“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and our job to love.”Dr. R. Dale McAbee Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4, 1 John 3:1-7, and Luke 24:36b-48 Year B - Third Sunday of Easter
Today I want to focus on the entire chapter of Acts 3, not just the appointed portion for the Third Sunday of Easter. Hear it in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase. – Acts 3 The Message
3 1-5 One day at three o’clock in the afternoon, Peter and John were on their way into the Temple for prayer meeting. At the same time there was a man crippled from birth being carried up. Every day he was set down at the Temple gate, the one named Beautiful, to beg from those going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the Temple, he asked for a handout. Peter, with John at his side, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Look here.” He looked up, expecting to get something from them.
6-8 Peter said, “I don’t have a nickel to my name, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” He grabbed him by the right hand and pulled him up. In an instant his feet and ankles became firm. He jumped to his feet and walked.
8-10 The man went into the Temple with them, walking back and forth, dancing and praising God. Everybody there saw him walking around and praising God. They recognized him as the one who sat begging at the Temple’s Gate Beautiful and rubbed their eyes, astonished, scarcely believing what they were seeing.
11 The man threw his arms around Peter and John, ecstatic. All the people ran up to where they were at Solomon’s Porch to see it for themselves.
12-16 When Peter saw he had a congregation, he addressed the people:
“Oh, Israelites, why does this take you by such complete surprise, and why stare at us as if our power or piety made him walk? The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his Son Jesus. The very One that Pilate called innocent, you repudiated. You repudiated the Holy One, the Just One, and asked for a murderer in his place. You no sooner killed the Author of Life than God raised him from the dead—and we’re the witnesses. Faith in Jesus’ name put this man, whose condition you know so well, on his feet—yes, faith and nothing but faith put this man healed and whole right before your eyes.
17-18 “And now, friends, I know you had no idea what you were doing when you killed Jesus, and neither did your leaders. But God, who through the preaching of all the prophets had said all along that his Messiah would be killed, knew exactly what you were doing and used it to fulfill his plans.
19-23 “Now it’s time to change your ways! Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you, and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely, Jesus. For the time being he must remain out of sight in heaven until everything is restored to order again just the way God, through the preaching of his holy prophets of old, said it would be. Moses, for instance, said, ‘Your God will raise up for you a prophet just like me from your family. Listen to every word he speaks to you. Every last living soul who refuses to listen to that prophet will be wiped out from the people.’
24-26 “All the prophets from Samuel on down said the same thing, said most emphatically that these days would come. These prophets, along with the covenant God made with your ancestors, are your family tree. God’s covenant-word to Abraham provides the text: ‘By your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ But you are first in line: God, having raised up his Son, sent him to bless you as you turn, one by one, from your evil ways.”
The book of Acts is an ongoing rhythm of narrative (the Acts of the Apostles) followed by a speech (the words of the Apostles, primarily Peter and Paul.) There are thirty-six speeches by the way.
Choices about how to say something or word something are designed to evoke a response from the reader. I wonder what the reader or listener would have experienced when they heard the words, “One day at three o’clock in the afternoon.” Possibly a moment of epiphany. Jesus died at three o’clock, the ninth hour, an appointed hour for daily prayer. This too is an important moment.
Peter and John went up to the Temple. We heard from them on Easter Sunday when in John 20 they race back to the empty tomb. But they’ve frequently been paired up all through the gospels. They were fishermen together until Jesus called them to become “fishers of men.” They were together on the Mount of Transfiguration, at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, at the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. They had been sent together to prepare the Passover meal the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper.
Now just as they are approaching, a crippled man was brought to sit at the temple gate called Beautiful. He asked for help and immediately Peter says “Look here.” How different is my usual response when approached by a homeless person? When I don’t want to be bothered or can’t take the time or assume it’s just a scam, the last thing I want is to make eye contact.
Put yourself in the crippled man’s shoes. Never feeling the ground under your feet. Never able to walk by the seashore and feel the squish of the wet sand between your toes. Being completely dependent on someone to move about and unable to work and needing the generosity of neighbors just to be able to eat.
And he knew Leviticus. “Speak to Aaron, saying, ‘No man of your offspring throughout their generations who has a defect shall approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a defect shall approach: a blind man or a lame man or he who has any disfigured face, or any deformed limb.” (Leviticus 21).
He knew he wasn’t of the house of Aaron and would never presume to get close to the Holy of Holies. But just the words, “defect, deformed, disfigured” sent a clear message. “No room for you here.”
So perhaps Peter knew intuitively that healing for this man would not be about money or even being able to stand on his own two feet. Perhaps Peter knew the deeper need of the man crippled from birth would be to be seen.
And isn’t that the need of all of us when we are suffering, hurting? Please see me. Don’t let me be invisible.
How many times in the gospels did Jesus meet people longing just to touch the hem of his garment, crying out, “son of David have mercy on me.”
And perhaps Peter remembered Jesus telling them
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. (Luke 14).
Peter claimed the healing authority of Jesus, and said, in the King James which I learned as a child, “silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” And he did. Ecstatic with joy he grabs Peter and John and dances a hallelujah chorus. His loud celebration drew the attention of others and soon there was a crowd rubbing their eyes with astonishment at what they saw.
Peter realized he had a congregation and decided to address the crowd. Peter’s words are the second of those thirty-seven speeches I mentioned at the beginning.
I remember from preaching class that the purpose of a sermon according to St. Augustine was to teach, delight and to sway. Today speech professors would say inform, entertain and motivate.
Peter realized the crowd had just witnessed a marvel and he imagined that this could be an incredible opportunity as a teachable moment. So, what was Peter trying to accomplish?
He calls them Israelites as a way to remind them of their covenant vocation as companions with God to be a light to the nations. He quickly disabused them of the notion that he and John alone had power to accomplish such a miracle and then connects the marvel they had just witnessed to the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
He then moves to connect the marvel they had just seen to the desire of God to glorify his Son Jesus. Next, he indicts his listeners with accusations, “you repudiated the one Pilate called innocent and asked for a murderer instead.” It seems Peter is imaging that his listeners might feel complicit in the death of Jesus and perhaps could be moved to contrition. “You killed the Author of Life, but God raised him from the dead, for we are witnesses.”
He proceeds to connect the healing of the man born crippled to the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Implicit in this move is “And you too, Israelites, have witnessed resurrection power. And by the way, you didn’t know what you were doing, but God was at work in your ignorance to bring about the completion of his plan for the restoration of creation.”
Peter then gives a Billy Graham style altar call and connects the resurrection of Jesus to the Israelite hope for a Messiah.
But God, who through the preaching of all the prophets had said all along that his Messiah would be killed, knew exactly what you were doing and used it to fulfill his plans.
His last move is to connect the present moment of decision, the necessity of repentance, to God’s covenant with Abraham. You can accept Jesus because he is continuing what God was planning from the very beginning. Peter is stressing continuity of the Israelite mission to be a light to the nations with the Jesus movement.
Peter is telling a story. N.T. Wright argues that the story is really an opera in five acts: Creation, Crisis (or Fall), Community (Israel), Christ, and Church. His approach is helpful because it protects the Bible from being a list of rules or a list of proof-texts for arguing about doctrinal beliefs or theological propositions.
The beauty of Peter’s sermon is its ability to capture the grand narrative of his perception of God’s saving acts. And it is a sincere and heart felt witness to his experience of resurrection.
Peter’s intent in Acts was to include Jews in the gracious providence of God.
But the challenge for us who are in Act 5 of the opera, the era of the Church, is that we have lived with two thousand years of a Church which at times has left the Jesus movement and colluded with the principalities and powers.
Christendom was the result, the church’s unholy alliance with temporal and political power that abandoned the scandal of the cross for domination and control. Think Crusades and European wars of religion. Think Ireland and Serbia. Think Germany and the Nazi collusion with the church both Protestant and Catholic. And those alliances of church and state often resulted in horror.
The simplest example might be to imagine how some of Peter’s rhetoric would have sounded. Think about a Good Friday sermon where the local priest in the Middle Ages screams, “You killed the Author of life, you preferred a murderer to the innocent Lamb of God.” History documents that numerous slaughter of Jews occurred after the 3 pm Good Friday service. Good Friday up until the mid-20th century was a scary day if you were Jewish.
But Amy Jill Levine notes:
Christians, hearing the Gospels during Holy Week, should no more hear a message of hatred of Jews than Jews, reading the Book of Esther on Purim, should hate Persians, or celebrating the seder and reliving the time when “we were slaves in Egypt,” should hate Egyptians.
We choose how to read. After two thousand years of enmity, Jews and Christians today can recover and even celebrate our common past, locate Jesus and his earliest followers within rather than over and against Judaism, and live into the time when, as both Synagogue and Church proclaim, we can love G-d and our neighbor.
I mentioned that one part of Peter’s sermon sounded like a Billy Graham altar call. But I also remember that Billy Graham once said,
“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”
The following from the Billy Graham Library is an important perspective to consider as we conclude our time with Acts 3:
In 1960, Billy Graham visited Israel where he first met Golda Meir. Prior to his arrival, many Israeli newspapers and media outlets touted headlines asking why Billy Graham was coming to their country.
He went on to give this account of his trip:
“When I first took a preaching tour of Israel, I stayed with Mrs. Golda Meier who was then foreign secretary, and promised her that I was not there to proselytize. Rather, I was there to thank the Jewish people for proselytizing me, having put my faith in a Jew who was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. For being a nation through whom Jesus was brought to the earth in the divine plan of God.
I have always believed that the Jews were God’s special people, chosen to preserve the Hebrew Scriptures through the centuries and to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus.
That was the message of hope we had been sharing around the world.
I have never taken part in organizations or projects that especially targeted Jews. I preach the Gospel to any and all who come to our meetings — whether Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Christian or people of no faith — they are all welcome.”
Billy recounted the day in many interviews stating that they became close friends, even saying, “I found Mrs. Meir to be one of the most knowledgeable and delightful people I have ever met.”
While visiting the U.S. during her time as Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir presented an illustrated Jerusalem Bible to Billy Graham with the inscription, “To a great teacher in all the important matters to humanity and a dear friend of Israel.”
Billy Graham in the 20th century captures the bigness of the God with humanity story. God who is reclaiming fallen creation is bigger than our limited minds.
Peter, an Israelite, proclaims to his fellow Israelites, “You killed the Author of life.”
But maybe a truer answer is found in a hymn we sang on Good Friday:
Who was the guilty?
Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus,
hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus,
I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
About the writer: For twenty-four years, Dr. R. Dale McAbee worked with Rehabilitation and Psychiatric patients at Baptist Health Louisville as well as those in treatment for Substance Use Disorder. Recently he has become the Oncology Chaplain. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. For the last eight years, he has been Choirmaster at Concordia Lutheran Church and prior to that served St. Mark United Methodist for 13 years, Church of the Ascension in Frankfort for 2 years and Tunnel Hill Christian Church for 2 years as music minister.
He is a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina and earned the BA in Music from Furman University, the Master of Divinity in Pastoral Care and Counseling at Southern Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Seminary. In the spring of 2009 and summer of 2017, he served as Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Care at Saint Meinrad Seminary, Saint Meinrad, Indiana.
Scripture and Music.
1 John 3:1-7
Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee
The Strife Is O er, the Battle Done
Many and Great, O God
Come Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain
Christ Is Alive
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Children of the Heavenly Father
Now the Green Blade Riseth (Carol)
Shine, Jesus, Shine
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
Forgiven (Buryl Red)
Flesh of My Flesh
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus