April 19, 2015 Acts 3: 12-19 Luke 24: 36b-48
Rev. Catherine Purves
When I was growing up, after my father died, I had to carry a key to let myself into the house after school. That was still a little unusual back then, but my mother needed to go back to work, and it was the way it had to be. The only problem was that our front door had a quirky lock. You had to put the key in just right, then pull it out just a tad, and gently turn it. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. In retrospect, I think I was quite burdened by my insecurity about that key. Part of me knew it should work, but part of me was never quite sure that it would. Eventually, it always did work, but I often had to try several times before I heard the satisfying click of the door unlocking. Then I knew I was safe, and I could go into the house and start my homework.
Having a key that you’re unsure of does not inspire confidence or a sense of security. A key is meant to open doors, and if it doesn’t, or if you’re not sure that it will, then it’s not a very good key. When we are thinking about how we might unlock the mysteries of God so that we can understand and get in on the promise of salvation, then the key that we use is absolutely crucial. And, make no mistake, a key is necessary. Nothing is self-explanatory or obvious about the way that God works in the world. And our sinful nature has made that keyhole into the truth decidedly quirky. Even if we have the right key, it is somewhat tricky for us to unlock those mysteries.
That’s why Jesus could not just leave his disciples to work out for themselves the meaning of his life, death, and resurrection. They had literally and figuratively locked themselves in a room, and they didn’t know what key to use to get themselves out. Jesus had already unlocked so much that was in the Scriptures for them, but they didn’t understand why he had suffered and died, and his apparent resurrection was a total mystery. Somehow they still felt that Jesus himself was the key, but they couldn’t quite see how that key worked, in light of his terrible death on a cross. They needed him to show them how to unlock those mysteries.
In our reading from Luke, we see that the first order of business was to convince the disciples of the reality and the nature of Jesus’ resurrection. He was not a lost key. He was very much with them, and his resurrected body was one of the essential things that they had to understand and accept if they were going to be able to unlock the mysteries of God’s plan of salvation. Of course, we spoke of this on Easter, but it bears repeating. (Certainly, Jesus thought that the disciples needed to hear it again and experience his physical presence again for themselves.) Jesus was not a virtual key, something like a key, a metaphorical key, or one possible key among many. Jesus was the key. His resurrection confirmed that.
So the disciples were sitting there, huddled in their locked room talking about Jesus. They had the key, but they were very insecure about it. They were frightened and excited and confused all at once. “Jesus is alive” and “We have seen the Lord” could mean so many different things. What kind of key was this, and did it really work, and how did it work? They knew Jesus as a man – an extraordinary man, but a man. It was apparently essential for Jesus to convince the disciples that he was still that man, resurrected. It is really essential for us too, to believe and know that Jesus, our key, is the same Jesus, the man we know through the Scriptures, the key we have been given. “Look at my hands and my feet,” Jesus said to the disciples, “see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Then, to further prove that point, Jesus asked them for something to eat, and he took a piece of broiled fish and ate it in their presence.
So now they recognized and held the key, but what were they to do with it? Jesus had to show them. Jesus had to unlock the Scriptures for them. Luke says that, “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” That is, he showed them how he himself was the fulfillment of the Scriptures, and he revealed that God’s plan of salvation for all people was much bigger and more glorious than they had imagined. In doing that, he confirmed for them that he himself was the only key that would enable them to make sense of all of that. He was the key.
When I was twelve and standing on my front porch with the key in my hand, juggling my school books and trying to open the front door of my house, it seemed like each day I had to convince myself that this was the right key, because it never seemed to work first time. It was the only key that I had, so I knew it had to be the right key, but still I needed to convince myself, or reassure myself when it didn’t seem to want to turn in the lock. “Come on, key. Come on, key.” But it wasn’t the key’s fault. I was a bit like those disciples, not quite trusting my key and then trying to force the key to turn in the way I thought it should. Maybe we are all a bit like that. Not fully trusting in Jesus, we try to figure out the mysteries for ourselves, turning that key the way we think it should go.
Jesus is the key, and we can rejoice in that. But – and this is what the disciples had to realize – Jesus is a living key. We do not simply take what we can remember of his life and teachings and then use that to understand the Old Testament Scriptures, jiggling the key this way and that in order to unlock the mysteries. Jesus as living Lord unlocked the Scriptures for the disciples while he was with them. He showed them how the key must turn – that he had to suffer and die and be raised – and he patiently waited while they came to believe that his resurrected body – that still showed the scars made by crucifixion – his body, his person, he himself, resurrected was the key, and he would unlock for them the truth of salvation. He was alive, and he would do that for them. He is alive, and he will do that for us. We can trust in Jesus, the living key.
Now we need to fast forward a bit to our reading from Acts. Here we find the disciples in a very different place. Jesus has now ascended, and they are on their own. Two of them, Peter and John, went to the temple to pray, and a lame man, who was lying by the temple gate, begged them for money. Instead of giving him a handout, they healed him by calling on the name of Jesus. A large crowd gathered to see what had happened, and Peter took this as an opportunity to preach.
The essence of his sermon was to explain to the Israelites that Jesus was the key to understanding their own Scriptures and tradition. The God they knew was now acting through Jesus Christ, and Peter identified him as “the Holy and Righteous One” and “the Author of life.” This Jesus was the one they had crucified, and Peter called on them to repent and believe, because they had acted out of ignorance; they didn’t understand who Jesus was.
There is a lot going on here that is instructive for us. First, we should note the amazing change that had come over the disciples. They were no longer cowering in a locked room fumbling with the key to a salvation that they didn’t understand. They had become witnesses who could testify to the fact that Jesus was alive and that he was the key. Jesus had told them in that locked room that they would be witnesses, and now Peter was confirming that they were witnesses to all that God had done in Jesus Christ. Before, they were timid and terrified. Now they were confident and assured, brave and outspoken. Jesus had opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and they were now opening the minds of their fellow Israelites, giving them the key, so that they could understand. This is the kind of certainty we too can have when we realize that Jesus is the key, the only key, who will open the mysteries of God for us.
Even more importantly, the disciples now recognized that the resurrected Jesus was still active and powerful in the world. They took great pains to explain to the crowd that they had not healed the lame man through their own power or piety. They were not the key to this miraculous healing; Jesus was the key. They spelled it out for the Israelites, so that there could be no misunderstanding. “By faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong…and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.”
Just so that we don’t misunderstand, Peter wasn’t saying that the name of Jesus was some kind of magic word that would bring about healing. In his mind, the name and the person of Jesus were one and the same. Clearly, Peter wanted the Israelites to understand that Jesus was the living key, and it was the resurrected Lord himself who had healed the lame man. As we too are called to be witnesses who engage in acts of ministry, we are reminded that our confidence is not in ourselves or our own power or piety, but in the name, that is, the living person of Jesus Christ who brings health and wholeness and the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus comes to us in our locked room. He comes to us when we are frightened, questioning, and confused. He gives us the key to understand God’s mighty acts of salvation. He himself is that key, a living key that will unlock in our lives the possibility of faith. He makes us witnesses, and calls us to live as his brave and outspoken disciples in the power of his resurrected presence. You have been given the key, and it is a key that you can trust and rely upon, a living key. What are you going to do with the key? That’s something for us to think about on this third Sunday in the Easter season.