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Sunday, 23 August 2015

Acts part 7: It's all about Jesus

Building the right foundation part 7

 Acts 3:1-4:4

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 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. 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. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 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.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

Amazing things were happening daily in the experience of the apostles. The disciples just beginning a journey of discovering what the church is and how the Lord Jesus will build it. The church of course is people and is made up of converts many of whom were being added daily to the number. This brought great joy and with it also came a multitude of opportunities and also difficulties as we shall see in a future studies. Luke has carefully compiled a series of happenings from the early days for his readers to understand how the church came into being and developed from just a handful of people to a multitude in just a few decades. He simply records the story without comment. This account before us has great significance for the future of the infant church. To understand this event better we ought to read it a few times, each time asking questions of the passage. The first question must always be what the intention of the author was. As we have said previously both the gospel and Acts were written by Luke in order that Theophilus might understand who Jesus is and how the church came into being. That simple fact tells us that it is history and so we have an account of an incredible day before us to look at. Another important question to ask is: what is the main theme of the event? And finally what does this mean for us today, remembering that Luke was the vehicle by which this book was brought into being by the Holy Spirit of God.
The passage that we read is all about an ordinary day in the life of a large number of people. Many people pride themselves in reading the last paragraph of a book before they begin reading the it. We are going to do that today in order that we might understand what it was that God was doing on that particular day. It was just an ordinary day when 5000 men happened to be converted. The first question I would ask of the passage is:
How does God arrange it in order that so many are added to the church?
Related to that question I ask:
What part does the miraculous healing play in the conversion of so many?
Finally I ask:
What was the content of Peter's preaching?

  • How does God arrange it in order that so many are added to the church?
It was just an ordinary day in Jerusalem, by now it was 3:00pm and everything was just as normal as could be. Worshippers were gathering at the Temple for the prayer meeting. A man who was lame was as usual being carried by his friends to the Temple entrance known as the Beautiful Gate. This was possibly the Nicanor gate which was ornamented with fine gold and was probably the gate through which the women would go to worship. Jewish law stated that the poor should be cared for and so the way into the Temple was a sensible place for the man to be laid by his friends. Worshippers ought then to see the need and care for the man. It is a little bit like the collections outside of the supermarket, have you ever noticed that you are not approached on the way in? The reason being that on the way out you will feel more guilty due to the evidence of your wealth by the goods in your shopping trolley. Thus you are more likely to give some money into the collection box. For the man this was yet another normal day when he was about the business of making his living in the best way that he could. The disciples were also about their normal business, they were about to pray and they just happened on that day to go through the Beautiful Gate. If they had been through that gate before they would most certainly have seen this man there but this day was different. The ordinary day was about to take a turn that would affect the lives of many. Imagine that if Peter and John were to have just walked past the man what a difference that would have made. A chance meeting (or was it???) produces great reward for so many. What will God do through our chance meetings?
The man asks Peter and John for some money but they have none. It just so happened that their pockets were empty but their hearts were full! Peter looked at the man and said to him, look at us! Do we look like we have money, we do not but we do have treasure that is of far more worth than a few pennies. The man looked on in expectation, hoping for some money but he got more than he bargained for. I can give you no money said Peter but this I will give you!
Notice now what he said to the man! He said “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk. Peter called upon the Jesus to heal the man and in doing so declared Him to be Messiah or the Promised One of God. The healing was ultimately all about Jesus. Peter in effect said to the man look at us we are impotent but Jesus is sufficient. Peter fully believing in the healing lifted the man by the right hand and the miracle was complete. The result of this was a man who now was walking, jumping and praising God. And who can blame him?
This caused a great crowd of people to be interested in what had happened. Their ordinary day had now taken on a whole new dimension. They were amazed and filled with wonder and the man himself hung on to Peter and John determined to be with them in the temple and not miss out in the frenzy. The crowd ran to hear a sermon, that is what happens when God is at work in mighty ways.
By this amazing event God brought many under the sound of the gospel. The miracle is important but it is secondary to the purpose that God had worked it for. A miracle never saves anybody but the declared truth of God does!
We must rely on the Word of truth rather than the method that God might use to attract people to the gospel!

  • What part does the miraculous healing play in the conversion of so many?
We have to be careful of expecting wonders to happen, if they do it is always with the set purpose of amazing others in order that they desire to find out why it has happened. This healing was a signpost to Jesus. It is clear from the flow of this passage that the healing is important but it did not bring anybody, even the lame man to repentance and faith. He had to go into the portico to hear what Peter had to say.
There are many Christian groups who are wanting miracles to happen at all times, often believing that if amazing things happen then people will be converted. Think again of the events that we have before us, Peter could so easily have drawn attention to himself. He could have written a book telling of the great things that he had done. He could have asked the man to stand up in the portico and declare that he was healed by this follower of Jesus which is what many do today. But that is not what Peter and John did, they showed themselves to be helpless but Jesus to be all sufficient, firstly for the healing of the man and then as we shall see for the salvation of a large number of people.
We must be careful of these people on our TV screens that will for a (small?) sum of money send you a handkerchief or bottle of blessed holy water which will due to their blessing upon it heal all known diseases. That is heresy and certainly was not the case here in this account. Peter immediately brought the man to Jesus who was then healed. It was this very thing that attracted the attention of all of those who were to be converted but as we shall see next time it also attracted those who would reject the gospel truth.
In every way this miracle of healing was effective in bringing many under the sound of the gospel.
In what ways does God attract people to the gospel today. I would say in exactly the same way as He did on that day. We might not be experiencing miraculous healing etc on a regular basis but He has promised to draw people to Himself for salvation until the end of the age.
How does He do that if not through signs and wonders?
I would say that He draws others to Himself through the miracle of new birth. When somebody is converted they have been raised from spiritual death, had spiritually blind eyes opened, ears that were once deaf to God's voice are now hearing and those who were crippled by sin are now walking with God. When a friend, family member, neighbour or acquaintance sees this in somebody then it is impressive and they are naturally inquisitive. A convert never answers the question “what has happened to you?” with I am just trying to be a better person! A truly converted person must than speak of Jesus as the author of their new life. At this some will be impressed and want to know more but just as in this event there will also be skeptics who will never believe even though a lame man walks right before their eyes.
Christians we are what we are because on one perfectly ordinary day our routine was interrupted by God intervening in our experience and just like Peter and John we ought to give all of the glory to Jesus:
You see it is all of Jesus!
  • What was the content of Peter's preaching?
Simple really: it was all about Jesus. Peter was experientially learning the truth that there is no salvation found anywhere under heaven other than Jesus and Him crucified. Therefore he addressed firstly the crowd and spoke of what it was that drew them to that place at that time. What they had seen he told them was nothing to do with the apostles own hidden powers or their piety but it is purely a work of God.
He begins by proving his orthodoxy by going back to the forefathers of the Jewish faith who's God had glorified Jesus. This means that God the Father was giving glory to Jesus whom they had both denied but had delivered Him into the hands of Pilate. Peter relates some of the titles to Jesus that were reserved for God alone; the Holy and Righteous One. Their is none that is holy nor righteous excepting God Himself, there is no doubt in this very declaration that Peter is saying that Jesus is God and that they had demanded He should die. Peter said that the very author of life which they would have understood as the Creator had been rejected by his audience. This same Jesus had been raised from the dead and Peter was not afraid to say that he was a witness to this. This is the key to all that was happening on that day. It was by faith in Jesus that Peter was now strong enough to stand in their presence and it is this same Jesus who had healed the man.
Even though they were ignorant of the truth they were guilty, but the true wonder of the day is that grace was also available. Through Jesus' sufferings repentance is offered which then results in sins being blotted out. We ought at this point bring to light the old covenant requirement that without blood sacrifice there is no forgiveness for sin, Peter was declaring that the blood of Jesus is sufficient for the forgiveness of sin and that is the real miracle of the day. God had sent Jesus to His people to bless them by turning them from their wickedness and saving them. This caused the religious leaders to be angry and so they arrested Peter and John. But many repented and were saved; 5000 men plus women and I am sure some children.
The content of Peter's sermon Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of Life sent by God to save his people!

It is all about Jesus!
He is the One who saves, we are simply His servants who are called to on any ordinary day speak of Him in order that somebody's ordinary day might be a day when the greatest miracle of all might be accomplished in their life and they become a true member of the church of Christ.

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