What Might Our Easter Hope Look Like?

11 While the [lame] man [whom Peter and John had healed] held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.  17 “Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. 18 But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.

–Acts 3.11-20 (NIV)

Here is a story that is bound to warm the heart and give us hope. Peter and John have just healed in Jesus’ name a man who was lame from birth and this has attracted a crowd, as we would expect. The apostles have recently been anointed with the Holy Spirit who descended on them at Pentecost and the first thing we notice is our astonishment at seeing (likely) illiterate fishermen speak to the crowd with such power and eloquence. What caused this? When we give our lives to Jesus in faith and are faithful in our obedience to him, we are transformed to the very core of our being. It may not come all at once and it may seem like a struggle at times (perhaps often), but transformation will come to those who give their lives to Jesus

The second thing we notice is the effect of Jesus’ resurrection and the accompanying promise of God’s New Creation to which the Resurrection points. Peter and John followed their Master’s cue in healing the lame. They healed in Jesus’ name, reminding us of the Messianic activities that our Lord demonstrated during his earthly life (e.g., healing the sick, curing the lame, giving sight to the blind, healing the deaf, offering mercy and forgiveness to sinners, etc.). Jesus has ascended into heaven as Lord of the universe and no longer walks the earth. Now his first followers have been blessed with his power to heal so that others might begin to understand who Jesus really is. If Jesus weren’t really alive, if he wasn’t really raised from the dead, what Peter told the crowd makes absolutely no sense at all.

But Jesus is alive and Jesus is Lord, and Peter reminded the crowd in whose Name he was acting so that they might put their whole hope and trust in Jesus and believe. The same is applicable to us today. We are asked to look at what Scripture says about Jesus and believe. We are asked to look at the changed lives of countless believers and believe. Yes, it is sometimes hard to see Jesus in the lives of some who profess to be his followers. But this is not Jesus’ problem; it is the problem of the human condition and sin. It is the problem of half-hearted commitment to Jesus and an unwillingness to give up our desire to be God. It never has been easy to follow Jesus but as we see in this story today, it is well worth our effort when we engage in the struggle through the help of the Spirit.

We are also reminded in this story of healing that creation matters to God and so it should matter to us. Yes, we live in a fallen world and we are fallen creatures. But in raising Jesus from the dead, and continuing his healing and redemptive work through his people and directly through his Spirit, God reminds us that we are not to be “other-worldly” in the sense that we stop caring about this world and its massive needs. No, like Peter and John, we are to roll up our sleeves, deny our selfishness, take up our cross each day in self-giving love and service, and get busy in following Jesus. We may not be blessed with the gift of miraculous healing as the first disciples were, but God can still use us as his agents of New Creation and we must listen carefully for what he calls us to do.

Last, Peter in this story reminds us of the unbelievable love, mercy, and grace of God. Peter reminds his audience that they had rejected their Messiah Jesus and had demanded he be killed. They wanted Pilate to hand over to them a murderer instead of the Author of life. How sad and how typical of the human condition. How often do we demand not Jesus but other lesser and more harmful things in our lives? But despite this, Peter reminds us that God in his mercy is still willing to forgive us because we often act in ignorance, just like the crowd did who demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. We would expect there to be no hope for these folks (and us) but again we are astonished at the great love and mercy of God because God continues to offer us mercy, even when it is undeserved.

What this story reminds us in a powerful way is this. No matter who we are or what we have done, if we are willing to make the effort and turn things around in our life, we can expect God’s healing forgiveness and mercy. If we are willing to repent, i.e., if we are willing to stop playing God and let God be the God of our lives, we have hope where there should be none. Just as the first followers of Jesus found hope in the midst of despair when they realized that he had been raised from the dead, so we too can find real hope in the midst of our own despair if we are smart enough to turn to the Lord of life and be healed. This is only possible because God did raise Jesus from the dead, in part, to demonstrate that in Jesus there really is hope for us, no matter who we are or what we have done. But to have this hope requires humility and a willingness to follow, not lead (at least in the context of our relationship with Jesus).

The resurrection of our Lord provides us with great hope and purpose for living. It reminds us that God can turn our utter despair and hopelessness into real hope, healing, transformation, and redemption. Nothing is beyond the forgiving power of God except our intentional and willful rejection of it. Nothing. The promise of New Creation foreshadowed in Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that creation matters in God’s eyes and so it should matter to us. This means that we need to listen for our marching orders from God and then get busy in carrying them out to the best of our ability. In other words, if we really have faith in Jesus, we must be willing to follow and obey him in our lives. If this is not a recipe for finding meaning and purpose in life, I don’t know what is.

If you are one who finds yourself feeling hopeless, take heart and hope in Jesus. Time and again we are reminded that there is real hope in his resurrection and he invites you to be part of that hope so that you too will be transformed and find new life, both here on this earth and for all eternity.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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