Last weekend we welcomed a young lady into our church, along with her family and friends. She is a little star, who charmed us all, and we hope to see her grow and flourish over the next few years. In case you’re wondering, we had a baptism, and Rosie, the little star is about 1yr old at the moment. It so happened that we were looking at the passage in Acts, chapter 2 verses 36-41 that describes the response to Peter’s address to the crowd on the day of Pentecost. Remember that this is Peter, Mr ‘foot-in-mouth’ who’s middle name is tactless, and faced by a large crowd of people he’s just turned to his friends and said ‘let me handle this’… you could be excused for thinking things were going to go wrong… but of course, that’s before Pentecost (more on that in a few weeks)…
Anyway, here’s a version of what I said- for the real version, you had to be there…
This morning’s reading is about how to help someone come to faith- the passage from Acts is in fairly challenging terms, with striking language and imagery.
Peter has spoken of Jesus as Lord and Christ- the longed for Messiah- king of Israel and also Lord of the earth… and you tried to dismiss him as a common criminal, you crucified him.
Ouch. That cuts deep… to the heart. And so they responded ‘what shall we do?’ Interestingly they didn’t deny the accusation implicit in Peter’s comments, nor that he was telling the truth. Like a kid caught with their hand in the biscuit jar, its just time to say sorry. Peter’s listeners are ready and willing to respond, because they understand that they are in the wrong, and they want to move from that place.
Whenever you’re talking to someone about the Christian faith, its important to know that its next to impossible to argue or persuade someone to become a Christian. They have to want to. Sometimes we might call this ‘conviction’… essentially though, its about someone asking ‘what shall I do?’ or ‘what does that mean in my life if its true?’ This is where Peter’s listeners, or at least several thousand of them, were on that day.
It stems from a dawning realisation of who God is, and who Jesus is, and who we are in the light of that truth… if he is the Son of God and Lord of the earth, and I’ve been dismissing him as a fairy tale or a ‘good teacher’ all my life, then I need to apologise, and everything else in my life needs to be rethought. And you can’t force someone to that place. You can help by sharing your own experiences, you can point out the possibility to them, but they have to get it for themselves. Oh, with a bit of help from God too- that realisation of who God is comes when we become aware that God has been in our lives all along, we’ve just been ignoring him, and that sense of our own flaws and weakness, well that comes from the Holy Spirit nudging our hearts…
So what then? Peter outlines three things- something intellectual, something physical, and something spiritual. Some of us are inclined to one or two of these over the others, but all are important as we come to faith. The order may vary, we might not be able to recall when each of them happened, but everyone who becomes a Christian goes through them-
Repent- turn away from your past actions, your past life, your previous way of thinking, and turn towards God, towards life, towards hope and a purpose. If we’ve been a Christian for as long as we can remember, we may have no recollection of a life that wasn’t turned towards God- and that’s where my children are- they’ve always known and accepted God’s love, they’re more confident at prayer than speaking on the phone.
Be baptised- using water, in a symbolic action that shows the cleansing, the purification, the passing through, linking back to all the OT imagery of passing through water, with death on one side and life on the other. We may have been baptised as infants, young people or adults, using a sprinkle, a splash or a dunk, but its an important part of things. Why? Precisely because many of us can’t remember the moment we first believed, but most of us could find out the date we were baptised on. If someone comes to faith as an adult, getting baptised is a way for them to demonstrate that their faith is leading to action- why else would you do this?
Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit- in Ephesians Paul writes that all believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit, like a mark of God’s presence or ownership. But he also writes about being filled with the Holy Spirit, like its something you can have more of. Peter here speaks of the Spirit as a gift- and gifts have to be accepted. The Holy Spirit is the energy that God gives us to live as disciples, its also the presence of God in believers that can be seen by others- that ‘something’. Without it, or with only a tiny bit of it, we’re living on short rations… as Christians we can and ought to be constantly receiving the gift that God gives…
I’m working through this all quite deliberately for 2 reasons- one is that there may be some here who’ve not yet got to the point of thinking about and accepting all 3 of these… if that’s you, then maybe today we can do something about that.
But the second reason is that Christians must be prepared to give an answer for the faith we have, to answer the question ‘what must I do?’, to help people come to faith… and this is how we do it.
You might think that’s just a job for vicars or enthusiasts, but God called a mixed bunch 2000yrs ago, and he calls a mixed bunch today, and those whom God calls, he equips.