Outside the gate
Acts • Sermon • Submitted
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This morning we come to chapter 3 in our walk through the book of Acts. This chapter begins a new section within the larger book. The first two chapters were focused on the coming of the Holy Spirit and the empowerment of the believers by the Spirit to be witnesses for Christ. Beginning here in chapter 3 and going on through the end of chapter 5 we’ll see the apostles begin to employ that empowerment as witnesses for the gospel in Jerusalem. We’ll see miracles, we’ll see sermons, and we’ll see opposition to this new faith by the religious leaders of the Jewish people. It’s kind of a pattern in the book of Acts. The apostles perform a miracle through the power of Christ, or they preach a sermon, or both, and then the religious leaders get mad and have them arrested. But let’s get started by reading our passage this morning.
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple for the time of prayer at three in the afternoon. 2 A man who was lame from birth was being carried there. He was placed each day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so that he could beg from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked for money. 4 Peter, along with John, looked straight at him and said, “Look at us.” 5 So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” 7 Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. 8 So he jumped up and started to walk, and he entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him.
So let’s set the stage here. First of all we see Peter and John going up to the temple for the time of prayer at three in the afternoon. Now this was more than just a prayer. It wasn’t what we would think of in the modern church as a prayer meeting. This was a major time of worship for the Jewish people. Three in the afternoon was the time of one of the two sacrifices that were offered up daily at the temple by the priests. A major part of the Jewish faith was the offering of sacrifices to atone for sin. Any time someone committed a sin there had to be a blood sacrifice to atone, to make up for that sin. An animal would be slaughtered and the blood sprinkled on the sides of the altar or poured out in front of it, or whatever was prescribed for that particular animal for that particular sin. And then the body of the animal would be burned on the altar. But twice a day there was a larger sacrifice. It was a ceremonial sacrifice that provided atonement for the sins of the entire nation of Israel rather than for the sins of an individual Jewish person. People would come to the temple to observe this ceremony and to spend time in worship and prayer. These ceremonies were considered to be extremely holy so many people would show up to show their devotion to the faith. So the times with the largest crowds at the temple would normally be during these sacrifices. Peter and John knew that, and that’s why they were going to the temple during that specific time. We read last week that the believers “devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple” among other things. So though they now believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, they hadn’t abandoned the practices of the Jewish faith. They still attended temple. They still observed the festivals and the gatherings. But now they did it with a different perspective and a different intent.
When Peter and John went to the temple that day they were going not just to pray, but to witness. They were going to fulfill the mandate that Jesus had given them to be witnesses in Jerusalem. And what better time to witness than when the largest crowds were gathered together and were already in a state of worship, of anticipation of the coming Messiah. Peter and John would go to the temple and provide the proofs from the scripture that they didn’t have to wit any more because Jesus was this awaited Messiah and he had already come.
But then next we see the lame man that Peter would heal, begging at the temple gate. The scripture makes a point of telling us that he had been lame since birth. The Greek term used here literally means “from his mother’s womb.” At first glance this may seem like a minor fact that could be left out of the story entirely, but it actually plays a key role. The fact that the man had been lame since birth makes his healing all the more incredible. This wasn’t just an injury that needed time to heal. It wasn’t a sprained ankle or a twisted knee. It also wasn’t something that was just in his head. Here we have a man who has never walked. He has spent his entire life begging for handouts at the temple because he can’t support himself neither financially nor physically. He literally cannot support his own weight on his weakened legs, which means he can’t work. So in that culture he had to rely on the kindness of strangers to be able to gather enough money just to eat. So this man comes to the temple, again at the time when the largest crowds would be there. This was the prime time for receiving alms from the worshipers. The Jewish rabbis taught that there were three pillars of the Jewish faith, the Torah which was the scriptures, worship (the sacrifices and prayers), and the showing of kindness. Giving alms was one way of showing kindness and was considered to be a major expression of one’s devotion to God. So the people coming to worship, to observe the sacrifice and to pray, were already predisposed to give alms to the beggars that crowded the gates. It was just another way for them to prove how spiritual they were.
So both Peter and John, and the beggar are there for the crowds. Or at least that’s why they think they are each there. But then we read in verse 3 and 4
3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked for money. 4 Peter, along with John, looked straight at him and said, “Look at us.”
Now remember, this man has been lame his entire life. His entire life he has spent begging. That’s an incredibly hard way to live. Most of the time these beggars around the temple wouldn’t even look up. They kept their eyes downcast and their hands raised asking for alms. Typically all they saw of those passing by were their feet and legs. And the people passing by, even the ones who did give out alms were just as careful about not making eye contact. That’s why this encounter is striking. The man sees yet another set of feet passing him by and he raises his hands and cries out, “Alms, alms.” But then something amazing happens. The feet stop, and a voice says “Look at us.” This is different. This has never happened before. So he looks up, probably thinking, “Today is my lucky day.” And he’s right, but he’s thinking he’s going to get some huge sum of money. Nope. But what he does get is SO much better than money.
Let’s read those verses again.
5 So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!”
Now put yourself in the place of the beggar here. What are you thinking right at this moment? You’ve been crippled from birth. You’ve never taken a step in your entire life. In this culture in which you grew up you are basically worthless and invisible. You spend your days hoping someone will give you enough to pay the rent and to eat that day. You’re sitting outside the gates of the temple asking for money and somebody stops and says, “I don’t have any money, but in the name of Jesus, get up and walk.” If it’s me, I’m thinking “Yeah right buddy. Move along and make room for the people who might actually help.”
But then, verses 7 and 8
7 Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. 8 So he jumped up and started to walk, and he entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God.
As I picture this scene in my mind, Peter says, “get up and walk,” and then he sees the dejection in the man’s face. He sees the hurt and he realizes that the man thinks Peter is mocking him. This man thinks that Peter is no different that the thousands of others throughout his life who have looked down on him simply because he is different. So Peter reaches down, takes his hand and pulls him up. And the Bible tells us, “at once his feet and ankles became strong. So he jumped up and started to walk, and he entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God.” Here’s another example of how miraculous this healing was. Have you ever seen a newborn horse trying to get up and walk for the first time? Or watch a toddler. We’ve got several here in this church. Even after they’ve taken those first steps, they’re still shaky and unsteady for quite a while. But this man, who had never taken a step before in his life, is instantly walking, leaping, jumping for joy.
And that’s amazing enough, but there’s something else here that is often overlooked when we read this passage. It’s this phrase in verse 8, “and he entered the temple with them.” So what’s the big deal about that phrase? It’s just this. This was the first time in his life, that this man had been allowed to enter the temple. Let me say that again so it sinks in. This was the first time in his life, that this man had been allowed to enter the temple.
In that culture, any deformity, any physical defect was seen to be the result of sin. And the penalty for sin was believed to be passed down to the third and fourth generation. So because this man was lame from birth they believed that it was the result of a sin committed by one of his ancestors. It could have been his father, his grandfather or even as far back as his great-great grandfather who committed the sin. Regardless of who committed the sin anyone who was deformed, or crippled in any way was deemed unworthy because of the sin, and was barred from entering the temple. So this man had spent his entire life just outside the spiritual life of his people. Literally. He sat outside the gate of the temple, but he was not allowed to go through that gate. So while the physical healing is amazing enough, this was much more than just a physical healing. Peter healed this man both physically and spiritually. And the spiritual healing is the much bigger miracle.
But now the question arises, what does this story have to do with us? How can we apply this to our lives? Well let me ask you this. How often are we just like this lame beggar? How often do we fixate on the problems in our lives and pray and ask God for money, or for the promotion, or for healing, or for whatever it is that we think is the answer to all our problems? We human beings think so small. Oftentimes, even what we think is our problem is small. The lame man thought that his problem was lack of money. Most people would say that it was his physical limitations, but there are other instances in the Bible of people being healed. But this man seems to accept his circumstances. He’s not asking, or trying for physical healing. He just wants money. He’s resigned to the fact that he’s been like this since the day he was born and he’ll probably be like this until the day he dies. But even the physical ailments weren’t his main problem. His problem was his spiritual condition. And just like the lame man, we often look at the wrong problem and so we’re asking for the wrong solution. He was asking for money. But Peter gave him the physical healing that he needed, and more importantly, he gave him faith in a savior.
God has a plan for each and every one of our lives. He doesn’t show us the whole plan, because honestly, he knows that we couldn’t handle it. So he shows us bits and pieces. He gives us glimpses of his plan. But we tend to do one of two things. The first is, we get so fixated on that one small part of the plan that God has let us see that we never lift our eyes. We’re like the beggars around the temple watching the feet pass us by while holding our hands up begging for alms. Or second, we get so focused on seeing the bigger plan that God has for us that we don’t focus on what’s going on around us. We don’t focus on what God has called us to do at this particular time in our lives. So take time to lift your head. Look at what God is doing in your life and pray about what that might be preparing you for in the future. Look at where God might want you to serve him in the next stage of your life and see what you need to do to prepare for that service. But don’t get so focused on the future that you forget to serve God where he has placed you right now.
Everyone who came to the temple knew this man. He had been a fixture outside the gate for years. But they knew him as a lame man, and as a beggar. Now they saw him healed, walking and leaping for joy, inside the temple. And they wanted to know how this was possible. So, as you might expect, he gathered a crowd. And next week we’ll talk about what happened when that crowd came together. But for now, would you join me in prayer?