Can’t Help It: Sermon by Keith, 6.16.13, Acts Sermon Series

Text: Acts 4:1-22

Peter and John were standing on holy ground.  Just a few weeks previous, Peter had stood outside the gates of this same room that he now found himself standing in the middle of.  The same people as before were there today; Annas, Caiaphas, and the rest of the high priestly family.  Then, Peter watched as Jesus was tried and condemned for blasphemy and sent to Pilate for execution.  And Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times that day, ashamed that Jesus wasn’t measuring up to be the Messiah he had hoped.  But things had changed since that day.  Things had changed a lot.  Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended into heaven.  The Holy Spirit had come blowing into Jerusalem like a mighty rushing wind allowing for Jews from distant lands to hear in their own languages the good news of Christ’s resurrection.  A new community of the church was growing, responding to the Spirit in their midst.  And now Peter and John had healed a lame man in the name of Jesus Christ.

“By what power or by what name did you do this?”  In asking this question, the temple leaders were attempting to determine what side of the theological/political line that Peter and John stood.  And it was an important question.  On the theological side, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body, but they were also the ones who held the power in Jerusalem.  They could not help but take note of the new 5000 followers of Jesus, and they knew the Romans would take note as well.

But Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly turns their question around, making it about the good deed represented by the person that is now standing with him and John before the council.  Many of the priestly family had walked by this man their entire lives as they came into the temple.  They had even given alms to him many, many times.  There is no argument or hoax going on.  This man is healed.  And Peter clearly gives the name of Jesus, “whom you crucified, and whom God raised from the dead,” as the power responsible for raising this man up.  Peter is no longer ashamed to call Christ the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel.  And then Peter gives the temple council an invitation.  In letting them know that Jesus is the cornerstone they have rejected, he is inviting them to accept and receive Jesus as Israel’s promised salvation.   But instead of heeding the call to follow Jesus and the salvation found only in him, the temple council becomes fixed on the boldness of both of these uneducated, ordinary men.

Boldness.  What does it look like to be bold for Christ?  I think for many of us, we don’t like the picture that jumps to our minds.  We image of brash, obnoxious people, trying to strong-arm others into believing the Christian faith.  I met a college professor in Texas that had grown up in a tradition where it was considered to be every member of his church’s responsibility to convert as many people as possible.  Everyone was a potential convert.  And “being converted” meant they went to that particular brand of Christianity.  Now, this wasn’t so bad for him as a child and youth because he was basically surrounded by people from his church.  They were ok.  But then he went to college, he was surrounded by heathens.  And just knowing that he was supposed to ‘convert’ these people started eating him up inside.  It led to a life of a recluse.  He would even go to the laundry mat at 2AM to do his laundry, praying as he went that no one would be there so he wouldn’t have to make a convert.    And if someone was there, he would turn around and go back home.

So what does it look like to be bold in the faith?  It can’t be something that eats us up on the inside and afraid to be around others.  There is a difference between being bold and being coercive or even violent with the faith.  And Peter demonstrates a Holy Spirit-produced boldness to preach, teach, and heal in the name and authority of Jesus Christ.  And that is summed up when he says, “There is no salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

Now this passage has been used to create an “I’m in and you’re not” mentality and exclude groups and people, especially people of other faiths.  Maybe it can say that if you rip it off the page and try to have it stand alone as a solitary passage.  But in the larger story, it says something different.  Peter is saying, first and foremost, that the healing isn’t about him.  But Peter, you healed a man!  No I didn’t.  At a time when healers were running a round claiming to have power to do miraculous things, Peter was saying that healing had came through Jesus and that healing can only come through Jesus.  If you look at Peter’s credentials, he was a nobody fisherman from Galilee who rejected his teacher.  The healing could only be about the Holy Spirit moving in and through him.  If it was about credentials, that temple council should have been making some healing happen.  So, friends, it isn’t about who you are or where you are from, how long you have been a member of the church, or even what is on your resume.  If what you have done or are doing is not in response to what God in Christ is doing in your life, it is for nothing.

Peter is also saying it isn’t about the institution of the temple.  The temple didn’t save anyone.  And likewise the church doesn’t save anyone.  God in Christ does the saving.  It’s about the living God that is encountered in the sanctuary of the temple and in the church that offers salvation.  It is about the Holy Spirit spilling out of the doors of the church and into our neighborhood and communities that does the saving.  And God seems to want to use us, the church, so others can embrace his salvation.

But Peter also opens wide our understanding of salvation.  The term salvation as Peter uses it has a wide range of meanings including physical healing, rescue from bondage, and spiritual healing.  In fact, most biblical scholars believe that the idea of “going to heaven” when we think about salvation wasn’t even on Peter’s radar when he said that salvation can only come in the name of Jesus.  Peter was living in the Kingdom of God at that very moment, and he was inviting the temple council to join him.  For Peter, the idea of salvation was the restoration of broken relationships.  The man who God had healed could never go farther than the temple gates for 40 years.  Now, no one could hold him back.  His relationship with the community and with God was now made whole.  He was saved.

So to be bold in your faith of Christ is first to embrace who God is, what God has done, and what God will do.  God is our loving creator who stepped out of eternity in Jesus Christ to mend the relationship between God and humanity.  And Jesus continues to be with and within us in the Holy Spirit.  And it is through the Holy Spirit working in us that Christ continually is reconciling us to one another and to God.   To be bold is not just handing someone a tract with a prayer in it and telling them that is what they need to get to heaven and ignoring their empty stomach.  Nor is it just handing someone a plate of food and walking away.  God in Christ by the Spirit is calling us to be concerned about the spiritual and physical needs of others so salvation can take place.   And salvation always begins with relationship building and relationship mending.  We sit with people, we hear their stories, and we learn of their needs and we share ourselves.  And God will do the saving, because in sharing ourselves, we share Christ, because Christ is ever present and moving with us and it is through us people get their first glimpse of a relationship with Christ.

The man who was healed wasn’t the only one who found salvation that day.  I think Peter did, too, by standing in that same court where Jesus had just recently stood, and boldly sharing the good news of the salvation that is found only in Christ.  Friends, we too stand where Christ stands, because he is here with us.  He calls us to follow him, to boldly share ourselves with others in his name’s sake so they too may come to know him and live restored, healed lives.  He offers salvation to the world through us.  Amen.

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