3rd Sunday of Easter “Strike 3! You’re Safe!”
April 18, 2021 Acts 3:13–15, 17–26
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Some experiences in life are nearly universal. It’s likely that everyone here has played baseball (or its twin, softball; or 2nd cousin-once-removed, kickball). Maybe you didn’t play in high school or college, but probably in your backyard, or on the playground, or in gym class.
And I’d bet that 100% of us have ‘struck out.’ Today, we’re going to recall what that experience was like.
I’m sure you remember. You had waited in the lineup for a long time to get a turn at bat. Now that it’s finally your turn, you have to walk out there all by yourself. You stand there at the plate, swinging your bat around. The butterflies in your stomach is the sign that you’re excited, and a little nervous. You’ve dreamed about smacking that ball, maybe hitting one over the fence. So you step into the batter’s box in front of all those people; you set your feet. You look toward the pitcher and — whap! The ball slaps into the catcher’s mitt, and the umpire calls, “Strike 1!”
Oh, man! You weren’t even ready! Well, the coach always says ‘you don’t have to swing at the first one.’ Okay; you swing the bat over the plate once, right where the ball should be. This time you’re ready as the pitcher winds up & throws; and you swing the bat so hard it makes you stumble forward a little; & then you realize that you didn’t hit anything.
You tried so hard you closed your eyes, & the ball went right past you. ‘Strike two!’ The ump yells. And you think, ‘geez ump, don’t rub it in.’
Now it’s panic time; two strikes, do-or-die. You’re your teammates are rolling their eyes; the coach is yelling something; your parents are in the stands still hopeful. One more chance; you can’t afford to mess this one up in front of everybody. This time you’re going to do everything right! The right stance; the right grip; concentrate on the ball. But *what if the pitcher throws a little high, or a little outside? You hesitate for just that split second, & then it’s too late. The ball goes by you, & slaps into the catcher’s mitt, and you’re standing there with the bat still on your shoulder. The umpire yells, “Strike 3! You’re out!”… one of the worst feelings in the world. You drag yourself back to the dugout.
It’s not even like you went down fighting; no foul ball, & no base hit when you run to first, & got thrown out by a ‘gnat’s eyelash.’ Just a long trudge back to the groans of your teammates. *Does that bring back memories? Strike 3 = you’re out!
One of the real values of baseball//softball (most sports) is that it’s an analogy for ‘the game of life.’ It has all the elements: /belonging to a group with a mission; /listening to the coach; /playing by the rules; /growing in skills; /encouraging one another; /everyone has a job to do; /taking turns; /sharing each other’s successes & failures; /being put on the spot & needing to perform by yourself; /being a humble winner; /celebrating; /learning how to handle defeat; /picking yourself up after a loss & facing the next day’s game again. The problem with LIFE, tho, is that, at some point, the game-of-life is over. And ‘out’ means ‘over’ forever.
Baseball may not be universal; but ‘striking out’ is; failure is. Whether /a failed test,
/a failed interview, /a failed sale, /a failed project, /a failed friendship, /a failed marriage. We all know how it feels in that moment when you realize you’ve failed; missed the mark.
Someone, some authority, made sure you realized your guilt. Maybe it came with a long lecture, maybe it was only a few words. /‘what did you do?’…says dad; /‘I thought you promised me’… says mom. /‘Weren’t you at that meeting?’….says the boss. /‘But we talked about this’…says the spouse. /‘Don’t you realized what will happen now?’ /‘How much is this going to cost us?’ /‘What people will think?’ But the judgment was right: Strike 3! You’re out! At those times, we wonder if we’ll recover from our failures.
Since we know that experience, now we can listen again to when Peter is addressing the crowd in Acts 3. Peter & John have healed a man who was born with crippled legs, and it was such a remarkable miracle, that everyone is running around talking about it. The man himself is walking & leaping & praising God. And now, with this happy crowd, Peter gives them the stern lecture of the Law for not noticing that he & John had come to them proclaiming – Jesus.
When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, 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?
The God of Abraham, Isaac & 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 Pilate had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are His witnesses of all of this. 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 thru Him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.”
What is Peter saying? He’s saying, ‘People! Why are you celebrating us? We are nothing; but we know who you are. We saw what you did when you got ‘up to bat.’ God had finally sent us His Messiah, the answer to all of our prayers, and you killed him! “You handed him over to be killed” = strike 1! “You disowned the Holy & Righteous One” = strike 2!
“You killed the author of life” = strike 3! You’re out! By the Law of the Holy Creator,
you’re out, AND now – you’ll never reach home.
Peter’s words ‘crush’ the people. They were caught up in their excitement over a single healing; but it was the wrong thing to see that day. They were not seeing WHO was behind the healing. And so their happiness was rightly turned into their shame. The lame-man was made to walk because of Jesus; the very same Jesus for whom they cried out ‘crucify him!’
The One whom God had appointed their Savior was the very One whom they had betrayed. The One whom all the prophets declared was coming, He arrived; but then -by their sins- they had disowned Him, causing Him to be denied, beaten, & crucified. They had shouted to Pilate: ‘his blood be on us and on our children,’ and now it IS. That crowd felt the sting of striking out! BUT every sinner is to feel that same sting: WE killed the author of life. Without that Law, & stinging rebuke, & guilt, the soul cannot hear the vital words that come next.
This crushing truth was God’s Holy justice. The door of God’s favor is slammed in their faces; sin has disqualified them from reaching home. So, the crowd goes silent; rightly silent, as the truth of their condemnation sinks in. Now Peter wasn’t done preaching, and he opens God’s window of hope. That hope is the true miracle of mercy that Jesus came to deliver to crippled sinners. ‘But now hear this,’ says Peter, “You killed the author of life, BUT God raised Jesus from the dead.”
A pastor in Michigan shares this from his life as an illustration. He said, I remember how it was when I worked for my father in our family business. The other men in the shop poked fun at the boss’s boy; they even made me a trophy out of broken parts, it said: ‘Head Scrap Maker.’ I did make some mistakes, & their ribbing didn’t bother me. What bothered me was facing my father. A few times I did ruin an important project, or broke an expensive tool, & I’d have to go in to the office and tell my dad. He wouldn’t yell at me; but he would furrow his brow & shake his head a little & say, “Oh, Don.” I rightly felt very small because I’d failed him. My mistakes cost money & wasted precious shop-time. I couldn’t undo what I had done; I often wondered if I should just quit & find another job .
But then, Dad would do what Peter did. We’d sit in silence for a while, and then he’d say, “Well, let’s see what we can do.” He’d lead me back into the shop. I felt helpless, but I knew my dad could fix anything. Dad would take up the blueprints and explain to me where I went wrong. He’d take me to the machine and explain what it could do & what it couldn’t do. He’d walk me thru everything, step by step, and make it right. When my father came alongside of me and fixed my mistakes, I knew that I wasn’t just forgiven; I was loved.
I noticed that the guys in the shop stood by and kept their mouths shut; they wouldn’t tease me with my dad there. And besides, dad had done the same thing for them, too.
The Apostle Peter said, “You killed the author of life.” They couldn’t undo that crime; and there is no other god to run to. And we know that Peter is not just talking to that crowd at the temple that day in Jerusalem. Your sin & mine sent Jesus to the cross: ‘I killed the author of life; you killed him, too.’ There’s no hope in that short sentence. But there IS hope in the next one: “But God raised him from the dead.”
God made Jesus stronger than our sin & guilt. What we & our sin have done is not ‘okay.’ But because of His love, God fixed what we had totally destroyed. That was the ‘witness’ of Peter & John. The apostles could now see the whole story which they were to proclaim to others. Thru them, Jesus did a miracle for a lame-man; it was a sign that Jesus is still alive & well to bless all those who repent of their sin, who are turned toward him; he is the Christ who blots out & forgives our eternal guilt = that’s the real story. God has given to the world the Savior Jesus who gives to us refreshing peace.
Jesus is the One who repaired that man’s weak & shriveled legs, and made him dance for joy. Jesus is the One who repairs our weak & shriveled souls so that our whole lives are made new. To Jesus Peter & John bore witness.
*How many times have we gotten up to bat in life, swung & missed the mark? We all do. But then, our heavenly Father sent His Son to come along side of us and to face, battle & defeat our enemies. It means God loves us, and was determined to fix our mistakes. And after Jesus gave his body & blood to pay for our crimes, then God raised Him from the dead.
That means He’s champion over all; & by repentance & forgiveness, He won’t let us lose.
Sometimes we just come up a little short; but that’s still a fail. At times, something we do makes an permanent stain on our life; we have to face it. There are times a bad decision completely changes the course of our hopes & dreams for the future. ‘But God raised Him from the dead.’ *What does that mean? It means what John later wrote in his first letter: “see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” That means Jesus is walks with us as we deal with our failures; He teaches us so that we’ll be better, as John wrote: right-living, or righteous, & not keep on sinning. It means our champion has won the game for us; there will be celebrating when we make it to ‘home plate’. There, we will see Him as He is, and then our joy will be full.
Out there, in life, we might hear the words ‘Strike 3! You’re out!’ And it means we’ve failed. But that’s not the final word. Jesus went to bat for us, and has hit a grand-slam; a home run. God has made this promise to you: you’re not out = you’re safe! And now you have become a new witness for him, so that repentance and forgiveness of sins will continue to be proclaimed in His name to others, as they see your life.
Jesus has changed this ‘game-of-life’. In His work & promise, in this faith, we have hope and refreshment. We have a new life; all because ‘God raised him from the dead.’ So, our Easter greeting is still the ‘good word’ for today: He is risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia) Amen.