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Acts

In The Name

Acts  3

A story is told of St. Thomas Aquinas. He visited Rome (and recall that this was before the splendor of the Renaissance) where a local priest was assigned the task of showing him the magnificence of the church buildings. At the end of the tour the guide said, "At least the church no longer needs to say, 'Silver and gold have I none!'" Aquinas replied, "Neither can she say rise up and walk." I submit there is a connection between the two. That connection is the use, lack of use or abuse of the name of Jesus. Let's see how the Apostles dealt in Jesus' name:

(Acts 3 NIV) One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. {2} Now a man crippled 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. {3} When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. {4} Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" {5} So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. {6} Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." {7} Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. {8} He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. {9} 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. {11} While the beggar 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: "Men of Israel, 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 given this complete healing to him, as you can all see. {17} "Now, brothers, 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 Christ 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 Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus. {21} He must remain in heaven 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 among his people.' {24} "Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as 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."

Character Studies

It would be well to begin with a look at the characters in this drama.

Peter and John

Peter and John were not particularly looking for this man. But the story gives us some insight in their lives:

·         They are on their way to prayer. These are men who worship God, and so they prepare themselves spiritually for the combat to come.

·         Their attention to the beggar tells us at least this: they were not looking for someone rich and famous to be healed. Indeed, there is no "respect of persons" shown here.

·         Indeed, the man has been at that gate for almost forty years. How many times did Jesus pass him by? Did those who place him there simply refuse to put him in the right place and time?

·         There is one touching moment: "Look at us." Peter is not about to dispense cold charity; rather, he will heal this human after they have been eye to eye.

·         The phrase "I do not have" carries with it the meaning that one does not have it anywhere; not the idea that "I don't have it with me." Peter gives only what the Lord has given him - a point of some note!

The beggar

The beggar has just arrived for a day of begging. We know that he is a regular character at the gate, and evidently of some success, for the custom here was that those who carried him were paid for the job. It would be reasonable for us to presume he knows the tricks of a beggar's trade - including the idea that making eye contact was not smart, as it causes potential contributors to look the other way.

What's particularly characteristic of this man is what he does not know. His theology is incomplete; he has none of the usual steps of repentance and baptism behind him. Rather, Peter just turns, looks at him man to man, and heals him in the name of Jesus. What the beggar knew didn't matter. Who Peter knew mattered entirely.

The Church in "poverty"

Talk to any minister these days and it will not be long until you hear how the church needs money. It may be the building campaign; this, that or the other. But it is money that is the need. May I suggest that the church is never so successful or so powerful as when she is, in the world's eyes, flat broke? We tend to substitute giving money for the gift of ourselves. The church is not a building; we are the church. It is time we acted like it; and we have here an excellent example.

Deeds done "in the Name"

It matters completely why you do your good works. You think not? I submit the following: suppose we have an individual who is starving (and of course, is not guilty of anything, lest we become judgmental).

·         You could feed that individual because the government taxes you and takes some of the money and feeds that person. The person is fed, but you are denied the joy of giving and the fruits of righteousness.

·         You could feed that person because you are basically a nice person. You like doing things like that; it just comes naturally. (Perhaps you are rich, and it feels good.) Is there praise from God for doing what you like to do?

·         You could feed that person at Christ's command, sacrificing to do so.

Done that last way - and done so that the person eating knows that you do this because Christ tells you so - and Christ is lifted up. So which would you have? A welfare state, a transient feeling of doing good, or "well done, good and faithful servant?" And which of these three might lead your fellow man to salvation?

Preaching did not come first!

There seems to be an addiction to the idea that the preaching of the Gospel must be the first thing done. But our Lord did not say so; rather, he said that if he is lifted up (he wasn't very specific on how) he would draw all men to him. That's true at the Cross; it's true in our good deeds as well.

Some might complain that we should do such things only "for those who deserve it." But consider:

·         Does God himself not cause rain on the just and the unjust? And does not our Lord use this to teach us not to judge?

·         Suppose the opposite for a moment: only the worthy shall receive. What a tangled mess - who's worthy, what are the rules for worthiness, who's going to investigate…. It seems more practical to skip it; otherwise we spend all the time and effort investigating.

·         "Deserving" is not a moral state (we are all sinners, after all). "Deserving" is a value judgment. You think not? Consider: she's unmarried and pregnant, and needs money and help. Deserving? Does it make a difference that she's your daughter?

Sometimes this charity will not produce the results we desire; even the best of sowers must deal with thorny or hard ground. We are not even permitted to judge the results; just to pray to the Lord of the Harvest for the time of reaping to come.

Power in poverty

Peter issues no call for money (note that the early church had no building campaigns, but people gave willingly). I suspect Peter would be shocked at the frequency with which we ask for money. I suspect it would be even more so if he looked at how often we substitute giving for doing.

It is simple, really. When the church has a lot of money, she uses it. When she's broke, she must rely on the power of God. Never is the church so dangerous to the world as when she is poor in money and rich in spirit.

Peter's Message

Peter asks his hearers: "Why does this surprise you?" He's about to tell them some things they already know - things you know too.

Constancy of God

God is eternal and unchanging. Of all peoples on earth, the Jews should know that best. Peter brings this to their mind:

·         In the past, the prophets were sent to produce repentance and point the way for the Messiah to come. In all his dealings with man, God intended the Cross.

·         In the present, he tells them the facts of the death, burial and Resurrection of Jesus, things they can plainly see and remember. Just as God intended it.

·         In the future, he tells them, Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead - just as God intended it.

Those who calculate as if God would not care might take a look at the track record.

Guilt and Sin

Peter spends much of the sermon reminding them of one thing: guilt.

·         The factual nature of that guilt for them can be seen in Pilate's handling of the case. They know that Pilate washed his hands of the matter and declared him innocent - yet they still sent him to the Cross.

·         Their guilt remains even though this was in fulfillment of prophecy. Just because God foresaw and allowed your sin does not make you innocent.

·         Their guilt remains even though they were unknowing or ignorant. If you've ever injured someone accidentally you know the feeling; this is the fact of it.

The Redeemed

Peter draws two pictures: that of the redeemed and the condemned. The redeemed see three things:

·         They see their sins "wiped out." The original means to take a wet cloth to the papyrus and wash off the ink. Our sins are wiped out and recorded no more, praise God.

·         They will see "times of refreshing." The existentialist is condemned to a dreary downhill fight with death; the Christian sees the beauty of God and is kept from trouble (from time to time) so that he may appreciate the better what God has done.

·         The redeemed have the hope of his coming.

The Alternative

Peter needs no words of the New Testament for this. Moses is sufficient. If you will not obey this prophet to come (Jesus, the Messiah) then you will be cut off. For such warnings the prophets come: to tell of the Messiah to come, and to warn the people to repent.

Epilog

John Chrysostom wrote two homilies on this passage. In both of them he ends his lesson with an injunction that no one of his congregation should take an oath (a common thing in those days). He felt that it trivialized the Name. I think there is much in that; in our time, however, the disease is worse. We give; sometimes we even work, for what we see as the church - but we fail to give Jesus the glory. We do his work, but not in his name. This should not be.

Remember what he said: If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me. Therefore, Christian, lift him up in all you say and do.

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