The people who proclaim - evangelism - Acts 3

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 5th July 2009.

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Most of us tend to feel guilty whenever we walk past a beggar in the street. I always feel compassionate. But what should I do? I never give money. We are not to be naïve. I often buy them a sandwich. But what I have never done, because I do not have the ability to do it, is what Peter and John did when they encountered a beggar at the temple in Jerusalem.

This is the story recorded for us in Acts chapter 3. It will be our task tonight to establish two things. First of all, what actually happened? And then, secondly, why did this miracle take place?

First of all, let’s find out what actually happened. We’re told in verse 1 that “one day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.” Why? Many people simply assume that they were going to the temple to pray. But were they? There is no evidence in the book of Acts that the early Christians continued to join their fellow Jews at prayer. But what we are told on a couple of occasions (Acts 2:46, 5:12) is that the believers used to meet each other every day in the temple courts. Why would they do this? What was the one thing they wanted more than anything else? They wanted their fellow Jews to put their faith in the promised Messiah who had already come. So it seems to me that they met regularly in the temple courts because this was an ideal place for evangelism.

It was on one of these regular trips to the temple that Peter and John were confronted by a man crippled from birth. We know from verse 2 that he was at his usual spot, the gate Beautiful, and, according to verse 3, when he saw Peter and John he asked them the question he asked every passer-by. Could you spare some change?

Many people turn their gaze away when confronted with a beggar in the street. It’s a popular and a cruel thing to do. To look the other way and pretend the person doesn’t exist. But look at what Peter and John did in verse 4. They looked straight at him and then they commanded him to look straight at them. And when they had got his attention, Peter started to speak. Verse 6, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” And then taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.

Remember this was the first time he had ever felt the sensations that most of us in this room take for granted. For the first time in his life his feet and ankles did not give way. For the first time in his life he could stand up. And not just stand up, look at what we’re told in verse 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.”

Can you imagine this scene? You’ve gone to the temple to pray. Perhaps you’ve made your way through the Beautiful gate. You’ve walked past the poor beggar. Perhaps he’s still on your mind. And then you hear all this commotion from behind you. So you turn round and what do you see? The same beggar who couldn’t walk a few minutes ago is now walking, jumping and praising God before your very eyes.

What’s the explanation? Why has this extraordinary miracle taken place? That’s what we find out in verses 11 to 26. We’re told first of all that a crowd gathered round the healed cripple and the people seemingly responsible for the miracle. At this point they have no explanation for the miracle that has just taken place. They are completely clueless. And so look at what Peter does in verse 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?”’ Or in other words, he is telling the crowd as clearly as he can that John and himself are not ultimately responsible for giving the crippled man the ability to walk.

So who was? Who was responsible for the miracle that happened that day? Look at what Peter says in verses 13 to 16. “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 o 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 now 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.”

Who is responsible? No question about it, says Peter, it was Jesus who gave this man the ability to walk.  You can imagine the crowd thinking. What do you mean Jesus? You mean the Jesus who only a couple of months before was on trial before the Roman Governor? You mean the same Jesus who we saw crucified in front of our very eyes?
How could this Jesus be responsible for the miracle we’ve seen today? How can a dead man still do miracles before our very eyes? Well that was their big mistake. Jesus was no longer in the grave. He was no longer dead. Because by this point God the Father had glorified his servant Jesus. He had raised him from the dead and had welcomed him back into the heavenly realms.

And now from heaven Jesus was continuing to make a difference in the world. Do you remember how Acts begins? “In my former book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up into heaven.” What is Acts going to be about? All that Jesus continues to do now that he is in heaven. By acts chapter 3 he was not physically present but he had left his followers to continue the mission and had poured out on them the promised Holy Spirit. So now you see he was continuing to change the world through his beloved disciples.

This must have shocked the crowd somewhat. To be told that the man you did your best to get rid of was actually the promised Jewish Messiah. Well great news for the cripple but what about if you’re someone with blood on your hands? What if your voice was part of the chorus shouting for Jesus’ crucifixion? Do you not think you would now be feeling slightly uncomfortable?

Keep this in mind as we hear what Peter says in verses 17 to 20. “Now, brothers, 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 Christ would suffer.” What do you expect to read next? He’s just said that they have been involved in the death of the promised Jewish Messiah. What should we expect to read next? I think what Peter says is truly astounding. He says, verse 19, “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 Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.”

Does this not teach us something astonishing about the grace and mercy of God? These people have just been involved in the more wicked and horrendous murder in all of human history. They have been responsible for killing the author of life. But what does God do now? He doesn’t wipe them out. He offers to wipe away their sin. He’s doesn’t smite them out. No, he sends a preacher to tell them how to be saved.

No one has ever done anything too bad to keep them away from grace.

How could they be saved? It couldn’t be simpler. First of all, Peter tells them to repent. This literally means ‘change your mind.’ Start believing that Jesus is the promised Christ. There is lots of evidence for it. Did you notice how many times in his speech Peter mentions the prophets? Verse 18, verse 21 and verse 24.

It was all predicted and when you match up the life of Jesus against the Messianic predictions then you will see that there is a perfect match. So repent he says. Change your mind about Jesus.

Secondly, he tells them to turn to God. It is so counter intuitive. If there is danger coming towards us what do we do? We leg it. We run away.

I remember my first date with Vicky. A wasp coming towards us. I moved away and pushed her towards it. Then I had to make some excuse that wasps attacked from behind and not from the front.

We run from danger. But this is not what we need to do with the God we have offended. There is only one escape from the judgment of God. What is it?  It’s not to run away from him but to run towards him. So Peter told the crowd to turn to God.

And look again at what he promised would happen if they did? Verse 19, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the LORD.” These are connected promises. Notice there is no AND. One is related to the other.

God has done everything necessary to wipe away sins. The Messiah has died and paid the penalty for sins so now all that needs to happen is for someone to come back to God. When they do their sins are wiped away. That will result in times of refreshing coming from the LORD. I think he is talking about the burden of sin being removed.

This is vital for us to get hold of. If we are Christians are sins have been wiped away. They are no more. Therefore, we should never feel the burden of unforgiven sin. It has all been dealt with.

Gift at Christmas. What do you do? You say thank you and take it. It has all been paid for. Not part paid and you have lots of installments to make. Christ has paid for all your sins. So be refreshed my friends!

And because they are, you and me, will enjoy the future described by Peter in verse 21. Look at what he says. Jesus “must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Or in other words, he tells the people that not everything will be put right before Jesus returns to this earth from heaven. Wonderfully there is a day set when God will fix all the problems of the world. But that will not take place until Jesus is sent once more from heaven.

This will be a future where there is no more sickness or death or disease. No more hospitals, hankies and hearses. However, before that day these things will be a feature of our world.

Why doesn’t God send Jesus now? Why allow the clock to keep on ticking? Why not bring full restoration to the world by the end of today? Think about all the people who wouldn’t be ready to enjoy the restoration of all things if God did it today because their sins would not have been wiped away. Would you be ready? God delays so that more and more people will have their sins washed away.

I think this explains why Peter didn’t heal any more sick people that day. He’s done one so why doesn’t he perform any more miracles that day? He has a crowd all around him. Why doesn’t he encourage them to bring their sick to him and he would heal them completely? He knows that complete restoration is for another time. His priority was to speak to as many people as he possibly can about Lord Jesus so that they could be prepared for the future God had promised.

Peter was under no illusion about who had to have their sins washed away. Listen again to what he says in verses 22 to 26. “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.”

The Jews are not automatically included. Unless they believe in Jesus as the Messiah they will be cut off from God and from his people.

Neither are the Gentiles automatically excluded. At last the promised descendent of Abraham has arrived and now we Gentiles can experience the forgiveness of sins but becoming a follower of Jesus.

If you are not a follower of Jesus then why not become one? Come forward at communion.

If you are then please remember the blessings that are yours because you are a Christian. Sins have been washed away. Enjoy the refreshment. Look forward to the restoration of all things. And in the meantime let’s see the priority of getting as many people as possible to hear and respond to the good news about Jesus the Messiah.

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