The In-Between Years - Part 17
Series: The In-Between Years
September 06, 2020
The In-Between Years — Part 17
Last week, in our series The In-Between Years — A Look at the Church in the Book of Acts, we finished out Acts chapter 2 as Luke pauses to give a snapshot of what the newly born church was like...
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42–47 (ESV)
We saw how that attested to their love and unity, how it was an answer to Jesus’ prayer for them in John 17. It’s a challenge for us as the church today.
As we move on to chapter 3, I need to remind you of something I mentioned in chapter one. I showed you how Jesus words to the disciples are a divine outline…
8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (ESV)
You can follow this movement throughout the whole book. Chapters 2-7 are about the gospel spreading through Jerusalem. Chapters 8-12 Judea and Samaria. And chapters 13-28 to the ends of the earth, a gospel movement of which we are still experiencing right now.
So, as we start chapter 3, we view the launching of phase one, observing the gospel impact upon the city of Jerusalem where 3,000 people have already been saved. The story we’re covering today is one of my favorite.
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. Acts 3:1–3 (ESV)
Peter and John were on their way to worship God in the Jerusalem temple during the afternoon hour of prayer (3:00 PM). If you recall every member of the newborn church at this time was Jewish and devoted themselves to the scheduled temple prayers, as well as praying together as the church.
As they neared the gate called Beautiful, one of many that led to the inner court, they met a man being carried by friends or family because he was lame, crippled in his legs from birth. We learn later on he was over forty years old.
You need to know that a huge majority of people in ancient Israel were poor and got by with the barest of necessities. However, one condition guaranteed the utmost poverty and suffering: being handicapped. If you could not work, your only choice was to beg, or ask for alms. Throughout Jerusalem, and the whole ancient world even, beggars made their living by claiming spots in high traffic areas. In this case around the busy temple complex.
This wasn’t offensive to the Jews; in fact they welcomed it. Supporting the needy was part of their faith from the very beginning. In the book of Deuteronomy the Laws are handed down. In chapter 15 there’s one pertaining to the poor…
7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be… 10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ Deuteronomy 15:7–8, 11 (ESV)
By the time of Jesus, the giving of alms was one of three big virtues of righteousness, the others being prayer and fasting. We will see this concern for the poor carry over to the early church.
This fellow set up shop, thinking it would be just like any other day. As Peter and John pass by he most likely shouted, “Alms! Alms!” Look at what happens next…
4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Acts 3:4–7 (ESV)
It is highly unlikely this man is the only beggar at the Gate Beautiful. For reasons not mentioned by Luke, Peter and John zero in on him as he avoided making eye contact. The Jews thought it righteous to help such a person, but they didn’t care to fraternize with someone so low on the social ladder. I imagine it was inappropriate for him to look regular folks in the eye. But these guys are different.
“Look at us,” they say as if to give him dignity, as if to declare “You have value and worth.” This reminds me of the account recorded in three of the Gospels about the leper who came to Jesus for healing, and Jesus “touched him” and made him clean. Peter and John are Jesus’ disciples for sure!
Imagine this. Crippled from his mother’s womb, decades spent at the gate begging alms, never having walked or ran and these two strangers say, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!”
They spoke with such authority he didn’t have time to think, only obey. Immediately, Dr. Luke writes, his feet and ankles were healed. What would you do if that happened to you? If you’re Baptist or Methodist, probably nothing.
8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. Acts 3:8 (ESV)
Lame no more, this fellow stood, then walked, then leaped, praising God all the while. What a spectacle!
9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:9–10 (ESV)
What a beautiful story of the love and power of God at work in this world. But this is more than just a random account of healing. Luke records it intentionally. I’m sure I’m not smart enough to figure out all his intentions but I know he put it there as…
It was a sign of accreditation
The miracle of tongues at Pentecost validated God’s work through the newly born church. The miracle of healing here was a mark of authenticity also, a signal that Peter and John — and the whole church — were acting under the authority of, in the name of, Jesus Christ, the one who sent the Spirit, the One who performed the same kind of miracles as proof of his authority from God when he walked this earth.
That’s why they were so careful to carry out this healing in Jesus’ name, something they will continue to do throughout Acts. One pastor/scholar writes…
What Peter is saying is, “This miracle proves the message we are preaching is Jesus’ message, and the power with which we’re doing our ministry is Jesus’ power, and the spirit is Jesus’ Spirit.” This miracle is an accreditation. Every culture, every field, everybody has different ways of accrediting things. He says, “To prove we have Jesus’ message and Jesus’ power, we’re doing the same kind of miracles Jesus did.” It’s an accreditation.
It’s not just an accreditation for them; it’s an accreditation for us to see that the apostles, when they began the church and began to preach … [were preaching] the message of Jesus himself… It’s not just an unimportant legend; it’s an accreditation.
It wasn’t just a sign of accreditation…
It was proof of continuation
Luke records in volume one how Jesus inaugurated his ministry…
14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. 16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:14–21 (ESV)
Jesus went about blessing the poor, healing the sick, and proclaiming the message of the kingdom.
Luke hints at that as he began volume two…
1 In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, Acts 1:1 (ESV)
Jesus began to do and teach
If you remember, in my introduction to this series, I called that the six word memoir of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus do? Bless the poor, heal the sick. What did Jesus teach? The kingdom of God just as the Isaiah prophecy foretold.
Do you also remember how in that first message I noted that Luke wrote “Jesus began to do and teach”?
You might think he should have said…
In the first book, O Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught.
Jesus had, after all, ascended back to heaven. He wasn’t around anymore. But Luke purposefully used the word began with do and teach in the present tense, as if Jesus were still around doing and teaching. As if it were ongoing. And it was!
Peter and John here are doing exactly what Jesus did! This miracle — and the others that follow it — prove that Jesus’ ministry continues through the apostles and ultimately the church even to this day. Acts 3 and all the chapters following is Luke demonstrating what he meant in Acts 1:1.
The miracle of the lame man’s healing was a sign of accreditation, proof of continuation, and …
It was a taste of our future redemption
When Jesus came he brought heaven down to us; he gave us a taste of it with his healings and other miracles. He conquered the devil and all the forces of darkness when he died on the cross and rose from the dead, preparing the way for his return one day when they — along with sin and death —will finally be vanquished for good, and he will literally set up his kingdom in a redeemed creation populated with his redeemed people.
Do you recall from the God’s End Game series what that will be like?
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1–5 (ESV)
The healing of the lame man gives us a taste of that. It reminds us of the coming new heaven and earth where there will be no beggars, no one lame, no shame, no fear, no tears.
That same pastor scholar preached this in a message on this text…
Have you not noticed that in the New Testament, whether Jesus’ miracles or the apostles’ miracles, the miracles are never naked displays of power? See, if the only thing the miracles were trying to do was point up and say, “We have the truth; we have the power of God,” well, there are a lot of things they could have done.
Why is it that neither Jesus nor the apostles ever did things like skywriting? “Hey, watch. I can write my name in the clouds with my finger.” All the crowd would have gasped. “Watch this. Watch me fly. Look, six feet, sixty feet, ten feet.” That would have impressed people, wouldn’t it? It would have been so easy. “I can see through walls. There are three chairs in the room over here.”
Why didn’t he do that? Why is it that all of the miracles always alleviate suffering or trouble of some kind? Why do they always deal with human trouble or suffering? Because it’s pointing forward to the end of all things, to the end of history, when God is going to restore all things. Here’s what we learn: God did not invent blindness. He didn’t invent lameness. He didn’t create suffering, and he didn’t create a world filled with death.
Go back to the garden of Eden. You’ll see when God put human beings in the garden, that’s not the way things were. We were meant to serve God and care for creation, but when we turned away from God, everything fell apart. That’s when poverty and injustice and sickness and disease and death all exploded into existence.
Here’s what we’re being told in every one of these miracles. We’re being told that God is no happier with the world as it is than you and I, that he did not invent a world with suffering and sickness and death in it, and someday he’s going to deal with all of those things. He hates them as much as you do. Isn’t that amazing?
Somewhere along the way, though, the church allowed a false gospel to creep in and it goes something like this: if you have enough faith, if you walk closely enough with God, he will give you heaven on earth. He’ll keep you from all sickness. He’ll spare you all pain. He’ll reward you with never ending prosperity.
This false gospel uses the healing of the lame man and other miracles in Acts to advertise an earthly bliss one can enjoy now.
Do you realize when Jesus came he healed many but not all? That Peter and John didn’t heal all the cripples in the temple complex that day, just this fellow?
Consider this. Paul, a man whose ministry was also attested to with miracles such as raising people from the dead, wrote this as he closed out his letter to pastor Timothy…
19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. 2 Timothy 4:19–20 (ESV)
Paul left Trophimus ill. If we can have heaven on earth now, somebody should have told Paul. I think this is why so many are disillusioned with Christianity. Even we Baptist were told if we listened to Focus on the Family, if we men went to Promise Keepers, if our kids signed up for True Love Waits, if we kiss dating goodbye, God would surely bless our marriages, our families, our homes with heavenly bliss.
God is still in the business of working the kinds of miracles, folks, but they are rare and precious glimpses of the new heaven and earth in this tired, old, fallen world. Why would we want the new heaven and earth to come if we can have it here, now?
The miracle of the lame man’s healing was a sign of accreditation, proof of continuation, a taste of our future redemption, and finally, as we close…
It was a parable about our need for salvation
Luke recorded this true story of a miracle to teach us something about our need for being saved. You see, Peter and John knew that being able to walk wouldn’t ultimately make this man happy, that his need ran far deeper than how weak his ankles were. Another kind of healing happened that day, and we know this when we look at the next chapter.
You see, a man who used to sit and beg for years seen leaping and praising God in the temple catches the religious leaders’ attention and not in a good way. So they call Peter and John in for questioning who use that opportunity to boldly preach the gospel…
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. Acts 4:13–14 (ESV)
If all that man had received that day was the ability to walk, he wouldn’t have been standing by Peter and John’s side. The implication is that as he rose up to walk he also put his faith in Jesus, the one whose name he was healed by.
That man’s greatest need wasn’t the ability to walk, it was to have his sins forgiven, to be restored to a right relationship with God. Without him our future, like the lame man’s before he was healed, is hopeless. Paul writes in Ephesians 2…
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:11–22 (ESV)
All who call upon the Lord are healed physically (if not in this world, the next) but, more importantly, all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus are saved spiritually. Those who repent and put their trust in him will one day be a part of the coming kingdom this miracle points to.
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