Topical Scripture: Acts 3-4:4
This Sunday the Super Bowl will be on everyone’s mind. As I am writing this lesson (on December 31, 2003), we don’t know if the Cowboys will be the NFC representative. But I can guess. Some teams are like the Cowboys, just glad (and a bit surprised) to be in the playoffs. Others will consider anything less than a Super Bowl victory this weekend in Houston to be an unsuccessful season. We all have goals, dreams, ambitions. We want our lives to count.
Most of us want to make a difference. When our days are over, we want to believe that they were significant, that people were changed and God was glorified because of us. Most of the people who attend your class want to help others know Jesus. But they may not know how to begin.
Last week’s text centered on ways to speak the gospel. This week we will learn ways to live it. Francis of Assisi’s oft-quoted maxim is still worth contemplation: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” This week’s study will teach us how to live in such a way that our words have their greatest impact for God’s Kingdom.
See the one (Acts 3:1-5)
As our story opens we find Peter and John making their way to the Jerusalem Temple for worship (Acts 3:1). At this early point in Christian history, the followers of Jesus are all Jews. And they have not yet broken with their Jewish traditions. Here they are climbing up the steps to the gate titled Beautiful for the evening sacrifice. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, tells us that by this date the evening sacrifice had been moved to 3:00 in the afternoon.
Everything about the story is routine. This is the third sacrifice of its kind that day. Something like Sunday night church after Sunday morning, or the third worship service that morning, or the third time I preached the same sermon that weekend. You’re part of church life—you know the routine.
Even the beggar at the gate is routine. Acts 4:22 says he’s more than 40 years old. Since he was a small child, his parents have brought him to the Temple to beg. Likely to the same gate, seeking alms from the religious people who congregate there. I’ve seen this custom in Israel still—hungry, homeless, hurting people standing around the gates into the Old City, beside the places of worship, hoping for help from those who pass by.
Everything is routine. How many times have these men climbed these steps to walk through this gate to this service, passing this beggar? Something like Sunday morning for you, perhaps. Getting up at the same time, driving the same streets, parking in the same place, sitting in the same pew.
Today, “Peter looked straight at him” (v. 4). The word means to stare with intent purpose. We met it in Acts 1, used to describe the disciples’ stares at Jesus’ ascension. It will be used later of Stephen at his stoning, as he stared into the throne room of God (Acts 7:55).
Others saw the crippled man, but Peter looked. Others heard, but Peter listened. Others rushed by, but Peter and John stopped. And the miracle begins here, because they had an eye for the one.
They learned it from Jesus. Their Master could see Zacchaeus in his tree, a woman touching the hem of his garment in the press of the crowd, a lonely woman at a Samaritan well. He was the shepherd looking for the one lost sheep, the one seeking the one lost coin. Peter and John have passed this man before, likely for hundreds of times. But now Pentecost has come. Now the Spirit of Jesus is living in their hearts. Now they have an eye for the one.
Here is where personal ministry begins: when we see the one we are to serve. The lonely coworker, the new neighbor, or the grieving friend are our next ministry. What hurting person can you name right now? Would you pray for that person by name, right now? Would you ask Jesus to help you help that person?
Trust the name (v. 6)
Peter and John are among the most unlikely sources of help this man might imagine. They are not physicians. They have no money to give to him. They are not men of political power or prestige, able to arrange aid or social support. They are Galilean fishermen now living in the big city of Jerusalem. They have nothing to give.
Yet they have everything to give: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6). Peter and John know their limitations. They know that they can do nothing that matters for this man. But they also know their Lord, and they believe that he can do what men cannot.
So they offer the crippled man help “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” In the Bible, a person’s “name” denotes their personality, character, power, and presence. To speak or pray “in the name of Jesus” is to speak or pray in his authority, to claim his help, to call on his power.
I would love to be able to write a $10 million check to our church, completing the capital campaign and supporting ministry and missions all over the world. But of course, my checking account has nowhere near the capital required to fulfill the promise of that check. My signature is “no good” for that amount. However, if I could persuade the Sultan of Brunei, or Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett to write the same amount over their names, the check would be honored instantly. The name on the check is connected directly to the capital that person possesses.
When Peter and John offered the crippled man help in the “name” of Jesus, they called upon the greatest resource in all the universe. They had seen their Lord astound the scholars, calm the seas, heal the blind and sick, and raise the dead. They knew that he defeated the grave, won our resurrection and victory, and ascended to the Father in heaven.
And they knew that the power of God was available to them now, in the Holy Spirit. An exploding star is one of the greatest forces in the universe, but it’s not available to us. This power is, but only because of the Incarnation and indwelling Spirit. At Christmas God relocated. Now he lives in our hearts. His power is available to all who will fulfill his purpose.
Think of that hurting friend you visualized a moment ago. What specific needs or problems does that person face? Likely, these issues transcend your ability to help fully. The person may face cancer or heart disease, financial loss, marital tension, family struggles, substance abuse. One of the main reasons why Christians don’t get more involved in the hurts of our neighbors is that we don’t know what we could do to help. Their needs transcend our resources.
But not God’s. Identify that hurting person by name, then offer him or her to God in prayer. Seek the Father’s help and hope. Ask the Lord to show you how you can help, where you can serve, what you can say. Believe that God will work through you to do far more than you can do in your own ability. And he will.
Touch the hurt (v. 7)
Now we come to the last component in their ministry and ours: get involved personally. Touch the hurt, ourselves: “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up” (v. 7a). The Jewish theology of Peter’s day dictated that a person born with physical limitations was under the judgment of God. When the disciples met the man born blind they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). No self-respecting Jew would touch this man. Toss him a coin, perhaps. Offer a sympathetic look or word. But don’t touch him. He is a spiritual leper.
But Peter and John learned from Jesus to touch the hurt. They watched him befriend despised publicans and prostitutes, Gentiles and Samaritans. They watched him touch leprous flesh and blind eyes and dead bodies. He broke their every stigma regarding human pain. Now he calls his followers to do the same.
When I taught world religions at Southwestern Seminary, I compared Christianity to other faiths through this analogy. A man fell into the depths of an abandoned well, and could not get out. A Hindu master stopped by, looked into the well, and told the man, “If you are faithful in the well, in the next life you will escape it.” Then he went on.
A Buddhist teacher told the man that his wrong desires had produced this suffering, then he went on by. A Muslim imam stopped to tell the man that it was the will of Allah that he be in the well, then he passed by. A Jewish rabbi told the man that he was being punished for his sins by falling into the well, then he walked on. A Confucian scholar told the man that if he had not tripped, he would not have fallen into the well.
Then Jesus of Nazareth saw the man in the well, and Jesus climbed into the well with him.
So must we. Think of your hurting friend. How can you get involved? Perhaps something as simple as a note, an e-mail, or a phone call would bring welcome encouragement and hope. You don’t have to know what to say—your presence is typically all a hurting heart requires. Job’s friends were doing well until they started talking. People in pain will seldom remember all you say, but they will always remember that you cared enough to come, to write, to be there. To touch their hurt.
Ken Medema, the blind Christian songwriter and singer, sees more with his heart than most of us do with our eyes. In one of his songs, he warns: “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.”
Expect good results (Acts 3:7—4:4)
When Peter touched the hurting man, and not a moment before, “instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong” (v. 7). Luke uses medical terminology found nowhere else in the Bible to describe the way the crippled man’s bones were regenerated and renewed. His response was typical of many who have been touched and healed by the power of Jesus: on his new feet he went into the temple courts, “walking and jumping, and praising God” (v. 8). Jesus touches our bodies so he can touch our souls.
Now the man became his new faith’s best salesman: all the people saw him walking and praising God, recognized him from those years he could do nothing but beg, and “were filled with wonder and amazement and what had happened to him” (v. 10). I’ve discovered that my status as a vocational minister makes it easier for some to dismiss my story as professional. But when a person is genuinely transformed by the grace of God, and has no reason to tell the story except that it is true, such an account can be more powerful than any church program or worship service.
When you and I see the one, trust the name, and touch the hurt, God uses us to change lives. Then those changed lives change other lives, and the multiplication process begins. The ripples touch all shores. And the Kingdom grows.
The astonished crowds gathered at Solomon’s Colonnade, a large porch which ran along the wall of the outer court of the Temple. Here everyone could gather—Gentiles, women, Jewish men. No better place could exist in Jerusalem for fulfilling the Great Commission in the city.
Peter would not miss such an opportunity. He repeated the same basic outline we find in other sermons and witnessing encounters in Acts: the people killed Jesus (vs. 13-14); God raised him back to life (v. 15); and this living Lord is now powerful to save and to heal (v. 16). These same facts still pertain to every person you and I will meet today. Jesus died in our place, for our sins, paying the penalty for our sins. He rose from the grave, and is alive to save and help us now.
The apostle then offered the crowds the same opportunity to experience the healing grace of God as the crippled man found (vs. 17-26). He began with his own extension of grace: “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders” (v. 17). Then he built a bridge from their faith to his, citing the prophets, Moses (v. 22), and Abraham (v. 25). He closed with a word of encouraging hope: “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (v. 26).
His method still works. Build a personal relationship of grace; use common ground to build a bridge to the gospel; and invite the person to experience God’s grace.
When we are faithful to serve others in Jesus’ name, some will reject our ministry (Acts 4:1-3). If they persecuted Jesus, they will persecute his followers (cf. Matthew 5:11-12). As the African proverb has it, when elephants fight, the grass always loses. But the enemies of truth cannot prevent its spread: “But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand” (v. 4). With their families as well. When we serve as Peter and John did, their God will use our ministry as he used theirs.
What Peter and John did for the crippled man and crowd, Jesus now stands ready to do for you and for me. He sees you, as you read these words. His name and power are sufficient for your every need. He stands ready to touch your hurt with his Spirit. And he calls you to share his love with the crowds and the individuals you can influence. The miracle of Acts 3 can be our daily experience, when we make its model our own.
The story is told that George Truett was on his way to his study at First Baptist Church in Dallas one Monday morning when he happened to notice a young boy sitting on the steps of the church. Something bade him stop and talk with that young man. He asked him if he went to church. “Yes sir,” he answered. “Where?” “Here, sir.” “Oh, then,” Dr. Truett said, “I’m glad you’re a Christian.” “Oh, I’m not, sir.” “Why not?” “No one’s ever told me how to become a Christian.” Dr. Truett was astonished: “You mean in all this time, hearing me preach every week, you’ve never known how to be a Christian?” “No, sir.” Then and there, Dr. Truett explained the gospel and led the boy to Christ.
Who next in the routine of your life will take a step towards Jesus because of you?