Easter 4 2018, St. John’s, Burns TN, Acts 4:5-12
This morning we find Jesus’ disciples Peter and John, in big trouble. They stand before the Jerusalem governing council, under investigation and interrogation. Standing with them is a man who the day before could not stand. Gathered around them are Rulers, religious leaders, religion scholars, Annas the chief priest and his predecessor Caiaphas. The words of Psalm 118 are fitting, “they surrounded me, surrounded me on every side like bees, like fire among thorns.” Not many weeks before, Jesus, the good shepherd, who came to lay down his life for his flock stood before this same group to be grilled, found guilty and had walked up the hill of death to the cross. How did it come to this for Peter and John? Well it’s a case of the dangers of going to church. It’s a case of “No good deed going unpunished.”
Let’s flash back to about 3:00 the previous day. Peter and John were on their way to the temple for the 3 pm prayer service. At the same time members of a family were carrying a man who, as the Greek puts, was lame since he came out of his mother’s belly. Everyday they laid him at the gate named Beautiful to beg for charity from those going to the temple.
This lame man lying at the Beautiful gate is not a beautiful scene. But he served two purposes. His family members were his caregivers and that is not always easy for the caregiver and for the one receiving such care. However, earlier we read in John’s letter, “Let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth.” Secondly, for those going to the temple this was the opportunity for showing love to a neighbor who lay right in front of them every day.
In Psalm 118 we read, “Oh give thanks to the Lord for he is good; His kindness is forever!” And along comes the Lord’s goodness and kindness in the person of Peter and John. You see, it’s through us that God works his goodness and kindness. He looks to us to carry it out toward one another. John writes, “This is his commandment that we believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ AND love one another.”
So, when the lame man saw Peter and John, he looked at them expecting them to show him some love. But, Peter says, “Look at me. We’re broke. But I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and start walking.” Following Jesus’ practice, Peter grabbed the man by his right hand, pulled him up. Now at Christmas, we have ten Lords leaping. In the time of Easter, we have a poor lame man leaping. Now, he served a third purpose. He was a sign that the Messiah, the Christ had come. The prophet Isaiah had written “(The Lord) will strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees.” and “Then shall the lame man leap like a deer.” God, through the power of the name of Jesus spoken by Peter and John had saved a man from a life time of sitting and begging, “Alms, Alms;” saved him for a lifetime of leaping, running, dancing, and shouting, “Alleluia, alleluia.” Truly this was the Lord’s doing, a marvelous thing to see – a day that the Lord had made, resulting in rejoicing and gladness. Beautiful!
Something else beautiful happens at the Beautiful gate. The man who could only sit outside the gate now passed through the gate. He entered Alleluing to God, disrupting the whole prayer service. People were amazed that a cripple whom they had seen for as long as they could remember sitting outside the gate, now could do something which they could take for granted, and perhaps we take for granted, enter God’s house to worship. He could now stand and receive the blessing of the priest at the end of the service.
The people rushed to Peter and John to whom the now walking man was clinging. Peter took the opportunity to talk to the people about this Jesus of Nazareth. He let them have it. He said, though Pontius Pilate had declared Jesus innocent, you had denied him and asked for a murderer to be freed instead. You killed the author of life. You killed Jesus the Messiah you had been awaiting for ages, but God raised him up from the dead. It was faith in Jesus’ name that healed and saved this man. Now repent that your sins may be blotted out. The result was that many who heard the word believed. But not everyone, some were annoyed.
Instead of shouting, as the psalm says, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and making the house of the Lord a place from which blessing flowed; instead of declaring a festival because God’s saving and healing light had shined on them right here in the house of Lord; instead, some who didn’t believe in the resurrection were annoyed, indignant over Peter’s message of Jesus’ resurrection. They had Peter and John and apparently the man who had just begun to walk, arrested and thrown in jail. You see the resurrection says that the author of life, control’s the end of our life not we, ourselves. Death does not have the last word. God is ultimately in control of the end of our story. God is greater than uncertainty, and death. God is greater than crushed lives or limbs. God is greater than a fatal diagnosis or prognosis. God is with us with his goodness and mercy which follows me wherever I go all the days of my life and in the end, it will be as it is today here, that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We are saved now and forever, because of a story which is irritating and annoying to those who don’t want God to write the story of their life which in Christ has no ending. That’s why Peter, John, and the man were standing surrounded by the most powerful men in Jerusalem. They asked, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
Remember that Jesus said, if you ever get into a tough spot because you believe in me, the Holy Spirit will give you the words you need? Well, here is a case of the Holy Spirit coming through as promised. Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and before this hostile crowd of powerful men again proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter shares the message of the resurrection with those who thought they held the power of life and death over John and himself. Peter says that Jesus was like a building stone which was rejected by the construction crew and the boss dug it out of the rubble and made it the cornerstone by which all other stones would be measured.
I have a small stone here that I found a long time ago while I was looking for rocks to skip on the waters of Green Bay in Wisconsin. This stone, was shaped just right for skipping maybe six or seven times and then I noticed the cross on its surface. Somehow, this stone had been eroded and shaped until it contained a message of the resurrection. A plain skipping stone became a stone with a life giving message. It’s a stone which reminds us of Peter’s concluding words in his sermon before the powerful men of Jerusalem, “There is salvation in no other name under heaven given among men by which we might be saved and made whole.” The world doesn’t like that message, but you can live with it.