“The Joy of Change”
Acts 3:11-26 6.10.07
The Joy of…books:
o Sake (rice wine)
o Sox (Boston Red Sox)
Nature Channel – “Pigs”
And that’s just with 3 pages of Google searching. Today, let’s look at the “joy of change”. We don’t like change. Particularly, Christians don’t like change. 62% of Americans, according to research, have what is termed “passive” personalities. 85% of professing Christ-followers have “passive” personalities. People with passive personalities are drawn to the familiar and the safe as opposed to the dangerous and the untried—which is one reason many churches struggle to adapt to cultural shifts. And yet change is necessary to life, to health, to growth. Show me something that isn’t changing, and I’ll show you something that is dying. And thus we say, at Red Oak, that the story will be told in the lives that are changed. That excites me, gets me going, gives me energy: the idea that people’s lives are being impacted by the gospel of Christ and changed, not just temporarily or for life, but for all of eternity.
Such a man is the man who was healed by Peter and John. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, this lame beggar sat at the Jerusalem gate known as the “Beautiful Gate”, hoping to receive alms from passers-by, but the divine intersection between this man’s need, God’s ability, and Peter’s faith produced in this man a complete and total healing. The man who’d been lame from birth, who’d never even walked, now was running and skipping and leaping for joy, a true miracle of God.
It’s worth pointing out again that something incredible, miraculous, unbelievable was again attended by the proclaiming of the truth of God and the gospel. God doesn’t perform parlor tricks to amuse and mystify; He works in order that lives might be changed by the gospel, and it’s all about life-change at Red Oak; the story will be told by the lives that are changed!
This isn’t a polished message, frankly; it’s not something Peter had planned (and we all, Peter reminds us, need to be ready to speak up for Christ at any moment). Peter gave the message with a tremendous visual aid: the healed man was clinging to him so as to not let Peter get away, even if he wanted to. Pretty powerful, huh?
It was delivered from Solomon’s Portico, or Solomon’s Porch, which was an outer area of the temple lined with columns and covered with a cedar roof. It is delivered to a Jewish audience, of course, one that would understand its references and was familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. Honestly, I could go deeply with you into some of the Jewish symbolism contained here—and probably lose most of you to Snoozeland in about 3 minutes. But there are some basic points contained in it that are instructive to us:
I. It’s all about God and His glory.
According to the text, immediately after the healing, Peter and John developed an extensive mailing list; initiated a media ministry featuring television and radio; bought a Lear jet; had their hair coiffed; and wrote a self-help book. No, they gave credit to God. As I’ve mentioned before, I just get really itchy when I see books or billboards or church websites emblazoned with big pictures of the preacher. Peter basically said, “what, you think we did this? You’re kidding, right?” In a nutshell, the difference is between the pastor to whom you listen, and you say afterward, “what a great preacher!”, and the one to whom you listen, and say afterward, “what a great Jesus!”
The starting point of the gospel, for so many, is “you are a sinner” (that’s where the Romans Road starts). No, that’s part of the message, but not the first part! The very first part of the gospel involves God doing what only He can do—creating the world and all that is in it—and then His own satisfaction that everything He’d done was “good”. He was pleased with His work, and every part of it demonstrated His own glory perfectly. Everything He does, He does for His own glory, which is appropriate, since His glory if of highest worth. And He glorifies His only Son, Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity.
II. We all stand guilty before God.
Peter is in their faces about this. He isn’t soft-pedaling, holding back, giving them the soft-sell; no, his bony finger is crooked in their noses and he’s giving them the what-for. Now, as we’ll see in a minute, he also extends to them the possibility of the amazing grace of God. Hey, maybe we don’t really think of grace as being all that amazing because we don’t see our own sinfulness as being all that bad. Maybe we’d be in better shape, understanding and appreciating God’s grace more, if we really grasped how bad off we are without Him. If we’re only sorta bad, then maybe grace is only pretty good. But Pete pulls no punches! He condemns their
A. Actions toward Christ
1. Handed Him over – It was Jewish hands that delivered Jesus to be crucified, Jewish lips that betrayed Him.
2. Disowned Him – The crowd had screamed for the blood of an innocent man, all the while being willing to have a scoundrel like Barabbas released to them.
3. Killed Him (the Author of life!). Note the irony of this, that the very Giver of life was executed between two common criminals.
B. Ignorance is no excuse!
Peter extends a bit of understanding here, acknowledging that the Jews really didn’t understand what they’d done. Peter himself had been pretty clueless at points, as had all the other disciples, about Jesus’ plans. Ignorance might be the reality here, but it still is no excuse. The Jews were guilty of betraying and killing Christ—and so are we, by virtue of our own sin.
Now, contemporary “wisdom” says that we need a “positive” message, that we don’t need to use terms like “sin” and talk about “hell” and the like. And you might think that such talk would have turned people off, but after Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost, through which 3000 came to Christ, probably over 2000 came to faith here (Acts4:4).
And the opposition of these folks, the things that they did to Christ, only served to further God’s sovereign purpose. He accomplished His plan through the agency of human beings, even human beings who were in active rebellion against Him! Good luck trying to frustrate the ultimate purpose and plan of God!
III. Faith in Christ changes things.
A. Evidence of faith displayed before them
Here was the man who had been healed, standing right in front of their eyes. As we said a couple of weeks ago, in this man’s case, it wasn’t his own faith that changed things so much as it was Peter’s faith in calling upon God to heal, indeed in pronouncing healing as though it were an accomplished fact. Faith in Christ changes things!
B. Names of Christ referenced
The “name” of Jesus is that which Peter exalts in his message, significant because, according to Richard Longenecker, “’the Name’ was a pious Jewish surrogate for God and connoted His divine presence and power.” Notices the names that Peter uses to speak of Christ:
1. Servant of God (:13, 26)
2. Holy and Righteous One (:14)
3. Author of life (:15)
4. The Christ (:20)
5. The promised Prophet (:22-23)
IV. Repentance is necessary.
People were not exonerated either by their ignorance or by the fact that God had planned all along for this to be the means of our salvation. They still needed to repent.
That’s not a word we hear a lot today, not even in many churches. It’s unpopular for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it necessitates a person admitting that he is wrong. Some folks have an easy time admitting that, but others have a pretty difficult time owning up to the fact that they stand in opposition to God by their actions. To “repent” means to have a heartfelt change of mind about sin, to from the depths of one’s being agree with God about the ugliness of their disobedience to God, about the rightness of His standard, about their own sin. Repentance involves a sorrow over the harmful effects of sin toward God, toward others, and toward self. It involves a decision to turn from sin and to Christ. It’s a necessary ingredient in our coming to God, and in our walk of faith with Christ. And Peter does not hesitate to call people to it!
V. The joy of change awaits.
You’ve heard of “altruism”? Forget this notion of “altruism”; it isn’t Biblical at all. According to Wikipedia, “Sheer altruism focuses on a motivation to help others without reward.” The very term “altruism” was coined by Auguste Comte, the founder of sociology and a man who came to see himself as the founder and prophet of a new “religion of humanity”. In other words, the idea that we ought to be blithely unconcerned about our own self-interest, as noble-sounding as that might be, comes not from the Bible, but from a man who attempted to found a cult!
We are all self-interested individuals; God created us this way; it isn’t sinful, and to deny that reality seems like foolishness. There is a difference between self-interest, which properly motivates all of us, and selfishness, which is sinful, because it says, “I want what’s mine, and I don’t want you to have it”. We ought to labor for eternal reward, as Christ and the apostle Paul told us repeatedly to do. That’s acting in self-interest, but it involves laying down our lives for others, serving others, loving others above ourselves, considering others as more worthy than ourselves, acting in the best interests of others above ourselves. Point is that there is nothing wrong, and everything Biblically right, about anticipating the reward of following Jesus Christ—and there are several that Peter points to here:
A. Sins wiped out
“Repent, and turn, that your sins may be blotted out.” The word in the Greek means to “wash off, erase, obliterate”. Stop right there for a minute. Peter had just pronounced these folks guilty of killing God in the flesh; the very Author of life they had put to death. Stop. What worse thing could a person ever do? Sometimes folks will think, “ah, I’m really pretty bad, so bad God can’t forgive me. I get drunk a lot and sleep around. I cussed out my dad, several times. I cheated on my husband. I have an addiction to porn. I had an abortion. Can God forgive me?” Look at this: Peter says that if these folks will repent, their sins will be wiped out; the slate will be clean; it’ll be just like they’d never ever sinned in the first place—even though they killed Jesus. That’s incredible. And that offers hope to anyone and everyone!
B. “Times of refreshing”
This seems, according to John Stott, to be “the positive counterpart to forgiveness, for God does not wipe away our sins without adding His refreshment to our spirits
C. “He may send the Christ”
Here is the promise of the return of Christ, an imminent possibility for us today, as it always has been since the time of Christ’s ascension to Heaven. We do not know when He might return; Peter says, “ the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (II Peter 3:10-13). And the question Peter asks is, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” Good question then; good question now!
D. Restoration of all things
The Scriptures promise that God will create a new heavens-and-earth scenario, restoring a new world such as existed in the newness of the Garden of Eden, but without sin. We will be with Christ in this new heavens-and-earth. People have some funny notions about Heaven:
John Ortberg, in If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, describes the view of heaven many people have:
“When I was in grade school, I sang in a church choir directed by a woman named Sigrid. She had blue hair, a wide vibrato, and several chins, all of which threatened to go off when she directed with vigor. When she got frustrated with us…she would clap her hands and say, ’“Children, start singing like I told you – because when you get to heaven, it’s all you’re going to do: sing, sing, sing, morning, noon, night – so you’d better get it right.’
“Somehow the idea of five to ten billion years in choir robes under the direction of Sigrid and those chins didn’t sound like eternal bliss.”
Others picture Heaven being a place of eternal rest. Well, sometimes I like to kick back and take it easy, but zillions of years as some kind of celestial couch potato? I don’t think so. Or the other popular picture we get of sitting on clouds, playing harps. It might be fun to sit on a cloud for a few minutes, but about 30 minutes on a harp, and I think I’ve had my fill for, oh, maybe a few decades.
But as Kenneth Boa wrote, “Heaven is not some kind of eternal retirement community. It’s not going to be lounging around on clouds. There is going to be adventure. There’s going to be beauty…And there is going to be activity…for the first time since man was in the garden, there will be work without any frustration, work with no thorns or thistles or sweat or banged thumbs, intimacy with no fear, nakedness with no shame. Take the wildest thing you can imagine, and the Bible says that’s not enough. We don’t have the cognitive capacity to grasp what a day in God’s presence will be like. Whatever we think heaven is, it’s better.”
E. Wickedness left behind
There is a joy to being changed that you don’t know, won’t know, can’t know, until it happens. The pleasures of sin last for a season, but they go away. They don’t last. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we’re really living, but we’re not; there is joy in change. And when we say that “the story will be told in the lives that are changed”, we should know that we are bringing real joy and real blessing to people! That’s not something to apologize for; it’s something to be thrilled with!
Just as he did after Pentecost, Peter takes a miracle and uses it as an opportunity to confront people with the reality of Christ and their need of Him as Savior. He will change our lives if we let Him, and He wants to do that with each of us, and to bring to us the joy of change!
Some people seem to think that they have no need of being changed by God’s grace, that they’re “good enough” as they are. Others seem to believe that they are beyond the reach of God’s grace, that they’ve “sinned away their chance”. Why do you think this is? And how would you approach each objection?