Sunday 31 March 2013

He cannot die again (Romans 6:9-14)

For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives he lives to God.
Romans 6:9-10

The resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us three things: (1) Jesus died, (2) Jesus is alive, (3) what that means for us.

Jesus died

The first thing the resurrection points to is the fact that Jesus really died.

“But, of course he did,” you might think. Or, “Why bother with his death? Let’s move on to his life. That was Good Friday, today is Easter Sunday!”

Look again at verse 9. “For since we know that Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again.” Why does it say that?

Does it mean that he will live forever and ever? Well, yes, it does. But it’s more than that. The resurrection points back to the cross to say to us, “Something happened at his death.”

We don’t like talking about death, because death is horrible and quite depressing. It seems more encouraging to talk about life, which is why turning to your friend in school or in the office and asking, “Have you thought about how you are going to die?” is rarely a great way to start a conversation. Instead, asking something like, “What is heaven going to be like?” generates more interest, more curiosity.

The resurrection is about life, and we will get there in a moment, but here, the bible is saying to us, “Hang on. You need to first understand something.” You need to realise that Jesus died a kind of death that shows us the reason we die. His death shows us the reason why we are so afraid of death.

And that reason is verse 10. “The death he died, he died to sin once for all.” The reason for death is sin. When we reject God and we say to him, “Stay out of my life,” the result is God’s judgement over our sin. The result is death.

That is one reason we are afraid of death. We know we have sinned but we don’t want to die. Maybe we hear the word “resurrection,” and think, “Here is a way of avoiding that kind of death.”

It’s not. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is actually saying: here’s a way to dying such that you won’t ever have to be afraid of that death again.

“Huh? What does that mean?”

Notice how it says, Jesus cannot die again (verse 9) and that the death he died, he died once for all (verse 10). It’s redundant. Of course, he won’t die again. He’s God. He’s risen from the dead. He is in heaven. Who is going to kill him?

No, the reason why the bible emphasises he cannot die again - it underlines it, italicises it, puts it in bold letters - he can never, ever die again is because worse than coming to the end of your life, breathing your last breath and being laid in a coffin and lowered into the ground - worse than all that is dying only to wake up to face God judgement after death.

That is the death that Jesus died on the cross.

Now when Jesus died on Good Friday, he died bodily, physically - he died because he was killed. He died because his heart stopped, his body shut down. He really died.

But at the same time, he died to sin once for all. God was laying on him the full judgement of the world when he cried out, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”

On the cross, Jesus is offers us a way to die, not just in the first sense, but to die in the fullest sense possible. The resurrection is saying to us, “Have you died on the cross with Jesus?” Because Jesus gives us a way to die such that we don’t die for our sins. He does that on our behalf. He takes that second death.

For Christians, death is still painful. Death is still real. But death is not the end because Jesus has taken our judgement of death, such that the life we have now now leading up to our death has zero guilt. Our life now has zero condemnation. Why? Because the cross offers us a way to die without dying. It's not a way to avoid death. It's actually a way of facing our death by looking to Jesus on the cross.

Jesus is alive

So that’s the first thing we see from the resurrection: the reality of Jesus’ death.

The second thing the resurrection points to is Jesus’ life. The end of verse 10: “The life he lives, he lives to God.”

Some of us read that and think it means living a godly life. Some of us think it means Jesus is living with God in heaven.

What it’s actually talking about is direction and purpose. The life he lives, he lives to God.

And if you look down to verse 11, notice that the bible says to Christians that is our direction in life as well.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Romans 6:11

It is saying that your life has two possible masters. You either live to God or you live to sin. Either you are serving God or you are serving sin. Meaning: You are not the boss of your own life.

What the resurrection does is free us from one master to serve a new master.

The resurrection frees us from the power of sin. Earlier on, we looked at the penalty of sin: death. But this is different, this is the power and influence of sin. Look on to verse 12.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
Romans 6:12

The bible is saying to the Christian, “You have a new boss now. But your old boss is still sending you emails trying to get you to do stuff for him. Don’t open those emails. Don’t take those phone calls.”

Get this: Sin isn’t just something that you do. Sin is something that gives you orders to do something. Now, if you are not a Christian, the reality is: You have no choice but to obey sin. You work for him. Sin is your boss.

But for the Christian, sin is your former employer. That’s pretty important because sin doesn’t go away. It still calls out to you. That last bit in verse 12 where it says, “evil desires,” I know most of think it’s temptation. Ooooh, I am so tempted to sin. Or we think of sexual sin. Or we think of something we can’t control and are ashamed of. And all this is true of sin and our struggle to sin.

But it’s actually talking about your former boss, sin, calling you up constantly and saying, “Come back. I’ll double your pay.” It desires to have you. God said that same thing to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have but you must master it.”

For the Christian, the penalty of sin was paid on the cross. But the power of sin or the employment contract of sin, that too, has been destroyed on the cross. Having said that, as Christians, we will still be tempted to sin. Our bodies will still be susceptible to sin - a part of us will still say, “Maybe I could work part time for sin.”

For those of us struggle with ongoing sin, this means that there are two levels you need to be aware of, of what’s really going on when you sin - the immediate and the long-term.

The immediate level is radical: you need to cut it out. Be serious. Deal with it ruthlessly. Tear out your right eye, cut off your right hand that causes you to sin, that sort of thing, rather than having your whole body thrown into hell, Jesus says in Matthew 5. Meaning, put a stop to it. Immediately, radically.

But there is a deeper long-term level, as well. Sin is offering you something in exchange for your employment. If you are struggling with something that’s been there long term, you need to figure out what that is. It might be pleasure. It might be significance. It might be identity.

And what sin does is offer you a way to justify that sin. Look with me to verse 14.

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
Romans 6:14

Sin is the kind of employer who entices you with the law. “If you work for me, you will get this.” The law is a one-to-one relationship of cause and effect. Do this and you get this. Of course, sin doesn’t actually have anything to pay you with, except death. But still, the promise of being able to work for something - that’s powerful and enticing.

But God is a completely different kind of master. If you are living for God, you are living under grace. “You are not under law, but under grace.” Grace means we get what we don’t deserve. Grace means everything is a gift.

So friends, if you are struggling with sin - especially with ongoing sin - you need to think hard about that driving force to sin. That desire to prove yourself or justify yourself. “I deserve this.”

And the antidote to that is, having identified what it is you really longed for - self-worth, joy, pleasure, identity, purpose - the antidote is to see how only God can give you this. Sin might promise to you and say here’s the way to earn it, but only God can give you anything that is value. And moreover, how he gives it to you by grace. He is a loving master. He gives us what we do not deserve. On the cross, he gave us Jesus while we were still rebels.

Now, we’ve been talking a lot about us. But what does it mean for Jesus to live to God. Well, the resurrection means this: This rule of God that overcomes the old rule of sin has now begun. Do you see? The kingdom of God, whereby God is the true gracious, loving master has now begun because of the resurrection.

The resurrection means: You don’t have to work for sin anymore. Jesus comes and he headhunts you. He pays off all your debts to your old employer and says to you, “You work for me now.”

From death to life

This brings us to our final point: The resurrection means we have been raised from death to life. Look at verse 13.

Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
Romans 6:13

The interesting thing is how the bible doesn’t just say: Because Jesus was raised from the dead, one day we will be raised. That’s true of course, when Jesus returns he will raise us to be like him, to have resurrection bodies like his. One day.

But the emphasis of the bible, again and again, here and in places like Ephesians 2, is today. We have already been raised. Or as it says here in verse 13, “We have been brought from death to life.”

And that’s saying to the Christian: You are a new creation. You are now holy. You are now light in the Lord. The bible tells us who we are now, then says to us, “Be who you are.”

That’s a very powerful motivation for us as Christians. If you are tempted by sin, it’s more powerful than a set of rules, which say, “Do this in order to become this.” No, the bible says, “You are already this. Now live your life accordingly.”

Augustine was one of the early Church Fathers who struggled with sin in his young age. He had a real problem especially with sex. It’s amazing how open and honest he is about it in his writings. And he tells of how, one day, after becoming a Christian, his mistress sees Augustine walking down the streets and calls out to him. She’s surprised because Augustine doesn’t acknowledge her.

“Augustine, it is I,” she says to him. “Ah,” he replies, “But it is not I.”

In Jesus, you can look at the things that used to have a hold on you and say, “It is not I.” You have new desires. You offer the parts of your body to God. It’s still a conscious choice and the temptation will still be there to offer it back to your old boss, sin. But the greatest motivation is: It is not I. In Jesus, I am a new creation.

If we died with him

The resurrection reveals three things about Jesus and even about us today as Christians.

Firstly, it reveals that Jesus really died on the cross. He died to sin once for all, and in doing so, shows us how we can truly die. How we can die with Jesus, completely to the judgement of sin and the penalty of sin, so that we can be freed from sin.

Secondly, it reveals that Jesus really lives through his resurrection from the dead. He can never die again, though, the life he lives now, he lives to God. Meaning that this is life in the kingdom of God. This is life with God as our master. He pays off our debt to our old master sin and puts us under new management so that we, too, can live under God who is a loving master and a gracious lord.

Finally, it reveals that Jesus makes us into a new creation in his image. It is not I who live, but Christ living in me. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Loving your church (Part 1 of 3)

How to love your church. If this were the title of a book, I wonder what kind of reader it would appeal to?

A book entitled, “How to love your kids” would probably be found in the self-help section of the bookshop and recommended to parents of troubled teenagers. It would contain tips on how to relate to your kid, how to understand their angst, how to maintain discipline at home. That kind of thing. Or a book entitled, “How to love your spouse” might be picked up by couples in counselling who want to rekindle that spark in their relationship.

So, inevitably, as I prepare to lead a workshop this week on “Loving the church” at a local Christian conference for students, I anticipate the kind of person signing up for such a workshop doing so precisely because they face difficulty loving their church. They have problems loving their church or they find it challenging helping others to love their church.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I love Jesus. It’s the church I can’t stand.” I think of one teenager who was brave enough to say that out loud to his mother. How would you have responded?

What I hope to do at the workshop this week is to help Christians look at their local church as it is, warts and all. To see their church as it is now - not what it should be or what it ought to be in five years. To see the reality of what is going on in their local church right now.

But to do so not just from our perspective but God’s.

That is what Paul does in his letter to the Ephesians. Ephesians is a letter to a real church with real people and real problems. It is a church which he obviously loves and adores; Ephesians is, I think, the most positive letter in all of the New Testament; full of praise and thanksgiving. And yet, the reason he is able to do so is because Paul sees the church the way God sees the church.

And what Paul does in Ephesians is help us to do the same.

I do no cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.
Ephesians 1:16-19

This has been my recent prayer for myself as well as for my brothers and sisters at the Chinese Church. “God, help us to see the church the way you do. Open the eyes of our hearts, by your Spirit, such that we might know this hope, this love and this power that you have revealed in the gospel and made visible through the church.”

Because only when we are able to see the church the way God does can we hope to love the church the way God does.

Praise and worship

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Ephesians 1:3-14

There are 202 words (in the original Greek) in these two paragraphs. And the thing to note is that these 202 words are strung together in one single sentence. Take a deep breath and try reading the entire section in one go!

Paul begins by praising God, as many of our church gatherings begin, with a time of praise and worship and singing to God. The first half of our time is typically led by a worship leader accompanied by a team of musicians. I know that many of you have spent time in preparation for this camp, planning the worship and practising the songs.

What was your emphasis in preparing for that time of worship? An experience of God, perhaps. What are you leading your people to do? To sing, to pray, maybe even, to fall on their knees in worship. How do your people typically respond after that time of worship each week? “Wow, I needed that.” “That was awesome!”

Friends, when you read these words of praise in Ephesians, I think the response that most people will have to these words is, “I didn’t know that about God before.” “Wow, did God really do that?”

I wonder if you’ve ever had that experience before. You hear someone pray aloud, and you’re praying along with him, but as you do, you’re mind is going, “This guy’s God seems so much more awesome than the God I know. I want to know his God.”

The unique thing about Paul’s praise is how it leads us to want to praise God. He does this by praising God for who he is and what he has done.

Now, many of us need to understand what praise really means. It’s advertising. Praise means to advertise; to speak well of something or someone that deserves to be praised. The word eulogetos, translated in our English bibles as “praise” or “blessing” is actually where we get the word eulogy. I mention that because a eulogy is what you say at a funeral. Meaning, praise is not just for the joyful. You can lead someone to praise God even in their darkest moments, as Job did, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)

If we get that, especially if you are a worship leader, then what you are doing when you lead your church in praise is you are representing God. Your focus is not, first and foremost, “Are they going to enjoy the music?” You are representing God; meaning, your focus should be, “Is what I am saying true?” Because, if it isn’t, then, what you are doing is, in effect, false advertising.

How can you tell when this happens? Over time, your praise becomes shallow. You run out of things to say about God and end up repeating the same canned phrase over and over again. It’s not that what you are saying isn’t true, but if that happens, it is a symptom that you aren’t tapped into the truth. You are running on your own steam.

That’s not Paul, is it? Praise just tumbles out of him. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

Yet at the same time, his praise is continually focussed on Jesus. That’s the source of his praise. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing “in Christ.” God has chosen us before the foundation of the world “in him”. God has adopted us as sons to praise of his glorious grace, which he has blessed us “in the Beloved.”

This is not generic praise. True praise of the true and living God is only possible through Jesus Christ. Meaning, not everyone can praise God in this way, only those who are in Christ. Very soberly, you have to ask yourself if you are a worship leader tasked with leading your church in praising God, “Are my people in Christ?” Because that’s where we need to be in order to praise him the way Paul is praising God here in Ephesians. Any other praise is meaningless. Indeed, any other praise is offensive to God.

Some who hear these words, “Blessed be God... who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing,” will think, “Wow, God has blessed me so much today, I must thank him and sing my heart out in this song,” while others might think, “I haven’t been blessed by God. In fact, my life is quite crummy right now.” Both are thinking like pagans - the guy who think he’s blessed and the guy who think he isn’t. Both of them are thinking in terms of the blessing that they get from God as a measure of their praise to offer up to God.

As a worship leader, your job is to point your church to the source of blessing, the God who has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” If you are in Christ, you have every spiritual blessing. It’s all yours. But if you are outside of Christ, whatever blessing you do have is, at best, temporary.

In fact, Paul’s praise is not so much what God will do for us but what God will do for Jesus. His plan is to glorify him by pulling all things together and placing them under Jesus’ authority.

His purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1:9-10

God’s eternal plan is to glorify his Son and Paul’s praise points us in that direction. Now the interesting thing about Paul’s praise in Ephesians Chapter 1 is that it is immediately followed by Paul’s prayer which restates God’s plan (to put all things under Christ) except that here, at the end of the prayer, Paul makes it clear that God has given us a preview of that plan through the church.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Ephesians 1:22-23

What does God see when he looks at the church? What does God see when he looks at your church? In a word, it’s heaven.

Now, you might not think of your church as heaven (and at the back of your minds, you might be thinking of a place quite different from heaven!) But that’s because you don’t know the bible’s definition of heaven. Heaven represents God’s rule under King Jesus. It is creation under its rightful Creator.

And granted that even Jesus has lots to say about the seven churches in Revelation, many of which are called to repent and clean up their act, because he knows everything that goes on his church (Revelation Chapters 2 and 3). Still, the church is a preview of God’s final plan to bring all of creation under the rule of King Jesus.

Which is why Paul prays for the eyes of our hearts to be opened to see this reality (Ephesians 1:18). He wants us to see the church the way God sees it. From his perspective. We need God’s help to be able to do this, for sure. Paul prays for God to give the Ephesians the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.

This is also why Paul keeps using the phrase, “in the heavenly places,” throughout the letter. Hence, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing “in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). We are raised and seated with Jesus “in the heavenly places” (speaking about our status as Christians in Ephesians 2:6). Even our struggles against Satan and his spiritual forces are described as being “in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul’s prayer (indeed, his whole purpose in writing the letter) is that Christians would grasp the reality of God’s full and final plan for the universe - seen right here in the local church. That’s why he prays for the Ephesians. That’s why he praises God for the Ephesians. God is glorifying his Son through the church of the Ephesians.

Isn’t this something that would transform your church? If they saw what God was really doing through your bible studies, your fellowships and your Sunday gatherings?

Sunday 24 March 2013

Stand by me (Acts 4:1-31) - MP3 recording

Recording of this week's sermon preached at the Chinese Church on Sunday, 24 March 2013.

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Stand by me (Acts 4:1-31)

In much trembling

There is a Chinese wedding tradition called Chip San Leong, which means “fetching the bride,” where the groom arrives at the home of the bride only to be stopped at the entrance with a series of tests to prove his love for his future wife. Typically, he is made to eat wasabi or do a hundred push-ups, something silly like that. It’s a game, of course, designed by the Ah Yees, the bridesmaids, as a bit of fun to test the groom’s patience and resolve.

I mention that because I was reminded of the tradition this week in the installation of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Justin Welby, became the 105th leader of the Anglican Church in a ceremony attended by the Queen, the Prince of Wales, even the Prime Minister, in an event broadcast live on the BBC.

According to tradition, the ceremony began with the new Archbishop standing outside the cathedral with the doors closed, knocking on it three times with a shepherd’s staff. As the doors open, a young girl confronts him with a series of questions, “Who are you? Why have you come here?” She doesn’t make him do push-ups or anything like that yet these questions are there to test his confidence and his resolve.

“How do you come among us?” she asks, “And with what confidence?”

The Archbishop replies with these words, “‘I come knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified, and in weakness and fear and in much trembling,” (echoing the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians Chapter 2).

Confidence. That is the theme of today’s passage under three points:

1. The confidence to speak
2. The confidence to lead
3. The confidence to pray

The confidence to speak

First, the confidence to speak. Look with me to verse 1.

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.
Acts 4:1

If you are new, today’s message is a continuation from last week study when we met Peter and John going into the temple. They are on their way to pray at the temple when they are stopped by a beggar. This man has been begging at the temple all his life. He is crippled, he is poor and he asks them for money. Peter says to the man, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Immediately and miraculously, the man is healed. He jumps to his feet and follows Peter and John into the temple, praising God and drawing the attention of everyone at the temple that day.

And here in Chapter 4 we see that this gets Peter and John into trouble with the temple police - the priests, the captain of the guard and the Sadducees. These officials cut through the crowd - weaving through thousands of people gathering in the temple - in order to arrest the apostles and to put them in prison. But not because of the miracle. Notice that. It is not because they healed the man but because Peter and John were talking about Jesus.

Look at verse 2:

They were greatly disturbed (or as the ESV puts it, they were “greatly annoyed”) because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus, the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.
Acts 4:2-4

Our first point is the apostles’ confidence in speaking. That is, first and foremost, this is a confidence - a boldness - that is tied to the gospel, that comes from the gospel. This is a courage that goes hand in hand with the gospel message. That is what gets Peter and John into trouble with the authorities - their boldness in speaking about Jesus; their boldness in speaking to the crowd.

The reason why they are put in prison is not the miracle. Verse 2: “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people.” In order to put a stop to their teaching, the manager of the temple locked them up in the storeroom cupboard for the night. They didn’t have a problem with the miracle. I mean, they thought it was annoying that Peter and John had done this miracle but we soon see that the focus of the religious leaders’ frustration was not what they did but what they said. Peter and John was talking about the resurrection from the dead.

The next day, the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so was Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them, “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Acts 4:5-7

We have a long list of people here - the rulers, elders and teachers of the law. It’s like saying the masters of all the colleges and the heads of every department including the theology professors from the Divinity School decided to meet in one location to debate over one important issue. Every decision-makers and every VIP turns up for this one big meeting.

But also, in verse 6, we have the most important of VIPs: the high priest. And not just the high priest, mind you, but three generations of high priests - Annas, Caiaphas and John - presiding over the meeting. So this was a big deal.

The name of this council, we are told later in verse 15, is the Sanhedrin, which according to tradition, was made up of seventy individuals. Think of the Sanhedrin as the board of directors.

So picture this: Seventy guys. All of them important, every one of them respected in the community, walking into the room and taking their seats at the conference table. And standing there to face this council, two lone fisherman. Two young troublemakers who had just spent the night in the temple lock-up. Peter and John.

            “By what power or what name did you do this?”

What they meant, of course, was, “Who do you think you are? What gives you the right?” It wasn’t so much a question as it was a form of intimidation. “You are in serious trouble - we just need to decide how much!”

No, the religious leaders weren’t looking for an answer. What they wanted an apology. What they got instead was the gospel.

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
Acts 4:8-10

The expression I used last week to describe what was going on was “preaching to the choir.” The preacher is supposed to preach to the congregation. But someone who is preaching to choir is preaching to the converted, saying, “Don’t think that just because you are serving on the music team, you don’t need to hear about Jesus.”

The religious leaders, elders and high priest - they were sitting there in judgement over Peter and John, to decide what punishment they would face. Peter stands up and tells them, “Guys, you stand before God as Judge for what you did to Jesus.” Notice how Peter keeps saying, “You did this.” Verse 10: Know this, you and all the people of Israel... you crucified him but God raised him from the dead.

He does it again in verse 11 - “Jesus is the stone you rejected.”

He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’
Acts 4:11

What kind of preaching is this? Courageous preaching. Bold preaching. Actually, what it is, I think, is consistent preaching. Look back to Chapter 3, verse 14 onwards, where Peter says, “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.”

Meaning, it was the same message Peter spoke in front of the crowds. “It’s you who needs to repent. Not your friend. Not the guy you’ve been trying to invite to church. You.” He said this to the crowds. He said the exact same thing to the high priest.

Meaning, courageous preaching is faithful preaching. It is sticking to the same simple message about Jesus whether you are talking to a friend or a family member. Whether its to a stranger at the bus-stop or your boss at coffee time. It is the courage to be clear about God, about sin and about Jesus when someone asks you, “So what is it that you Christians believe about salvation, heaven and eternal life?”

It is to respond with the words of verse 12:

Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
Acts 4:12

I would imagine at this point Peter probably raised his voice in order make his point, “Salvation is found in no-one else! Listen up!”

Yet friends, you can try saying these words as quietly and gently as possible and still be thought of as arrogant and intolerant. Courage is nothing to do with the tone of our voice, it has everything to do with the truth of the gospel.

The question at the end of the day is: Do you really believe the gospel? Do you believe that Jesus is the only way, the only name, the only Saviour?

If you do, then you need this courage in order to speak this truth. I am not talking about overcoming your fear of public speaking. I am talking about the courage to speak plainly about Jesus even here among friends in the Chinese Church. Your knees could be knocking, your voice might be trembling, there could be beads of sweat on trickling down your brow, but if you telling people the truth about Jesus, that’s a courageous to do. That’s faithful preaching of the gospel.

Conversely, you might have the gift of the gab, you feel at ease speaking to crowds of hundreds and thousands but if you never actually get to the cross and tell people about Jesus’ death for their sin; if you never actually call for your hearers to repent of their sin and trust in God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross - you haven’t yet preached the gospel.

Maybe you don’t know the gospel, that’s why. Or maybe - just maybe - you are ashamed of the gospel. Either way, courage to speak about Jesus is not a personality trait, it is itself a gift of the gospel.

Look at verse 8, where Peter is described as being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” His courage was not natural, it was supernatural. In last week’s passage, Peter says to the crowd, “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3:12) “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus.” What is Peter doing? He is being courageous in admitting his weakness and in pointing to God’s grace. That’s courage. It is speaking the gospel fully aware of your shortcomings, your inadequacies, your fears - being fully aware of your sinfulness - yet speaking the gospel fully confident in Jesus’ power to save, to forgive and to call people to repentance through the message of the gospel.

Put it another way: It is confidence in the message you’re speaking not your ability to speak the message. So, that’s the first thing we see: Confidence to speak this message of truth about Jesus.

The confidence to lead

The second thing we see is the confidence to lead.

What this is, is the confidence to inspire that same boldness in the people around you. That same confidence in Jesus.

Picking up from verse 13:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:13

In an Asian context, we are meant to respect our leaders. Leaders are often our elders and our superiors.At least, that’s how businesses are run back home. The CEO is the guy who with the white hair wearing the suit. He sits at the head of the table as the other executives arrange themselves around the conference table according to their rank, their age, their experience.

So if you are the young hireling, the new kid on the block, you sit at the end of the table. The CEO speaks, the VP is next, and everyone waits their turn to voice their ideas. Until it gets to you, the new guy. All they expect from you to say is, “Yes, boss! That’s a great idea!”

Like I said, businesses back home are run that way. Some churches back home are run that way. The pastor sets the agenda. He “casts the vision,” so to speak. The elders and deacons jobs are to get it done. My dad who was in the army once defined leadership by example as “Doing what I tell you do, not what I do.” In the army, you never questioned an order. You obeyed it.

Here in Acts 4, Peter and John were up against what was essentially the political and spiritual leadership of the nation - the Sanhedrin were leaders of God’s people, Israel - and it is important to understand that what Peter and John were doing was not simply rebelling against leadership, rebelling against authority. No, they were establishing what true leadership ought to look like. They were speaking with an authority derived from God’s word.

You see, the religious leaders had forgotten that. Such that when they saw the real thing - when they encountered authentic, apostolic authority - it really surprised them.

I mean, we look at Peter and John and we see a couple of rebels. We think they are going up against “the man.” In reality, the Sanhedrin looked at these two young, uneducated fisherman and saw what true leaders of God’s people are meant to be and to do. They are meant to speak the gospel. They are meant to call God’s people to obedience to God’s word.

That’s what surprised them. Verse 13 says they looked at Peter and John and “realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men.” These guys didn’t go to Cambridge. They didn’t train in some well-known church under some well-known rabbi. These were nobodies. And yet, what does the end of verse 13 say? “They took note that these men had been with Jesus.” These nobodies had been hanging out with somebody. They were had been with Jesus!

Isn’t that crazy? I mean, in an awesome way? For someone to look at you and have no possible explanation for who you are, for what you are able to do except to say that you’ve probably been spending a lot of time with Jesus. It’s not because of your degree. It’s not because of your gifts. They can’t figure you out! All they can say is, “This guy sounds a lot like Jesus. That’s the only possible explanation for his behaviour: He really knows Jesus.”

What did the religious leaders see? The real thing. Apostolic authority. Boldness. What they saw was Jesus. And how did they react to this? With fear and intimidation.

But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.
Acts 4:14-17

They said to Peter and John, “Get out, we need to talk about something important.” And what did these seventy old men talk about? How to cover their backsides.

“Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.” Meaning what? The issue was not whether the miracle was real but how many people knew that the miracle was real. If only a few people knew, why, they could deny it and cover it up. But haiiya! People already know!

So what was left for them to do? They abused their power. They tried intimidating Peter and John with threats and warnings.

I want us to pause and think about this for a moment: Why would this have worked? It didn’t, of course, and you should have guessed that from Peter’s response earlier. But why did the religious teachers think that by threatening Peter and John and warning them that this ought to have worked?

Because this is the way the world works. The big guy puts pressure on the little guy. Jesus once said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.” (Matthew 20:25) It’s pecking order. It’s how you get things done in the business world, in the political world. It might even be the way to get things done in the religious world.

But you see, people who think this way, forget that there is a greater authority above every authority. The biggest Tai Lo has an even bigger Tai Lo to answer to: God. And tragically, what we see here is a roomful of religious men who have forgotten that there is a God they are answerable to.

Then they called them again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 4:18-20

What we see here are two forms of leadership - one from man, one from God. We see two kinds of leaders - one that that’s fearful of man and one that is fearful of God.

The tragic thing is: these religious leaders were afraid. That’s why they resorted to bullying tactics. They were afraid of the people, of what they would think. They were even afraid of Peter and John, and had to put them out of the room while they discussed what to do with them. Inspite of all this, there was one person they forgot to be afraid of and that was God.

That’s tragic isn’t it? But when it happens - and it does - it’s because we think that leadership is something we earn and deserve and achieve, rather than something that God has given us to steward, to receive with humility, to exercise with love.

After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
Acts 4:21-22

Confidence to lead. That’s the second thing we see in this passage, but it’s not the confidence of the religious leaders. Those guys were cowards. Those guys were bullies. No, we see this confidence in Peter and John who had led 2000 people to believe in Jesus (in verse 4) by being bold enough to tell them the gospel. It is a confidence and mandate that comes from the gospel itself, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (verse 20).

In the New Testament, the leaders of the church are the teachers of the church. That’s why faithfulness to God’s word is such an important quality in choosing our bible study leaders, our Sunday School teachers and our pastors. Gifts are important, but if we put gifts over the gospel, we end up with religious teachers.

If we want true authentic, God-ordained leadership, we want men who know Jesus, who love Jesus, who keep talking non-stop about Jesus. The world might look at them and go, “Those guys didn’t go to the right school. They don’t have the right credentials. But you know what? They act and sound a whole lot like Jesus.” We want those guys to be leading men and women in Jesus.

Confidence to pray

So far, we’ve seen the confidence to speak and the confidence to lead. Finally we see the confidence to pray, and that’s verse 23. And as I read this passage - this prayer - I want you ask the question, “What did they ask God for?”

Verse 23:

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father, David:

“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand
and the rulers gather together
against the Lord
and against his Anointed One.’

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Acts 4:23-30

The church met together for a prayer meeting. Peter and John spent the night in prison. They were threatened by the high priest and religious police - “Don’t speak to anyone any longer about Jesus.”

What did they ask God to do? They asked God for boldness. Verse 29, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” It is the same word as in verse 13 - courage, boldness, confidence. It’s what they ask God to fill them with - boldness to speak his word.

They didn’t pray, “Lord, stop those evil men,” did they?

They knew that God was in charge - he is the Sovereign Lord who made heaven, earth and sea (verse 24). And yet they also knew, from the bible - specifically, from the Old Testament scriptures - that God had already decided to allow his enemies to gang up against him. Opening up the Psalms, written 1000 years ago by King David, they took what the Holy Spirit said through the mouth of David, and applied it directly to Jesus.

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand.” It is a picture of a great big battle - armies assembling for war, gathering to make their last stand - against the Lord and his Anointed One.

You read this and think Armageddon. Or you think. the final scene from the Avengers (“Hulk smash!”). It’s end of the world stuff, destruction on an epic, global scale. But according to this prayer, this war happened two thousand years ago in the city of Jerusalem. On the cross of Jesus Christ.

Verse 27, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.” The greatest rebellion against God happened at the cross. The greatest insult against God happened at the cross. What is this prayer saying? God planned for all this to happen!

“They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

Friends, this prayer means Peter and John and their friends, they were actually afraid. They knew that the danger they faced from the Sanhedrin was real. It wasn’t all empty threats. And what they needed, more than anything else, was the courage to be faithful to God’s word in the face of this danger.

God help me to be bold in speaking your word.

Some of you, I know, feel terribly inadequate when it comes to opening your mouth and speaking the gospel. That’s actually a good thing. You should feel inadequate because none of us are up to the task. All of us are sinful. All of us would rather not have to take up our cross and die.

And yet, an amazing thing happens when we trust in Jesus and look to the cross. He fills us with his Spirit. He makes us stand and he helps us to withstand - opposition, temptation, persecution - He helps us to stand by his grace. It is a supernatural thing for someone to be a Christian and to remain a Christian.

By the way, that’s what the last line about miracles is all about. They pray, “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs...” It is an acknowledgement that God is able to so much more than we could ever imagine - he can raise the dead, he can perform miracles and show the world, Jesus is the Christ.

And yet what God chooses to do to make Jesus known is to use us as his witnesses. He makes us disciples. He makes us fishers of men.

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Acts 4:31

If this whole room were to shake, right now, some of us would probably freak out. If God were to heal some of us the way he healed the man crippled from birth, we would say, “Whoa! That’s incredible!”

Do you know what verse 31 is saying? For you to say to turn to the person next to you right now and tell them the gospel, to look them in the eye and say with every ounce of conviction, “Jesus Christ died for my sin. He rose from the dead. He will come again to judge and restore all of creation and I will see my Saviour face to face one day, and worship him in the presence of God and his angels.” That’s a miracle on the same level as that healing, that earthquake that would make you go, “Whoa! God did this!”

In verse 31, we see God answering their prayer. The place was shaken. The gospel was proclaimed. Both are miracles of God, the shaking as well as the speaking. Can God shake the foundations of the Chinese Church today? Of course he can, and one day he will. On that day, every knee will bow, every tongue will confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

But what does God do today. But what is the kind of prayer does God love to answer today?

“God glorify your son Jesus
and enable me, your servant,
to speak your gospel with boldness.”

This week at Rock, we were looking at the importance of being obstreperous. It’s a word that means “noisy,” and what it means is: Christians need to speak out about the cross of Jesus Christ. We can’t be quiet about it.

And at the end of the study I prayed this prayer, “Lord, you have a great sense of humour. These guys are the most gentle, quiet, peace-loving people I know and yet you gather us here today to remind us the importance of speaking out for Jesus. I know that that’s a scary thing for some of us here today.

Thank you that boldness isn’t something that’s natural to my brothers and sisters here today. It’s supernatural. We are not supposed to be confident in ourselves. We are supposed to trust in Jesus as the only way, the only name under heaven given to men by which we might be saved. Make us bold, I pray. By your Spirit. Through your gospel. Help us to proclaim Jesus with boldness as we should.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
No merit of my own I claim
But wholly lean on Jesus name
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand

Sunday 17 March 2013

You give what you have (Acts 3) - MP3 recording

Recording of this week's sermon preached at the Chinese Church on Sunday, 17 March 2013.

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You give what you have (Acts 3)

A miraculous healing

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer - at three in the afternoon. 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.
Acts 3:1-2

Yesterday was Red Nose Day when a record-breaking 75 million pounds was raised for various charitable causes in the UK and Africa. In other news, the recently-elected Pope Francis declared that he wants a “poor Church, for the poor,” explaining how he chose the name Francis after St Francis of Assisi, who represented “poverty and peace.”

In today’s passage we meet a man who is poor, who begs for a living, who has been crippled for forty years since the day he was born (Acts 4:22).

“Spare some change, mate?”

Every day he sat outside the temple gate. And every day the passers-by would have either walked on or stopped to drop a few coins into his lap.

This was his spot, the gate called Beautiful. It’s mentioned again in verse 10. This is the same beggar who was always sat there. Regulars at the temple all knew him - not by name - but they certainly recognised who he was: The beggar who always sat by the gate.

Some would have given money out of compassion. Others, out of guilt. This was, after all, the temple of God and worshippers were on their way to offer up sacrifices - money, even - as a sign of their devotion to God. Similarly today, it is not uncommon to see at temples and places of worship, the poor and destitute begging for alms.

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.
Acts 3:3-5

“Maybe it will be a ten pound note,” he thought. The apostles Peter and John didn’t walk by. They didn’t act as if they couldn’t hear him. They stopped and stared at him (which must have felt a little strange) and even said to him, “Look at us!”

With such anticipation, what Peter said next must have seemed like a cruel joke.

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.”
Acts 3:6

“Sorry. Left my wallet at home.” That’s what it sounded like. “I gave at the office.” After forty years, the beggar had heard every excuse under the sun.

But this was something else. “What I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Was he making fun of him? What a jerk!

“You don’t know what it’s like to sit out here. Begging. You don’t know the humiliation, the pain I’ve suffered all my life... You don’t know...”

But then Peter takes him by the hand, pulls him up and something amazing happens.

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.
Acts 3:7-8

The guy who wrote this account was a man named Luke who was a historian but whom we also know (from Colossians 4:14) was a medical doctor. So when he describes how the crippled man’s “feet and ankles became strong,” Luke was thinking about the leg muscles, the connecting tissue, the bones and the nerves, all of which had wasted away over a forty-year period; but now he said, had “became strong.”

Because this man didn’t just stand up, he jumped to his feet. And as he followed Peter and John into the temple, he was skipping and dancing all the way into the presence of God!

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognised 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.
Acts 3:9-10

The people at the temple were surprised. I suspect, the beggar himself was surprised. He was healed. Immediately, completely, miraculously healed!

Peter says to the man, “In Jesus’ name, walk!” and three times, Luke repeats that word “walk” to describe exactly what he was doing. This crippled man was walking!

But in case we missed it, notice where was he walking to - where he was jumping and skipping towards? Verse 8, “Into the temple courts.” Verse 9: “The people saw him walking and praising God.”

You see, it amazed the crowd that this miracle happened, yes. But it amazed them more that God was behind this miracle. That’s the source of their amazement - that a miracle could happen right here in the temple.

You might be thinking, “How can that be? They grew up in Sunday School learning about the ten plagues of the Exodus, about prophets like Daniel in the lions den and Elijah who called down fire from heaven. The God of the bible is a God of miracles. Why would his people be surprised to see a miracle?”

We get a sense of that in Peter’s question looking ahead at verse 12. “Why does this surprise you?” he asks them. As if to imply: It shouldn’t!

To be fair, they were surprised for the same reason many of us would be surprised if a miracle happened today: it was a rare occurrence. The truth is, not everyone in the bible got healed, not even when Jesus was around in the gospels. In fact, this account of the healing of the crippled man is the only detailed account of a healing in all the book of Acts.

Not everyone in the bible got healed. The crippled man sat there every day in the same spot at the same entrance at the same temple. Peter and John would have walked pass him time and time again. Jesus might have walked by him time and time again. Yet only today was he healed.

Why? Why here at the temple? Because there was something more going on than just the healing itself. The miracle pointed to something greater than the miracle itself.

It pointed to Jesus.

A mighty name

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. 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?”
Acts 3:11-12

The first thing Peter makes clear is: He didn’t do this, not by his own power or godliness.

That last point on godliness is worth emphasising - especially here in a church gathering like this where it is possible to think that because we have prayed enough, because we came to bible study, because we tried really hard to be good this week, therefore God is going to bless us. Peter says, “It’s not my godliness that caused this miracle.” That’s not humility. That’s a fact. I could not do this, only God.

Why is Peter saying this? The crowd’s attention is on them as apostles, as miracle-makers, on the healed man. They are scrutinising them. They are in awe of them.

And what Peter is doing is drawing their attention back to God. You would think this would be obvious enough in religious place like the temple. Let me tell you, it isn’t. Peter says to them, “We didn’t do any of this. God did.”

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.
Acts 3:13-15

Last week I mentioned that what we have here in the early chapters of Acts is peculiar form of preaching. You might have heard the expression, ‘preaching to the choir’? Well, that’s what Peter did in preaching to the crowd in the temple. He preached to the choir.

A preacher is supposed to preach to the congregation. He is supposed to face his audience. Yet someone who is preaching to the choir, as the expression goes, is facing the wrong way. The choir, the musicians, the worship team - they are on the same team as the preacher. They’ve heard his sermons many times before. They worship the same God.

But you see, the focus of the early chapters of Acts is actually on the choir: the people who ought to have known God, who ought to be leading others in worshipping God, who themselves have rejected God in their hearts and through their actions.

Notice how Peter keeps saying, “You did this... you did this.”

You killed Jesus. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One. You killed the author of life.

That might sound pretty harsh but what was Peter saying? The very people who ought to have recognised Jesus as God’s king were the ones who rejected him.

What was Peter doing? He was preaching to the choir. Everyone else might have looked at them and thought, “Those guys are alright,” yet in truth, it is often those who are most familiar with God who take God for granted and rebel against him as God.

Who was Peter speaking to? Israelites. The people of God. The sons of Abraham. These were worshippers at the temple of God. Yet when Peter looked at them and do you know what he saw? Unbelieving, unconverted murderers.

“You killed the author of life.”

When we plan an evangelistic event, I wonder who we focus on? When we pray for God to send revival to Cambridge, who do we pray for? More often than not, we pray for unbelievers. The newcomers. We pray for those who are opposed to the Christian faith. The atheists. We pray for opportunities to speak to those who have never ever heard the gospel before. The non-Christians. That’s what it means to do mission, to preach the gospel, to fulfil the great commission, so we think.

Yet here in Acts, the gospel is preached to the regulars at the temple. It is being preached to Israelites. It is a consistent pattern we see in the book of Acts shaped by something Jesus said back in chapter 1, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem... Judea and Samaria... to the ends of the earth.” The gospel goes out to the world but it begins with Jerusalem.

It isn’t an excuse to neglect missions and evangelism. What it does mean is that even in our own midst, the people who ought to know God, probably don’t. We need to preach to the choir. Intentionally and repeatedly. We need to be convicted of our own guilt, of our own sin, of our own rebellion against God.

“You killed the author of life.”

“But,” Peter adds, “God raised him from the dead.” That’s the turning point: The resurrection. Here the resurrection is presented as a kind of evidence or proof, “We are witnesses of this,” he says.

But proof of what? Proof that Jesus is the Christ.

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.
Acts 3:15-16

The name of Jesus is not a kind of mantra, whereby you repeat it over and over again, louder and louder each time, like a magic spell to cure headaches and ward off evil spirits.

“Jesus, Jeeeee-suss, jeee-SUS!”

Though it does occasionally sound like that when you hear the prayers of faith healers. As if Jesus needs to hear his name pronounced a certain way after a certain number of times before he will answer their prayer and perform that miracle.

When Peter says that it is “by faith in the name of Jesus” that this miracle happened, he is talking about the authority that God has given to Jesus to rule and save. That’s what his name means.

We look at this in more details next week in Chapter 4 where the religious leaders at them, “By what power or name did you do this?” Peter and John answer, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified... Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

That’s next week’s study. But for now, notice that Peter is talking about faith in Jesus’ name after the healing. Not as a means for him to be healed but as the reason why he was healed. Peter isn’t saying, “This is the way to bring about miracles and healing and revival.” He is saying, “This is the reason for the miracle. It’s Jesus.”

We want the miracle. We want the healing. The truth is, many of us couldn’t be bothered with Jesus. We don’t mind if the healing comes through Jesus’ name or by any other name, what really matters to us is the result.

And here is Peter pointing to the miracle which no one can deny happened. He says to them, “This man whom you see and know was made strong.” Again, “This complete healing that was given to him, as you can all see.” No one could deny that something amazing, something wonderful and awesome had happened here.

But Peter says, “Don’t miss why it happened. It’s so that you know the authority that comes from Jesus’ name. It’s so that you know Jesus really is the Christ.”

We think that if God would only heal that guy we know of that serious illness, why, he will immediately put his faith in God, his whole family will become Christians, his friends will come to know Jesus. Let me tell you, that doesn’t always happen.

But look again at the context of Peter’s sermon here - if Jesus really did heal this crippled man; if Jesus really did cause this miracle to happen - do you realise what it meant? Do you know what the crowd would have thought in their heads?

They would not have thought, “Wow, how cool! I wonder if I could be healed as well!” No, they would have thought to themselves, “Oh no! This is the same Jesus whom we crucified! What have we done!”

Do you see? It wouldn’t have brought them comfort. If anything, it would have brought them conviction: of their sin, of the seriousness of their rejection. Remember that just a few moments ago, Peter was accusing them of murder!

Yet at the same time, this is name by which they are to be saved. Peter wants them to know that God did this. God sent Jesus to die on the cross to take their sins, to bring them forgiveness and to give them life.

A merciful God

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. 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.
Acts 3:17-20

Behind their sin was a God who was sovereign over their sin. “This is how God fulfilled what he had foretold... his Christ would suffer.”

Peter is saying the whole bible is there to help us understand why Jesus had to die. And here we see three implications that flow from Jesus’ death on the cross.

First, we see forgiveness. “Repent, then, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” Jesus took the punishment for our sin on the cross, paying our debt in full. There is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Second, we see blessing. “That times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Refreshment is something that implies regeneration, renewal. What it is talking about is God’s Spirit filling us with his joy and acceptance. This, too, is something that comes from the cross because on the cross, Jesus not only takes our sin but covers us with his righteousness. He takes our death and fills us with his life.

Third, we see our true hope. “That he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you - even Jesus.” The cross means Jesus will one day return and when that happens, he will come to judge the living and the dead and he will come to renew the heavens and the earth. What we have today in the preaching of the cross is a preview of that final day - his resurrection pointing forward to our resurrection.

Peter expands this final thought in verse 21.

He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his prophets.
Acts 3:21

The fact that Jesus hasn’t yet returned means something: it means that there is a greater renewal to come.

The healing of the crippled man is preview of that renewal. The word that Luke uses to describe the lame man jumping up and down for joy is a picture we get from an Old Testament passage in Isaiah.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
Isaiah 35:5-7

Notice how Isaiah says, Then... this will happen, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened... Then will the lame leap...” The Old Testament looks forward to a future time, to a day when God will restore all things. And here Peter says Jesus must remain in heaven until that final day when God will restore all things.

But at the same time, the healing of the crippled man is a preview of that final day. It’s a sign that says the renewal of all things began with the cross. This is how we know God will restore the sight of the blind, that God will unstop the deaf ears and enable the lame to leap like a dear; this is how we know God will certainly do all of this and more.

It’s the cross. The whole bible points to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the cross and the fulfilment of God’s plan for creation.

Silver or gold I have none

The story is told of St Francis of Asissi being shown about the Vatican by none other than the Pope himself. As they toured through the great halls of the Vatican, the Pope eagerly showed him the immense treasures the church had accumulated over the years, saying. “Look, Francis, look! No longer can we say as Christians, ‘Silver or gold, I have none.’”

“Ah,” Francis replied. “But neither can we say, ‘What I have I give you. In Jesus’ name, walk.’”

You give what you have. That’s the lesson we see today in Acts and that’s the question we have to answer: What do we really have to give as Christians? What is our true treasure?

Is it silver or gold? In Acts 2:45, it says, “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” If you have silver or gold, give what you have.

But the real question is: Do you have Jesus? The reason God gives us our money as Christians is to so that the world will know the Jesus is our Lord, not our money. The reason God gives us our wealth is so the world can see that Jesus is more precious to us than our wealth.

And the times when God takes away our silver or our gold - our our health, for the matter - it is to show the world that what we have, that can never ever be taken away, is Jesus.

A miraculous healing: Here in Acts 3, we have a preview of the renewal of all things in the healing of the man crippled from birth. One day, God promises, he will renew all things through Jesus.

A mighty name: The purpose of the miracle is as a signpost - it points us to Jesus. “It is by faith in his name,” Peter says the man was healed.

Finally, we meet a merciful God. The bible calls us to turn away from our sin and turn to God. That we might be forgiven. That we might be refreshed by his Spirit. And that he would send Jesus as our King.

Or to sum it up in one statement: God has given us Jesus. On the cross, by his Spirit, through the gospel - God has given us his Son. More precious than silver or gold or life itself, we have Jesus. One day, we will receive together with him all blessing and wealth and treasure.

But until then, we have Jesus.

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live!