The 11th Sunday After Pentecost August 20, 2006
226, 348, 294, 437
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the love of God the Father fill you with wonder and awe. May the sacrifice of God the Son fill you with relief and gratitude. May the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit fill you with faith, hope, and love. Amen.
Dear representatives of the Lord Jesus:
If you happened to pass through Bismarck, ND recently, you may have noticed that we recently applied several reflective stickers to the pole that supports the basketball hoop at the end of the parsonage driveway. We had visions of someone backing out of the parsonage driveway and smacking into that post at night. And then again you may not have noticed and therein is the problem. The material that was applied is something of a disappointment. The stickers don’t reflect very well despite the fact that that is their sole purpose in life.
What, exactly, is the problem? Why don’t they work very well? The problem clearly is not in the source of the light that is supposed to be reflected. Those lights are shining just as brightly and clearly as ever. The problem is that the stickers’ material just doesn’t reflect the light that is shining on them. The stickers are failing at their sole purpose in life and the danger of collision continues because they are not doing their job very well.
The application to the life of the Christian should be rather obvious. Christians are called to be lights—beacons shining in a dark world. Yet since we have no light in and of ourselves, our light is always supposed to be reflected light. We are to be mirrors of the glory that belongs always and only to our Savior Jesus. When we fail to reflect the glory of our Savior, very real and very great dangers are perpetuated among us—dangers that clearly have eternal consequences.
It is highly unlikely that anyone in our fellowship would dispute that this is a problem among us. Nor would anyone would seriously argue that, individually or collectively, we are doing an adequate job of reflecting our God in all that we say and do. Therefore, to aid us in what has to be acknowledged as a problem among us, we turn to our text for this morning recorded in the Fourth chapter of the book of Acts. In these inspired words from God we seek help in becoming better reflectors of our Lord Jesus.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.
Confident that our God has given us these, His very words, we pray: “Sanctify us through your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
Fellow Christians, our text begins with a phrase we often overlook. Perhaps this is the case, in part, because we don’t fully understand what is meant and are therefore somewhat uncomfortable with it. Our text begins, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” [v.8] The part we tend to neglect or pass lightly over is “filled with the Holy Spirit.” What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit”? Is anyone today filled with the Holy Spirit? Can anyone today be filled with the Holy Spirit? How does one know if he is so filled? What does it feel like?
There are lots of questions. How do we find answers? One of the obvious problems is that we weren’t there to witness or personally experience any obvious manifestations of those who were filled with the Holy Spirit. As a result, men today are tempted to guess at a meaning, or to inject their own thoughts and opinions as fact. We are also tempted to use known manifestations as the judge or arbiter for all others. In other words, since we know that the Spirit caused some to speak in strange languages at one point in history, we are tempted to imagine that only those who speak in tongues can claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is obviously not true, since in our text Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, but did not speak in tongues. As another example, Zacharias was told that his son, John, would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his birth—well before he could speak.
Do we know what Peter felt like when he was filled with the Holy Spirit? No. Do we nonetheless know something about being filled with the Holy Spirit? Yes. We know, for example, that anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit will walk in harmony with the will of God. We know that someone filled with the Holy Spirit will be mindful of the things of God, rather than obsessed with shallow, temporal affairs. We also know that anyone filled with the Holy Spirit will speak the truth, even in the face of resistance or persecution. Consider Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:17-21: “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”
This section gives great insight into God’s will for our lives. It also teaches us how far short we fall in connection with that will of God. To be filled by the Spirit indicates that we are controlled by the Spirit.
It is in this state that Peter and John faced and addressed the very same group that sentenced their Lord Jesus to death. Remember that fact as you read through this text. Peter and John were standing before the same men who had crucified their Lord Jesus. It had to be extremely intimidating to be hauled before them and condemned by them. Even more so because, unlike their accusers, these were simple, uneducated fishermen. This sort of citizen routinely cowered before the highly educated Sanhedrin of the Jews.
Do you remember, by the way, why these men had been summoned by the Jewish authorities? Peter had healed a lame beggar—a man born lame. Jesus, you will recall, also healed a man with a congenital handicap (blind from birth) but he did so on the Sabbath—which was the point on which the Jews accused him (John 9:1ff). Peter and John healed the lame man, but not on the Sabbath. So what was the real reason for summoning Peter and John? They were preaching Christ.
Peter pointed out the ridiculous nature of the charges against him when he said, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man…” [vv.8-9] Even the Jews had to admit that to arrest someone for healing a man born lame was itself rather, well, lame. Peter, of course, knew their true motive, so he continued: “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.” [vv. 8-10]
That, in fact, was the real deal, wasn’t it? These men couldn’t care less about a lame beggar. Their hatred for Jesus, however, permeated their whole being. Suffice it to say that those men were not filled with the Holy Spirit. No one who is filled with the Spirit can, at the same time, be filled with such blind hatred toward something as pure and holy as the very Son of God. Peter knew this, which was no great insight. What is far more interesting is the fact that Peter tackled the real problem head on. Remember that he stood before ruthless, bloodthirsty men. They had screamed for the blood of Jesus, and they would certainly not hesitate to do the same with his disciples.
Yet note well what Peter did, for his actions are the key to this text. Remember also that we know his actions in this instance are right and God pleasing , since we know that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. So it is that we note with great interest that the very first thing that he did was to deflect the attention away from himself and onto the Lord Jesus.
This wasn’t all about Peter and John. This was all about Jesus the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit wanted the Jewish rulers to be clear on that fact right from the start. It is also very enlightening to note that the Holy Spirit made this clear with a proclamation that was both pure Law and pure Gospel. The Law message couldn’t be missed. Peter said, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified…” [v.10]
Do you remember the big dustup when Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, first came out? The Jews immediately condemned it as anti-Semitic and most Christians were quick to run for cover. Peter here accuses the very Jews who killed Jesus to their faces and they make no denial. Of course the Jews killed Jesus. They did so by means of the Roman cross. Why would these men even try to deny it? They were still overjoyed to be rid of Jesus and regarded his death as a good thing. They were probably proud of what they had done. Why else would they have shouted out, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25)? What is important, however, is why Jesus had to die. He willingly gave His life as the payment for sin. In this we are all equally guilty of his death.
Peter goes on with words of power that truly shocked his Jewish accusers. It wasn’t necessarily the message of the words that shocked them (although that message certainly could have and should have) but the source of the words. Hear again Peter’s closing message and the reaction from the Jews: “‘This is the “stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’ Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” [vv.11-13]
Why couldn’t these elite, highly educated rulers bully those poor dumb fishermen into submission? Clearly because those poor dumb fishermen were filled with the Holy Spirit. When man fights God, man always loses.
The Jewish rulers finally came to realize what they were up against. The ominous final words of our text make this clear: “And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” Peter and John, filled with the Holy Spirit, had thus faithfully fulfilled their divine calling. Far from accepting any praise for healing the lame beggar, they had immediately and expertly reflected the light of their Lord—they redirected attention from themselves to their Savior. This wasn’t all about man. It was all about Jesus Christ!
Here is the great and practical message for us in this text. We are often extremely poor in deflecting and reflecting. When we witness and attempt to win over, we are often burdened by the notion that we are spreading our own ideas or our own beliefs, and we tend to spread them as such. While we personally believe and treasure the message we are sharing, we err greatly whenever we fail to simply reflect our Savior Jesus in all of our words and actions. This means that words like, “I just think…” and “Well it’s just my opinion that…” have no place in Christian witnessing. We are never the source. What we think or believe matters not one bit! Our calling is to reflect the glory of our Lord Jesus and to direct the focus of others onto that One Pure Light. There they will see the very thing that salvation is made of: Jesus Christ, who wrote a check to God the Father (drawn on His own personal store of perfect behavior) as payment in full for the sins of the world. God the Father accepted His Son’s payment and has, as a result, declared every one of us innocent of all sin. Our sins have been forgiven, free of charge, always and only for Jesus’ sake. Through faith in what Jesus has done, His perfection is ours now and for all eternity.
This is the simple Gospel message that Peter and John boldly proclaimed to the Sanhedrin. It is the same message we are called to share with the world—the proclamation that the “rejected one” was in fact the Chosen One, the One who has rescued us from eternal torment and untold misery. Nor does He represent another path to heaven. He is the one and only Savior. So also said Peter: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [v.12]
God grant us the grace to focus all eyes on such things and to reflect Christ’s glory in every aspect of our lives here in time so that as many souls as possible might join us in heaven. There, with our own eyes, each one of us will see the true source of all power and glory and exist in that divine light for all eternity. God hasten that great day. Amen.