28 April 2011Acts 3:11-26
"When God raised up his servant; he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways." (v. 26)
This is a monumental passage of Scripture: so bold in its
presentation and so grand in its scope. After the miraculous healing at the gate of the temple,
the people of Jerusalem are amazed and come rushing after Peter and
John in search of an explanation. Peter (getting more accustomed to
public speaking) addresses the Israelite people there. The healing
miracle itself served only to get the people's attention and point
them to the bigger news he had for them - news of prophecy and deep
history being fulfilled. This speech is clearly aimed at a Jewish
audience: reminding the listeners of significant points of their
history, unlocking doors to understanding the words of old, and
uncovering windows through which they might glimpse God's big
Peter's second sermon compliments and builds on his first (Acts 2:14-39), using many mysterious phrases and ideas drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures - ones the audience would know well, but now with a new light shone on them. First, Peter emphasises that it's only in the power and name of Jesus that the lame man was healed. He makes the point that it's their God (...of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of their ancestors - verse 13) who's responsible - not some witchcraft or foreign deity. Their God has glorified God's own servant (see Isaiah 42:1; 52:13), Jesus. In verse 14 he calls Jesus "the Holy and Righteous One" (see Isaiah 24:16; 53:11) and tells again the story of Good Friday, saying that the people killed the "Author of Life" (verse 15), which connects with the Christian idea of Jesus being the Word of God at creation (see John 1). But God has raised Jesus from the dead - the Apostles are witnesses to that - and so it's in his name that the man was healed; a man they knew very well.
When Jesus was dying on the cross, he famously called out, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). In the same way, Peter's aim here is not to cast blame but to offer grace. He says it was through all of this that God's promises are somehow fulfilled (see Isaiah 53:10) and he calls them to accept God's solution: "Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out" (verse 19). But the good news is not just about personal remission of sins, verses 20-21 point to a much wider salvation: "times of refreshing" from the presence of the Lord (perhaps like the "showers of blessing" promised in Ezekiel 34:26), and the return of the anointed one, God's Messiah, bringing with him the time of "universal restoration" - the renewal of all things. Peter is excited about the implications of the resurrection for the whole of creation! This restoration had only really been understood previously in terms of Israel (see Joel 3:1 and Amos 9:14) but Peter has in his mind the overarching promise to Abraham: "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). This was to be the direction the Jesus-movement headed from then on: to the ends of the earth! But first, the offer of repentance and blessing was given to the people of Israel - God had by no means forgotten his covenant people.
How do you think the people would respond to such an amazing message? And how do you respond?
Read Ephesians 1:5-10 - a vision for the future of 'all things', beginning with us. Where do you see yourself in this?
Do we sometimes make our gospel message too small - perhaps focusing solely on personal salvation? How can we, as Christians, live in a way that proclaims God's intentions for the whole of creation? How can we be people of "universal restoration"?