2nd Sunday of Easter “The Shadow Change”
April 24, 2022 Acts 5:12-20
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Sometimes when you’re reading in the Bible, one word can catch your attention. That’s what happened this week, when reading our lesson from Acts 5. The attention-getting word popped up in vs.15; the word ‘shadow’. We probably use the word mostly in a negative sense; altho it can certainly mean something positive = but then we’ll usually use a different word. For example: ‘a shadowy figure’ is mysterious, & makes us worried or scared; OR
a person would hide in the shadows so as not to get caught doing something wrong.
However, we might stand in the shadow of a tree because the sun is too bright & hot, & that’s a positive thing; but then, instead of ‘shadow’ we will use the word ‘shade’, which is mostly a positive word.
One of our seminary professors used our ‘word of the day’ in a devotional illustration. He wrote: One hot July day, my wife & I went to a St.Louis Cardinals baseball game.
We thought we had excellent seats, way down near the field, by third base, in the old Busch Stadium. However, on that Sunday afternoon, we were watching the game sitting right under the blazing heat of the July sun. There was no overhang to protect us. Soon the game had just half of our attention; the other half was on the sweltering, oven-like heat that was almost unbearable. Until some white puffy clouds started to drift by. The shadow they created was a welcome relief. We began to cool off, and began to enjoy the game more. We were so happy for each cloud’s shadow when it passed over us.
So, in Acts 5, how is the word ‘shadow’ used = positively or negatively? Because, in His Bible, God uses the word both ways.
Our lesson in Acts is at the beginning of NT things. Jesus was crucified, and on the third day, He rose from the dead. In Acts 1, Risen Jesus ascends back to His heavenly throne to continue His gospel ministry in a different way = thru His Church. In chpt.2, the promised Holy Spirit arrives, and empowers the apostles for proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, salvation, & life in the name of Jesus – the Son of God. The believers are excited & confident in what God was doing.
The people of God have just witnessed the transition between the OT promise of Messiah to the marvelous NT fulfillment in Jesus. It’s a new day, and a complete change in world history, and in hope for mankind.
The believers in Christ are gathering together in homes in this new fellowship of the faith; gathering for prayer, & being taught more about this new life-in-Christ from the empowered apostles, and to observe the new Meal Jesus gave. They begin to sell their land & belongings to build up this new community, called the Christian Church. More people are hearing & believing the gospel’s good news, and the Church is growing.
This is an amazing change /compared to when these people were ‘in the dark’ about who Jesus is; //compared to when these disciples were hiding in the shadows behind locked doors for fear of the Jews; /compared to when mother-Mary, John & a few others were standing in the shadow of that horrible cross, grieving, on that Good Friday == on that day, darkness covered the whole region because the sun’s light failed -as the Son of God died for our sin.
Before Easter & Pentecost, the idea of ‘shadows’ is not positive.
But what a huge change came with the first light of Easter Sunday morning. With sin paid for, and with Jesus being resurrected to life, everything changed. The Light-of-Life has come. Jesus ascends in glory, & the apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter is now standing tall as the initial leader of this growing church, along with John. In Acts 3, the two of them had just healed a beggar who could not walk, and that miracle gives the occasion for preaching & teaching about Jesus, and more hearts & lives of people are changed.
In chpt.4, Peter & John are arrested because the religious leaders did not like what was going on, and ordered them to stop talking about ‘that name.’ They wanted to silence the message that Jesus was the Messiah & had risen from the dead. It did not work. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly proclaimed, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven -given among men- by which we must be saved.” (4:12).
The apostles continued to perform signs & wonders among the people. Picture the crowds that are coming to them; multitudes are coming in from other towns & carried the sick out to the streets to connect with the apostles. There are so many needy, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day for personal attention.
So the people began to hope that if they could just get sick people close enough to have Peter’s shadow pass over them it would heal them. This scene ends with the simple statement: “they were all healed.”
Now, you could ask me: Did Peter’s ‘shadow’ really heal people? The way it’s said is not completely clear. But I’ll say this: It most certainly could have. Because the point would not be about Peter, or his ‘shadow’, but about the power & will of Jesus. We know that Jesus could merely speak a word, or give a touch, and people were healed. Recall that time when Jesus was moving with a large crowd, on His way to heal the dying young daughter of Jairus, and a certain woman crept up to Jesus. She had suffered from some bleeding for 12yrs & no doctor could help her. She hoped that just touching the hem of Jesus’ garment would heal her.
So, from the shadow of the crowd, she stretched out her hand, touched mere cloth, and was immediately healed. In those early days of the Church, when many signs & wonders were being done by the apostles in the name of Jesus, it would not surprise me that even Peter’s shadow had that same healing power & presence of God for the sick & demon-possessed.
Now, am I just exaggerating, or are there Biblical reasons to think that God can be powerfully present even in a shadow? We can recall from Luke 1, when the time was right for Jesus to come, the angel came to Mary to let her know she would give birth to the very Son of God. Young Mary knew & valued what it meant to be a virgin, so she asked, “How can this be?” Do you remember Gabriel’s answer? “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy ~ the Son of God.” There’s that word. God overshadowed Mary, and she conceived & gave birth to Jesus, the Savior of the world.
Recall -later- as Jesus was moving closer to Jerusalem & the cross, He took with Him Peter, James, & John up a mountain, and He was transfigured right before their eyes. His clothes became blazing white with the glory of God, as Moses & Elijah appeared, talking with Him. Then, in Luke 9 it says, ‘a cloud came and overshadowed them.’ From that cloud came God’s powerful voice: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to Him!”
When God’s shadow appears, God’s own presence & power are in it. The Spirit-filled apostles are doing nothing on their own as they move about proclaiming the kingdom of God & forgiveness in Christ to the multitudes.
Peter’s shadow could certainly have healed the people that day. It would send the message that the crucified & risen One was God’s promised Savior, and that He was still working, bringing the Kingdom of God to sinners that they would be saved. Even long before Peter, the writer of Psalm 91 knew the wonderful gift of God’s shadow: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide (safely) in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, (you are ) ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ ”
Now, the word shadow also has some negative Bible imagery. We know pretty well the verse from Psalm 23, ‘yea tho I walk in thru the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’ When is that Psalm most often heard? It’s when we walk into the church for the visitation or funeral service. The casket is there, or the urn; our family member or friend has had to face death, & we’ve had to say goodbye. That word ‘shadow’ carries the weight of God’s wrath; the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is God’s Law. Even with the joy of heaven-to-come, that word hits a very dark chord in our hearts. We still ‘walk thru the valley of the shadow of death.’
This time, that shadow is not a relief in God’s shading presence or gracious power.
Our last enemy -Death- still holds a threat over us. It’s an enemy that overshadows us /regardless how many blessings we have in this life, /no matter how much money, /or earthly control, /or our happiness; /no matter what our plans are. Let’s admit that -at times- it can be a struggle to live our days in joy & peace when the ugly presence of death hangs over us like a cloud, threatening troubles – with money, with health, or with sorrow.
Another Psalm may come to mind, #144 says, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” (Ps 144:4). After about age 50, we might ask ourselves: where did the years go? We start to realize that there is more time behind us than ahead of us, and life is like a passing shadow. Even for the Christian, who has an eternal promise, that word can be negative; that shadow is dark & ominous, and we don’t want to be under that passing shadow.
So, what is it that changes that word from Negative to Positive? What changes the shadow of death into the shadow of God’s presence for life? What was the difference between the shadow cast on Good Friday to the shadow cast by Peter in Acts 5?
The bloody cross of Jesus still casts a large ugly shadow over our fallen nature, especially over our unrepentant sin. But then the words of the Gospel are proclaimed to us again, beginning with Jesus’ own words, “Father, forgive them.” The good news is that we are now standing in the shadow of the EMPTY Cross. We believers are the ones who have received & confess the ancient Easter greeting: ‘Christ is risen!’ ‘He is risen indeed, alleluia!’ In the shadow of Jesus’ cross, we now take refuge. And with Jesus risen from the dead, God’s grace & mercy for us chases away the gloom of death.
So, EASTER makes the difference; the empty tomb makes the change. Jesus’ empty cross casts a protective shade on you from God’s anger; His resurrection overshadows you with the very promise of life with Him in His heavenly kingdom. Your loved ones who died in that faith are waiting for you, and for the final Day of Resurrection. That’s the saving message of Jesus that Peter was proclaiming. And if his shadow was falling across sick people & healing them, that was a small thing for God to do. The bigger thing was that hopeless, dead sinners were being called to faith in Christ, and brought to new life in Jesus’ name.
Today we are reminded of Thomas, who was missing from the upper room that first Easter day. He stubbornly resisted to believe that Jesus was alive; not even Peter could convince him of what had happened. One week later, he is there with the other disciples; they’re still hiding in the shadows of a dark room with just a few little oil lamps for light.
Suddenly, Jesus is there with them in His glorious, resurrected body; and the Light of the world chases away every shadow-of-doubt. Jesus turns His attention to Thomas & says, “Touch my hands and side. Stop your gloomy doubts; start believing in Me again.” Jesus makes the change; He converts the shadow of death into the shadow of life.
2,000yrs later, it’s our crucified & risen Lord & God who still makes that difference in OUR lives. And even tho we cannot reach out & touch the marks in Jesus’ hands & side = like Thomas did, and even tho we cannot have Peter’s shadow passing over us with God’s healing presence & power = like the crowds did, The Holy Spirit makes up that difference for us, as Jesus has promised you: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So, +blessed are you: you have His Living Word to work on your heart & mind.
+Blessed are you: when ‘two or three are gathered together’, Jesus has promised to be with us.
+Blessed are you: you can reach out your hand to receive the very Body of Christ & His Blood in the Meal of His real presence for you. That Meal is a foretaste of the Lamb’s High Feast pictured in the Book of Revelation for all those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life = including your name.
And now another Psalm comes to mind, #121, which says, ‘The Lord watches over you; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm, He will watch over your life. The Lord will watch over your coming & going, both now & forevermore.’
Blessed are you who have heard this gospel, and who believe & are baptized in the name of Jesus, your Lord & God – the risen Savior. The shadow of gloom & death is changed for you into the shadow of God’s protection & life; both now, and forevermore.