Acts 4: 5-12
Considering both our readings today, what has struck you in particular?
I could speak again about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, how significant this name for him was in the Ancient Palestine context; but I have spoken about this before. There is only so much you can say about sheep, after all. So today, although we acknowledge what Jesus said, and that he is indeed our Good Shepherd, I would like to turn your attention to the reading in Acts, the account of Peter and John testifying to the risen Christ before the Jewish authorities.
You may recall that the apostles went daily to the temple, where they would speak, bearing witness to Jesus the Messiah. They had a good following, just as Jesus did, for they were filled with the Holy Spirit and people came to hear them and for healing. The incident that preceded this event in the temple was when a beggar, a lame man, was healed. The Bible records how he was ‘walking and leaping and praising God’ It caused quite a stir,
for the people recognized him as the one who had sat at the Beautiful Gate begging for alms. He had in fact asked Peter and John for money, and their response was ‘we don’t have any, but in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!’ In my New Revised Standard Version Bible, it says: ‘while he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished.’ Well! Can you imagine the commotion? Peter was not impressed!
‘You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, as though by our own power
or piety we had made him walk?’ He goes on to say that the God of their ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, who had been rejected and handed over to Pilate. ‘You killed the Author of life,’ he thundered, ‘whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. By faith in his name, his name itself, this man has been made strong, Jesus has given him this perfect health in front of you all.’
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine the scene. This man who you have seen year in and year out, sitting with twisted limbs outside the Beautiful Gate is cavorting around in an ecstasy of joy because he can move, walk, run, jump, again.
This had happened before, when Jesus had healed people, and it got the attention of the Jewish authorities. Luke 13 recounts Jesus healing a crippled woman. For 18 year she had been unable to stand up straight, and when Jesus laid his hands on her she immediately stood straight and began praising God. It riled the leader of the synagogue then, and this healing in the temple did the same. So they arrested Peter and John and jailed them overnight. Next day, these Jewish authorities rolled out all the pomp and ceremony and big cheeses in great numbers (It was the high priest Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas, John, Alexander and all who were of the high-priestly family. A bit like being confronted by both archbishops, all diocesan bishops and all area and suffragan bishops! Intimidation of a high order, indeed.)
Peter looks the Sanhedrin, this gathering of Pharisees and Sadducees squarely in the eye and says: ‘this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’
If there had been a pin there, and it dropped, you could have heard it! They could not take their eyes off Peter and John, standing there, so confident, so sure of themselves. And the man standing there with them, standing so upright, and so……. healed!
Archaeologists, when they dig down often find foundations of some great edifice, or artifacts of someone important who lived many thousands of years ago. They can build a picture of what ancient kingdoms looked like.
Now we know that the Church, the Kingdom of God, has no physical foundations that can be excavated, but if you want to look for its beginnings, you will find it in the Bible, in passages such as this one, written down as eyewitness accounts. Karen and I were talking about the Holy Spirit the other day and it made me think how difficult it is for us to discern God’s Spirit in life today. Some churches actively seek these manifestations, such as talking in heavenly tongues, gold dust or oil appearing on people’s palms, and others dropping to the floor, overcome to the point where they cannot remain standing. Whether you are sceptical of these happenings or not, an exploration of them is not for today.
What I really want to say is this. The power that is within the risen Christ is most certainly with us. Miracles that can possibly be attributed to other explanations are happening all the time. We dwell in the Kingdom of God, we know for certain that Jesus is with us, that he hears our prayers, those spoken and unspoken, and what we do in his name builds his Church. The power that healed that man, that emboldened Peter and John, that broke Paul out of jail, that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. That power, that mercy, that grace and love of God, we claim that as ours. We may be a lot of sheep sometimes, but we are very loved sheep, very precious sheep, and we can have confidence, because we have a very Good Shepherd.