Once again we have the joy of sharing our study through the Advocate. For eight years we have worked together to grow in our understanding and commitment to our loving Father and His gift of grace in Jesus. The word is “faith” and that is the theme for the Winter Quarter’s study.
We declare our faith each Sunday using the Apostles’ Creed, so it is natural to assume faith is a statement of doctrines. However, such an understanding takes the dynamic out of faith, and faith becomes static and unchanging. The better way of defining “faith” is as a trusting relationship. For us, the key is trust! The kind of trust a child has in a parent when they are encouraged to jump, knowing the parent will catch them.
The lessons for December focus on the early church’s proclamation of faith in Christ. For this first lesson, the student would do well to read the entire third chapter of Acts for the context of Peter’s proclamation of faith in Jesus. In Acts, this event follows the empowerment of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in chapter two.
Hopefully, the story of the crippled beggar in the Temple is well-known to the faithful student of scripture. Peter’s words are: “silver and gold I do not have. What I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” And he does!
Years ago when Sam was growing up in Nashville, Ga. during World War II, he remembers vividly a legless beggar on the square. He moved about on what today would be described as a skateboard—a platform on wheels from a roller skate. He was there every day—except Sundays!
Such was the cripple in our scripture. Every day he was carried to one of the entrances to Temple Mount, the gate called Beautiful. Note Peter and John are going to the Temple to pray at 3 p.m.—one of the hours appointed for daily worship. Everybody knew this guy. He was a familiar fixture in the landscape. He wanted money, but he received something far more precious. He didn’t just walk, he jumped and praised God. What a sight—what a moment! Luke describes the witnesses as “being filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened…”
Temple Mount was a huge complex—with the Temple at the center with many courts and areas surrounding the famous place of worship. Luke is specific in identifying Solomon’s Colonnade where the lesson for today begins.
Peter knows these people as his fellow chosen Israelites of the Covenant God, who has acted with power and love in the past and is doing so now. No surprise! Peter makes clear the Source of the power—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the God of their fathers. Certainly not himself! God has glorified Jesus through the resurrection, and now God has shared that power with the disciples of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Right away Peter moves from “preachin’ to meddlin’!” He reminds these witnesses they were part of the plot to kill Jesus when they demanded the release of Barabbas, when Pilate was willing to release Jesus. They were the ones who demanded Jesus be crucified. Anti-Semitism originated when Christians equated all Jews with this crime. Across the centuries how much grief has resulted in that understanding? Scripture makes clear the guilt lies only with these Jerusalem Jews.
The importance of the connection between Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with the ancient patriarchs cannot be overstated. Moreover, the use of the label “servant” in verse 14 connects the crucifixion with the familiar Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This scripture vividly pictures the Suffering Servant, who takes on the role of debasement and rejection by his people. Willingly, he is punished and killed for the wrongdoing of others.
Peter’s indictment of the populace continues when he states how they disowned “the Holy and Righteous One,” and, moreover, “the author of life.” The lowest point in the human rebellion against God had been reached! Their demand to kill Jesus boggles the mind—the One who was the Source of life and had come to give life was killed. Maybe Peter was already thinking like John in his Prologue to his gospel in 1:1ff.
Peter now declares the paralytic’s healing was in the Name of this One whom they had killed. Verse 16 is the theme verse of this first lesson, and for Peter becomes the transition from the indictment of their guilt to the answer of God’s provision for restoration and salvation.
We all are guilty, and, like the Jerusalem Jews, act out of ignorance. Peter himself was part of the shameful story, for he had denied knowing Jesus three times on that dark night before Good Friday. The universality of sin is at the heart of the human predicament in our rebellion against the One who is the Source of life, righteousness, and holiness.
What can we do? Peter’s answer rings down through the corridors of time: Repent! Turn around (the meaning of the word in Greek) and turn to God. Peter makes the situation very clear: God’s intention all along was to bring us “rebels back to God.” He points to the prophets and Moses for the foreshadowing of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He was the long-awaited Messiah, and the people didn’t recognize him. Like the wonderful Christmas song, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy:” “we never knew who you were!”
Our need, the One who meets that need, and the wonder of the wholeness that comes in both time and eternity is made visible in this encounter so long ago in Jerusalem. Let it happen today, where ever you may be in your journey of faith. As someone once said, “Only Jesus can fill the God-shaped hole in you to make you whole.”
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at email@example.com.