The Shadow of Peter

Selected highlights from this sermon.

In Acts 5:15 people were bringing the sick out to the streets so that Peter’s shadow might fall upon them and heal them. Peter’s ability to help people had a profound influence on the world around him—and one that will carry on into eternity. 

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I’m going to speak to you today on the topic of influence because all of us would like to live lives of influence, wouldn’t we? When I talk about influencing others, I don’t mean that we want to have power over them. Whenever you meet someone who wants to have power and authority over others, you know that you’ve encountered someone who is a little bit like the devil because that’s what he likes. He likes to control. Satan loves to keep people under his thumb, and there are some people like that.

But I’m talking about positive influence, the kind of influence that enables us to give people direction, to give them help, to impact their lives forever in the right direction. We’d all like to have that kind of influence, and by the power of the Spirit, we can.

Those of you who have been with us regularly know that this happens to be number eleven in a series of messages on the life of Peter. I’d like you to turn to Acts 5 today, at least as the beginning passage of Scripture, and we’re going to link together several different episodes in his life. Every one of these episodes would be worthy of another sermon, but I’ve decided to end the series with thirteen, so we have to group certain instances in his life together.

But before we do, notice in Acts 5 it says that not only was Peter able to speak in tongues, as we learned last time, he and the other Apostles were doing this as proof that the Gospel was going to the Gentiles. That’s the way in which Paul interprets it, and that’s why all genuine speaking in tongues is always an actual human language. But also, God gave them the ability to do miracles, particularly Peter. Acts 5:12: “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. (And they were all of one accord.)” Verse 15 and 16: “And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.”

I’ve entitled this message The Shadow of Peter. We’re not sure whether or not all those who had Peter’s shadow fall on them were healed. It does not say so, but it seems to imply that. Certainly many were healed because it says in verse 16: “The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.” The shadow of Peter!

What I’d like to do now is to take three different instances in his life and show you how his shadow, his influence, was profound, and in effect, lasts forever.
First of all, I want you to notice that sometimes the shadow of Peter meant that he had a healing touch. Turn back just a couple of pages in your Bible to Acts 3. In Acts 3 remember the story of a man who was a cripple, and as Peter and John were going to the Temple to pray, it says in verse 2: “And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.”

If you know anything about the city of Jerusalem, this was the Eastern Gate. If you walked through that gate you walked through the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives. And here’s this man sitting there every day, hoping that as people come out of the Temple that he would receive something. And after all, if people are religious they are generous, aren’t they? Verses 4 through 9: “And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, ‘Look at us.’ And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’ And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God.” What an incredible miracle!

I wish I had the gift of miracles. Some people today think that they do, and sometimes we’re a bit disappointed when, upon closer examination, we discover that it wasn’t a gift of miracles at all. It was a gift of illusion of some sort. But this was the real thing.

What is it that Peter saw? He saw a man who was lame and crippled, and who was expecting to receive some money. What did he give him? He took him by the right hand and said, “I do not have any money, but in the name of Jesus, walk!” What a gift that was! It was much better than money!

You know, there are some people who have absolutely nothing to give. They have no silver and no gold, and they have nothing beyond that within their personalities to give either. And then there are some people who have only silver and gold. That’s all they’ve got. But if that is all that you have and you do not have a generous heart, and if you do not have faith and love and hope, then very probably you will not give anyone your silver and gold. And then there are those who have something else. Like Peter they don’t have silver and gold, but they have faith and they have hope, and they have love, and they help people.

Now I want you to listen very carefully. Jesus Christ does not expect us to give to people something that we ourselves do not have. Peter said, “I do not have silver or gold.” He wasn’t expected to give it, but what he had he gave, and that was authority to speak the word that this crippled man might walk.

Now let me ask you something: What is it that you have received from God that you can give? Freely you have received. Freely you give. Those who receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit of God are the ones who have something to give to people. Maybe it is a listening ear. There are multitudes of people today who need someone to listen to them, someone to bear those heavy burdens that seem to overcome them.

Maybe your gift is the ability to pray, the ability to intercede and to call on God. If that’s your gift please add me to your prayer list, and let me commend you because you have something important to give. Maybe it is a word of encouragement. Maybe it is the ability to have hospitality and to invite needy people to your home or to your apartment. Maybe it is the gift of friendship. Whatever it is, we should give.

Yesterday I was in a moment of despair. I called on the telephone to a friend of mine whose marriage is in deep trouble, and it has been for a long time. And I have prayed for him. We have done everything that we possibly could. It looks as if counseling doesn’t help. And you cry out to God, and you say, “God, what is it that I have to give him?” All that I had yesterday was a word of prayer over the telephone. Maybe there is more that I can give. I know that there is more that I can give, but I want you to know this. In every situation we should be able to give something. Sometimes Peter’s shadow was a healing touch – the gift of life and the gift of faith.

Now there’s a second example, and that is that sometimes Peter’s shadow was also a stinging rebuke. Acts 5 – you know the story. As the Holy Spirit came to the early church everyone suddenly became generous. You know, one of the marks of the Holy Spirit of God is that the Spirit of God breathes an automatic spontaneous generosity in the lives of people. That’s why it is often said that our financial problems may not be as much financial as they are spiritual because those who are filled with the Spirit enjoy giving. That is one of the marks of the Spirit’s fullness.

And in the fourth chapter we find out that the believers were spontaneous. Without being asked, they were selling their property, and they were giving it to the Apostles so that the Apostles could distribute the money they received for their property to the poor. It says, for example, in Acts 4:34-35: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” Nobody was required to do it. Nobody is required to do it today. In the epistles that the Apostle Paul wrote, he said nothing about believers needing to do this. Those who had property could have kept the property. They could have sold the property and given a part of it to the church and kept the rest of it for themselves. All perfectly fine! It was the work of the Holy Spirit that was making people generous.

But there was a man and his wife by the names of Ananias and Saphira, and one day at breakfast, as they were having a bagel, they said to each another, “You know, we would really like to pretend that we are spiritual. We’d like to be well thought of.” And so they said, “Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll sell our property. Let’s say that we’ll sell it for a thousand dollars. We’ll give five hundred of it to the church, and we’ll pretend that we are giving it all so that we will be thought of as being just as spiritual as all these other generous people.” And so they agreed and they said, “Why not?”

And, in fact, it wasn’t even so much a lie as it was a white lie. And so they did that. And notice that they kept back part of the price. This is in chapter 5, and Peter knew about it and in verse 3 he says, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold was it not under your control? You could have kept all the money. Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last, and he was dead, and when his wife walked in, she died instantly as well. The shadow of Peter causing a stinging rebuke!

Let me make a couple of interesting comments about lying. First of all, notice that nobody lies to men. You say, “Oh yes, I lied to my employer last week.” No, you really didn’t. Everybody who lies, lies to God because He is the supreme lawgiver of the whole universe, and because God is the Supreme One, when we are dishonest, we are dishonest to Him.

The second observation is this: Notice that Satan is involved in lying because he is a liar and the father of lies. If you tell a lie, you are standing on his side of the line. You are crossing over and you are saying, “I’m standing with the devil.” Now Ananias and Saphira had no idea that while they were having this discussion over breakfast that an evil spirit had put this idea into their minds. They would have been terrified if they had known that there was an evil spirit in their kitchen. But what Satan does is he puts ideas into our minds that we think are our own so that we aren’t afraid of those ideas, and we embrace those ideas, and we act on them, not knowing that we are doing the will of the one who hates us – the devil. And God took the lying very seriously and they died.

Now I know that I used that terminology, but one of my daughters is graduating this afternoon from high school, by the way. Lynn graduates today, and Lisa graduated on Wednesday. And yesterday we had an open house for them, and someone (and I won’t say who but he is presently on the platform here at the church, and without being specific, may I say that he gave the announcements this morning?) gave my daughter this politically correct dictionary. And sometimes you know those of us who are preachers don’t always say things politically correct.

Now Ananias and Saphira died, so I had to look up what dead means to be politically correct. For example, the word disorganized means non-traditionally ordered. A disruptive child is a child with an attention deficit disorder. But now we’re back to the text of Scripture. Ananias and Saphira were dishonest. What is dishonesty? It’s not politically correct to use the word. To be dishonest is to be ethically disoriented.

All right! They were ethically disoriented. But the word I really want is dead. That’s politically incorrect. I mean, imagine – how crass can you say it? They died! So let’s say it correctly. To be dead is to be terminally inconvenienced. (laughter) That’s what it says here. In fact, it gives an example. It says, “William Casey is a terminally inconvenienced American.” All right! We’re going to say it politically correct. Ananias and Saphira were ethically disoriented, and so God came and terminally inconvenienced them. (laughter)

Now, I want you to know today that sometimes our shadow is not a shadow that comes and touches people and blesses them. Sometimes our shadow has to be the shadow of a stinging rebuke. The Bible says, “Those of you who are spiritual, restore those who have fallen, and do it in a spirit of meekness lest you also are tempted.” And you know what we have a tendency to do when we see a fault in someone’s life is to run to somebody else and to spread that gossip and to spread that word, and that’s why the Psalmist says, “Oh Lord, keep me from the strife of tongues,” when what we ought to do is to lovingly go to them and to rebuke them that they might be restored into fellowship.

When the Apostle Paul uses that word, he talks about people being out of fellowship with God, and the Greek word means the setting of a bone. Now when you have a bone that needs to be set, you don’t like to have somebody come and set it with a crowbar. You need someone to come with tenderness and love, and they will not necessarily die. God was making a powerful statement here at the beginning of the Church. He was trying to tell people very pointedly that He deals harshly with sin and He hates dishonesty. And what a reminder that is, and by the way, God has not changed His mind. It’s just that in this era God is willing to allow all the lies to accumulate and then deal with them all at one time. But sometimes our shadow is a shadow of rebuke, and it brings pain to people, people who need to be brought to pain that they might be brought to repentance. That’s part of my responsibility. That’s part of your responsibility as a child of God. And please don’t read this passage and say, “Well, this was Peter.” Yes, this was Peter, but Peter was a man of flesh and blood, just as we are, and by the power of the Spirit, he was able to bless, but he was also able to rebuke.

There’s a third instance, and we’ll only be able to comment on it briefly, and that is in Acts 8. In Acts 8 the Gospel is going to the Samaritans. Do you remember in the eighth chapter Philip was preaching in Samaria, and the people in Samaria believed? And it says in verses 14 through 17: “Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for he had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.”

You may say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, this passage doesn’t make sense because I thought that when people believed on Christ they received the Spirit.” Yes, they do, but in the book of Acts we have a period of transition here. Ethnically there was great rivalry and hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews. And God wanted to make sure that the Samaritans (who never got along with the Jews) and the Jews (who never got along with the Samaritans) recognized that there was but one church. And therefore, to unify the church, He had Peter and John went to Samaria. And they put their hands on these people that they might receive the fullness of the Spirit, and the blessing of the Spirit, which today is the inheritance of every single one of us who believe on Christ.

So I want you to notice that sometimes Peter’s shadow was a shadow of joyful opportunity. It was a shadow that was opening up doors to the Samaritans, and if we had time, we’d read the tenth chapter and find that Peter opened the doors to the Gentiles as well. Remember the Lord said to him, “I give you the keys of the Kingdom.” And because Peter had those keys, it was his responsibility to open doors of opportunity that people might believe the Gospel.

And we have that privilege as well. You see, as Jesus Christ’s representatives, we have the privilege of introducing men and women to saving faith, to explain the Gospel, and being God’s link on earth, to see their conversion, and to see them accept Christ as their Savior.

I’d like to make a couple of concluding observations here. First of all, the greatest impact that we have is through our lives. It’s not what we can give financially, important though that may be. It is really a transformed life, a life that touches people that helps them in their walk with God.

Let me ask you something. What about your shadow in your business life, your shadow at home, the place where you walk out on the street and your relationships? What kind of an impact do you have? You know, when you take a stone and throw it into water you have all of those ripples that continue even though the stone has gone to the bottom of the lake. And the ripples still continue. And do you know that what we do and the way we live will continue to eternity and long after we have died?

Someone said, and I believe it is true, that in eternity we will become what we are now, only more so. Think about that. You are a loving person. You are a person who has concern for others. There is joy in your life. Well, throughout all of eternity, if you are a believer, that’s the way you are going to be, only more so.

But if you are unconverted, stingy, filled with self-will, very concerned only about yourself, unwilling to see your faults and your need of Jesus Christ, throughout all of eternity you will be just like that, only more so. You see, it’s the impact of our life. The impact of Peter’s shadow continues even today, and we’ll be mentioning that particularly a couple of weeks from now when I wrap up his life and talk about his legacy.

A second observation is that oftentimes our shadow is unconscious. We influence people when we’re not even thinking that we influence people simply by our lives. I remember the days up in Canada. I think it was 1958, when a hailstorm came and wiped out all of our crops. And my parents in those days did not believe in insurance. And I remember how that when the hailstorm was over and everything was lost, my parents asked us to get on our knees with them to thank God for His faithfulness and for all that He had done for us as a family.

Now my mom and dad weren’t saying, “We want to really influence these kids. Right! Get on your knees because we want to impress you with our spirituality.” They weren’t even thinking about that. But think of the power of an unconscious example. And oh think of the tragedy and the power of a negative example. Like a young woman who, when she came to die, said to her mother, “You taught me how to drink. You taught me how to hold my cigarette. You taught me how to dress, and you taught me all about men, but you did not teach me how to die.” Tragedy! Tragedy! Tragedy! The power of a negative shadow!

Thirdly, our shadow is really dependent on our relationship to the Son. You know, if you walk in darkness, there is no shadow. And that’s the way some people are. No impact for good! Perhaps an impact for unrighteousness, as I’ve just illustrated! But it is only when we stand in the Son that we have a shadow that will impact people in the right way.

And my friend, today I want to emphasize that you and I don’t have the resources to give to people what they really need. Peter didn’t. We don’t. Our shadows, in and of themselves, are worthless, but if we stand in the light with Christ, having received the fullness of the Holy Spirit from Him, we’ll be able to impact others with resources that are beyond our own power.

I think, for example, of A. J. Gordon who tells the story of walking along a field one day. And he said off in the distance he saw a man pumping water, and he wondered how anyone could pump water with such enthusiasm and such consistency. But as he got closer he realized that he was not looking at a man. He was looking at a pump, and the pump had on it the figure of a man. So from a distance it looked like a human but it really wasn’t. And as he came closer he realized that far from this pump pumping water, actually the motion of this apparatus was controlled by an artesian well, and it was the pressure of the water that was creating the motion. No wonder that man (in quotes) didn’t get tired.

Do you know what Jesus said? “He who is athirst, let him come unto Me and drink, for all those who believe on Me, as the Scripture has said, from within them shall flow rivers of living water.” You’ll have something to give to somebody because you’ve received what God has to offer.

Some of you perhaps need to receive the forgiveness of the Christ of the cross. And even if you are a Christian you may need the cross this morning for your cleansing, but also, if we do believe on Him and are saved, what we need is the Christ of the ascension, the fullness of the Spirit, that our shadow may sometimes be a healing touch. At other times it may be a rebuke, and at other times it may open doors of opportunity. But we will begin ripples that will go on forever. That’s why I would like us to sing together today Hymn 259. If you have your hymnals, turn to that, because I sense in my own life, and I trust in yours as well, that what we really need is the power of the Spirit that our shadow might touch individuals forever and for good.

The text says:
Breathe on me, breath of God.
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou doest love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

I hope that when we sing this in a moment we’ll sing it with sincerity and ask God to give us something that we might be able to give it back. Let’s pray.

Our Father, today we want to thank You for the life of Peter. Thank You that he was a vessel that was available to Your Spirit, and that being filled with that Spirit wherever he went, he was a means of blessing and of instruction. We pray that we might be like him, and follow him insofar as he has followed Christ. Now Father, come to us in our helplessness, and even as we sing, come and breathe on us that we might be filled and able to give to those in need. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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