What is it that eats at you? What is it that sits hidden in your life, that maybe no one else knows about, the thing that you try not to think about, but when you’re reminded, it still kind of bothers you? It makes your bad days worse and puts a damper on your best days. Although you usually do a pretty good job of repressing it or excusing it or minimizing it…it’s still there.
Do you know what I’m talking about? Maybe it’s the person you’re holding a grudge against ….Maybe it’s the cheating that you got away with, whether that was against your spouse or your employer or your teacher.
You weren’t found out, but whenever you remember it, you are reminded what a creep you are. Maybe it’s the gossip or the drunkenness or pornography or the temper. Most people don’t know about it, but you do.
And no matter how festive the season, no matter how happy the moment, no matter how blessed the life, the slightest trigger reminds you of it – the skeleton in your closet. And no matter how many people say good things about you, you know they wouldn’t if they knew about that skeleton.
Do you want to get rid of your skeleton? With all these parties and festivities coming up, you know as well as I do, you’re not able to really enjoy them unless that junk is dealt with. Because, even if no one else sees it, you feel it. And even more – God knows. So today, God’s Word tells us how to deal with it: "Repent."
Our text is Acts 3:19-26, where the apostle Peter is preaching and showing how it doesn’t really matter what other people say. It is what God says that matters. He walks through the prophets from Moses to prove it. Then he quotes God’s promise to Abraham: "through your Offspring (through Jesus) all peoples on earth will be blessed." It is only our relationship with that One who blesses us that matters. And look at how Peter defines that blessing: "When God raised up his servant (Jesus), he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways." Jesus is here to bless us by teaching us to repent.
In fact, that’s the first word of our section: "Repent!"
You see, just before our text starts, Peter had reminded them of their skeleton in the closet – "You handed him (Jesus) over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the Author of life."
Ouch. But it was all true. Notice how Peter doesn’t let them weasel out of it. He pins the guilt directly on his listeners, not on "the crowd" or "the leaders," but you did it.
It needed to be dealt with.
And the same goes for us. We have those pieces of our past and present that we keep hidden and try to excuse. But, just like our guilt flares up when we see the person we wronged or we’re holding a grudge against, we’re about to see the One all our sins are really against. That’s what Advent is, isn’t it?
We’re about to celebrate the birthday of the one who is actually at the receiving end of every grudge, failure and betrayal. We’re about to see that One we’ve really wronged return again as king and judge. And he sees our closets. That should prevent us from celebrating Christ’s coming.
So let’s listen to how Peter deals with that. To the people Peter just accused of killing God’s own Son (a crime we have on our record as well), he says: "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out." As counterintuitive as it sounds, as much as we want to run from God when we consider our guilt, Peter says turn to him.
Think about that, you who suffer with feelings of guilt. Just break it down. I know it sounds like I’m oversimplifying, but sometimes you just have to walk through how simple it really is.
So, here we go: Do you believe God is God? That he can do what he says? Then, do you believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for all sins? Do you believe when he says "all" – "the blood of Jesus His Son purifies us from ALL sin"? Is your sin included there? You do?
Then, that settles it. Your sins are wiped out, erased, gone. And then look at what Peter promises: Repent, then and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
When your guilt is really dealt with, peace replaces it: times of refreshing from the Lord, singing Jesus’ glory for our forgiveness, joining our voices with others here to praise his name, living in the peace and hope and joy and love that feeling that forgiveness naturally produces in our lives. And then look at the next words, "And that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus."
That peace of forgiveness carries us right up until the time that the appointed One comes back – Jesus!
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.