Who Is this Guy? (Acts 3)

It is exceedingly rare to see someone’s entire personality change within a short window of time. Frankly, I couldn’t come up with a good illustration of having seen such a thing, nothing that rivals the complete reversal we see in the life of Peter before Pentecost as compared to after the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The disciples of Christ feared being left alone. That is clear in their response in John 14 about his teaching concerning going away to prepare a place for them. To comfort them, he speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit to not just be with them, but to be in them …

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (vss. 16,17)

In terms of rootedness and not drifting from the Lord, the indwelling Holy Spirit—God living within—makes all of the difference in the life of a believer. The issue now is a matter of yielding to the leading of the Spirit.

The change is no more evident anywhere than it was in the life of Peter. Just two months after denying Christ, Peter preaches publically at the Day of Pentecost, and 3,000 are saved.

Later, in the next chapter, he comes into the Temple with John, and a lame beggar calls out to them. Peter heals him – a fellow well-known to everyone there. It creates a scene. And then we read the following (from the guy who was ashamed to be identified with Christ two months earlier) …

Acts 3:11 – While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “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? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

The result? A couple thousand more people come to know Christ. The authorities are enraged. And Peter and John are thrown in jail overnight.

The next day they appear before the same leaders who crucified Christ and boldly preach the full gospel message to them, and it says …

Acts 4:13 – When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

The religious leaders tell them to shut up, and then they let them go. But Peter and John basically say that they can’t stop talking about what they know is the truth.

What is the difference?  How does this transformation happen?

Before – Peter had drifted. He had become un-rooted.

After – Peter had the power of the Holy Spirit living within; and he chose to be anchored and rooted to that power, making all of the difference.

We may often feel like Peter did after the events of the denial, the crucifixion, resurrection … recalling our failures, yet knowing our true heart of belief that Christ is indeed the only way, truth and life.  We recall some gold medal moments of life, yet feel disqualified by our too-obvious failures and weaknesses and crashes in front of a stadium of people.

How can we be used of God?

The wonderful truth is that Christ invites us back to himself, to connect anew, to return from our drift, to find new life and forgiveness in him. In that place is empowerment to do bold things in his name in spite of our failures, even seeing them turned to gain for Christ as examples of his grace.

Rather than seeing ourselves as disqualified, we are newly-qualified to serve through the Spirit’s power. Paul wrote, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…”

That quote is from the beginning of 2 Timothy. And as we end today with our two summer series, I’ll mention that we begin again right away this coming Sunday with a new seven-week study in the Pastoral Epistles of Timothy and Titus. It is to be called “Nuts and Bolts,” as we talk about the essentials of effective ministry.

In Your Face! Repent! (Acts 3:11-26)

For the second time in Acts we see Peter taking the lead in an incredibly bold fashion. Here is the same guy who denied knowing Christ just two months earlier! He is in a most public of places, preaching a message that is nothing short of an “in your face” sermon telling people that they had certainly better repent.

The miracle in the temple of the lame man walking and hanging onto Peter and John created quite a spectacle, as people came rushing to see what had happened. It was in a location of the temple known as Solomon’s Colonnade, or the Portico of Solomon – a series of columns on the east side that afforded a public place of gathering for even a sizeable group.

Peter realizes that the people are looking at him as if he had some magical power, and he immediately deflects that errant conclusion by pointing rather to the name of Jesus as the source of the healing. He identifies Christ as the “servant” – connecting Jesus to the suffering servant Scripture of Isaiah 53.

And Peter then takes off on a very harsh indictment of these Jewish listeners … “YOU handed him over, YOU disowned him, YOU killed the author of life!”  You will recall that Pilate was ready to release Jesus, having found no fault in him; but it was the cry of the crowd for a murderer instead to be released. The nation was guilty – complicit in hanging their own Messiah on a Roman cross. They blew it!

BUT, Peter softens the tone, telling them that he understands they did this in ignorance as those who did not know the Scriptures. The prophets over the years were clear, as they had predicted the coming of a Messiah who would suffer. And through this, the greater plan of God would be accomplished of a savior for the world. God’s heart for the world is evident in the final verses of this chapter where the covenant with Abraham is mentioned – a promise from God that not only had ramifications first for the nation of Israel, but more largely spoke of the universal blessings to accrue to all people.

The problem of their rejection was a big one! But the opportunity to repent from this error and trust in Jesus was bigger yet! It was not too late. If they would turn around (the meaning of repentance), they would experience a new time of refreshment of God’s blessing and acceptance.

When we think of preaching a message of repentance, we think too often of some whacky street preacher with a sandwich board, a loud voice, multi-colored hair, and the crazed look of a guy who just touched an electrical wire in a rainstorm! We might picture an activist sort of preacher confronting people at a gay rights rally or some other function – where the primary message being preached sounds more like judgmental condemnation rather than love, life, and forgiveness. And that is unfortunate, because the message of repentance is the best news out there. It is saying that, even though you’ve messed up in the most gargantuan ways, you can turn away from that and turn to God without fear that He is going to whack you big-time. Instead, He is going to be the father who welcomes you home. Repentance is a good thing … REPENT!

Peter Speaks to the Onlookers – Acts 3:11-26

11 While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “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? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

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, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’

24 “Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days.25 And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ 26 When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Something Even Better than Fishing – Acts 3:1-10

Something that was quite shocking on our recent trip to Europe was to see the horribly destitute condition of so many people who situated themselves as beggars upon the streets. Often they would position themselves upon their knees with faces down upon the pavement and arms and hands extended with a small cup containing a few coins. Totally pitiful!

But another feature was how these poor people would place themselves (or be placed by someone else) at strategic locations where thousands of people would daily pass by them. They were in the plaza of the Cathedral d’Notre Dame, outside the Vatican, on the streets leading to Versailles, and upon the famous walking bridges in Florence and Prague. At some junctures it was necessary to loop around them on the sidewalks.

Today we read about a fellow regularly positioned in such a strategic location – a man who was lame from birth. Fortunate to have some people who cared enough about him to help by carrying him, he was placed at the very busiest of gates into the Temple on a daily basis. Devote Jews would come to pray at the 9th hour – about 3:00 in the afternoon. Surely it was difficult to take one’s conscience along to prayer and worship, having to almost trip over this poor creature along the way.

There was simply no way that one could be a regular to the temple without knowing about this guy and what he looked like. He was a “fixture” in Jerusalem.

As an expression of their commitment to prayer, Peter and John were coming into the temple and about to pass over this fellow. Somehow, Peter was moved to look at this man and speak to him toward giving him more than he was seeking – not just money, but an actual healing of his condition to demonstrate the power of God.

Was God interested in seeing this many healed? Well, yes… but the bigger reason was that it presented an opportunity for yet another display of signs and wonders – those unique demonstrations of God’s power that authenticated the messengers and the message being preached. The text reports that the masses of the people were amazed by this.

There was NO DENYING that a miracle had occurred! This situation sets up all the material in chapters three and four that we will read this week – as it leads to a sermon, to opposition and persecution, to God’s deliverance, and to a renewed prayer for boldness. And that last theme will be our topic as we next gather this coming Sunday.

This must have been an amazing new experience for Peter and John – fishing pals from back in Galilee who were called away from their boats by Andrew to follow this Messiah character around Israel. But Christ had promised them they would have greater experiences than catching fish (I know that imagining something better than fishing is a challenge for some folks!). And such was truly being fulfilled, as they are now catching others for the Kingdom.

We can be bold for Christ in our day and age. I don’t think it will often be through signs and wonders. But we do have the possession of the Holy Spirit within us, and we have God’s complete written Word that comes to us with a promise that it does not return empty. We simply need the boldness to use the tools we already have.

Peter Heals a Lame Beggar

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.