Meditations in Acts : 30 : A Pleading Preacher
Acts 2:40,41 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
I have to confess that verse 40 in particular is a verse that I have in the past hardly noticed existing. Luke has just conveyed to us what we normally take to be the gist of this sermon on the day of Pentecost but now he tells us that “with many other words” he warned and he pleaded which suggests that what we have in the previous verses may be the main content and thrust but it is not all Peter said to the crowd on this day. All we know is that from this little phrase we can adduce that this sermon clearly went on some more.
But we need to note the strength of the two words we’ve already picked up on – warned and pleaded. To warn someone means to place before them a danger and urge them to get away from it. To plead means to give great urgency to your speech and so putting the two together we find the Peter with great urgency puts a danger before these people, urging them to respond to what he is saying.
Now what is interesting is that the crowd had already responded to Peter’s preaching by being “cut to the heart” (v.37a) and then asking “What shall we do?” (v.37b) You might have thought that this was enough. And Peter had given them an answer: “Repent and be baptized” and yet he feels it necessary to continue to urge them to respond.
But, we might ask, what is he wanting them to flee from? The answer is given, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” and so we see even more ‘urgent’ language – “save yourselves”. We may take this for granted for when you are called upon to save yourself it is from a threat or danger and we may imply therefore it is from God’s judgment on the present generation who are sufficiently self-centred and twisted that they had Jesus put to death.
Now, again, we may take this for granted but there is always in the Gospel call a requirement to separate out from the life you have been living, the life of the ‘world’, as John referred to it (1 Jn 2:15-17). Paul spoke of this old life as follows: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Eph 2:1-3) There is a way of living to be rejected and walked away from. The Gospel certainly involves the good news of Jesus, but before we are ready to receive that we need to face the bad news about the lives we have been living up until then.
They were, as Paul said, “dead” – spiritually lifeless, because they were filled with “transgressions and sins” – wrongs, failures, things not complying with God’s design and contrary to God’s will. In that life we were being led by the spirit of the age and by Satan who worked to prompt our disobedience to God. The focus of our lives was on material, self-centred pleasures and because we were godless and unrighteous, we were therefore those who were in God’s sights for judgment. As the Spirit convicted us, so we saw the awfulness of our failure and of our godless lives and cried out to be saved. Not only did He show us that it was self-destructive but also that it was in eternity going to bring God’s judgment. This was worth fleeing from!
As Peter preaches, he catches this sense of awfulness of what is in store for these people and what they need to get away from and so he urges and pleads with them to respond. There is within him this strong urgency on behalf of the ‘congregation’.
The response is dramatic, even on Billy Graham scales – three thousand respond and are baptized. However they managed that, that was a big baptismal service! Baptism, as we noted earlier, was the primary initial expression in the early church of conversion, and although in later decades and centuries it was often done privately, in this instance with this number there must have been a public aspect to it.
As we ponder on behalf of preachers, what happened here, we have to ask, do we today see the same urgency that Peter was conveying, the same sense of the awfulness of what people are being saved from and the wonder of what they are being saved to? Is there passion in our preaching? But motivating that passion, do we have that sense of need that cries for the Gospel? Perhaps more generally in respect of the Christian life, are we aware that the whole of the Christian life is a process or walk away from that life towards something completely new, and so our preaching should constantly reveal what is to be left behind while at the same time laying out the wonder of the possibilities ahead?