Have The Best – It’s All In The Book

To have the best, we need to look in the book. Which book you may ask. Will first, let’s look at what we all want. We all want to have the best, don’t we? But what is best for us as humans is not always clear. Some make what others think to be strange choices, depending on what each believes to be the best.

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This morning I’m reading from Acts chapter 3 verses 1-26

A few years back there was an advertisement for the Nissan GTR.  In it, the grown-up children of a rich man hear the last will and testament of the now-deceased father. It tells them that the entire estate will be given to the son or daughter who wins a motor race around the lake. The youngest daughter, Emily, has a clapped out car which would never have a chance, but the butler lets her drive the GTR.  She wins the race, and the butler, carrying out his master’s instructions, hands her the keys to the estate and says, ‘The keys to the kingdom Miss Emily.’  And Miss Emily, after looking around at the grand house and all the grounds replies ‘Keep it Kensington. I’ll take the car.’ And with that, she climbs back into the Nissan GTR and drives away. She gets to have the best; in her mind, at least. 

Walking away from the best – our personal agenda

Unfortunately, that’s what many people actually do every single day. They look at the kingdom which God is opening to them and the great inheritance that he offers them, and then they choose the car. They choose the thing of far lesser worth, but that seems more immediately attractive, and they drive away to pursue their own agenda – whatever that may be!

Why do they do that? Why would you want to walk away, and not have the best, to follow something less? What it all comes down to is our freedom to choose. Some choose the kingdom of God, and some don’t. And ultimately there is just one thing that we have to make a choice about: acknowledging Jesus. Some do, some don’t. Some think that to acknowledge the Saviour is to have the best thing, others refuse it.

Now, is God unaware of this? Is he caught out by it? The answer is that he’s not, and if we want to find out why all this happens we need to go to His book of guidance, because, when it comes to how we really can have the best, it’s all in the book. God’s book.

The really important book

Books are extremely important. They contain the writings and thoughts of people past and present.  Did you know that the biggest selling book is neither a cookbook nor a diet book – the biggest selling book is still the Bible. There are still something like 100 million copies sold each year. Now you may ask the question – why is that? I want to suggest that it’s because ‘It’s all in the book’.   Everything that human society wants to know about God and his plan for the world he created is in the Bible. That’s the great message that Peter wanted the people to hear when he preached to them after he was involved in the healing of a crippled man. To have the best isn’t just about money and material things, but about key life choices.

Picking up the story in Acts 3 we read that at about three o’clock in the afternoon people were going up to the temple to pray. This was the traditional hour of prayer. This was the time that orthodox Jews went to pray. As good Jews, that’s why Peter and John were there. And then we are told that as the people went into the temple they had to go past a crippled man who had been carried there to beg simply so that he could buy food to eat.  This man asks them for some money but Peter says: “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I freely give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up, and walk”. Instantly the man is able to climb to his feet, and instantly his feet and ankles become strong, and in he goes to the temple, walking and jumping and praising God. What he asked for he did not get. What he got was far better. For him, to have the best was not just to survive, but to have a totally new lease on life.

We can all have the best – the meaning of the miracle

And this is not just written for then, it is for now. It’s ‘all in the book’ how we too can have the best. It’s all in the Bible. Let’s consider that this was not the only apostolic miracle. So why did God single out this particular miracle for inclusion in the record of His story?  And what does he want you and me, here and now to learn from it? I want to suggest that ‘it’s all in the book’, that we see God working out his plan of salvation for humankind to have the best there is: eternal life. We need to understand the book in that context – everything is there to help us understand His purpose and His ways. By the way, let’s also note that there’s a great the danger in taking just a little bit of the Bible out of context, and treating it as something special. We don’t do that with a recipe out of a cooking book and expect to get a good result. So in God’s book, we need to follow what is truly there, for us to have the best out of it.

So let’s come back to the healing of the crippled man and see it in context. This miracle causes quite a stir, All the people come running to Peter and John who are now in Solomon’s Colonnade with the healed man, and this gives Peter the chance to preach once more. That’s in part why God healed the crippled man; it was so that Peter could tell them what God is offering them through Jesus.  And it’s in the book this message that he gave so that we too get to see God’s plan for offering humanity the chance to choose the keys to the kingdom and not just the keys to the car, the choice to have the best, not just a lowly part. This great good news message is found only in the Bible – so we can say ‘It’s all in the book.’

It’s God at work, so we can have the best

Peter and John knew that God’s plan over-arched all their days and doings. So they rightly deflect the glory from themselves and direct it towards Jesus Christ of Nazareth.   Luke, the human author of the book of Acts, tells us that the people rushed after Peter and John as though they had done the miracle. No, it’s not us who have done this they say. We didn’t make this man walk, it’s God who has done this, and he has done it to glorify Jesus.

Why did God do that? Why did God need to glorify Jesus? It’s because the people had de-glorified him. They had persuaded Pilate to have Jesus crucified even though he had initially decided against it. They had disowned Jesus and had chosen to glorify a murderer. They had chosen to kill the author of life BUT God glorified him by raising him from the dead. Jesus glorified meant the people – everyone – can be led back to have the best there is. The whole history and record of this accomplishment, it’s all in the Book.

Do you see what that means for us – in Jesus’ dying, and being raised and glorified, God has defeated death.  You will recall that God told Adam and Eve that, if they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die, and so bring death and decay into the world.  That has come all the way down to us, and sadly it means that we are born to die.  We do not have the best things, here and now, they are to come. No one among us is going to live the way we are here, forever. And in spite of technology, in spite of medical breakthroughs, in spite of disease control, the blunt truth is that every human being will physically die.

So did God heal the crippled man just so he could have a better quality of life before he died? No, he healed the man to demonstrate that in His coming kingdom all people live free from disease and sickness and disability and death. And as a bonus, he blessed the man with a better quality of life in the here and now. That’s why Peter says that: 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 through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see (v16).   And it’s all in the book which Christians believe to be inspired by God; it is God’s story that is being told.

How do we know that this is all God’s story?

Well, see what comes next. See what Peter says: Now brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer (v17-18).  When I read that my mind asks: how did the prophets know what was going to happen centuries later? And there are different ways to answer this question. One is to say that it is not merely men who speak in the Old Testament prophecies but it is God speaking through men; and God knows all things, even what will happen centuries from now. I guess that’s why Peter, years later, wrote: Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-12)

So how can the prophets proclaim what would take place centuries later? Because they were moved by the Holy Spirit. But there is another way to answer the question. Is to say that God does not merely know history in advance – he actually works and makes history, he creates history.  If we didn’t say this, we might be tempted to think of God as one who creates the world, establishes certain laws, and then withdraws and watches and knows and predicts but does not rule or control or move history. But that would be very wrong. Look, it’s all in the book. Look at what God told Isaiah. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please (Isaiah 46:10).   God knows what will happen because it is he that accomplishes what will happen. He does not merely watch the events of the world; he shapes the events of the world, and still works according to his plan for us to have the best, right from the very beginning, from even before the creation was worked.

Hence Peter tells the people that God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.   In Peter’s view, the fulfilment of prophecy was not due so much to God’s foreknowledge of history as to his action in history.  In other words, God knows the future because he plans the future. Peter goes on to tell the people what it is that the prophets foretold.

It’s all in the book – three points about what God has told us

In v19-22 we see three great matters that the prophets foretold, three matters of vital importance for us to consider, and to make choices about if we are to have the best that God is offering. Let’s take them in historical sequence.

1 The foretelling of Jesus’ life and ministry. 

See what Peter says in v22: For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.   I take it that when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the word of Moses began its final fulfilment. God was raising up that new prophet whose word would have all the authority of God.  Jesus’ role as the prophet like Moses extended from his birth to the

time of his ascension to the Father’s right hand and that’s why Peter can use the past tense when he says: When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways (v26).  The earthly life and ministry of Jesus was the sending of the great Prophet proclaimed by Moses. In him, they had the best of what God can send us to turn them back to God.  But already that physical season is over and Jesus has now returned to the Father, to become the Prophet for all humankind, not just to be a Jewish itinerant preached of his own day, but the Lord and Christ for all. We can all have the best of what God plans and provides.

2 The foretelling of the days of the Church – forgiveness and life 

See what Peter says in v19: Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.  The Prophet like Moses has come and gone, but before he returned to heaven he commissioned his apostles to preach the good news of the forgiveness which he had purchased for all people through his death and resurrection. And he had promised to give his Spirit for the refreshment of all who believe. The “times of refreshing,” therefore, are the era beginning with Pentecost, the period of the church, the period in which forgiveness of sins is preached on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the period for the constant refreshing and cleansing of the Holy Spirit, who comes into all who believe in Christ.

If we take a moment to compare two Scriptures I think you will see why I say this. In v19, it says: Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.  Then back in Acts 2:38 we read: Repent and be baptised every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the one, Peter says, “Repent, be forgiven, and receive the gift of the Spirit.” In the other, he says, “Repent, be forgiven, and experience times of refreshing.”   I think it’s fair to conclude that the “times of refreshing” are the age of the Spirit when the gospel is preached and men and women receive the gift of the Holy Spirit by turning from sin and trusting in Jesus. And I’m certain that this period of time extends from Pentecost to the return of Christ in glory – this is the kingdom, this is the life, this is to have the best that God offers.

3 The foretelling of the days of consummation – the time of glory

The third period of time Peter refers to is mentioned in v20-21. The final hope that Peter holds out to his listeners is: that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything as he promised long ago his holy prophets.

This period of time is still in the future and it will have its beginning when God sends Christ to earth the second time. This will be the time for establishing, or bringing to final consummation, all that God has spoken through his prophets. Christ will reign as king, supreme on earth, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.

Once again we see that the past, present and future of God’s plan is open to all to see because ‘it’s all in the book.’ This gives us a very important lesson in understanding biblical teaching about prophecy and the fulfilment of prophecy. We tend to think of prophecy as relating to what is yet future or to what is now beginning to happen in the world. And we are correct to do that, but we easily forget that what is past for us was future for the prophets. Especially we need to remember that, with the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, the days of fulfilment that were proclaimed by all the prophets, really began. And ever since the first Christmas we have been living in those days, the “last days” or “latter days” foretold by the prophets. The latter days are not starting in the 21st century – the last days foretold by the prophets began in that first year when Jesus was born, what we call the Year 1 AD.

Have the best: the thing we must do to get it

Now if we are living in the ‘last days’, and this is all in the book, then ‘what should our response be?’  Yes, once again, it’s all in the book.    It’s clear from the text that the response Peter wants from his hearers, and the response that we need to make in our day is: Repent then and turn to God (v19).    “Repent” here means stop putting your hope for happiness on your own achievements and the pleasures of sin, and turn to Christ and put your hope on his promises. Stop following all the recommendations of the world, and turn and start following the commandments of Christ. It means we can have the best: accepting the keys of the kingdom and not being satisfied with just the keys to the car.

But, why do that? There are in fact two great incentives to do that and they are in the book. 

   First, we live in the days when God is promising to forgive us, and to give us the gift of his Holy Spirit, to bring life and ongoing refreshment into our lives. What does that refreshment bring? It brings fruit – the fruit of God’s Spirit who gives us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and inward balance. So, today just as we may thank God for physical fruit, we can also thank him for this Spiritual fruit. 

   And second, God who is calling us to repent is a God of awesome power. He is the Lord of history: his counsel stands; it cannot be thwarted. If we don’t repent and turn to God then God’s infinite power is against us and there will be no escape from destruction. That is not just my opinion. No, it’s all in the book. See for yourself. Look at v23 of the Deuteronomy reading: Anyone who does not listen to him (that is Jesus) will be completely cut off from among his people. That’s the bad news but the good news is that if we do repent and turn to Christ, then all the divine power that governs every detail of history will not be against us but for us.   And if God is for us, who can be against us!

Brian Hamilton wrote an article ‘Why the bible is the best business book I have ever read’.   

It’s an open secret – waiting for you to have the best from God

Friends, I’m not making this up. It’s all in the book.  I’m just telling you what God’s word proclaims to everyone who will take the time to read it. God never has had and never will have a secret agenda. His plan for humankind to have the best is plain for all to see – it’s all in the book.   It’s all in the book that we know as the Bible. But it takes time to understand this book. It takes study to understand this book. Yet I do know from personal experience that the time that we spend in reading God’s word brings untold richness and joy. It is to have the best God offers. But please make sure you take more time to read the book itself than in reading books about the book. Read it as His book, and the best things are yours to have.

As Wesley said: “He has written it down in a book. At any price give me the Book of God.”

Original by Grahame Daniel, May 2020

Edited for online publication

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