160403 Acts 5:12, 17-32

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 April 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Acts 5:12, 17-32
Theme: Easter Is A Season Marked By Miracles

It began with just a few words, "Let there be light." And there was. Using nothing more than his word, the Creator unleashed his awesome, almighty, miraculous power. And the beginning was just the beginning. In the days that followed God created the sea and dry land and the moon and the stars and fish and birds and plants and animals. And on the sixth day using the breath of his mouth and the dirt on the ground the Lord God gave life to the crown of his creation, man.

The man who recorded the Lord's creative activity in the opening chapters of Genesis was no stranger to miracles either. In Egypt Moses saw the sky turned to darkness and the Nile River turned the blood. By the grace of God he and his people were spared by the passing over angel of death. Through Moses the Lord parted the Red Sea and made water gush out of a rock.

And the man who stood next to Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration witnessed his share of miracles too. The prophet Elijah saw fire come down from heaven and burn up his soaking wet sacrifice, and later he himself was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot.

The Bible is full of miracles, but if you study them chronologically you will notice a pattern. For the most part these miracles are grouped into clusters, in the beginning, at the time of the Exodus and during the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. And not surprisingly, the greatest concentration of miracles coincides with the life of Jesus.

By his miracles the Son of Man proved that he is also the Son of God. He healed lepers and drove out demons. He stilled storms and fed thousands. He raised from the dead a ruler's daughter and a widow's son and even his dear friend Lazarus. All of these miracles were leading up to something special. All of these miracles were building up to a grand finale, to the most miraculous miracle of all, to Easter morning when the Lord himself burst forth from the grave.

It's impossible to top that. Christians can't possibly top the miracle of the resurrection. And as a result on the Sunday after Easter it's natural to feel a little letdown. We might even wonder to ourselves: Did the Lord save the best for last? Did God perform any miracles after Easter, and do his followers have the right to expect God to perform any more miracles today?

Today's sermon text from Acts 5 provides us with some answers and some important reminders. We will see that God's greatest miracle was by no means his last. And we will be reminded that Easter is far too special, far too wonderful, to celebrate on a single day. According to the church calendar Easter is a seven week season...

EASTER IS A SEASON MARKED BY MIRACLES

I. Miracles of healing
II. Miracles of deliverance
III. Miracles of faith

The text begins: "The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade" (12). The fact that Jesus' followers met in Solomon's Colonnade will become significant a little later. For now let's focus on the miracles.

Jesus' disciples (now called "apostles" because the Lord had sent them out; that is what the word "apostle" means) were performing signs and wonders among the people. And the types of miracles they were performing are described in greater detail in verses that are skipped over in our text (15-16):

"People brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed."

All of them were healed by the Lord through the apostles. All of them were healed for an important reason, the same reason Jesus healed sicknesses and cured diseases. The miracles confirmed the message. The miracles created more opportunities to proclaim the message. And in connection with these miracles of healing "more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number" (14).

But not everyone appreciated what the apostles were doing. "The high priest and all his associates who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail" (17,18).

Why were these leaders filled with jealousy? Why were they so angry? The number of believers was growing, and so was the apostles' popularity, but it's more complicated than that. It wasn't just what the disciples were doing. It was the way they did it.

The apostles had been given strict orders to stop preaching or else (Acts 4:18), but they wouldn't go away. In fact, they went right back to Solomon's Colonnade in the temple complex. Day after day they went to the most public of public places to proclaim the good news that the crucified Lord had risen.

And the authorities couldn't take it anymore. Their orders were being ignored. Their authority was being called into question. They decided that the only way they could keep the apostles quiet was by keeping them under lock and key. But as it turned out not even prison bars and prison guards could stop the spread of the gospel.

"During the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 'Go, stand in the temple courts,' he said, 'and tell the people the full message of this new life'" (19,20). Without any questions, without any hesitation, the apostles obeyed. "At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people" (21).

When Paul and Silas were released from prison in Philippi (a few chapters later in Acts 16), there was an earthquake. Their shackles fell off and the prison doors flew open. None of those things happened here. Based on the reactions of the people involved, it appeared that nothing had happened.

The next morning the officers went to retrieve the apostles, but they weren't there. The jail was securely locked. The guards were standing at their posts. But the apostles were missing, and there was no explanation. Actually there is an explanation. It was a miracle. It was a miracle of divine deliverance.

Peter's shadow healing people. Grown men vanishing into thin air. These are pretty impressive miracles, but they take a back seat to the most impressive miracle in this text, a miracle that God still performs among his people today, the miracle we call faith.

Eventually the Jewish leaders learned that the apostles hadn't disappeared. They found them right where they had been before. They were back in the temple courts teaching the people. And the Jewish leaders had to be wondering why. Why would these escaped prisoners want to draw attention to themselves at a time like this? Why would they make it so easy for the soldiers to arrest them again? Why didn't they head for the hills? Why didn't they run and hide, at least for a while, at least until things settled down?

As soon as the apostles were brought to trial, they found out why. The high priest (Caiaphas) growled and snarled and said: "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood" (28).

There was a not-so-veiled threat in those words. Caiaphas was saying: "You know, it took a lot of doing, but we got it done. We forced the Romans to crucify your Lord. And if you don't back down, if you don't shut up, who is to say that we won't do the same to you?"

Besides the implied threat, was there also a hint of guilt in those words? Caiaphas had acted all righteous in the same courtroom a few weeks before when he threw up his arms and tore his robes and condemned Jesus as guilty of blasphemy. But now was he the one feeling guilty? Did the apostles' preaching strike a nerve? Was the high priest trying to silence them, or was he trying to quiet his raging conscience?

We don't know what was going on in the heart of Caiaphas, but the apostles' response gives us a clear view of what was in their hearts: "Peter and the other apostles replied: 'We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him'" (29-32).

With all eyes fixed on them, with swords drawn and spears pointed, with their fate (and perhaps their lives) depending on the next words that came out of their mouths, they declared: "We must obey God rather than men!"
It is true that God has established government for our good. It is true that God calls us to obey his representatives (Romans 13), but not when they oppose God, not when they contradict God, not when they command us to disobey God. Then we have no choice. Then we must obey God rather than men.

Peter is the only apostle mentioned by name, and in that name there is a lesson. Peter means "Rock." Peter was the disciple who vowed that he would stand by Jesus, that he would even die with Jesus. Peter is the same disciple who hours later swore up and down that he didn't even know Jesus.

What accounts for the dramatic change? It wasn't Peter's superior character. It wasn't Peter's undying loyalty. It wasn't anything in Peter at all. It was a miracle. The Lord gave Peter and the rest of the apostles the faith to trust in him, to follow him, and on this day, to stand up for him. They weren't perfect. They were far from perfect. But they were forgiven...just like us.

Too many times we choose to obey men rather than God. We don't trust him. We don't speak up for him. Sometimes our fears get the best of us and we don't say anything at all. That makes us guilty. That means we are all guilty. Every bad thing we do, every good thing we fail to do adds one more nail to our eternal coffins. But instead of giving up on us, instead of giving us what we deserve, God gives us a gift. He gave us his Son. Jesus gave up his life, and that gives us hope.

It was a great miracle when the apostles healed the sick, but it is a greater miracle that Jesus has cured us of the leprosy of sin. It was a great miracle when the angel rescued the apostles from prison, but it is a greater miracle that the Lord has freed us from the chains of sin and death. It was a miracle of faith when the apostles stood up and spoke up for the risen Lord, and it is a miracle every time a sinner is brought to saving faith.

Do miracles still happen today? Yes, they do. They happen right here. At the baptismal font, at the communion table, through God's Word and sacraments the Holy Spirit continues to work miracles in the hearts of his people, giving us the faith to believe the impossible, giving us the strength to say "No" to temptation, giving us the courage to stand up for our Savior, giving us the confidence to stand up throughout the Easter season and declare:

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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