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"A Miracle and a Message."

MESSAGE FOR DECEMBER 27, 2009 FROM ACTS 3:1-26

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Read Acts 3:1-16

          This morning, we continue our series of message from Acts.  As we begin chapter three, Christ has poured out his Spirit from heaven at Pentecost, Peter has delivered his first sermon and 3000 new converts have been added to the church.  And the church at this point has significant favor with the Jews in and around Jerusalem.  In chapter three, Jesus continues to work through his apostles as we read a moment ago and as we will see, this event in chapter three marks the end of a very brief honeymoon period for the church.  As a result of the events of chapter three, we see opposition to the church beginning to mount.  The chapter is divided into two sections.  In the first 11 verses, Luke gives his account of the miracle of this lame man who is healed.  In the second half of the chapter, we see Peter use this miracle as a platform to once again witness to Christ as he preaches a second sermon to these Jews drawn by this healing miracle.

          We could title the first 11 verses—Jesus continues his healing ministry through the apostles.  We must see this healing and all the miracles performed by the apostles through the lens Luke gives us in Acts 1:1 where he says that the gospel of Luke was about “what Jesus began to do and teach.”  The implication is that the book of Acts is what Jesus continues to do through the apostles.  In the gospels, Jesus did miracles directly in his physical body.  In Acts, he does them through the apostles who serve as mediators of his miraculous power.  We know that Luke wants us to see Christ in this first healing miracle in Acts because he places all sorts of markers to that effect in this text.  We see this most clearly in Peter’s response to the Jews after the healing.  In verse 12, he says to those who had gathered around the healed man, “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?  He then goes on to tell them in verse 16 that this healing was done through  “… 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.” 

          In Peter’s mind, Jesus healed this man and his first public statement about this in verse 12 is made to ensure that the Jews don’t mistake him as the source of this healing power.  The power was Jesus’ mediated through Peter.  We see other indications that Luke wants us to see that this healing comes from Jesus because he highlights details of this healing that parallel so many of the healings of Jesus in the gospels.  Here are four details that show the fingerprints of Jesus on this healing.  First, a lame man was miraculously healed.  We must understand the impact of this in this culture.  A person born with severe and congenital birth defects was just out of luck.  There were no options.  This man’s parents knew from the day he was born that their child would grow up to be a beggar because that is the only way he could make enough money to eat.  There were no medical options for him—no surgeries, drugs, therapies or rehabilitation programs—he would never walk and he would beg all his life.

          There were no other healers around who did this kind of miracle.  These kinds of miracles were uniquely hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry.  When this man was healed, he was instantly made like any normal person.  All the challenges associated with a chronic condition like this were completely solved.  He has no need for physical therapy—all these muscles that had never been able to do anything and which were doubtless atrophied and twisted—all of them are made normal and healthy.  There is no rehab needed—instant and total recovery of all the physiological problems associated with his condition.  Jesus doesn’t simply make his condition better; he makes him normal—complete healing in all areas.  No one else does this.  Today, with all the wonders of modern medicine, atrophied muscles take months of painful work to regain their strength.  This is a genuine miracle of Jesus-sized proportions.

When John the Baptist was in prison and having doubts about whether Jesus was the Messiah, the Lord sent a messenger to him and reassured him of his authenticity.  He did that by pointing to the miracles.  Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.  No one else did any of these things.  If there were others who did these kinds of miracles, then they would not have served sufficiently as a sign of the Messiah.  The last time any person received this kind of healing in Palestine was at the hands of Jesus before he was crucified.  In the roughly two months since he was crucified, there had been no such miracles in Palestine (or anywhere else for that matter) and this miracle had the effect of saying, “Jesus is back in town…through his apostles.”

          The miracle has other fingerprints of Jesus on it as well.  It was done out of compassion but also–the healing had a strategic element to it.  Although not all Jesus’ miracles were strategically performed, many were.  In verse two we read that this man was “…laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.” This gate is thought to have been one of the main gates through which you had to enter to get into temple.  We know from verse one that the afternoon hour of prayer was about to begin and so people would have been streaming into the temple.  This man had begged long enough to know that those Jews coming in for prayer were more generous.  So he plants himself at one of the main entrances through which many of them had to pass.  It was strategic both for him in his begging and for Jesus who wanted to show himself through his apostles.

This is like Jesus’ healing in John chapter five when he heals the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda who had been laying there for 38 years.  Everyone knew this man, just like everyone knew this man sitting at the gate in Acts chapter three.  In verse nine we read that “all the people…recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms.”  This healing clearly would have had maximum impact because everyone would have for years witnessed this man sitting there at the gate; lame, begging for food. He would have been one of the most widely recognized characters in Jerusalem because just about everyone would have passed by him as they entered through this busy gate into the temple.

A third fingerprint of Jesus is seen in the fact that the healing was done through the bold, Christ-like faith of the Peter and John.  Peter and John would have doubtless known of this man and known he was in a hopeless condition. There was nothing they saw in him that would have in any way given them any hope that simply grabbing him by the hand and pulling him up would have resulted in anything other than a horrible humiliation for this man and them.  But Peter and John tell him to look at them and Peter says in front of the worshippers filing into the temple around him, “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!”  Again, there is nothing Peter could see or sense that would indicate that this man was a candidate for a healing.  Jesus through the Spirit had obviously led Peter this way and by God’s grace, Peter is obedient.  For Peter to stick his neck out like this and risk humiliation from this man or the others who were witnesses to this, required bold faith. This is just like the faith Jesus showed in his healing ministry when he, without a hint of doubt, would speak to the blind and lame and paralyzed and even the dead and heal them with his word.  Peter shows the faith of Christ in this miracle and Luke wants us to see that.

As people gather and are in a state of “wonder and amazement” and were “utterly astounded” according to Luke, Peter took the opportunity to use this healing as a platform for the gospel. The second half of the passage we could title: Peter preaches to amazed crowds.  In his sermon, which is highly compressed here, we can find four major points.  First, he preaches about a glorious Savior.  What Peter says about Jesus, especially to Jewish ears who understood the theological significance of his confession--is nothing less than astonishing.  It doubtless took as much faith to say these things about Jesus to this Jewish crowd, as it did to tell that lame man to rise and walk.  First, he says in verse 13, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our Fathers, glorified his servant Jesus…”  This is remarkable in at least three ways.  First, Peter invokes the Israelite national name of God. This was their God—the God who covenanted with them—the God of their history and their heritage.  Second, he calls Jesus "God’s servant.”  This was not simply a way to communicate that Jesus served the same God they did.  “Servant” in this context carries a technical meaning these Jews would have recognized.

In the prophet Isaiah, there were four servant songs in chapters 40-55 that “present a… vision of a particular “Servant of Yahweh” or “Suffering Servant” to whom would be entrusted a special mission on behalf of his people.”[1] Peter teaches here that Jesus was in fact that Servant and his mission was to save his people by dying on the cross for them.  Third, Peter says something even more astonishing.  Namely, that “God has glorified his servant Jesus.  This would have felt very upside-down to these Jews.  Typically, people glorified God—he was not in the habit of glorifying others.  He was the recipient of glory, not the giver of glory to another.  Yet, in the case of Jesus, we know God glorified him because he exalted him to his right hand. 

Another title Peter ascribes to Christ is in verse 14 where he calls Jesus “the Holy and Righteous One.”  To call Jesus “the Holy One” is to separate him from others.  He was set apart by God in a unique and powerful way.  This was said of Moses and only a few others in the Old Testament and it was most commonly used as a title for God himself.  To call Jesus “the Righteous One” is to identify him as the Messiah.  This was a title used in Isaiah 53:11 for the Messiah where the prophet looks ahead more than 700 years and says of him, “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.   That speaks of the gospel where Jesus bears our sins on the cross—paying our penalty, and giving us his perfect righteousness in exchange for our sins.  He can do that because he is the Righteous One. 

Peter also refers to Jesus as “the Author of Life” in verse 15.  Jesus is the source of both physical and spiritual life and Peter draws attention to that here.  Again, this would have been a designation most Jews of the time would have thought appropriate only for God.  If Jesus was only a carpenter’s son who could do miracles and beat the Pharisees in an argument, the title, “Author of Life” would have been blasphemous.  Finally, he brings the identity of Jesus into the present moment in verse 16 by declaring that “…Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”  Jesus was the One who healed this man they had all come to know as a hopeless cripple.  Peter preaches a glorious Savior.  His second emphasis is that he preaches about a terrible sin.  In order to help these Jews see the utter blackness of their sin, Peter boldly interweaves these glorious titles for Jesus with the fact that these Jews had crucified him.  They “delivered over and denied” Jesus, the glorified servant of God “in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.” This is a very powerful charge because Peter is saying that this pagan governor, who had brutally oppressed the Jews, who doesn’t know God and is himself personally corrupt, saw the innocence of Jesus to which they were blind.  He would have released him if it weren’t for the strong political manipulation they applied to him.  In saying this, Peter is saying to the Jews that this pagan, corrupt governor was more righteous than they were.

They “deniedthe Holy and Righteous One.  The One set apart by God as his Messiah, they denied.  By their actions, they said to the Messiah for whom their people had waited hundreds of years, “we don’t want you—you weren’t what we ordered.”  Peter says “they killed the Author of life.  What’s even worse is that they killed the Author of life in part so that “a murderer could be granted to you.” Again, the mother of all ironies.  Peter is saying, “Jesus is the source of physical and spiritual life—and when you were given a chance to spare him from death, you instead chose to liberate one who had taken life—a murderer—Barabbas.”   It’s hardly possible to miss it more completely--make a bigger mistake, commit a more egregious error in judgment, have such a sinful and complete lapse of discernment than these Jews manifested toward Jesus of Nazareth. It strains the imagination to see how they could have been any more wrong than they were in their sins against Jesus Christ.  What they thought about the most important question in human history and in their own lives—the identity of Jesus Christ—was totally, absolutely wrong.  They were utterly deceived and in their deception, they killed the Author of life. And Peter minces no words about how horrifically mistaken they had been.

This is incredible boldness for this fisherman from Galilee--this small business owner and operator—to implicitly accuse his fellow Jews of the worst crime in human history.  But this boldness is clearly not his own—this is the Spirit of God speaking these incredibly hard words through Peter.  He softens it a bit when he says in verse 17, “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your rulers.  That says that they were not doing this intentionally, but the Old Testament treats sins of ignorance as sin.  Their ignorance does not make them innocent.  It simply means that they were not acting intentionally in the most grievous injustice of all time.  A third emphasis of Peter’s is that he preaches a Biblically well-attested Messiah.  In this message, much more than the one in chapter two, Peter cites the Old Testament as prophesying Jesus Christ.  In verse 18 he says, “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.”  The sin-atoning death of Jesus was not only something God had planned; it was something he repeatedly announced through his prophets.  In verse 22, he cites the father of all Old Testament prophets, Moses.  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.  And it shall be that everyone who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.”

From their reading of this prophecy, the Jews of Jesus’ day had been expecting a Moses-like figure to appear whom they saw coming at the very end of time when God would restore all things.[2]  Peter says in effect, “Jesus was this prophet like Moses.”  And if you don’t listen to him—if you don’t believe in him, you will meet with the utter destruction Moses promised.  Peter wants these Jews to know that, although they acted in ignorance in killing the Messiah, their ignorance was all the more egregious because God had carefully foretold Jesus’ appearing.  They were without excuse in their ignorance.  All the prophets, even Moses attest to him.  Finally, Peter appeals not to the father of the prophets, but the father of all Jews, Abraham in verse 25.  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.  God, having raised up his Servant, sent him to you first to bless you…  He says in effect that the offspring through which Abraham would bless all the families of the earth—that offspring—that “seed” is Jesus. 

The only way that Abraham could be a blessing to all the earth and fulfill this ancient promise is through Jesus who was born a Jew, a son of Abraham.  That blessing is for all the families of the earth, but God started by blessing the Jews.  Again, we see Peter making the most astounding claims about Jesus.  The only way for Peter to say anything more exalted about Jesus is if he had explicitly called him God and he basically does that when he called him theAuthor of life.”  His point here is that none of this truth about Jesus was new information.  Peter is simply saying of Jesus what was consistently prophesied about him in the Jewish Torah.

A final emphasis of Peter’s here is that he preached a strong call to repentance.  Peter doesn’t leave anyone guessing about what they were to do in response to this truth about Jesus.  In verse 19 he commands, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, and that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…  As we have seen already in Luke and Acts, a strong emphasis is placed on the absolute necessity of turning from your sins to Christ.  Peter commands these people to repent.  He doesn’t present repentance as one of several possible options.  There are no options—repent!  Again, we see that forgiveness of sin is dependent upon repentance.  Repent, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out…  No repentance, no blotting out--no washing away of sin.  If your understanding of the gospel does not include repentance, then your gospel is not the gospel of the New Testament. 

Repentance is also necessary so that thetimes of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…  The word translated “refreshing” literally means “a cooling.”    Think of a bad burn that is cooled as you blow cold air on it or pour cool water over it.  This is what the Lord does in us who know him and are walking with him.  He takes all the heat that pounds against our souls—all those things that tend to emotionally burn us—worry, anxiety, anger, the cares of this world and he regularly blows his refreshing Spirit over our souls.  This causes us to forget the cause of our burn—difficult relationships, or poor health, or the loss of the loved, one of any other incendiary causes, as we fix our gaze on him in his beauty and what he has done for us.  In that context, the things of earth lose their power to overheat us and we are refreshed.  Its repentance that brings these times of refreshing and if this repentance sounds impossible, it is.  That’s why in verse 26 he says that the blessing of Christ is “to turn every one of you from your wickedness.  Christ alone can turn us from our wickedness.  As we make the commitment to turn from our sin to Jesus in obedience to God’s word, Jesus gives us the strength to do that.

Let’s stop there and provide some application from this chapter.  First: We must, like Peter be careful to make sure all the glory for our lives and ministry goes to Jesus.  Peter knew that this healing was the work of Jesus and he didn’t want anyone thinking that he was in any way the source of this blessing.  That’s so important for us too.  The sin of Adam was to want to be like God—that temptation pulled down a man without sin.  If it was tempting to Adam, it’s even more tempting to us with our indwelling sin.  Our pride is always on the lookout for ways of making much of ourselves and one way we can do that is to take the credit for what God is doing in and through us.  We want people to think highly of us and we covet others to think that we possess some sort of elite spiritual standing—that we are remarkable saints and that is owing to something in us.  The truth is in First Corinthians 4:7.  Paul says, “7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?  We must be as careful as Peter was to guard the glory of God and work hard not to take any of it for ourselves.  He remains a jealous God.

Second, we must constantly be aware of our own ability to be deceived on life’s most important questions and humble ourselves before God.  The Jews made the most cataclysmic series of bad judgments in history when they approved Jesus’ crucifixion, yet they were oblivious to their enormous and lethal blind spot.  We mustn’t look down our nose at them.  There are doubtless people in this room who think they are fine spiritually and are in fact headed for hell.  Even on life’s most consequential matters, we can easily be deceived—our sin is that potent.  And the unexpected truth is—the Bible says that a person’s capacity to be deceived in this area has nothing to do with their intelligence, or how much education they have had.  In fact, Paul says that the really gifted people are those most likely to be deceived on this most important question.  We see that in the Jews.  No people was more prepared for the suffering Servant than they were.  No people had received more theological preparation for Jesus than they—the Old Testament they studied and memorized is all about Jesus.  Yet, when he appeared, they missed him by a mile.  Likewise, Paul says in First Corinthians chapter one, “19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 

God chooses to reveal this most important truth of the gospel to those who are (for the most part) NOT the most wise—who are NOT the most educated because he doesn’t want anyone in heaven to think the reason they are there is because they were smart enough to figure it all out.  The gospel is received by people who admit that they are foolish—they are ignorant and easily deceived.  If you are attracted to an understanding of spiritual things that is accepted by the people considered wise by this world’s standards—those who are accepted and respected by this world—then you are deceived.  God puts the truth of the gospel on the lowest shelf so that it will be accessible to every one and so that those who are highly placed and highly gifted will have to humble themselves and stoop down to see it.

If you are here today and you have not accepted the truth that Jesus is the only way a person can get to heaven because only Jesus can cleanse you of your sins and give you the righteousness you need to be acceptable to God, then you are deceived and God calls you to repent just like Peter called these deceived Jews to repent.  If your version of the gospel does not include repentance—if you “believe” that if you simply believe on Jesus but live in ways that are opposed to his word, then you are deceived and you need to repent or destruction, not heaven will be in your future.  

A final point of application is: We must worship and delight in our glorious Savior.  He is THE suffering Servant of God whom God has glorified by placing him at his right hand.  He is THE prophet like Moses and he is far greater than Moses.  He is the blessing of Abraham to all the families of the earth.  He is the Holy and Righteous One.  He is the Author of all life and he is worthy of all praise and honor and glory and power and dominion now and forevermore.  He—not the things of this world--is worthy of all of our time, energy, talent and all our worship.  Do our lives—the way we spend our time and energy and talent scream worship for Christ?  Or do our lives communicate that we and our plans, our agendas our desires and ambitions are at the center of our lives?  May God give us all the grace to live in worship and give all glory to the Holy and Righteous One for our joy and his glory.


[1]Green, Joel B. ; McKnight, Scot ; Marshall, I. Howard: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1992, S. 744

[2] Bock, Acts, p. 178.

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