I preached again last evening at PazNaz’s Saturday evening service. Here’s the basic text from which I preached. I’m a writer, so I think through writing things out. So, this is what I wrote out to help orient my thoughts. I have this in front of me more as a guide. It’s not something I read, just something to make sure I keep on track and if my mind blanks, it’s something to refer to.
Anyhow, here’s what I had to say about Acts 3:1-16.
What happened in Acts 2? The Church waited. The Spirit came down. Upon the whole gathering of believers, and they all started talking, every one of them. Folks in town heard them and were mystified.
I love what happens at the end of Acts 2. It’s not just a message about words. It’s not just religious acts, going to church, putting in our time, checking the box next to “spiritual tasks”. It’s holistic. It involves every part of our life, and includes us, by definition into the life of a community. Not a community where people all stare forward, waiting for one person to sing a little and one person to give them a pep talk. It’s a whole life change, for a whole bunch of lives.
Acts 2 ends with this picture of the grandness of God’s work. People from all over were in Jerusalem, and they heard this message about the work of Jesus, and they saw this work being carried forward in the lives of those who were part of this earliest church.
God moves, people experience salvation, they are brought into the community of believers and the church grows. 2:42ff. tells us what this sort of community was like, not necessarily what these people did, but rather what God did among them. Reshaping them. This isn’t a testimony of people trying to do good works to see God. That sort of work never works. People stay competitive and judgmental, excluding the wrong people and currying favor with the right sorts of people. That’s religious.
But, the early church was something more. They were people in whom the Spirit was working and when the Spirit works people are transformed. No longer are they people who act in selfish ways, trying to compete and fight and scramble for the best seat or the most power. No. When the Spirit works, the people who believe become the people of God who represent the mission of Christ continuing. These are people of the Kingdom, a kingdom that is now among them with the coming of the Spirit upon them all.
Remember what happened in Luke 2ff? Mary was told the Holy Spirit was going to conceive Jesus in her. That’s the first work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, and that’s the testimony that continues in Acts 2. When the church gathered, the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in all of them, and they all became bearers of the life of Christ, a continuing part of God’s mission. They lived in the way of Jesus (that’s what the earliest community was called, The Way). They became a messianic people who were in service of the Messiah, in the power of the Spirit, and Acts 2 shows the kind of people they became.
What is happening? God is building the kingdom, moving in the world in a new way, with a new people, who are being transformed. But, while general statements are good, but they’re not always specifically helpful. And that’s precisely what God is, he’s specifically helpful, not a general God for general issues that we all sort of have to fit into.
The new messianic people are not just concerned with a set of general principles or guidelines. Remember what Jesus the Messiah did? He saved everyone, but he also had a word for specific people, for specific problems and questions, for those who were outsiders and lost and had no hope.
The messianic people, these bearers of the Holy Spirit, are the same way. And with Acts 3 we go from the general work of the Spirit, in a general sermon among a crowd of general people who respond in general helpful ways, to a specific event with a specific man with specific problems.
Read Acts 3:1-16
At the beginning of this, we have Peter and John going up to the Temple. It was the time for prayer and that’s what people did. The Temple was the place where people worshipped God, and Peter and John continued to walk in the way of their earlier traditions. This had been established for generations. It was how the people, in a way, testified to their status with God. The Temple was a marker of who they were. So, those in Jerusalem went there to pray. That’s what people did. That’s what was expected of them. That’s what they knew to do.
In the same way, the man did what the man had to do. Now he wasn’t alone. Not entirely. Some other folks helped him out every day. They brought him to this gate so he can beg. He’s crippled. Now, his being crippled meant that he couldn’t worship in the same way as other people, as his family and neighbors. He was crippled since birth. What had he done to deserve this? No one really could answer that, but the implication was that someone did something wrong. Maybe his parents? People couldn’t fix him, but they didn’t just abandon him. People did something. They took him to the Temple. That’s what people did. That’s what was expected of them. That’s what they knew to do. That’s the response they, in their present understanding of life, could imagine.
So, we have these two very particular, very specific characters interacting in verse 3. The man did what the man felt was his role in life. He did the only think he could think to do. He was taken to the Gate. He was taken to the Gate to ask for money. Because giving money to the poor and needy was considered a boon for one’s own spiritual life.
In a way, getting that man at the gate was beneficial to everyone. It fulfilled a righteousness according to the Law. The people could help the man by giving him money, and the man could help the people by being someone they could give money to.
There really wasn’t anything personal about this, it was a mutually beneficial transaction. No personal interaction expected, certainly not by the people walking by. They had tasks to get to, tasks of getting to church, and who knows what kinds of sores or other issues this man had that might cause them problems.
Peter was different. He didn’t just walk by. He saw the man for who he was.
Look at us, Peter says – face to face – he was a specific person not a general problem. Peter recognized the man. He insisted that there wasn’t just a transaction, each getting what they could imagine was part of their role. There was more. There was a recognition this wasn’t just a beggar, an object at the temple that you put money into. And he insisted that the beggar saw him as a person too, not just an object from which came money. Eye to eye, face to face. The man at first played his role, did what he imagined was his part.
The man looked back. He expected something from them. He had been through this before, you know. He knew how it worked. Maybe a bit of coin, maybe a little sermon. Maybe a word of encouragement or a word of judgment. Someone was paying attention to him, so that meant that if he followed he would likely get what he could get. And what was all he could expect? A little bit of money to help him through this day, to start the same process over again.
Verse 6-7 Get up
Messianic fulfillment in Isaiah 52 and 61.
In Luke 7 John asks Jesus how he would know. Jesus gives him this list: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
The messianic people carry forward the messianic mission in the power of the Spirit and in the name of Jesus. Like what Jesus did in Luke 5:17-26 Peter does here.
Get up and walk! Peter says, like Jesus did. You know what’s amazing about this? It’s a work of power but it’s also a work of the imagination. How many days did people take the man, how many days did he ask for money, how many people walked by him day after day after day? The work of Jesus is about power but it also awakens us to these possibilities that others wouldn’t even think of. Who would have thought to say, “Get up and walk?”
It took an awakened imagination to see this man for the man he was, to see his problem for the problem that it was at its roots, and to respond to him, in the power of the Spirit, so that the man was freed from that oppression which had plagued him all his life. Get up and walk. And you know what? The man did!
Beautiful isn’t it? The man is healed. Who could have imagined this? The prophet Isaiah maybe, speaking of the Messiah, and the Messiah’s people.
Paul remembers Isaiah, because he quotes this passage in Romans 10, let me read that:
13 “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
This isn’t a passage that is a burden on us. Now go and preach and hunt people down. Go and make transactions so that you can feel good about doing your religious service. Go find targets and objects to make yourself feel like you’re doing something. No!
The message here in Acts 3 is that this is something the Spirit does in us. Look at what happened. Peter and John were just doing what they were doing, and they saw a specific man with a specific need, and they saw him as a man, a real person who was part of the work of Christ, invited into the kingdom. He was an outsider. They invited him, in the name of Jesus.
For the sake of Christ, they participated with Christ, because Christ wanted to see this man part of his community. This stuff we saw at the end of Acts 2 carries into Acts 3. A man who couldn’t take himself, was brought by Peter and John into this new community. A new way of living in light of the hope in Jesus that is so far beyond what anyone could expect or imagine that they all marvel. And the man who was put at the beautiful gate, stood on what became beautiful feet and he preached his miracles to everyone who heard. The Word of God went forth in power.
How beautiful! The spirit is upon them all. And lives are changed in radical ways, in holistic ways, in ways which pulls people into this community of transformed and transforming men and women, rather than separating them out. Calling the broken and rejected and outsiders, precisely because it is these people who can’t even imagine what life could be like, and so are given a new view of a new life. This is the imagination of the Spirit who awakens people to really see, to really live, to be a messianic people who give living hope to sad, discouraged, or just plain unimaginative people. We do what we think we should do, what we can do, what we think is expected of us.
But the power of the Spirit says to us, “Get up and walk!”
This man was a testimony. So too our lives a testimony in different ways, if we live in the new imagination of the Spirit that awakens the possibilities of those around us.
Peter’s sermon here says this isn’t just about the crippled man. This about the story of what happened to Jesus. This is about sin that led to Jesus being crucified. Peter heals the man and then reminds the people what their story is like.
Are they better than a man who couldn’t walk, just because they had jobs, or titles, wealth or power. No. Not at all. Look at what they did to Jesus.
Let’s look at Peter himself more closely. Remember the Peter from the Gospels?
This isn’t just a testimony about what those other people did, it’s a testimony that includes Peter. Who is the one who denied knowing Jesus when Jesus was at trial. Peter. Peter was part of all this, and was part of the whole story of what happened to Jesus that led to the cross. All that betrayal and all that denial and all that evil that led to the crucifixion. That’s the story.
People did that because they thought Jesus was a pretender, they thought Jesus was going to get them in trouble with Rome. They thought they were serving God by punishing a man who hadn’t done any wrong. They saw their own understanding of God. They saw Rome. And they didn’t believe Jesus to be who he said he was.
What does that mean for us? We’re so often the same way, depending on what we think will get us by, and not seeing what we really need. Or knowing what we really need but not having any idea how it could work out better than it is.
Not even Peter would admit to knowing Jesus, because Jesus didn’t turn out to be who Peter thought he was.
Peter, before the resurrection, didn’t have an imagination. He was awakened.
The Spirit did a work and here we see Peter, in the Temple before all the people, speaking in the name of Jesus, his representative, Peter doesn’t deny Jesus he identifies with Jesus as the source of the power that puts wrongs to right. That’s the Spirit.
The power of the Spirit pointing always towards Jesus. The power of the Spirit created a new messianic people who ministered in the name of Jesus, which wasn’t just a name but a new way of life, of hope, of imagination. It is in the name of Jesus that we see the community being the community we saw at the end of Acts 2, because they were oriented towards Jesus not towards their own demands.
It is in the name of Jesus that we see the man who could not walk, walk. Everyone participated in this understanding that the world was as it was, just have to deal with it. But the world isn’t that way. The world in the name of Jesus is something bigger, something more, something better.
Jesus awakens us to a new reality and the Spirit brings it to reality, a new way of being in the world, a way where the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” This work is particular and general, working broadly in lots of lives and specifically in each person’s life. Do we recognize that? It is physical and spiritual, changing hearts and minds, but also changing how we live life.
This isn’t a testimony of something later on. This is a work of power even now, changing our whole imagination for what is possible in this present, and giving us the ability to take hold of those possibilities.
This is a holistic change that affects all of us, because the name of Jesus reaches into our lives and transforms us from being people who can’t see or do, to being people who speak and walk in his name
The righteousness that comes from the Law leads people to do what was expected of them. To do what they knew to do. To separate, to isolate, to live narrow lives with narrow expectations.
The righteousness that comes from Jesus expands our reality so that we can live in a new way with and for others. That’s a reality that is calling to us right now. Get up and walk. In the name of Jesus.
1 The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come,
he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
Let us walk in this way