Hello my readers. Yesterday I was the substitute preacher at a small United Methodist Church. Below is my message manuscript, as well as an audio link to the sermon. It is only about 15 minutes. Bible readings are done before the sermon, and my reading of the passage is not recorded.
Several minutes ago, I read Acts 3:12-19. The apostle Peter had healed a lame man, and a crowd gathered around Peter – amazed at what Peter had done. Peter then talks to the crowd, and that was the passage for today.
First – let’s not overlook that this is Peter giving this bold speech or sermon. Only about 2 months before, Peter denied Christ. He couldn’t even stand up to a servant girl, when he was in the courtyard, as Jesus was inside being interrogated by the high priest. Peter was cowardly!
This is a completely different Peter in the book of Acts. Peter was an eyewitness to the resurrected Jesus, and the resurrected Jesus forgave Peter. This changed everything. We really have 2 miracles here – not only the healing of the lame man – but the miracle of Peter’s transformed life. Peter became that rock. He emerged as a dauntless leader in the early church. Besides Peter’s failings, Jesus saw the potential in Peter too.
But remember that Peter was humbled first – really humbled. He denied his Lord, and he felt that failure very deeply. The book of Luke says that Peter wept bitterly after he denied Christ. The Message says that he cried and cried and cried.
Christianity is a path of humility from beginning to end. We never cease to need Christ. As an old hymn says “I need thee every hour.” There is a time for tears, and a time to grieve over our sinfulness. It’s imperative. We can’t become a Christian unless we realize our dire need of the Savior.
Even after we become a Christian, there will be times we need to repent. Peter had been following Jesus 3 years when he denied Him. Being mindful of our sin is not meant to discourage us or dis-empower us. It is meant to motivate us to be less self-centered and more Christ-centered.
In this speech Peter gives in Acts 3, Peter immediately points them to Christ. In verse 12 he says “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”
Peter denies any power in himself. Instead of denying Christ, he is now proclaiming Christ. Instead of denying Christ, he is denying himself. It is not Peter’s power. It is not Peter’s goodness. It is the power and goodness of God. In verse 14, Peter refers to Jesus as the holy and righteous one.
In verse 16, Peter brings the point home. I’ll read it:
“By 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 completely healed him, as you can all see.”
You heard “the NAME.” In the bulletin you’ll see that I titled this sermon The Name. The name is found 33 times in the book of Acts – referring to Jesus.
In Acts 5, the apostles were arrested for proclaiming Christ, and they were ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore. They were released, and it says in verse 41 of chapter 5 that: they rejoiced because they had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name. That is all it says – the Name. And they never stopped proclaiming the Name. The Name of Jesus is a powerful Name.
Philippians 2:10 says: “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.”
Acts 4:12 says: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
The Bible says it. There is only one Name by which we can be saved. We are not saved through the name of Allah or Muhammad or Buddha or Shiva or Vishnu.
The way of salvation is open to all people. Whosoever will may come. But everyone must enter by the right door, and there is only one door. In John chapter 10, Jesus said “I am the door, whoever enters through me will be saved.” Other doors will not gain you entry.
But back to Peter’s speech. I mentioned verse 12 and then moved to verse 16. I mostly skipped over verses 13-15. In these verses, Peter is rather direct – We could even say he’s a bit harsh, and offers almost a rebuke to this crowd. You handed Jesus over to be killed. You disowned Jesus before Pilate. You killed the author of life. You disowned the holy and righteous One.
Oh my. This may sound particularly harsh to our modern ears. But this text is not about assigning blame for the death of Jesus – because the death of Jesus was a part of God’s plan. Acts 2:23 says that Jesus was handed over by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge. The death of Jesus was not plan B, it was plan A.
In a letter Peter wrote about 30 years after this (1 Peter in the NT), Peter says we are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ and that Jesus “was known before the foundation of the world, but was revealed in the last times for your sake.”
For our sake, Jesus came. We all must recognize that we are sinful people that need Jesus. Peter denied Jesus even after following him for 3 years. Paul persecuted Christians before he ended up becoming a Christian. Some of the people in this crowd were involved in killing Jesus! The point here, the overarching message, is that in the name of Jesus, God offers mercy and grace, no matter how great our sin.
In verses 16 and 17, Peter’s tone changes. I already read verse 16. It is about the name of Jesus, and the faith that comes through Jesus. And in verse 17, Peter is gracious and more personable. He calls them his brethren – his fellow Israelites – reminding them that he is one of them. He knows they acted in ignorance in killing Jesus.
Remember that when Jesus was on the cross he said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” In verse 18, Peter says that the death of Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.
Beneath what initially appeared to be a great blunder and calamity – the death of Christ – was the infinite purpose of God which triumphed over their very sin in nailing him to that cross. This should offer us a sense of relief and hope. God takes situations that look hopeless and can utilize them for his glory and eternal purposes.
Peter in this speech has offered correction and instruction to the crowd, and finally he offers an appeal. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” – Even this crowd that held direct responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus could find forgiveness.
The miracle of the healed lame man can be an illustration of spiritual healing. The man was lame, crippled, helpless to walk. Likewise, we are helpless sinners. We are spiritually lame. Maybe we’ve not denied Christ like Peter did. Maybe we’ve not persecuted Christians like Paul did. We definitely weren’t there 2,000 years ago when the crowd yelled “crucify him.”
But we are not off the hook. Our sin may be different, but we are sinners nonetheless.
We need to be careful about who we compare ourselves too. I have a membership to the walking track at Mauldin Fitness Club. I typically go in the afternoon, and this tends to be an older or generally less fit crowd. This boosts my sense of physical fitness, as I am usually the fastest walker! But who am I comparing myself too?On occasion it is a different crowd – there are runners, and speed walkers. They leave me in the dust! Hmm, maybe I’m not so fit after all.
Physical comparison can be deceptive. Spiritual comparison can be deceptive too. Jesus is the holy and righteous one, and compared to Jesus we all fall short.
Verses 16 and 19 tell us what to do. We need to repent and turn to God. We need to place our faith in the only name that saves – the name of Jesus.
There is much in a name. A name can have a good or bad reputation associated with it. A certain family can have a good or bad name in a community. Maybe at some time in the past you needed a favor or assistance, and a friend directed you somewhere and said “When you go there, mention my name.” A name can open doors.
Too many seem to think that when they stand before God in the judgment, they will plead in their own name. “It’s me, God. I gave to the poor. I was a volunteer. I tried my best. I never did anything real bad. I have a good name. Let me in.” – But what about the name of Jesus?
How quickly we can forget all about Jesus, and revert to trusting in ourselves. Remember in today’s passage that when the people stared at Peter after he healed the lame man, that Peter re-directed them to Jesus. It was not the power and goodness of Peter, but the power and goodness of God. When we become focused on ourselves and our own goodness, we need to re-direct our trust to Jesus.
Jesus is the door. Yet we can try to make ourselves the door, can’t we?
We need to repent from our sin, but we may need to repent from our good deeds too – if we were relying on them instead of Jesus. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Filthy rags. We could be understandably offended here. It doesn’t seem reasonable. But if we are trusting in our own goodness – rather than Jesus and all that He accomplished for us in his death and resurrection – then our righteous acts do become like filthy rags.
As Peter said in Acts 3:16, “By 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 completely healed him.”
It is only though faith in Jesus that we can be spiritually healed and be made spiritually strong. It is not through self-effort and self-reliance. The lame man could not make himself walk. He needed supernatural intervention, and so do we.
Don’t misunderstand me this morning. Our good works matter. We should seek to honor the name of Jesus by how we live. The book of James in the New Testament emphasizes that a genuine faith will manifest itself in a life of good works.
But it is not “Look what I’ve done!”
Rather it is “Look at what Jesus has done!”
In the Psalm for today, Psalm 4, you may have noticed this line:
“Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.”
Be sure that you are trusting in the right thing, and that your life is pointing people to Jesus.