A Healthy Church Experiences the Wonder-Working Miracle of the Gospel (Acts 3: 1-10)
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We have been looking at the book of Acts trying to answer the question, “What does a healthy church look like?” More than wanting a big church, which is not a bad thing (as we see Luke writing down numbers of people added), we want to be healthy. I really believe if we take care of the depth of our discipleship in Christ through the Gospel, God will take care of the breadth of disciples for Christ. We take care of our character and God will take care of our reputation.
We know a person is sick when his/her head and body are not in sync right? What is the job of your body? Your body has only one job description—to obey and carry out the instructions of your head, your brain. When your head says, “Right hand, move,” your right hand is supposed to move. If your right hand, or any other part of your body, refuses to move in response to a command from the head, better call a doctor. Something is wrong. What is a body without a head? It’s a corpse!
Jenny and I had the chance a few weeks ago to watch the movie musical Les Miserables. It is a story of poverty and affluence, broken dreams, love, and redemption of characters struggling in 19th-century France. One of the themes you will find in this story is one of broken dreams. In an article in the Gospel Coalition blog, Mike Casper notes:
Every character in the story experiences the weight and tragedy of our fallen world. They all face inevitable disappointments. Jean Valjean leaves the work house hoping to start afresh, only to be haunted by his past at every turn. Fantine sings of a life of love and hope, even as her life spirals apart, sending her begging in the streets, selling her hair, and selling her body. She is sick and dying as she sings:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and life, worth living.
I dreamed that love would never die,
I dreamed that God would be forgiving . . .
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed . . .
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed . . .
Other characters feel it too. Young Cosette sings of a “castle on a cloud,” a dreamland where life is sweet, and she isn’t working like a slave for her foster parents. Eponine sings of lonesome, unrequited love…You can’t help but feel the sting of our fallen world. That feeling of relentless heartbreak sends the characters to God and to one another wondering if there’s any relief, any hope, any way out of the darkness.”
Relentless heartbreak. Hopes dashed. This is not just describing the state of unbelievers, but for many believers as well. A lot of it comes from a mixture of expectations and a sense of entitlement. We expected life to go one day and it has gone another. And sometimes we feel like we have been doing our part and wondering why God doesn’t seem like to doing His. I’ve been faithfully tithing, but why am I still struggling financially? I’ve been single, but I’ve been pure and I have found a job even, but why I am still single? I’ve been serving for so long, how come no one even says “thank you”? I’ve been praying so long for that loved, how comes he’s not getting saved? Everyone else seems to have moved on with life…except me! Nothing is changing and every day is the same, and those days turn into weeks and then into months and then years. After a while, you stop expecting anything and resort to just getting by. Is there any hope? Any relief? Any way out of the darkness?
We are going to meet a man like this today. He is a man with very low expectations whose been doing the same thing for a long period of his life, but who will be surprised by the wonder of the Gospel that has exceeded his wildest dreams. Today I want the Lord to remind us of how big the Gospel is in the midst of our brokenness. Let’s start with this:
I. The Gospel is not just living for Jesus, but letting Him live through you (v. 1).
Once the Spirit has come, life has changed for the early believers. Judaism taught that you go to the Temple to meet God. His presence comes down there and you meet God there. But now the believers are starting to see that God’s presence is now in each of them. Each believer is now a burning bush. You don’t go to the Temple anymore, you are the Temple! You carry the temple around. Jesus had also told them that He was going to replace the temple. He died as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world making the sacrifice system obsolete. The Temple was where God dwells is, sin is atoned for, people come to worship God, priests intercede for you in prayer and worship happens. This is all in Jesus now. The focus of worship will no longer be in a building, but in a person, Jesus Christ. I am not sure how much they understood this at this point. At the same time, they knew they were called to be witnesses in Jerusalem and they wanted to continue to witness the Lord to their Jewish neighbors.
So Peter and John are going to the Temple. It is an ordinary day. This was their routine. Peter will be highlighted in Acts until Acts 10 or 11 before the scene shifts to Paul showing us that the Gospel is going to move from a primarily Jewish audience to a Gentile one. I love how Peter not only preaches to the multitudes in Acts 2, he is a personal worker in Acts 3. We need both in ministry. Anyway, Peter and John were in the fishing business together, which never seemed to go well in the Gospels. John is usually quiet in Acts. This is the same John that would lean on Jesus and who wrote the Gospel and Letters as well as Revelation. They are good friends as well ministering together for a while now.
The Jews had three times of prayer a day: 9am, 12 noon and 3pm. The ninth hour here means the 3pm prayer time. Ordinary day. This is what they did every day. But in the midst of routines of life, they noticed a change now. Jesus is shaking things up. Jesus has just not gone to Heaven, but now He is all around and He’s not done with His work yet! Mark Galli in his book Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit says about Peter and John, “This was apparently something they did every day, the type of thing religious people from time immemorial have done. Peter and John then stepped through the Beautiful Gate to enter the temple area and passed a few beggars, as they did every day.
We don’t know what Peter and John usually did in this situation. One might suppose that like us, they sometimes ignored the beggars and sometimes gave up some spare change. But this time, Peter sensed a shift in the wind, the arrival of the Spirit, signaling that some holy chaos was about to be unleashed…It was another one of those moments when the Holy Spirit turned reasonable religion—with its mundane expectations for piety and morality—into something extraordinary.” All around them, there are a lot of religious folk hanging out there for prayer. They believed that their good works like their praying and their obedience and their giving to the poor made them acceptable before God. And God is going right there to shake things up.
But even before they utter a word of prayer or even enter the Temple, right at the gate, the Spirit of God moves in them. The Gospel says you are already accepted, so you obey, you pray and you give to the poor. Your obedience is not your salvation. Jesus is your salvation. Your performance in praying or giving to the poor is not sufficient to save you, but Jesus’ performance is sufficient to save you. They went to the Temple to meet the Lord and the Lord has already met them at the gate. Life has changed with the Gospel!
The Spirit of God has interrupted their routines. What does this tell you? You cannot control Jesus. You cannot tame Him. Remember when Jesus was sleeping on the boat during the storm? The disciples were afraid and asked Him, “Don’t you care if we perish?” Then Jesus gets up and tells the winds and waves to stop as though they were like His misbehaving children. Then the disciples freak out even more. Who is this guy? (Mark 4:35-41). Why? Because they see that Jesus is even more uncontrollable than the storm. Yes, Jesus allows storms to His own people and seems to sleep through it while they suffer? And then all of a sudden He gets up and says, “Stop” and it stops? Jesus will often confuse you. You cannot figure out what He’s doing. But the Gospel tells you that since Jesus faced your ultimate storm in answering for our sin (Oh yes He cares if we perish—so much so He perished Himself for us), we know He will never forsake us in our smaller storms.
Some Christians are just living for Jesus. This sounds nice, but it actuality it means: I have my life, my routines, my job, my family and I accepted Christ and so Jesus is part of my life. And when I need help with my job and my family or storms, I ask Jesus to help me. And if I live a moral life, Jesus will bless me. In this worldview, everything in my life, even Jesus, revolves around me, at the center. This is “living for Jesus.”
But true Christianity says Jesus wants to be more than an add-on of life. Jesus is more than just my helper for life. He is life itself. I am not using Him to make my life better and take me to Heaven. He is my life. He is what makes me come alive. He is more real to me than my needs for a fulfilling life, fulfilling ministry or fulfilling whatever. Because in the end, I will never feel fulfilled with those smaller loves. So I don’t need my dreams to come true, I need to my vision of Jesus to be clearer. Instead of wishing some dream to come true, remember that Jesus has faced our worst nightmare from coming true. And that worst nightmare is to live forever without God.
So what does that mean day to day? That means I welcome interruptions to my day and interruptions or delays to my life. Notice Peter and John are not like, “I’m going to miss prayer meeting if we talk to this beggar.” They are opportunities designed by the Lord for His Kingdom to come not obstacles to my kingdom. When interruptions come, it’s when we say, “Lord, may your Kingdom come and may my Kingdom go!”
Secondly, don’t plan for quality time, but plan quantity time. The reason they had an amazing encounter with the Lord and this beggar was because they had regular mundane times. This is true for our relationships and for our time with the Lord. How do you have quality time with the Lord? You have tons of quantity time. I have found in marriage and in my family that we can only plan the quantity of time that we will be together as a family, but we have to trust that God will use that quantity time to create quality time. Are you allowing enough quantity time with your family so that God can create the quality time? Do you allow enough quantity time with your church family so that God can create the quality time?
If we are going to be a healthy church, we need to be more than people who are religious, doing the regular routine of life. If people are going to sense Jesus is alive through us, it will be because all of us have invested a lot of time with each other in the ordinary mundane stuff at church.
II. The Gospel is not just about getting what we want, but receiving what we need (vv.3-6).
Peter and John would have gone up the steps leading from the outer court to the inner courts, in order to be present in the Court of Israel for the service of prayer. The outer court was called the Court of the Gentiles. Once you moved past the outer court, you would see a barrier with a sign warning Gentiles not to move any closer if they did not want to face death. The Beautiful Gate was probably one of the gates leading through the barrier. The first of the inner courts, containing the treasury (cf. Mark 12:41–44), was called the Court of the Women because Jewish women might enter thus far, but no farther. Jewish laymen might proceed farther, into the Court of Israel. Beyond this was the Court of the Priests (containing, among other things, the altar of burnt offering); at the west end of this inmost court stood the sanctuary building with its two compartments, the holy place and the holy of holies.”
Most likely going right into the Court of Women was this Beautiful Gate. It was large and ornate. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, it was made of Corinthian brass, and was so large it took twenty men to close it (Wars V.V.3, VI.V.3). It was beautiful! Beggars would sit there. John Macarthur says, “Not only did crowds throng the temple daily, but they also came to impress God with their piety. One way to do that was to give alms to the poor. Further, the temple treasury was where people gave their offerings to the Lord. They would therefore be in the frame of mind to give money when they came to the temple.”
And there was a beggar. He was crippled from birth. He has never learned to walk. The word “lame” refers not to complete paralysis but to damage to feet, ankles, knees, or hips. So the man is crippled but not completely paralyzed. This man has never known anything else, nor can he do anything. But every single day, it was the same thing. Somebody, a relative probably, would lay him by the Beautiful Gate. Everybody knew who he was. Later, in Acts 4:22, we find out he was 40 years old. The Romans in that culture would have called him “soft, timid of effeminate,” as they believed that outward physical weakness meant inward weakness. The Jews would have shaken their head thinking God had punished him for some grave sin. Physically disabled were often bullied and were objects of cheap humor. Obviously Jewish law also prevented him from going further than the gate.
As Peter and John walk by him, he calls out begging, “Alms! Alms!” He has uttered this hundreds of times like a broken record. Typically, donors would flip a coin in his direction as they hastened into the temple, scarcely giving him a glance. We don’t know how Peter knew to focus on this beggar or how he knew he could just grab him by the hand and make him walk, but he obeyed the Spirit.
Peter starts staring at him and then commands him to look at them. Perhaps the beggar has never made eye contact before and they wanted him to see that this was not a chance and passing encounter here, but something amazing was going to happen. He has experienced days and months and years of rejection. People have always walked by him and probably didn’t notice him anymore. That’ll make your head be bowed low after a while. Forget broken dreams. This is a broken life. His dream has diminished now to make some money to survive. And every day he went home the same way he showed up, but with some change.
I can picture the beggar excited at this point when Peter calls him. No one has taken this much time with him. He thinks he’s about to make some good money. And Peter says, probably looking at the Beautiful Gate, “I have no silver and gold.” And you can almost picture the beggar shake his head. “Then why are you talking to me? Do you want to make fun of me? Get moving.”
He thinks money is his problem. If I can just make this much money today, I’ll be happy! If he is like us, this will mean that he never feels like he has enough. And if he’s been doing this all his life probably, obviously he’s never arrived. And he shows up every day at the place where you are supposed to meet God to see how people can help him. He’s not even allowed to meet God. And he’s gotten comfortable begging to get by.
Look where God is working. The action is supposed to happen in the Holy of Holies. Now look. The action is outside. He is not allowed to meet God, but nothing can stop God from meeting him. Aren’t you glad that Jesus comes to those who are outcasts and brings them into His family? Aren’t you glad that we have a God who meets lame people, unclean people, rejected people, broken people, and unwanted people without asking them first to fix their issues? Peter says, “We don’t have money, but you think money is your problem?” You are looking for something that you think will help you and I have something better. What we do have is worth so much more than money!
And what does Peter have? He has only one thing: the name of Jesus. By the way, if this is all Living Hope has, I think we are ok. To be honest, sometimes I think if Living Hope had this ministry or that ministry, we could do so much. This is a good rebuke for me. Flashy children’s ministry or expensive programs we do not have, but what we do have we give to you: the name of Jesus! And little is much if we have that!
This phrase “name of Jesus” is found 35x in the book of Acts. It is not a magic formula, but a declaration of dependence and connectedness to the power of Christ. So Peter gives him something deeper. Look at Acts 3:16. It is Jesus’ name and faith through Jesus that has saved him spiritually. The physical act was a picture of what has happened to him spiritually. Notice Peter in verses 19-21. Notice he doesn’t say, “Ok bring everyone who needs a miracle to me. This calls for the birth of a new ministry: THE APOSTLE PETER HEALING MINISTRIES INTERNATIONAL. I hope we got a picture of this. I can put it on my prayer calendar. I can take this guy on tour!” Peter knows the hand was Peter’s, but the power was Christ’s!
Peter later says, “Repent.” In other words, what you need is better than what you want. The man was thinking, “If only I had some money, then I would be happy!” John Rockefeller used to say when asked how much money was enough: “Just one more dollar.” He was a slave to it. Maybe in the beginning this lame man said, “If only I had legs.” But how many people have legs and are still not happy? If this man just received healing, he would be walking around excited for a month and then what?
Remember the woman at the well in John 4? Jesus told her that if she believed in Him, that He was going to give her living water. He says, ‘My water, if you get it, will become in you a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ He’s talking about deep soul satisfaction, about incredible satisfaction and contentment that doesn’t depend on what is happening outside of us. Most of us think our problem is outside. What will make us happy? If we were honest we would say: if I can find romantic love, then I would be happy. If I could just get that good body, then people will notice me. If I can get that career or job, then…we think our problem is outside of us. We want something from the outside.
If you heard Jodie Foster (who has been acting since age 3 and has received numerous awards and received great acclaim) give her speech after winning an award at the Golden Globes, she made an interesting statement at the end. She said she just wants everyone to know now that she is 50 and done with acting: “Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely.” That is an honest statement. She has not found something or someone who knows her completely and deeply and still loves her. Movies and awards and popularity and acclaim was not big enough for the hole in her heart. It takes way more than what we think to fill our soul.
But what is Jesus saying to the woman? Jesus says, “There’s nothing outside of you that can truly satisfy the thirst that is deep down inside you.” If you keep looking out there somewhere, it is like taking some water and splashing it on your face when you have not had a drink of water for days. You don’t need water splashed on your face; you need water that comes from even deeper down inside you than the thirst itself.
Are you looking for silver and gold? Something earthly, something physical, something economic to fill you? Maybe we’re crippled and lame because we keep begging for the wrong thing? What do you really need today? If it is anything but Him, you will stay limping and begging at people’s feet. But if you find Him, you will leap with true joy.
III. The Gospel is not just power for our present, but the promise for our future (vv.7-10).
This miracle not just shows us Christ’s power in the present through the Gospel, but it also points us to the future hope of the Gospel. Notice all the words that Dr. Luke uses to show that a miracle has taken place. A man who has never learned to walk is now leaping. Luke carefully uses words here that point us back to Isaiah 35. Isaiah says when the Messiah comes that weak hands will be strengthened and feeble knees will made firm. The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the lame man shall leap like a deer (vv.3-6).
Miracles in the NT are never naked displays of power. They are not magic tricks. Jesus is never like, “Hey Peter, you want me to set that tree on fire? Watch this!” “Hey John, you want to see me fly?” Cool! All the miracles seem to alleviate human suffering or trouble. Jesus and the Apostles are healing the sick, feeding the hungry and raising the dead.
What does that show you? Listen to what Keller says in The Reason for God: “We modern people think of miracles as the suspension of the natural order, but Jesus meant them to be the restoration of the natural order. The Bible tells us that God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it. Jesus has come to redeem where it is wrong and heal the world where it is broken. His miracles are not just proofs that He has power but also wonderful foretastes of what He is going to do with that power. Jesus’s miracles are not just a challenge to our minds, but a promise to our hearts, that the world we all want is coming.”
Notice Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:21: “…until the time for restoration.” So this miracle and the Gospel reminds us that we have a promise of the future. He will restore all things. This is just a foretaste. Whatever broken dreams we feel like we have right now, God will fulfill when Jesus returns. Whatever lost opportunities or disappointments or hurts that do not seem to heal will be redeemed and swept up in His providential love. God is committed to alleviate suffering, so much so He was willing to suffer Himself. Are we as a church committed to alleviate suffering of others as well as much as we can?
Lastly notice where the lame man goes as soon as he is healed. He goes into the first time ever in the Temple. He was forbidden for so long. But greater than finding legs, Christ has found him. He will leap forever in Heaven! Suffering wasn’t his real problem. Sin was. Sin would send him to hell. One ounce of sin can destroy you more than ten tons of suffering. Because one sin is enough to take us to eternity without God. Being lame for a lifetime is nothing compared to an eternity without God.
What is the greatest miracle of all? The Gospel is the greatest miracle of all. It is miracle that anyone should be in Heaven. We are all born spiritually lame, “completely crippled—not merely walking with a cane and a limp, but immobile and helpless, with zero resources to change my condition. Silver and gold, self-help and self-righteousness, religion and non-religion, a pantheon of idols and a plethora of attempts couldn’t alter my condition one bit.”
But God, in the greatest miracle of all, became human and killable. He comes to beggars like us. Superman, when he does miracles like have bullets bounce off his chest, always prove that he’s so strong. But God does not come strong on Christmas morning. If He did come strong, all of us spiritually lame people would have been crushed. He comes to the world being killable and nailable. He wasn’t merely crippled for me; he took my death, so that we have something greater than just life to our ankles and feet. Life could come to my whole being. I needed a new heart, not just a new start. I didn’t need a second chance but the second Adam. Indeed, I was dead in my sin and trespasses until you raised me to newness of life in Jesus. New joy causes us not to limp for momentary happiness, but with deep, long, satisfying joy.
Maybe you came in here today with broken dreams. Come to Jesus dear beggar. See Him being weak for you. Get a better vision of Him and His love for you. I don’t know what He’s up to in your life, but I can tell you He cares. The cross proves it. What is that you really need for your soul? It is not out there. Let’s repent from that. It is in Him. Pray that your dry barren heart will be transformed into a fountain of living water that comes from deeply believing the Gospel.
Casper, Mike. “Law and Grace in ‘Les Mis,’” written 20 Dec 2012, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/12/20/law-and-grace-in-les-mis/ accessed 7 February 2013.
Galli, M. (2011). Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (98). Chicago: Moody Press.
Bock, D. L. (2007). Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (160). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Schnabel, E. & Clinton Arnold, ed. (2012). Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts (193). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (127). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (632). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
“Golden Globes 2013: Transcript of Jodie Foster’s speech,” http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/moviesnow/la-et-mn-golden-globes-2013-transcript-of-jodie-fosters-speech-20130113,0,82500.story accessed 8 February 2013.
Keller, T. (2008). The Reason for God (95-96). New York, NY: Dutton.
Smith, Scotty. “A Prayer of Gratitude on Leap Day on the Leap Year,” http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/scottysmith/2012/02/29/a-prayer-of-gratitude-on-leap-day-in-a-leap-year/ accessed 8 February 2013.