The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Acts 5:12 “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all together in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And increasingly believers in the Lord, large numbers of men and women, were being added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any of them. 16 The people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together as well, bringing people who were sick or tormented with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed. 17 But the high priest stood up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and leading them out, he said, 20 ‘Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple area the whole message of this Life.’” (NASB)
The four New Testament Gospels record the history and tell the story of Jesus’s atoning earthly ministry from His birth to His death, resurrection, and ascension. Once ascended, the New Testament turns its attention to the church and its ministry.
The Book of Acts give us glimpse of the Early Apostolic Church; its preaching, teaching, baptizing, communing, and caring ministry. The first half of the Book of Acts especially gives us a picture Peter’s preaching, leadership, and the expansion of the Apostolic Church. Acts 2:42 teaches us that the first Christian congregations centered their faith and churchly activities in the apostles’ teaching/doctrine, in the breaking of bread (communion), prayer and fellowship (church services).
Prior to the assigned reading for this morning, in Acts chapter three, Peter and John were entering the temple when a lame beggar called to them and asked for money. Peter and John walked over to the beggar and Peter said, “‘Look at us!’ 5 And he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, ‘I do not have silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’” and he did.
Peter then used the opportunity to preach a sermon and to call people to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, whom God had raised from the dead. That got Peter and John arrested.
The newly constituted Christian church was growing by leaps and bounds. Not everyone was happy about that. In chapter four the Jewish ruling leaders tried to silence the apostles. They first debated among themselves about what to do about the Christians. Gamaliel, St. Paul’s teacher and the most respected of all the Jewish leaders of the day advised the others to leave Peter and John alone. If their work was not of God, the whole movement would come to nothing.
The leader ordered Peter and John to stop preaching Jesus and the resurrection or else. Thus the beginning of the persecution that Jesus had predicted.
The threats did not hinder Peter and John. The preaching and miracles continued. People were healed. Unclean spirits cast out. “They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any of them.”
The Greek word here is σκιὰ, skia “shadow.” צֵ ל, sêl is the Hebrew word. The word is sometimes is used literally. In 2 Kings 20, king Hezekiah said to the prophet Isaiah, “What will be the sign that the Lord will heal me . . . Isaiah told him that the Lord would cause “the shadow [to] go forward ten steps or go back ten steps?” as the sign.
Judges 9:36 says that a shadow will be cast by a mountain. In Mark 4:32 a shadow provides cooling shade from a tree so that birds will nest there.
The word “shadow” in the Bible often has a negative connotation. The darkness of the shadow covered the land (Isaiah 9:2). Job wishes for darkness on the day of his birth (Job 3:5). David names a valley “the shadow of death” in Psalm 23:4.
Shadow is also used as a metaphor for the brevity of life. “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4).
But shadow also has positive applications. God’s protection and refuge come from hiding under His wings. Psalm 63:7 “For You have been my help, And in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.” Isaiah 49:2 “In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me.”
So imagine the situation in the opening chapters of Acts. Jesus had risen from the dead. Over a period of 40 days, He had appeared to hundreds of people. Pentecost Sunday had come. Thousands were now hearing the Gospel preached and seeing miracles. The church was taking root in Jerusalem and it was growing at an unbelievable rate. The status quo was being shattered and the old guard was very worried about what was happening.
Unlike the modern so called Christians, the Christians of those first congregations were excited, happy, and public about their faith. The Savior had come and saved them from their sins. Church wasn’t something that you went to one morning a week. Church was a life style. It was the center of their lives and their fellow church members more valuable than their own property.
Those first congregants gathered together in homes for fellowship and prayer, for sermons and classes taught by the apostles, and to eat meals together. Some sold land and possessions and gave the money to the Church to help the poor and to provide what the church needed. The dark and grief-filled days after Jesus’s crucifixion had been short lived. The apostles and congregants were living in days of joy, at least for the moment.
“At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people.” Peter and John had been ordered by the religious elite to stop preaching Jesus. So what did Peter do? He looked at the men who ordered him to stop and said, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we much be saved.” (4:12)
The apostles continued preaching and performing miracles. The people even tool to carrying “the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any of them.” The scene ends with this simple statement: “they were all healed” (v 16).
The episode should put us in mind of the bleeding woman who snuck up on Jesus, touched the hem of Jesus’s garment, and was immediately healed. Could Peter’s shadow contain that same healing power? It wouldn’t be the first time God was present in a shadow.
When the time came for Jesus to be born, the angel came to Mary and told her that she was going to conceive and give birth to the Son of God. She asked “‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason also the holy Child will be called the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:35)
Then there’s the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mount where He was transfigured before their eyes. Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus. Then “a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And then a voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!’” (Luke 9:35).
There’s an old idiom about a type of shadow. The late Pastor Michael Simminger use to say that a pastor who stays in a congregation for a long period of time casts a long shadow. If something or someone casts a long shadow over something or someone, they have a great, long-lasting influence over them.
In God’s case, the saying is more than just an idiom. When God’s shadow appears, His very presence and power are in it. Peter’s shadow may have well had a healing property in it. Not because of any power Peter possessed, but because God was in Peter, in his shadow, and in his preaching of the resurrection.
Long before Peter preached the resurrection, the writer of Psalm 91 understood what it meant to live in God’s shadow. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1–2)
The Christian you see, lives in the shadows– two of them to be exact. The funeral liturgy speaks to this dual reality. Thus we read in the opening parts of the liturgy Psalm 23. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” (v 4).
The shadow in Psalm 23 is a shadow brought about by sin and judgment. It is the shadow of death that hangs over all humanity. It is the presence of death in our lives. Death shadow creates fear in the hearts of mortal men. There is no healing or comfort in the shadow of Psalm 23. There is no joy and life in it. The shadow of Psalm 23, is one of tear-filled sorrow. Again Psalm 144:4, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” (Ps 144:4)
But in Christ, there is forgiveness of sins and where there is the forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation. The atoning sacrifice of Good Friday was the cause of the resurrection of Easter morning. As Christians we live and breathe and find our existence in the shadow of the cross and Easter morning.
The prophet Hosea was given to see this. (14:7) “Those who live in his shadow Will again raise grain, And they will blossom like the vine. His fame will be like the wine of Lebanon.”
Johnny Hart was the creator and illustrator of the comic strip called “B.C.,” where the characters were cavemen. He was also an unashamed Christian. On major holidays, he would often draw a comic that witnessed to his Christian faith. For Easter 1999 Johnny created a comic strip that addressed the meaning of Jesus’s resurrection and the shadow of the cross.
In the first frame a cave woman watches a caveman tie a rope around two sticks to form a cross and set on a hill. She asks the caveman if he’s building a new Easter model. In the second frame, the caveman says “it’s part of it, and that the sticks represent God.”
In the third frame two of them walk a long ways away from the cross, creating a two sets of footprints in a straight line. The caveman says that the two of them represent Adam and Eve. The footprints lead to two Bible references written in the sand. Mark 10:26–27 (all things are possible with God) and Mark 11:22 (where Jesus says “have faith”).
In the next frame the two of them turn around. The woman sees just how far away they are from God. She asks if God hates them. The man assures her saying “No, He’s a God of love.” She then admits that they rejected God. He assures her that God will always reach out to save them.
Next comes a cute comment from Eve. She asks if God is into collectibles. Adam replies that He is—and invites her to watch the sun rise on the cross. The sun then slowly rises behind the cross and a cross shaped shadow appears. Eve asks if it’s the S-O-N, His Son. Adam smiles and tells her that’s good. The shadow moves closer and closer to them until it covers both of them and they find themselves standing on the shadow of the crossbeam drawn in Lenten purple. Adam says he stands corrected for the empty cross sits in the center of the sun. The resurrection you see provides the light for the shadow of the cross and the cross stands in the heart/middle of the resurrection.
Isaiah 51:16, “And I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’”
John 20:19 “Now when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were together due to fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst, and *said to them, ‘Peace be to you.’”
It was evening. That means that the room in which Thomas and the other disciples were standing, was dimly lit by candlelight. The shadows in the room shifting as the flames and light flickered. Jesus stands before Thomas. “Place your finger here, and see My hands; and take your hand and put it into My side; and do not continue in disbelief, but be a believer.” Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus says of you and me, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
We haven’t even seen the shadow of Jesus as they did. Yet James writes (1:16) “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” We stand in the shadow of the cross, backlit by the resurrection of Easter morning. Sins forgiven and the Light of Christ ahead. Christ Jesus has cast upon us a long shadow . . . one that will last an eternity.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.