A Fellowship of Astonishment
A Fellowship of Astonishment (Acts 3:11-16)
The earliest church astonished the city with the demonstration of the power and message of Christ. The very words suggest an impact which left people dumbfounded with amazement, as if shocked. There was such an excitement that it was as if people were standing outside themselves. No one could ignore the church.
On the other hand, the element of astonishment is missing from church today. The ordinary, routine, and predictable mark most of what we do. Churches today are admired, congratulated, or ignored, but we seldom astonish. When you compare the church in Acts with the church today, you see the contrast. Some things in Acts cannot be duplicated today: the wind, the fire and the tongues belonged to unique beginnings. But the astonishing quality of the Christian fellowship should be duplicated today. God desires our church in its demonstration and declaration to be a fellowship of astonishment.
The Demonstration of an Astonishing Church
Things happened in the earliest church that caused astonishment: "Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, 'What does this mean?' " (Acts 2:12).
A fellowship of astonishment creates attraction: "all the people were astonished and came running to them" (3:11). From the inner court of the temple the Jewish worshipers ran to the eastern porch and thronged Peter and John. These people did what we long for people to do—they literally ran to the preaching of God's word and His messengers. Why?
There was the evidence of a dramatically changed life in the presence of the preacher. A forty-year-old man (4:22) lame from birth had been miraculously healed (3:1-10). In the very presence of the messengers stood an undeniable demonstration of a powerful message. No amount of promotion substitutes for such evidence. This was in the same old location, the temple. Yet the same worshipers in the same old place suddenly turned into a fellowship of astonishment.
A fellowship of astonishment lives with expectation: "Why does this surprise you?" Peter asked the onlookers (v. 12a). A people of faith ought to expect the astonishing. Peter reminds them that they are Israelites, sons of Abraham. Their heritage was one of the astonishing. Yet they embalmed it rather than embodied it; they remembered it rather than repeated it. The church should live with the expectation of the unusual. Yet we do the very reverse. If anything unusual happens we want to know what is wrong. A New Testament church should expect to move in an atmosphere of the supernatural, the unexplainable, the exceptional. The routine, the ritual, and the predictable should be the exception.
A fellowship of astonishment makes a clear attribution. The Source of everything unusual is the glorified Lord Jesus. The astonishing church is always making a disclaimer. The unusual does not happen because of "our own power or godliness" (v. 12b). We always confess that the power to do the unusual does not emanate from us. Further, anything that God does is not a reward for our piety. The astonishing is an act of sheer grace. It is only the name of Jesus and faith based on that name that makes us fully whole (v. 16). The astonishing fellowship constantly points beyond itself to the Name and Person of Jesus.
The Declaration of an Astonishing Church
The preaching and testifying of an astonishing church was personal, direct, and startling. Such preaching immediately connected the listeners with the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. It put the hammer that nailed Him to the cross in their very hands.
An astonishing church confronts the city with the disowning of Christ. Peter did not hesitate to confront the city with their denial of Jesus. Two times he emphasized the baseness of it. Pilate had declared Jesus innocent and desired to let Him go. Yet Jesus stood face to face with Pilate and demanded the cross. Peter forced them to take responsibility for the cross (2:23). He puts the hammer in their hands. An astonishing church is willing to tell the city "You crucified Him." This galls and offends. If the people of this congregation really told Fort Worth, "You nailed Him to the cross," there would be an astonishing reaction.
An astonishing church confronts the city with the dishonoring of the Christ. We must present the contrast. The city wanted Barabbas rather than Jesus (3:14). When the city could have chosen the very best, it chose instead the very worst. The astonishing church confronts the city with choosing everyone or anyone other than Jesus. The ultimate contradiction is stated in the words, "You killed the author of life" (v. 15a). How can you put to death the Source and Prince of life itself?
An astonishing church confronts the city with the dignifying of Christ: "God raised him from the dead" (15b). God reverses the verdict of the city. What God does more than undoes the rejection of Christ. God vindicates Christ, exalts Him, and makes Him Lord over all. An astonishing church claims without flinching that Jesus Christ is Lord over this city now. We say without hesitation that God has reversed the verdict of Fort Worth on Jesus Christ, just as He reversed the verdict of Jerusalem.