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by Al Maxey

Issue #758 ------- October 29, 2018
Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of His grace,
It seals my pardon too.

John Newton [1725-1807]
In Evil Long I Took Delight

Peter's Colonnade Sermon
Reflecting on an Apostolic Revision:
Pentecost Sermon 2.0 and Acts 2:38

When we think of the apostle Peter's great sermon following the ascension of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem, we most often think of his proclamation on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Rarely do we hear much discussion of his powerful sermon very shortly thereafter (Acts 3), although it too proclaims a powerful message of God's grace (indeed, many feel that it does so far more powerfully and pointedly than his first sermon). It is generally characterized as Peter's "Colonnade Sermon," thus setting it apart from his previous "Pentecost Sermon." This colonnade "was a covered portico that ran the entire length of the eastern portion of the outer court of the temple precincts, along and just inside the eastern wall of the temple" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 296]. This location became one of the more popular gathering places for the early church (Acts 5:12). "Peter's sermon in Solomon's Colonnade is in many ways similar to his sermon at Pentecost. Structurally, both move from proclamation to a call for repentance. The Pentecost sermon, however, is finished and polished, whereas this one is comparatively roughhewn. Thematically, both focus on the denial and vindication of Jesus of Nazareth. But the Colonnade sermon expresses more of a remnant theology than the one at Pentecost. It shows a more generous attitude toward Israel, coupled with a greater stress on the nation's responsibility for the Messiah's death, than does the Pentecost sermon; and it makes explicit the necessity of receiving God's grace by faith" [ibid, p. 295-296].

Frankly, it is that last statement (the emphasis of Peter on salvation by grace through faith) that troubles many within the fundamentalist factions of the church, for in the second sermon Peter revises the statement in Acts 2:38 (which tends to be the major proof-text of those who promote a sacramental view of baptism in water). Peter removes any mention of baptism, and instead focuses on salvation as a gift of God extended by grace for all, both far and near, who accept that gift by faith, rather than seeking to merit it by works. In Acts 2:38 Peter says, "Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." In his sermon in Solomon's Colonnade, however, he changes this to: "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). Peter was in no way denying immersion in water its legitimate place in man's response to the grace of God; rather, he was seeking to emphasize one's salvation is not in the act itself of being immersed in water, but that this was merely symbolic of that divine act (the death, burial and resurrection of God's Son) which does have the power to save. Baptism is simply an evidentiary act of faith; it is not a sacrament, it is a symbol (like unto the eating of the elements in the Lord's Supper). The legalists, patternists and sacramentalists practically foam at the mouth over the fact that Peter removed any mention of baptism in water from this second sermon, yet such is consistent with his preaching and practice. Peter urged Cornelius and his household, for example, to be baptized (Acts 10:47-48), yet in recounting this event to those assembled at the Jerusalem Council, he stated that God "cleansed their hearts by faith," ... and "we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are" (Acts 15:8-11). Paul would later concur: "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Corinthians 1:17). "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8).

I find it rather interesting, yet also disturbing, how several past leaders within my own faith-heritage (The Stone-Campbell Movement), have tirelessly sought to establish baptism in water as THE precise point of salvation, and thus have gone to great extremes to reinsert baptism in water into Peter's second sermon. They do this by suggesting such is implied in the parallelism of Acts 2:38 and 3:19. In other words, they insist that the word "turn/return" in the second sermon actually means "baptism." "Repent ... be baptized ... for the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 2:38) and "Repent ... turn/return ... that your sins may be wiped away" (Acts 3:19). Thus, "turn/return" means "be baptized." Or, so they suggest, for their theology demands they find a way to get baptism in water back into any text that fails to mention it, and they can be quite creative in how they do this. Burton Coffman (1905-2006), one of the most influential Church of Christ writers and teachers of the 20th century, indicated in his commentary on this second sermon that "the thought behind 'turn again' was nothing short of baptism." He writes that to return and to be baptized "are synonymous." H. Leo Boles (1874-1946) also stated that Acts 3:19 is clearly "a parallel of this verse" (i.e., Acts 2:38): "Evidently the blotting out of sins is equivalent to the remission of sins, and being baptized is tantamount to turning again" [A Commentary on Acts of the Apostles, p. 59]. J. W. McGarvey (1829-1911) made the same argument. When the people heard Peter say, "Repent and turn," McGarvey opines, "they could but understand that they were to turn by being baptized. ... Baptism was the turning act. ... the generic word 'turn' was used with specific reference to baptism; and this, not because the two words mean the same, but because men turned by being baptized. This is the doctrine of the passage" [A New Commentary on Acts of Apostles, vol. 1, p. 62].

I find it amazing, and not a little disturbing, the lengths to which some are willing to go to force a passage to teach their own sectarian dogma. But, when one's theology is built around a specific act, and when that act is given sacramental status, such creative manipulation of the biblical text and authorial intent is inevitable. There is absolutely no question that baptism is vital to the manifesting of our faith in the Lord. It is commanded of us, and if we love Him, we will obey His commands. We are commanded to be merciful, benevolent, loving; we are commanded to forgive. We could list many such attitudes and actions commanded of us -- NOT in order to BE saved, but because we ARE saved. When we understand the place and purpose of baptism in water, then it will free us from the perceived need to manipulate the biblical text in such a way as to validate what we think it should say.

The King James Version renders this phrase this way: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." They supposed that this turning, of which Peter speaks, is: "being converted." However, "this expression conveys an idea not at all to be found in the original" [Albert Barnes, Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. This word, however, is not written in the original Greek as a passive, but rather as an active. A note in The Expositor's Greek Testament points out that "this passive rendering in the Vulgate and KJV testifies to the unwillingness in the Western Church to recognize" that this word is active in nature, not passive [vol. 2, p. 114]. This source then declares: "This word can scarcely be applied here to baptism" [ibid]. "'Be converted' is not a good rendering, because the verb is in the active voice. Better is: 'turn again'" [Dr. Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 462]. "A false idea is given in the Common Version (KJV) by making it passive" [B. W. Johnson, The People's NT with Explanatory Notes, p. 428].

What was Peter's message? He simply informed these men and women that they must "repent and turn" -- i.e., they must be moved within their hearts by their prior rejection of the Messiah ("pricked in their hearts" - Acts 2:37, KJV), feeling a deep regret for their lack of belief, and then resolve, now that belief has come, to turn from their sin and toward their Savior. This "turning" was to be more than just an inner reality (which would be repentance), but a true and visible bringing forth of fruit in keeping with that repentance. Repent and turn/return to the One who had always been there with them, and who now sought to reside within them. The Father extended His grace to these men and women (and to us) through the loving sacrifice of His Son, through whom SIN was forever dealt with. This grace is accepted by faith, and it is reflected by the turning of our lives over to Him. We repent (inwardly) and we turn/return (outwardly), and the result for those who do this is the removal/forgiveness of sin and the free gift of salvation. NOW, as His beloved children, saved by grace through faith; as children who have repented and turned; as contrite, convicted believers who are saved -- we commit ourselves completely to loving Him and abiding within His will to the best of our understanding and opportunity and ability. We love Him, and thus we will gladly seek to keep His commandments. We are not obedient in order to be saved, but rather are obedient because we are saved, and we reflect this in our daily acts of loving obedience and good deeds. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). One of those expected acts of faith is a visible reenactment of the very basis of our salvation: the death, burial and resurrection of God's Son, our Redeemer. In this reenactment we manifest our trust and gratitude in His act by which we are saved, rather than trusting in our own act (being immersed) to secure our salvation. The latter would constitute a sacramental view of baptism, which is false.

The Amplified Bible renders this passage thusly: "So repent (change your inner self - your old way of thinking, regret past sins) and return (to God - seek His purpose for your life), so that your sins may be wiped away (blotted out, completely erased)." The Message reads: "Now it's time to change your ways! Turn to face God so He can wipe away your sins, pouring out showers of blessing to refresh you." Notice what Dr. F. F. Bruce writes about this passage from Peter's second sermon: "Here is a proclamation of divine generosity, offering a free pardon to all who took part in the death of Christ, if only they realize their error, confess their sin, and turn to God in repentance. ... All that they had to do to avail themselves of this salvation was to change their former attitude toward Jesus and bring it into line with God's attitude. God had clearly shown His verdict by raising Him from the dead. Let them therefore repent, let them repudiate with abhorrence their acquiescence in the murder of their true Messiah, let them turn back in heart to God, and the salvation and blessing procured by their Messiah's death would be theirs. Their sins would be wiped out, even that sin of sins which they had unwittingly committed in clamoring for the death of the Author of life. Here, surely, is the heart of the gospel of grace" [Commentary on the Book of the Acts, p. 90]. AMEN!! This most assuredly is the very "heart of the gospel of grace," to which the apostle Paul would most certainly and emphatically agree: "I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike: the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:21, New Living Translation). Let me leave you with the words penned by John Newton (1725-1807) in his poem/hymn "In Evil Long I Took Delight." They state the case quite beautifully!

In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopp'd my wild career:

I saw One hanging on a Tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fix'd His languid eyes on me,
As near His Cross I stood.

Sure never till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look:
It seem'd to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and own'd the guilt,
And plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins His Blood had spilt,
And help'd to nail Him there.

Alas! I knew not what I did!
But now my tears are vain;
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain!

A second look He gave, which said,
"I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou may'st live."

Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.

With pleasing grief, and mournful joy,
My spirit now is fill'd,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill'd!


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Readers' Reflections

From an Author in Arizona:

In your article titled "The Case of the Duking Disciples" (Reflections #757) you wrote the following statement: "Thank God for His grace, for He loves us in spite of ourselves, and He works His will in and through us even though we are less than perfect tools in His hands. Our hope, therefore, lies not in our own righteousness, but in His, which He imparts to those flawed men and women willing to receive it by faith. In this way we can be counted as perfect, even though our imperfections continue to evidence themselves in our daily lives." Al, these are exactly my thoughts and my position! I see it the very same way, visualize it in the very same order, and trust it as heavenly Truth! "Soldier On," for I have your back, brother!

From a Reader in Texas:

"The Case of the Duking Disciples" was an excellent study, Al. I think sometimes we sterilize Paul's reaction to John Mark's leaving the first missionary journey, which he saw as a betrayal. This greatly affected Paul emotionally, however, thus resulting in his refusal to allow John Mark to accompany him on the second missionary journey. Paul was a zealot for God, and anyone not putting their all into the work, for whatever reason, probably didn't set right with Paul. Not allowing for the weakness of another in his company was most likely a weakness of Paul. But the great thing is: they didn't seek to mark and mar one another in the Kingdom. Today we would not be content with simply going separate ways; we would make sure that others treated them as outcasts as well. This account in Acts 15 showed two groups who were divided emotionally, but who still worked in the Kingdom while not trying to put the other out of the Kingdom.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, "The Case of the Duking Disciples" was well worth the time to read! Thank you.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Men are just men; no more, no less. We are each flawed in our own way. Elders, preachers, teachers are all many times hoisted gradually to a pedestal. We do it, they let it happen, and then we watch for an opportunity to knock them off of it! The human condition: a walking, talking, contrary contradiction. Most of us get all our exercise jumping to conclusions! As quoted in "Cool Hand Luke," what we have here is a failure to communicate!

From a Reader in Utah:

Al, your latest Reflections was excellent!! Thank you again for what you do! I so appreciate your articles: they are spot on! Going back and rereading the Bible from the beginning, it always amazed me the new things that pop out. One is the realization that even those who are God's chosen people made some very bad decisions, not just once, but over and over! The ONLY thing that makes me perfect is Jesus' sacrifice!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I am so glad you did a Reflections on this event with Paul, Mark and Barnabas. I think it is nave to believe that we always get along and agree on every aspect of life and religion. Sometimes, we just have to disagree without being disagreeable. Paul needed to know that "his people" were on board 100%. Apparently, Mark wasn't, or at least had some differing opinions. Another great lesson is in Paul's commendation of Mark. We differ, yet we can still respect each other. The bitter divisions over the decades and centuries that the church has experienced within its ranks is tragic. Perhaps God used it for His purposes, but wouldn't it be great if we could all respect and encourage one another in the faith in spite of our differences?! I think the world would be a better place as a result. Love ya, brother!

From a Minister in New Zealand:

Al, I trust you are all well. The subject of baptism continues to be controversial here in New Zealand. Acts 22:16 was cited to me recently as a proof-text for baptismal regeneration. I read your issue of Reflections on this passage ("Wash Away Your Sins: A Reflective Study of Acts 22:16" - Reflections #507) and it is excellent. One thing I have noticed is that in two instances the Greek word "epikalesamenos" is translated "having called upon" or "having called on." Acts 2:21 is significant in that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." One of the problems here is that so many people understand things sequentially and in a formulaic fashion, which is not always true. For example, I could say that, "I got out of bed this morning, having slept all night." The getting out of bed is consequential to having slept all night. Thanks again for your great "library" of Reflections. They are continually helpful. God bless you.

From a Minister/Elder in Mississippi:

Al, have you ever done any of your studies on the topic of demon possession (vis--vis the idea expressed by many that such demonic activity and possession ceased when the special miraculous spiritual gifts stopped)? I have been having a discussion with a friend of mine who insists that such cessation is the case. My contention is that miracles have not ceased (any act God does that would not otherwise have occurred), but only those miraculous signs meant to certify that inspired speakers were truly speaking the Word of God (as Hebrews 2 says). Is there anything you can add, or do you perhaps have an article ready-made?

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