Elise and I have been reading through Acts in the mornings of this Easter season. It’s been a while, but a passage from Acts 3 has really stuck with me (emphasis added):
Acts 3:17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
#blessed is a thing these days. Free champagne at my hair stylist #blessed. Found my coffee rewards punch card with only one to go #blessed. Got that promotion I was really hoping for #blessed. Or maybe we identify blessings apart from the material world. I feel true peace about this decision #blessed. I had an amazing quiet time I know Jesus loves me #blessed.
None of these #blessings is opposed to the Christian faith. How many of us, though, feel “blessed” to be turned away from our wickedness by somebody else?
Too often, we consider any external constraints to be encroachments on our freedom and, as Americans, on our happiness. Freedom, after all, is a fundamental American virtue.1 Freedom, one might surmise by listening to the way American speak, is to be equated with autonomy and control; the less control we have, the less happy we must be.
This is not the way of the Christian disciple. Politics and political philosophy aside, this is not the message of the Bible for those who are a part of God’s kingdom. “Wickedness” is not a term we want to use—lest it be pointed back at us, I suppose—but the very first of the Ten Commandments forbids us to have any god except for the Triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The “greatest” commandment2 Jesus gives is to love God with everything we have, but there is no Hebraic understanding of loving God apart from obeying God.
Each and every time that God turns us aside from loving false gods—from placing our faith on anyone other than Jesus Christ, from putting anyone or anything before God, from making our ultimate allegiance to anyone or anything besides God—we are to count ourselves blessed, no matter how unpleasant. We are not to begrudgingly return to our loving Creator—we are to count ourselves blessed or even, dare I say, happy.
Such a blessing may feel unpleasant when it arrives—how many times is #blessed appended to unpleasant narratives, do you suppose?—but St. Peter here offers a clear rebuke to us for understanding God’s correction as anything else. A ship may not feel like altering course based on what some land-lubber says, but shipwreck awaits one who disobeys. In the life of the Christian, such a course correction may come from prayer and silence before God, from the guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit at the reading of the Scriptures, or through the godly counsel of other Christians.
When Christians are being led thusly, when they are truly sitting at the feat of their Lord and learning to follow and obey him more fully every day, the natural outcome of the blessing of God’s correction is that those around them will also be blessed—until the whole world is covered in that blessing. That is, the blessing of turning aside from false worship, from idolatry, from wickedness. This is the covenantal promise to Abraham.