The Beautiful Gate – June 24, 2012 – Acts 3: 1 – 11

These chapters of Acts we’ve been reading seem like a flurry of mysterious events.  Jesus told the Disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit then Christ ascended to Heaven.  The Disciples choose Matthias to take the place of Judas as one of the twelve.  The Holy Spirit descends upon the believers gathered at 9 am.  Peter addresses the crowd telling them what had happened.  3,000 came to believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, and were baptized.  The community of believers begin the practice of meeting together and sharing all things.  It is possible that these events all occurred on the same day.  All in less than 24 hours, Jesus ascends, the Holy Spirit descends, Peter preaches, and the believers gather.  And it’s only 3 o’clock in the afternoon.  So, Peter and John go to the Temple to pray.

The Church holds dear a beloved old hymn, Sweet Hour of Prayer.  The song begins: sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer, that draws me from a world of care.  The Disciples are going to the Temple for the hour of prayer, 3 pm.  Their hour of prayer leads them through the world of despair before they can withdraw from the world for prayer.[1]  William Willimon points out that “the path toward significant prayer is a way that goes straight through, not around, human misery.”[2]

The Disciples had started gathering as a fellowship of believers meeting for fellowship and breaking bread.  They shared all things that none among them had need.  Then, they dispersed from the community to go to the Temple to pray as faithful Jews.

As we look at the story of the healing of the lame man at the Temple, we should note the uniqueness of Luke’s presentation of the Gospel.  For Luke, one of the most significant aspects of Christ’s ministry is that the Good News was proclaimed to the poor.  Luke can be interpreted to believe that God has a preference for the poor who are the ones to whom Christ has come to give new life.

Giving alms was an act of a faithful Jew.  Jesus even says “Give alms” twice in the Gospel of Luke, 11:41 & 12:33.  “Almsgiving was one of the three pillars of Jewish piety… which are almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.  Jesus includes in his teaching ministry instructions for almsgiving.  Biblical scholar, Ramsey Michaels writes, “Luke’s distinctiveness lies, first, in the frequency of his references to giving radically and generously to the poor,and second, in his willingness to sum up this radical generosity as “giving alms” …”[3]

Along their way to prayer, Peter and John find a lame man seeking the generosity of those entering the Temple.  The lame man must not have been a part of the Christian community.  None of the Christians had need; none of them needed to beg for alms at the Temple gates.  He was not part of the fellowship of believers because he still had need. 

It is likely he had never heard of Jesus.  This man had obviously not been brought before Christ during His earthly ministry for healing.  He hadn’t heard the stories of Christ’s healings.  He didn’t know he could hope for healing.  He only hoped that someone would give him just enough for food and shelter.

Peter and John looked intently on the lame man.  Seeing is an important part of this text.  Verse 3 says the lame man SAW Peter and John.  Verse 4 says Peter and John LOOKED intently at the lame man. Peter said to the man, “LOOK at us.”  Peter and John saw the lame man and the lame man saw Peter and John.  This encounter was not a mere passing by.  They didn’t just give the homeless guy on the corner $5 for a sandwich as they passed by.  This was an intimate conversation that the 3 men had.  Peter and John saw the real need of the lame man.  Atenizo – the Greek word – means that Peter and John looked intently upon the man – this was a personal encounter.

Not only was the lame man seen for his need.  Peter and John were seen.  Peter said, “Look at us.”  One must conclude that they looked to be of meager means.  They weren’t wearing flashy clothes and fine jewels.  They didn’t look like that had money.  They did not look rich.  Still, the lame man asked if they had silver or gold to spare.  The Acts 2 community which holds all goods in common has no silver or gold to offer him.  Peter and John and the other Disciples may have been poor, but none had need, and they weren’t poor in Spirit.[4]  “Although the followers of Jesus do not have silver and gold, they have something infinitely more valuable…”[5]

Peter and John have the Holy Spirit and the power of the Gospel.  From the very beginning, Jesus taught that the good news would make the lame walk.  In Matthew 11:5, Jesus told the followers of John the Baptist to tell him: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”  These were the signs and wonders to all that Jesus was the Messiah.  Throughout the Gospels, people bring the lame, the blind, the deaf, the mute, the crippled – all those who were differently-abled, unable to work to provide food, clothing, and shelter for themselves.

This story of the lame man seeking something from Peter parallels Peter with Jesus.  In Luke 4, Jesus begins his ministry by addressing the crowd with words of grace and authority and by casting out a demon from a man possessed by an evil spirit; then, many were brought to him, on whom he laid his hands and they were healed.  In Acts Chapters 2 & 3, Peter begins his ministry in the same manner; he addresses the crowd with grace and authority then he heals a man. 

This is not to say that Peter is the Son of God or the Messiah.  However, Peter does have the same mission and the same power.  Even before his death, Jesus commissioned the Disciples to go and perform the same signs and wonders that he himself had done.  They just needed to wait for the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Peter had the same mission as Christ, now, with the Holy Spirit within, he has the same power.  By his faith in Christ, he is able to heal in Christ’s name.[6]

The name of Jesus is far more powerful than money.  The same power at work in Christ is available to the Apostles as they act in Christ’s name.  They do “not simply offer suffering people kind words of empathy.  This community possesses the same power manifest in the ministry of Jesus.  When Jesus commissioned the Twelve, he ‘gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases’ (Luke 9: 1 – 6).”[7]

Jesus never gave hand outs.  He didn’t offer temporary fixes to long-term ailments.  Jesus always gave a hand up.  He gave them a new chance at life to live as one of society, not as one outcast from society.  Jesus healed; he didn’t patch up.  The Apostles followed his example.  Temporary…charitable handouts are not what this community is primarily about…[8] 

Many churches have what’s called a discretionary fund.  It is an amount that the pastor has to give to people who come to the church in need.  Often, pastors will use the money to help pay rent, keep utilities from being shut off, fill up gas tanks to get to work or home.  While giving alms is important, I’m not sure that the discretionary funds are helpful.  I’ve found that the ones who really have need are often too proud to ask for help.  Others have need, but there true need is ongoing financial assistance and perhaps help with a budget.

These discretionary funds are an opportunity for the church to respond to need; whether short-term or long-term need, the help is temporary.  When reflecting on such funds in light of this story in Acts, I wonder if churches couldn’t do more than give temporary financial handouts.  The early Christian community didn’t have silver or gold to spare, but had something more valuable.  The contemporary Christian church has some silver and gold to spare, but we still have something more valuable.

We Christians are called to a life of Discipleship which holds the same power to do signs and miracles in the name of Christ as the Apostles had.  Christ commissioned the Disciples and gave them authority.  We as Disciples of Christ hold the same power and authority that was in Christ, that was in Peter.  According to Luke, who wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts, Jesus was about long-term solutions to poverty.  With our power, we are called to advocate for long-term solutions to poverty.

Almsgiving is important, so is the healing word spoken in Christ’s name.  Almsgiving is important but temporary.  Healing is different.  Healing in the name of Christ requires seeing the real need and speaking with authority.  In Christ’s name there is the power to heal.  That power requires much of us.

First, the healing power of Christ requires us to see the person or persons in need and find their real need.  On the surface, we may know a child is hungry.  We can give alms by means of giving them a meal or food from the food pantry.  The healing power of Christ calls us to look deeper into the life of the hungry child.  We must find out if her dad makes her needs a priority, if his mom is gainfully employed, her guardian is receiving enough food stamps, if there are other children and other needs in the home.  One meal will help, but it will be needed again the next day.  The healing power of Christ wants to find a cure.

Second, the healing power of Christ requires that we get involved.  We need to speak the name of Christ with authority.  Words are necessary to preach the Gospel that advocates for change.  We can do things like contact CEFS and find out what their greatest needs are.  We can contact our government officials and advocate for food stamps that can adequately provide 3 healthy meals a day for each person in the household.  We can partner with the food pantry to teach people how to cook healthy meals or stretch their dollar.  We can help the jobless find gainful employment.  Who knows, maybe you could even become a foster parent.  We need to take action and speak up so that Christ’s healing power can work miracles.

Throughout the Gospels and again in this story in Acts, signs and miracles lead to wonder.  Upon getting up and walking, the once lame man leaped and praised God.  And, everyone who recognized him as having been lame were filled with wonder and amazement.  The praises the man sung were to God, not the Apostles.  He had recognized the power of God called upon in the name of Jesus was what healed him.  The man knew it was not Peter of his own accord.[9]

I was looking at the back of our Bethany Celebration parade float and noticed something remarkable.  It said “First Christian Church, Praise, Where kids get down and lift God high.”  Imagine if people said that we are a church where kids get down and lift God high.  What if that was about us, not just our VBS program?

What wonder and praise will glorify God when all we do is in the name of Christ  May people recognize in us the power of Christ.  Praise be to God for the comfort of His love and the power of Christ’s name.

[1] Interpretation: Acts, Willimon, p. 43 – 44.

[2] Interpretation: Acts, Willimon, p. 43 – 44.

[3] Almsgiving and the Kingdom Within, J. Ramsey Michaels, CBQ, Ebsco.

[4] Anchor Bible Commentary: The Acts of the Apostles.

[5] Interpretation: Acts, Willimon, p. 43 – 44.

[6] An Introduction to the NT, Brown, p. 290.

[7] Interpretation: Acts, Willimon, p. 43 – 44.

[8] Interpretation: Acts, Willimon, p. 43 – 44.

[9] New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1961.


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