Isaiah 61:1-3, Acts 3:1-10
May 26, 2013
The boys didn’t wait around did they?! This story in Acts three puts them right into the middle of the action! Maybe there was some time between Pentecost and this day at the Temple, but really we can’t know that for sure. What we can know is that it wasn’t long before they found themselves right in the heat of the controversy about Jesus. They “dived right in!” That’s what I was thinking about when I was looking at this chapter.
This story of the healing at the Temple gate is the prominent story in the first part of Acts! The controversy and the fallout surrounding it would go on for 3 entire chapters. We only read the miracle story today. But if we read the whole thing – which I hope you will – we would see how much trouble it caused. And we would find some familiar names, names of people who had been part of this whole story since before the end of the Gospels.
So what I’d like to do today is to give you a sense of the bigger picture of this story. Peter and John heal this man at the Temple gate, and then, as the story moves into chapter 4, the captains of the temple had them arrested. This was an impressive miracle, but it upset people. And the next day they were brought before the High Priest and the rest of the religious Council, and there we find names like Annas and Caiaphas. And those names should sound familiar. Those were the same guys, and this was the same council, which were responsible for Jesus death! It wasn’t all that many days after Holy Week, and now they found themselves hearing what they feared before. The disciples were claiming that Jesus had come back from the dead! Do you remember how they warned Pilate about that back on Good Friday? “Guard the tomb,” they said, “Lest his disciples come and steal the body and claim he had arisen.” Thats why there was a Roman guard at Jesus tomb!
It’s hard to imagine what it was like for those guys! As you know, it had been very tricky business getting Jesus arrested and executed! And their plans almost fell through at several points! But in the end they accomplished it. They had gotten the job done, and they had done it with a minimum of backlash from the people! They feared all along that if they dealt harshly with this very popular man, they could find themselves becoming very unpopular, very quickly!
Well, now they were finding out that it wasn’t over! In fact, it was only just beginning! We run into these guys from time to time throughout the early days of the Church. And a lot of the time they weren’t very nice. They had gotten rid of this Jesus, or so they thought. Now, they felt like they had to deal with his followers. But it was more than that, you see now they had to deal with the power of God! Remember what I’ve said before about the title of this book. Instead of “The Acts of the Apostle”s I’ve often thought it should be called “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” or perhaps simply “The Acts of God.” We can’t forget that aspect of this book! God’s power is part of the whole backdrop of the early church. And he was acting in might ways! As I like to say, when God starts something, he really starts something!
Well, the religious leaders were struggling against the power of God in this new and growing Church. And near the end of this three chapter episode, we find them meeting together, trying to figure out what to do. And there one of the prominent members of the council speaks. Maybe you remember him. His name is Gamaliel. And oddly enough Gamaliel is believed to be the teacher of Saul, who later would become Paul. And that day he voices the council predicament. He says, “Leave these men alone. If what they are doing is of their own making, it will fail. But if it is of God, you will not be able to stop them. And you might find yourselves fighting against God himself.”
Those are some of the wisest words in the Bible! And I wonder how often we heed them. How often are we more interested in what we think something is spiritually, or what it should be, without really trying to figure out if it’s something God wants. If our plans are of our own making, they will fail. But on the positive side of that, if God is doing a great work in our midst, nothing can stop us! How often do we think of that?
The perfect example of that is one we will encounter in a few weeks, and it has to do with that famous student of Gamaliel, this man named Saul of Tarsus. He was one who indeed would find himself fighting against God. And he was pretty nasty about it! Saul was the greatest persecutor of the Church, until God knocked him off his donkey on the way to Damascus. And as I think about him, I find myself wondering how long he had been part of this whole story! Was he there in this story for today? Was he in any of the Gospel stories? Was he one of the Pharisees who questioned Jesus publicly? Was he part of the council on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday? Was he one of the ones at the cross mocking a dying Jesus?
I think it was likely that he was part of all of this. Sometimes we don’t think about that. We think he just came into the picture in the eighth chapter of Acts, when Stephen was brought before the council. After all, that’s where we first hear his name! But the more I think about it, the more it seems likely that Paul was there all along. Which, if you think about it, makes his introduction to the believers after his conversion a strange, almost bizarre scene! It took a mighty act of God on their part to accept him. Wouldn’t pretending to be one of them would be a perfect ploy for finding out where they were hiding?
You see, so much was going on in these first chapters! And so much of it began when Peter and John healed this obscure lame man at the Temple gate. And through it all we have the continual working of the Holy Spirit. Thats the background throughout all of the book of Acts. In all these stories, these men (and women) did what they felt God in the Holy Spirit was calling them to do. And they dived right in!
What if they hadn’t? What if they had hesitated? What if they were reluctant? I suppose if they were going to have their own version of fighting against God, it would have been to hold back, to resist the Holy Spirit. And sometimes I think that’s our version, too. You know, rarely are we told by God to go preach to Nineveh like Jonah, or to go to Pharaoh and tell him to free the Israelites. But, do we resist the Holy Spirit when he does call us? Do we ignore him when he nudges us?
Let me ask you. How do you think these Apostles felt doing these mighty Acts? Do you think they felt scared? Do you think they felt any reluctance? Do you think their old frightened nature ever came out? Do you think they felt any of their old fears, like the fear that made them abandon their leader in his darkest hour?
What about our fear? What about our reluctance? How would this scene look in our lives? What would we have done at the Temple gate? Would we have spoken? Would we have trusted God? Or would we have worried too much about the ramifications of our actions? Peter kept it very simple here. He didn’t preach to this man. He didn’t require anything of him. By the leading of the Holy Spirit, he simply said, (Yeah Simply!) “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” And that was enough!
Sometimes what we are called to say to someone needs to be simple like that. Our fear is often that we think we have to say everything. And we’re afraid we don’t know how to do that. But sometimes people just need to hear a kind word or two. Yet sometimes we resist even that, don’t we? We know from the examples in the Bible that God can work in powerful ways sometimes with very little from us. But it’s that very little that makes the difference. When Jonah finally did go to Nineveh, (after that fish story) he only said one sentence, and the entire city responded! I love how that happened!
The other thing we often think is that God uses only the prominent, only those who are trained, only those who have the biggest voice. But again, what the Bible shows us is that he uses the unexpected people. He used a man with a speech impediment to speak to the great Pharaoh of Egypt. He used a shepherd boy to be his greatest king. He used simple fishermen to be the greatest leaders in this new movement called the Church.
In some of my favorite words in all the scriptures, Paul wrote this. “Consider your call, my friends. Not many of you were wise according to the worlds standards. Not many of you were powerful. Not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”
That’s us! And like those simple fishermen, God touches our lives through the Holy Spirit even today. I hope that’s as amazing to you as it is to me. And I pray that you will be open when the Holy Spirit “nudges” you. You will be amazed what he can do, even through the likes of us!
Eternal God, you work in our lives in ways we can never imagine, and sometimes hardly notice. You reach others through us. Help us to be open to your Holy Spirit. Help us to be sensitive to ways we might be the instruments of your peace in others lives. Make us open to seeing your hand at work in our world. For we pray in Jesus name, Amen.