the Messiah when he came? Well, yes. And to the extent that Peter’s message penetrated their hearts, many were left thinking, Oh, no! We’ve made a terrible mistake! The Messiah has already come! What can we do (cf. Acts 2:37)?  

But embedded in Peter’s renewed call to repentance is some encouragement. Yes, you rejected the Messiah, and he has returned to heaven. But all is not lost. He is your Messiah, and he will return when the time is right to bring the restoration you’ve hoped for. So repent now. Turn back to God.

It’s two sides of one spiritual coin: turn away from sin, and turn toward God. The result? First, our sins are “wiped” away. The word is the same as the one used in John’s vision of our ultimate destiny: there will come a day in which sin and death will be defeated forever, and God will dwell with his people and wipe every tear from their eyes (Rev 21:4). Now that’s something to look forward to.

Second, “times of refreshing” will come. Peter doesn’t explain what this means. The CEB translates the phrase as “a season of relief from the distress of this age; Eugene Peterson speaks of turning to God that he might “pour out showers of blessing to refresh you” (The Message).

Whatever Peter means, it sounds pretty encouraging to me.

Throughout the sermon, Peter makes constant (if sometimes indirect) reference back to the ancient story of the unfolding history of God’s covenant relationship to his people: the calling of Abraham; God’s appearance to Moses at the burning bush and the promise to send another prophet like him; Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant; Samuel and all the prophets.

It’s been a long haul, with fits and starts along the way. Through it all, God has been and continues to be unfailingly gracious — so much so that Peter can even say that despite the horrendous, murderous way the people and their leaders treated the Messiah, he knows they acted in ignorance (Acts 3:17)!

The story has a long history, and there’s a long way to go yet. But we can count on the graciousness of the God who sustains us on the journey.

We can turn to God and find the refreshment we need.