“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
(Acts 3:13-21 ESV)
It was heady times in the Apostolic community. What had Jesus promised? “And greater things than this shall you do because I go to the Father.” So after crucifixion, after resurrection, after ascension, He poured out His Spirit and things were hopping in Jerusalem. Peter and John headed up to the temple to pray and the man begging alms. Peter notices him, notices his faith. Says: “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
And he didn’t only get and walk, he was leaping and dancing and praising God for the unmerited, unlooked for gift of healing. Chrysostom says that this made manifest the resurrection, for it was an image of the resurrection. And everyone gathered around him and Peter and John and wondered. Quite evidently the same wonder working power that had been evidenced in Jesus was still in evidence. There’s a reason Luke begins Acts with the feisty words, in the first book, O Theopholis, I covered all that Jesus BEGAN to do and to teach.” Because His doing and teaching were still going on quite powerfully through the Apostles.
But the danger is that we forget that it’s Jesus doing the verbs. We can imagine that it was those who were only instruments. So Peter cries out: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” And so today’s text begins.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His servant Jesus and it’s Jesus who is behind all this hoopla. “Then shall the lame man leap like a deer!” Isaiah had foretold. And the man whooping and hollering it up in the temple was the doing of Him who alone can heal the sick, give sight to the blind, raise the dead.
Yesterday, Dr. Rast read the text later when Paul was preaching: “They killed...”
and that’s fair because he wasn’t in Jersualem anymore. But here in our reading, with the memory of those historic days fresh in everyone’s mind, no “they” but “you.” You delivered him over, the One who went in your midst healing every disease and raising the dead, You denied him before Pilate (No king but Caesar for us!), even when Pilate was trying to release Him. You asked for a murderer instead. “Not this man but Barabbas!” And so YOU killed the Author of life. You killed Your own life. You killed the very life of this world. BUT God raised Him from the dead. We (John, Peter and the other apostles) are all witnesses of this. And He’s the one who’s still up to His old business. It’s by His name and faith in His name that this fellow stands before you in perfect health. Jesus did this, not we.
And I know you acted in ignorance, you and your leaders. But that’s how God worked it all so that everything His prophets said came true: that His Christ would suffer. Isaiah 53 looms large. And Psalm 22, among others. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good for the saving alive of many lives.” So, repent, turn get a new mind. Your sins will be blotted out and times of refreshing will come to you from the Lord.
Here we stand, centuries removed, and yet we cannot but be stirred in heart when we hear of those amazing days, when the cowardly Peter stood bold and preached the Crucified and Risen One and did not deny anymore. When the men who at one point were so concerned about their own prestige and honor and seating plan in the Kingdom, now throw overboard all pride and stress to everyone that it’s them, their power, their piety, it’s Jesus and His name that does the miracle.
Beside a charcoal fire, Peter had denied. Besides a charcoal fire, Peter was restored (John 21). And what the Risen One did for Peter, blotting all His sins, He wanted to do for everyone who rejected, despised, mocked, and killed Him. He literally is Forgiveness of Sin risen from the dead. And so for you too, He rises to bring you times of refreshing. To be Your pardon. And His power goes on working in your life, as He pours out His Spirit into you and you too believe.
It wasn’t long before the Church began noticing the shifting of the Lord’s work. Those eye-popping miracles of the earliest days faded with the death of the Apostles. It is said that in a meeting between himself and St. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent IV noted with pride: “No longer can the Church say ‘silver and gold have I none’ to which Aquinas noted, “but neither can she say ‘rise, take up your bed and walk.’”
Which invites us to some self-reflection. Have the flood of miracles died down because of our worldiness. Something we need to ask. But I think that misses the mark a bit. Yet it is true, those kind of miracles still show up, now and again across the centuries. The Lord still works. But the flood of miracles that came with the Apostles was to prove to all the world that the Risen One was at work in them and that each one of us needs to hear the words they bring us about the Crucified and Risen Lord. And that's how the big miracle happens, the miracle that just keeps going on, the miracle of dead sinners being raised up to life, brought into a community of faith, formed by the Spirit, shaped by the Word, in which forgiveness continues to blot out every sin in the blood of Jesus, and where God’s most determined enemies continue to be forgiven and restored. Where the ministry continues to give out the Lord’s gifts not by its own power or piety, but simply done in the name and bidding of the Risen One, who will finally bring in the great miracle of resurrection for us all, and to whom be glory, now and to the ages of ages. Amen.