International Sunday School Lesson for December 3, 2017
To interpret faith as claiming wholeness now that anticipates complete wholeness in the resurrection
Background: Acts 3
Acts 3:11-21 (CEB)
11 While the healed man clung to Peter and John, all the people rushed toward them at Solomon’s Porch, completely amazed. 12 Seeing this, Peter addressed the people: “You Israelites, why are you amazed at this? Why are you staring at us as if we made him walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of our ancestors—has glorified his servant Jesus. This is the one you handed over and denied in Pilate's presence, even though he had already decided to release him. 14 You rejected the holy and righteous one, and asked that a murderer be released to you instead. 15 You killed the author of life, the very one whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.
17 “Brothers and sisters, I know you acted in ignorance. So did your rulers. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he foretold through all the prophets: that his Christ would suffer. 19 Change your hearts and lives! Turn back to God so that your sins may be wiped away. 20 Then the Lord will provide a season of relief from the distress of this age and he will send Jesus, whom he handpicked to be your Christ. 21 Jesus must remain in heaven until the restoration of all things, about which God spoke long ago through his holy prophets.
His name itself has made this man strong. That is, because of faith in Jesus’ name, God has strengthened this man whom you see and know. The faith that comes through Jesus gave him complete health right before your eyes.
For the next 13 weeks our lessons will be about “Faith In Action.” This week we will look at faith in the early church.
The immediate context of this week’s passage is this: A congenitally disabled man placed at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple begged alms from Peter and John as they entered. Instead of money, he wound up with a new ability to walk! Not only did he walk, but he jumped up, danced around, and praised God in the Temple (3:1-8).
Our lesson begins with lots of action, as you read verse 11 It is a highly descriptive passage with lots of action verbs. The man “clung to Peter and John,” the crowd rushed over, and they were amazed. The word used here and translated “clung” can indicate simply “taking the hand of,” or it can mean “seizing,” as the soldiers seized Jesus. It also has a metaphorical meaning of “coming to understand,” such as when we say, “I grasp the concept.”
The people rushed over to see what had happened. They rushed together as a group that is moving as one or as various streams rushing together into a river. The rapid movement is associated with amazement
In verse 12 Peter addressed them specifically as “Israelites” (literally, “men of Israel”). In doing so, he reminded them of their identity as the people of God.
In verse 13 Peter called the people Israelites; then he explicitly linked the God of the Israelites to the power of Jesus. This is similar to the way that the God “I am who I am” is linked to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Exodus 3:6. But Jesus is the glorified Servant who would suffer on behalf of the people (Isaiah 52:13). Just as the people were amazed at the work of Peter and John, the kings and nations would be amazed at the servant because of his marred appearance and suffering. This talk of the servant being glorified by God and yet being handed over by the people points toward this paradox. The sense of paradox was heightened when Peter spoke of the people having denied Jesus in front of Pilate, for Peter, of course, was the one who denied Jesus in the courtyard of the priest’s house.
In verse 14, Just as the servant was rejected, the people despised and rejected Jesus. While Barabbas and Jesus were in some ways arrested for the same crime, rebellion against Rome, Barabbas was willing to kill for his beliefs. Jesus, of course, was willing to die for his. Peter pointed out that the crowd stood with the former and not the latter.
In verse 15, Peter intensified the irony and the contrast between what God wanted for the people and what they chose. God intended to give life; Peter called Jesus the author, or founder, of life. The word can also be translated as “prince” of life (KJV), recalling that Jesus was the Lord and King who embodied the essence of life and offered to share it with all. Instead, the people chose death. They not only chose death for Jesus, but by extension, they chose death for themselves.
In verse 16 we get to the crux of the matter: the healing name of Jesus. Why the “name of Jesus”? To understand, we must go back to the Hebrew understanding of name. In Hebrew, the word that we translate as “name” means much more than “the term which indicates one person or another.” One’s name includes one’s reputation. If you know someone’s name, you know who he or she is and what he or she stands for. Having faith in the name of Jesus means knowing who and what Jesus is and trusting in that.
Peter healed in the name of Jesus to indicate that he was not healing in his own power or even through power given directly to him by God. He was healing through the power of belief in the risen Jesus. As do all healings, this healing pointed to the reality that the risen Jesus will, in time, heal all who trust in the life-giving power of God.
The faith involved in the healing was (at least initially) the faith of Peter and John. The man did not ask for healing and did not see the two disciples as anything other than a source of alms for begging.
In verses 17 and 18. Having chastised the people for killing Jesus, Peter now held out hope for them. He acknowledged that they acted in ignorance. Jesus said as much from the cross when he prayed to God, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34). The people were looking for a successful Messiah, not a Messiah who was also a suffering servant. The messianic passages in Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2-7; 11:1-9) tell of a royal figure with power and prestige among the nations. But Peter told them what Jesus had said to his disciples a number of times that the Messiah must suffer and die.
The link between Messiah and Servant was not at all clear until Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. It was not predicted in any obvious way. It was foretold in the sense that the prophets were pointing to a suffering Messiah, but it was Jesus himself who had to teach this lesson and make it clear. And now, Peter passed on the lesson that he had learned.
In verse 19. Peter issued a call to the people to repent (change their lives) and return (turn back). These are two words loaded with meaning from the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Prophets and the Psalms in particular, the people are encouraged to repent and return. Peter urged the people in the crowd to repent and to return, and he told them that their sins would be wiped away. Once again, this echoes the Prophets and the Psalms (Psalm 51:1; Isaiah 43:25; 44:22; Micah 7:8). Though they had rejected the life that God offered once, they were given another opportunity.
In verse 20, Peter promised that by returning to God and having faith in Jesus the Christ, the people would begin to experience “a season of relief” or “times of refreshing” (as other versions translate: KJV, NIV, NRSV) that God offers. The sense of this refreshment is like that of being in a hot, stuffy room where it is difficult to breathe and then going out into the cool breeze. Another way to understand it is that the people would receive relief from the feeling of exile that they had had under Roman rule, not because Rome had been overturned but because they had accepted Jesus Christ as their true Lord.
Verse 21 brings Peter to his conclusion that Jesus will remain in the divine realm until God has completely restored God’s creation and brought heaven and earth, Jew and Gentile back together. This is the eternal promise made through the prophets in every age.
The question we must answer is where is our faith based? Is our faith based on our goodness? Or is it based in the Name of Jesus? How important is our faith when we pray for others?
My hymn for this week is “It’s All In the Name of Jesus.”