He was placed, like a trash bag, by the temple gates. This was his spot, everyday. He knew people would be coming to pray. They always came to pray. The heat of the day was waning, but it was still hot, dusty, and the streets were filled with merchants, the religious elite, soldiers, and the poor bustling to and fro. The man was lame. He couldn’t walk since birth. He was looking for a handout – hoping for folks to drop a few pennies into his dirty hands. He sat there, expectant. Over 40-years-old, he was used to feeling ashamed and dejected by everyone. Then Peter and John, a couple of guys who studied under Jesus, show up.
“Sirs, please, spare some change?” Begged the crippled man. Peter and John stopped. Peter said, “I don’t have any money friend, but let me give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” Peter reached out his hand and drew the man to his feet. His ankles became strong instantly.
The man exploded in gratitude – walking, jumping for joy in the temple courts, praising God! He bear-hugged Peter and John. The people witnessed this with their own eyes. They knew this beggar well – saw him everyday. They were amazed.
The crowds gathered around. The man clung to Peter and John, perhaps afraid he was going to lose his ability to walk again if he let them go. Peter turned to the crowd and made it clear who the real healer was, Jesus. It was Jesus, the Messiah – the one that the prophets foretold in their scriptures. Peter told them to repent – to start new – and come to Jesus. Many did. Roughly 5000 people put their faith in Jesus that day.
But some were not so pleased with their teaching, especially their talk of Jesus’ resurrection. But that was only part of it. They didn’t like where things were going (i.e., all the people were turning to Jesus instead of them). This could cost them politically, economically, and socially.
So they tossed Peter and John in jail.
The next day, they were brought before the religious council. Despite the rough night, with clarity and boldness (thanks to the Holy Spirit), Peter said,
Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being 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. Jesus 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 mankind by which we must be saved.
Jaws dropped. There was a hushed silence. The council could not believe their courage. They were used to people stuttering, stammering, and tripping over themselves to show reverence and respect. They were used to groveling and pleas for mercy. They were used to cries and excuses. They were not used to someone telling them the way things are. They were not used to someone who wasn’t afraid of them. Peter stood on a new authority.
Peter spoke of a new ruler to which all must bow the knee – no other name under heaven. This talk could get him killed. It could be seen as an act of treason.
Peter held his ground.
The council struggled with what to do with Peter and John. The miracle was undeniable. Everyone saw it.
In an effort to keep them from spreading Jesus (what Tacitus would later refer to as a “pernicious superstition”), they threatened and commanded Peter and John to stop. In a profound reply, they simply stated, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” In today’s parlance, they told a council that had the power to make their lives miserable (or worse), to “get bent.”
Peter and John were released with further warnings to keep their mouths shut. Instead they ran back to their Christian brothers and sisters and praised God! They almost just got killed – why are they now praising God? It’s because they’ve built their lives on a Sovereign God (the One who has permanent and ultimate authority). Put another way, they’re untouchable – as Paul put it in his letter to the Romans, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And so they prayed for more of all that just got them tossed in jail, threatened, and mocked. They prayed, Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
They stand on the rock of Jesus.
In recounting this story, John puts quite a few players on the stage. We all want to identify with the rock-like faith and courage of Peter and John. We like to think we stand on the rock. In reality some of us are more like the onlookers – curious, skeptical, afraid. Others of us are critical and judgmental, and want the Jesus talk to stop, like the ruling council. Or maybe, God willing, we’re on the road of the 5000 who came to believe!
In truth, many of us are more like the lame man. We’re stuck, like trash, unable to be of good use. We’ve been tossed to the side of life, marginalized. We’ve screwed up, badly. Our lives are a mess. We’re lost, wandering in the desert, thirsty for something more. We can barely walk anymore. This is a good starting place for a new foundation – a new road – in Jesus. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!
Thanks for reading,
(Adapted from Acts 4, NIV, ESV, MSG)