The Third Sunday in Easter
April 25-26, 2009
Text: Acts 3:11-21
Dear Friends in Christ,
It is interesting to note the things that cause a stir among us today. Well we had planes fly into buildings in New York. That caused a stir. We have a little war in Afghanistan and Iraq. That has caused some upset. We have riots because some people were offended by cartoons... Gee, all these things are caused by Muslims. Thankfully not all things that get people worked up, either for good or bad, are connected to Islam. But a great deal of the upset in world is caused by Muslims. It does make one wonder.
Shortly after Christ’s ascension there was a different kind of upset in the temple in Jerusalem. A man was healed. He was a crippled beggar who was known to sit at the entrance to the temple each day. Peter healed the man. Just as Christ rose from the dead, this man now rose and walked. There is a connection between the risings. For Christ rose victorious over sin and death. Being a cripple is one of the effects of sin in the world. It does not mean that this person was a greater sinner than others, but rather that he, like us, lived in a sinful and corrupt world. Just as Christ rose victorious over sin and death, so also the Apostle displayed this victory with healing miracles. So here outside the temple, this man asks Peter for money. Peter simply says, I have no money that is for you. But here I will give you what I have for you. Rise and walk. In this way Peter was showing through this man, that Christ had conquered sin and all its effects.
A crowd quickly gathered. You can well imagine. Think of someone you know personally that has been in a wheel chair for years. You know the person. You know their situation. What would happen if one day, at a public gathering they just got up and started walking? It would attract a great deal of attention, wouldn’t it. This is what happened here. So people wanted to know what this was all about.
Peter, like Christ, was never one to miss an opportunity to preach. And what does Peter point them to? The Old Testament Scriptures and recent events in Jerusalem - things that they already knew. The crowd would have known that there were rumors that Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter is stating simply that this man’s healing is proof that it is real. Peter is quick to point out that he had not made the man walk. Jesus had made the man walk. Jesus who is Almighty God, raised from the dead by God the Father. This One made the man walk. So in this man they would see the resurrection.
One might ask, during this season of Easter, did Christ raise Himself from the dead or did God the Father raise Him from the dead? The answer to that question is yes. Scripture speaks in both ways. Here in our text it speaks of Christ being raised from the dead and glorified by God the Father. But Christ Himself says that He lays down His life and takes it up again. Here again is one of those things that ties theologians up into knots as they try to understand. But the problem is that this is dealing with the inner economy of Trinity. No mere man that has ever lived has understood the Trinity. There are many things we don’t understand about how the persons of the Trinity interact. But it appears that everything that God does involves all three persons of the Trinity. We don’t always see all three persons. But they are there. So when we speak of Christ’s resurrection in two ways, this ought not surprise us. This is really a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity itself.
Peter’s words are interesting in other ways. First he lays the guilt trip on them. He preaches the law. He tells them you sold out Christ to be crucified. You are to blame. And indeed we also must take blame as well. No, we were not there. We were not silent when Christ was condemned. Nor were we in the crowd that shouted crucify him. But we participate in the condemnation of Christ by our own sins. For the sins of each one of us was laid upon Christ. It is because of my sins and your sins that Christ died. And each day as we turn back to our sins, we crucify Christ anew. So we must not boast about how much better we’d have been if only we were there. Rather we must grieve for own sins, whether of hated, subtle theft, lying or any of the many other ways we can turn from God’s commands. Peter’s words must sting us as well. For we are sinners who, by our sins, placed Christ on the cross.
Then we must look at how Peter continues. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord...” Here now Peter lays out the Gospel. He speaks of the need to turn away from sin and death, and to Christ. Those who do so will have Christ’s sacrifice applied to them. Peter here is not denying that Christ died for all sins. Rather he is saying that Christ’s payment for the sins of the world will only be of value to those who turn to Christ in repentance. Then Peter continues that we will be refreshed or restored by the very presence of Christ. What a claim - you put Christ death, but this very same One that you put to death will now restore you.
Peter’s claim is not generic. Christ’s presence is never generic. The presence of Christ comes in the liturgy - that is God’s service to His people. Christ’s presence in grace is always attached to Baptism, the Word of Absolution and the Lord’s Supper. The mistake we so often make is to just leave these promises hanging out there, without applying them to us. There is certainty in Peter’s Words. The certainty comes from the fact that Christ is indeed with us through Word and Sacrament. We can take great comfort from this. Christ says at the end of Matthew that He is with us always. Through Word and Sacrament, He is indeed with us always. More than that He is, by His presence, applying the forgiveness He won on the cross to each of us. Sometimes people act as though God being present among us through specific means is a bad thing, as though this somehow limits God. Rather what it does is assure us that indeed Christ is among and we can be certain that we have received His gifts.
A few weeks after Pentecost, Peter healed a crippled man on the steps of the temple. Just as Christ rose from the dead, the man rose and walked. This signified that Christ had indeed defeated sin and death. The effects of sin could now be cast aside. So for us also as we know that with Christ we rise to life. We are assured of this by the fact that Christ is with us, through Word and Sacrament, dispensing His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. He applies these thing directly to each one of us. We need have no fear or doubt. We can say, yes, I am a sinner. Yes, I put Christ on the cross by my sins. But Christ loves me so much that He comes and places His name upon me and claims me as His own. He forgives my sins and feeds me with His own flesh and blood which He gave for my salvation.