Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, Sunday, April 26, 2009. I hope your Sunday is wonderful wherever you gather with God’s people.
The Power of His Name
12When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
17″Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. 19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,”
The Back Story
I really like preaching from the revised common lectionary. In three years of scripture passages you cover all the Bible, and you do so in concert with the Christian year, from Advent to Pentecost to Ordinary Time, and back again. I like the rhythm of readings, I like preaching from texts I would have never chosen, and I like reading the same texts publicly that millions of other Christians are reading on the same Sunday in their churches around the world.
But, sometimes the lectionary reading just takes off or ends up right in the middle of something. You need the rest of the story, as the late Paul Harvey used to say, to understand what that particular reading is about.
And that brings us to our text today, from Acts 3:12-19. We jump right into the middle of a scene, just like we parachuted in, without knowing what went before it unless we back up to the beginning of Chapter 3, which we are going to do.
Here’s the story: Acts 3 is the first chapter after the account of Pentecost, and the effects of Pentecost on the followers of Jesus. Pentecost is, of course, 50-days after Passover, so Jews are still in Jerusalem until Pentecost. Jesus has been crucified, buried, resurrected, and ascended back into heave only 10-days before Pentecost. Still, a week-and-a-half is a long time for nothing to happen — no miracles, no more appearances of Jesus, no heavenly messengers, no angels, nothing. So, we find the disciples hunkered down in a secret location, for fear that the Jewish leaders will do to them what they did to Jesus.
Then, Pentecost comes, and the Holy Spirit descends upon the house where the apostles and others are together. The sound of a rushing wind, the visible tongues of fire, the boldness of the Holy Spirit in their speech, and their ability to speak in foreign languages they had not learned drew quite a crowd. Peter used that moment to tie the events of the past month or so together with Old Testament prophecies.
Peter said, “This is what the prophet Joel prophesied — your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days and they will prophesy.”
With that explanation Peter then talks about Jesus — his life, his death, his resurrection. Peter says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Lord — Adonai. A name for God, the most commonly used name for God because the tetragrammaton — the four-lettered name — was unpronounceable and unpronounced. We filled in the consonants with vowels, and it came out Jehovah. But others now think it might be more likely that it was Yahweh. In either event, no one said it. But, Adonai was the name for God, and now Jesus is Adonai.
Christ — Mistakenly we have spoken the two words “Jesus Christ” so often that we treat the word “Christ” as if it were Jesus last name; or at best, his other name. But, Christ in Greek — christos — would have been translated into Hebrew as “messiah.”
So, Peter was saying that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah. The Jews worshipped God and longed for the coming of the Messiah to save Israel. Salvation meant to return Israel to health, freedom, and self-rule.
In other words, Peter was telling the Jews on Pentecost that they had missed the biggest event of their own history — God revealing himself in the man called Jesus; and, Jesus as the Promised One, the Anointed One, the Messiah.
When Peter gives the invitation, 3,000 repent (turn around in their thinking) and are baptized, becoming followers of Christ.
Then, they meet together, these new followers of Jesus, in each others homes, in the Temple, and miraculous signs and wonders are done by the apostles.
Now, we get to Chapter 3 finally
But, we’re not quite there yet. Peter and John are on their way to the temple one day at one of the three hours of prayer, this one in the afternoon about 3 PM. To get into the Temple, they pass through one of the gates called Beautiful, and there encounter a lame beggar. Luke, who writes Acts and is a physician, gives us the medical detail that this man has been lame since birth.
Perhaps in his 20s or 30s, this man is brought to the Temple gate daily so he can beg. He himself cannot enter the Temple because he, not being whole, is not ceremonially clean. So, here’s a man who for his entire life, certainly since he was old enough to talk, has been brought by someone to the Temple entrance to beg. No doubt he was brought by his parents early in his life, and now perhaps by those who take a portion of his earnings and who might provide the lame man a place to stay and food in return.
As far as this beggar is concerned, there is absolutely nothing special about this day — his is doing what he always does with no expectation that life will be any different today than it has been for all the years he’s been alive. He is resigned to his fate, the fate of a lame man in the first century where his condition is seen by many as God’s punishment for either his sins or the sins of his parents. Remember, Jesus had that conversation about a blind man one day.
So, the lame man, and we do not know his name from the Acts account, holds his beggar’s bowl out toward Peter and John, who look him square in the eye. Again, Luke gives us a detail that might have been overlooked by anyone else.
Why is that important? Have you ever passed a beggar or homeless person panhandling? What do you do? Well, if you’re like most people — me included — you do not make eye contact because you do not want to give them anything. Same thing is true for those folks at the street intersections with their signs — “Will work for food.” You don’t want to make eye contact. That’s another sermon for another day, but that’s they way most of us are. There’s nothing we can do or want to do for most in that situation.
But, Peter and John look this guy squarely in the eye and say to him, “Look at us!” They are obviously not hiding from this guy. Now remember that the Temple is a huge complex, with thousands of people pushing their way through all of its entrances, especially to get in for daily prayer. So, if the beggar doesn’t really see them, then Peter and John want to be sure they have his attention.
You know the next line. Peter says, “We don’t have any silver and gold” which I am sure came as a big disappointment to the beggar. “But what we have we give you, ‘In the name of Jesus the Messiah of Nazareth, walk!”
With that, Peter reaches down, takes the man by his hand and lifts him to his feet.
Have you ever known anyone lame from birth? I have met one or two. Their legs are useless appendages without muscle tone or movement. Usually curled to oneside, or hanging limply as they sit in their wheelchairs. These are not legs that can move, much less support weight, or move even if the person was somehow stood upright.
But, that’s the miracle. “Instantly” Luke says, “his feet and ankles became strong.” Another doctor’s note. The man himself “jumps” to his feet and begins to walk.
But then he does something he has never done — he walks with Peter and John into the Temple courts. And he doesn’t do it quietly — he jumps, walks, praises God, and generally causes a scene. Those who know the beggar recognize him as the same man, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Here’s the Deal
So, finally, with all that background, we arrive at our passage today — Acts 3:12-19.
The formerly lame beggar is clinging to Peter and John. His life is totally transformed, and everybody who sees it is amazed. Word spreads and others come running to see what all the fuss is about, and Peter gets a chance to preach his second sermon. And he does.
The sermon is a good one. It starts where the people are, explains that this is not the work of Peter and John but of God. But, then Peter really gets going. He says that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has glorified his servant Jesus.
The word servant is a description used by Isaiah to speak of the one coming to do God’s will:
13 See, my servant will act wisely [b] ;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him [c]—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so will he sprinkle many nations, [d]
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
— Isaiah 52:13-15
So the Servant was expected, just as was the Messiah. Peter then lays out his case.
* “You” handed him over to be killed, even though Rome’s representative was willing to let him go;
* “You” disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer instead;
* “You” killed the Author of life, but God raised him from the dead;
Peter says, “We are witnesses.” One supposes Peter means that the followers of Jesus witnessed it all, including the crowd turning on Jesus.
The Peter says, “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.”
Then, after a few more words of explanation, Peter says, “Repent, then and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” There’s more, but we have to stop there.
What Does It All Mean?
This is a great story, but what does it all mean?
* Well it could mean that given the choice, we prefer the past to the future. “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the God of our fathers” is a reference to the past. This is the God who in the past did great things for us. This is the God who in the past chose great leaders for us. This is the God who in the past had great plans for us. The whole story of Pentecost, the whole story of Jesus’ life and ministry is “behold I am making all things new.” The new has roots in the past, but that which God is doing now has a different shape to it than anything before. And that is why we have a Savior.
* It could mean that we still make the wrong choices. They disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for Barabbas. Where have we heard this story before? How about the Garden of Eden? Or Noah and the flood? Or the Tower of Babel? Or Israel’s rebellion against God any number of times. We still make the wrong choices out of fear, anger, selfishness, stubbornness, and willfulness. Not much has changed. That’s why we need a Savior.
* It could mean that we thought we were in charge, but God really is. “You killed the author of life, but God raised him up.” Even our most willful act, the killing of Jesus, is undone by God who loves us. There is no sin, even the sin of “theocide” if I can make up a word, that is too great for God to make right.
* It could mean the invitation to change is still open. We are given the chance to “turn around” or change our mind or repent — whichever way you want to say it the outcome is still the same. We choose God’s future, not our past; we make the right choice for once, not the wrong one; we see God at work and acknowledge his Sovereignty and Love; and we act in faith, given to us by this same Jesus, and turn to God in new and life-giving ways. And that is why we have a Savior.