Reflection for Sunday 18th April 2021
(Steve Hamer - Diocesan Reader)
(Related readings can be found here )
The First Miracle after the Resurrection
Based on Acts 3: 1 - 19
May my words be in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today’s Bible reading was from the Acts of the Apostles,
that book in the Bible which records some of the activities of the 12 disciples of Jesus.
It shows how Jesus’s early followers, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit,
spread the Good News about him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and, according to Acts 1:8, to the ends of the Earth.
If you ever learnt to drive, you would have started by having someone beside you,
maybe a driving instructor, who would show you what to do.
When Jesus was alive and with his disciples, he taught them many things,
including how to heal the sick. In this passage, we need to remember that Jesus had been taken from them - Calvary had been and gone. Like having just passed their driving test,
they were now on there own.
Here we have Peter & John in Solomon’s Porch, part of a beautiful colonnade Herod had added on the eastern side of the Temple, along which worshippers and pilgrims passed to get into the Temple itself. It was 3pm and they were going to the Temple to pray.
To me the Bible reading that is set for today in the Lectionary is incomplete –
it misses out the bit beforehand that explains who ‘the man’ is who is with Peter & John
at Solomon’s Porch. I have deliberately included them, as we can then see who ‘the man’ was – it was a man who couldn’t walk – he’d been lame from birth.
Each day he was carried to the Temple to beg for money and placed at one of the busiest gates into the Temple – ‘Gate Beautiful’ that led into the Court of the Women where the poor boxes were. When Peter & John were alongside him, he asked them to give him something. What happened next was that Peter looked straight at him and said
“Look at us”.
So he looked at Peter & John, no doubt expecting to get something from them.
But Peter said to the lame man,
“I have no money at all, but I give you what I have....
in the name of Jesus of Nazareth,
get up and walk”
Then he took him by the right hand and helped him up.
At once the man’s feet and ankles become strong.
He jumped up, stood on his feet and started walking around.
Then he went into the Temple with Peter & John, walking, jumping & praising God.
The people saw him walking and praising God and when they recognised him as the beggar they were ‘surprised & amazed’ (a bit of an understatement).
Peter & John had remembered an instruction Jesus had given them: to
“preach the kingdom of God and heal the sick” (Mt 10:7-8).
Sickness being body, mind or spirit.
The New Testament reading for today records the first post-Calvary miracle -
one of many carried out by Peter.
Since the Fall, recorded in Genesis, we have suffered illness,
disease and the effects of Satan on what was a perfect World.
God is busy restoring the damage and the Acts of the Apostles record some of the works of the Early Church - which are still as powerful today as they were 2000 years ago.
Today’s New Testament reading concerns Divine healing -
a healing in which God is the key player.
Arguably, medicine is God given, made from materials created by God,
but in this case, medicine would not heal a man who had never walked.
The key phrase used by Peter was
‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, get up and walk”.
There’s song written over 30yrs ago by Noel Richardson 1989 “There is power in the name of Jesus”. [see end of sermon] It reminds us that this power is released
when we believe in Jesus and declare his name.
The Bible records over 30 events where Jesus himself healed many people –
as prophesied by Isaiah some 700yrs earlier. (Is 35:4-6).
The power that Jesus had did not die with him on the Cross.
After his resurrection, in one of his many appearances before he ascended, he was by the shore of Lake Galilee. The disciples had fished all night and caught nothing,
but Jesus instructed them to recast their nets.
The result was a net so full they were unable to haul it into the boat. (Jn 21:4-11)
It’s worth reflecting on what we mean by healing.
As Christians we believe we are wonderfully and uniquely different,
made up of body, mind and spirit. No two people are the same –
which is a good thing, as I couldn’t get on with a World full of people just like me!
As humans, we have a natural interest in our bodies and minds –
and for some, the spiritual part of us that lives on after we die.
The internet book seller Amazon alone stocks literally 1,000s of books on the subject.
The biggest book sales are – cooking, pets, travel, DIY, children and health.
We all want to be well, but I don’t have to remind you that even those blessed with good general health start to suffer as we get older. Bits of us wear out, slow down or pack up. More unfortunate are those afflicted from birth or childhood years -
as was the lame man in today’s reading.
Why are some born lame, blind or confined to a hospital bed from birth?
The brilliant Cambridge maths professor, Stephen Hawking, was totally paralysed and in a wheelchair. Here was a man with an outstanding mental ability restrained in the shell of a grotesquely imperfect body. Whose fault is it that some people are born this way?
Jesus had something to say in Jn 9:1.
He was walking along and saw a man born blind. His disciples asked him
"Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind?
Was it his own or his parents’ sin?” Jesus answered,
“His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parent’s sins”.
We live in a fallen World. In Genesis it says that the World God made was good.
Sin entered the World and the battle between good and evil is still being played out here and in the Heavenlies.
I’ll ask another difficult question.
Why does God choose to heal some people and not others ?
My humanity and my honesty says – I wish I knew.
Like you, I could give God a long list of people who would benefit from his healing touch, and in a world that also includes evil people, a list of those
who I’d advise him not to bother with.
What arrogance I would be displaying. God is God.
But, if everyone who professed the Christian faith could be guaranteed healing,
the churches would be full – don’t bother taking out expensive health insurance !
The Early Church certainly would have attracted some members
by its miraculous signs and wonders – which included healing.
Although so fundamental, over recent centuries the mainstream church let these God given gifts lapse. Bishops and clergy were taught how to get wrapped up in deep theology, give long, eloquent sermons, but were not trained in developing a healing ministry.
The Christian church was good at developing hospitals, schools, and working amongst the deprived or unwanted. It started educating the children of poorer families, took the Christian message into prisons, and challenged the slave trade. And it also developed many themes based on what might be viewed as the benefits of suffering - no pain, no gain, etc. Jesus is indeed there in the middle of our suffering,
but perhaps some pain might have been avoided as healing was God’s gift to the Church –
and, we’re not talking about the building.
About 100 years ago, parts of the Church rediscovered the gift of healing,
and Christian places of retreat were established, where healing could be a central activity. The power of the Holy Spirit to heal did not die out with the apostles,
and is central to the Gospel, it is not a side issue.
However, it must be carried out under the authority of the church and its leaders. Attempting to heal without Christian authority opens itself to being used by other powers that are counterfeit and not of God, but of a fallen, pagan world.
It’s nothing to do with carefully phrased and grammatical prayers,
of wise words or a ‘correct’ formula.
There’s no special energy emanating from hands,
but the power of the Lord moving through His people
as the church acts in obedience to him.
When we pray in Jesus’ name it must be in faith –
it is Christ himself, not merely the sound of his name
who gives our prayers their power.
In the passage read today we heard that Peter addressed the people who had crowded round wondering how this miracle of healing had taken place. One modern translation puts it:
"Oh, Israelites, why does this take you by such complete surprise, and why stare at us as if our power or piety made him walk? (piety = dutiful devotion to God and observance of religious principles). The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his Son Jesus. The very One that Pilate called innocent, you disowned. You rejected the Holy One, the Just One, and asked for a murderer in his place. You no sooner killed the Author of Life than God raised him from the dead — and we are the witnesses. Faith in Jesus' name put this man, whose condition you know so well, on his feet — yes, faith, and nothing but faith, put this man healed and whole right before your eyes.
This healing of the lame man took place only a few weeks after the Crucifixion –
some present would have seen the crucifixion, remembered the sky going black,
the Temple curtain being torn from top to bottom, the graves opened, etc.
Others had no doubt heard about it.
The religious leaders thought they had put an end to Jesus but here is Peter telling them that Jesus is alive again and this time they can’t harm him.
Bad news for them, good news for us.
After pointing out the injustice of the leaders, Peter showed them the significance of the resurrection. God’s triumph and power over death.
"And now, friends, I know you had no idea what you were doing when you killed Jesus, and neither did your leaders. But God, who through the preaching of all the prophets had said all along that his Messiah would be killed, knew exactly what you were doing and used it to fulfil his plans."
This shows Peter as not chastising the crowd for killing the Messiah
– in fact it mirrors the thoughts and words of Jesus on the cross –
“Father forgive them for they know not what they do”
Peter continues -
"Now it's time to change your ways!
Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins,
pour out showers of blessing to refresh you,
and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely, Jesus.
For the time being he must remain out of sight in heaven
until everything is restored to order again
- just the way God, through the preaching of his holy prophets of old,said it would be."
So, Peter tells them they have a way out, a second chance.
God not only would wipe away their sins but wishes to bless them.
It is God’s nature to bless us – he wants to shower us with blessings.
They can take many forms – but don’t hold back from receiving them. They will be good.
Finally, instant healing, as with this lame man, is a miracle,
and miracles can and do still happen.
However, healing can also be the cessation of an illness,
the body still needing time to recover. But - healing has occurred.
Perhaps it’s the gift of God’s peace to endure it in this life.
We ought to pray to God -
that the Body of Christ can recapture Jesus’ original vision
and begin to work together toward a serious renewal of Christian life in his Church.
I believe that Jesus desires with all His heart for his saving love,
revealed through healing and deliverance,
to return to his people in full force –
just as Peter was able to use it some 2000yrs ago.
Song Lyrics by Noel Richardson
There is power in the name of Jesus
We believe in His name
We have called on the name of Jesus
We are saved! We are saved!
At His name the demons flee
At His name captives are freed
For there is no other name that is higher
There is power in the name of Jesus
Like a sword in our hands
We declare in the name of Jesus
We shall stand! We shall stand!
At His name God's enemies
Shall be crushed beneath our feet
For there is no other name that is higher
© 1989 Kingsway Thankyou Music