Following the healing of the cripple at the Temple gate, Peter explains the continuing ministry of Jesus

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11
Acts 3:12-19

 

This is where authoritative prayer in Jesus’ name, and the faith that comes through Him, is modelled for us to follow

12  When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

  13  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.

Peter’s message explains the healing of the lifelong cripple at the Beautiful Gate by discounting who he is, and setting out plainly who Jesus is.

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… His Servant Jesus” – Peter names Jesus as the Servant of Isaiah 42-53 and particularly Isaiah 52:13 before his Jewish audience.

14  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.

15  You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.

Following the mention of the Servant of Isaiah, this passage introduces three significant names of Jesus: ‘Holy One’, ‘Righteous One’ and ‘Author of Life’. (In v.22 further on from this passage there is a fourth, ‘Prophet like Moses’.)

It was incomprehensible to the Jewish mind that the author of life, i.e. God Himself, could be killed.

16  By faith in the Name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

The Name was a way that Jewish piety could speak of God without naming God – something they felt was improper. The Name of God, the Name of Jesus, the Name… the languages makes the point that Jesus is God.

The man was healed by Jesus’ name, and by the faith that comes through Jesus. The Name of Jesus is an invocation of Jesus Himself – in effect, Peter’s words become Jesus’ words. The faith was either the faith of the man himself – who later praised God for his restoration – or the faith of Peter, or both.

17  “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.  18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 

This is remarkable for Peter’s conciliatory attitude to his fellow Jews and especially their leaders. He even tells them that their actions allowed God’s purpose to be fulfilled, and that (v.19) their simple repentance would bring “times of refreshing” from the Lord.

19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

This kind of evangelistic message in Acts commonly builds toward a call to repentance from unbelief and faith in Jesus as Messiah – with the same good news offered to Gentiles.

For further study, read Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30 and 26:20

Application

This passage contains the basis for authoritative prayers and declarations we make where we discern in a situation what Jesus would have us pray, and having spoken those words, append to them “in the name of Jesus”.

This is not a religious formula – or if it is used in that way, it is ineffective.

The man referred to was healed both by Peter’s using the words and actions that the Holy Spirit showed him to use –  “in the name of Jesus” – and as a result of the exercise of faith for what was, humanly speaking, an impossibility.

Note also that this was a healing miracle which everyone in Jerusalem would have remarked on – the formerly crippled man’s pitch by one of the main routes into the temple would have made him a familiar figure, and quite a change if he was not there any more. And of course it showed Peter in a very favourable light, but only for the shortest possible time, because Peter’s first words were to give God the glory and denigrate his role in it. That’s an important lesson for us.

For reflection and discussion

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p class=”p2″>How does Peter’s confidence in this passage help you to move from prayer asking God (supplication), to prayer that calls down God’s will by faith in the name of Jesus?

Bringing it together – the emerging message

FRIDAY, APRIL 6
Tests of true believers

RECAP

Exodus 14:10-30, 15:20-21 – The test of faith for the impossible

Psalm 133 – The test of togetherness

John 20:19-31 – The test of believing without seeing

1 John 1:1-2:2 – The test of those who are walking in relationship with God

How ordinary Christians’ faith changed the course of history

The first passage, Monday, April 2 – Exodus 14:10ff, told how Moses and his large and at times opinionated and difficult group faced a test of faith in a situation that looked hopeless – although God had spoken previously, and given them a clear promise of passage to the Promised Land to hold on to.

The lesson about the power of unity (Ps. 133) also bears on this story; so does Thomas’s lesson, after he declared “Unless I see…” He followed the old adage that seeing is believing, but faith turns that on its head to say that believing, is seeing.

A generation or two ago the future of this country was in the praying hands of ordinary but true, believing Christians – the ones who were too young or too old to be called up for war service. And we can assume that the majority were women.

Like the Israelites at the Red Sea there was a pursuing army and a strategic stretch of water. This is about the two dramatic and otherwise inexplicable reversals that took place in 1940 following a national call to prayer.

May 1940 was a desperate time; the entire retreating British Army was trapped at Dunkirk. King George VI (who, like Moses, found public speaking difficult) called the nation to turn back to God in a spirit of repentance, and plead for Divine help.

On the day appointed by the King, which was Sunday May 26, the country responded. Millions of people flocked into churches. A memorable photograph of the time shows a long queue outside Westminster Abbey; church bells were rung and others filled churches across the UK, and also in the Commonwealth nations.

There were two immediate results: a violent storm arose over northern France, grounding the Luftwaffe which had been attacking the troops on the beaches. And then a flat calm, a calm that had not been seen for a generation, descended on the Channel,  allowing hundreds of tiny pleasure boats to cross and enter the shallows to allow men to board. Rather than the anticipated 20-30,000 hoped for, 335,000 were rescued.

Another National Day of Prayer was called on Sunday, September 8, 1940, while the Battle of Britain was being fought out in the skies. RAF fighter command was close to being wiped out and its airfields destroyed; preparations for the invasion could be seen, looking across the channel from the Dover cliffs. Inexplicably the Luftwaffe suddenly switched tactics to bombing London, giving time for fighter squadrons to re-group and re-equip, and the invasion plans were finally abandoned.

True believers, acting together, can bring godly change, to the wonder of politicians.

 

The human heart takes us away from God, His grace brings us back

FRIDAY, MARCH 9
The emerging message

Raising our faith viewpoints reveals the grace God had for us in every situation

These passages describe four common ‘heart conditions’ or attitudes of the heart that are not acceptable to the Lord. They are also explicit about His grace and mercy in such situations which always provides a way back to Him.

Perhaps it is not surprising the Israelites in the desert, short of food and water, should start to grumble. We are inclined to do it if the traffic is bad and this was life-threatening. But when grumbling turns to speaking against the leader, or the Lord, there were going to be bad consequences, and a plague of carpet vipers appeared.

The psalm reading highlights rebellious ways as a second heart attitude to be addressed, and talks about affliction and wasting disease that results from it.

The gospel reading includes one of the best-known verses in John 3 and the heart issue is unbelief. In a multi-cultural, diverse and tolerant society it does not sit well with us to hear that whoever does not believe, stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Then Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, paints a picture of extreme contrast between living selfishly according to the old nature, and the grace of God which saves us and gives us a new identity as those in Christ and with a passport issued in heaven.

It is apparent how God’s faithful love is prominent in all of this, as though waiting for hearts that show signs of changing, if not exactly changed. The keys are repentant prayer and belief in Christ Jesus. The lessons are how we raise our viewpoint – looking up to an image is a symbol of looking up spiritually to gain heaven’s perspective. The first recorded words of Jesus following baptism and the desert testing were the proclamation of the kingdom with the words “repent and believe”.

The selfish nature, or flesh nature, which is our inheritance from Adam, the prototype of humanness, is part of us we have to keep putting to death, because it keeps on kicking. So we should be as ready to repent as we are to take a shower, and for similar reasons. Repentance always opens the way for us to repair or deepen our relationship with God, to hear. Apart from our pride, what is there to hold us back from getting closer to God and raising our perspective to align with His?

Wed, Dec 13: John says get ready for the One to follow Him

John 1: 6-8, 19-28

The announcement of God’s next move comes with immediacy – and mixed responses

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

  • This is the apostle John writing about John the Baptist.

7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.

  • John the gospel writer uses the word for ‘witness’ or ‘testify’ far more than Matthew, Mark and Luke. His gospel sets out from the start to show that the facts about Jesus are well attested.
  • “So that through him…” John the Baptist’s ministry was a particular one – to testify about Jesus and point people to Him. They would not believe “in” John, but by means of, and “through” John.

8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

  • Such was his following that some people were getting exaggerated ideas about who John was – see v. 21 below.

= = = = = =

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.

  • This was a delegation from the religious ruling council, the Sanhedrin, to check out the activities of someone who was to them an unauthorised teacher. In the 16th and 17th centuries in England, people who taught without the authorisation of the established church were commonly penalised and imprisoned – like John Bunyan – or worse. John Wesley, an Anglican cleric, was much criticised for his “enthusiasm” and was generally not allowed to preach in church buildings.

20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”

  • His appearance and ministry was in the style of Elijah, and Jews knew that Elijah had not died. So was this Elijah returned? Similarly “the Prophet”, Deuteronomy 18:15 . They were expecting various people to appear with the coming Messiah.

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”

  • The Qumran community had applied Isaiah 40:3  to themselves. Their understanding of it? Isolating themselves to secure their own salvation. Here John is making a much more missional call to “make straight the way” for the Messiah and enabling people to make their own preparation by getting right with God – repentance.
  • Baptism, with the same connotations of turning decisively from the old life to the new, became the symbol of membership in Jesus’ kingdom.

24-25 Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

  • The Pharisees held to a conservative theological position and were expecting the Messiah. John, as a forerunner, looked like a candidate but denied being that.

26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.

27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

  • John tells them that the anointed One they are seeking is right there with them in the crowd and that this is to be a much greater ministry.

28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

  • Not the Bethany mentioned elsewhere that is close to Jerusalem.

Application

Who were the last of the Old Testament prophets? We think of Habakkuk and Zechariah and Malachi, and then there was a period of about 400 years without a prophetic word being recorded. Jesus came right at the end of the Old Covenant era, and by His life, death and resurrection He gave us a new and better covenant based on new life trusting Him as Saviour and Lord. The Old Covenant, the Jewish system of rules and regulations would have been difficult enough for us, even if as Gentiles we could be included.

Jesus was among the crowds that came to the Jordan for a baptism of repentance, and that baptism was carried out by a kind of Elijah figure, in the way he dressed and lived – an outsider. He had a message to proclaim, and it was a direct and challenging call. Get right with God! Someone far greater than me is coming after me, in fact He is here! Demonstrate your readiness by going into the water for baptism, an act of repentance!

John was the last of the O.T. prophets. His cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, spoke for God and challenged about the kingdom of God – but we would agree He was more than a prophet.

Discussion starters

6. Are we more ready to criticise what we don’t like, or more ready to look for how we can make straight the way or the Lord?

7. Does the call to repent sound like condemnation; or do we see it as encouragement into what God might be preparing us for?

Thur, Dec 7: The Lord’s desire – none to perish, all to come to repentance

2 Peter 3:8-14

Our time frame and God’s eternal time frame work in different ways, as God holds out opportunity for people to get right with Him – but when that encounter comes, what will He find us doing?

8-9 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

  • “…a day is like a thousand years” – Peter appealing to Psalm 90:4 _ to make his point._
  • God’s patience might be an allusion to Noah, Genesis 6
  • God sometimes delays judgment to give opportunity for the wicked to come to repentance, as in the time of wicked kings generally and a particular example, Jereboam II of Israel, 2 Kings 14:23-27.

10 But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11-13 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the Day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

  • “Holy…”  a pattern of life that sets one apart as a believer  “…and godly lives…”showing reverence before awesome God.
  • The Day of God is probably synonymous with the Day of the Lord, especially as the events described are similar. The language is apocalyptic (like Daniel, or Revelation); more attempting to put into words the indescribable, than a precise forecast.
  • The point being made is not so much the nature of God’s coming, but the priority of living holy and godly lives, expecting the Lord’s return at any time. What are we found doing?
  • “As you speed its coming.” The rabbis of the time debated whether or not repentance would hasten the end. The New Testament in Peter’s words “Repent then and turn to God… that times of refreshing may come…” Acts 3:19-20 , suggests that it does. We don’t argue from opinion or experience, but church history and church experience bears out that prayerful and sincere repentance by a community does attract God’s favour and even visitation.

14-15 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

  • “Our Lord’s patience” – allowing more time for repentance.
  • “At peace with Him” – “Inwardly calm, with a sense of well-being and confidence…” (Amplified Bible)

Application

Our view of life and our world is temporal, not eternal. There is a time coming when everything of man will receive a fiery purification – the language used is ‘destruction’. While God, in His love, desires our salvation more than anything else, He cannot countenance rebellious or independent attitudes. So the exhortation is to be found “spotless, blameless and at peace with Him”.

So, how do we keep right with God? By careful religious observance? Just over 500 years ago, Martin Luther, a monk and university teacher in Wittenberg, Saxony, who knew a great deal about being correctly religious, was studying the book of Romans and found there, that he had been headed down the wrong road. Righteousness with God did not come by any amount of effort we could make (and he knew all about that) but by faith, especially faith in Jesus. “It is a righteousness that is by faith, from first to last”, Romans 1:16-17 . So to be found right with God, whenever God makes this Day of the Lord judgement and visitation, is by keeping close relationship with Him, steered by the Holy Spirit into what is right and helped to put right, what needs to be put right, when it needs to be put right. The phrase, slightly quaint to our ears, used to be “Keep short accounts with God”. It is hard to put this advice better.

Discussion starters

6. Can it be that simple? Why is it that we feel more comfortable engaged in practices and actions that amount to earning favour with God?

7. Are we, like God, lovingly patient and persistent with those who are not yet in a place to turn to God and confess their need of Him?

Wed, Dec 6: Prepare the way! The Lord is coming right after me

Mark 1:1-8

John the Baptist, last of the Old Testament prophets, takes up Isaiah’s and Malachi’s announcement of the Good News in the style of Elijah.

1-3 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way — a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ”

  • As Isaiah 40:3-5 (above). It was not unusual for interpreters to treat Scripture as a seamless whole around a common phrase such as “prepare the way” and this quotation also includes Malachi 3:1 .

4-5 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

  • ‘The wilderness’ and ‘the Jordan River’ might seem to be inconsistent. In this part of the Judean wilderness a narrow fertile area around the river is surrounded by rugged and inhospitable terrain.
  • Jewish people were used to the idea of repentance – and also knew various rituals for baptism including baptism of Gentiles who converted to Judaism, where it signified a turning to a whole new way of life.

The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

  • John’s assignment was to prepare the way for Jesus by clearing obstacles. The main obstacle? Proud, unbelieving sin. So John told his hearers to repent (turn) and recognise that the kingdom of God – God’s righteous rule and order – was at hand, Matt. 3:1-3. Jesus came with exactly the same initial message, Mark 1:15 .
  • Baptism does not achieve repentance, but brings an impartation that seals the change of heart. This impartation is seen clearly in Jesus’ own baptism by John with a visible sign of the Holy Spirit – the dove, Matt. 3:16, Mark 1:9-11.

6-8 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the One more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

  • The “One more powerful… who will baptize… with the Holy Spirit” is John’s allusion to Jesus, who was John’s cousin. John’s whole purpose was to prepare people through their repentance, and point them to Jesus.
  • Malachi, whose prophecy is implied here, referred to the one who would come like Elijah, Mal. 4:5-6. Readers of the time would have seen the connection in the description. Elijah was not a priest or a court prophet in robes, but quite the opposite – an outsider. John is showing himself to be standing apart from the establishment, a voice from the wilderness proclaiming a way in the wilderness which was like a new exodus, a move of God which was about salvation and restoration for His people, Isaiah 43:16-21, also Isa 11:16, 19:23-25, 51:10-11 etc.
  • This was a season for Jews of faith to reflect on what they needed to put right with God, in preparation for the move of God which John’s preaching was alerting them to. There are seasons for us to reflect and ‘clear our own roads’ for God. The allusion to the Holy Spirit is important. To make room for more of Him, we have to identify the things that need to go!

Application

Before the gospel writer John tells us much about the Good news, he tells us how it works. It is all about Jesus, the ‘Anointed One’ or Messiah, who will baptise [drench us] not just with water but with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God and He is holy; He empowers us to be a bit different in a good way, showing others the character of God – in short, how we as humans can be ‘set apart’ and holy, while engaging with a world which is frequently the opposite. This is how we do it – by turning to Jesus and allowing ourselves to be empowered by the Spirit of Jesus. It doesn’t work any other way.

Discussion starter

5. Is this turning to Jesus one particular, memorable life event? Or are there many turnings, some particularly life changing and significant, others which are more of a regular course correction?