Three days later a small group of his friends saw him alive. These appearances continued for forty days weeks to quite a range of his friends - Paul writes much later that there was one occasion when he appeared to more than five hundred at once (most of these eye witnesses were still alive when he wrote - 1 Cor.15.6). Then the appearances stopped. He had ascended into heaven. They didn't see him physically again.
Ten days after that it was Pentecost - and the Holy Spirit was poured out on them in power. The gospel was preached forcefully and three thousand were added to their number. We are told that in the following days, "many miracles and wonders were done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe" (2.43).
But then, one day, then Peter and John were going into the Temple - that's where the whole group of believers were meeting every day (2.46) - this lame man was begging by the Beautiful Gate. (This gate was most likely the main gate into the court of Israel, described by the Jewish historian Josephus as being of Corinthian bronze and of such exquisite workmanship "that it far exceeded in value those gates that were plated with silver and set in gold"). This lame man was begging by the beautiful gate. They must have seen him every day as they entered the Temple. Everyone knew him. "Give some money to a poor lame beggar!" he would call out to all those who walked into the Temple. He was almost an institution. He was taken for granted. And people would toss him some money - they believed that was a good thing that God wanted them to do - and they would go into the Temple for worship. Peter and John had probably done that themselves many times. And every day, going to meet with the other believers in the temple, they had passed him on their way in.
Perhaps as each day came they thought about him. Perhaps they were already beginning to think, "This man needs more than money!" Perhaps in their minds they were picturing what Jesus would have done if he were here.
But then, this particular morning, they did it! Peter said to him, "I have no money at all, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I order you to get up and walk!" (3.6). He took the man by his right hand and helped him up. At once his feet and ankles became strong; he jumped up, stood on his feet and started walking around. He entered the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.
The people were amazed. They gathered around Peter and John who spoke to them right there in the Temple. Just think of that! Not just in the privacy of the upper room, not just out in the open in the streets of Jerusalem, but in the Temple itself they fearlessly spoke the message of Jesus! It had to be said there, didn't it? - in that enemy territory - or was it really God's territory?
Their message contained an affirmation and a challenge. The affirmation explained the power by which the man had been healed - Jesus is alive! Don't look at us! Peter is saying. It is not our power or godliness that has enabled this man to walk.
"The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has given divine glory to his Servant Jesus." Eight centuries before, the prophet Isaiah had said, "See, my servant will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted" (Isaiah 52.13, NIV). This is the same Servant of whom Isaiah also wrote, "We despised him and rejected him; he endured suffering and pain. No one would even look at him - we ignored him as if he were nothing. But he endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne. All the while we thought that his suffering was punishment sent by God. But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received. All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved" (53.3-6).
What Isaiah prophesied all those centuries ago, you have brought about by rejecting Jesus and handing him over to the Roman authorities to be killed. "You killed the one who leads to life, but God raised him from death - we are witnesses to this. It was the power of his name that gave strength to this lame man." Jesus is alive - it is the power of the risen Jesus that has healed this man! "What you see and know was done by faith in his name; it was faith in Jesus that has made him sell, as you can all see." Jesus is alive - we can put our faith in him and it does make a difference to our lives!
After making the affirmation that Jesus is alive, Peter went on to make a challenge.
"What you and your leaders did to Jesus was due to your ignorance." That was a kind way of putting it. As we look at it we see arrogance as well as ignorance! Yet we remember that Jesus was dying for all people. He had opened the possibility of salvation for all people. That is why he prayed on the cross, "Forgive them, Father! They don't know what they are doing" (Lk.23.34). Their rejection of him to death on a cross was not that final rejection. Wilful and all as their actions were, cold and calculating as their scheming had been, the way of salvation was still open to them. They had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, not really grasping that Jesus was just that - the Messiah, the Son of the living God, as Peter had put it. They had not intended to crucify the true Messiah.
The door is open! God still loves you! "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that he will forgive your sins."
We noted last week that, when Thomas knew for certain that Jesus was alive, he said, "My Lord and my God!" He committed the rest of his life to serving his Lord.
The affirmation and challenge come to us today. Jesus is alive! It is not just that he rose from the grave as part of an ancient story. Jesus is alive! He truly came for us. To shrug our shoulders and turn our back on him is as serious as what they did when they sent him off to execution. Perhaps we do that too because we don't really understand what we are doing - we don't really grasp who we are ignoring or rejecting.
But the door is now open! God still loves you! The challenge comes to us today, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that he will forgive your sins." That will give you something to jump about!
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