Sermon \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ April 19th, 2015 \ Acts 3:17-19 \ Times of Refreshing
17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” (N.I.V.)
The early Christian church proclaimed Jesus Christ in two basic ways. It proclaimed Him through its words, and it also proclaimed him through its deeds. In our text this morning, we find both words and deeds. First, as we will see, a man was miraculously healed and secondly, and most importantly, the Word of God was preached. Because of what they had seen and heard that day, the Jewish people wanted to know more about what was going on. That gave Peter the opportunity to share God’s word. Our text this morning reminds us that that God's love is designed to be GIVEN AWAY. People learn as much about our faith by watching what we do, as they do by listening to our words. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Word this day – that His Holy Spirit would enable us to hear God’s Word, to understand it, and to put it into practice in our lives today.
From its earliest days, the Christian church, has been interested in outreach. Each and every generation of Christians has done its best to reach out, in words and in deeds. Special things happen when God's love flows out – through Christians – to the world. The early Christian church lived in the shadow of a powerful religious system called “Judaism”– the religion of the Jews. After Jesus’ resurrection, the church faced many daunting challenges. But God richly blessed its proclamation. As a matter of fact, in some ways, resistance to the message actually helped the church to grow. Early Christians took the power of the crucified and risen Christ out into the world and they watched in amazement as lives were transformed, as sins were forgiven, and many souls were added to the Kingdom of God.
It’s never been easy to be a Christian in our world. Whenever God's people reach out with the message of Jesus Christ, you can be sure that someone will be upset, someone will complain, someone will be offended. And yet the effort is always worthwhile. Whenever God's people do what God asks them to do, special things happen. The early Christians are, in a very real sense, role-models for us in the church today. Peter and John had a daily routine. At 3 o'clock each afternoon, they went to the temple to pray. One day, they encountered a physically challenged individual, begging at the side of the road. This, of course, was nothing unusual, in those days and in that culture. Back in Jesus’ day, beggars congregated around public places like the Temple, looking for handouts. Peter and John stopped what they were doing and gave their attention to the man. As you would expect, he asked for money and that got Peter to thinking:
What this man really needs is more than a few coins. What he really needs is God’s blessing in his life. What he really needs, in addition to his daily bread, is Christ’s gift of salvation and the forgiveness of his sins.
This physically challenged individual had been disabled since early childhood. He had long since given up on the idea of being healed. He had learned to be satisfied with alms – that is, with gifts he received by begging on the street-corner. When you think about it, physically challenged people have always lived in a very different world from that of able-bodied people. Things that able-bodied people take for granted are great obstacles for the physically disabled. After a while, they get used to the stares, and the prejudice. In Jesus' day, they also got used to the commonly-held idea that their infirmities were God’s punishment for their sins. Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada, herself physically challenged since she was a teenager, says:
I'm a quadriplegic, yet I can drive a van (my hand is secured to a big joystick so I can steer, accelerate, and brake). I enjoy being independent, so if there's something I can do, I will — even if it means tackling the drive-thru at a fast-food restaurant by myself.
Remember, my hands don't work. That's why, last week, when I cruised into the drive-thru lane to order hamburgers and Cokes, I prayed for the fellows at the pick-up window.
“Lord, give them patience… and give me a smile.”
Then I moved to the intercom to place my order.
When I'd finished explaining "no cheese" and "extra mustard packets," I told the voice on the intercom that I was disabled. There was a pause. Then,
"Okay… no problem."
I pulled up to the delivery window and smiled. Sticking my arm out the window, I asked the cashier to take the 10-dollar bill that was folded in my arm splint. That was a cinch. While he fished for my change, I asked him to place it in the paper bag along with the hamburgers. At that point, the server bagging my order looked over his shoulder.
Both boys, confused, gave each other a look that said, “Do you know what she's talking about? 'Cause I don't!” I smiled and slowly repeated my instructions.
They got the message — and even wrapped my change in a napkin before they dropped it into the bag with the food. Then, they handed me my order. I had to ask, "Could you please lean out your window and wedge the bag between me and the van door?" Both boys looked at each other again.
"I can't reach for the bag. Remember?"
"Oh, yeah," they laughed, then hung halfway out the pick-up window to lodge the package between my wheelchair and the door. "Are you set? Are you okay?" they asked in all sincerity.
"Great job," I assured them. "God bless you guys!" They slapped the side of my van as I drove off. When I glanced in my rearview mirror, they were waving good-bye. Thanks, God, for answering prayer. That could have been awkward, but it turned out to be fun!
Joni Erickson Tada says:
“This is the daily stuff of my life. It always involves more than simply picking up hamburgers or the dry cleaning. It involves a chance to make God real to people. A chance for them to serve, to feel good about themselves, to experience a new way of doing things.”
She then concludes with these words:
“Problems are often God's way of prying us out of our rut.”
Joni Eareckson Tada, Holiness in Hidden Places (J. Countryman, 1999), pp.47-49, used with permission. From www.preachingtoday.com
Did you catch that? Problems are often God’s way of prying us out of our rut. That was definitely true for the crippled man in our text today. And it’s true for us, as well.
Physically challenged people in Jesus’ day were at the mercy of others. The man in our Bible text this morning needed someone to carry him to the temple every day. And he needed someone to carry him home again. There was no welfare or social assistance back in those days, If physically challenged people didn’t receive charity from others, they would literally starve. We don’t know anything about the state of this man's faith. Apparently, he didn't know Peter and John. When they stopped, he expected them to give him a coin or two and then move on. Peter could see this man's need – first of all, for physical healing and secondly, and more importantly, his need for spiritual healing. Peter knew that he had something to share with this man far more valuable than silver or gold.
This individual definitely had physical needs – for food and clothing – and healing for limbs that didn’t work as they should. But this man also had spiritual needs, the need to have his sins forgiven, the need for a new start in life, the need for love and compassion and a sense of peace in his heart. Many Christians down through the years have wondered whether Peter knew what God was going to do that day. I don't think so. I think that Peter, like the rest of us, was confronted with this man's needs and, on the spur of the moment, responded as best he could – in Jesus' name. It’s important to remember who we’re dealing with here. This is Peter. You remember him. He’s the one who denied Christ. He’s the one who bragged about his spiritual strength and then failed miserably to deliver on his promises to the Lord. But now, the power of the Holy Spirit is working mightily in Peter’s life. Now, at this point in his life, filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter had a much better understanding of the power of God's word.
Peter asked the man to cooperate with him by making an effort to stand up. The crippled man cooperated with Peter’s request. And, as he did that, he was healed. By the prompting and enabling of the Holy Spirit, he let go of his problem and let God work in his life. This physically challenged individual let go of his past and let God heal him. And then, after he was healed, he went on, with Peter and John, to the temple courts. His presence there in the temple caused quite a stir. After all, people knew very well that this was the beggar who used to sit at the gate. But now, he was leaping about, praising God. So what are we to make of this story? We learn from this Scriptural account that God wants the best for people. He wants to bring WHOLENESS into broken lives. He wants to replace chaos with order. He wants to bring LIBERATION to those who are captive to sin.
Peter was given an opportunity to explain to the gathered crowd what God had just accomplished – and he didn’t let that opportunity pass by. Peter said to the crowd:
“Fellow Israelites, 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?” (N.I.V.)
Peter spoke in terms Jewish people could understand. He said that what they had just seen was not due their own power or special abilities but God's this was an example of God’s power at work. Peter told the crowd that he could never – by his own power or strength – have done this. Peter connected the man's healing to the power of Christ. He told the crowd that the resurrected JESUS had made this man well. Peter then asked the crowd to RECONSIDER what they knew about this Jesus. He told them that they still had time to change their minds. He said:
19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. (N.I.V.)
Peter also had a warning:
23 Anyone who does not listen to him (that is, to Jesus) will be completely cut off from the people. (N.I.V.)
As the Holy Spirit enables, the sharing of God’s Word leads to a change of heart and mind about Jesus Christ. Peter used the miracle of the beggar’s healing, and the people’s questions about that healing, to turn the focus away from the miracle and to the One whose power made the miracle possible. Peter rightfully turned the people’s attention to the SOURCE of the miracle. He pointed people to Jesus of Nazareth and asked them to trust him. The author of the book of Acts is making a point here. The people thought they knew Jesus – but Peter knew they were mistaken. It's important to remember that Peter wasn't preaching to ATHEISTS that day. He was talking to very RELIGIOUS people – people who believed in God and were doing their best to serve Him. Peter’s words that day were spoken in the Temple in Jerusalem – the very heart and center of the religion of Judaism. The people Peter was speaking to had come to the Temple to worship God. And yet Peter was now asking them to repent – to let God’s Holy Spirit change their minds and their hearts about Jesus. Peter told these Jewish people that God was doing something new through Jesus of Nazareth. He told these people that the time had come for them to trust God’s Son. The time had come for them to be born again spiritually – born from above – to born by the gracious power of God, working through His Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s important to recognize that, when Peter spoke, the conditions were JUST RIGHT for many of these Jewish people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. God's forgiving and cleansing power was there, ready and available at that very moment – to do its work. Our Bible text this morning reveals that, on his way into the temple that day, Peter was presented with two very special opportunities.
First, he had a chance to bring physical healing to one man who badly needed it.
And, secondly, he had a chance to bring spiritual healing to a whole group of Jewish people in need of God’s intervention in their lives. Peter didn’t let this double opportunity pass him by. As he shared God’s word, as the Scripture says, "Many who heard the message believed." (N.I.V.) Trust in the power of God’s word prompted Peter to speak. And trust enabled the crippled man to receive it. Trust in God’s word, spoken by the Apostle Peter, made it possible for individuals in the crowd to come to faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. May God’s most holy will be done in and through us – both as individuals and as a congregation – for our good, but most of all for God’s glory. Amen.
Let’s pray: Dear Heavenly Father: Strengthen us by your Word so that we might strengthen others. Enable us to seize the opportunities you send our way– opportunities to connect people with the blessings Christ has come to bring. In these weeks after Easter, renew our joy in serving you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.