Acts 3:1 “Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.”
This verse precedes Peter and John’s miracle of healing a lame man by the gate of the temple in Jerusalem. It is never really touched upon, other than to show that the disciples continued to keep the traditional times of Jewish prayer (the ninth hour is three in the afternoon). This verse, however, contains a hidden message that all of us need to hear.
To see this message though, we need to also read Acts 4: 1-2 that says,“Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” The priests were often relatives of the high priest and had positions of great influence and respect, the leader of the guards maintained order and security in the temple, and the Sadducees were members of the powerful Jewish sect that did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. It is members of these three groups who planned Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.**
Peter and John went to the temple to pray knowing that the very people who organized the death of Jesus were within these same walls. Remember that this takes place after the ascension. They no longer see Jesus as merely their friend or teacher. They know now that He is the Son of God, the Messiah, whom they had watched ascend into heaven. He is now their life, joy, hope, salvation, everything. He has changed their hearts, their personalities, their entire outlook on life has been turned upside down by Jesus.
……And the very people that caused Him incredible suffering were worshipping ‘God’ in the very same temple…..what would you do in their situation?
Unfortunately, this situation is actually a reality for many people, not just the early disciples. Many of us (I say us because this was me until two years ago) are kept away from worshipping Jesus because we have been hurt by people in the same church or in the same faith. The pain of rejection causes some of us to look elsewhere for God. In other cases, it causes us to rebel against the institution and try to start our own version of Christianity. I’m sure issues of hurt and rejection have contributed to the extensive number of denominations we have today.
Some of us can only associate the four walls of a church, the sign of a cross, or the sight of a bible with pain, sorrow, disappointment, and shame. Others might associate these things with guilt or hatred. In this way, people who hurt us have come to dominate a whole building, institution, or religion.
Maybe some of you have heard the phrase “Jesus is not a religion.” I whole heartedly concur. If Jesus Christ was just a rule oriented religion, we would not have many Christians today – a faith that is still growing and spreading around the world. I want to tell you that Jesus cannot be contained. He cannot be known through a simple list of dos and don’ts. Jesus is a relationship with a God who cares so much about you that He came to earth, in an identifiable form, in order to connect with each of us and our suffering.
Luke 4:16-21: [Jesus] went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them,’Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”
Peter and John knew Jesus perhaps more intimately than any other person. They watched His miracles and saw Him transfigured into His glorious nature. They ate, slept, and talked with Him for three years. And they continued to go to the temple to pray because they knew they would meet Jesus there and they loved Him. Yes it wasn’t the only place for them to communicate with Him now after His death and resurrection, after the veil of the temple is torn representing the barrier between man and God (Matt. 27:51), but it was a place dedicated to worshipping God. A place dedicated to worshipping God becomes a whole lot more significant when you know God that well and that personally.
This is how we must learn to view the church. Peter and John went to the temple knowing they could be killed for preaching. The love of Jesus gave them strength and boldness. Peter and John could have been furious at the religious leaders and tried to kill them; remember when Peter tried to cut the ear off of someone trying to arrest Jesus (John 18:10)? They knew, however, that they too (like the religious teachers) had not fully understood who Jesus was until now. They recognized their own fears and weaknesses, especially Peter who denied Jesus after the arrest. They understood now that all men were sinners and they wanted to live in the shadow of their God who had said, while suffering on the cross, “Lord forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Likewise, I pray that we can all approach the church in this light. We go to church for worship of Jesus and not because of the people inside its walls. There are times when we disagree with those inside the church but that should never prevent us from coming to worship our saviour. There are many of us who have been hurt by Christians but we cannot hold the choices and actions of people against God. We must recognize our own faults and admit that we too have offended people. We need to appreciate that all of us are sinners and all of us need forgiveness.
For someone who stayed away from the church for so long, it is amazing to sit and think about Peter and John happily going to the temple, excited to meet the Lord, even though their enemies are in such a close proximity. It is a good lesson never to let anyone jeopardize our relationship with Jesus.
On a final note, I would like to apologize on behalf of those Christians who may have hurt you. If you were targeted by someone in a church or by your own family for whatever reason, I am sincerely sorry. It is unacceptable for you to be treated as anything less than the marvellous work that you are (psalm 139). I am sorry that you were not recognized to be an essential part of the community, the body of Jesus Christ, which you are (1 Corinthians 12:27). I am sorry that may have never been told that you were created for a purpose and that your life has meaning (Ephesians 2:10). I pray that you may come to a place where you no longer hold Christ accountable for your hurts. I pray that you may give Him a chance to come into your life and heal you from any sorrow or emptiness or pointlessness you may feel. God is not just for people in the church, He is for you too. That is a promise.
**This information comes from the Tyndale Life Application Study Bible