Sunday 17 March 2013

You give what you have (Acts 3)

A miraculous healing

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer - at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.
Acts 3:1-2

Yesterday was Red Nose Day when a record-breaking 75 million pounds was raised for various charitable causes in the UK and Africa. In other news, the recently-elected Pope Francis declared that he wants a “poor Church, for the poor,” explaining how he chose the name Francis after St Francis of Assisi, who represented “poverty and peace.”

In today’s passage we meet a man who is poor, who begs for a living, who has been crippled for forty years since the day he was born (Acts 4:22).

“Spare some change, mate?”

Every day he sat outside the temple gate. And every day the passers-by would have either walked on or stopped to drop a few coins into his lap.

This was his spot, the gate called Beautiful. It’s mentioned again in verse 10. This is the same beggar who was always sat there. Regulars at the temple all knew him - not by name - but they certainly recognised who he was: The beggar who always sat by the gate.

Some would have given money out of compassion. Others, out of guilt. This was, after all, the temple of God and worshippers were on their way to offer up sacrifices - money, even - as a sign of their devotion to God. Similarly today, it is not uncommon to see at temples and places of worship, the poor and destitute begging for alms.

When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
Acts 3:3-5

“Maybe it will be a ten pound note,” he thought. The apostles Peter and John didn’t walk by. They didn’t act as if they couldn’t hear him. They stopped and stared at him (which must have felt a little strange) and even said to him, “Look at us!”

With such anticipation, what Peter said next must have seemed like a cruel joke.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
Acts 3:6

“Sorry. Left my wallet at home.” That’s what it sounded like. “I gave at the office.” After forty years, the beggar had heard every excuse under the sun.

But this was something else. “What I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Was he making fun of him? What a jerk!

“You don’t know what it’s like to sit out here. Begging. You don’t know the humiliation, the pain I’ve suffered all my life... You don’t know...”

But then Peter takes him by the hand, pulls him up and something amazing happens.

Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.
Acts 3:7-8

The guy who wrote this account was a man named Luke who was a historian but whom we also know (from Colossians 4:14) was a medical doctor. So when he describes how the crippled man’s “feet and ankles became strong,” Luke was thinking about the leg muscles, the connecting tissue, the bones and the nerves, all of which had wasted away over a forty-year period; but now he said, had “became strong.”

Because this man didn’t just stand up, he jumped to his feet. And as he followed Peter and John into the temple, he was skipping and dancing all the way into the presence of God!

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Acts 3:9-10

The people at the temple were surprised. I suspect, the beggar himself was surprised. He was healed. Immediately, completely, miraculously healed!

Peter says to the man, “In Jesus’ name, walk!” and three times, Luke repeats that word “walk” to describe exactly what he was doing. This crippled man was walking!

But in case we missed it, notice where was he walking to - where he was jumping and skipping towards? Verse 8, “Into the temple courts.” Verse 9: “The people saw him walking and praising God.”

You see, it amazed the crowd that this miracle happened, yes. But it amazed them more that God was behind this miracle. That’s the source of their amazement - that a miracle could happen right here in the temple.

You might be thinking, “How can that be? They grew up in Sunday School learning about the ten plagues of the Exodus, about prophets like Daniel in the lions den and Elijah who called down fire from heaven. The God of the bible is a God of miracles. Why would his people be surprised to see a miracle?”

We get a sense of that in Peter’s question looking ahead at verse 12. “Why does this surprise you?” he asks them. As if to imply: It shouldn’t!

To be fair, they were surprised for the same reason many of us would be surprised if a miracle happened today: it was a rare occurrence. The truth is, not everyone in the bible got healed, not even when Jesus was around in the gospels. In fact, this account of the healing of the crippled man is the only detailed account of a healing in all the book of Acts.

Not everyone in the bible got healed. The crippled man sat there every day in the same spot at the same entrance at the same temple. Peter and John would have walked pass him time and time again. Jesus might have walked by him time and time again. Yet only today was he healed.

Why? Why here at the temple? Because there was something more going on than just the healing itself. The miracle pointed to something greater than the miracle itself.

It pointed to Jesus.

A mighty name

While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them, “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”
Acts 3:11-12

The first thing Peter makes clear is: He didn’t do this, not by his own power or godliness.

That last point on godliness is worth emphasising - especially here in a church gathering like this where it is possible to think that because we have prayed enough, because we came to bible study, because we tried really hard to be good this week, therefore God is going to bless us. Peter says, “It’s not my godliness that caused this miracle.” That’s not humility. That’s a fact. I could not do this, only God.

Why is Peter saying this? The crowd’s attention is on them as apostles, as miracle-makers, on the healed man. They are scrutinising them. They are in awe of them.

And what Peter is doing is drawing their attention back to God. You would think this would be obvious enough in religious place like the temple. Let me tell you, it isn’t. Peter says to them, “We didn’t do any of this. God did.”

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.
Acts 3:13-15

Last week I mentioned that what we have here in the early chapters of Acts is peculiar form of preaching. You might have heard the expression, ‘preaching to the choir’? Well, that’s what Peter did in preaching to the crowd in the temple. He preached to the choir.

A preacher is supposed to preach to the congregation. He is supposed to face his audience. Yet someone who is preaching to the choir, as the expression goes, is facing the wrong way. The choir, the musicians, the worship team - they are on the same team as the preacher. They’ve heard his sermons many times before. They worship the same God.

But you see, the focus of the early chapters of Acts is actually on the choir: the people who ought to have known God, who ought to be leading others in worshipping God, who themselves have rejected God in their hearts and through their actions.

Notice how Peter keeps saying, “You did this... you did this.”

You killed Jesus. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One. You killed the author of life.

That might sound pretty harsh but what was Peter saying? The very people who ought to have recognised Jesus as God’s king were the ones who rejected him.

What was Peter doing? He was preaching to the choir. Everyone else might have looked at them and thought, “Those guys are alright,” yet in truth, it is often those who are most familiar with God who take God for granted and rebel against him as God.

Who was Peter speaking to? Israelites. The people of God. The sons of Abraham. These were worshippers at the temple of God. Yet when Peter looked at them and do you know what he saw? Unbelieving, unconverted murderers.

“You killed the author of life.”

When we plan an evangelistic event, I wonder who we focus on? When we pray for God to send revival to Cambridge, who do we pray for? More often than not, we pray for unbelievers. The newcomers. We pray for those who are opposed to the Christian faith. The atheists. We pray for opportunities to speak to those who have never ever heard the gospel before. The non-Christians. That’s what it means to do mission, to preach the gospel, to fulfil the great commission, so we think.

Yet here in Acts, the gospel is preached to the regulars at the temple. It is being preached to Israelites. It is a consistent pattern we see in the book of Acts shaped by something Jesus said back in chapter 1, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem... Judea and Samaria... to the ends of the earth.” The gospel goes out to the world but it begins with Jerusalem.

It isn’t an excuse to neglect missions and evangelism. What it does mean is that even in our own midst, the people who ought to know God, probably don’t. We need to preach to the choir. Intentionally and repeatedly. We need to be convicted of our own guilt, of our own sin, of our own rebellion against God.

“You killed the author of life.”

“But,” Peter adds, “God raised him from the dead.” That’s the turning point: The resurrection. Here the resurrection is presented as a kind of evidence or proof, “We are witnesses of this,” he says.

But proof of what? Proof that Jesus is the Christ.

By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
Acts 3:15-16

The name of Jesus is not a kind of mantra, whereby you repeat it over and over again, louder and louder each time, like a magic spell to cure headaches and ward off evil spirits.

“Jesus, Jeeeee-suss, jeee-SUS!”

Though it does occasionally sound like that when you hear the prayers of faith healers. As if Jesus needs to hear his name pronounced a certain way after a certain number of times before he will answer their prayer and perform that miracle.

When Peter says that it is “by faith in the name of Jesus” that this miracle happened, he is talking about the authority that God has given to Jesus to rule and save. That’s what his name means.

We look at this in more details next week in Chapter 4 where the religious leaders at them, “By what power or name did you do this?” Peter and John answer, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified... Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

That’s next week’s study. But for now, notice that Peter is talking about faith in Jesus’ name after the healing. Not as a means for him to be healed but as the reason why he was healed. Peter isn’t saying, “This is the way to bring about miracles and healing and revival.” He is saying, “This is the reason for the miracle. It’s Jesus.”

We want the miracle. We want the healing. The truth is, many of us couldn’t be bothered with Jesus. We don’t mind if the healing comes through Jesus’ name or by any other name, what really matters to us is the result.

And here is Peter pointing to the miracle which no one can deny happened. He says to them, “This man whom you see and know was made strong.” Again, “This complete healing that was given to him, as you can all see.” No one could deny that something amazing, something wonderful and awesome had happened here.

But Peter says, “Don’t miss why it happened. It’s so that you know the authority that comes from Jesus’ name. It’s so that you know Jesus really is the Christ.”

We think that if God would only heal that guy we know of that serious illness, why, he will immediately put his faith in God, his whole family will become Christians, his friends will come to know Jesus. Let me tell you, that doesn’t always happen.

But look again at the context of Peter’s sermon here - if Jesus really did heal this crippled man; if Jesus really did cause this miracle to happen - do you realise what it meant? Do you know what the crowd would have thought in their heads?

They would not have thought, “Wow, how cool! I wonder if I could be healed as well!” No, they would have thought to themselves, “Oh no! This is the same Jesus whom we crucified! What have we done!”

Do you see? It wouldn’t have brought them comfort. If anything, it would have brought them conviction: of their sin, of the seriousness of their rejection. Remember that just a few moments ago, Peter was accusing them of murder!

Yet at the same time, this is name by which they are to be saved. Peter wants them to know that God did this. God sent Jesus to die on the cross to take their sins, to bring them forgiveness and to give them life.

A merciful God

Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you - even Jesus.
Acts 3:17-20

Behind their sin was a God who was sovereign over their sin. “This is how God fulfilled what he had foretold... his Christ would suffer.”

Peter is saying the whole bible is there to help us understand why Jesus had to die. And here we see three implications that flow from Jesus’ death on the cross.

First, we see forgiveness. “Repent, then, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” Jesus took the punishment for our sin on the cross, paying our debt in full. There is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Second, we see blessing. “That times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Refreshment is something that implies regeneration, renewal. What it is talking about is God’s Spirit filling us with his joy and acceptance. This, too, is something that comes from the cross because on the cross, Jesus not only takes our sin but covers us with his righteousness. He takes our death and fills us with his life.

Third, we see our true hope. “That he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you - even Jesus.” The cross means Jesus will one day return and when that happens, he will come to judge the living and the dead and he will come to renew the heavens and the earth. What we have today in the preaching of the cross is a preview of that final day - his resurrection pointing forward to our resurrection.

Peter expands this final thought in verse 21.

He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his prophets.
Acts 3:21

The fact that Jesus hasn’t yet returned means something: it means that there is a greater renewal to come.

The healing of the crippled man is preview of that renewal. The word that Luke uses to describe the lame man jumping up and down for joy is a picture we get from an Old Testament passage in Isaiah.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
Isaiah 35:5-7

Notice how Isaiah says, Then... this will happen, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened... Then will the lame leap...” The Old Testament looks forward to a future time, to a day when God will restore all things. And here Peter says Jesus must remain in heaven until that final day when God will restore all things.

But at the same time, the healing of the crippled man is a preview of that final day. It’s a sign that says the renewal of all things began with the cross. This is how we know God will restore the sight of the blind, that God will unstop the deaf ears and enable the lame to leap like a dear; this is how we know God will certainly do all of this and more.

It’s the cross. The whole bible points to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ on the cross and the fulfilment of God’s plan for creation.

Silver or gold I have none

The story is told of St Francis of Asissi being shown about the Vatican by none other than the Pope himself. As they toured through the great halls of the Vatican, the Pope eagerly showed him the immense treasures the church had accumulated over the years, saying. “Look, Francis, look! No longer can we say as Christians, ‘Silver or gold, I have none.’”

“Ah,” Francis replied. “But neither can we say, ‘What I have I give you. In Jesus’ name, walk.’”

You give what you have. That’s the lesson we see today in Acts and that’s the question we have to answer: What do we really have to give as Christians? What is our true treasure?

Is it silver or gold? In Acts 2:45, it says, “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” If you have silver or gold, give what you have.

But the real question is: Do you have Jesus? The reason God gives us our money as Christians is to so that the world will know the Jesus is our Lord, not our money. The reason God gives us our wealth is so the world can see that Jesus is more precious to us than our wealth.

And the times when God takes away our silver or our gold - our our health, for the matter - it is to show the world that what we have, that can never ever be taken away, is Jesus.

A miraculous healing: Here in Acts 3, we have a preview of the renewal of all things in the healing of the man crippled from birth. One day, God promises, he will renew all things through Jesus.

A mighty name: The purpose of the miracle is as a signpost - it points us to Jesus. “It is by faith in his name,” Peter says the man was healed.

Finally, we meet a merciful God. The bible calls us to turn away from our sin and turn to God. That we might be forgiven. That we might be refreshed by his Spirit. And that he would send Jesus as our King.

Or to sum it up in one statement: God has given us Jesus. On the cross, by his Spirit, through the gospel - God has given us his Son. More precious than silver or gold or life itself, we have Jesus. One day, we will receive together with him all blessing and wealth and treasure.

But until then, we have Jesus.

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live! 

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