Tonight we’re going to be looking at Acts 3—the entire chapter.
Seriously. No joke. The entire chapter.
We’ve been coming together the last seven weeks to explore what it means to be a Jesus community—what it means to trust, celebrate and embody Jesus in the world.
And last week we began reflecting on what it means for us to embody Jesus.
We said that embodying Jesus
is a movement from the inward to the outward.
Last week we talked about the inward—
that the people who are beginning to embody Jesus
are having their inner worlds reordered.
The earliest Christians were having their hearts stirred. Their minds were being renewed.
They were having their imaginations captured by an executed Galilean woodworker.
The love of God made known in a Roman crucifixion was compelling them in such a way that they could no longer view the world as the once did.
Suddenly everything had changed.
The story they were living in. Their place in the world. The purposes of God.
It was like tectonic plates had shifted and remade the world.
Everything. had. changed.
They were saying absolutely mind-blowing things
about this relatively recent execution outside the gates of Jerusalem.
That with the death of Jesus
somehow all of humanity had died.
And that this Jesus had been resurrected—
literally, actually, physically, historically raised from the dead—
and that in this event God’s promises for the entire world were finally being fulfilled.
That God’s intentions were being revealed.
That a new creation was beginning to dawn in the midst of old creation.
It was nothing like anyone in the ancient world was expecting,
it all sounds like something straight out of a fairy tale,
but the earliest Christians were convinced that it was actually true.
That they had begun to see the sunrise of a new world.
As we’re finishing up this week,
I want us to reflect on the outward movement of embodying Jesus.
On how our muscles begin to follow our mind—
how our hands begin to follow our heart.
How restoration begins flowing from imagination.
And I think Acts 3 helps us see this.
Here we find Peter and John healing a man crippled from birth
and then we find them giving a speech—a sermon, discourse—about why they healed him.
In Acts 3, we have a speech (v11-26)
coming on the heals of a story (v1-10).
If we listen carefully,
the speech is explaining what the story was about.
In the speech we have the early church saying, “Here’s the world as we imagine it,”
and in the story we have them working to help the world line up with that vision.
So let’s read it:
(v1) 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.
(v6) 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, 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.
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. When Peter saw this, he said to them:
(v12) “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? 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. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.
We are witnesses of this.
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.
“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.
(v21) Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
“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. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’
“Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets who have spoken have foretold these days. 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.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
Boom. A chapter of the Bible.
Pretty good, huh?
MISERABLE BEFORE THE BEAUTIFUL
This story takes place a handful of weeks after the resurrection of Jesus.
At the beginning of the book of Acts, the disciples are wondering out loud whether God is about to conquer the nations and hand the reins of the world over to Israel (1.6).
And Jesus—patient as ever—simply tells them,
“I’m going to give you a particular kind of power from my Spirit—
and this power if going to equip you to testify about my name in the world” (1.8).
I’m not giving you power for yourself.
I’m not giving you the Spirit to make a show.
I want you to be my witnesses.
Just tell the world about me—
about them of the deepest reality of who I am, tell them of my name—
in word and in deed.
And so in Acts 2, the Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples comes in full-force.
In a wild whirlwind of a chapter, God’s Spirit crashes a Jewish party
(the Feast of Weeks or “Pentecost” as the called it in Greek)
and “fills up” the earliest followers of Jesus (2.1-3) so they can tell the story of Jesus
to a cosmopolitan, multilingual Jewish audience that had gathered in Jerusalem (2.4-39).
Thousands of Jewish people hear the story of Jesus—hear the climax of their people’s history—and begin reorienting their lives around him (2.41-47).
This story of comes on the heals of all that.
Peter and John (two of the earliest followers of Jesus)
are headed Jerusalem’s temple to pray at around three in the afternoon (v1).
Now, three in the afternoon was an prime time to go beg money—to ask for alms.
Because three in the afternoon is when the most devout and pious Jews
would head to the Temple for an hour of prayer that accompanied the Tamid—
the evening sacrifice (cf. Num 28.4).
And these devout and pious people—
these people headed to the Temple for evening prayer—
were also the most likely to give to the poor.
Outside of the temple gates at 3:00pm was a strategic time and place
for those who are impoverished,
those in dire straights,
those with broken bodies
to receive provision from Israel’s God through God’s people.
Now—let’s just stop and make an obvious observation.
In the midst of what the earliest church was confessing—
that Yahweh had fulfilled his promises,
that something seismic has shifted in the cosmos,
that the sun is rising on a new world—
we still find poverty and dire straights and broken bodies.
This beggar has been crippled from birth (v2).
He’s been doing this for a long time.
He was begging for blessing during the years of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus himself may have passed by him a month-and-a-half before
while he was coming in and out of the temple.
Jesus had just been crucified a stone’s throw away,
on the other side of that city wall over there.
And only weeks ago, Jesus had been quietly resurrected from the dead,
and was appearing to upwards of 500 people (1 Cor 15.6),
some of them in this very city (cf. Lk 24).
In other words, this guy has been sitting—lame and crippled—
in the middle of what earliest Christians were announcing
to be the epicenter of new creation bursting into the world.
Yet for him, it’s still business as usual at this miserable gate everyone calls Beautiful.
He’s still excluded from participating in most of the life (cf. Lev 21:17-20)—
he’s still sitting outside of the temple at one its gates.
He’s still trapped in a broken body,
at the mercy of others.
Outside—always outside, never inside—the temple courts.
At that gate that everyone admires.
He might as well be in Babylon
because he’s never getting in.
He’s still got his lifelong problem,
he’s still sitting outside stupid gate,
and it all seems hopeless.
For him, it doesn’t feel like anything’s changed
It doesn’t feel like a new world.
It doesn’t feel like the sun is rising.
For him, it’s just the end of another day (three in the afternoon, the ninth hour)
with the evening sacrifices being offered in the Temple,
and the pretty, perfect people who have their lives together are still coming and going.
And as darkness descends, he’s going to recruit someone to carry him—or he’s going to have to crawl—to wherever he sleeps.
And then he’ll do it again tomorrow.
He’ll sit outside this miserable gate until he dies.
For most of us, it’s hard to believe in resurrection or new creation and new life,
because there’s still so much that’s broken.
Because we’re still broken.
It’s hard for this guy this to believe.
Until he meets the legacy of Jesus.
Until he meets the Church.
TOMORROW’S RESTORATION TODAY
When this man meets the Jesus community,
this man suddenly finds himself healed (v7).
We hear a story like this
and immediately have all kinds of questions about the physical nature of the healing
and what does this look like nowadays?
and why doesn’t God heal everyone the same way?
But we shouldn’t miss the fact
that this man fellow is healed on more than just a physical level.
He’s no longer on the outside—
no longer at the gate.
He’s coming inside—entering into the temple courts (v8), entering into society—
walking and running and jumping and laughing and praising.
The deepest kind of restoration has come to this man.
Peter says (v16) that this man is completely healed.
Physical restoration, yes.
But also emotional restoration, social restoration, spiritual restoration.
The name of Jesus has left no area of this man’s life untouched.
An encounter with the Jesus community
has begun restoring everything.
And so Peter stands up to explain what’s going on.
A crowd has begun to gather (v11)—
they can all see that something wonderful and powerful and uncommon has occurred.
And just like the disciples in the last chapter were “filled up”
this crowd here is getting “filled up” as well.
They’ve seen something that they can’t make sense of, and it’s filling them with amazement—with ekstatis, with a strange sense of displacement, with fear.
They need something to help them make sense of what they’ve seen.
They need a broader perspective—a new imagination.
They need theology.
So Peter says, “Let me explain: this is about Jesus.”
He’s talking to Jewish people—the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the people of Jesus—and he’s recounting what’s happened over the last few weeks.
They’ve handed over the servant of Yahweh to death (v13, cf. Isa 52:13-14),
they’ve disowned the Holy and Righteous One and aligned with a murderer instead (v14),
they’ve taken the one from whom all life flows—the author of life—and killed him (v15).
“We are witnesses of this” (v15b).
But God has raised this servant,
this Holy and Righteous One,
this Jesus from the dead.
The author of life was dead—as unbelievable and crazy as that sounds—
but he’s alive again and he’s continuing to write.
There’s more story to write—
more running and jumping and dancing and laughing and life to be written—
So whatever you death you’ve accidentally chosen (v17),
in the ways you’ve been giving death to others
and the ways you’ve been living in death yourselves—
turn from those ways, from your rebellion, from your despair,
change your thinking,
Because there’s good news.
God raised Jesus from the dead.
And his name and his Spirit and his life brings healing.
Peter is talking to a group of people (the Jewish people)
who understood that their sin—their choices, their rebellion—
had landed them in a kind of living death.
“But,” Peter says (echoing Moses), “you don’t have to be alienated from God’s purposes
or cut off from his people any longer” (v22, 26).
Your sins can be wiped away.
And for them, “sins being wiped away”
would mean that this living death
(this alienation, this banishment, this exile)
would finally come to an end (cf. Isa 43:25–44:3).
This is what Moses was always anticipating (v22)
what Samuel and the prophets were talking about (v24),
what God was promising to Abraham (v25)
when he said he would bless the world (cf. Gen 12.2-3).
They were pointing to all of this.
The author of life is still writing—the story isn’t finished.
Heaven has received Jesus,
and he’s ruling over the universe,
and one day God is going to restore everything (v21).
God is going to restore everything.
Let that sink in.
God is going to restore everything.
Impoverished people. Restored.
Dire straights. Restored.
Broken bodies. Restored.
wrecked relationships, unjust economies,
corrupt cultures, abusive authorities, dead loved ones,
Restored, restored, restored, restored, restored.
God is going to restore everything.
That’s coming one day.
And the invitation is for us to participate
(in whatever ways we can) in that future right now.
God is going to restore everything,
but times of refreshment can be experienced right now.
That’s why this man was healed.
The restoration of this man is the future poking into the present.
Because the Jesus community is the peculiar people in the world
who are witnessing to the author of life and where he is taking the story.
The peculiar people who with trust and celebration are saying:
“The world’s history and your life—
these are stories that are headed to better places
than any of us can possibly imagine.
“What can I do in the present
that will help you glimpse what is coming in the future?”
The Jesus community is the community
who is beginning to imagine that God is going to restore everything,
and who is beginning to embody the future in the present.
I mean, if it’s going to be restored eventually,
why not start now?
If that poverty, that dire straight, that broken body,
will be ultimately restored one day,
why don’t start working toward that right now?
The church’s imagination leads to restoration.
Whatever it is…
despite its smallness or its bigness,
or however long it’s been hurting,
and regardless of how hopeless it may seem,
we are invited to embody the restoration of God with our words and our deeds.
To say: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth walk, leap, live!”
Historically, the church gathers together weekly not to escape the world
but to help us recognize and remember why we’re in the world.
In a few minutes, we’re going to scatter—
to all kinds of different places, to all kinds of vocations, into all kinds of relationships.
Wherever we go,
whatever we’re doing,
whoever we’re around—
we are invited to embody in the present
however feebly, however impartially, however incompletely
what Jesus will one day decisively bring in the future.
To help all those who sit miserably on the outside,
to recognize that this world we’re sitting in really is beautiful.
Silver or gold we may not have,
but a new imagination means we have restoration to give (v6).
And that makes every local church beautiful.
The earliest Christians were announcing more than just a “plan of salvation.”
They were talking about something way bigger than going somewhere nice when you die.
They were announcing that Jesus is living and Jesus is Lord.
That heaven has received him, and one day God is going to restore all things.
They were announcing good news.
They were announcing the gospel.
And despite how it might disturb the culture around them,
despite how it might trouble the powers that be,
despite how it might put them out-of-sync with the culture around them,
they were willing to allow this faith, this love, this hope to reorient their entire lives.
They were learning to trust, celebrate, and embody Jesus.
And we’re invited to as well.
This table is points forward to the day when all will be restored.
Paul writes that whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup,
we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
And Matthew puts it this way:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
There is a day coming.
A day when Jesus will feast with us.
A day when God will make all things new.
And until that day, we return again and again
to this table in expectation and hope.
We remember the mystery of faith:
that Christ has died, that Christ is risen, that Christ will come again.
If you’re captivated by Jesus—
if you’re wanting to trust yourself and your world and the world to Jesus,
if you’re learning to celebrate in the present because he is living and Lord,
and if you’re aching to the embody his future right now in word and deed,
then you’re invited to this table.