In an Ugly Situation
In an Ugly Situation
At a Beautiful Gate
New Hope B.C.
September 24, 2006
It is almost an oxymoron to use the words ugly and beautiful in the same sentence. Ugly is always ascribed to something unattractive, unsightly, repulsive and unpleasant. I remember in grade school how cruel it seemed when children called others ugly. Even if the child wasn’t ugly, the mere speaking of the word made them feel unattractive and revolting. Sometimes, especially as kids (and some of us old kids) associate other words with or attaches the same meaning of ugly, depending on the manner in which they are used. For example, when all else fails, you can always say, yo’ momma! Now that right there, that means all of the bad things your mind can conger up for the word, ugly.
Beautiful, on the other hand, has the opposite effect. Beautiful is to be good-looking, gorgeous, striking, attractive, charming and pleasing, even handsome and picturesque. Seldom do Black people use those words to describe another person. We may call a place beautiful, or a thing beautiful, but when we want to describe a certain man or woman who epitomizes all of these adjectives in one word, we say he or she is just plain fine! That brother is fine! That sister is fine! But seldom will you hear anyone use both words, ugly and beautiful in the same sentence to describe a scene or situation. Why? Because it’s almost impossible to have ugly and beauty together at the same time and in the same situation. James asked, “does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water?
But today we’re going to use these two words to describe a particular situation; a situation that yielded something ugly and something beautiful, at the same time.
There are three things that I wish for us to consider in today’s passage, then I shall take my seat: The Man at the gate, the Miracle at the gate, and the Message at the gate.
At this point in the text the early church was in its infancy. They had just made an agreement to have all things in common and the Lord was adding to the church daily. The Israelites were just on the cutting edge of moving away from traditional Judaism and into Christianity, into a place of acceptance of the idea of the Gentiles among them. Because of this, they were still observing certain Jewish rituals and one of these rituals was to pray at certain times at the Temple.
The “Beautiful Gate” was probably a popular title for the Nicanor Gate (named for its Alexandrian donor). It was the main gate and the largest gate, and made of the most expensive bronze. It was in the Court of the Women on the east side of the Temple, facing the gate of the sanctuary, and it must have been especially beautiful in the light of the rising sun. It was situated above fifteen steps, beyond which neither women nor the maimed and unclean could pass, for it was against the Law. The Temple hosted beggars on its steps who could appeal to those going in.
Begging alms at public places was common in antiquity, and the Jews especially held it as important to their faith. In Judaism only those who could not work made their living this way, but charity was highly regarded.
It was here, at this gate, this beautiful gate that we find this beggar. The Bible does not name him; it just says that he was a beggar; a beggar who had to be taken to the area daily, up fifteen stairs; and then he was laid at the gate each day to beg. A beggar, who had been carried from infancy, and even now in the middle ages of his life, he was carried and laid at the gate in order to beg. You might have experienced an ugly situation in your life: wayward children, stressful job, a wandering spouse, a dreadful disease, loss or some other tragedy that was an ugly situation, but this man was in a really ugly situation. You see, not only did he beg, but he had to beg. He had no choice. He had been crippled from his mother’s womb, so he had some sort of congenital disease. He couldn’t work; no cans or bottles to sell, he didn’t get G.R. or SSI; no worker’s comp; no disability payments; he didn’t even have a wheelchair to sit in; he had to be laid at the gate.
There is one thing that we have in common with him. You see, he probably had a congenital disease since he had been crippled from his mother’s womb. The Psalmist said, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We were all crippled from our mothers’ womb. We all came here with a congenital disease. It’s called sin. When Adam fell, we all fell. Sin cripples everything it touches. Let sin into your home and it will cripple it. Let sin into the church, and it will cripple it.
This man’s ugly situation was compounded. He was cripple, unable to work, his family was out of the picture, he was dependent upon others to carry him and to take him where he had to go, and he couldn’t even go into the Temple. He had to lie outside.
Some of you are in that very situation today. You’re in an ugly situation, but you remain outside of the Temple. Listen. There is no law keeping you out today. You can come inside. You can come to Jesus for yourself. You don’t have to lie at the gate and beg. Jesus is waiting for you to come in.
He was in an ugly situation, but he was at a beautiful gate. This gate was worth a fortune. It was brilliant to behold, but lying on its outside was a man marred, a man disfigured, distorted and outcast. The gate was wealth, the man was woe. Man can make many things beautiful, but he cannot make himself beautiful. Only God can do that. You need to know today, that there is a danger in being at the church and not in the; there is a danger in being at choir rehearsal and not in choir rehearsal; being at Bible study but not really in Bible study; Always at church but never in church. When you leave church the same old way that you came, you were only at church. When you leave church doing the same old things, going to the same old places, you were at church and not in church. I know it’s the truth because when somebody asks you where you’ve been, you say, at church. When you leave church and you are never any stronger, when you never feel the Holy Spirit, nothing moves you, nothing ever stirs you up, you keep the same old prim and proper look on your face, Sunday after Sunday, you just been at church. When your habits never change, your ways never improve, when your lifestyle remains the same, when you leave here and continue peeping and hiding, slipping and tipping, hugging and bugging, fussing and fighting, you just been at church. The tragedy of this man was not how he was but where he was; at the gate. But it was a beautiful gate. Not because it held some intrinsic value for him; but it would serve as the place for an appointed meeting for a miracle.
The man was laid at a strategic place; at the gate where many Jews passed everyday on their way to worship. People who would not want to go into the Temple with feelings of guilt of having passed the beggar by. But pass him by they did, for the Scripture indicates that he probably never looked up at them and they never paid him much attention either. They only dropped alms into his raised cup to quiet both his plea and their guilt.
But on a particular day, and at an appointed time, things changed. You know the Lord has an appointed time for things. Nothing in our lives is by happenstance. Even your lifespan has an appointed time for the Bible says it is appointed unto to man to die once, then judgment. Just so, this man, this beggar had an appointed time with the Master. It was on this particular day at 3:00 p.m.; this day that two men, Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, Peter and John were walking by, on their way to afternoon prayer meeting. This beggar, seeing them approaching begins to cry out for alms, for money. This time, something was different about the transaction. These men did not just drop coins into his cup and continue walking by. They didn’t ignore him. They stopped. They looked at him. The Bible says that they fixed their gaze upon him. In other words, they studied him. They assessed his situation. They studied his circumstances. They saw the man. Then, they entered into dialogue with him. They ultimately lift him up from the ground. The bible says that they took the beggar by the hand and lifted him up. In other words, they laid hands on the brother.
There are many people, many so-called preachers or healers on TV laying hands on people and instructing them to do something they say they could not do. Let me tell you something, when Jesus lays hands on you, things will change, and it won’t take long. The Bible says, “Immediately” there was strength in his ankles and feet. Immediately, he got up and began to run and shout. The miracle at the gate was this: That Peter laid hand on the beggar so fast and snatched him out of an ugly situation so quick that it blew his mind. Even people that had known the beggar had to rub their eyes in astonishment when they saw him running and leaping for joy. I can imagine how he felt because I’ve been in ugly situations. I have been down and almost out, ready to give up. But I remembered how Jesus had rescued me before, how he had brought me through and restored me. Then I cried out to him, I lifted up my cup of supplication, expecting some alms of comfort for what lay ahead and all of a sudden, Jesus laid hands on me and snatched me from despair and depression. He renewed my hope, restored my joy, dried my eyes, filled me with peace, and confirmed His grace! I’m telling you God is good and His mercy is everlasting. He can see you right where you are. He knows how ugly your situation may be today, but he can lay hands on you and it.
When Jesus changes your ugly situation, when He snatches you and turns things around, people will have a hard time seeing you in a new light. They said of the beggar, “Isn’t that the man who used to lie at the gate begging”? People will always remember your past. They don’t quickly forget what you used to do. They might not pay much attention to you when you are in an ugly situation, but oh don’t act like you’re trying to come out. But thanks be to God, He doesn’t see what we used to be, when he looks at us through Jesus, He only sees potential.
Thank God for the man at the gate who shows us that ugly don’t have to last always; that even when we think there is no hope, we can know that Jesus has a transforming power. Thank God for the miracle at the gate that shows us that God can and that God will touch you in the midst of an ugly situation; He will lay hands on you and literally snatch you out; That He sees you in the midst of that situation and can give you just what you need to come out. But there is also a message at the gate.
The Message at the Gate:
The amazing thing that happened at the gate that day was that Peter and John stopped where the man was. Most people on their way into the Temple just dropped a few coins in his cup or simply kept walking by. But Peter and John stopped.
I think it means something when you are down and somebody takes time to stop. I think it means something when you are ill and somebody hands you a glass of water. A few of my neighbors and I share the same gardener. At times a couple of them have remarked that my lawn seems to look so much nicer. They wonder why, since we use the same person. I’ve been home at times during the really hot summer days, or my daughter has been there on break from school. When the gardeners come, one of us would go out and take them a large plastic cup of ice and a big bottle of water. No big thing, but we stopped whatever we were doing. The gardener didn’t even speak English, but our smiles connected and my grass looks good. It means something to stop, but not only did they stop, they went further The Bible says that Peter told the man to “look at us!” The Greek verb used here is in the imperative sense meaning it was an expressed command, an exhortation. It was not an expression of reality by possibility or volition. In other words, there was no option given. The man was commanded to look at them. If it’s anything I dislike it is for someone to talk to me without looking at me. If you want something from me, then at least give me the courtesy to look at me. Jesus is the same way. We want to request things from Him when we are in deep trouble, but we never take the time to really look at Jesus. We don’t see Jesus!
Let me go on to say that the man did look at them. He fixed his attention upon them, but in expectation of what he had asked for. He had asked for a hand out but he was about to get a hand up. Peter said to the man, “I don’t have any silver or gold”. Basically, Peter told the man, “We don’t have a nickel between us. Silver and gold is a neutral thing. It has no lasting value; but I do have something, something that I posses, something that I hold on to, something more valuable than silver or gold; but such as we have, I give to you. In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk.” What was it that they had? The name of Jesus. They had the authority of the name of Jesus.
The Bible says that his ankles and his feet were made strong. The original language is in a passive voice. Sometimes called a ‘Divine Passive’, it indicates that the subject is the receiver, the one being acted upon. In other words, when his ankles and his feet began to strengthen, neither he, nor Peter, nor John had anything to do with it. God is the only one who is able to put movement into a stagnant situation. God is the only one who is able to make an ugly situation something worth leaping about, something worth jumping up for joy over.
Peter commanded the beggar to look at them. If he wanted what they had, then he had to get his eyes off of his ugly situation; he had to stop looking down; he had to stop seeking the same old things; he had to stop seeking temporal satisfaction; he had to look at them. When he looked at Peter and John, he saw Jesus for they were in Him, full of Him and in His power and authority.
I just came this morning to ask you two things: when people look at you, do they see Jesus? Are you living, are you working, are you moving, are you talking, are you looking in such a way that the world can see Jesus in you? Oh, my brothers and my sisters, the lamed and infirmed world is looking to receive something from us today. Even others in Christ need something from us. They may not say so, but they really are looking for something from us. They are looking for somebody to reach out and touch them; somebody to stretch out their hands and give them a lift up. The reason the world talks about us so badly, the reason they call us fakes, the reason they don’t want to hear what we have to say is because they can’t see Jesus in us. When they look at us, they just see themselves. We walk like them, we cuss like them, we dress like them, we visit the same places, we train our children in the same ways, we look like them, but they need to see Jesus.
Maybe the problem is that you don’t see Jesus either. Can you see Jesus today? Down through the years, people have been dropping silver and gold in your cups. They have given you false hope, put up with your way of life, laughed at you sin, fed your egos and padded your imaginations; but you’re still in the same old ugly situation. Nothing has changed. Silver and gold has done you no good. You’re still lame; you’re still unable to move yourself from one place to another, yet you keep on asking for something that has done you no good. You need to see Jesus. He is the only one who can make you over. He is the only one who can change your ugly situation. Things will change when you see Jesus. Life will have new meaning, when you see Jesus. Ugly situations will miraculously turn into things of beauty, when you see Jesus.
I know it’s true because one day Abraham was in an ugly situation: he had a son but not the one of promise, but the Lord appeared before him and asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” Moses had been hiding out in the desert, but when he went up on the mountain to see the burning bush, he came into the presence of The Almighty and his whole appearance changed. In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord; He was high and lifted up, and Isaiah cried out “Woe is me!” King Nebuchadnezzar tied the three Hebrew boys up and put them in the furnace, but upon a 2nd look he saw four men, loosed and walking around; and he said One looked like the son of the gods. Blind Bartimaeus was in an ugly situation, always in the dark and dependent on others for direction, but he cried out as Jesus was passing by and got to see the Lord. There was another man lying by the Pool of Bethesda who had been sick for 38 years. But one day, Jesus was passing by, stopped when He saw him and knew his condition. That man saw Jesus and gained his healing.
I see Jesus this morning, oh, not as Mary’s little baby, but hanging high up on a cross, stretched wide, where He hung His head and died, for you and for me. I see Jesus, buried in a borrowed tomb, where He stayed all of Friday, and all day Saturday, but early, on Sunday morning, while the sun and the moon were negotiating a changing of the guards; early, on Sunday morning, He got up from the grave with all power in His hands. I see Jesus this morning, as my Rock, my Lord, my Peace, my Comfort, He’s my provider, He’s my friend. He’s the Great I Am; The Creator and sustainer of life; my High Priest; The Word incarnate; My Mediator; King of Kings; Lord of Lords; Alpha and Omega; The Lamb of God; Abba, Father; Almighty; Ancient of Days; The Everlasting God; The God who Sees; my Shalom; my Righteousness; my Shepherd; The Exalted One. He’s still grandma’s walking cane and a Rock in a weary land. He’s all up in my business, negotiator of my affairs; my shelter; my driving force; my paradise on a good day and my shed that hides me from the rain. I see Jesus.