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|"Why Do You Wonder?"
I once heard the pastor of a very large church,
which had sustained growth over a number of years, tell a bunch of us
pastors how all that had happened.
And in the midst of his presentation he commented--several times, I believe--that what they did in that church was not unusual, that it was no more than any other church could do, or should do. The difference was that most churches simply did NOT do those things. (Of course, most churches don't exist in rapidly growing neighborhoods in cities like that one did, either.)
A professional writer once commented that he really believed that he had no special gift. Almost anybody with a small amount of reading and writing education could do what he did. The difference was that he wrote hundreds of words--sometimes thousands--every day, and had been doing so for years.
And in both of these cases, these fellows would probably ask folks who seemed overly impressed with these accomplishments, "What's the big deal? Why do you wonder?"
Well, this morning let's pay a visit to an event in Peter's life as recorded in the book of Acts, a HEALING event. In the third chapter, as Peter is headed for the temple, he encounters a lame man, lame from birth. And this man was reduced to begging.
It was all he could do, and all he ever expected from anybody was a coin now and then.
"But Peter said, "I have not silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk."
And that was all it took. Soon he was jumping and walking and leaping. And the scriptures tell us that folks were filled with wonder and amazement, and utterly astonished.
But "When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, "You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by OUR own power or piety WE had made him walk?"
And what did Peter just get through saying to that lame man? Didn't he say that he had no earthly wealth to give him? And he might as well have added that he had no earthly POWER to give him! Yet, he added, "But what I HAVE I give you."
And what he HAD was not his own, nor his own to give, but "in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth," stand up and walk.
You know, that could apply to almost anyone's so-called gifts. We wonder and stare at others as if by their own power they have achieved something. But gifts are exactly that: gifts. They come to us through the benevolence of God.
Yet, as we take OWNERSHIP of them, too often others perceive them as ORIGINATING with us.
Well, Peter is not going to let that happen. Indeed, he is going to use this opportunity to a higher purpose. And I think that's important, because he does have two other options: One option would be to say, "Yes, I have great superhuman powers to heal."
Another option would be to say, "Hey, anybody can do this. It's no big deal." But NEITHER of those options truly attributes the POWER to its SOURCE. And indeed, when that pastor and that writer I was talking about modestly shrugged off their accomplishments, weren't they also shrugging off God-given gifts?
Well, the healing that has taken place has given Peter a golden opportunity. And he begins to preach,
"The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him."
And Peter is telling his audience that this is more than a human healing: this is an act of glorification of Jesus. But more than that, the person who is glorified is the same one who this very audience rejected.
Rejection. It happens all the time. And I even read a book once, written to help folks find work, to develop careers, that argued that rejection was such an integral part of life that we might as well get used to it. Rejection is normal. Learn to live with it. And anyone who has ever applied for a job knows that.
Anyone who has ever tried to SELL anything knows that.
In a book entitled "True Success," Tom Morris, a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, tells a story of a friend he had in his youth. Tom was a pretty good singer and a pretty good rock-and-roll guitar player. His friend, Don, played the tambourine badly.
And when Don was in the sixth grade, and his church was forming a new choir, the choir director took him aside and asked him to find some other way to serve God. But Don had a dream. Don was going to become a professional musician.
Well, the years passed and Tom and Don went their separate ways. And then, one day, Tom heard a song on the radio. It was Don. On Capitol Records. On the country music charts. And Don went on to write and record at least fifty top-five country music hits.
The boy who was not able to carry a tune in a bucket or play a musical instrument. The boy who was rejected.
Sometimes, we don't KNOW who or what we're rejecting. But Peter tells the Israelites, "you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you."
According to Luke, when Jesus was on the cross, he said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." Did they? When they asked for Barrabas to be released instead of Jesus, was it because they hated Jesus more or feared him more?
I hear Peter telling them that they indeed asked to have a murderer released in the place of one with the power to heal.
My parents have told me that I don't put enough humor in my preaching. And sometimes that's because I'm fearful of how such an attempt at humor might be interpreted. Sometimes I'm afraid that I might be seen as trivializing a serious subject.
OK, you've been warned.
I'm reminded of a television commercial for vegetable juice, when the actor is drinking some carbonated soft drink and suddenly slaps his head and says, "I coulda had a V8!"
Do you suppose that anyone in that crowd is now figuring out that instead of asking for a murderer, Barabbas, they COULD have asked for the release of the most powerful healing force in the world? "We could have had CHRIST!"
But no. "You REJECTED the Holy and Righteous one."
Before I got married, a year ago tomorrow, I don't think my mother had been much concerned with my marital status for quite some time.
And Dad, when he was living, had given up on me a long time ago, telling me that I had been unmarried for so long that I’d be difficult to live with. Dad and Mom had a dozen grandchildren to keep them busy without any help from me.
But my father was known to make comments like, "You let the good ones get away." (As if I was rejecting them.)
But more than simple rejection, Peter preaches to the Israelites, "You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses."
Remember the story about Don that I just got through telling? In a sense, when people made fun of him, ridiculed him, ignored him, rejected his efforts and his dreams, they were trying to kill his hopes. But something happened within him.
Something mystical, something spiritual, had to keep him going to achieve what he did. And I don't think it's too far-fetched to say that God was at work in his life.
When our lives fall apart but we keep hanging on, God is at work within us, trying to bring US back from the dead. And if God IS at work within us, if we LET God work within us, no amount of rejection can beat us down.
I remember a boy who was two years behind me in high school. Teachers didn't have ANYTHING good to say about him. I suspect that there were some who would just as soon shoot him as have to put up with him. He is now a successful superintendent of schools in Kansas.
"You killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead."
And Peter is also telling those Israelites that the resurrection, to which Peter is a witness, is PROOF of the error of their ways. and PROOF that God IS in control.
"And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you."
One of the joys of youth is physical power. Really! We feel invincible. Nothing can hurt us. Well, maybe just a little bit, but we bounce back in a hurry. And can there be a more powerful feeling than to be able to think, "You can't hurt me!"?
Well, Jesus was crucified. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. And Jesus IS NOT physically present in this passage of scripture. But listen to Peter: "by faith in his name; his name itself...the FAITH that is through Jesus."
And can't you just hear Peter saying, "You may have killed him, but you can't destroy his POWER."
And even in the secular world, isn't it true that even if a leader dies, the power of an idea can live on?
Peter has the evidence of the power of faith standing there beside him: "this man...whom you see and know...this perfect health in the presence of all of you."
You know, I think too often Christians underestimate their power. Methodism has been active in rural areas for as long as there have been small towns where folks gathered, and often even before the towns were incorporated.
And how many other organizations or businesses in those towns have been active that long?
You can't hurt us! Jesus Christ is on our side! Well, maybe we can hurt a little, but by faith in his name, his NAME ITSELF can make us strong.
And then Peter approaches his conclusion:
"And now friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers."
They just didn't know. Or DID they? Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that they acted in arrogance, putting God to the test. How could they NOT know? Didn't Jesus preach and teach openly? Or maybe we should say that they acted in disbelief, disbelief that Jesus COULD BE the Messiah, the Christ. Or maybe they did not WANT to believe because they felt threatened, and they figured, "Hey, if we just kill him, the problem will go away."
But Peter tells them, "In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer."
So what they did, in rejecting the Holy and Righteous One, in killing the Author of life, was not an escape from the problem, but a fulfillment of prophecy. We might say that God saw them coming and was ready.
And Peter tells them, "Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out."
"Why do you wonder? Why do you stare at us?"
And Peter has answered his questions! Folks wonder and stare because they do not UNDERSTAND the power of faith in Jesus Christ. They CAN'T understand, because they do not HAVE the faith in Jesus Christ.
If they HAD the faith, they would not wonder and they would not stare. It would all make perfect sense that Jesus Christ IS the most powerful healing force we can find in our lives.
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