The Promise of Righteousness

1One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.4Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

6Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”7Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

11While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.

17″Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.19Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22For 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. 23Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’

24″Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. 25And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ 26When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”

Acts 3

Doesn’t it irritate you when people think they know what is best for you? It all begins in childhood, when we are told that our parents know what is it our best interests. We then find that teachers, too, think that they know better than us what we should do. Then, once we reach the real world, we find that it doesn’t end. Even our bosses think that they know what is best for us. Most people have an annual appraisal, and it is then that our managers tell us that they think we should do this, or go on that course, if we are to do well. What is even more annoying, though, is when those people who think they know what is in our best interests are right. They somehow manage to spot what it is that we need, even if we didn’t notice it for ourselves.

In our current reading, we meet someone who is in just that position. Peter and John encounter a “man crippled from birth” whose daily routine is to sit outside the temple and beg for money. He thinks that charity is the answer to his problems; if only he can persuade a few people to give him some cash every day, he will manage to get by in life. Peter, though, recognises that although money may go some way to alleviating the man’s problems, it is not the real solution. What the beggar really needs is to be healed. Peter commands the man to get up in Jesus’ name, and the beggar, who has evidently heard of Jesus and the amazing things that he has accomplished, has such faith in Jesus’ ability to heal, that he is cured, and finds himself able to walk. Peter is keen to tell everyone that it is not he who has brought about this amazing transformation in the man, but Jesus, and the faith that the beggar had in him. Jesus continues to have the power to transform lives; Peter and John knew that, and the beggar they met believed that. Do we believe that? Do we know that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is still at work today? That he works in, and through, us? Like the beggar, we might not fully understand what we need; like him, we may not be able to see the real solutions to our problems, but God can. If we have faith in him, he will surprise and transform us, and provide all that we need.

We often try to understand what it is that God wants to do with us. Like the beggar, who hopes for money but gets healing, we find ourselves limiting our expectations of what God can do for us. As he did in his previous sermon, Peter calls upon people to repent – something that is already becoming something of a theme for Acts. If we repent from our sins, they won’t just be forgiven, they will be wiped out, forgotten. It will be as if we have never sinned. In God’s eyes, we will be pure and holy, righteous, just as Adam and Eve were before the fall, and just as Christ was. This is why our true repentance is so important; as well as asking for forgiveness, we must actively turn from our sin and try our hardest to live a pure and blameless life. This promise already goes beyond the promise of simple forgiveness that we had been hoping for, however. Peter goes on to say that if we repent, “times of refreshing” may come for us from the Lord. That internal worry that seems to inhabit us will disappear, the angst that disturbs us will be no more, because we will have discovered not just the meaning and purpose of life, but we will know that we are forgiven, loved by God, and that we are destined to take our place in God’s new creation after our death. The human affliction of worry will cease to be, because everything will have a context. Peter’s words here demonstrate that too often, even as Christians, we limit our expectations of God’s goodness. Maybe that ignorance that led to mankind killing Jesus still affects us today.

The amazing salvation that Christ brings us is foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament, and Peter comes to this at the end of his sermon. Much of his audience were Jewish, and it would have been important for him to demonstrate that Jesus was a continuation of their tradition, not something entirely new, if he was to reassure them that following Jesus was the right thing for them to do. Whilst we may not be Jewish, the way in which Peter links the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, back through the major characters of the Old Testament should reassure us that God’s plan is a coherent vision for the future of not just mankind, but for all of creation. Jesus was not an after thought, but the central element of his plan, around which everything else hinges. Peter confirms that Moses told his followers that God would raise a prophet up from amongst the Jewish people, and that people must do everything that he tells them to do, otherwise they would be completely cut off. He confirms that all the prophets from Samuel onwards have confirmed that this would be the case. Peter also tells his listeners that Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham, that through his offspring all people would be blessed. Far from being something new threatening, Jesus is the figure to whom all the central events in the Old Testament have pointed.

Through this one incident in Acts 3, the healing of the crippled beggar, we learn a great deal from Peter about Christ and his place in our faith. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is still at work in the world today, and can change and transform lives, often in ways that we were not expecting, but always for the better. Through Jesus, we, as Christians, are not just forgiven, but made righteous in God’s eyes. He doesn’t reluctantly tell us not to worry about the sins that we commit, but forgets them, wipes the slate clean, and enables us to start again. We must, therefore, repent in a heartfelt and genuine manner, aiming never to commit those sins again, but to live a life worthy of one who has been made righteous on God’s eyes. Finally in our current reading, we see that Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and as such is the lynchpin of God’s plan. Jesus is without a doubt the most significant character of the whole of human history, and it is for that reason that we should make the effort to find out as much as we can about him, and, if we accept that he lives today, ensure that we do everything we can not just to live a life worthy of him, but to encourage others to consider what Jesus has done for them too.

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