“A Completely Different Team” – Acts 3 – 4
Easter 2 – April 23, 2017
There are lots of great underdog stories in sports – stories of unexpected teams winning a championship game or series. They have happened in basketball, in hockey, in baseball, and in soccer. But I think one of the greatest and most recent stories of an underdog championship happened in football, in the 2016 Grey Cup – the Canadian Football Championship. The Calgary Stampeders were heavy favourites, having cruised through the regular season with a 15 win, 2 loss, 1 tie record, and then easily dispatching the BC Lions 42-15 in their one playoff game. The Ottawa Redblacks meanwhile kind of limped into the playoffs with a losing record – 8 wins, 9 losses, and 1 tie. They managed to make it to the championship game – the first for an Ottawa football team in 40 years – but they were serious underdogs compared to the strong Calgary team, who had beaten them by 25 points in their previous meeting.
Ottawa started the game strong and actually had a 20-7 half-time lead, but then the powerful Stampeders started exerting their will. With just 30 seconds left on the game clock, they looked poised to score a go-ahead touchdown to win the game, but they were forced to kick a field goal to tie and send the game into overtime. Ottawa scored a touchdown in overtime and prevented Calgary from doing the same, and the fairy-tale ending was complete. The underdog won!
- Don’t send these guys!
The followers of Jesus looked like a bunch of bumbling, inept, disorganized and hopeless guys that hardly resembled a team, let alone a championship team. James and John wanted to be Jesus’ favourites. Peter cut off a guy’s ear, ran away when Jesus was being arrested, and then rejected even knowing Jesus when push came to shove. They suffered the gut-wrenching “defeat” of Jesus’ death on the cross. The whole lot of them didn’t believe the testimony of the women who said that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas specifically refused to believe unless He saw Jesus with His own eyes. They all locked themselves in the Upper Room for fear. And Jesus entrusted these guys with the Great Commission – make disciples of all nations, be my witnesses to the ends of the earth? That mission didn’t exactly seem to be in capable hands. If I had been a fly on the wall, I might have said, “Jesus, no, don’t send these guys to the championship! They’ll blow it for sure!!”
- A completely different team
We’re going to pick up the story in our Essential 100 Bible passage in Acts 3 & 4. But let me tell you quickly what happened in between. Last Sunday we heard the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead – the linchpin of our Christian faith. Acts 1 tells us that Jesus hung around on earth for 40 days, giving many convincing proofs during that time that He had truly risen from the dead. Then He ascended back to His rightful place in heaven, and advised the disciples – the team – to stay in Jerusalem for some further strategic instructions and a new coach. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit of God was sent to that team and they got fired up for the second half. Peter preached a dynamite sermon to thousands of people from a variety of nations. His punch line was: “This Jesus who was crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ.” That message hit home for some 3,000 people, and they were baptized and added to the number of believers. They focused on gathering together to learn more about Jesus, to pray, to share the Lord’s Supper and to spread the message of God’s grace. They were being shaped into a completely different team.
- Healing a lame man
That was evident as we move into Acts 3 & 4. At the beginning of Acts 3, Peter and John encounter a lame beggar at the Jerusalem temple gates. He asked for some money, but Peter’s response is memorable: “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ… rise up and walk!” The lame man got up and went into the temple proper, walking, and leaping and praising God! He was doing a little happy dance!! Peter again had the opportunity for a message to the people who had gathered around following this miracle of healing, and He gave credit for the healing to Jesus, the Author of Life, whom God had raised from the dead. The resurrection was – no surprise – a regular theme of Peter’s preaching.
The ears of the Jewish religious leaders perked up at that Jesus topic. Quickly, they arrested Peter and John and held them in custody overnight. At their interrogation the next day, Peter reiterated that it was by the name of Jesus Christ that the lame man could stand, and Peter added: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven – except the name of Jesus – by which we must be saved.”
I love what Acts 4 says next: “When [the religious leaders] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.”
The first of the two Greek words used to describe the disciples was agrammatoi. It means ‘unable to write, illiterate.’ Hey, don’t blame them, they had grown up as fishermen. They probably didn’t go to school. The second Greek word is idiwtai. Yes, it sounds just like our English word ‘idiot’ but it doesn’t have quite the negative connotation of our English word. In Greek, it means layman, amateur, unskilled – especially in contrast to an expert or specialist.
So, the Jewish religious leaders recognized that they weren’t professionals – not doctors, not philosophers, not orators, and certainly not religious experts. But they also realized that these men had been with Jesus. And that wasn’t a good thing, because they must have been aware that Jesus’ crucified body was no longer in the tomb, and that reports were circulating that He had indeed risen from the dead. But, despite the status of these guys being both agrammatoi and idiwtai, when you see the evidence of their power right in front of your eyes – a healed and standing lame man – what can you say? Nothing.
It’s like the Stampeders seeing the Redblacks celebrating a championship, and looking over their own shoulders to see the evidence on the scoreboard. There was nothing they could say! They had lost, legitimately
What the religious leaders did say was, “Don’t speak or teach in the name of Jesus anymore,” to which Peter and John replied, “We cannot but speak about what we have seen and heard.” They were released and the entire team gathered to pray: “Enable your servants to speak Your word with great boldness.”
- Christian Unity
Now we’ll land for a few minutes on the verses at the end of Acts 4. It reads: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For… [money] was distributed to anyone as he had need.”
Some think that the unique thing about the early church was its approach to money and possessions – kind of a small ‘c’ communism system in which goods are owned in common and available to all as needed. You have to admit it was impressive and it challenges our commitment to giving today. (Although I do want to commend so many of you who have stepped up and given generously for the current medical need of a family in our congregation. That’s a very first century church response.) But it seems that the early church’s willingness to practice “radical sharing” was the result of an even more impressive trait: “radical unity.”
a.Unity: Its basis
The basis of Christian Unity is found in Acts 4:32 – “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” What does that mean? Let’s start with the idea of being one “in mind.” That means that those early believers had common thoughts, views, morals and teachings based on a common worldview that began with – no surprise – Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the new covenant that God established through Him. That common worldview, that unity in mind came about because we hear that the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching – a teaching based on Jesus’ own teaching, and a teaching about Jesus – His death and resurrection.
This is how Paul described it later in Philippians 2: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ… then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” Like-minded, with a common spirit and purpose… then Paul goes on to describe the basis of that like-mindedness – Jesus’ servant nature, humbling Himself to death on a cross, and being exalted by God to the highest place.
Our unity in the church even today isn’t robotic or cult-like. Nobody tells you or forces you to all believe the same thing. But when we, like the early Christians, devote ourselves to Christ’s teachings, we come to a place where we realize that we ARE one in mind about what we believe and how we live. When we think about Christianity as a whole, we have a broad unity based on the core teachings of being saved by God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself for our sake. We confess that in a statement of what we believe, a creed. Let’s do that right now…
That’s what we believe as Christians. We narrow our unity by identifying with the Lutheran understandings of certain teachings like Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. We further narrow our unity in Lutheran Church – Canada, which we call our church body or our synod – a word that refers to walking together in our faith and in our mission work. Here at Hope Lutheran, that mission work is narrowed even further as we consider what God wants us to do here and now to spread the news of Christ crucified and risen from the dead. We worship and work together because we believe together.
b. Unity: Its Product
Now let’s consider the unity “in heart” piece. If “one in mind” is about common thoughts, beliefs and teachings, then “one in heart” is about the practical living out of those common beliefs in love and service to others. It’s demonstrating that common belief in radical love and sharing.
That was illustrated in the early church by sharing their possessions with those in need. One personal example in Acts 4 was a guy named Barnabas who later figures in prominently to Paul’s missionary journeys. But in Acts 4 he sold a field and brought the proceeds of the sale to the apostles for distribution to those who were in need. We hear something similar in Acts 2: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” That, together with expressions of fellowship, and times of prayer, and signs and wonders, showed that faith is lived out practically in love. The healing of the lame man in Acts 3 is a prime example of that. Peter and John didn’t have money to give the man, but they did have the loving and healing power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
James chapter 2 is all about demonstrating faith in God by showing God’s love to a brother or sister who may be without clothes or daily food. I know many of you have done that in a variety of ways recently: serving a meal at RainCity Housing; providing socks and toiletries at Christmas time in the “Warm Feet for the Street” campaign; making donations for a needy family here at Hope; sponsoring a needy or orphaned child half-way around the world; donating to the Food Bank (Food Bank Drive again?). [Donella opportunity] The product of a common faith is a common love.
c.Unity: Its Mission
Finally, we unpack the mission of a unified group of believers. Remember that this was a completely different team from the one that cowered in fear behind the locked doors of the Upper Room on that first Easter evening. Now we read “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” Earlier they had prayed: “Lord… enable your servants to speak your world with great boldness.”
They knew their mission was to just tell the seven words that Peter used every time he spoke. Seven words = perfect number. Acts 2: “God has raised this Jesus to life.” Acts 3: “But God raised Him from the dead.” Acts 4: “But whom God raised from the dead.” Then it was up to the Holy Spirit to “cut people to the heart” with that message and to lead them to believe… i.e. to be of one mind.
That’s our mission, too – jut to tell… by engaging people in spiritual conversations (let’s keep that going), by inviting friends to Easter worship (thanks for doing that, several visitors last week), by loving people until they ask why, and then we get to tell them we are loved by God and we simply want to love others in the way that we have been loved.
Maybe you feel like Hope Lutheran Church isn’t exactly a championship team sometimes, you know… led by a bumbling, inept, disorganized and hopeless pastor, with a bunch of sinners on the team, but let me tell you that with the Holy Spirit we are a completely different team – one that is forgiven, and one that has unity of mind/belief, unity of heart/love, and unity of mission with those seven important words: “God has raised this Jesus to life.” OK, team, “Christ is Risen!” on 3… ready? 1, 2, 3… “Christ is Risen!” Amen.