TEXT: Acts 3:1-10; Matthew 10:7-10
Often as we study the New Testament we focus on what Jesus did and what the Apostles taught. And both those things are significant to the New Testament. Jesus work on the cross and his various miracles are noteworthy and memorable. And then after Easter we tend to focus on the teachings of the Apostles… the preaching of Peter and the evangelistic work of Paul. Most of the letters in the New Testament are written to churches to address problems or to impart further teaching about how to be Christ-followers.
That’s what Jesus did and what the Apostles taught. But it’s also significant what Jesus TAUGHT and what the Apostles DID. Jesus spent most of his teaching time on the Kingdom of God, announcing its arrival and explaining what it was and the implications for us. His miracles served that message, illustrating the Kingdom of God and God’s reign breaking into this world and its sorrows. And Jesus taught about loving and serving our neighbor, qualities of that same Kingdom.
Today we are going to focus on what the Apostles DID. In Matthew 10 we read Jesus mission, his “marching orders” if you will. He tells them to proclaim his message that the Kingdom is at hand. Then he tells them what to do: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons…. Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper… or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support.” (vv. 8-10)
Today we are going to focus on our core value of SERVE and we’ll look at one example of the followers of Jesus serving Jesus and living out this mission he spoke to them.
Beyond the Gate
Peter and John, two followers of Jesus, were on their way to pray at the Temple. It’s a good thing they were doing, going to pray in the house of the Lord. Maybe you can put yourself in their shoes somewhat if you are worshiping in person this morning. You made the choice and set aside the time and drove to church to do a good thing. And that’s where the worship happens, right? …inside the house of the Lord? And then they passed the gate into the Temple, called the “Beautiful Gate.” And there was a man there begging, right there at the gate to the Temple. He was there every day, every time anyone might come to the Temple. He was there at the Beautiful Gate asking for help, asking for money.
I know how I would have felt because I’ve felt it before: Why are you here now? We are just trying to go into God’s house to worship, to pray, to serve the Lord. Stop bringing me down, man.
Or, if I were in a particularly charitable mood, maybe I’d hand the man some money. That’s what he’s asking for after all, and it’s quick and gets me on my way into the house of the Lord to worship, to pray, to serve the Lord.
It’s so easy to divide up our world and our life into in here and out there, isn’t it? We are religious people because we come here. And even though I am still me out there, it’s much harder to figure out how to follow Jesus “out there.” Or there’s my mini-sanctuary at home, where I might pray or read my Bible or listen to worship music. But that’s just a different kind of gate.
And then there’s Jesus, who spent almost all his time “out there” and invites us to follow him. How do we do that? What does that even look like?
What Do I Have?
Here’s where it’s easy to disconnect from the story. Peter and John “fix their gaze” on the man and say, “Look at us!” (v.4) The man looks, expecting to receive something. And Peter says, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” (v.6)
Peter grabs him by his hand, raises him up, and immediately his feet and ankles are strengthened and the man starts jumping around praising God. And people knew him as the beggar who could not walk. They were filled with wonder and amazement!
But wait, wait, wait! I didn’t know the Apostles could do that. I can’t do that, can I? Certainly if I could heal injuries and disease I’d use that, right? Wouldn’t you? And aren’t we also supposed to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and tend the sick? I have so many questions!
And while I’m at it, here’s another question. I was looking for music with Eric for today and there were plenty of hymns and songs, presumably based on this passage, which talked about seeking something better than silver and gold. One gospel hymn declares, “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold…” and “You can have the world, just give me Jesus.” But that’s not what’s going on here. They are healing a man and, yes, they did it in Jesus’ name. But there’s no sinner’s prayer or moment of salvation or “giving Jesus.” Don’t get me wrong, walking for the first time is worth more than silver and gold, but it’s not quite Jesus.
So, what can we offer? What can we do? And what exactly is the story here in Acts 3?
Serving Beyond the Gate
One of the things that helped me understand what is going on here was reading on in Acts 3. From this miraculous healing and the man leaping around for joy, Peter goes on to tell the gathered crowd the story of Jesus from the covenant with Abraham to their present time. So, in effect, he gave the man healing and gave everybody Jesus. But let me slow down and break that down with a little more detail.
Kingdom of God: Jesus did miracles to help people and out of compassion, but also to point people to the arrival of the Kingdom of God and God’s faithfulness to His covenant. God had promised to one day send the Messiah and pour out His Spirit and to heal the sick, make the lame walk, give sight to the blind, and free the oppressed. Jesus doing those things was part of his public declaration that the Day had come! Likewise, his followers were empowered and sent for the same purpose: to announce the Kingdom of God in word and in deed. That’s what Peter did this day, in a manner very similar to Jesus. He and John healed a man and then talked about the Kingdom which would be announced by… the lame walking.
On charity: This passage does not teach us NOT to feed someone who is hungry, help someone in need, or the like. Jesus explicitly taught us to do that. The focus of this passage, rather, serves to remind us that we have more to share than a few bucks. Sometimes that act of feeding, helping, or showing dignity IS the sign of the Kingdom that we can show to another person. And unless God gives you the power to heal disease, I’d suggest that the acts of service that Jesus highlights, like feeding, helping, caring, and meeting needs is our best way to point toward the Kingdom of God and show the love of Christ.
On message: Don’t miss, like I did the first time around, the connection between the act of service and the Good News of the one we serve first. This isn’t to say that you have to hand out a tract with a dollar bill or make someone listen to your Sunday school lesson before showing them compassion. That’s not what Peter and John did, nor is it effective. Their service and compassion were not conditional on the man sticking around and hearing the message. But he was so moved and so affected by what they did for him that he not only stuck around, but became part of the story about the Kingdom. Don’t be afraid to give God credit or explain what motivates your compassion. But also don’t do a bait and switch. True compassion, no strings attached care for another human being, is compelling and inviting on its own and will often open an opportunity at the right time for the words.
Location, location, location: Note that all this happened at the gate to the Temple with someone who was not going into the Temple. The mission lies “out there” not “in here.” We can care for one another in here, and we should; but if we limit serving God to inside our doors and walls, we’ve missed the main mission.
Don’t neglect worship:This does not mean everything is out there, either. Scripture exhorts us not to forsake assembling together. The teaching and worship we experience in here is what prepares and equips us for the mission out there. And note that Peter and John weren’t going to the gate; they were going to the Temple as they were in the habit of doing. They were also ready to serve when the opportunity presented itself.
And so, friends, go forth with your eyes and hearts open. Take time to notice who and what is around you. Do not miss that our mission is to the world outside our doors. Allow yourself, in a world where it is easy to be cynical and jaded, to be full of the generosity and compassion of the Lord. Know that when you show God’s compassion, you invite people to see God. And when the Lord provides the opportunity, don’t be afraid to explain the hope within you. Amen.
Some Music Used
- Come to Jesus (Tomlin)
- Silver and Gold (Franklin)
- You Raise Me Up
- Rick Bean, piano
- I Could Sing of Your Love Forever
- These Hands (Deyo)
- Confession: Purify My Heart, GSPC choir
- Have Thine Own Way
- Benediction: Go Now in Peace (Bean), GSPC choir