“It’s Still Easter”
There is nothing worse than coming in in the middle of a story or television show. You do not know the characters, or the plot line. Sometimes you are not sure who the good guy or the villain is, and the people watching the show get annoyed if you ask a bunch of questions.
In some ways this is where our scripture begins today -in the middle of the story, so I just have to back up a little to explain where we are. Otherwise, the story might not make as much sense. Before this text Peter and John are going into the temple at 3:00 in the afternoon for prayer. This was a customary opportunity for prayer in the temple. They come upon a man in his forties who has been crippled since birth. (Acts 3:2, 4:22) Now in those days, the average life expectancy was probably around 35. It is not that people did not live longer, but a lot of people died in infancy or young, and it was less likely to get older. So, you have to imagine this old fellow, in his forties, who was carried there by his family so that he might be the object of charity by those going into the temple. This too was a customary pattern to life. They did not have any kind of government social services or groups that worked to help people who were handicap, but as individuals, people did believe in the practice of charity and caring for those who could not care for themselves. The man’s place at the gate of the temple was one of the ways the world helped people who were unable to otherwise survive.
But I do have to pause just a bit longer on this man’s plight. For over forty years this man lived in the dirt of the ground, because he was not able to effectively lift himself up. I once knew a church member that worked with making parts for P.E.T’s. which stands for personal energy transportation. A P.E.T. is basically a three wheeled cart that a person can sit in and operate with their hands. (Have you heard of them before?) There is a building and staging area for these machines in Holland, Michigan, and they are sent out around the world. One of the blessings of this ministry is that for many people who live in poorer places with homes that have dirt floors, the PET serves as a way for them to literally get off the ground and be more self sufficient and mobile. The plight of our man in the scriptures was not much different than the plight of many people in our world who have no technological benefits. If you can not stand up, you live on the bare ground.
So, Peter and John see this man, looking for a charitable gift. Like I said he is an old fellow in his forties, and his legs never worked. His muscles were probably thin, maybe deformed. There was some reason why he could not walk. Everyone knew about him. Everyone had seen him around all their lives. There is poor Abdinai (just made a name up), sad sight to see. He sees Peter and John and asks them for a handout. I guess if Peter had a coin, he would have given it to him, but he and John were materially broke. And then the Holy Spirit moved them, and Peter told the man, Acts 3:6 “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” He took the man by the hand and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong, and the man jumped up and began to walk!
Now we get to our scripture for today. Peter and John continued into the temple to Solomon’s Portico. This was a covered area along the East side of the Temple. The man latched on to Peter and John and he would not let go of them. Can you blame him? He must have been wondering how others were going to treat him. Would they believe he had been healed or would they accuse him of faking his disability? How could he explain himself? Before people might have assumed his deformed was a punishment from God. He may have not even been allowed in the Temple. Now he could go places, and many wanted to know what happened and how this was possible. The place was getting crowded.
It was then that Peter stood up and spoke. The significance of Peter’s sermon is perhaps two-fold. First it represents a significant moment in the spread of the gospel message. Peter had spoken at Pentecost and many believed, but now he was carrying the message to and within the Temple itself, and his words were being backed up through this miraculous healing. Jesus had been crucified, but he still lives, and the work and message Jesus brought into the world is still ongoing. That is why I thought one title for this sermon can be “It’s Still Easter.” Easter is not just for a day of the year, but rather we are in the Easter season of God’s grace and life. Jesus lives every day. The first Easter was just the beginning of all that has followed. If anything, Peter healing this man, proves the relevance and the reality of Jesus as the Christ for all time.
Secondly Peter’s sermon at the portico reflects the early teachings of the Christian faith. It reveals what Peter and the other apostles had to say about what they witnessed and what it all means. Acts records the early teachings of the apostles, and what points were important to them from the beginning. Today we stand at one of the earliest moments of Christian preaching. This was the stuff that lifted up the man, who could never walk, out of the dirt, changed the hearts of those who listened, and gave birth to early church.
Perhaps it should also lead us in considering what is most important for getting ourselves up out of the dirt spiritually and standing and walking before God as well. I think sometimes people and churches suffer from having a crippled faith. Are we strong and growing? Are we walking the walk? Are we amazing to others and an honor to God? Do people come running, wondering about the things happening here? What empowers such a sight and such a response?
Well Peter looked at the people and the first thing he had to say was why are looking at us? It was not by our power or godliness that this man is walking. Peter then makes one thing immediately clear that the power of life is in Jesus. This early preaching uses a number of words to describe who Jesus is. He is the servant of God. He is the Holy and righteous one. He is the author of life. He is the one who was crucified and raised from the dead. He is the Messiah. All of these terms are calling to remembrance the prophecies and promises of God within the scriptures. As God’s word was making clear who the messiah is, Peter is saying that it was always speaking about Jesus. Peter is making clear that Jesus is the fulfillment of what everyone had hoped for and the means God provided for the salvation of every soul in this world.
This is the message that breathes life into a crippled person or into a dying church. This is the foundation from which true faith lives and rises up to praise and worship. This is the only hope we have for salvation and a life of righteousness. Peter makes it clear that the power to be alive is not in him, or any preacher, or any program, but in Christ alone as prefigured within the scriptures and establish by God since the foundation of creation was laid. Jesus is the continuation of God’s work for our sakes from the beginning.
And yet in an ironic fashion Peter points out that instead of the people accepting Jesus as the Christ and the author of life, they called for the freedom of a murder. They cried out for Barabbas. They set free a person who would take life and killed the one who would give life. They chose poorly!
How well do we choose? Is our hope in the one who can lift us up out of the dust or are we just looking for a few coins to rub together? Do we receive the gift of God in our lives, or do we put our trust in the things we build ourselves? Is the ultimate accomplishment we have the church building we have built or paid off, or will it be in the hope we are able to share with those who enter? Sometimes people get all wrapped up in the material aspect of being and forget what really matters. Have you ever been to a church meeting where the greater time spent is not on a discussion of ministry but on finances and building maintenance? I was in one discussion where we talked for about 20 minutes on what to do with the old refrigerator from the parsonage. That’s 20 minutes of my life that I still want back. And we wonder why we are still sitting in the dust.
Peter goes on to make the point: They chose poorly. They thought they could kill the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. Everyday is Easter Day from now on. Jesus lives and it was by faith that the man at the temple gate is now able to walk and is in perfect health. Maybe someone thinks it is all done and finished but now God is doing miracles and raising up everyone who turns to him. God is lifting up the dead, giving feet and legs to a man born lame, and God is forgiving all, even if they had stood in the crowd on Good Friday and demanded Barabbas’ freedom and Jesus’ death. Yes, the joy and life of Easter has not dissipated just because the day of celebration has passed. Everyday is Easter for us.
Against the conviction and guilt Peter placed upon his listeners for being responsible in Jesus’ death, Peter tells the people that the problem was they just did not know. It was foretold that the messiah was to suffer. Somehow the pain and loss were inevitable, but now so is the opportunity for life and forgiveness.
Peter tells his listeners to change their hearts and minds. Stop traveling in the wrong direction and turn to God so that the sins of life can be blotted out, wiped away, erased, obliterated and be no more. This is what Easter is about. This is the good news that is given. I saw a picture on the internet that someone posted. There was a sign that said watch for falling rocks and in the background the hillside had fallen over the road. There was a boulder the size of a house in the way. The road was not passable at any angle. Now that is the nature of sin. When we wish to get to where God is, the way is impassable according to our own strength. What God has done through Christ is to remove that obstacle for us. The mountain has been moved. The boulder blocking our path to God has been cleared. Yes, the stone has been rolled away. Now we are able to enter into a relationship with God. Now we are able to truly become the people God wants us to be. It is not that we still don’t make mistakes. It is not that we are now 100% able, but rather it is that God is able. As we depend on what we have been given, we shall have the life that comes from God. Like the man born lame we shall be able to leap up and join together with all in worship for what God has done. This is the message and the life God has given us. Amen.