Series: Next Things: Acts 1,2,4 - Part Seven
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 22, 2003
This past week, after a week of Israeli airstrikes aimed at killing Hamas militants and a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem, it appears that the US backed “road map” to peace and a Palestinian state - that the “road map” to peace may lead no where. While Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was trying to persuade militants to lay down their arms, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed to continue Israel’s attack on Hamas. Sadly - to most of us here - while we pray other wise - all this comes as no surprise. In roughly the last 2½ years over 700 Israelies have been killed - over 3,000 Palestinians have been killed - over 26,000 Palestinians have been injured. (1)
We could go on - moving systematically around the globe - on and on naming situations like this - eventually arriving here in Merced and the violence we experience. Conflicts in which there is no forgiveness - no grace - no love - no seeming possibility of true healing.
In recent Sundays as we’ve been looking at the events that followed Jesus’ resurrection - looking at how God desires to work in and through us - looking at the mandate we have to share the Gospel with others. What we’re come to this morning is the unique message of God’s salvation and healing that He desires to share with others through us.
Please turn with me to Acts 4 - starting at verse 7. As you’re turning let me share the context of these verses.
One day - about 7 weeks after Jesus’ resurrection - Peter and John were going up to the Temple - in Jerusalem - to pray. As they reach the gate of the Temple - about to go in - a man - who’s been crippled from birth - begins to beg them for money.
We’ve experienced this. Someone asking us for money with a sign that says something like, "Need Help - God Bless You" Have you experienced this? Somehow there's a psychological message that if we really love God then we’ll give them something and God will bless us. If we don't give then we're some kind of horrible unChristian unGodly pagan person.
The same motivation was true for this beggar. He has his spot staked out at the Temple gate. Every day He would go there and give the Temple goers an opportunity to be additionally blessed by God through their giving. On this day - this beggar hits up Peter and John for a donation.
In response - Peter stops and looks at him. The crippled beggar looks expectantly at Peter thinking he's going to get money. Instead he hears something absolutely astonishing. Peter says to this crippled beggar, "I have no money, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I order you to get up and walk."
Then Peter takes this forty year old beggar - who's been crippled since birth - takes him by his right hand - and helps him up. At once the man's feet and ankles become strong - he jumps up - stands on his feet - and goes into the Temple where he's running around, jumping up and down and praising God. The people in the Temple - who’ve regularly passed this man at the gate - regularly have been hit up for money - probably on occasion had given him money - the crowd is absolutely amazed at what’s happened.
Peter - then explains to the crowd that the power of this miracle came from God - who also raised Jesus from the dead. Its a tremendous opportunity to share the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.
During all this commotion - the Sadducees - this sect of religious leaders - arrive with Temple guards. Angry that Peter and John are speaking of Jesus and His resurrection the Sadducees have Peter and John arrested. The next day the Sadduces bring Peter and John in front of the High Priest Annas for trial.
Which brings us to Acts 4:7: When they - the religious leaders - when they had placed them - Peter and John - in the center - for this trial - they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” - in other words - “Confess - what kind of trick did you use to make this man walk?”
Verse 8: Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for the benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead - by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He - Jesus - is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
In thinking through this healing - how this applies to us and God using us to share His Gospel and healing with others - there are two thoughts of application that I’d like to share.
First: We need to accept God’s healing. Say that with me, “We need to accept God’s healing.” Which is easier said than done.
There’s a Jewish tradition which says that during the building of the Temple, a large rock was quarried out and shaped by the stone masons, and sent up to the construction site. But the builders couldn't find a place to put it. It didn't seem to fit in any of the blueprints they were working from - so they left it on the side. It sat there for some time.
Then, as it seemed to be in the way - people kept stumbling over it - someone pushed it over the edge and it rolled down into the Kidron valley and was lost in the bushes. When the time came to put in the cornerstone - the unique large square rock that held everything else in place - they sent word down to the quarry for the cornerstone to be sent up.
The quarry men sent back word that it had already been sent up a long time ago. So, the workers looked around for the cornerstone. But, no one could find it. Then somebody remembered the large rock that had been pushed over the edge. Down they went to the Kidron valley and found it in the bushes. With great effort they raised it again and brought it to the top and fitted it into place. It fit perfectly - the cornerstone of the Temple.
This is what Peter means. God had designed that Jesus Christ the Nazarene would be the one and only cornerstone of His salvation - His offer of forgiveness - of healing the deepest wound and need of our lives - the need to be made right in our relationship with God. Its so easy for us to stumble over Jesus Christ.
In February - when I was at the Promise Keepers conference in Phoenix - the hotel I stayed at was about 6 miles from Bank1One Ballpark where the conference was held. So, I was taking the city bus back and forth - usually getting back to the hotel around 10 or 10:30 at night. In Phoenix - or at least around this hotel - they rolled up the sidewalks at around 9:00 - nothing was open.
One night I was really hungry. Riding on the city bus I passed one closed restaurant after another. Finally there was this Jack-In-The-Box that was open. I got off the bus. Went to the Jack-In-The-Box - sure enough the dining room was closed. But, the drive through was open. So I got in line with the cars.
There were cars in front of me and cars behind me. They’re all staring at me thinking there must really be something wrong with this guy. “Lock the door George.” But, I waited my turn and finally got up to the speaker where I was suppose to give my order. The girl was really nice . But she said Jack-In-The-Box had a rule - no car = no drive through service. I tried everything, “I’m hungry. My car is a city bus. I’m from Merced.” No car = no service.
So I started to walk on and these brothers - pastors from the PK conference - had seen what was going on and graciously offered to help. Which bothered me at first, My pride started getting in the way. But, they insisted.
Picture this. Here’s the speaker. Here’s these two pastors in a car. Here I am standing on the other side of the car. So, I give my order to the first pastor in the passenger seat - who gives it to the pastor in the drivers seat - who gives it to the girl on the speaker. When we get to the pick-up window - the girl gives my order to the pastor in the driver’s seat who passes it across the seat to the pastor on the passenger side - who hands it out the window to me.
Spiritually there are rules - an absolute standard of God’s holiness that we can never measure up to. And only by grace - God’s grace shown to us through Jesus Christ on the cross - only by God’s grace can we ever come to the salvation and healing that we long for.
We stumble because what God offers to us offends us intellectually. What God tells us doesn’t fit what we think. This statement of Peter’s in verse 12 - it bothers a lot of people - even in the Church: "....there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
“What do you mean no one else?” That’s pure arrogance. Its judgmental. What about all the good people in the world - by the way they've lived their lives - they've put Christians to shame? What about the various religions of the world and the set of moral truths they proclaim?
But, the issue is not goodness or universal moral truth - religious piety - being morally upright - doing good works. The issue is salvation. We need to be saved from the judgement of God because of our own personal inherent rebellion - our sin - against God. That’s the place - God’s gracious salvation - that’s where true healing begins - healing our relationship with God - and then His ongoing work of healing in our lives.
Peter says, "There is no other name." The name of Jesus testifies of who He is - His character - His reputation - His accomplishment. The name of Jesus testifies of His work of salvation. Paul writes in Philippians 2: “For this reason also - because of Jesus’ work of salvation on the cross - for this reason God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9)
No other religion - no church - no priest - no pastor - no acts of spirituality - no sacraments - or any deeds that we might do can be the means of our salvation. Our only hope of salvation is to trust in Jesus as our Savior.
Many stumble because we struggle with our hearts before God - giving our lives to Him.
The Sadducees didn't believe in resurrection - Jesus Christ's or any one elses. They simply rejected the idea of life after death. So, imagine this - since they refused to believe in resurrection - they had Peter and John arrested rather than accept what they - the Sadducees - 7 weeks earlier - they had seen with their own eyes - the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
I once read about an instant cake mix that was a disaster for the company that manufactured it. The instructions said all you had to do was add water and bake. The company couldn't understand why it didn't sell. Until their research discovered that the buying public felt uneasy about a mix that required only water. Apparently people read the instructions - even agreed with the instructions. But felt that it was too easy.
So the company altered the formula - changed the directions to call for adding an egg to the mix in addition to the water. The idea worked and sales jumped dramatically. (2)
Grace is hard for us because we experience so little of it in our lives. Somehow intellectually we agree that its true. We see it as reality. But, practically - deep in our hearts - we struggle to accept what God has done - it can’t be that easy - so freely given.
Too often we hear people say, "I'm just not spiritual enough." or "I just don't feel like I measure up." Maybe you’ve felt this way. We have a spiritual inferiority thing going - guilt. Its hard for us to really believe that once we’ve trusted Jesus as our Savior we’re really justified before God.
Too often we allow others to judge us and hold us to standards of perfection and righteousness and works and service and giving and on and on - that God never intended for us. Even coming to church - can become an experience of guilt and an obligation and not joy. Ultimately - the only opinion that matters is God's. God who freely justifies us and works healing in our hearts.
So many of us are like that beggar - crippled spiritually - needing healing - and to trust God for that healing - and to get up - and go on and praise Him and live in the joy of His salvation. But we need to get our minds off of what we expect - our hearts off of what we believe is possible - and to let God heal our relationship with Him - and the brokenness of our lives.
Second though of application: Those who are healed must be committed to God’s ministry of healing others. God heals us with purpose. Try that with me, “God heals us with purpose.”
Over the last 3 plus years Jihad attacks by radical Muslims - attacks against Christians in Indonesia have claimed as many as 10,000 lives - Christian martyrs. 240 plus churches have been destroyed.
Johannes Mantahari was living in a small village on Halmaher Island. One morning - at 3:00 a.m. - he was woken up and told that a large mob of Jihad troops were heading for his village. Johannes tried to run but was caught. Five soldiers pinned him down - 10 surrounded him - five held samurai swords. Johannes was asked if he wanted to become a Muslim. He refused.
Using the Samurai swords the soldiers sliced into his shoulder and forearm. They ripped a gaping slice into the back of his neck - nearly severing his head from his body. They slashed his back and legs. They covered his body with banana leaves and tried to incinerate him. But, the leaves were too green to burn. All the time they were doing this they kept telling Johannes to convert to Islam or die. Finally, assuming that Johannes had died - they left him where he was laying.
Bleeding profusely - with his last breaths of life - Johannes cried out to God for help. The story of how Johannes survived for 8 days amid corpses and fleeing through the jungle - finally being discovered by his brother-in-law - the story is miraculous. Johannes speaks of how Jesus was with him and helped him in the jungle.
Today, at the age of 20 - his body covered with scars - Johannes says he forgives his attackers as, “our Father in heaven forgives us.” He takes seriously the command of Jesus in Matthew 6:15, “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Today, Johannes is studying to become an evangelist. He says that his Savior spared his life - healed him - so that he may lead many Muslims to Christ. (3)
The lame beggar - healed - runs into the Temple walking and leaping and praising God. The Gospel is shared. The wounded come to salvation. Soon afterwards God allowed a great persecution to scatter the believers - to push them outward - carrying the Gospel with them. The healed - committed - whatever the cost - in persecution and obedience to God carrying the Gospel to others - to peoples desperate to hear that God offers healing for their souls.
One of the realities of this congregation is how God has brought so many wounded people to be here together. That this congregation is a place of healing. Maybe we’re all so beat up that we’re just tired of being beat up and we really just want to be part of the solution. Its not an accident - not random chance - that we’re here.
Whatever we bring here its because of God. He has given us the abilities and resources we have. The testimony of healing we have - of salvation and His ongoing work in us - its because of Him.
Maybe the commitment of Johannes Mantahari - or Peter and John - maybe that commitment is extreme. But, here in this congregation there are Peters - Johns - healed beggars. We don’t always see them out in front. But - praise God - they’re here. God is using you. Sharing the Gospel with others - sharing the possibilities of what God can do if we allow Him access to our hearts. In this world - or this city - which is often unforgiving - ungracious - unloving - without hope - stumbling - as those who know His healing may we be as committed to share Him with others.
1. Aljazeerah, Jerusalem Post - 6.16.03
2. Daily Bread, 06.02.97
3. The Voice of the Martyrs, June 2002
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.