Monday, 28 April 2014

The Transformation of Peter- Acts 2

Once in a while I see a documentary or read a book that I can’t help but recommend. We were recommended a book called the Highly Sensitive Child and we found it extremely useful when parenting one of our children. When we meet parents who are having a similar struggle as we were having we are very quick to recommend that particular book. It was helpful and even life-changing. So, out of a sense of compassion for the frustration we feel coming from the other parents we can’t help but tell them about the good news that was shared with us when we were struggling in a similar way.   
I saw a documentary called Forks over Knives and the research it presented seemed potentially life-changing, even culture changing, but also challenging. The information it presented about how North Americans eat and how that is connected to our health, especially the health of our hearts, could be revolutionary. So, when my father-in-law had a heart attack that documentary came to mind immediately and I wanted to recommend it to my family. Though I did hesitate because I thought it might present a path that would be too extreme for them. But, I believed that it had the potential to help.
For some reason many of us have a hard time talking about Jesus in the same kind of recommending way that we talk about WD-40, or a new app for our phone. There are a lot of reasons for that, but Peter does not seem to have this problem. He stands in front of a crowd and heartily recommends Jesus and retells his story. Peter’s transformation is amazing actually. When Jesus is betrayed Peter denies knowing him three times and seems to have slunk off somewhere and hid, ashamed of his disloyalty. With other disciples he hides behind locked doors afraid of who might be looking for them. Jesus’ death shook Peter to his very foundation. But, now in Acts Peter is standing before a crowd and telling them about Jesus. He went from fearfully hiding behind a locked door to fearlessly and openly talking about Jesus.
Peter could confidently recommend Jesus to the crowd because he was convinced of two things. First, he was convinced of the reality that Jesus was truly resurrected. Second, he was also convinced that this wasn’t just an oddity, but that this fact actually mattered for his life and the lives of his hearers.
When Peter stands before the crowd he describes Jesus as “a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know”. People knew stories about him and they may have been present at some point during the three years of Jesus’ ministry among them. They knew the stories about miracles. Maybe they knew people who were healed, or maybe they ate some of the bread or fish that was miraculously multiplied, or maybe they heard the story from their second cousin who was there. The people Peter was speaking to knew Jesus, or at least they knew of him. He was a real man. … And, God worked miracles through him.    
Peter also states what just about everyone there knew. Jesus was “handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed [him] by the hands of those outside the law.” Jesus was killed. He was handed over. He was betrayed by one of his own. He was given over into the hands of the authorities who wrongfully condemned him and who then gave him into the hands of the Romans (those outside the law) who crucified him. But, he also says that none of this was a shock to God. God knew and God could bring good out of the evil of human beings. Jesus’ death was something the people were aware of. When two disciples were walking to Emmaus and they come across a stranger who asks about the news from Jerusalem they respond, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ …  about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.” (Luke 24:18-20). As a controversial public figure, who Jesus was and how he died was common knowledge.  
Peter then moved from what was commonly known to what they didn’t know yet. “God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” God resurrected Jesus. They may have been aware that the tomb of Jesus was empty, but Peter tells them with confidence how it got that way.  Peter goes on to say “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’  This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” Peter declares to them that the disciples who are standing among them have experienced the risen Jesus and this is a fulfillment of prophecy. They are witnesses.  
Numerous people reported seeing the resurrected Jesus. Jesus’ followers and eventually even enemies like Paul experienced the resurrected Jesus. Individuals like Mary Magdalene and groups of disciples reported seeing him. About 20 years after Jesus' death, Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15) that Jesus "appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” The early disciples believed that they had experienced the risen Jesus in a very physical way and they became willing to die for their belief that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead. ... Many of them did die for their belief.
If the resurrection didn’t happen it would be very difficult to understand how the disciples wouldn’t have dissolved and gone their own direction. … The early Jesus followers were strengthened. They went from a group of scared disciples huddled behind locked doors to proclaiming Jesus in public and across the known world.  They even grew in number. This just didn't happen with these kinds of groups when their leader was killed. Usually they scattered and the movement died. The followers of Jesus grew in courage and in numbers. The best explanation for this is the resurrection of Jesus.   
The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the early church. Paul says that the resurrection is so foundational that, “If Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. … If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:13-19).
For the early Christians everything depended on the fact of the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus. This was essential and foundational from the beginning. It is essential to the creeds that have bound Christians together for 2000 years.
Peter stood before the crowd because he was sure that Jesus was actually resurrected. He experienced the risen Jesus and so had his friends. Peter was confident in that fact, but he was also confident that this wasn’t just an oddity like fish raining from the sky. It isn’t just a random paranormal event. This event had meaning for Peter, for the disciples, and for all those that were listening.
For Peter, if God raised Jesus that was an endorsement from God that Jesus speaks the truth. It is a confirmation that the miracles and healings were indeed from God and proof of God’s in-breaking kingdom. It confirms Jesus’ teachings as not just human teachings, but the revelation of divine authority on earth. It confirms that Jesus was not merely a good man, a wise teacher, or even a prophet. He was more. He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  Jesus has a connection to God like no one else ever did.
God’s endorsement now extends to his disciples. At this point in Acts Jesus has also ascended to heaven and has sent his Holy Spirit on the Disciples to empower them. The first action of the Holy Spirit among the disciples is that they start speaking about God’s deeds of power in multiple languages that they did not know. The Holy Spirit empowered them to proclaim and teach about Jesus with courage and to even work miracles. The same Spirit that was present with Jesus is now present with his disciples.  The preacher John Stott says a more accurate title for the book of Acts would be “The Continuing Words and Deeds of Jesus by his Spirit through his Apostles”. There are two broad stages of the ministry of Jesus. The first stage we read about in the Gospels. There we read that Jesus as finished the work of atonement by his cross and resurrection, but his work continues, but now he is present in his followers in a new way.
His work continues in us. We are the body of Christ and the Spirit of Christ that was present with the early disciples is now present with us to empower us.  

Peter was transformed from afraid and hiding to fearlessly proclaiming Christ because he was convinced of two things. Jesus really and truly is alive. He is resurrected. And, Jesus’ resurrection leads to Peter living a life empowered by the Spirit of Jesus and that same Spirit would also mean death would not be the end of him, so he was free to declare who was sitting on the throne of the universe

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