Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tremors of Trouble Acts 4:1-22

Tremors of Trouble: In the world you will have tribulation
Acts 4:1-22
Introduction:  Last week in California they had a small earthquake near Los Angeles. You may have seen the clip where the tremor happened while a news report was on the air live, and the news anchors dove under their desk – they were afraid, and I can’t say that I blame them!  The Haitian earthquake, and the tsunamis in Indonesia and Japan remind us how devastating these kinds of things can be. By California standards, thankfully, this one was just a “tremor”, 4.4 I think. But with the fault lines that run through the state the potential for another devastating earthquake is always there. They’ve had them in the past and they will have them again.  This section of the Book of Acts is going to show the church going through some tremors, and some pretty serious earthquakes, at least spiritually speaking.  Some of the trials come from outside, like we’ll see here in the form of persecution, others come from within as we’ll see with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and the complaints with respect to the neglected Greek-speaking widows in chapter 6.
       It all starts with the healing of the lame man (3:1-11) which leads into a series of tests, alternating between problems from within and trouble from outside the church:
      External test: The first arrest, the disciples are threatened (4:3ff.)
RESULT: “…all the believers were of one heart and mind…” v.32
      Internal test: Ananias and Sapphira lie about their gift and die (5:1-11)
RESULT: “…more and more men and women believed…” v.14
      External test: The second arrest, the disciples are beaten (5:25ff.)
RESULT: “…they never stopped preaching the good news…” v.42
      Internal test: The hellenistic widows (6:1-7)
RESULT: “…the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased…”
      External test: Stephen arrested, and killed (6:12, 7:54 ff).
RESULT: “…those who were scattered preached the Word…” 8:4

One theme that resonates through these chapters is that though the times of trial and testing come, God is faithful, and the church grows through the times of testing. Are you passing through a time of testing right now? Remember how James opens his letter, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance…” (James 1:2,3).  Be assured that Jesus is working, and He will grow you through it, and His good purposes will not be frustrated.
The Big Idea: As we seek to carry out the mission that has been entrusted to us we will encounter opposition. Even so, empowered by the Spirit, we must speak the truth in love.
The Setting for this part of the story is laid out in Acts 4:1-4.  The Lord is building His church, even so, trouble comes. First, the disciples are arrested.  The root problem the Jewish leaders had with the preaching of the disciples was theological. We read, “And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them,  2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
       The Sadducees were a wealthy and aristocratic group that controlled the Sanhedrin. They were also working with the Romans and were interested in maintaining the status quo. So they did have a problem with the attention the message was receiving, and the response it was getting.  Theologically, the Sadducees denied the doctrine of the resurrection. It was a case of their theological presuppositions trumping the evidence that stood there before them. They were “annoyed” that the disciples were preaching the resurrection of Jesus, and by implication, the future resurrection of believers.  This is a good reminder that we had better be certain that our theology is resting on the sure foundation of the revealed Word of God, and not on what we heard, or what someone told us, or what we always believed. I love the story of the Bereans in Acts 17, on the second missionary journey of Paul. They received the word with eagerness, and then went home to search the Scriptures daily to see if those things were so (17:11).  Whether it’s a Sunday School class, a small group, a preacher you hear on the radio, or what is preached in this pulpit, be discerning, search the Scriptures, test the doctrine against the revealed Word.
       Verses 3, 4 present a summary of this entire section of Acts. Human opposition to the Christ is not able to stifle the growth of the church. “And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.”  The scene is reminiscent of the mob that came to arrest Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane. Considering what happened then, what might you have thought as this story was unfolding? Witnesses to the arrest, and perhaps the disciples themselves, might have wondered if the experience of Jesus was about to be repeated in the lives of his followers.  They had been warned by the Master after all, “Do not be surprised if the world hates you, remember that it hated me first…” (paraphrase, John 15:18).
          Luke immediately gives the readers of Acts assurance that God’s plan will not be hindered by the hard hearts of the leaders:BUT many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). This explosive growth itself was also a problem for the Sadducees. It drew attention, and put at risk the alliance they had formed with the Roman authorities. Political expediency for them was more important than an honest seeking after truth. Not surprising when we consider what the Bible says about fallen humans. There is none righteous, no not one. There is none who does good, none who seeks after God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God and he cannot understand them, for they are spiritually discerned. Paul told the Ephesians they were formerly dead in their trespasses and sins. You get the picture? Deaf, blind, and dead (Rom 3:10,23; I Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1-4)!  It’s no wonder then that as we seek to carry out the mission that has been entrusted to us we encounter opposition!  Even so, empowered by the Spirit, we must speak the truth in love.

I. The disciples stand firm and speak the truth about Jesus (5-12). They could have backed down. They could have been more diplomatic. But they told the truth, not knowing what the personal cost might be.  Remember the story of James Calvert, going out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji islands, the Captain of the ship that carried him tried to talk him out of it: “You’ll lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages!” But in their minds, they had already counted the cost. His reply, “We died before we came here!” The disciples in Acts could not be deterred from the mission Christ had entrusted to them.
 The religious authorities, including the family of the high priest gathered to question the disciples (5,6).  The context makes it clear that this was not an investigation into truth, they certainly knew in whose name the disciples were acting!  "By what power or by what name did you do this?"  (7). As if they didn’t know! They were trying to find a basis for condemning them, their actions, and their message.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” (v.8). The theological foundation of the book of Acts, indeed the foundation of the missionary activity of the church is revealed in this verse. It’s exactly what was alluded to in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be witnesses for Me…”  That language is so familiar we could read over it quickly, without much more than a passing thought. Peter spoke, not out of his own strength or wisdom, but “filled with the Holy Spirit…”  We see this idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit repeatedly in the Book of Acts. It happened on Pentecost in Acts 2, it happens here as the apostles present their defense, it will happen in the prayer room later in this chapter as the believers gather together later in this chapter and it will happen repeatedly thoughout the book of Acts. Paul will say in Ephesians 5:22, “…Be filled with the Spirit…” The language indicates exactly what we see happening in Acts, a repeated ongoing process of “being filled.”  Remember the acrostic: We got RIBS when we believed: Reborn, indwelt, baptized, and sealed!  We are permanently indwelt by the Spirit. He has sealed us and baptized and regenerated us. But the admonition to “be filled” indicates that we need to repeatedly recognize His presence and yield to His guidance, trusting in His power to carry out the mission. Remember the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6).That’s a key point in Acts: this filling of the Spirit is linked to empowerment to speak the truth and carry out the mission.
 Peter then goes on to say,
Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead- by him this man is standing before you well. 
So Peter makes it clear that this confrontation is really about Jesus, He is the one that healed the lame man, and he says essentially, “Yes, I am talking about the same Jesus who you crucified!”  Now that is getting to the point!
He then points to the Scriptures, alluding to Psalm 118:22,  “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (4:11).  They claimed to believe the Scriptures, but unwittingly in their rejection of Jesus they fulfilled the Scriptures and proved He was the Messiah!
Peter then makes a bold and exclusive claim:  “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).  This message was offensive then, and to many it is offensive now. There are not many equally valid paths that lead to God.  There is only one way: through faith in Jesus. Some will take offense at such an exclusive claim, so as we seek to carry out the mission that has been entrusted to us we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter opposition. Even so, empowered by the Spirit, we must speak the truth in love.

II. The truth is evident, yet the unsaved refuse to believe (13-17).
            “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”  This was one evidence that should have convinced the leaders something supernatural was going on. These men hadn’t gone to Bible College or seminary, they hadn’t been trained by the scribes or by one of the prominent rabbis of the time. They were “untrained” in terms of their education, and “common” in terms of their natural giftedness.  In other words, they were regular people, yet they spoke with extraordinary boldness.  God is pleased to use ordinary people to bring the extraordinary message of His grace to the world. They could see a difference in these men, and it was connected in some way with their relationship with Jesus.  Are we different because of Him? Have you ever heard the question: “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence for a conviction?” When I see the faith of these disciples in the book of Acts, when I hear of the faithfulness of believers living under persecution, I am convicted, are you?  
But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.  15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another,  16 saying, "What shall we do with these men? …”  (Acts 4:14-16).
The healed man was right there—what could they say? Incredibly, though they couldn’t deny the evidence, they still refused to repent and believe.  We read in 4:17, despite the evidence, the decision is made to silence the witness: let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name." Don’t take it personally if your invitation to your neighbor to come to church is rejected or if your attempt to witness to a friend is rebuffed. We plant, another waters, but only God can cause the growth.  As we seek to carry out the mission that has been entrusted to us we will encounter opposition. Even so, empowered by the Spirit, we must speak the truth in love.

III. The authority of God trumps all human authorities (18-22).
And so the decision of the leaders is passed to the disciples, “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (4:18).  Despite the evidence, they do what they had decided, and order the disciples to stop preaching about Jesus.  What would you or I do if we received such an order? It will never happen, we live in America, right? Can we be so sure?
In verse 19 they answer: Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,  20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." YOU tell US, should we listen to you instead of God? We don’t have a choice!   This highlights an ethical dilemma that we will sometimes face as believers. God has ordained authorities, and placed them over us. Romans 13 and other passages make it clear that we are to respect and submit ourselves to those authorities. It is only in those rare moments when delegated authorities are clearly telling us to act contrary to the revealed Word of God that we must choose to obey God rather than men.
 “And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened.  22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old.”  The age of the healed man is given here for the first time. For over 40 years he had been lame and now he stood there, healed. Still, though they had to see the evidence, they would not believe. Why? To believe they would have to bow, and their hearts were still hardened against God.
 The disciples could have taken a safer path. But being a follower of Jesus has never promised to result in a trouble free and “safe” life.  When Jesus called his disciples He warned them to count the cost: “If anyone would be my disciple let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  We’ve heard that language so much it hardly strikes us as it must have the disciples. To take up your cross was not to bear a hardship. It meant to give up your life.  Against that background we are responsible to be faithful witnesses. We are called to proclaim the truth, and not to whitewash the truth that apart from Jesus, humans are on a highway to hell.  If you knew there was a bridge out, and that someone was in a car heading toward disaster at breakneck speed, wouldn’t you do anything possible to warn them? Of course you would.
What is God saying to me in this passage? As we seek to carry out the mission that has been entrusted to us we will encounter opposition. Even so, empowered by the Spirit, we must speak the truth in love.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? We’ve not had any major earthquakes here in Maine, in recent history. A couple of little tremors. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation…”  We certainly haven’t seen firsthand the kind of persecution that is beginning to develop in this part of Acts and that has occurred throughout the world at different moments in history. But dare we ignore the “tremors” as our society gets increasingly secular and as our evangelical faith is increasingly ridiculed and singled out?  The church in Acts faces a serious of tests, some from within and others from without, but the good news is that Jesus continued building His church.  We may be at a transitional moment in our history. Do we hide under our desk or do we seize the opportunity that we still have to share the Word with boldness. One simple, low stress way of “witnessing” is to invite someone to your home to watch the “cross” video from the My Hope website of the Billy Graham association, or a movie like the passion of Christ, or the Jesus film, and to be ready to talk about what it means to you. Another possibility would be to invite someone to come to church for a special event. Fay Christy will be doing a concert to start off our Missions Conference. Invite someone! Easter is coming, and our Good Friday service. If we embrace our mission, “to know Christ, and to make Him known,” we will look for opportunities to give a reason for the hope that is in us.   Think about that. Better yet, pray about it.         AMEN.                              

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Coram Deo: Living before the face of God - Acts 3:19-26

Coram Deo: Living before the face of God
Acts 3:19-26
Introduction: Even the recent rains in California have not alleviated the severe drought which is threatening to raise the price of produce this year across the country. The lack of water is largely looking to have a huge financial impact on the farmers and an economic impact on our country. In many parts of the world droughts can be a matter of life and death. The story of Joseph in Genesis is an example where a drought meant a famine, and it drove the sons of Jacob to Egypt looking for food. It’s not surprising that God would use the image of water to illustrate the life giving refreshment that comes from God alone. The psalmist said “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for you O God…”  (Psalm 42:1). Isaiah spoke of the refreshing presence of the Spirit being lavished on the faithful remnant of Israel,
2 Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.  3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.  4 They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams (Isaiah 44:2-4).
Jesus picked up on this metaphor in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well when he said in John 4:13-14,  
"…Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
 That same imagery is picked up by Jesus again at the great day of the Feast, when he says in John 7:38, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"  John, the writer of the Gospel then explains,  “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).
       The promise of the Lord’s refreshing presence pointed to the pouring out of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, when the NT church was born. As we look at the Book of Acts that day had come, and the life giving refreshment that comes from His presence was being offered to all who would come to Him in faith.
       As we open to Acts chapter 3 and pick up the sermon of Peter, it is clear that he is determined not to prioritize “winning friends,” or “fitting in” with His neighbors. His top priority is to clearly point out to his countrymen that Jesus is Messiah and that they need to trust in Him.  As we see this story unfolding, despite the evident hatred of Israel’s leaders for Jesus, the Father’s steadfast love for Israel is unmistakable in both the context and the content of Peter’s sermon. The context was at the Temple in Jerusalem. The content was a call to come to Him for restoration and refreshment.  By divine appointment Peter and John were at the Temple at the hour of prayer and by divine leading Peter was used to heal the lame man in the name of Jesus.  The shock and awe that resulted gave opportunity to preach Christ to the crowd that gathered in amazement.
Context: As Peter speaks, we saw in the first part of his message last week, he presented his indictment of the people in Acts 3:12-18. God had revealed Jesus, the Holy and Righteous, the Author of Life, to them, and yet they had rejected Him and delivered Him up to be killed. Now what? The next part of the speech answers that question.
       In the story that we look at this morning, Peter is alluding to a bigger story, a story that began in Genesis, reached a climax at the Cross and resurrection, and will finally reach a resolution in the New Jerusalem at the end of the book of Revelation.  Man was created in God’s image, and God walked with him in the Garden before the Fall. That was life Coram Deo, before the face of God, life as it was designed to be lived: unhindered face-to-face fellowship between God and humans, the pinnacle of His creation, made in His image. Sin brought consequences: separation, suffering, and death. Humans would survive by the sweat of their brow on the face of this sin-cursed world. But hope was extended for restoration and reconciliation, the shedding of blood allowed for a covering of sin, until ultimately it would be wiped away for those that would put their trust in Jesus. So even as we look forward to the day when Jesus walks among us in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21-22), even now, by faith, we live in His presence, Coram Deo, living before the face of God.
The Big Idea: Life Coram Deo, before the face of God, is not only possible, it’s God’s plan. If we turn from our sin and turn to Him, we can experience the abundant life we were designed for now and forever.
I. The Way into His Presence (3:19a,b).  “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out…” 
       “Therefore” in v.19 indicates a transition: based on the first part of Peter’s sermon, based on who Jesus is and in light of what He has done, the hearers (and readers!) are called to respond to the clear revelation of God. Peter is saying that He is the holy and righteous one, the very author of life, and you not only disowned him, you were complicit in delivering him up to be crucified! The need of the people was evident in their actions. In light of who He is what they had done, they desperately needed a way into the presence of God. They had committed the worst sin imaginable: rejecting the Son who had come into the world! They needed to change directions, and they needed to do it now.
      The first word Peter speaks in his call for a response it “…repent…” Repent by turning from sin. The word “repent” literally means “change your mind,” but in the New Testament usually is referring specifically to changing one’s mind about Jesus. For the Jews it meant turning from their rejection of Him.  In the book of Judges, before there was a king in Israel, we see a pattern repeated over and over. The people fall away, and “every man does that which is right in his own eyes.” If there are no absolutes of right and wrong, what’s the problem?  Post modern thinking would say “live and let live,” “I’m ok your ok.” But the problem is that there is right and wrong. There is a Creator who made this world and who owns it all.  God makes the rules, and even fallen humans know that in their heart.   
        Peter says repent and “…and turn again…” Not only do we turn away from our sin (metanoeo), our idolatry and pride and the lust of our flesh, but we turn to Jesus (epistrepho).  When I first started using a GPS with some frequency I would start off in the wrong direction, and it would say, “Make the first legal U-turn!” Peter is calling on the people to make a U-turn, a 180 degree shift in direction. We see the idea in Paul’s commendation to the Thessalonians in 1 Thess 1:9-10,
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,  10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
The same word, epistrepho, is used to describe the turn, the change in direction, in the lives of the Thessalonians. In Acts 3 Peter tells his countrymen to “repent,” to turn from their sin, he makes it clear that they are not just turning over a new leaf, they are being called to change direction, turning from their old life to a new life of faith.
       The result or purpose of this new direction is described by the phrase  “….that your sins may be blotted out…” The word that is used here was used in secular literature to describe the process of cleaning the writing off an old document, a sheet of vellum or parchment, so that it could be reused. It was wiped clean.  Paper, or writing material I should say (some were papyrus, which was cheaper, others were made from animal skins) was expensive, so it was not wasted. We waste a lot in our country! As missionaries in Brazil, we were always careful when we received gifts from the US, especially if they were wrapped in wrapping paper!  That was a present too since it was hard to come by and expensive! We would carefully unwrap the present, and the paper was put away and “re-used” later! Sarah still unwraps presents that way! Waste not, want not, right?  Peter uses this image of a document being wiped clean, the writing blotted off the paper. It was made clean, usable once again. A fresh start. Because of Jesus, God does that for us who repent and believe.  That’s the first step toward the life God wants for you. God’s word indicates that life Coram Deo, before the face of God, is not only possible, it’s His plan. If we turn from our sin and turn to Him, we can experience the abundant life we were designed for now and yes, forever.
II. Living in His Presence: the Already and Not yet Kingdom (19c-21).
        “…that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus…” The first result of the repentance and faith that leads to forgiveness is the refreshing presence of Jesus.
Robin mentioned in the History of Boothbay Baptist Church that in the minutes of meetings from the 1800s mention was often made to the members enjoying “a time of refreshing from the Lord.”  Can you say that? I hope so!  Have you been refreshed by the Lord’s presence this morning? If there is a problem, it’s not with the fountain!  He promises His presence with us always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He said “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  Even so there is a special promise of His presence as we gather together in His name (Matthew 18:20).  As we’ve studied the psalms on Wednesday nights we’ve seen that the Old Testament ideas of “shalom,” and rest, and “tob, the “good [things]” that are associated with the blessing of the covenant life, reach their fulfillment in Jesus. As we learned in John, He is the source of the refreshing, life giving water that we desperately need (John 4:13,14; 7:37-39). The Spirit was now present, and that refreshment was flowing freely to all who would believe. The Spirit was present, so the Lord was present. 
       Now the context makes clear that in one sense that presence will be more fully realized in the millennial Kingdom and ultimately in the New Jerusalem. But v.21 indicates that the return of Jesus must wait for the time appointed by the Father.  Even so the Scripture is clear that there is a sense in which He is present even now with His people. It’s the idea we see reflected in Colossians 1:11-14,   
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
 In this text the believers are already in the Kingdom of the Son. Even so we await the promise of his return (Col 3:4). In the interval we are urged to live in the light of our position, Col 3:9-10,  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices  10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” That renewal is a process, even as we learn and grow to be more like Jesus. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18).
        Peter reminds his hearers that God’s story will continue to unfold according to His plan: “…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.”  Jesus is returning, as surely as He was taken up into heaven before the eyes of His assembled disciples in Acts 1:9-11, He will return in like manner. Remember the disciples had asked in Acts 1:6, “Is it at this time that you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” The King will come, the kingdom will be established, and then ultimately the eternal state.  God’s word indicates that life Coram Deo, before the face of God, is not only possible, it’s His plan. If we turn from our sin and turn to Him…
III. The Promise of His Presence: To the Jew first, also the Nations (22-26). The Old Testament spoke of the coming One and the New Age He would inaugurate…
           Moses wrote of a coming Prophet who would show the way to live Coram Deo, before the face of God (22-23). 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.  23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.'” If there was an authority that was universally respected among the Jews it was certainly Moses, the traditional author of the first five books of the Bible. Moses was used by God to lead the people out of Egypt to the brink of the promised land. He spoke with God face to face and received the 10 commandments. All prophets that followed would be “like Moses” in that they brought God’s word to the people, and all prophets, like Moses, would look ahead to the coming of the Prophet, the Word of God incarnate.
All the prophets looked ahead, proclaiming “these days” (24 ). “And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days” (see Acts 2:17; Heb 1:1).  Peter seems to be saying that they day of fulfillment had come, or as Paul said, “In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son…” (Gal 4:4,5).  This “last days” perspective was something we saw hinted at already on the day of Pentecost when Peter interpreted Joel’s prophecy in terms of the “last days” (Acts 2:17). The writer to the Hebrews is emphatic at the beginning of his epistle, “In different times and various ways God spoke in times past to the fathers through the prophets, but in these last days He was spoken in a Son…” (Heb 1:1,2). The arrival of the Messiah indicated the dawn of a new age, the messianic age of fulfillment.
         God had been working through the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to carry out His plan (25-26). “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.'  26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness." This is a key aspect of the promise for the nations, because the promised Seed, Jesus, is the One in whom and through whom the gentiles are blessed.  So we’ll see in Acts the outward spread of the Gospel, and so that mission continues as we are called to be His witnesses.
What is God saying to me in this passage? God’s word indicates that life Coram Deo, before the face of God, is not only possible, it’s His plan. If we turn from our sin and turn to Him, we can experience the abundant life we were designed for now and yes, forever.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you come to the Son on His terms? That means admitting your need, that you are a sinner, and choosing to repent, turning from your sin and turning to God. It means acknowledging who Jesus is, and trusting what He did for you on the Cross.

       And believer, have you experienced the blessed privilege of not just coming to church to meet with God, but of living your life 24/7 Coram Deo, before the face of God?  Do you regularly experience times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord? The presence of His Majesty should motivate us to choose carefully, to desire to put off the “old man” and to put on Christ, the Holy and Righteous, the Author of Life, and so to live in the renewed life, the abundant life, for which he has designed us.  Are you living Coram Deo, before the face of God? Are you experiencing times of refreshing in the presence of the Lord? If not, why not? The life giving water flows freely from the fount of every blessing. There is a drought in California as you know, but there is a far greater spiritual drought that most of us hardly notice. The refreshment that comes from His presence can satisfy the deepest longing of our souls.   Think about that.            AMEN.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Who is Jesus? Acts 3:12-18

Acts 3:12-18

Introduction: There was a story in the news a few weeks ago of a snake handling pastor in Kentucky who was bitten by a poisonous snake during a worship service, and then later died when he refused medical treatment. Such a tragic misapplication of Scripture poignantly illustrates the truth that wrong theology can be deadly, it really is a matter of life and death.  If handled accurately, the Word of Truth, the Bible, is the source of sound doctrine.  At the center of the Bible is Jesus, and it is essential that we have correct belief concerning who He is.  Jesus is the Head of the Church, the revelation of God, the object of our faith, the Eternal Son, and the source of our life. We talk a lot about “believing” and about “faith” but what exactly does that mean, what does it entail? Believing in Jesus means understanding correctly who he is, acknowledging his character and his attributes, and trusting him alone as your hope for life. Most cults err either in not fully acknowledging who Jesus is (denying His deity for example) or they err is how His work is applied in our lives.
Setting: The miraculous healing described in 3:1-11 set the stage for the apostles to point away from themselves and to point to Jesus. John the Baptist earlier had said “He must increase, I must decrease,” and that is the attitude of an authentic Christian.
Big Idea: It’s all about Jesus: Because of who He is and because of what He has done we have hope and life.
I. It’s all about Jesus: the Promised Servant (12-13; See Isa 42:1; Isa 53).
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?  13 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” (Acts 3:12-13). 
            The people were “utterly astounded” and “greatly amazed” by the healing of the lame man.   Think about it, we learn later that this man was over 40 years old. He had been lame from birth, and was now leaping and praising God. That got their attention! But rather than looking heavenward and focusing their thanksgiving on God, they were looking at Peter and John as though by some power, intrinsic in themselves, they had healed the man. And immediately, Peter directs their attention to where it belongs, to the one who had healed the man.
             Notice Peter says “Don’t look at us, look up!” He draws on common ground with his Jewish brothers and sisters by referring to “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: the God of our Fathers.” He points them to the Word of God written as the foundation of what was happening now before their very eyes.  They were not promoting some kind of new “religion” but were pointing to the fulfillment of the Old Testament hope. When speaking to a Jewish audience the appeal to the Scriptures was very important: this was not some novelty that appeared out of nowhere. The message preached by the apostles was that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures, He was the One to whom they pointed. On the road to Emmaus, after the resurrection, Jesus said to the two disciples on the way,
25 And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"  27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
Later when He presented himself to the eleven He said,
44 Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."  45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-47).
The idea of a suffering Messiah was woven into the very fabric of the Old Testament. One aspect of that is alluded to in the next title used for Jesus.
             Peter says that God “…has glorified His servant, Jesus…”  It seems certain that the servant referred to in this context is the messianic servant who appears in the second half of Isaiah. For example we read in Isaiah 42:1-8,  
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;  3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.   4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.  5 Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:  6 "I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations,  7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.
Notice that the Lord is speaking of His anointed “servant,” He is the Creator, who calls in righteousness, who sends light to the nations, and then He makes that emphatic statement in v.8, “I AM Yahweh, I give my glory to no one…”  Peter says “…God has glorified His servant Jesus.” The implication seems to be that the Servant is also Yahweh: Jesus claimed as much as we saw in John’s Gospel: He is the great I AM.  The substitutionary suffering of the Servant is then laid out in detail, almost shocking detail, in Isaiah 52:13-53:11,
13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.  14 As many were astonished at you- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind-  15 so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.  [Isaiah 53:1] Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.  8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?  9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.  10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
            If Jesus is “the Servant,” we remember the admonition of Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus… who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…”  We serve Him by serving others, by looking out for their interests, by loving them as He has loved us. We can do that when we get our eyes off of ourselves and onto Him. After all, it’s all about Jesus: Because of who He is and because of what He has done we have hope and life.
II. Jesus is the Righteous and Holy One who created life and who gave His life, and was vindicated in the resurrection (14-15). But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,  15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”
The irony of what Peter states here is striking, and it had to cut to the heart of his hearers. First of all he says,
·          You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you…” Peter is speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit, and he knew that at one level he was guilty too: After all, he had denied the Holy and Righteous One as well, not once but three times!  He knew his sin and He also knew God’s grace. He had repented and been restored. As a nation the Jews had gone further in their rejection of Jesus than had Peter: they not only rejected Jesus as Messiah, but they chose Barabbas, a criminal, to be released in his stead!
·          The second statement is even more painful since they had done the unthinkable, they “…killed the Author of Life…” The very giver of life, our creator and sustainer, took a human nature, knowing that He would be rejected and killed. They had killed Him, but God raised Him to life. The conviction had to be overwhelming – they acted unjustly, unrighteously, unholy, doing the opposite of what God would do.
           At the same time there is hope here, grace, light in the darkness: The One who they had killed is the One “…whom God raised from the dead…” The resurrection of Jesus offers hope: Jesus defeated death, proving who he is, and showing that death will not have the final word.  It’s all about Jesus: Because of who He is and because of what He has done we have hope and life.
III. Faith in Jesus is the means toward healing and life (v.16). 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.” The language here seems a little awkward, but the idea is clear enough.
            The phrase “…his name…” of course refers to the person, to Jesus, as He is, in all of his characteristics and attributes.  The name represents the person. A little further on in the context Peter will say, “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved…”  The exclusiveness implied in that phrase may be offensive to some, but it is truth. The point here, in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, is that Jesus is alive and working. He had healed this man. As surely as He did this miracle, He alone is the One who saves.
            The second principle that we want to notice is the phrase, “by faith.” Kevin DeYoung [Daniel and Terry’s former pastor from Michigan] is coming out with a new book: Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me. The title caught my attention since it is pretty close to my simplistic definition of faith: believing God, taking Him at His word.  “Faith in His name” implies trusting Him based on who He is, what He has revealed himself to be.  That is at the heart of Peter’s sermon – He wants his hearers to know Jesus as He is, as He has revealed himself to be.  It’s all about Him! Because of who He is and because of what He has done we have hope and life.
IV.  Jesus suffered for us: Will we put our trust in Him (17-18)? 17 "And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.
            We see again the juxtaposition of seemingly contradictory concepts: human responsibility and divine sovereignty. Up until now, they acted in ignorance.  He is not saying they were not guilty, or that they were not responsible for what they had done. They simply didn’t have the full light of the gospel. Remember Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” So as Jesus came and presented himself to his people, we see in Acts, Jesus being presented, first of all to his kinsmen, his fellow Jews. The offer before them was plain: you acted in ignorance before, but now the Cross is history and the empty tomb is irrefutable truth. What will you do with Jesus?
             The truth and grace of the gospel was foretold in the Scriptures, including the prediction of a suffering Messiah. God wove a cord of three strands through the Old Testament: 1) the sacrificial system spoke of the necessity of blood being shed for the remission of sin. 2) the suffering and rejected King of the Psalms set forth a scriptural tension between the promise of an eternal reign, and the idea of the King, also called the Son of God (cf. Psalm 2:7; 22:1ff. etc.), being hated and rejected and ultimately crucified. And 3) the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, spoke of one who would be rejected, and willingly take the punishment for the sins of the others.  These brush strokes in the Scriptures which alone could look confusing and unclear, together paint a portrait of the Son of God who came in the fullness of time to take away the sin of the world. Peter’s desire, unquestionably, would be that his hearers would recognize the truth, repent of their sin, and turn in faith to Messiah Jesus. The question for them and for us is the same: what will you do with Jesus?  Who do you believe him to be?
What is God saying to me in this passage? It’s all about Jesus: Because of who He is and because of what He has done we have hope and life.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? If you have resisted acknowledging the truth, know that He is who He claimed to be, and trust Him as your Savior and Lord.  I don’t think we have any snake handlers in our midst. But be warned: bad theology can be deadly. Jesus is the Way, the only Way, the Truth and the Life.  Do you believe that? The key question we have to answer is “Who is Jesus?”  And “what should we do, how should we respond to Him?”  The call of Peter’s sermon and of the entire New Testament is to BELIEVE in Him, recognize who He is, trust in what He has done. And then, to submit to His Lordship.  If He really is who He claimed to be, how can we do less?   We come together and worship Him as we well should. We also live our life every day in His presence, recognizing His authority, submitting to His Lordship. The protestant reformers used a Latin phrase, Coram Deo, in the presence of God, in the sense of living life in recognition of the truth that He is with us always, we live before the face of God. Here and now, when we leave here, when we wake up tomorrow morning, He is with us. Do our choices reflect that understanding?                                           Think about that, AMEN.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

"By His Stripes We Are Healed" Acts 3:1-11

“By His Stripes We Are Healed”

Acts 3:1-11

Introduction: One of the most striking aspects of the public ministry of Jesus is the miraculous healing of the sick that came to Him.  We read for example in Matthew 9:35 that,  Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” There were not occasional acts of healing that happened during the ministry of Jesus, rather all who came to him were healed. These miracles were signs, evidence presented to the people, that the Kingdom was at hand, and that they needed to repent of their sins and to put their trust in Him.  Peter alluded to this aspect of Jesus’ ministry in his sermon on the days of Pentecost when he announced that Jesus was “…a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst (Acts 2:22).  The miraculous healings, like the casting out of demons or feeding the multitude, were attesting miracles that proved Jesus was who he claimed to be.  Now as we come to the book of Acts, we see the same miracles that Jesus did being done in His name at the hands of the apostles, proving that they had been given authority to bear witness to Christ (see Acts 14:3).  If they were doing the works of Jesus, they could be trusted to be speaking the words of Jesus. 
What about today?  Does this passage give a model of what we should see happening in our services?  Ultimately all healing comes from God, but not all who come to God are healed physically, at least not in this life.  Spiritually we are promised that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. Physically, we look to Him for healing, but we also know that the day will come when this corruptible will put on incorruption, this mortal, immortality.  The healings that Jesus did during his earthly ministry were a glimpse of the future that is promised to those who trust in Him.  We read in Matthew 8:16-17 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.  17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’" The miracles look ahead to the day when the effects of the Fall will be eradicated and there will be no more sickness or pain or death.  The miracles done at the apostles’ hands in the name of Jesus, like this one in Acts 3, showed that they had been given authority to act and to speak in His name. Sickness, and ultimately, death are consequences of sin and the Fall.  Jesus has defeated sin and death, so in Him, finally, we will have victory.  However, until that day when “death and hades are cast into the lake of fire” we see the lingering affects of sin in this world.  Isaiah prophesied of the substitutionary suffering and death of the Messiah when he wrote his prophecy 700 years before the time of Christ.  In his first letter Peter is clearly reflecting on Isaiah 53: 5-9 when he wrote in 1 Peter 2:21-25,
 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” 
The healing here clearly is being understood to be primarily spiritual, as we die to sin and come to Christ. Is there physical healing in the atonement? I would say yes, there certainly is!  But we are not guaranteed to experience that healing until the resurrection, when we receive a new, resurrection body freed at last from the affects of the Fall.  Much more important from an eternal perspective is the spiritual healing and new life we experience when we come to faith in Christ.  And right now, in this age, ALL who call on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10:13).
The Big Idea:  God uses His people to bring the healing, life giving message of Jesus to the world.           

I.  Meaningful ministry happens when God uses us to meet people at the point of their need (1-2).

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.  2 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.”
             First of all, notice that Peter and John went up to the Temple at the hour of prayer. The Temple was a place where sacrifices were offered, and they no doubt understood that those sacrifices were no longer meaningful or necessary.  After all, the Lamb had been slain, once and for all.  But they still went, to pray there as was their tradition, and I believe, as we see this chapter unfold, also to look for opportunities to share Christ, to be a witness for Him. Recall the plan that Jesus had revealed before His ascension into heaven: “You will be witnesses for me…” (Acts 1:8).  God has an unlikely plan for building His church: here it is, US. You and me: we are His plan!  Could he send angels? He could, but that’s not the plan. Couldn’t He light up the sky with a message: Repent and Believe! He could, but that’s not the plan.  Couldn’t He shake the entire planet with a tremendous earthquake and speak with a thunderous voice from Heaven?  Of course He could, no problem!  But the plan involved sending the Son to provide salvation (through His death and resurrection!), and then sending the Spirit to empower the church to bring the message of Christ to the world. It has pleased God through the foolishness of the message, to save those who believe. Not a plan that we could have imagined, a plan that calls on humans to believe God, to take Him at His word.
             Notice also that Peter and John are mentioned here, even though later in the chapter Peter Is the main spokesman for the apostles.  Peter who denied Jesus and was restored by Him personally, John who fled naked when Jesus was arrested in the garden, these are out in public, at the hour of prayer, and God uses them.  Even though Peter is the spokesman, it may be that Luke points out that John was with him and that he spoke for the apostles to avoid the erroneous idea that Peter was THE representative of Jesus.  The apostles as a group were the authorized representatives of Jesus.  And here they didn’t go looking for a lame man that God might do a miracle through them, but they were available, and God arranged a “divine appointment” to reveal His grace.  It’s still true that God uses His people to bring the healing, life giving message of Jesus to the world.

II. We have been entrusted with the answer to the deepest need of humans (3-6).

Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.  4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’  5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.  6 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!’"
            Most people are going through life without confronting the truth about their deepest need. I came to faith as an adult, and I can remember having moments when I wondered, “Is this all there is?” I can even remember thinking at one point as a child, “You mean that someday my parents are going to be dead and gone? My sister and brothers are going to die? I am going to die? Then what?!” I guess everyone comes to realize their mortality at some point and it bothered me, a lot!  I wondered “Can anyone really know for sure if there is more?” But usually, even as I grew older, since I didn’t have hope and didn’t know where to look to find it, when those thoughts came up I would push them aside. Remember the old Billy Joel song, “The Piano Man”? That seems to be a lot of people, getting by, having a few laughs, dulling the pain, but clueless as to the life with meaning, the abundant life, they were designed to experience. This lame beggar knew he was needy, but had little to hope for.
             Then Peter and John came along, and they acted with compassion in the name of Jesus.  We don’t have the day to day experience living where we do, to see people in such desperate need, begging just to survive. It was part of Peter’s daily life. There was no unemployment checks, no welfare, no disability insurance.  If your family had the means to care for you ok, if not, it was beg or die. And the temple was a good place to beg.  As they went to the Temple for worship, some would be reminded as they went that God looked favorably on alms giving, and hey, others might see you give and think highly of you for your generosity.  We would see begging all the time in Brazil It was such a part of our daily experience that sometimes I could just turn it off, not look, not make eye contact, keep talking to my people in the car, pretend I was adjusting the radio or something.  Our hearts can get hardened. Not Peter, not this day. He had His master’s eyes. So should we. Jesus looked on the multitudes with compassion, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a Shepherd.  He reached out in compassion. Would we? Do we? As we rub shoulders with people around us, does there desperate need even cross our minds?   What would Jesus do?
             Peter speaks, with the determination to do much more than give the coin or two the beggar was hoping to receive: “…silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give to you…”  There is a famous story about Thomas Aquinas visiting the pope in Rome.  The pope took Thomas in to see some of the treasures of the Vatican. He boasted, “The day has passed when the church could say, ‘Silver and gold have I none’!” Thomas nodded and replied, “Yes, and so has the day when she could say, ‘Rise up and walk!’!”  There was a story in the news this week of a couple discovering several sealed tin cans filled with over a thousand gold coins on their property in California. It appears to have been buried there for over 100 years. The “Saddle Ridge Hoard” as it is being called, is valued at over $10 million.  All that time, out there buried in the ground. That’s a lot of “old gold”!  No one knows for sure how it got there, apparently someone buried it for safekeeping, and eventually died, and there it sat! Whoever owned the land through the years was rich and never even knew it!
             That would be a nice discovery to make!  But listen, all those riches will fade, the comforts and luxury they may buy will only last a few years, then what? The God who made all the gold in the universe, offers us an inheritance of far greater value. We read in Ephesians 1:7-14,   
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight  9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,  12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,  14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Gold and silver pale in comparison to what we have been given in Christ. Physical healing may or may not come to us in this life.  We pray for it. And sometimes, when it fits His purposes, God grants it.  Other times, the answer comes in a different way. But either way we already have, through faith, the seal and guarantee of our inheritance—the indwelling Holy Spirit. 
         At Boothbay Baptist Church our vision statement says “We envision a community of Christ followers rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable and proclaiming the riches of His grace to the world.”   Jesus offers the riches of His grace in the Gospel, and God uses His people to bring the healing, life giving message of Jesus to the world.

III. God will use us to reach out to those who need Him, but He alone brings healing to the soul (7-8).  
And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.  8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”
            The man probably had his right hand out, expecting to receive whatever it was the Peter was offering.  It wasn’t silver or gold, what was it? A copper coin? Not much, but better than nothing.  Something else? Yes, something unexpected, more than he could have imagined or hoped for.  People consider Christ for a lot of different reasons. They are lonely.  Struggling with an addiction that has their life in chains. Their heart may be broken or they may be grieving.  Jesus says “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest…”  But what He gives is more than we can imagine. Hope. Peace. Forgiveness. Abundant life.
            The miracle was immediate and complete and shocking. Whatever caused his lameness was healed, instantly. The muscles and connective tissues which would have atrophied from disuse were regenerated and strengthened, and he not only got up, but with no physical therapy, no stretching first, he leaped to his feet, and continued jumping and leaping, and praising God!  If you ever get discouraged about the pain and brokenness of our physical condition, I invite you to take a walk through I Corinthians 15. Whether it’s a degenerative condition, an injury, or a congenital defect, for those who have  put their faith in Jesus, healing will come one day: this corruptible will put on incorruption, this mortal body will put on immortality. Do you believe that? That’s good news! And God uses His people to bring that healing, life giving message of Jesus to the world.

IV. A life changed by God is a powerful testimony (9-11).  

And all the people saw him walking and praising God,  10 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.  11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's, astounded.”
            First of all, notice that there were plenty of witnesses to the miracle since it was done in a public place.  “All the people saw him,” and they knew the beggar, they knew he was lame, and now they saw with their own eyes that He was completely restored! This transformed life was a testimony, a witness that something supernatural had happened. It was evidence that demanded a verdict about Jesus.
            And we will see next week that the miracle provided an opportunity to preach Christ.  The disciples say, why are you looking at us? This is not about our “holiness” or power or piety, but rather it is the work of God to the glory of Christ.  We don’t have to wait for a miraculous healing to tell others about Jesus. To witness is to testify about the reality of what we have seen and experienced, specifically the forgiveness and reconciliation, and the transformation we have experienced.  If we are different or if we are changed its not that we are better than anyone, or more “spiritual” or more disciplined, it is only because of God’s amazing grace that we have been changed.  We have experienced healing in our hearts, forgiveness for our sins, reconciliation with God, and we can tell others about that!
What is God saying to me in this passage? God uses His people to bring the healing, life giving message of Jesus to the world.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  Have you experienced the healing power of Jesus in your life? It starts with the deepest most significant level of healing which we need: the forgiveness of sins. Remember the words of Peter in I Peter 2:24,25, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” If we have physical needs we rightly look to Him, and when it serves His purpose He will grant the provisional healing that we are seeking. Know this, all who are in Christ will one day receive a new, resurrection body, incorruptible, unaffected by sin.  What does it mean to you that you have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit who is the down payment and guarantee of the future inheritance you have in Christ?  Are you willing to ask the Lord for eyes to look with compassion on the needy people that He sends into your sphere of influence?  I don’t mean just those who are “poor” in the eyes of the world, but also those who are destitute spiritually, desperately needing to know the gracious message of the Gospel? Do you believe that He can and will use you, if you make yourself available, to be a witness for Him?

            As we celebrate to Lord’s Table on the first Sunday of the month, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the price that was paid for our salvation. Salvation is offered as a free gift, but it did not come cheaply. The Son of God came and died and rose again for us. And He has sent the Spirit as a down payment, a guarantee of our inheritance. That is a treasure of unimaginable value! If you found gold buried in your backyard you would have reason to celebrate. If you know Him, you have far greater reason to celebrate! You are a child of the God who spoke all the gold and silver and every other element in the universe into existence! That is cause to rejoice, and I hope it is motivation to share with those to whom we are sent.                      AMEN.