God’s Chosen Method

Acts 3:11-19 (NRSV)

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. 12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.

17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.

There was a man who was having a really rough couple of weeks. He was sleeping poorly at night because of some stresses at work. Then he started having migraines, he lost some weight, and he just couldn’t stay focused. So he went to the doctor for a check-up. The doctor said, “I really can’t diagnose you with confidence. I think it’s on account of a lack of sleep.”

The man replied, “Why don’t you take a nap and I’ll come back later.”

Today we are going to be looking at a passage of scripture that I think has been misused and abused by a number of groups over the last 2,000 years. But rather than reading this scripture in that way, I want to show you how this passage calls us as followers of Jesus to be agents of God’s healing and hope in the world.

Today’s passage is a part of a great section of scripture from the days immediately following Jesus’ resurrection. Peter and John are going into the temple for prayer one day and they encounter a crippled man begging by the gate. Peter delivers one of my favorite lines, and we have to say it in the King James Version, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I give unto thee.” And Peter heals the man.

Our lesson for today picks up right after the healing. Verse 11 even tells us that the man is still clinging to Peter; he is still hugging him, thanking him for the gift of mobility.

I want us to consider three different questions as we walk through this scripture. 1. Who killed Jesus? 2. Who brings healing and hope? 3. How does that person bring healing hope? And because I want to answer these questions in the order that I asked them, I’m going to jump around a bit through this passage.

1. Who killed Jesus? When Peter addresses the crowds, he clearly states who he is speaking to: “You Israelites.” Peter does not mess around, he is really coming down hard on the Israelites. Peter speaks about Jesus saying things like, “whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him.” And, “you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you.” And one more, “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”

I don’t think we can avoid that Peter thinks that the Jewish people are responsible for killing Jesus. But I don’t like the way it is translated in the NRSV, where Peter addresses the crowd as “You Israelites.” The NIV is perhaps better because it says, “My fellow Israelites.” Peter isn’t trying to distance himself from the group. He knows that he is at fault as well. He never says that the Jewish people are exclusively responsible for killing Jesus. It is also clear as we read through the scriptures that the Romans had a bit of a say in the matter as well. In fact, the Jews has no authority to have a person put to death, so it is only through the Roman authorities that Jesus could be executed.

This passage has been taken out of the broader story of Jesus’ life and used to support anti-Semitic ideology. The Jewish people have been called “Christ killers” and persecuted by Christians for their role in the crucifixion. So when we ask the question, “Who killed Jesus?” we must think about this from the perspective of the entire biblical witness. Did the Jews kill Jesus? Yes. Did the Roman Gentiles kill Jesus? Yes. Do you know who else killed Jesus? You and me. We can’t blame just one person or even one ethnicity for killing Jesus. Jesus died for the sins of all. And if that was God’s redemptive plan all along, then everyone who has ever sinned killed Jesus. Because if we had not sinned, Jesus would never have had to die.

Well over a decade ago people flocked to movie theaters to see “The Passion of the Christ.” It is hard to say exactly why this movie was so popular, but it was probably in part because of the vivid portrayal of Jesus’ death. One of the scenes that was powerful but easily missed is when Jesus was being nailed to the cross. The camera angle changes and all you see is Jesus and the hands of a person swinging a hammer, pounding in the nails. You never see the body or the face of the person doing the nailing, just the hammer pounding the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet.

We only find out later that the hands that we saw swinging the hammer belong to someone who was not really in the movie. He was always on the other end of the camera. The hands that swung the hammer belonged to the director of the movie. The director wanted to be the one who swung the hammer in the movie because he recognized his own role in the killing of Jesus.

For some reason we are quick to judge others. I simply think that this is a part of our fallen nature, with an emphasis on fallen. We tend to judge other people as worse than we are. Jesus talks about taking the plank out of our own eyes before addressing the speck in someone else’s eye. Paul talks about being the greatest among sinners. So yes, Peter does tell the Jewish people that they have killed Jesus, but he also self-identifies as a part of the group. He says, We Israelites have done this. This passage should never be used to build hatred against the Jews or any other people group.

Who killed Jesus? Our answer should always be, “I did.”

Next question, and this is an easy one, “Who brings healing and hope?”

As the formerly crippled/now healed man is clinging to Peter the people in the temple come running. The text tells us that this man, who had been lame from birth, was brought to the temple gates on a regular basis to beg. The people knew this man. They knew his story and his situation. So when they saw him up on his feet, hugging Peter, they got excited. And Peter gives a great line in verse 12, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” Peter didn’t heal the man, God did.

God brings healing. But that isn’t all that God does. Look at verse 19, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” So does God forgive or does God heal? This isn’t an either/or, but a both/and. God brings healing and hope.

We make a mistake if we completely separate healing and forgiveness, as if God is only interested in one and not the other. How many times when we find stories of Jesus healing does he also pronounce the person to be forgiven? Often the folks around him say things like, “Who does this guy think he is? Only God can forgive sins!” To which Jesus usually says, “Yep.” No, Jesus says things like, “Which is easier, to say your sins are forgiven, or to take you mat and walk?”

The point that I’m trying to make is that God is interested in the entire being of a person. Your physical health, mental health, family relations, and your spiritual health all matter. And though I don’t have time to get into all of the reason why God doesn’t always heal when we are sick, hurting, and broken, we at least can hold out hope that one day we will be made well. But that doesn’t mean that we are without hope here and now, which brings me to my final question.

How does God bring healing and hope?

God healed the crippled man, no doubt about that. But why did God wait until that moment to heal the man? Couldn’t God have healed the man at any time? And it isn’t like God wouldn’t have received the praise if God just randomly decided one day to heal the man. The people who worshipped at the temple knew who he was and what he suffered from. If God had just randomly healed the man on some Saturday afternoon, God would be glorified.

For some reason, God chooses to work through human agents. God chose to wait until Peter and John approached this man and spoke to him. This isn’t to say that God never works without our help, but it seems to me that quite often God works through human beings. We do God’s work bringing healing and hope to the people.

So a quick review: Who killed Jesus? I did. Who brings healing and hope? God does. And how does God bring healing and hope? Through us.

A few weeks ago our worship leader shared a story about a Latino pastor from a Mennonite church in Iowa named Max. Max is originally from Honduras and he came to the United States illegally in the early 90s. He had a brief run-in with the law 20 years ago, but had since made a change in his life. He became a Christian, met a woman who became his wife, started a family of six with her, and became a pastor.

Max’s story got a lot of attention when he was detained by immigration officials a few months back. He was scheduled to be deported back to Honduras, and sat in various detention centers for about 17 days. In spite of the petition of thousands of people, Max was sent back to Honduras. Max’s wife and children are here legally, and they were left behind.

I have no problem coming up with things to be critical of in this story. We are probably all of different mind when it comes to immigration issues in the United States, and I have no interest whatsoever in looking at this politically. Instead, what I want to do is to ask the same three questions that we considered earlier and apply them to this situation.

Who killed Jesus? I did. I did because I am as guilty as any other person. I am not without fault, as my wife will surely tell you. I mess up daily, multiple times a day! So I’m not looking to judge the past mistakes that others have made. If anything, I need to be like Peter in mentioning how I am a part of the broader group that led to the crucifixion of Jesus.

I would not say that Max is without sin or mistake and I’m sure that he wouldn’t either. What I can say is that Max is a fellow Christian and he was trying to do the right thing. He was only flagged by immigration for deportation when he applied for a work permit to stay in the United States legally. The saddest thing for me is that it is his family that now suffers.

Who brings healing and hope? It is God. God has brought forgiveness to Max and his family. And it is my prayer that they still have some hope in this challenging time.

And how does God bring the healing and hope? Through us. When Max was held at the detention center for 17 days there was an outpouring of support from the Mennonite community. Over 40,000 people signed a petition asking the immigration department to release Max and grant him a work permit. Thousands of people called and showed their support as well. But Max was deported on March 20 and is not eligible to return to the United States until his children have grown.

So the family is left with the choice between going to Honduras to live with Max, or continuing to live in the United States. It probably isn’t as easy a decision as we might assume. The Villatoro family now has more safety and better schools than they would have in Honduras, which likely means a better future for the four children. But Max’s wife is now faced with raising four young children on her own if they stay.

Again, I’m not looking to make this a political issue, but a theological issue. Deuteronomy 25:4 instructs us to not muzzle an ox while it treads the grain. Paul repeats this teaching in 1 Corinthians 9 and 1 Timothy 5. This is a metaphor used to instruct believers to provide compensation to those who serve God. We need to take care of our leaders and pastors. And if we don’t stand for our leaders and pastors, we probably won’t have very many to care for in the future. We are also told time and time again to help those who can’t help themselves. Repeatedly the Bible instructs believers to care for widows and orphans. Max’s family is not technically widowed or orphaned, but they are hurting financially.

So the district where Max served as pastor, Central Plains Mennonite Conference, has set up a fund to help the Villatoro family. I have no idea how much has been raised, but I am sure that any amount is helpful.

Recently a couple of my friends had a great idea to help support the family. As some of you know, there is a group of pastors in Virginia Mennonite Conference that are self-professing coffee snobs. We love good coffee, and that means having the freshest coffee possible. So we all buy green coffee and roast it in our homes. I have a bread machine that has been converted into a coffee roaster. So about once every 10 days I grab a pound of green coffee and roast it up, which allows me to have the freshest coffee in Staunton.

Our “leader,” Phil, buys green coffee directly from growers in various parts of the country and sells it to other home roasters. He decided to donate one of the 50 pound burlap bags of green coffee, which is probably about $200 worth of green coffee to the Villatoro family fund. His idea was to ask the rest of us to roast the coffee, package it, and distribute it. So Phil offered the green coffee for free, asked us to donate our time roasting it, and then we will sell it for a suggested donation of $10 per bag, which is consistent with what you would pay for whole bean coffee at a coffee shop. And because the coffee and the labor was all donated, 100% of the $10 per bag goes to the Villatoro family. It is like you made a donation to the family and you got a free 10 ounce bag of coffee for free! And of course, it will be Honduran coffee.

I’m excited about this because I enjoy good coffee and roasting it. I’m excited because Phil’s $200 worth of green coffee will translate to about $700 worth of roasted product. And I’m excited because this is a creative way to do what we are called to do anyway. We are called to bring healing and hope to those who suffer, whether they are suffering from sickness, sin, or situation. And even those of us that feel utterly powerless in a situation like Max’s can say, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I give thee.”

As sinners, we have killed Jesus. God alone provides healing and hope. And we are to be the vessel of God’s healing and hope. Why God has chosen such a broken method to bring his healing and hope to the world, we may never know. But the Bible calls us to be God’s agents of healing and hope. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, doing his work as best as we can. This may mean giving money or time, sharing food or a listening ear. It means being open to the Spirit of God moving in us.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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