Sunday, April 22, 2012

Acts 4:8-12 Easter 3


Acts 4:8-12
 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Wouldn’t you like to be filled with the Holy Spirit, like Peter was?  Or maybe you would like me to be filled with the Holy Spirit in that special extraordinary way, so that you could hear a divinely inspired sermon? 
But in the history of the Church, that kind of appearance by the Holy Spirit is rare.  He usually works much more quietly.   In fact he works in all of us through his Word, but you will scarcely notice it.  This is the way he wants it.   As Jesus said, the Spirit is like the wind—he blows wherever he pleases, and nobody sees it, but you see the effects of his work.  We may not see the Spirit working, but he is with us.  Jesus said he would send the Spirit to all of us after he went back into heaven.  He called him “the Counselor.“  Jesus said, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  When we are under trial, the Holy Spirit is with us to advise us and strengthen us with God’s Word. Wherever you find the Word of God, there you will find the Holy Spirit working to teach us about Christ.  But like the wind, you will not see him—not unless it is an extraordinary occasion like this one in the book of Acts.
Perhaps Peter was the only one who noticed it, but he was so suddenly filled with extra wisdom and power from God that the Bible tells us he was “filled with the Spirit.
This is in fact exactly what Jesus told us would happen.  He said, “when you are brought before synagogues, rulers, and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
See the power of your living Lord, who has given the Holy Spirit…
1.     To Peter, for speaking extraordinary words
2.     To us, in the Word that he spoke.
1.  Peter needed extraordinary help to speak this Word.  Look at how the Sanhedrin went to such great lengths to silence Jesus!  Think back all the way to when they crucified Jesus.  They were willing to violate all their moral standards just to have Jesus dead.  They bribed Judas to betray him.  They arranged for people to tell lies about him at his trial.   When forced to choose between a murderer and Jesus, they released the murderer into society so that they would not have to let Jesus go free.  When Pilate said he would have nothing to do with this innocent man, the Jews said, “Let his blood be on us, and on our children.” 
Then, after he had been crucified, the guards came with the report that the tomb was empty.  The chief priests were willing to bribe them with a large amount of money, so that the guards would say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.”   And then they were willing to pay even more money to Pontius Pilate to keep the guards out of trouble.  Now, in the temple, there was a lame man walking, running, leaping, and praising God.  He had been healed by Jesus’ disciples, Peter and John.  All of the people in the temple were talking about it, and Peter and John were telling them that it had happened by Jesus’ power, and that Jesus was alive again!  They couldn’t think of what to do, so they arrested them!  And for what?  Peter hit the nail on the head—“Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed…”  For an act of kindness, they were put on trial!  Such hatred for Jesus!  Such hatred for the Easter gospel! 
What if they would have succeeded in snuffing out this good news that our Lord is risen and alive?  None of us would have heard.  We would all be in the dark, hopeless and helpless when we face our own death.
At that crucial time, Peter stood on trial.  Peter, who had been so afraid of the Sanhedrin that he denied even knowing Christ.  Peter needed extraordinary help.
The Holy Spirit, whom our living Lord Jesus sent to teach and encourage his people—the Holy Spirit rose to the occasion.  He filled Peter with courage and gave him these words to say, “Rulers and elders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel; It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, [in his name] this man stands before you healed!  He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
Wow!  He told the leaders of the Jewish church that they had rejected their Savior, fought against their God, and that they were going to hell—because no one can be saved without Jesus, and they were most certainly without Jesus.  What a bold sermon!  So many people need to hear that today.  So many people are going to hell because they think they can turn their back on Jesus and find a different way to God.  So many people are going to hell because they think they can turn their back on the Jesus who is revealed in the Bible, and make a different Jesus out of their own thoughts.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little more of the Holy Spirit make us feel a little more connected to our living Lord Jesus?—we would be afraid of nothing, like Peter.  Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus would make his power a little more evident by sending the Holy Spirit to take away our back pain and arthritis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and give you your hearing back or your eyesight? 
Before you start to think like Adam and Eve did—that God is holding something back from you—remember that we do still have Peter’s sermon.  We do, in fact, have all of the words that the Holy Spirit has given us through the mouths of the apostles and prophets.  In fact, in this account, the words that the Holy Spirit gave to Peter were based on the words of Scripture. In the same way, the Holy Spirit teaches us to find the power of our living Lord in the words of the Bible.

2. Look how the Holy Spirit used these words from Psalm 118 to put the power of Christ into Peter’s message: “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
Those words were talking about God’s promised Savior, the Messiah.  He would be like a stone that the builders rejected.  Now, I have a little bit of experience with building walls like they did back in those days.  When that Psalm was written, building a wall was very similar to building the fieldstone retaining walls that you see around people’s houses and gardens.  When I would build those walls, I would start with a pile of stones.  I would throw away any stones that didn’t have broad, flat sides—they would not have fit well into my wall.  This is what the Psalmist was describing.  Through that Psalm writer, the Holy Spirit had said that Jesus would be thrown aside like a useless stone. 
And that was exactly what those religious leaders of the Jews did.  As they were intending to build up the church of God, they came upon Jesus, and decided that he would not fit into their church.  In fact, like a wobbly stone in a wall makes the wall weaker, they decided that Jesus would be harmful to their church.  So they crucified him.  With these words of Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us to recognize our Savior by the fact that he was rejected and crucified.
And then the Bible says that this stone, whom the builders rejected, has become the cornerstone.  Now again, I know that if you start your wall off with a shaky stone, there’s really no chance that the wall will stand.  If the bottom shakes, the whole thing will shake.  The cornerstone—the stone at the bottom of the corner of the wall—that stone is the most important.  If that stone is shaky, then two walls will fall, and really the whole building will fall with it.
For this reason, in ancient times, the leaders of the people were sometimes called “cornerstones.”  What happens if the leader of the army runs away in the middle of the battle?  Chaos!  Disaster!  Defeat!  The cornerstone needs to be a man who is both fearless and powerful.
Christ, who was crucified, is that cornerstone leader of God’s Church.  God proved it by raising him from the dead, and then giving us these powerful proofs of his resurrection—the tomb was empty, he gave Peter and John the power to make a crippled man walk, and now they were speaking fearlessly and powerfully about Jesus.   Look at the power of God’s Church, riding out into battle against the Sanhedrin that crucified Christ!  Where does the army of God get its power?  From Christ, of course, the cornerstone, the fearless and powerful leader who rode out into battle for us against sin and death, and rose again victorious!
The Holy Spirit used the Bible to teach us to trust in Christ.  Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection, and the sudden power of his disciples—all of this happened because Christ is the fearless and powerful leader of God’s Church.  He is the leader of God’s Church and our only Savior, and we know it because he fulfilled the Scripture!
Conclusion:  So I ask again, do you want the Holy Spirit?  You have him, with the Word of God.  Through that Word—the Bible—he still teaches us to know Christ as our Living Lord and to trust in him.  Even when the Holy Spirit filled Peter in that powerful way, he still used the words of the Bible.  The Holy Spirit uses the Bible to teach us that it was Christ who made the lame man walk.  It was Christ who has wiped our sins away, and Christ who has given the promise of eternal life with him.
So do we really have any reason to wish for more power from the Holy Spirit?   Our risen Lord is taking care of his Church.  He has given us the Holy Spirit as our Counselor who teaches us and encourages us with God’s Word.  He teaches us to trust our Lord Jesus as our powerful leader, who conquers all our enemies and leads us victoriously through this life into everlasting life.  The Holy Spirit came in an extraordinary way speak through Peter.  Today he ordinarily uses the words in the Bible to continue to speak to us.   Our Lord is taking care of us. We have everything we need.  Our Living Lord has sent us the Holy Spirit.  Amen.