To This We Are Witnesses

To This We Are Witnesses

Acts 4:1-20

Silver and gold have I none
But such as I have, give I thee.
In the name of Jesus Christ
Of Nazareth, rise up and walk.

And he went walking and leaping and praising God,
Walking and leaping and praising God.
In the name of Jesus Christ
Of Nazareth, rise up and walk.

A man lame from birth, a man who was more than 40 years old and was well-known to all, since he sat daily outside the temple begging for alms – this man asked Peter and John for alms. And his life was changed forever. Peter and John said to him, look at us, and he looked at them. They said that they had no money for alms, but would give him what they had: healing in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. And the man got up and walked, and he praised God, and he walked right into the temple with them, to the amazement of all who had seen him sitting outside, looking in – sitting outside, begging. And Peter addressed the crowd, asking them why they wondered at this. He reminded them of God’s steadfast love for them, reminded them of their ancestors and of all the prophets, and of how God sent Jesus, whom they crucified and whom God raised from the dead.

Our lesson today begins as Peter and John are speaking to the people. While you might have been wondering whether I accidentally studied the wrong lesson, in fact I took us on a detour back into Chapter 3 to set the scene.

While Peter and John were talking to the crowd, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because Peter and John were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus Christ there is resurrection from the dead. Because it was late in the day, they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day. But many who heard the word believed, and they numbered about 5000.

5000? Now, we don’t know whether that is 5000 in addition to the 3000 from the day of Pentecost or whether the total number after both events was now 5000. But we can be fairly certain that only men were counted, so, even conservatively, as Peter and John spent the night in custody, there were around 20,000 who now believed in this Jesus whom God raised from the dead – 20,000 believers right there in Jerusalem.

Many of the Jewish leaders (specifically the Sadducees) did not believe in a resurrection of the dead, and even the Pharisees who did believe in a resurrection of the dead – they all wanted this rumor of Jesus’ resurrection to go away. The high priest and the council (the Sanhedrin) served by the permission of the Roman government, and thus they preferred the status quo; they preferred that nothing in their religious life be stirred up or cause any unrest. And 20,000 Jesus followers had to be making them very, very uncomfortable.

So, the next day, they began to question Peter and John. They asked, “By what power or by what name do you do this?” Then Peter – the very same Peter who only a few short weeks ago had three times denied even knowing Jesus – that same Peter, and here’s the important difference, filled with the Holy Spirit, said: if we are being questioned because of a good deed done to someone who was sick, and if you are asking how he has been healed, then let it be known that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

The Jewish leaders, realizing that these were uneducated, ordinary men, were amazed. And they recognized them as companions of Jesus. Seeing the formerly lame man standing with them, the leaders said nothing against them. Instead, they sent Peter and John away for a bit so that they could strategize.

20,000 followers; eloquent speech from ordinary men; more talk about this Jesus not being dead anymore – impossible! – and now a healing in the name of Jesus! The leaders needed time to regroup. This could easily get out of hand, if it hadn’t already.

We may wonder how Luke, the writer of Acts, could have known what they said in their closed session. One commentary that I read this week suggested several plausible ideas: It was a large group (70 people, plus the high priest) – it is difficult to keep proceedings a secret; perhaps someone talked about it; perhaps someone present behind closed doors later became a Christian; perhaps Saul was at the council and later told Luke; perhaps Luke inferred what was said based on what the leaders then said to Peter and John. In any case, the leaders decided to tell Peter and John to speak no more to anyone in this name, to which Peter and John respond that they cannot keep from speaking about what they have seen and heard.

And what about us? Can we “hardly keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard?” Who or what is our Sanhedrin – our barrier to talking about Jesus? What are the things that keep us quiet? Fear? Not wanting to be different? Not wanting to rock the boat? Or do we boldly speak about Jesus, and in order to do so do we seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Do we accept the status quo, especially when it benefits us? Do we try to fit in and look like everyone else?

We’re Lutheran. We’ve got some pretty great theology, but let’s face it – evangelism’s not our strong suit. Take a moment to think about this question (we’re still not quite ready for turn and talk, so we will take a few moments of silent reflection): When was the last time I talked with someone about Jesus, actually saying his name?
… {silence for reflection} …

Chances are, it has been a while. And that’s okay. We just want to notice, to pay attention to, what keeps us from speaking – actually speaking out loud – about what Jesus has done for us.

And know this: God loves us and sent Jesus to walk with us, and teach us, and die for us, and Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and sent us the Holy Spirit. We do not do this alone. It is the Spirit who speaks through us. Our part is to be open to the Spirit’s leading and willing to let others in on how very much Jesus means to us and how very much God loves them.

Here at Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church, we share God’s love in Jesus Christ with people near and far, in this country and abroad, through our Giving Beyond Ourselves and through our many acts of service. We are all a part of sharing God’s love in ways both large and small through Holy Shepherd.

And, we could stand to grow and develop in our ability to speak about what God has done for us. Start small: talk to someone whom you already know well about what Jesus means to you. Practice talking out loud about your faith. And, most especially, pray – pray that you would be filled with the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit would give you the words to speak.

Let us pray together now:
God, send your spirit upon us.
Embolden us to speak of the wondrous deeds of Jesus,
Of his life, death, and resurrection, and of what he has done for us.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.

“To This We Are Witnesses” was a sermon preached by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson in conjunction with our worship service on June 19, 2022 — which was/is the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost on the church calendar as well as Father’s Day.  The text upon which the sermon is based is Acts 4:1-20.  To access the worship bulletin, click here: Worship Bulletin 20220619