Isaiah 53:7-15, Acts 3:1-16
June 17, 2007
This is the big first story in the book of Acts, right after Pentecost. When I was in college there was a song we used to sing about this. The chorus was, “Walking and leaping and praising God…” Anyone ever hear of that song? It was kind of a silly song, but it was about this story of Peter and John at the gate of the Temple.
I hope you remember this story. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, doesn’t say exactly when this took place. But we know it was in the very earliest days of the Church. He tells us that Peter and John were “going to the Temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.” The first thing that tells us is that, in those early days, the disciples of Jesus still considered themselves to be good Jews. They were still worshipping in the Temple in Jerusalem, and they still observed all the prayer rituals and schedules. They believed Jesus was the Messiah that was to come to the Jewish people.
Sometimes we don’t get that. Sometimes we think the Christian Church was always separate from the Jewish religion. But it wasn’t until later in this book of Acts that they began to break off and form their own “Church” groups. And they did so mainly because they were being persecuted for their beliefs about Jesus. Otherwise, they may well have stayed within the Jewish faith, and the whole Church tradition as it comes down to us might have been very different! I know we don’t often think in those terms, but that’s the scene here. And this story has a great impact on all of that!
So here we have Peter and John coming to the Temple to worship, and there they encounter this man, who we are told “had been lame from birth.” He was there, as he always was, to ask alms – in other words, to ask for charity. That was the system of support for infirmed people in those days. They had no Medicare or Medicaid or medi-anything. But asking for alms was part of the system. Because the religious teachings in those days included the instructions about the importance of giving alms to the needy. That’s how it worked. If we wanted to, we could go back in the Old Testament and find those instructions.
It seems to me that, in some ways, that wasn’t such a bad system. In our world, we don’t tend to see the faces of those who we support with our “local mission dollars.” Maybe if we did it would be different. These people saw the faces of those they helped every day. And it helped them to integrate into their daily living this system for helping the suffering. In contrast, our benevolences tend to stay “outside” of our “regular lives,” don’t they?
So, this man asks alms of Peter and John, and Peter utters these now famous, and set-to-music words, “Silver and Gold have I none, but that which I have I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Spoken in good King James English, of course! And the man does.
This then becomes the first miracle performed by the Apostles in Acts. And the first thing it did was to make true the words Jesus spoke in the Upper Room, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in my will also do the works I do, and greater works than these will he do because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12) Greater works were about to happen!
The other thing that happens here is that this event sparks a controversy, a controversy that would last throughout the next several chapters. And it was a controversy that centered around the same religious leaders who were involved in the story of Jesus himself. Here we find these same guys, Annas, and Caiaphas, and a number of the other high priests. And we can only imagine what they must have thought of what was now happening after this whole Pentecost thing!
Just think of it! And remember this was only weeks since that whole Good Friday and Easter drama! These guys had worked very hard trying to silence this young Rabbi, Jesus, who they thought was leading people astray. And now, here were his disciples making “big waves,” continuing “the problem.” And it was getting worse! I hope you make a connection in your mind between this story today, and the whole story of Holy Week! It’s one big picture, you see.
Well, We’ll see more of their story in the weeks to come. But I hope maybe in preparation for all that, you could read ahead. In fact, that’ll be your assignment. Read this story through the end of chapter 5. That will give you an over-all picture of this whole growing controversy. But for now, let’s just say that this was the controversy that began this separation between the followers of Jesus and the Jewish religion. And I believe that’s what Luke was trying to point out to us in these opening chapters of Acts.
In the meantime, here we have this man was asking for alms. And instead Peter offered him “More than silver and gold.” This man got way more than he expected. He knew first hand what Paul told the Ephesian Church. “Now to him who by the power at work within us, is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:20) This man got far more than just alms. He got far more than just money to survive on. He was healed! He was given his freedom! And he didn’t just stand, he leapt up! And he went into the Temple with Peter and John. And he kept “walking and leaping and praising God!”
Now, I wonder if this man ever went into the Temple before. We’re told that he was carried to the gate each day, in order to ask for his alms – his charity. But do you think he was ever taken inside? We’re not sure from the story. But whether or not he was, let’s be sure to see that when he was healed, he immediately followed Peter and John into the Temple. He began his new life in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving.
Those are two good things to have, aren’t then? Praise and thanksgiving make us more than just good people. They bring us into the very presence of God. They move us in the direction of joy! Sometimes people of faith forget that. Sometimes God’s people don’t do much praising and thanking. And because of that they don’t have much joy. I believe joy is what God wants for us. When Jesus told the parable of the talents – a parable all about working for the kingdom and “making more talents,” remember the master’s response to those who had increased what he had given them. He said, “Enter now into the joy of the master.” (Matthew 25:23)
What about us? Do we sometimes forget that joy? Do we sometimes settle for just alms? Do we sometimes settle for that which just gets us by? Do we settle for being carried just to the door of the Temple? You know this is one of the recurring themes in my preaching. But I think it’s that important. We short-change ourselves when we reach for only the minimum in our faith. Someone once said, “Those who aim for mediocrity tend to hit the mark every time!”
We need to be seeking that joy every day! Every day we need to be intentional about praising and thanking God. We shouldn’t wait until we “feel like it.” Because you know what, if we wait, we will probably not do it all that often. And, the less we praise and thank God, the less we’ll feel like praising and thanking God. We used to call that a “Negative Feedback Loop.”
We need to be in a “Positive Feedback Loop.” We need to praise and thank God at all times – intentionally! And the more we thank and praise God, the more we’ll feel like praise and thanksgiving! That then becomes an upward spiral! Doesn’t it? And that’s the way to find joy in this life of faith.
So where are you? Think about it. Are you lying by the gate of God’s Temple, satisfied with alms alone? Are you content with just getting by. Or are you ready to listen for the words of healing, to enter God’s temple, and to be set free? Are you ready to receive more than silver and gold? Are you prepared to walk, and leap, and praise God?
Eternal God, you have sent your son to redeem us and make us whole. You have offered us the joy of your kingdom. Help us to seek that joy. Help us to be people who praise and thank you every day. Help us to grow in our faith and in our love for you. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.