And the Lame Shall Leap for Joy – June 18, 2017
Isaiah 35:1-10, Acts 3:1-10
June 18, 2017
Obviously, a lot of things were happening in those days! Pentecost had occurred just days before our story for today. There was a lot of “stir” in Jerusalem! There was a lot of “buzz!” There was a lot of “brouhaha!” (I love that word! I can’t believe I haven’t used it in a sermon before!!)
Amazing things were happening! The number of people was growing in the new “Church” Actually, they hadn’t used that name, yet. They didn’t even call themselves “Christians.” “Christian” was actually a derogatory name given by their antagonists. But it was a name that eventually “stuck.” They called themselves, “The Way.” Their numbers were growing, and as it says at the end of chapter two, they were also “growing in favor of all the people!” In other translations it says, “Everybody liked them.”
That’s what it was like in the earliest days of the Church. It was an amazing time. As you’ve heard me say before, when God starts something, he really starts something! Like the powerful story of the Exodus in the Old Testament, the beginning of the Church in the New Testament was also marked by amazing and miraculous events! God makes liberal use of the exclamation point! (And so do I!! I’m going to wear that key out on my computer!)
The other thing we need to remember here is that the early Christians had this supportive “community” going on. As it also says in chapter 2, that “they were all together.” And they shared everything they had. They were worshipping together in the Temple. And of course, these guys, these disciples of Jesus, were growing themselves as leaders of this new movement, which would eventually be called “the Church.”
I often wonder how they felt. They had been with Jesus for three years. They had seen the crowds that gathered to hear him. They had seen his popularity grow. Now they were seeing that his ministry – his following – was still going, still growing. And now they were in the heart of it! They were the leaders!
Well, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they were up to the task! And this whole book has then been titled, “The Acts of the Apostles.” Think about that. You know I’ve always thought “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” would have worked just as well for a title. But today I want you to think about how indeed it was these men, these chosen disciples of Jesus, who led the new Church …and changed the world. That’s amazing, if you think about it! It makes you wonder about them.
Well, aside from Pentecost, aside from the various ways the disciples were leading that early community of believers, this story today is the first recorded major public event in that ministry. In a sense, this is the first of the “Acts of the Apostles!”
This is a familiar story. Peter and John were going into the Temple. And at the gate they saw this man who was lame, who had lain there for years, asking for alms. That was how the disabled survived in that society. But instead of giving him anything, Peter said these famous words. “Silver and gold have I none. But that which I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, walk.” And the man stood, walked, and followed the disciples into the Temple, “walking and leaping and praising God!” And the words of Isaiah 35 came true. “And the lame shall leap for joy!”
Well, now the amazement among the people grew that much more! And don’t forget that many of them remembered Jesus. Many had heard him speak. Many had witnessed his miracles. And now, in his name, even more was happening. So there was indeed a great buzz! (A great “brouhaha!”)
But! Not everybody was happy! Lo and behold, there would soon be some other “familiar names” in this story. And because of them, the repercussions of this story – the fallout from this story – would go on for several chapters. We’re about to hear again from Annas and Caiaphas. Do you remember them?
After the part we just read, Peter addresses the crowd. This would then be the second Christian sermon. In it, Peter “‘splains” that it is through the power of God in Jesus Christ that this man his healed. And he tells the story – again! Then, at the beginning of chapter 4, it says this. “And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and captains of the Temple and the Sadducees came on them, annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” (If you remember, the Sadducees didn’t believe in any kind of resurrection!) “And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.” “But!” – and we don’t want to miss this part – “many of those who heard the word believed! And the number of the men came to about five thousand.”
That’s an amazing number! That doubled the size of the already growing church! If you remember, they baptized around three thousand people, just a few paragraphs ago! Yes, these men were “annoyed!” And I’d love to do a word study on that one! I’ll bet “annoyed” is an understatement! They were “annoyed” not just because of that business of the resurrection. They were annoyed – really annoyed – because the ministry of Jesus, which they thought they had ended, was far from over!
Now, I hope you have a good picture of all this, a good sense of what was happening in those days, and particularly on this day at the Temple. Because I think one of the most important parts of this story is the growing contrast between those who would question all of this, and those who would celebrate it! It wasn’t just this one man who was caught up in the joy and praise! I believe all the people knew something very significant was happening. They knew God was moving among them in ways never seen before! And the joy of that was growing, too!
However, in those days, and throughout history, there have been those who have missed that. There have been those who have gotten caught up in the idea of “correctness,” and of “doctrine,” and of “theology” And don’t get me wrong! Those things are important! We certainly need to know what to believe. Peter had to explain to people what it all meant. But we cannot forget the celebration! We cannot forget the that “The Chief end of man” is to glorify God and “enjoy him forever!”
The kind of relationship God wants to have with us is a joyful one! Yes, we are to grow in the “knowledge” of God. But remember that the word “knowledge” in the Bible meant, “understanding of” as well as “intimate relationship with.”
This man at the Temple gate didn’t know the “doctrine.” Like the blind man that Jesus healed months earlier, all he knew was what happened to him. He only knew his encounter with Jesus and the amazing freedom he now had from his former life.
So, may this story today serve to remind us that a big part of our life of faith is joy and praise. As I often say, that doesn’t mean that life is always “happy” or that our circumstances aren’t sometimes difficult. But may we be intentional about seeking to know that joy – no matter what. May we grow in our “knowledge” of the God who proclaims,
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap like a deer
And the tongue of the dumb sing for joy!” (Isaiah 35)
Eternal God, help us to know better the power of your Spirit in our lives. Help us to know the Joy that only you can give. Help us to seek you, with all of our hearts. Help us to know, not just what we believe, but what our belief inspires in us. In all these things, we thank you, and we praise you! In Jesus’ name, Amen.