16 May 2012
Consider for a moment Acts 3:1-26, the two middle parts of a three part narrative of Peter and John's activity while at temple. The first part (vv. 1-9) has the two apostles coming to Beautiful Gate and encountering a lame man who was begging for help. Peter makes his famous statement, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." The first lesson which kingdom people should take from this scene is that Peter not only tells the man to rise and walk, but he then took him by the hand and helped him get up. He does not simply wish well upon the man and declare his healing, but rather becomes a part of the spiritual-physical process by which he is made well. Peter does not throw money at the problem, nor does he throw Jesus' authority at the situation. He declares the new reality made possible through Jesus' rule as Messiah and then brings the gospel into the beggar's life as a tangible manifestation of the kingdom.
With the newly-restored beggar leaping and jumping into the temple courts comes a commotion. (God always causes the biggest disturbances within the church, more than all of the preachers and heretics combined, says a ragamuffin preacher.) Here, in a very powerful way, the outcast (which Luke keeps in constant view in his writings) literally jumps the gate and enters the very temple from which he was kept from because of his illness (cf. Thompson, The Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus, 152-156). Indeed, there is a new temple in the cosmos!
The scene which surrounds the apostles and the beggar causes Peter to address the crowd (vv. 11-26). His first statement to the crowd comes via question, "Why does this surprise you?" An interesting note, almost as though Luke still has in mind Zechariah, who also stood in the holiness of the temple and questioned the power of Israel's God. Here are God's covenant people, worshipping and praying and sacrificing for the redemption and restoration of Israel now caught off guard by how such a healing could have occurred. The second lesson the modern church should grab here is found in the precise question which Peter raises to the temple-gatherers, "Why does this surprise you?" Perhaps the church has forgotten the very power of God that we are unable to identify it or (what is worse) experience it in our midst. I have come to suppose that most of the church's lack of kingdom mission is rooted in our failure to accept the power of God as a presence that can change the world. A sad commentary on who we have become.
Peter follows up his questioning with a proclamation of Jesus as Messiah and the gospel of salvation which has come into the world. There has been much discussion regarding Peter's actual speech, and I am not so interested in exploring its detail here. Suffice it to say that Peter frames the story of Jesus within the story of Israel and connects the covenant themes with what has happened in his death and resurrection. He has been exalted as God's Messiah and the rightful king of the world. Peter does not begin with a personal decision - or with the fact that his audience 'needs a savior' or that 'Jesus is the answer' etc. Niether does Peter seek to make this a mass conversion experience; there is no kool-aid for them to drink, it is a shared experience rather than an emotional outburst of spirituality. Instead, Peter first proclaims Jesus as Lord and then invites his audience to take their story and connect it to the story of Jesus and become part of the kingdom of God.
The third lesson for the modern church to take from this scene is not found in the specific content of Peter's sermon, but in the fact that he preaches the gospel after the questioning crowd gathered around the work of God. Peter and John do not go to the temple to create a scene, per se. They are most likely going to find opportunities to teach about Jesus and, by being missional people of the kingdom who willingly participate in the ongoing ministry of Jesus to bring healing, are caught up in a powerful time of proclamation and salvation as people become connected to the kingdom of God by responding to the story which they hear. Hence, gospel proclamation is effective when it follows gospel activity.
In other words, in a world where we have allowed the category of preach to work to become the norm, it is imperative that we return to a method of work to preach. The tired stereotypical evangelism which stands on street corners and decries lives and culture must be cut out of the work of the church. In fact, so many congregations continue to do this very thing, only without the dramatics of street evangelism. There is more to being the church than being a building on the corner waiting for the world to come into our doors before we can offer any significant change. I fear, though, that even those who are dedicated to the teaching and example of Jesus have lost sight of the value of washing feet because it lacks the accolades of the culture which has crept into the church.
Peter and John powerfully demonstrate this powerfully, by becoming a vital part of the ministry of Jesus before they enter into any discussion with others about the story of Jesus. And, once people are asking the right questions about Jesus, the Spirit is able to connect them powerfully to the truth of the gospel.
And the world changes as the kingdom comes.