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From Immobile to Mobile

Acts 1-5  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The resurrection of Christ has power to mobilise his church. As a result of what he has done, we work for God's kingdom.

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First Car

I’m sure many of you remember with fondness the first car you ever owned.
The first car I ever owned was a 1979 Holden Gemini. It was a great little car which during my university days got me around where needed.
Of course, as with any older car, which by the time I owned it, it was about 20 years old, you can have lots of fun when it inevitably breaks down.
I can certainly think of a number of times waiting on the side of the road, and for that matter, being thankful for the NRMA.
I also remember at one stage having issues with the battery. Fortunately, I became quite proficient at the old push start, and as much as possible, I would try to park the car on a downward slope so I didn’t need anyone to actually push.
One day however, I was in a car park in the shopping centre at Jesmond and the battery was flat. Fortunately I had some friends with me, to which I confidently asserted that the car would start easily because I had done this lots and it always started first go. (Sometimes you can regret being confident)
Thankfully the car park was not very busy, so we pushed the car out into a place where we had some space, and then my friends began to push. As I was well practiced, I had the car in 2nd gear with the clutch fully down, and once I got a little speed (I didn’t need much), I let the clutch out, the engine turned over… but then nothing happened. …that was strange....
I expressed my confusion to my friends, and then asked if we could try again - I know it will work this time.
But the same thing happened. And then again, and then again. Each time the frustration grew, and my poor friends who were actually doing the pushing were starting to get not too happy. How many times do we have to do this?
Well after about 5 or 6 failed attempts trying to get this thing started I was at a loss.
I sat back in the drivers seat, going through everything, then suddenly it hit me. The key wasn’t turned to the on position. This whole time, my friends had been pushing, but it was never going to work.
I sheepishly admitted my mistake and asked for one more push, and this time the engine finally kicked over, I had done it!

An analogy for church

I think this story can actually work as an analogy for the church. We try to give the church a push start by starting this program, or that one. With a bit of a push, the metaphorical cogs turn over, but then nothing happens.
We get frustrated. Maybe we’re not doing it quite right.
But maybe, just maybe, we actually haven’t turned the key.
The question is however, what is that key?
Well, if you’ve been here the last two weeks as we’ve looked at the first two chapters of Acts, we’ve explored the importance of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son to give power to the church. This was particularly evident in chapter 2 which looked at the day of Pentecost and the church suddenly grew to 3000 people.
Now, as we move into chapter 3, I’m going to maintain that the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential for the church to continue, and everything in that chapter happens only because of the Holy Spirit.
But that being said, in this chapter, we’re going to see the apostle Peter point to another aspect which he is going to use to spur the church on, and it is this aspect that I want to explore this morning...

The miracle

Well, the scene for us this morning is set in the first chapter. It involved Peter and John and they are going to the temple to pray. In fact we’re also told that it is about three in the afternoon.

Contrasts

Now as we come to this scene we see some very sharp contrasts.
One such contrast is the new Christian community presented at the end of chapter 2 with the general Jewish community we see in this chapter.
Now I do recognise that I’m painting some pretty big broad brush strokes here, and there is of course inherent dangers in doing that, but if you look at the Christian community at the end of chapter 2, you see a community that looks out for one another and share their possessions for the good of others.
By contrast, in chapter 3, we see a community where those less fortunate are forced to beg.
I think that Luke, the author of this book is deliberately highlighting the irony of this situation by stating that this ugly scene of begging is happening right outside the temple gate called beautiful!
This irony is showing what happens when you lose the real heart of God, and in your attempt to honour God you become blind to what is really important.
When you try to do church while being blind to God’s heart, you can see how it is almost like me trying to push start my car without the key turned on.

Immobility

Now when we move to look at the actual beggar I believe we are seeing something quite symbolic of what Israel had become.
You see, the man was lame from birth. Because of his immobility he was essentially stuck in one spot - just like a car without a key.
We see a parallel with Israel who had become stuck. They were God’s chosen people and in the Old Testament we read of some absolutely amazing scenes where God did miraculous events to make them the mighty nation they became. But for the last few centuries prior to the incarnation of Jesus, it was as if they were put in a holding pattern, constantly under the watch of foreign powers.

Begging

Well, the lame man doesn’t really have much option, in fact, the only real option left for him is to beg, and verse 2 tells us that he had people put him at the gate to do just this.
The Jews during this time might not have seen it, but they too had essentially become beggars, begging for the thing they thought they needed - in the case of the lame man: money.
In verse 3, we’re told that when the lame man saw Peter and John he did what he’d been doing for probably the best part of his life.
Now you could well imagine that Peter might well do what is a common reaction to begging, that is, walk straight past and try your hardest not to give eye contact.
But Peter did the very opposite. He looked straight at the beggar.
I certainly get the impression from the way that Luke records the incident that the man didn’t really expect any sort of interaction, because Peter has to ask that the Lame Man look at him, and only then are we told that Peter got the attention of the man.
Now it becomes clear that the man had lost all hope of anything other than just money, and so when he Peter and this man look at each other, he fully expects that Peter must have something to give him.

The healing

The answer Peter gives would have come as a complete shock.
Now I expect I’m not the only person here who is most familiar with his response from a song learnt in Sunday School. I won’t inflict you with my rendition of the song now, but sometimes I struggle to read this without breaking out into that Sunday School song.
To avoid me singing now, I’ll let you read verse 6, but the essense of what is being said is that money is not the important thing.
Despite what the worldly influence that infiltrates the church, money is not the currency of the church. For practical purposes, money is necessary in the world we exist in, but it is not the currency that is going to keep the church going.
Instead Peter offers him something far greater and this is the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Now from this account what becomes very clear is that the power of Jesus did not leave when he ascended. Quite to the contrary, we see that the name of Jesus has life changing properties.
This is clear Peter tells a lame man that in the name of Jesus Christ to walk. What happened next was not a gradual healing.
There is absolutely no way to understand what happens next other than to see it entirely as a miracle - the work of God. Because verse 7 tells us that instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.
In verse 8 the man is then able to walk and jump and in the process give praise to God.
Now, remember, this man has never walked before, and so you could imagine that there might have been a bit of a process as he learned how to use the newly restored muscles in his body - but I believe that this too was a miracle as it appears that he perfectly knew how to walk and jump.

The response

Now this begging man would have for some time been somewhat of a permanent feature in this spot. Most people would have become quite familiar with him and his predicament.
And so it is not surprising that seeing this man jump and praising God would have caught their attention. Consequently people come which gives Peter the perfect opportunity to explain what has just happened.

Peter’s Sermon

From verse 12 we see the start of Peter’s response to this situation.
He starts by telling them that they shouldn’t be surprised by what has just happened.
This surprise that he is noting is actually symptomatic of how they have lost their way.
They no longer expect God to act in powerful ways, to the point that when he does they can hardly believe it.
I know that we today can be guilty of this as well. It is very easy to just expect things to naturally occur in front of us. How often do we pray but not really expect anything to happen? Unfortunately I have to admit that I have often been guilty of this in the past.
Now it’s important that we follow Peter’s argument here because what we are going to see is the very key that we need to get our metaphorical car started.
It’s the key that should make us what God has always intended us to be.
So let’s look at that key...

An accusation

Peter starts his argument by describing the trial and eventual crucifixion of Jesus but framed it in language that really linked them with those who were calling for Jesus to be crucified.
Verse 13: You handed him over… you disowned him...
Verse 14: you disowned the Holy and Righteous One
Verse 15: You killed the author of life
Today we talk about the death of Jesus which happened some 2000 years ago, but just imagine for these Jews. At this point in time we haven’t even had a year pass since his death. It’s very conceivable, perhaps even likely, that when Peter directs these accusations at them, he is not just saying “you” in a very generalised sense, but that some in the crowd very well may have been yelling the words “crucify him” on that very first Good Friday.

The resurrection of Jesus

This might seem a harsh tactic for Peter to take, but in verse 15 he reminds them of the truth which puts it in perspective - “but God raised him from the dead”. And as proof of this resurrection he can add… “We are witnesses of this”.
Now this is where it becomes important to follow his logic.

From resurrection to healing

You see in verse 16 he moves straight from the resurrection of Jesus to link it with the miracle that was just witnessed in the man gaining strength in his legs.
It was because Jesus rose from the grave that even after he left, he still has power to heal.

The name of Jesus

It is also interesting to note Peter’s use of the word “name”. It is Jesus’ name that has power to heal.
What we need to remember is that a name is more than just the syllables put together, rather it is an identity.
As an aside, I’ve found it interesting with my kids. Particularly when they were younger, I’d call them by various pet names, but on occasions it confused them, because they couldn’t connect with the names I gave them. Names are actually very important. Also as an aside, it is why trying to learn the names of others is so important. I know it can be hard when you meet many people, but it can make a huge difference when you do.
You see, calling on the name of Jesus is to connect with who he is.
One thing important here is to understand that the name of Jesus does not become some sort of magical word, as if the utterance of such will grant you special power.
That’s because it needs to come with the identification of the name. But as well as that what we learn in verse 16 is that it also needs to come with faith.
Which raises an interesting point, because prior to this time, there is no evidence that the man actually had any faith in Jesus.

The need of faith

Well, I think this verse 16 makes for an interesting case study. You see, the second half of the verse talks about the faith that comes through Jesus’ name. In other words, he can be the originator of the faith, and so even if the man only had a shred of faith, he was able to be made strong.
I believe the important thing here however, and the part I want you to keep as we follow the logic of this talk, is that it is the risen Lord Jesus that heals, even after his ascension to heaven.

Fulfill Scripture

And so let’s continue to look at the flow of his talk. From verse 17 he starts talking about how the death and resurrection of Jesus had to happen to fulfill what was written in scripture. They might have been acting in ignorance, but God has the whole thing planned.
And so let’s continue to look at the flow of his talk. From verse 17 he starts talking about how the death and resurrection of Jesus had to happen to fulfill what was written in scripture. They might have been acting in ignorance, but God has the whole thing planned.

Call to repent

And so in verse 19 we get to the important part where he calls his listeners into action.
The action is simple enough - “repent, then, and turn to God”
It’s essentially the same message we saw in chapter 2 when Peter told the crowd then to repent and be baptised.
Now I’ve asked you to try and follow this basic flow of Peter’s argument for a reason.
You see, there is essentially something that as far as I’m aware is unique to Christianity.
In almost every other religion, you start with a command, whatever it might be. Do this or do that. Or perhaps, don’t do this and don’t do that. After the instruction is given, then a description of what will happen as a result follows.
Christianity is different. Almost always in the Bible, the instruction follows what God has already done. God has done such and such, therefore you should do...
Interestingly, even in the 10 commandments as recorded in , it actually doesn’t just jump straight into the commands, rather it starts with the verse “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery”.
You see back in , Peter is saying, don’t be surprised by what’s happening. God acted in grace against what the Jews tried to do. He continues to act even with the Jews stuck in the spot they are in. And he will continue to act regardless of what you do.
You know, you don’t need to do anything for God to be alive and active, but the exciting thing is, you have an opportunity to be a part of it.
Therefore our call to action is not so God can be active, but so that we have the privilege of being a part of it.
There is a change in perspective here which I believe can make a huge difference.
Basically, the truth is that my initial analogy of the car without the key turned is far from perfect because God’s activity is unstoppable in the world around us, despite whatever we do or don’t do.
But we have a choice.
We can cling to the power of the risen Lord Jesus or we can do it in our own strength.
It’s not a hard decision, because the answer should be obvious. Doing it in your own strength is like trying to push start a car without the key turned on. You might move around the car park, but you’re not going to get far.
Reading this account should be a call to action for us. Indeed the resurrection of Jesus compels us to live a godly life, not because of the rewards for obedience, although verse 21 does hint at such a reward, but because of what Jesus has already done for us.
The way we honour the work he has done for us is by living godly lives and turning from our life of sin.
As we do this, we will become more aware of the wonders of what God is doing around us. Though we may be surprised, we shouldn’t because God wants to see his church grow.

Conclusion

As I draw to a close this morning, I want to highlight how this chapter starts with a lame man - unable to walk since birth. But through the risen Lord Jesus, a miracle occurs, the man is given strength in his legs, and in the process the church is also given legs.
The message to take home is that there is power in the name of Jesus, the only man to ever have died and rose by his own power to conquer death.
We follow Christ because of what he has done for us.
Let’s pray...
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