Acts 3:1 – 4:31
We’re looking at a rather large section of scripture this morning (1½ chapters), but it is a single chain of events that occurs over about a 24 hour period that illustrates the impact and the consequences of the preaching of the gospel.
You know the rules – never make eye contact. If you ignore them, they’ll go away. Well, at least you won’t have their eyes staring back at you, making you feel guilty. For all of his adult life, this man had spent his days begging for a few cents here and there, but more than that, hoping for a glance of compassion – compassion, not pity – somebody who cared.
It began on an afternoon not long after the birth of the church – perhaps a few days, as much as a few weeks – Acts 3:1-8 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.
Now that is remarkable in itself. But a miraculous healing suddenly becomes a much bigger event – Acts 3:9-11 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.
This crowd that has gathered to see a spectacle, now becomes an audience for the proclamation of the gospel – Acts 3:12-20 When 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? The 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. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By 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. “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. The sermon goes on – quoting Moses, referencing Samuel, highlighting Abraham – grounding Jesus in the foundation of scripture.
We’ve seen it before. In Acts 2. On the day of Pentecost. A miraculous event. The crowds come rushing in amazement to see what’s going on. Peter stands, and begins to tell them about Jesus – this Jesus, prophesied in their scriptures, whom God sent to save them, whom they had rejected and crucified, who now is their only hope of salvation.
In Acts 2, we see an unprecedented response as 3,000 come in repentance to be baptized and become the newborn church. In Acts 4, the response goes in two distinct directions. In vs 4, we see the same response as Acts 2 – “…many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.”
But there is another side of the response – Acts 4:1-3 The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
On the day of Pentecost, it came out of the blue. No warning, no precedent – the Jewish leaders thought they had rid themselves of this nuisance, Jesus. Suddenly, his little band of troublemakers has grown exponentially into the thousands. Their success continues as every day they watch them gaining new converts – every day, thousands of disciples meeting in the Temple courts. This is more than a nuisance and it must be stopped.
The news comes – they’ve healed a man and the crowds are going wild – this could spiral out of control. They rush to the scene and have Peter and John arrested. Let them cool their heels in jail overnight – that ought to make them think – (they obviously don’t know Peter and John). Persecution becomes opportunity. Even as Peter and John are being dragged away in chains, the crowd is headed for the river for 2,000 more baptisms.
When the next day arrives, a familiar cast of characters assembles to decide Peter and John’s fate – Caiphas, Annas, rulers, elders, teachers of the law, the high priest’s family – they’re all there. Déjà vu – didn’t we just do this a few weeks ago with the trial of Jesus? They look at Peter and John, and they don’t see much – obviously ordinary, unschooled, yokels from the back woods – this shouldn’t take much. And as they did in the trial of Jesus, they try to intimidate them – “By what power or what name did you do this?”
And what they get knocks them on their heels – Acts 4:8-12 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
These aren’t frightened, intimidated hicks from the sticks. These are men filled with courage and confidence and obviously ready for a fight. I love what Luke says in vs. 13 – “they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
They are beaten – the power of Peter’s response, the evidence of the healed man standing there – vss. 14-16 says, “there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. ‘What are we going to do with these men?’”
You know what they did – they did what you do when you don’t have a leg to stand on – they threatened them – “don’t speak or teach in the name of Jesus ever again.”
Bless their hearts, Peter and John couldn’t leave well enough alone. They can’t just say thank you and make their getaway. They look them in the eyes and say, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Ouch!
But let me tell you right now, that ought to be our battle cry – “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Regardless of the threats, or the risks, or the consequences or the fallout, the message of what Jesus is doing in our lives should be so powerful it cannot be silenced.
Peter and John go back to the disciples – they find them praying – they report everything that was said, and vs. 24 says, “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” And when they finished praying, the Holy Spirit said, “Amen!” – vs. 31 “the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”
This will be the first in a series of confrontations, in which the response of the Jews will become more hostile, more organized, less concerned with public opinion. It will escalate, and the gospel will be challenged and when the moment comes, the disciples will look death in the face and cry out, “nothing will stop the gospel.”
You don’t do that because you’ve found a comfortable church with convenient service times and friendly folks. You don’t even do that because you’ve been a member of the church for forty years and never miss a worship service. You do that because the gospel of Jesus Christ has so profoundly changed your life, that you would give your life for it.
Can we possibly grasp the intensity of their faith and their willingness to live and die for Christ? Have you, like the crippled man at the gate been given healing and wholeness and found your joy unquenchable over the gift you have been given? Have you experienced the powerful resolve that comes when you have dedicated your life to sharing the message of Jesus? Those weren’t extraordinary events in the life of these Christians – that was their life – and that can be our life as well.
What do you do when someone questions your faith or challenges your convictions?
Number one – is your faith out front where it can be questioned? Are your convictions strong enough that someone will find them offensive enough to challenge? When Jesus said you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, part of what that implies is that salt rubbed in the raw wounds of the world is going to cause pain. Light, suddenly flipped on in the darkness is going to cause irritation.
Paul wrote to Timothy that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
Don’t hide your faith, don’t keep it to yourself. I’m not talking about being overbearing or obnoxious, but transparent and genuine. You may be God’s only instrument, his only witness in the place where you work, or the school where you go. Be God’s person – let your faith be obvious. Make Peter’s words your words – “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
And when challenges and obstacles come, don’t shrink back, don’t be afraid. Peter and John were just common, ordinary men, but their courage and confidence came from having been with Jesus. Don’t be afraid of not being able to answer all questions or debate your accusers. This isn’t a battle of intellect, but a forum for your faith. Talk about what God is doing in your life, what strength you are receiving.
But more than that, what needs to shine through is your relationship with Jesus – that you spend time with him – that you know him personally. You may not be able to debate predestination, but it’s hard to argue with a life that has been transformed by being in the presence of Jesus.
Posted on Sun, March 28, 2010
by John Roberts