Sermon: Acts 3:12-20
Easter 2 - April 8, 2018 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
I visited Jerusalem in January 1992 with a tour group. I especially remember arriving in the city of Jerusalem for a couple of reasons. The first reason was that on the morning that our group arrived there had been an unusual snow storm that dumped sixteen inches of snow on Jerusalem. The second reason I remember arriving in Jerusalem, and particularly entering the old section of the city where the temple of Jesus’ day once stood, was that there was a man who met our group begging for money.
He had an injury to his ankle that looked pretty much healed to me and not all that disabling, but he was using it as an opportunity to get sympathy from tourists who might feel sorry for him and give him money. From the reaction of our tour guide, who no doubt had led hundreds of these tours of the temple area of Jerusalem, I could tell that this man routinely came begging for money from unsuspecting Christian tourists.
Begging for money at the temple is nothing new. It’s been going on in Jerusalem for centuries. One day not long after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven the disciples Peter and John encountered a man who was disabled. His friends brought him to the temple where he could beg from those who passed by. This man was genuinely disabled and depended on the kindness and generosity of others.
He asked Peter and John for money but Peter responded to him, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Peter helped the man stand up and his feet and ankles were miraculously healed. The people who saw the miracle were stunned and amazed. They knew this man and had seen him often at the temple begging.
Peter’s words to the amazed crowd of witnesses make up our text today. Peter says a lot of really important words to the people, but we especially want to remember
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING PETER SAID
Some people have suggested that one of reasons that Christian churches in our country are struggling with attendance and faithfulness is that people are no longer amazed by what is miraculous in the Bible or even the abundant goodness and mercy of God. We have so much abundance and goodness that we take it for granted. Or we and our children have seen so many amazing advances in science and technology that almost seem miraculous, that the truly miraculous events of the Bible don’t amaze us.
Would we be amazed if a disabled person today were suddenly able to walk? We might be depending on the situation, but we also might conclude that a special kind of medical or surgical procedure helped the person walk. Cataract surgery helps people see again. Special kinds of hearing aids help deaf people hear for the first time in life.
The people in Jerusalem at the time of Peter and John lived with a lot of sickness and disability. They seldom saw any healing or health restored. They didn’t have a lot in life to amaze and astound them and give their lives hope. But when Peter and John healed this man they were amazed and astonished. People in the area of the temple came running to see what had happened, perhaps thinking Peter and John could do something amazing for them too.
When Peter saw them he told them that if they were going to be amazed they were not to be amazed that two human beings had healed this man. Peter and John hadn’t healed this man by their power. But Peter assured the people, “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.” We obviously understand that it was the almighty power of God that healed this man. And Peter made sure that the people understood that. Peter and John were not magicians or miracle workers. God was the miracle worker. That was the first important thing Peter said.
The second important thing Peter said to the people involved who this God was. And note that Peter didn’t simply say God or the Lord. He took the time to say that this was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of their fathers. Everyone there at the temple that day would have known this God. He was the God of Israel. He was the God who had promised a Messiah, a Savior. He was the one true, almighty God who made promises and kept them.
Peter wanted to impress upon the people that they were to glorify this God that they all knew, the God they shared - Peter, John, the man who was healed, all who witnessed it, and all the people of Jerusalem, Judea, and Galilee. The one true God of Israel had healed this man. That was the second important thing Peter told them.
The third important thing Peter said was that their God of Israel had glorified Jesus. God the Father had sent Jesus his Son to be the Messiah and Savior. And it was because of Jesus that this man stood before them healed and able to walk. Peter said, “It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.”
The fourth important thing that Peter said to the people was a serious and crushing indictment of sin and guilt. “You handed [Jesus] over to be killed and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.” Some of the people in the crowd that day may very well have been people who were in the crowd that condemned Jesus with shouts of “crucify him.” But Peter’s accusation was also a general accusation against the people of Jerusalem who didn’t recognize Jesus as the Son of God, Messiah, and Savior when he came to them. They were guilty of Jesus’ crucifixion.
But did you notice that Peter accused someone else? He accused the same person we accuse every Sunday in our creeds. Whom do we accuse of Jesus’ death? Pontius Pilate. Both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds name Pontius Pilate. “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.” “He suffered under Pontius Pilate.” And Peter’s accusation of Pilate is even stronger and more condemning. “You disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.” That the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, gave permission for Jesus’ crucifixion when he knew very well that he was innocent was particularly bitter for those who loved Jesus. And they and Christians of the early New Testament church made sure that Pilate’s inexcusable sin would be remembered for all time by recording his name in our creeds.
But the people’s sin was inexcusable as well. When Pilate made it clear to Jesus’ enemies that he found no reason to bring a charge against Jesus, they should have let Jesus go. But they didn’t. They insisted on crucifixion. Peter put it this way: “You killed the author of life.” Peter didn’t just say, “You killed an innocent man,” “You killed a good man, even the Savior.” He said, “You killed the author of life.”
Peter wanted them to understand the enormity of what they had done. They had killed the Son of God. They had killed God who had come into this world in the form of the man Jesus Christ. They had killed God the Son who with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit had created the world and life in all its amazing forms, including the lives of all people.
One of my most memorable experiences here at Immanuel is every Good Friday when we sing the hymn, “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” The third verse of that hymn says to all of us as well, “You killed the author of life.” “If you think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great, Here you see its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed; See who bears the awful load - ‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.” The guilt of the people of Jerusalem, our guilt, and the guilt of all sinners for crucifying Jesus, then, is the fourth important thing that Peter said.
But the fifth thing that Peter said was the most important thing, the thing that gave the people of Jerusalem hope, the thing that gives us hope still 2000 years later. “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” “But God raised him from the dead.” There has never been anything said in the entire history of this world more powerful, more comforting, more important and crucial than those words. “But God raised him from the dead.” God raised Jesus again from the dead.
Just think of what those words mean, what they declare. They say Jesus is the Son of God. They say Jesus is more powerful than all those who accused him. They say Jesus is more powerful than Pontius Pilate or any other world leader in history. They say Jesus is more powerful than sin, death, hell, and Satan. These words said to the people of Israel and they say to each one of us today, “Your sins are forgiven. You are justified. You are not guilty.” “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” That’s the most important thing Peter said.
Peter said one more really important thing to the people who had witnessed the healing of the man. He stills says this to us as well. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you - even Jesus.”
Because God raised Jesus from the dead we can come to God and confess our sins, and God graciously forgives us. Because God raised Jesus from the dead we know that the horrible accusation that we killed the author of life is removed from us, wiped out as Peter says. Because God raised Jesus from the dead we know that God will also raise us from the dead and give to all believers in Jesus eternal life. Because God raised Jesus from the dead times of refreshing will come for us. We’re living in times when there seems to be so much trouble and little hope. In this world the news that God raised Jesus from the dead is refreshing news, it’s forgiving news, it’s life-giving news. And when Jesus comes again we will know and experience those times of refreshing and renewal fully and completely.
Peter said a lot of important things to the people of Jerusalem that day. But the most important was, “But God raised [Jesus] from the dead.” Amen.