Monday, November 29, 2010

Acts 3:11-16

Peter Speaks to the Onlookers
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.

Dig Deeper
There is a classic old story about a Sunday School teacher who was trying to teach his class an important object lesson that they would use throughout their class that day. He started out by saying, “I'm going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.” The children nodded eagerly. “This thing lives in trees (pause) and eats nuts (long pause).” No hands went up. “And it is gray (pause) and has a long bushy tail (long pause).” The children were looking at each other, but still no hands raised. The teacher continued, “and it jumps from branch to branch (pause) and chatters and flips its tail when it's excited (long pause).” Finally one little boy tentatively raised his hand. The teacher breathed a sigh of relief and called on him. “Well,” said the boy, “I know the answer must be Jesus. . . but is sure sounds like a squirrel to me!”

This humorous little story drives homes the point of the ultimate importance of Jesus in the Christian community. At some level or another it seems that Jesus is the answer to every question, as this little boy assumed. We know that Jesus is the source and sustainer, through the Spirit, of our life in Christ and, as Christians, we are quick to give him all of the praise and glory. For instance, when another Christian praises something we do, most of us get to the point where we at least instinctively know that we should deflect that praise immediately to Jesus. He is the one that deserves any credit that we might get. This is exactly how Peter and John responded in the aftermath of the incredible miracle that came upon the beggar from the previous section.

John and Peter have just healed a man, lame from birth, and enabled him to walk. It is understandable, I suppose, that as they entered into the Temple, specifically the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade, an area that the early Christians evidently congregated in quite often, the crowds of Israelites pressed in around them. They all wanted to see this miraculous event and get a glimpse of this formerly lame man that was probably a familiar site to those who regularly went to the Temple as he walked around and praised God. The Israelites were apparently following into the normal human trap of praising the man rather than God. But Peter and John wanted none of this. They were in just as much awe as everyone else.

It reminds me of a recent situation where a friend of mine came over to help me fix my oven which was not working properly. He called the manufacturer who told him a little trick to reset the oven and get it working properly. When he came over, he pushed a button, turned a knob, and lo and behold, it worked. I was amazed and thanked him intensely, but he was just as amazed. He repeated over and over that it wasn’t him. He didn’t even really know what he did. He had simply appealed to someone who had the proper knowledge and who had told him how to do it. In the same way, Peter and John knew that they were nothing special and had done nothing amazing through their own ability. They just happened to know someone with the power to do such amazing things. They were simply the conduits not the power source.

It was the misconception that Peter, John, and any of the other apostles were great and powerful men in and of themselves that Peter wanted to clear up. Peter and the others had no mistake about this. They were present during the repeated times when Jesus warned them that they would fail him and even deny him when the crucible of crucifixion came. Peter had vociferously denied ever abandoning Jesus. He knew that he would follow him unto death (Lk. 22:33) and so did the others (Jn. 11:16). But when the time came they had indeed failed. They faltered, they ran, they hid, and Peter had straight up denied even knowing Jesus. After his death, they locked themselves up in an upper room and cowered. But then they had experienced the pouring out of the Spirit and the power and strength that had come upon them. They experienced the effects of the Spirit that had transformed them from a cowering and defeated group of men and women into men and women who boldly stood up and pronounced that Jesus had risen from the dead and that he was the true King of the world. The Spirit transformed them into men through whom God’s power was flowing so strongly that they could command a lame man to stand up and walk in the name of Jesus and he had. So, they were under no self-delusions that they were great men in any way. They knew that they were just simple men through whom God had chosen to work.

This is such a stark reminder for those of who do so much less incredible things for God and yet yearn for the attention and accolades that come with the tiny things that we do. How many times do we wait for our name to be mentioned, or wait for recognition, and do little manipulative things so that other people will notice what we have done all the while we pretend that we don’t want to be noticed? All the glory and praise should go to God. That cannot just become something trite that we say. We need to be as horrified as Peter and John were if people incorrectly want to give us applause and praise that go to God. It all belongs to God and to steal any of his glory is theft.

Peter said that this was the work of God, period. It was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who did this. This formal way of referring to God goes back to Exodus 3:6 in the account of the burning bush as God revealed himself to Moses and told him of how he was going to free his people. This was the mighty God working through his servant Jesus. By referring to Jesus specifically as the servant of God, Peter connected him with the book of Isaiah which details the plight of God’s suffering servant (chs. 42-55), the one who would represent Israel and fulfill God’s plan to take the afflictions of the sin of the whole world on to himself and remain faithful to God’s plan. Thus, Peter has connected Jesus to the God that frees his people from their bondage and the servant that would suffer as a representative for all men, and he insists that it was none other than Jesus, the Messiah, who was bringing both of those themes to bear in the world once again in new and powerful ways.

The reality of who Jesus was, declared Peter, was extremely ironic. The Jewish people had the choice given to them by Pilate to have the Holy and Righteous one released or to have a known murderer let go. The choice was between one who did God’s will perfectly or one who typified everything about going against God’s will and going the way of violent revolution that Jesus repeatedly warned Israel against. They chose poorly and asked Pilate to release Barabbas rather than Jesus. They had a choice between one who took lives and the one who gives life as the Author of life.

The irony continues, though, in that it was not just a matter of a choice between a taker of life and the giver of life. They did actually take the life of the Author of life, but God showed who was really in charge. They tried to erase the author of life but God wrote a book that will never disappear when he resurrected Jesus from the dead. Through the power of God, Jesus thoroughly defeated death and it was their job to be witnesses to that fact. In essence, sharing the Christian faith is the reality of being a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostles were witnesses to the physical resurrection of Jesus that left the tomb empty, a truth to which Christians today can obviously not personally testify. Yet, as we die to self and enter into the life of the Messiah, sharing in his death, burial, resurrection, and life, then we too become witnesses to the resurrection of Christ and the power that it has had in our lives. That is why Paul insisted that Christians have the very same Spirit living within us that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11).

So how was this man healed? It was the power of God working through the name of Jesus. When Jesus walked out of that tomb on the Sunday following his crucifixion, God’s future age came crashing through in the resurrected person of Jesus Christ. It was in the life of Christ and his name and authority where the eternal life of the resurrected age could be found. It seems that everywhere humans came into contact with that name, they felt the powerful effects of this new and eternal life. Those who were baptized into that name would receive forgiveness of sins and God’s own Spirit within them (Acts 2:38), both earmarks of the life of the age to come. This man, who had faith in the name had the new life rush through is body and make him whole, demonstrating in a physical way the kind of spiritual life that would be available in the life of Christ. What we must never forget is that the power of that name and life are just as real and needed in the twenty-first century as they were in the first century.

Devotional Thought
Can you identify with the temptation that so many humans have to allow attention to focus on themselves rather than tirelessly direct the praise to God where it belongs? Spend some time today thinking about whether you have occasionally fallen prey to that and what you can do to give the glory where it is due.

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