Acts 3: the Journey Begins

As we continue to work our way through the Book of Acts, I’ll begin my reading today with the 3rd Chapter.  If you remember, last week we look at the end of the second chapter, where we had an idyllic vision of the early church.  It was a close-knit community that worshipped and shared together.  However, Jesus’ command was for them to spread the message.  It’s not enough for them (or us) to be a comfortable church isolated from the world.[1]  Jesus wants the message to get out.  In Acts 3, starting in Jerusalem, we witness the Apostles’ first taking the message into town.  They start with Jerusalem on their way to Samaria and the ends of the earth, fulfilling the command Jesus gave at his ascension.[2]  In Chapter 2, the church is empowered with the Spirit and a revival occurs at its doorstep.  In Chapter 3, the outward movement begins with Peter and John heading to the temple to prayer.  Listen:  Read Acts 3:1-10.

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There is a story about Thomas Aquinas visiting Pope Innocent II.  When he arrives in Rome, his holiness is busy counting a large sum of money.  Thomas is taken into the Vatican treasury with the Pope and others responsible for the money.  He’s greeted warmly and then the Pope says, “You see, Thomas, the Church can no longer say, ‘I have no silver and gold.’”  “True, Holy Father,” said Thomas as he looks around in amazement, “and neither can she say, “Stand up and walk.”[3]

Too often we think the answer to our problems is having the resources at hand, but if that’s our attitude, we better have put life jackets on before we try to walk on water.  God wants us to be bold and to trust his Spirit!

We’re told that Peter and John headed to the temple at the appropriate hour to pray.  At this point, they are still observant Jews and we know from antiquity that twice a day, in the early morning and at the ninth hour (3 PM for us), sacrifices were made in the temple that were accompanied by a prayer service. They entered one of the gates, possibly the gate between the Court of the Gentiles and the Court of the Women, which was fashioned out of polished bronze and so spectacular that it was considered more valuable than the gates which were overlaid with silver and gold.  By this gate they spot a lame beggar.[4]

Friends or family of this man, who’d been lame all his life, would take him daily to the temple where he could beg for enough money to purchase food and the necessities for life.  The lame man asked Peter and John for alms.  In such a situation, in a time with no social safety net, giving alms was an expectation of their faith.  If you had the means, it was an obligation.  But they don’t have any money with them.

Perhaps it is because they have been amazed themselves over the recent events that they give the man what they have, faith.  They calling on Jesus to raise him up so that he might walk.  He jumps up, and then not only does he walk, he leaps, for joy no doubt, as he makes his way into the temple where he praises God.   The amazement spreads when those who had seen this man beg by the gate for years, unable to walk, now jumping for joy.  This creates an opportunity for Peter and he seizes upon it as we’ll see in the second half of this Chapter.  Read Acts 3:11-26.

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The scene shifts from inside the temple to a porch or patio, large enough for a crowd, as Peter preaches his second sermon recorded in Acts.  It must have been a sight, the formerly lame man clinging to Peter’s arm as he speaks.  In his first sermon, on Pentecost, Peter began by dispelling a myth going around.  “Men of Jerusalem, these men are not drunk,” he proclaimed in the Second Chapter, verse 14-15.  In this instance, it seems that some must have through that the man’s healing was a result of Peter and John’s power or piety.  They’ve gone from drunks to goody two-shoes in the eyes of the people.

But don’t we sometimes think this way?  That someone’s blessings is because they are so good, that God must be smiling on them?  However, that’s a dangerous way of thinking for two reasons.  First of all, Scripture tells us that God brings rain on the fields of the just and the unjust.[5]  Secondly, such thoughts led us to question the unfortunate and makes it easier for us to say, “They had it coming.”  We should know from Scripture that even the righteous can and will suffer.  Peter reframes the situation, recalling on the traditional Jewish liturgy[6] (The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God of our ancestors), as he interprets what God is doing through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As we see throughout this book, God is the actor, the one who is bringing about a new world order. [7]

I remember hearing Craig Barnes, who is now the President of Princeton Theological Seminary, preach.  Some of you have read one or more of his books in Sunday School classes.  In the sermon, he cited someone of authority who made the statement that there were really on three sermons.  Barnes, who was a pastor at the time, said he’d shared this tidbit of knowledge with his Session.  One of his Elders humbled him by asking, “When are you going to get around to the other two?”  Barnes may be in good company because it seems that Peter only had one sermon—showing what God is doing in Jesus Christ and linking that to God’s mission in the past through Israel while looking forward to the day foretold by God to Abraham, when his family will become a blessing to all people.

As in the Pentecost sermon, Peter convicts the crowd of their implication in Jesus’ death.  Peter uses a series of escalating verbs to increase the tension of his message.  “You handed over, you rejected, and you killed.[8]   But then Peter lets them off a bit, noting that they acted in ignorance, that they didn’t know what they were doing.  In doing so, they fulfilled the Scriptures.  Then, like he did earlier, Peter calls on them to repent and turn to God who is doing something amazing.  He returns to the Jesus and points out how he is the fulfillment of what has been promised the prophets.

What can we learn from this passage, this healing and this sermon from Peter?  First of all, I think Peter illustrates how the church should operate.  First and foremost, we are to be concerned with those, like the lame man, who cannot help themselves and when we have the ability, we’re to offer help.  Yes, we provide a message of hope, but we also do what we can to alleviate suffering.  What might you do this week to assist in reducing suffering of a friend, family member, neighbor or stranger?

Secondly, and maybe even more important, we are not to limit ourselves to what we have on hand. We are to live by faith.  Now, we probably won’t become healers today, although there are places in the world, especially on the mission field, that that seems to happen.  But even if such healing doesn’t happen, we are not to limit ourselves or our goals of helping others to that which we can do by ourselves.  We have God on our side.  We have the church and all of you on our side.  That’s an incredible resource.  We’ve been blessed with God’s Spirit and filled with His love; there is no stopping what we might accomplish through Jesus Christ.  Do we have such faith?  Do we believe that with Christ, we can accomplish far more than we can do on our own?

Finally, we’re to give God credit for all that we are able to do in the name of Jesus.  Let’s face it, without God’s providence, our breaths would draw short.  God provides us with a bountiful world.  God has given us life in a rich and blessed land.  God has instilled talents in each of us.  These can be used for making a life and for giving back in a gracious response to the author of life, the one who gives us hope for life everlasting in Jesus Christ.

In summary:  1. Help where you can, 2. don’t limit yourself, and 3. give thanks.  Amen.

[1]William H. Willimon, Acts: Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, John Knox Press, 1988), 43.

[2] Acts 1:8

[3] Story credited to   by F. F. Bruce, Acts: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 84.

[4] F. F. Bruce, 83.  Bruce draws upon the writings of Josephus.  See especially note 7.

[5] Matthew 5:45.

[6] Bruce, 87.

[7] See the quote at the top of the bulletin from Darrell L. Bock, The Theology of Luke and Acts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 95.

[8] Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Acts (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 86.


Comments

Acts 3: the Journey Begins — 1 Comment

  1. Jeff, what a great message on living by faith. Too often the Church is afraid to step out in faith and believe that God will provide what we need to fulfill His mission. James said essentially the same thing in James2:15-17, that you are saying in this message. He wrote, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith if it has not works is dead, being by itself.”

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