Sadly, we live in a world that is full of pain and suffering.
It’s easy to feel powerless to help. Even if we wanted to alleviate everyone’s pain, we just don’t have the resources to help more than a few people. We resonate with Peter’s words from that reading: “Silver and gold I do not have.”
The government also does not have the resource to help everyone who is in need. You could print Acts chapter 3 verse 6 and display it above every hospital reception desk: “Silver and gold have I none”.
Sure, we can all do our bit. Indeed we can, and indeed we must. If we all care for others as we are able, our little efforts will add up to something quite considerable. Let’s all be the good Samaritan.
But to put it bluntly: Is that really the best answer we’ve got. The world is hurting. People are hurting. Is there any lasting solution? Is there any solution for the many not just for the few? Is there any real hope?
We’re in the book of Acts, and by this point it’s left us with that same longing. Chapter 2 told the story of Pentecost, how God poured his Spirit out on all his people for the very first time. Peter then preached to the crowds, and 3000 people became Christians. They, too, received the Spirit. Their sins were forgiven. They’re broken people with many needs beyond forgiveness. What of those needs?
Does God offer to put us back together physically, to mend our bodies? Does God hold anything out for the future?
Then there’s death itself. Our biggest enemy. Peter’s address spoke of Jesus being raised from the dead. But just him? Does anyone else get to be raised from the dead?
So much pain. So much suffering. Our bodies fall apart. Death is scary. What hope does the risen Jesus have for people like us?
Well, let’s start with the extraordinary miracle that takes place here. We know from chapter 2, verse 43, that many wonders and signs were being performed by the apostles. Here, we get one in detail.
The early Christians were Jews, and in these early days they were still welcome to worship at the temple. So they joined in the daily prayers at 3pm every day.
There was a man in desperate need. He was born with something wrong with his legs, and he’d never walked in all his life. He had no way to work, no way to earn money, no way to feed himself. So he had to be carried to beg. The hour of prayer was a lucrative one. Maybe going to prayer would give some of the worshippers tender hearts and open wallets.
Peter and John came past, and he asked them for money. They stopped. Many walked straight past, but Peter and John stopped. The poor man had no self-esteem. He was looking at the floor, so they said to him: “Look at us!”. He thought his moment had come, so he looked straight at them.
His heart must have fallen when he heard the next words: “Silver or gold I do not have”. They don’t have any money. They’re no use to him.
But Peter hadn’t finished. “… but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” The man decided to give it a go. Luke was a doctor by training, so he’s interested in exactly what happened next. Verse 7: “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”
This was a miracle. Watch a toddler learn to walk for the first time, it takes many attempts. Wobble. Totter. Bump. Try again. This man was born with some problem in his legs. He’d never walked. But his feet and ankles instantly became strong. He was up on his feet. Walking. Not just walking – running, leaping, jumping, dancing. There’s no scientific explanation for that. The risen Jesus mended and transformed him. And he was overjoyed.
So once again a crowd gathered. And once again, Peter speaks to them. And once again, he tells them it’s all about Jesus.
He tells them who Jesus is, how they must respond to Jesus, and what Jesus promises to bring.
Jesus is the Messiah
First, who is the Jesus who can do this? The answer won’t surprise us if we’ve been reading Acts: Jesus is the Messiah.
Peter says: “Why are you stood there gawping at us? We didn’t make it him walk.” He was healed because of two things.
He was healed because of the name of Jesus. Verse 16: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong.” This is not some superstition, as if Jesus’ name has magical powers. His name is his title, who he is. Chapter 2, verse 36: “Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
That’s his name. He’s the Lord, the Lord God. And he’s the Messiah, the one king God had promised for centuries beforehand.
The name of Jesus healed the man. And second, the man’s faith in Jesus healed him. Peter told him Jesus would heal him. Peter held out his hand. The man took Peter’s hand.
Jesus is the Messiah. The prophets of old foretold that God would send a deliverer, a king, a servant, the Messiah. They spoke as one. And this Messiah would restore everything. He’d take a broken world, filled with broken people, and put things back together for his people to enjoy.
The story in Acts 3 is told in such a way as to echo one particular detail of one particular prophecy. Isaiah chapter 35 speaks of this total restoration. Dusty, barren land turned into a fertile garden. The oppressed and the fearful delivered. The end of all sorrow and sighing. Everlasting joy and singing for those the Lord has rescued. And here are verses 5 and 6: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” “Then will the lame leap like a deer.”
Jesus has just done it. Only for one man, but he’s done it. The great restoration of all things is still future, but the Messiah is here. That Messiah is Jesus. He’s the one who will bring in that great restoration. This miracle is a clear sign that he’s the one who will do it. The future’s coming.
Jesus is the Messiah.
They must repent
That’s who he is. How must the crowd respond?
Answer: They must repent. Peter’s message hasn’t changed since the day of Pentecost.
Once again, he reminds them that they killed him. This time, he’s careful to distinguish them from their leaders. Their leaders may have handed him over to the Romans to be crucified, but they still had a part to play. They acted in ignorance, verse 17. They didn’t really know who he was. They didn’t know they were calling for the death of God’s son, for the author of life to die.
But this doesn’t let them off the hook. They still did it, so they still need to repent.
As must we. Peter would again distinguish. We weren’t there, calling for his death. But we still wish Jesus out of the way. We want to live how we want. We don’t want him to interfere with our lives.
We need to repent. Face up to the fact that we’ve not treated Jesus as he deserves. Make a definitive new start, from now on he’s in charge. We resolve to stop the things we know he disapproves of. To work with his help to seek to become the people he wants us to be.
They, we must repent. Turn around. Stop pushing Jesus away from us, and run towards Jesus.
But why? Why should we repent? Because 3 wonderful things follow if we do.
First, in the present, our sins are forgiven.
I know Peter’s already told the crowd about this on the day of Pentecost, but it’s so wonderful it’s worth saying again. Worth him saying again to them. Worth us saying again today.
If you turn back to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, you are promised full and free forgiveness. Forgiveness for everything in their past of which you are ashamed. Forgiven for everything in your past with which God is not pleased. Forgiven even for those things you didn’t know you were doing wrong. Forgiven for all the things you are going to do wrong in the future. It’s total. It’s free. It’s wonderful.
Peter uses very particular language. Verse 19: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.” “Wiped out”
In those days, they wrote on papyrus with ink that had no acid in. So the ink didn’t attach itself to the page. Someone else could simply wipe it clean and reuse it.
Today we’re used to dry-wipe boards. Imagine that notebooks were dry-wipe, too. And in the book was a record of all the things you’ve ever done wrong. You’d guard that notebook under lock and key. Nobody must read the things that are written in it. But God’s got a better idea. He plans to wipe out those sins. To erase every word from every page. To give you, as we say, a clean slate.
The second kindness also comes in the present. It’s refreshment. Refreshment.
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
I’ll own up here. I don’t actually know what Peter means. He doesn’t explain what this “refreshing” refers to. But I’ve got two ideas what he might mean.
He might be referring to God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. When you turn to follow Jesus, God immediately comes to live in you by his Spirit, to change you from within, to be with you to comfort and to strengthen. Peter mentions refreshment here, at the point when he speaks of the Holy Spirit in other similar addresses. So perhaps he means that.
Or perhaps he means the promise of Jesus in Matthew chapter 11. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
We come to Jesus weary, worn, sad and tired. We take his load on us, and we find his load is far lighter than the other ones we try to carry. To take on Jesus’ yoke is to find rest. “Come to me … and I will give you rest.”
“… that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
I don’t know what Peter refers to, but I do know what he’s describing. We all know what refreshment is. You know what it’s like on a really hot day when you finally get to sit down with a lovely cool drink. You know what it’s like to be working night and day on something, or to hold down a job in the day and then be up at night with the children, exhausted, and then you finally get a proper holiday, a real break, to recharge and be refreshed.
We know what refreshment is, and it’s lovely. Peter’s point is simple: God doesn’t only want to wipe out our sins, he wants to refresh us. Living in a broken world with a sinful heart is hard. Jesus came to help.
The good things for those who turn back to Jesus do not only come in this life. Yes, there is forgiveness. Yes, there is refreshment. But the best is still to come. There’s future restoration. Here’s the bit that Peter spends most time on, because it flows directly from the lame man’s healing. Let me read verses 20 and 21:
“… and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
The best bit comes when God the Father sends Jesus back to earth. Yes, he’s returned to heaven, but not to stay there forever. He’ll only stay until the time comes for him to restore everything. God’s announced this beforehand through the prophets – we’ve seen that already. The date’s in the diary. And on that date, God will send him back. God will send him back to restore everything, just as he promised.
It’s good to have dates in the diary to look forward to. I love it when we get the chance to have a holiday. If we’re organised enough to book the next one before we take the last one, you always have something to look ahead to, however far ahead.
We don’t know the date when Jesus will come back. It’s not in our diary. But it is in God’s. He knows when it will be. Heaven must receive Jesus until the time comes.
There will come a day when this earth is free of everything that spoils it. When everything will be restored to how it was always meant to be. Sorrow and sighing will flee away. Death will be swallowed up. A banquet will be spread with the richest of meats and the finest of wines. Work without hardship. Everlasting joy and singing. That day will come, because God will send his Messiah back, to restore everything.
We need to tie all this together to see what Peter’s saying.
He’s telling the crowd that they need to repent. Turn around, stop running away from Jesus, and embrace Jesus as their rightful leader.
He’s telling them to do this because it’s the only way to be forgiven, the only way to be refreshed, the only way to enjoy the restored world.
In short, we need to listen. That’s where his address to the crowd finishes. Verse 22: “For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.” That’s the positive way to put it. Or put it negatively like this: “Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’”
The blessings of forgiveness, refreshment and a restored world only come to those who listen to Jesus, who repent, who follow him. To them, and no-one else.
There is real hope. In the face of desperate suffering and pain, there is hope. What we see Jesus do for this lame man is not a one-off. We’ve got something solid to offer.
As Christians, we should try to help whenever we encounter real need. But this hope is not something that can be bought with silver and gold. The unbelieving world thinks the world’s problems can be solved with acts of kindness, with charity, with education and the like. The unbelieving world will happily accept the church’s charity, happy for us to join in with their programme of making things better.
Charity’s a good thing, and we should be leading the way, but you’ll never solve the world’s problems that way. That’s because we’re Christians. We follow Jesus Christ, the Messiah. That means we pin all our hopes on Jesus, our Messiah.
The only lasting solution to the world’s deep problems is for Jesus the Messiah to be sent back to this earth to restore all things. That will happen – that much is certain.
What’s up to each person is whether they will be a part of it when it happens. Whether you will be a part of it … is up to you. Will you? The Lord has raised up a prophet like Moses. His name is Jesus. You must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from his people.
There is real hope. Resurrection hope.
So we got out to a world in need, with the Jesus who is the good news that people are desperate for.