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What's Next? ~ Acts 4:1-20

Last week, we celebrated Easter in grand fashion at Forest Hill Church. The place was packed with almost 500 people and we could feel God’s presence in this sanctuary. Pastor John preached about how the resurrection erases our fear and gives us hope for the future because the tomb was empty – signaling that love and grace prevailed over sin and death. But this week, well, sometimes churches suffer from an Easter Hangover. There was so much excitement at Easter that we wonder how we can top that. And we ask what’s next? So today, we are going to answer that question – What is next for us who believe in the resurrection?

To answer that question, we are looking to the book of Acts. The book of Acts told the story of the early church. Except it wasn’t really a church yet, it was more like a movement of people who believed in the resurrection. In acts, we learn about this movement and how the leaders spread the message of Christ. We will start in Chapter 3 of the book of Acts.

The apostles Peter and John went to Jerusalem at the time of prayer. Even though they were followers of Jesus, they still adhered to the Jewish institutions and forms of worship. As they walked into the temple, Peter and John saw a man, who was crippled from birth. This man was carried to the temple gate every day to beg for his living. And at the time, alms giving was seen was as a good thing, a way to earn merit. So as people entered the temple, the crippled man collected money from the generous.

When Peter and John approached the crippled man, he asked them for money. However, Peter denied his request and instead, healed him in the name of Jesus. Together, they walked into the temple.

When they walked into the temple, people recognized the crippled man who now could walk. They saw him every day for years sitting and begging and knew his condition. And when the people saw him walking, it got their attention and a crowd gathered around Peter, John and the beggar asking what happened in the Temple Square. So Peter takes the opportunity to tell the crowd about Jesus and the resurrection. Peter told the amazing story of Easter that we celebrated last week.

As Peter and John preached, the priests, captain of the temple and guards came and arrested them. They were thrown in jail overnight and the next day taken before the Sanhedrin – which is a combination of our Senate and Supreme Court. They asked Peter and John by what authority are they healing people?

Let’s take a break for a moment. Peter and John have been arrested. They are before the court, before people who don’t like them and don’t believe in their message. They don’t believe in resurrection or that Jesus is God. These were the same people who arrested and crucified Jesus. If I was in that situation, my first instinct in that situation would be to lie. Or to distort the truth. Or wriggle my way out of it.

But here’s what Peter says:

Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Peter didn’t wriggle his way out of it. He spoke what he knew in his heart. And the council didn’t know what to do in response. They saw the passion and truth in Peter and John. They saw the crippled man that they knew for years had been healed. There was no way to deny what had happened with the crippled man. Plus they recognized Peter and John had been with Jesus.

After a discussion, the council told Peter and John to stop speaking, teaching and healing in the name of Jesus. They wanted them to be quiet, to stop talking about Jesus.

But Peter doesn’t listen to their command and this is his response:

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.

Did you hear that? Peter and John couldn’t help but speak of what they had seen and heard.

When I read that scripture, I thought about scenarios where people can’t help but talk about something.

The first thought that came to my head was the Hunger Games Series. Everybody is talking about the Hunger Games lately. The movie has topped the box office for weeks with more than 450 million dollars in ticket sales.

Why are people talking about it? Why is it so popular?

It’s a great story. We love a story that has compelling characters, constant conflict, and a surprising turn of events. Think about it. Plus, the story has a message of survival, a message of hope. And people want to hear about stories of hope and share those stories.

The Hunger Games is just an example of a great story that caught national attention and so everyone is talking about it. But when was the last time you read a great book or saw a movie that touched you? Didn’t you tell someone about it? Recommend they read or watch the movie? You did that because we love to share good stories.

The second scenario that came to mind after reading the words of Peter is when something good or exciting happens in our lives.

Maybe you get promoted. You get engaged. Pregnant. Get into college. What do you do? You start talking. You tell someone about it.

After Brian proposed to me a couple years ago, the first thing we did was pick up our phones and call our family and friends.

When something special happens in your life, you can’t help but tell others about it.

So when we look at this story in Acts from this perspective, the words of Peter begin to make sense. Peter and John were part of the greatest story of all time – a story with compelling characters, conflict and a surprise ending. Think About It.

But it was more than that. Peter and John were in the story. They saw him die. They walked with him after the resurrection. They experienced this miraculous event. And because of this, it didn’t matter that they may be arrested and thrown in jail, they had to tell this story to others. They had to share this amazing experience with everyone.

At the beginning of this message, I asked what do we do after Easter? I asked What’s next for us as believers in the resurrected Jesus?

The answer is found in Peter and John’s word and is really simple. We tell others.

Most of you here know that I wrote a book and many of you read the book. One of the first questions people ask me when they learn I wrote the book is Why did you write it?

Here’s the reason. My story isn’t that different from Peter and John in the sense that I have experienced the peace, love and grace of our God in my life. My story is about how I saw the presence of God through the pain of losing my brother-in-law to a war in Iraq. Or about how I saw a community that was wrecked by devastation after Hurricane Katrine be transformed by the power of young people banding together in the name of Christ.

My story isn’t about me, my story is about God. My story is about how I’ve experienced the power and presence of God in my life.. And because I’ve experienced that love, I can’t help but tell my story to others because I understand my story can help others see God. That’s why I wrote the book. Not for fame, not for money, but to tell others about God, because I can’t help but tell others.

As we leave today, let’s remember the boldness of Peter, John and the other apostles who couldn’t help but speak of what they had seen and heard.

Let’s tell others about the grace and love of our God. Let’s tell our neighbors that we celebrate Easter because we believe in the power of resurrection. Let’s tell our coworkers about the time God’s presence filled us up during a dark time. Let’s tell our friends about the greatest story ever – the one where the tomb was empty and death was defeated.

Because when God works in your life, when you experience the grace and love of Jesus, you can’t help but tell others.