In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter addresses a group of devout Jews living in Jerusalem, although they are from all parts of the Roman Empire, from as far away as Rome and Egypt (2. 5 – 11).
What is interesting about all this, often times missed in our discussions of Pentecost, is that these people were the ones earlier calling for Jesus to be crucified, that is, they are the same group Jesus asked His Father to forgive from the Cross.
In his first words to this group, Peter begins with the prophet Joel, which makes sense since, as an Old Testament prophet, he is familiar to the hearers. Peter is explaining to the hearers that God’s promise is not an empty word; it has been fulfilled by God.
The next words are important. He says to them:
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, — because it was impossible for him to be held in its power” (2. 22 – 24).
Notice what Peter says: “You crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.” Is this hyperbole? No. Peter is saying to the people there that they crucified the Messiah of God. Not by association. They were the ones calling for his death in Luke 23. How would a devout Jew react to this? How would anyone? What would you do if you thought you were doing the right thing only to realize you were the one who transgressed God’s law?
But Peter does not stop there. The tour de force is how he ends his speech. Responding to their question “what do we do now,” Peter says to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (vv. 38 – 39).
So, the law cannot grant forgiveness of sins; at most it can only identify what sin is. God’s forgiveness is, as Saint Paul will tell the Corinthians later, granted by “the word of the Cross,” but it is also granted by Jesus from the Cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23. 34).
When we repent, we put our trust in God’s forgiveness. Repentance should free us and open our eyes. When our ears open, so do our eyes.