Acts 4: What Power?!

Introduction

Who watches TV after midnight, and sees those infomercials advertising? 
They tell stories of before and after, like this –
on the left, before: is an unhealthy man
on the right, after: he is healthy and strong
 
how did he do it?
What’s the secret?
 
Before: a weak and skinny man.
After: strong with big muscles.
like me turning into Arnold Schwarzenegger!
 
before and after – what a difference!
What power could make the change?
Amazing!
 
 

Acts 3 – the cripple before and after

Last week, Ross told us an even more amazing before and after story
it came from the book of Acts in the Bible.
The drama team acted out the story for us
do you remember?
 
Before:
there was a man who could not walk – a crippled man
he sat on the ground beside the temple in Jerusalem
he was begging: asking people for money.
 
In India, I saw lots of people like this,
this photo I took shows some women sitting by a gate into a temple
sometimes, you can see their legs aren’t normal, so they can’t work.
They are asking for money so they can buy food.
Probably what this man was like.
 
two of Jesus’ friends, Peter and John, came along.
And suddenly
 
After:
the man was standing, then walking and even jumping around –
when I was a kid at Sunday school, we sang a song about him “walking and leaping and praising God” (3:8).
He was so happy!
All the people were surprised and amazed – “absolutely astounded” (3:10).
This man was that beggar!
what happened?
What made the difference?
Even the priests of the temple, the leaders, didn’t know.
 
 
Before and after:
the man was a cripple who couldn’t walk
now he is walking and jumping
amazing!
 
the priests asked Peter and John,
The Big Question
“by what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”  (4:7).
How did you do it? 
Did you give him some magic kimchi?
(Okay, maybe they didn’t ask that).
 
 

The disciples before and after

We will come back to that question, but first, another before and after change.
 
Before:
about two months before the story of the cripple.
Peter and John, and Jesus other closest friends, were eating dinner with Jesus
Peter said.  “I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.”  (Luke 22:33).
The others said that too
 
But that night, a crowd of people came.
chief priests and religious leaders, police from the temple
they arrested Jesus – grabbed him, and dragged him away.
Jesus’ friends were scared and ran the other way.
Except for Peter, who followed them.
They took Jesus to the high priest’s house (Luke 22:54)
the people laughed at Jesus, they hit him, and beat him up.
 
Peter was watching,
a girl saw him and said, “aren’t you a friend of Jesus?”
Peter was afraid – maybe they would beat him up too!
“No, no.  I don’t know that guy.  What are you talking about?”
Three times, they asked Peter.
Three times, he said he did not know Jesus.
Then Peter realised he had let Jesus down, and he ran away crying
He wasn’t as brave, as fearless, as he thought
 
the next morning,
They questioned Jesus, they laughed at him, they hit him some more.
And then they killed him on the cross
 
What happened to Jesus’ friends?
afterwards, they were hiding inside, the doors were locked .  (John 20:19)
whenever they heard a knock at the door, they thought
“oh no, they have come to catch us too”
 
after:
now we carry on the story from last week.
Remember, the crippled man was walking.  The people were surprised and amazed. 
So Peter was telling them about Jesus.
 
————————————-
 Acts 4:1-22     
————————————-
it was like for Jesus two months earlier
Peter and John were arrested
They spent the night locked up in prison.
And then, like Jesus, in the morning, the leaders questioned them.
 
If it was me there like Peter and John, I would have been very, very afraid
look at all those angry faces.
The rulers, the elders, the high priests.
These people are powerful.
These people killed Jesus
maybe, they will kill me too!
Remember last time, Peter said, “no, I never knew that guy Jesus.”
Now, he wasn’t afraid – in fact he preaches to the leaders
 
and now the leaders are amazed.
Peter and John were just ordinary people.
Poor fishermen from the country.
They never went to university[1]
but here they are preaching with such power.
 
What a difference in Peter and John!
Before and after!
before: afraid, they said they didn’t know Jesus, they ran away, and were hiding in their house.
after: not afraid at all, but bold and brave, full of courage, telling everyone about Jesus
 
Amazing!
what made the difference?
What happened?
What power did it?
 
Something very big happened in that 2 months.
 
Peter says,
“Do you want to know how this crippled man was healed and can walk?”
We didn’t do it.
No human power could do it.
he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ.
Peter said “you killed Jesus, but God made him alive again.
You knocked him down, but God raised him up.” (Acts 4: 9-10)
 
By what power?
By the power of Jesus.
 
Says Peter,
“This man walks, because Jesus rose”
“This man is walking around, because Jesus is alive.”[2]
 
God’s power raised Jesus from the dead.
God’s power raised the crippled man, to his feet.[3]
God’s power turned the fear of Peter into brave boldness.
 
Two weeks ago, Gordon told us how at Pentecost, Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his people.
Now the Holy Spirit filled Peter (4:8), and gave him courage, so he wasn’t afraid,
gave him power to preach, and wisdom, so he knows what to say [4]
 
God’s power gives new life
Before and after – what power!
 
 

The crippled man again – goodbye to the old life 

In a way, we are all like that crippled man.
Spiritually, we are weak and poor.
We are cripples sitting on the ground, crawling in the mud, not running and leaping like God made us to
The Christian word for this is “sin”
 
But God’s power can raise us too – like the crippled man.
Jesus can change our old life into new life – like for Peter.
 
How can this happen for us?
How can we experience God’s new life?
 
Let’s look again at the crippled man.
 
He was sitting there, by the temple gate.
Peter and John come along.
They look hard at him.
He holds out his hand for money.
And they say “no, we don’t have any money for you.”
 
do you think he was angry? 
He could have said “well, why are you staring at me then?
Go away, get lost, leave me alone, if you don’t want to help.”
but he trusted Peter, and he got something better
 
He asked for a hand-out, but he got a hand-up!
He asked for money, but he got new legs
 
 
Sometimes it’s like that with us.
Something goes wrong in our life, we have a problem – an exam, you get sick.
We ask God to fix it, so our old life can keep going
 
But sometimes God says, “No”.
He doesn’t give us the things we ask for.
We could get angry.
But we can trust him, because he wants to give us something better.
 
He doesn’t just want to keep our old life going – a boring normal, half dead life
God wants to give us a whole new life – an exciting, amazing, fully alive life.[5]
 
 
What did the crippled man have to do to get this new life?
Nothing,
he just had to let go of his old life,
and hold Peter’s hand, as Peter raised him up
It’s the same for us.
We just have to hold Jesus hand,
or, really, just let him hold our hand – because his hand is much stronger than ours.
And he will raise us up
 
 
but to get the new life, you have to let go of the old life.
To get the after, you have to say goodbye to before.
The crippled man did that.
Peter and John did that.
Many people in the crowd did that – and found new life in Jesus that day.
 
 

Those who wouldn’t change – no new life

But here is the sad part of the story.
The religious leaders didn’t let go, didn’t want to change
Why?
 
They were rich and powerful
Jesus said it was very hard for a rich person to find God’s new life (Matthew 19:23) [6]
their old life seems too good
sometimes, we are the same
I have come to God most in the hard times of my life, not when everything seemed happy.
 
And many of them were Sadducees.
The Sadducees were a group of Jews, who did not believe in life after death.
They did not believe that God raises the dead.
They did not believe in resurrection or new life.
 
so all they could do was hold on to their old life.
Isn’t that sad?
 
When they heard Peter preaching about resurrection and new life in Jesus,
they weren’t excited, they weren’t happy,
They were just angry (4:2)
so they fight against the new life.
They hang on to their human power, and never know God’s power.
Stay being spiritual cripples and beggars, and never learn to walk and run and leap and dance [7]
 
so the question for us,
Will you be like the crippled man, or the leaders?[8]
 
Do you believe that God raises the dead?
Do you believe that God can give new life?
Will you trust God, give him your hand, and let him raise you up,
or say “no” God and hold on to your old life?
 

The book of Acts – the message of God’s new life grows and grows

The leaders told Peter and John, “stop telling people about Jesus.”  (4:18)
 
but next week, in chapter 5, Mike will tell us how they kept on preaching.  (Acts 5:17-42)
The religious leaders were even more angry.
They put them in prison again and beat them.
“Stop telling people about Jesus!”
but Peter knew it was more important to obey God (4:19)
 
Many years later, probably in Rome, Peter was killed on a cross himself, because he wouldn’t stop preaching about Jesus.
Before: Peter was afraid and ran away
After: Peter was ready to go to prison, and even die.
What changed him?
For me, this is one big sign that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
Peter was so sure that Jesus was alive, and his life was so different!
 
 
So the more people attacked the Christians, the more they arrested them and put them in prison and beat them and even killed them, the more God made the church grow.[9]
At the start of the book of Acts, there were 120 Christians (1:15).
After the day of Pentecost, there were 3000 more (2:41)
in today’s story, there were 5000 Christians (4:4)
the more people tried to stop the message of Jesus’ resurrection and the new life,
the more the message spread.[10]
 
This is the exciting story of the book of Acts that we are reading this year
God wants us to be part of the same story today.
 
what power!
 
 

Questions

How did Peter change?  What made the difference?
Why didn’t the religious leaders want to change?
 
Do you believe that God can give new life?
Are you more like the crippled man or the religious leaders?[11]
 
When did God say “no” to what you asked, so he could give you something better?
What before and after change, from old to new life, have you experienced?


[1] In fact, the Greek is literally “ungrammatical idiots” (4:13).  People were also amazed at the learning Jesus had without study (John 7:15)
[2] The Old Testament promised that when God comes, “the lame will leap like a deer” (Isaiah 35:6).  Jesus gave this as one of the signs of God’s kingdom coming and that he was the Messiah (Luke 7:22)
[3] the same Greek word egeiro for both!
[4] Jesus promised his disciples that when they were arrested and brought to trial, God would give them the right words and wisdom-it wouldn’t be them speaking, but the holy spirit speaking through them (Matthew 10:18-20, Luke 21:15)
[5] a whole new garment, not stitching a new patch on the old one (Mark 2:21, Luke 5:36)
[6] There’s a story that St Aquinas went to visit the Pope, who was counting money and said proudly, “the church can no longer say, silver and gold have I none”.  Aquinas replied sadly, “neither can she say, rise and walk”.
[7] As Jesus said, the devil comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus brings life in all its fullness (John 10:10)
[8] Jesus and his resurrection will either be our cornerstone, or our stumbling stone.  The foundation and security of our lives, or the scandal that causes us to fall.  An interesting theme in scripture.
[9] a famous early Christian, Tertullian, wrote “kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust.  The more you mow us down, the more we grow:  the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”
[10] John Stott contrasts the wind of the spirit blowing at Pentecost with the storms of Satan’s persecution.  Acts shows the visible, human opposition to the church; Revelation tells the same story from the invisible perspective of the battle between the Dragon and the Lamb.
[11] for me, the answer is probably both.  Sometimes I do believe and trust God.  But sometimes I’m more like Peter at the start, and am afraid.  And sometimes my fear probably leads me to fight against God’s new life, like the Sadducees.  In one way, that is not too good.  But in another way, it doesn’t matter too much, because the important thing is not my power, but God’s power.

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