We have in today's readings two accounts of how the fact of the resurrection plays out. In the gospel, Jesus entered the upper room giving physical proof to the disciples that the empty tomb meant the resurrected Jesus was truly alive. In Acts, the healing of the man lame from birth meant that the power displayed in the resurrection was now being displayed in the lives of his disciples.
So what do these accounts say to us? We don't get the physical proof of Jesus walking into our gathering and sharing treats with us in coffee hour. And it is rare to see his power manifested in a healing like was witnessed in Acts. What I'd like to do this morning is see if there is sufficient evidence that Jesus truly rose from the dead. And then what evidence there might be in our own lives that the power Jesus offered is available to us.
Here is a summary of what he found out. The timeline and the way the gospels were written show they were written within the lifetime of the eyewitness accounts given. There were plenty of people who could've disputed the claims of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but these eyewitness accounts stood the test of time. And so question one is answered by the timeline.
Second, there is corroboration to the story the gospel writers give us... though I suggest it is not as convincing as Wallace wrote. Secular writers have a few accounts of the man called Jesus and the movement he created. There are historical names in the gospels which give credibility to their writing. And archaeological discoveries have been largely supportive of the gospel accounts.
For the question of consistency, Wallace examined what he called the “chain of custody”. For example, the students of the apostle John, the disciple who lived the longest, continued his teachings without modifying his claims. Early Christian writers Ignatious and Polycarp taught these same gospel claims to their student Iranaeus who wrote his accounts in the late 2nd century. The so-called church fathers remained remarkably consistent in their gospel teachings and so on. That doesn't mean there haven't been attempts to alter the good news, but the resurrection account remained consistently taught.
His fourth question wondered if there was motivation for those gospel writers to lie. If we look into the lives of the gospel writers, their claims of resurrection led to beatings and exile and death because they wouldn't recant their stories. They would have had much more motivation to deny the resurrection than to falsely claim that it happened. Detective Wallace determined that the resurrection passed all the questions of acceptable witness to truth. He became a believer.
In our reading from Acts, we watched the prelude to Peter's sermon. A man born crippled is miraculously healed, he leaps for joy and the crowd recognizes him as the beggar who sat at the gate called Beautiful. The man's joy and the witness of such a miracle drew a crowd. And that's where today's reading begins. “When Peter saw it, he addressed the people.” Sue read for us Peter's address. He explained the death of Jesus at the hands of Pontius Pilate, (per our proofs, a real man written in history books). But he doesn't end with the judgment and death of Jesus. Peter goes on about Jesus, “whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” Again, here is this idea of witnesses. There was great opportunity to contradict Peter... if any could. But they didn't. The rulers tried to silence the message, they did have Peter and John arrested after this sermon. Then they had them beaten and warned them to preach no more. But the religious leaders couldn't stop it. And the heart of the message Peter gives time and again in Acts is this, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” Repentance and forgiveness of sins are the heart of the gospel. And this promise of sins wiped out is at the heart of our faith. We trust in redemption into eternal life.
But like the man healed in the flesh, the miracle Jesus brings is more than the sweet by and by; it is for us in the here and now. Salvation begins when we respond to the call of the gospel. It is a matter of faith, of believing without seeing. As with the healing of the crippled man, salvation comes through the power of Jesus and not Peter and John. And in the power of Jesus we are imbued with power. We have the power of prayer where we can enter into the presence of God. We can share our deepest thoughts of concern, of joy, of even doubt or anger. Prayer is too often pictured as asking for things and waiting for God to provide. And that is the basic formula, but it is so much more. It is to be Jesus coming into your presence; not physically, but in spirit. And he comes offering the peace he offered the disciples in the upper room after his resurrection. And to have the peace of Christ in this often unpeaceful world is its own miracle, a gift of God.
Earlier, when Jesus was preparing his disciples for the upcoming trip and suffering in Jerusalem, he gave this promise, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33) The disciples did have their share of troubles but they did find that Jesus was with them. We don't have to look hard for tribulation in our world today- another police shooting in the cities, a new rise in COVID cases, masking controversies, violence, broken families, isolation, fears... we need peace. Supernatural peace that Jesus offers, shared in this verse from Romans, “Therefore, since we have been justified [that is, acquitted of sin, declared blameless before God] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5: 1 AMP)
Our gospel reading records the first words of Jesus to the disciples in the upper room. He didn't chastise them for deserting him, for denying him, for hiding away in fear, or for doubting the reports that he was risen. “Peace be with you.” So here is the promise of peace in our gospel reading. In our story from Acts, we don't read this same promise. But if we were to read one more verse, Luke wrote this, “so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Times of refreshing from the Lord; sounds a lot like peace to me....
This miracle of peace comes as we develop a real relationship with Jesus. It starts, as Peter says, with repentance. Repentance is more than feeling sorry. It is changing our lives and pointing all we do toward that relationship with Jesus. The miracles that accompany repentance include the realization that Jesus conquered death in his resurrection, that all healing is ultimately from God and that all healing doesn't necessarily mean perfect health. The miracle may be peace in the midst of illness, peace in a time or grief, peace in the midst of violence.
[Think about that miracle of healing in our Acts reading. Don't you imagine there were other beggars at the temple that morning? But only this one got the miracle of healing. We don't always get our big miracle, our showy miracle, but the miracle of peace that surpasses understanding is always a possibility for us. It, as the healing, comes in the name of Jesus and not our own efforts. So our question is, are we experiencing this miracle of peace in the midst of tribulation? If not, check on your connection with Jesus. Spend time in prayer, in contemplation, in praise, in his presence. ]
Peter began his sermon by centering on God, the God of Israel, the God worshiped in the temple. And he took that focus and brought it onto Jesus, the one that God glorified, the one in whose name the healing they marveled at was done. And so we begin our quest for the healing power of peace by focusing our attention on God as revealed by Jesus Christ. That focusing begins with repentance; repent of negative thoughts, negative news, negative reading. Change your focus to the good news of Jesus Christ. Claim the peace he offers, claim the refreshment of the presence of the Lord.
Our next hymn speaks, first of faith in a risen Savior, then of his mercy and cheer and presence. The chorus declares the good news... He lives...salvation to impart. You know this good news as Jesus walks with you and talks with you... Jesus lives in your heart. That is both the assurance of salvation and the power of the peace Jesus brings. Amen.
Hymn: I Serve a Risen Savior