Surprised by Hope

Acts 3:1-10   |    Sermon Resources   |    24 November 2019

 

As the church continued to grow in Jerusalem, the new believers met “day by day” in the temple courts. Last week we focused in particular on the “day by day” nature of what they were doing. This week we meet a man who also had a daily routine (literally “day by day” in Greek) – being carried to an entrance of the temple to beg of those who were going in to worship. It is here that he has a remarkable encounter with Peter and John.

The passage this week (3:1-10) deals with the basic facts of what happened. Next (3:11-26) Luke will recount Peter’s sermon where he uses the man’s healing as an occasion to – what else? — preach the Gospel.   The ripple effects will continue to be felt even later when Peter and John are hauled into court to give account to the Jewish authorities (4:1-22).

As we unpack this current passage, I want to examine it through the lens of this man.

 

#1 A Desperate Condition 

As was their custom, Peter and John were going to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour (v.1) – that is 3pm.   By this period of history the Jews had three stated times of prayer and as we see the early Christians participated in these prayer times. This provides the context for man’s encounter with the apostles.

This lame man led a very difficult life. What exactly what his life like?

 

Helpless

First, we consider what it meant for him to be helpless. Here is a man who was lame from birth (v.2). Considering the wide practice of infanticide in the ancient world it is remarkable that he is even alive having been born with a defect. He lived with so many limitations that are difficult for us to understand in our world of relative handicap accessibility. To be born lame in the ancient world could have been a death sentence apart from the help of others. We find out later that he is now over 40 years old (c.f. Acts 4:22) and yet he still had to carried (v.2) wherever he went.

 

Worthless

It seems likely that this man not only felt helpless but worthless. He was unable to perform even the most basic of human functions. Was he able to contribute anything to society? Did his condition leave him feeling useless? To compound the matter there was some debate going on at this time as to whether or not a man like him was being punished for his sin.   For instance, on seeing a blind man, Jesus’ disciples once asked him, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind (c.f. John 9:2)?” It is interesting that the disciples only had two explanations, either the man messed up or his parents messed up. Jesus told his disciples that their entire way of thinking was wrong (c.f. John 9:3-5).   But it was exactly this kind of thinking that surely exasperated the lame man’s suffering.

How could he help but feel worthless? Begging to receive alms (v.2) would tend to do that to someone. Now interestingly he had chosen a very strategic place to beg –outside the temple. Judaism, as it was being practiced then, had become a works-based religion. It would make perfect sense then to beg of religious people going into the temple. And while this act made the beggar feel worthless, it would have had the opposite effect on the giver. They felt a sense of worth as they gave to the worthless beggar.

 

Hopeless

It tends to be true that the longer we live under certain conditions, the more likely we are to be complacent and accept our given lot. This man was now over 40 years old and so it seems likely that he had long since given up any hope of things ever changing. Perhaps this was why Peter and John specifically tell him to “look at us” (v.4). The man couldn’t even bring himself to look Peter and John in the eye. These are the kinds of things that a life of poverty and destitution do to a human being. We remember as well that he was placed at the Beautiful Gate (v.2) leading into the temple, but not within the temple itself. Why was this? From certain Old Testament passages like Leviticus 21:18 and additional Jewish writings, many scholars believe that it had become the practice of the day to shut out deformed people from the temple.

Helpless, worthless, hopeless – this forms a bleak picture of this man. Many commentators through the ages have seen in this man’s condition a picture of the sinner apart of Christ. This was the spiritual condition in which we all once found ourselves.

 

#2 A Surprising Encounter 

This crippled beggar had become part of the scenery in Jerusalem. What makes his healing so remarkable is the sheer number of people who positively knew who he was – because they had seen him every day outside the temple! Day in and day out there was the man begging for alms as he always did. On seeing Peter and John he did as expected and asked to receive alms (v.3). He got their attention but for some reason looked away causing Peter and John to instruct him to “look at us” (v.4). This really got the beggar’s attention as he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them (v.5).

It’s fair to say at this point he had no idea of what was about to transpire. His biggest hope was for some sort of large payday but Jesus had something beyond even that in store for him. Peter begins by acknowledging his own poverty, I have no silver and gold (v.6). We can easily gloss over Peter’s opening words here because of what comes next, but let’s not do that. Remember that Peter had left everything to follow Jesus and so this may very well have been an accurate description of his current economic state.   Peter could have easily written the man off since he knew he was in no position to give money. But he continues, but what I do have I give you (v.6). He was not focused on what he could not do but on what he could do. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk! (v.6)

 Peter then leaned down and took him by the right hand and raised him up (v.7). So the man was healed by the name of Jesus through the hand of Peter. This is how work is done in this new kingdom of God – spiritual power exercised through ordinary people like Peter. And it’s clear the man understood who had actually healed him, as he does not begin to praise Peter, but to praise God.

 

#3 A Changed Life (v.8-10)

Luke who was a doctor by trade (c.f. Colossians 4:14) shares with us some of the medical details of his healing explaining that immediately his feet and ankles were made strong (v.7). This man who seemed beyond hope was changed by the power of Jesus. Notice the change in the man’s life:

 

Joy

We see in him a genuine joy that was evident to all. Luke tells that not only was he walking but he was leaping and praising God (v.9).   People saw it. They noticed. His joy was contagious as they were filled with wonder and amazement (v.10) themselves.

 

Worship

He couldn’t help himself. He was leaping with joy and praising God (v.9). We’ll see that he continued to cling to Peter but he wasn’t worshipping Peter, he was worshipping God.

 

Privilege

I confess this is not my observation but one from Charles Spurgeon who notices that very likely for the first time this man entered the temple (v.8). He previously was laid at the threshold of the temple so very close but still shut out. It was his condition that kept him from entering into the temple. And now having been healed in the name of Jesus, he has the privilege of entering with Peter into the temple.

 

This story of life change should give us hope. This is a good reminder for us that no one is ever beyond the reach of God’s grace. We know that the gospel of Jesus means change is possible. His resurrection from the dead has not only re-written history, it is re-writing our own stories as well. In our own lives we might look at certain sins and conclude that we will never change, but there is hope in Jesus. Or we think of certain individuals and think “there is no way they are ever coming to faith,” but there is hope in Jesus. It’s amazing what is going on in the world of pop music right now. Earlier this month yet another album of Kanye West debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200 Chart. This is not surprising as eight of his others albums have done the same. What is surprising is that this album is entitled Jesus is King and is full of songs like “Follow God,” “Everything We Need” and “Jesus is Lord.” West claims to have become a born-again Christian. Time will tell the real story but this is a remarkable turnaround for a man who once spewed highly offensive lyrics from this mouth to now proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord.”

We believe that God’s grace does not leave us where we are but is constantly at work within us molding and shaping us into the image of his Son. This man, healed in the name of Jesus by the hand of Peter, is a testimony to that fact.

 

Discussion Questions

  1. Spend some discussing what life was possibly like for this man. In what ways could he have felt: (1) helpless, (2) worthless, (3) hopeless?
  2. How is his condition a picture of our lives apart from Christ? In what ways can you relate to his condition?
  3. Have you ever encountered a beggar? What was that experience like?
  4. Describe the interaction between the man and Peter and John. Why do you think Peter and John say, “look at us”?
  5. The man is healed in the name of Jesus by the hand of Peter. How is this a good picture of how evangelism works?
  6. Describe the change in the man. Why does he respond the way he does? In what ways can you relate to him?
  7. Where in your life have you either lost hope or are in danger of losing hope? How does (or how should) the gospel produce real hope in our lives?

 

 

 

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