Preached by Ben Bechtel
We all long for a clean slate. We all long to simply press a restart button on many of our decisions. We all long for the ability to take our current bad habits, our unattractive physical characteristics, our negative tendencies, and our poor decisions and start from scratch. This is the impetus behind celebrating the New Year in Western culture. The New Year provides us with a new path for blessing that the year behind did not offer to us. And to this end we multiply New Year’s resolutions, gym memberships, and Bible reading plans, all of which are good things.
As we pick back up in the book of Acts this morning, the Spirit of God through the Scripture speaks to this longing we all have to live a blessed life. However, the way in which we attain the blessed life we all crave and strive toward is much different than we would naturally expect. Let’s read Acts 3:1-26 together:
3 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
1. The Sign of Blessing (vv. 1-10)
As we restart our series in Acts it will prove useful to backup and briefly review what has happened in the book up to this point. Jesus has ascended into heaven, promising to give his eleven (soon to be twelve) apostles authority and power from his Spirit to testify about his death and resurrection throughout the known world. At the Jewish feast of Pentecost the apostles and the early followers of Jesus receive the power of Jesus, signifying that the time of the New Covenant has begun. On this day two thousand people believe in Jesus and the rhythms of worship, Bible study, prayer, and fellowship begin for this early church.
Now in chapter three we witness the first miraculous deed performed through one of Jesus’s chosen spokesmen. This story takes place at the ninth hour, which would have been 3 p.m., the time for the afternoon prayer. Peter and John walk up the hill to the temple and as they enter through this popular gate called the Beautiful Gate they notice a man who literally has been lame “from the womb.” This man had to be picked up and placed in this highly trafficked area daily. He was entirely helpless, an outcast in society, and completely dependent upon the generosity of others for his well-being and livelihood.
This man asks Peter and John for money. Notice they don’t respond with disdain or scorn for this panhandler about how he is probably going to use their money improperly nor do they simply put their heads down and walk on. Rather, verse 4 says they stop and turn their gaze toward the man. They genuinely see this man for who he is, a fellow desperate beggar. This leads them to offer the man something more valuable than money, new life in Christ. They call upon the name of the Lord and they heal this man of his lifelong disability. Jesus breaks in and gives this man an entirely new life through his chosen agents and spokesmen.
Look at how this man responds (verse 8):
8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
This man’s whole body responded to the grace of his healing. But there is more for us to notice here.
Luke doesn’t simply want his readers to note that this man who couldn’t walk is now jumping around, as significant as that is. This former lame man is embodying the promised new age of the Messiah (Is. 35:6):
[in the age of God’s salvation] shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
This crippled man bounding around like a young doe is a sign to those watching that the age of God’s salvation has dawned. And not only that, but it is also a sign that the ministry and power of the Messiah are continuing with those appointed to establish his church. This miracle is a massive light-up billboard signifying that the age of the Messiah did not stop when the Messiah ascended into heaven but continues now through the Spirit of Jesus working through his appointed spokesmen and his church.
The crowd who saw this glowing signpost rightly respond with amazement. The experience of the crowd seeing this lame man jumping around would be similar to you turning on the TV to discover that someone from your small-town high school grew up to be a rock star. Oh, and that person was mute from birth. The people were beside themselves at what had just happened. Through the healing of this poor, lame man the apostles are pointing people to Jesus and people are amazed.
Now, we must recognize that our lives and our church experience are much less dramatic than this. However, even though we as the New Testament church don’t perform miracles today in the unique way the apostles did, our heart for the poor and downtrodden should remain the same. The actions of the church on behalf of those the world kicks to the curb ought to look miraculous and unexplainable, only by the power of the Spirit. If we only had chapter two of Acts we might think that the Christianity is only about reaching out to and caring for the large crowds and the important people. But the apostles, like their Savior, go to this one, see him for who he is, and care for him.
Church, is our community amazed by the way we point to Jesus with our actions of love and care for those whom the world pays no mind? Are people floored by the way we tangibly care for the widow, the poor, the elderly, the refugee? Within the walls of our church there is a group of people that the world has entirely written off. If anything, the immigrants among us are viewed in America as political talking points on one side of a debate or another but not as people to be embraced. As outsiders get a glimpse of our church and see how we love and incorporate a group of people the world has kicked to the curb into our body I pray that people wouldn’t even be able to know what to think. May the world marvel at Jesus because of the love shared between American and immigrant in our church.
2. The Message of Blessing (vv. 11-26)
After the apostles perform this sign of Jesus’s salvation, they proclaim his salvation in verses 11-26. Sign is followed by word, notice this connection: implicit gospel action is tethered to explicit gospel proclamation. Deed and word work together.
This proclamation of the gospel in verses 11-26 contains much dense theology which would take several sermons to unpack. Here is the gist of it: after Jesus’s death for sins God exalted him by raising him from the dead and by enthroning him as King of the world where he seeks to bless everyone who turns to him in faith. This sounds great! Who wouldn’t want in on this blessing, this time of refreshing as verse 20 calls it? And yet, we all actively deny the blessing God offers.
Peter’s words to the crowd in verse 12 addressing their response to the miracle provides a window into why this is the case:
“Men of Israel…why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?
The people here believe that Peter and John are magic healers that can make their lives better. The crowd that crucified Jesus believed that he was the one who would free them from Roman oppression, which is why they crucified him when it became apparent this wasn’t the case. And, we do the same thing. We pay God lip-service, as I’m sure these religious people at the temple did as well, all the while our lives are all about our career, finding a spouse, making sure we have the perfect family, proving someone wrong through our own hard work, etc. We pray and seek God but become disillusioned when he doesn’t give us what we want. We all, just like the people in the crowd, use God and his gifts to seek blessing on our own terms. We use God as a genie to make all our New Year’s resolutions come true. Even those of you who may be here today and would say that you are not religious are still seeking blessing apart from God with the resources and abilities he has given you.
This is what human beings have done ever since the Garden of Eden. God gave Adam and Eve life and blessing in his presence. They were able to commune with the living God daily and enjoy the fruits of his creation. And yet, prompted by the serpent, they eventually start thinking “God’s holding out on me.” Ever since then, our lives are all marked by a disposition to move away from the face of the Author of Life. Do you see what an affront this is to God? Think about a single parent who gives their child everything, who works two jobs in order to put them through college, and who goes to every sporting event but yet who is accused by their child of not having their best interests in mind. This is what we do to God every time we seek blessing on our own terms and not his terms. We jam a finger into the chest of the one who poured himself out in order to bless us.
But God, in his goodness, pursues his prodigal people in order to bless them. Read verse 26 with me:
26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
God sent the message of the blessed gospel first to the Jewish people, those same people who had just crucified Jesus. And he offers this same blessing to you. This should tell us something about the marvelous character of God. God chases down those who reject him in order to bless them.
Verses 19-21 describe for us both the pathway to this blessing and the nature of the blessing itself. Let’s read verses 19-21:
19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
a. The Way to Blessing
The logic of verse 19 helps us to understand clearly the way to blessing. Let me paraphrase it to try and help us see it more clearly: “because of Jesus’s sacrificial death and glorious exaltation from the grave to the right hand of God repent and turn around so that your sins may be blotted out.” We must repent in order that these blessings to follow may come to us. Repentance is the pathway to blessing. This is because all of us have been on a death march away from the presence of God since Adam and Eve sinned, a march that inevitably leads to curse not blessing. Our lives are like a spaceship venturing out into the solar system away from the warmth and life given by the sun. Repentance is a reorientation of our life from death back toward the life-giving presence of God.
The “therefore” at the beginning of verse 19 is absolutely essential. That “therefore” is the difference between cursing and blessing. You see, repentance is not like a new year’s resolution where you feel bad about something and try really hard to do the opposite. If that’s the case we’re doomed. Repentance is about recognizing that there is nothing I can do, no resources I can bring to the table to transform my life from a life of cursing into one of blessing. Only God in Christ’s sacrificial death and glorious resurrection and ascension can provide these resources. The “therefore” points back to God’s saving actions in Christ as the only grounds for our blessing before God and thus, our only grounds for repentance.
b. The Nature of the Blessing
Now let’s turn to examine the nature of this blessing itself. First and most foundationally, notice in verse 20 that all blessing comes from the presence of the Lord. It is not the stuff God gives but relating rightly to God that is primary in life. God not what he gives ought to be our primary desire.
Second, this blessing consists of blotting out of sin and refreshing from God. This blotting out of sin is like God highlighting all of our sin on a word document and pressing the delete key. Sin does not bring refreshing. Sin wreaks destruction. Some of us because of our position in life are able to hide this better than others but whether you are an addict, or a subtle manipulator know that sin rots us. King David describes repentance in terms of refreshing in Psalm 32:1-3, 5:
Blessed is the one
whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones
through my groaning all day long…
5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
For those of us suffering under the oppressive hand of sin, know that there is a way out. There is an oasis for your dry and parched life in Christ Jesus and it is available to you today if you only recognize your thirst and drink deeply from Christ.
Third, this blessing occurs in two phases, present and future. In verses 19-21 we see that there is a present, in the moment, forgiveness of sins and refreshment that come with repentance. However, the ultimate blessing, the promised restoration of all things will come when Jesus returns. So, there is one source of hope in two different streams in the Christian life. You will experience satisfaction and blessing in the Lord in this life and yet this satisfaction and blessing will always feel partial until the day when all things are made new. Then you will experience the blessing that comes from being in the presence of God.
In last year’s film Ad Astra, the astronaut Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt, searches across the solar system for his father in order to discover answers that could save Earth. Pitt’s father, who is also an astronaut, journeyed out to the edge of the solar system looking for intelligent life. In a final scene in the movie Pitt consoles his father, distraught with the reality that there is no other intelligent life in the universe, by telling him “we’re all we’ve got.” The conclusion we are to draw from these words is that we don’t need to continue looking for resources outside of ourselves as human beings because we are all that there is. We are all that we need.
Thank God this is not true. My only hope in life and in death as that old church catechism says is precisely that I am not all that I need, that I need Life himself from outside this universe to break in and restore my rotting bones. Church, the pathway to our blessing in 2020 is not about Whole 30, new parenting strategies, running 1,000 miles, new evangelism programs, or even changing our individual character. The pathway to blessing is repentance and faith, a return to the face of God. The greatest thing you can possess this year is the presence of God, the shining face of his blessing. Let this year be a year where our lofty goals and aspirations do not overshadow our own humility and repentance before the Lord. May we as a church be a people marked by repentance and humility, recognizing that it is only in God that we find true blessing. We’re not all that we’ve got. We’ve got Someone else.
I want to conclude this sermon by speaking over you the priestly blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26, which promises the blessing of God’s presence to all who recognize their need for him. Let’s receive this together in faith:
24 The Lord bless you
and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
I pray this year our church would know the blessing of God’s
life-giving, life-transforming presence given to us in Jesus.
 Merida, 47.