How important is it that the gifts you receive are selected just for you? How important is it that the award your company gives for that tenth or twentieth anniversary is chosen with care, chosen with you personally in mind? Are you satisfied with generic gifts? Or do you prefer personalization?
Some of us grew up in big families, families with lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. When large, extended families gather for the yearly Christmas dinner and gift exchange, the cousins sometimes notice a pile of identical packages under the tree. After everyone is full of figgy pudding or its equivalent, each cousin will receive one of those packages. They will unwrap the packages simultaneously, and as they do, the truth will become painfully obvious: A well-meaning uncle or grandmother has chosen the same scarf or book or gift card for everyone.
In polite families, the cousins dutifully express their thanks. But most of them will experience a twinge of regret, realizing that Aunt Elsie or Grandpa Smith doesn’t really know them very well, doesn’t realize that some cousins prefer hockey to soccer, that some cousins wear brown jackets, jackets that don’t go all that well with gray mittens.
We might forgive Aunt Elsie or Grandpa Smith. After all, they are just trying to treat everyone fairly. But would you really want a generic gift from your dad? Or your girlfriend?! On the other hand, though, you may know from embarrassing experience that it is possible to get too personal. Opening a package of underwear from your grandma in public? Definitely not cool!
So how personal is too personal? We see in the Bible that after Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles had multiple opportunities to preach and teach, multiple opportunities to talk about what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection means. You also know that as the apostles preached, they got personal. Very personal!
Peter, for example, definitely knew his audience! He knew them very well - from their perspective, perhaps too well. He told them just where they had been, just what they had said and done, just what role they had played in the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus. This is how he concluded his sermon. (Read Acts 2:36.)
The truth of God’s Law, personally applied, always hurts. The Bible tells us that the people who heard Peter that day were “cut to the heart” (verse 37 ESV). They were “stunned,” “pierced,” or “deeply troubled,” depending on how you translate the word Luke uses here. In short, Peter’s sermon was not fun to hear. But it needed to be heard. The truth of God’s Law, personally applied, was necessary.
The pain, though, was not the point. The point was repentance. The Holy Spirit, who inspired Peter’s words, wanted to drive the people listening to Peter to see their need for a Savior. He wanted to confront them with the fact that self-justification is no justification at all! This is love! Love tells the truth!
God knew those listeners needed to recognize the futility of their religiosity. They needed to understand they could not earn or deserve God’s favor by what they had done, by what they were doing, or by what they were going to do. They needed to release the illusion of self-reliance and, instead, rely on the Christ whom they had crucified. They needed to throw themselves into the arms of Jesus’ mercy and love.
That love had bled real blood for them - and for you! That love had died a real death for them - and for you! That love was personal! It was powerful! It was real!
And that very real, very personal love propelled everyone touched by it to share it. The 3,000 who came to faith on the day of Pentecost because 5,000 in a just few short weeks. As the months went by, those 5,000 became ten, then twenty, then a hundred thousand.
And now that very real, very personal love has come to us through the witness of someone who was touched by someone who was touched by someone all the way back to the someone who heard about Jesus through the testimony of his first-century followers. These witnesses have always pointed to the cross of our Savior. These witnesses have always said, “This is love!”
The truth of God’s Law is clear. It is sharp. It is personal - perhaps too personal! It hurts, but that does not change the truth: By your sins, you killed the Lord of life. You did that just as surely as those people who stood in the mob shouting their demands that Pilate crucify Jesus. Each of you bears personal responsibility. You killed the Lord of life!
But God has raised Jesus from the dead. God has made him both Lord and Christ - Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior! Your Savior! Your personal Savior. In Jesus, your very personal guilt is gone. You are redeemed. You can throw yourself into the arms of his mercy and his very real, very personal love. After all, the Bible promises:
We will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus (Acts 15:11 ESV).