This a a very brief story, but what a story. 3 Things I notice here...
Peter and John weren't going to the synogogue to look for a guy to heal. They weren't attending some conference for supernatural ministry to learn how to pray for people effectively. They weren't out "seeking signs" as Jesus warned against in the gospels. They are going, v. 1 says, for prayer. We tend to make a pursuit of the sensational to the neglect of the simple. God doesn't call us to miraculous healing. He does call us to prayer. He doesn't call us to supernatural accomplishments. He does call us to humble dependence. Obedience in the small, seemingly unremarkable things is the best thing for us to pursue.
Peter and John both took notice of the man and looked him in the eye. That is, they saw him and his humanity and dignity. They saw him as a person, not as a problem or project. They weren't dismissive toward him but were attentive to him. They treated him as worthy of their time and attention and as worthy of Christ's love. Just that alone creates room for meaningful ministry.
They weren't going to the temple to minister to him, but God had a different agenda, and they were willing to adjust theirs to align with God's. This is huge for us. Our natural inclination is to have our own agenda and ask and expect for God to accommodate that. We assume our agenda is right and good and we don't want to get distracted from it or let other things disrupt it. The trouble is, much of ministry, and much of God's agenda unfolds in the distractions of life. Our willingness to be flexible with what the Holy Spirit is doing has a significant bearing on our usefulness to the Holy Spirit.
They took their divine authorization seriously. They bold and assertive with their faith, but that came from the authority they received from "Jesus of Nazareth." We don't know what led up to this moment, but there's no indication they had any guarantee when Peter commanded the lame man to rise up and walk. But that the Holy Spirit did something in that moment that was supernatural is beyond question. Not only did the man rise and walk, he lept up and ran. But that began with the willingness of the Apostles to step up and speak up in faith, and ask God to do what only he could do. Sometimes, the healing may not come, but take notice... it came in full here. That's awesome! And the Holy Spirit can and does replicate that, so that, as in this text, people are filled with wonder and amazement at the power of God and the glory of God.
So, I'll ask this... are you bold enough to ask God to heal people in your life who are physically ailing? If not, why not? What holds you back from pleading with him to do that? Do we expect or believe the Spirit can do supernatural things to heal? If not, why not? This should not be our ministry obsession, in the sense that we are always "seeking signs." But as we walk in simple obedience to God, prayerful dependence upon God, the love of God for our neighbor, and a willingness to be used by God wherever we find ourselves and wherever needs are made known, why would prayer for and expectation of the supernatural not be normative?
As stated in the preface to Acts from last week, we shouldn't expect everything to happen all of the time. But neither should we expect nothing all the time. We should expect for the Spirit to do everything some of the time and to do something all of the time.
Last word on this. A man who had been lame from birth... he'd never walked. He'd never run. He'd never hike a mountain. He never played a sport. He's been utterly dependent on other for so much physical and material care. Peter and John, as ambassadors of Jesus of Nazareth, and operating in the authority given to them by Him, show up, minister to him personally, and Jesus heals him by the power of the Spirit, and in an instant, the man's whole life is radically changed. Just let that land today. Let that sink in. What a glorious God!
Man this passage is loaded. I feel like I could preach a sermon series on this sermon. But I won't. I guess there ar a couple things I'll note...
The supernatural healing of the lame man in v.1-10 set the stage for Gospel proclamation in v. 11-26. The power of the Spirit to heal and minister is about setting the stage for the power of the gospel to save. The Holy Spirit loves the gospel. He empowers the preaching of the gospel, he awakens faith to believe the gospel. And Peter is of this mind... the ultimate healing here is not of the lame man. The ultimate healing that comes is spiritually dead people coming to a living faith in the Risen Christ. The Spirit's healing power in the physical sense opens a door for his healing in the spiritual sense to be received.
Peter really brings it. Man he preaches a great sermon in a few short paragraphs. He proclaims Christ with boldness and straightforwardness. He tells us of our need, and contribution to Christ's crucifixion, but he does not leave us without hope. He gives credit for the man's healing to Jesus, and his power, and calls people to repent and believe in Christ. It really is a powerful word, particularly on the heels of the healing that just took place. The Spirit uses the sign to get their attention. But the Spirit works through the word proclaimed to grab hold of their affections.
One part of this sermon that I love... just briefly. v. 19-20 say "Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..." The word for "refreshing" here literally means breathing space. In other words, Peter calls us to repent, turn from sin, believe in Jesus, and let your soul breathe again. The pressure's off. You don't have to live under this burden to prove anything. You don't have to validate your existence before men or God. Jesus has covered your guilt and shame and shortcomings. His grace is sufficient. All the pressure you feel from others or put on yourself... Jesus lifts that, and he gives gives us room to catch our breath. Forever. That's awesome.
I wonder if your soul is suffocating or breathing heavy? Or do you have some room to breathe? Are you allowing Jesus, by faith, to rehydrate, reoxygenate, and reenergize you?
v. 1-4 - Don't miss this... the number came to 5,000. The church is exploding in Jerusalem. And that is, wait for it...
The work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is moving powerfully in these early days redeem slaves, reconcile enemies of God, and rescue guilty sinners all through Christ. He is giving new life to real people, in real need, at a real moment in time, for a real eternity to establish the Church of which we have been born into. These are the earliest brothers and sisters to which we are now united. Pretty cool.
And... just saying... the power brokers and culture makers were annoyed by Christians then too. Be content with the surrounding and unbelieving culture finding you annoying. That's been the case from the beginning. Can we get over ourselves already?
v. 5-12 - Peter, it specifically states again, was filled with the Holy Spirit when he proclaims the gospel. It is the Spirit that generates such boldness (v. 13), and such clarity.
v. 13-17 - The Jewish leaders recognize the healing and radical nature of what's happening among them. They couldn't deny it or argue with it. So what do they try to do? Control and contain it. Brothers and sisters, this is our human tendency. When we don't understand and aren't comfortable with things, we want to control them. And this is the first instance of our attempts to contain and control the Holy Spirit so that he operates within our boxes and comfort zones. The tragedy is that it is beleivers in Jesus who largely try to control the Spirit most often, but for much the same reasons.
v. 18-22 - When they are told to stop testifying and preaching Jesus, they refuse. This may be controversial, but when our companies or employers or authorities tell us to silence religious talk or Jesus talk, we tend to act like it's a command from heaven. When earthly authorities try to silence gospel witness, it is not incumbent on us to comply with the order, it is incumant on us to know full well the consequences of not complying with the order and to be willing to count the cost. I'm not saying that we should be brazen and rebellious or unnecessarily combative. I'm just saying that obeying our earthly authorities is subordinate to obeying God's authority. And we are witnesses of Jesus. Like John and Peter, and the lame man healed, we are those who have been touched by Christ, and healed by Christ and have come to know the risen and living Jesus. We can only speak about what we've seen and heard. Let's be bold for Christ. Let's be wise in how we do that, but let's not shrink back in fear because of some earthly authority. Let's be ready to suffer for Christ if he calls us to that. Let's be willing to at least ask if he would have us defy company policy for the sake of Jesus. There are occasions when he may not want us to, but certainly there are occasions where we must. It's worth the asking.
Lastly, v. 13... they recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. Wouldn't that be the best thing to be known for? That we would be recognized as those who have been with Jesus. You can't fake that, beloved. You have to spend time with Jesus. You have to love him, hear from him, talk to him, sit with him and be known by him. When we have been with him, it will be obvious.
So in the face of real threat, real opposition and real adversity, these earliest followers of Jesus continue to do what they did in Acts 2:42... they gather together, devote themselves to prayer, and the word of God. They aren't moving on from those things... they're moving deeper into them, and returning to them again and again.
Notice they are understanding and applying the Scriptures through the lens, again, of Christ's finished work. They are seeing Jesus' arrest, trial, conviction, sentencing and execution for what it is... a fulfillment of Psalm 2, and the nations raging against the Anointed One of God... the Christ. And as those who are following Jesus, they recognize their present situation through their grid of belonging to Christ and advancing the gospel of Christ. The opposition they face isn't surprising in light of the suffering Jesus himself underwent. The same forces in the world exist in every place and in every generation in different forms, to stand against Jesus, the Anointed One, and against his people.
They see they're struggle as first and foremost a rejection of Jesus and opposition to the gospel. It's bigger than them. And because of they're acute awareness and belief in that, they don't strategize a way around it or out of it... they just cry out to God in prayer for what only He can do, fully convinced that He is able and inclined to do it. They are praying first and foremost for boldness in their gospel witness, and they're praying and believing for signs and wonders to accompany they're bold witness. Signs and wonders are not a substitute for bold gospel proclamation... signs and wonders accompany and lend credibility to bold gospel proclamation.
And this means two things...
They lacked boldness - That's why they prayed for it. Because they were afraid and insecure and unsure and timid, just as we are. Fear was their natural response as it is ours, but they faithfully prayed for a boldness that was supernatural because it's what gospel mission requires. Strong natural personalities that are outspoken and forward aren't needed for gospel mission. Anything natural won't accomplish the things of the Spirit. Supernatural power is needed to accomplish the things of the Spirit. And we must pray for that, rely on that, and operate in that.
They didn't rely on signs and wonders - They prayed for them, expected them and acknowledged them when they happened. But they weren't waiting for them and piggy backing on them. They prayed for boldness and took responsibility to be ambassadors of Christ and then anticipated the Spirit's involvement and accompanying work.
This is a beautiful picture of community formed by the gospel. This is the progressing and deepening of what was beginning to come into existence in Acts 2... A community with radical devotion to one another, to generosity, to meeting needs, sharing burdens, and caring for one another. I'll remind us that this isn't a radical community that has been formed because of the pursuit of radical community. The reality of this is remarkable... it's nothing less than heavenly. But it's the product or fruit of gospel belief. Devotion to Jesus, Scripture, and to the gospel are the cause... this description of community is the effect.
We're introduced to Baranabas here, who will become an imoprtant figure in the unfolding narrative of the Church. Notice just that he's an ordinary guy, not an Apostle, and he's obviously been savvy enough to build some wealth, he's humble to submit to and trust the Apostles, and he's exraordinarily generous. This is happening more broadly, but Barnabas is a key part of it. The Church in general, and every local church and expression of God's family, exists only by the provision of God through the generosity of his people. It's the hard working, wise, generous stewardship of resources, the sharing of wealth among the saints, that empowers gospel mission.
This is a necessary component of ministry and one that should never be overlooked. It is a way that we can all contribute in a tangible and sacrificial way and it's reality that I certainly don't take for granted. I'm so grateful for the generosity off which my own parents growing up were provided for, and the genersoity through which me and my family are now supported. I don't take this for granted. God's people giving generously is not insignificant in any way... it is a key aspect of God's mission and I'm so grateful for the responsiveness of our own church family and for God's family historically and globally who have and continue to fund the great commission in the making of disciples and planting of churches.
I hope you are entering into the joy of generosity and participating in this beautiful way of life described in Acts 4, both in the material ways and the immaterial ways.