Men of Israel (Acts 3)

In Wednesday Bible study we are going to be starting the Book of Acts.  I’ve been calling the study Necessary Stories since we started.  Most of what we studied has been the narrative drive of the Old Testament.  We looked at 47 stories in the Old Testament.  We have just completed an extended reading of the Gospel of Matthew with some peeks at the other gospels.  The book of Acts is something of the end of that narrative. And Peter’s preaching in this week’s first reading (Acts 3:11-21) captures why.

The story is one of Peter and John going to the Temple to pray. You might remember the old VBS song standard – Peter and John went to pray, they met a lame man on the way…silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, stand up and walk!  And that episode, as such healings so often worked for Jesus, gathered a crowd to which then Jesus and now Peter would preach. The miracle was never about the miracle itself.  The miracles were always about the one they pointed towards and His testimony.  And the testimony of Peter is pure law and gospel.  And it remains the proclamation of the church to this day.

Who is he preaching to?  “Men of Israel. (Acts 3:12).”  It is interesting that Peter explicitly calls out the men here, but he does.   And what does he fault those men of Israel with? Their lack of spiritual discernment.   “Why do you marvel at [the lame man walking]?” You have all seen exactly this for three years.  We are no different than you.  It is not our power or piety that does this. It is the God you know.  “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of our Fathers.”  And maybe this is why he addresses the men alone.  The women of Jerusalem wept along the path of the cross. They anointed him before.  Unlike Adam and Eve where Eve did not discern the snakes plot.  It was the men who did not discern that the God of their Fathers was at work in Jesus in their midst.

And because of their poor discernment, what did they do?  “You delivered him over and denied him in the presence of Pilate (Acts 3:13)” when even that gentile had decided to let him go.  You asked for a murderer instead of the “Holy and Righteous One.” Because you did not discern the time of your visitation, “you killed the Author of Life (Acts 3:14).”

“God raised HIM from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”

That proclamation is the two edged sword, the law and the gospel together. Because it forces a decision. Do you believe the testimony?  And that is ultimately what the narrative of the church is about to this day.  The church testifies to the resurrection.  “by faith in His name, he made this man strong (Acts 3:16).”  By faith in his name are all men made strong and able to stand.  “Repent, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out (Acts 3:19).”

That proclamation of Peter has two specific parts to those men of Israel.  “You acted in ignorance, as did your rulers, but God foretold [all of this] (Acts 3:17-18).” Part of the repentance, part of being able to stand, is to come out of your ignorance. God has given you everything necessary right there in his word, “everything to make you wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15-17).”  We can’t trust our own discernment which would ask for a murderer over the Author of Life. But we can be made wise by the Word of God. We’ve been given glasses to correct our poor eyesight.

The second part of that proclamation is the one thing that has not yet happened.  “That he may send the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all things. (Acts 3:21).” Today, Jesus is not raised to condemn you.  Today is not the day of vengeance or judgement.  Today is the day of grace. Today is the day we can correct our errors and believe. But the day is coming.  The day for which we have been warned by those same prophets.  The day when this narrative we live reaches its end.  The day when a new narrative starts and all things are restored.

Shakespeare’s plays had 5 acts. All the high drama took place in Acts 3 and 4.  But the effects of those acts took time to ripple out.  There was always an Act 5.  The Book of Acts is the start of Act 5.  We are all in act 5.  As the cosmic divine drama of passion and resurrection reaches to all eternity – Today, we are witnesses. Today is the day of grace when we are made to stand. Tomorrow is a new play.

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