Sunday, July 3, 2016

3:16 Acts

Acts 3:16

It was a day, just a day like any other day.   His brothers had gotten him out of bed and gotten him dressed.  And on their way to work they carried him to his usual spot at the temple gate.  It was just a day, the sky wasn't any bluer, the birds didn't sing any louder, the sun didn't shine any brighter, it was just a day.  Just a day, like any other day.  And yet before it was finished it would be unlike any other day in his life. 

It was just a day.  And as he lay with his shrivelled twisted legs extended in front of him he thought of all the days he had laid in front of the temple gate and how those days stretched out like an endless horizon before him.   

It was just a day.  And he looked down at the useless limbs stretched out on the blanket in front of him.  They were his, but they weren't even a part of him, he had never felt them, never moved them.  Never ran as a  boy, never walked as a man. And today was just a day, no better and no worse than all the other days that had made up the life of this poor crippled beggar.  But without his knowledge and without his consent today would become the day he would never forget.  And today would take him from  being a beggar destined for an obscure life and obscure death, and would propel him into  immortality.  Who was he?  We don't know.  The scriptures reveal nothing about his life up to this day, and nothing about his life after this day. 

But today, this day, this ordinary day would  be written about by a doctor and read about by millions upon millions of people all over  the world.    The man and the day are written about in Acts chapter 3:16 .

This is week two of our 3:16 series, last week we started with the 3:16 that people are most familiar with, John 3:16 and for the next ten weeks we are going to be bouncing around the Old and New Testament looking at various 3:16s throughout the Bible.  In this case it involves the first healing attributed to the early church.  Peter and John have gone to the temple for prayer and outside of the gates they meet and heal a man who we are told was lame from birth. 

Well, the healing attracted a crowd and Peter sees a great opportunity to preach and the sermon has the same theme as the one he preached on the day of Pentecost.  God sent his Son, You killed him, say you’re sorry.   And for proof he offers up these words: Acts 3:16  “Through faith in the name of Jesus, this man was healed—and you know how crippled he was before. Faith in Jesus’ name has healed him before your very eyes.”

The people who Acts 3:16 was originally addressed to witnessed what happened that day, and that’s where we are going this morning. 

What a day.  A day that would never be forgotten.  The story starts with these words;  Acts 3:1-2  Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service.  As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in.
The first thing we discover is that  1) -This Man Had a Problem. Here was a man with a problem, he was a cripple.  This wasn't a subject open to discussion.  It wasn't debatable, it wasn't abstract or iffy, instead it was definite.   A man lame from birth. 

It wasn't his fault that he was lame. Sometimes our misfortunes have only one person to blame and that is us.  We smoke and die of lung cancer, hey don't stand there shaking your fist at God demanding "how could you do this to me." you're paddling your own canoe.  You abuse alcohol and get cirrhosis of the liver or drive your family away, your fault. Commit adultery and your spouse leaves you, don't blame everyone else ok. 

But sometimes it isn’t.  I have a good friend how never had a drink and has been fighting for his life since his liver betrayed him.  I’ve met folks who were good spouses, maybe not perfect spouses but good spouses and they were betrayed by their partners.  And as far as we know it wasn't this man's fault that he was a cripple. 

And as far as we know it wasn't the fault of anyone else either.  Sometimes there are others who are responsible for our problems.   We know for instance that children who are born to people who smoke or drink, or take drugs during their pregnancy are more apt to have problems then other babies.  Sometimes physical abuse will occur, or an accident will happen for which someone else is to blame.

All we know is that this was a man who wasn't physically whole.  He wasn't everything that physical man is supposed to be, he was a cripple he couldn’t walk.  In today's climate where everything has to be said in the politically correct way we would say that he was "physically disadvantaged"  or "physically challenged".  I have a friend who is bald and he says that he is "folliclely challenged" does that mean that someone who is short is "vertically challenged". 

Now here is a shock:  We all have problems.   And sometimes there are those in our lives who try to minimize what we are going through,  we are told to build a bridge and get over it. 

Robert Fulghum who wrote “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”  minimizes our problems with these words,    “If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you got a problem. Everything else is inconvenience.” 
Others would remind us that problems are simply learning opportunities, Self-help, success guru Anthony Robbins writes “Every problem is a gift - without problems we would not grow.”  And we are told by Lee Iacocca “We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.”

But when your problem is staring you in the face it doesn’t seem like an inconvenience, an opportunity or a gift, sometimes it seems insurmountable.

It might not be a physical problem, or maybe it is.    Or maybe it is an emotional problem, or maybe it is a relational problem, you are estranged from somebody you love. Or maybe it is a financial problem and there is more month then there is paycheque. 

But we all have problems, and just because they aren’t displayed outside the temple gate doesn’t make them any less real.  And in most cases our problems are as individual as we are.   But there is a problem that we all share. 

We are all born with a spiritual problem, and that is we are born with a streak of rebellion that leads us far from God.  That is why Paul tells us in Romans 3:23  For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 

None of us are born worthy to enter into the presence of God.  We are born with a bent toward sin, with a streak of rebellion.  We try to achieve goodness, but we can't quite reach it on our own. Every culture has a set  of mores to be followed.  Every group of men on this planet have sought to justify themselves and have devised some means to appease their God or Gods and yet the prophet says in Isaiah 64:6  We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.  That’s a problem.
In themselves our righteous acts are really neat, they are wonderful, beautiful, marvellous things.  And if we compare them to the works of others they may very well look like the very finest of linens.  And yet when we hold them up to the righteousness of God, then they are just dirty pieces of cloth.  They can't stand the comparison.  And that's not just your righteousness, it's Billy Graham’s, and Mother Theresa’s and John             Wesley’s and every other person who ever lived.  We aren't spiritually whole; we are spiritual cripples.  Or to be politically correct we are "sin disadvantaged" or “righteously challenged.”

Acts 3:1-2  Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service.  As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple.
2) He Thought He knew What He Needed

This man didn't fool himself, he knew he was lame. He'd come to grips with that a long time ago.  And it was a rough time to be handicapped.  There was no social security or Medicare.

It was a time and an age when physical prowess and the quest for perfection abounded.  The Romans had their gladiatorial contest and the Greeks had their Olympic games.  And there was no sympathy and no place for those who weren't quite as perfect  as they should be. 

Not every age or culture takes care of the less fortunate as is common today in our western society.  Only in Canada do we take those who are too old to work and unable to make a meaningful contribution to society and appoint them to the senate. 

This man knew that he had limited potential, he knew that all the dreams and all the hopes and all the aspirations in the world could not make his dead legs function.  He was honest in his evaluation; his friends were taking him out to beg.  He wasn't going for a walk, or to tap dance or play basketball.  He had accepted the facts.

If he was going to survive it would be by begging.   And he sought out one of the most profitable spots, the main door to the temple.  The devout Jews came here at 9 am, noon and 3 pm.  People coming to worship God, and he was trying to make them feel guilty.  There's a lot to be said for guilt.  How many Salvation Army kettles do you see set up just outside the liquor stores at Christmas time.

We will never get to heaven on our own. Never, never, never.  We'll never be that good, we'll never do enough good, we'll never, ever, ever deserve heaven on our own.   And it is only when we are able to admit that, that Jesus Christ will be any good to us.  The Halifax Infirmary is a really neat  place, it's full of people who are sick, or at least think they are.  It's like the guy who called the doctor and said, "I’m calling about my uncle Fred" and the doctor said, "I  keep telling you, your uncle only thinks he's sick"  "oh but it's worse now" replied the man, "now he thinks he's dead." 

People go to the hospital for one of two reasons, 1) to get better, or 2) to ease their suffering.  That's it.  Other than that there is no good reason to be in a hospital.  The food might not be bad but it ain’t great.  And the beds don't look very comfortable, and the company is downright depressing.     But if you are sick it is an ideal place. Mark 2:17  When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

If you're not sick then you don't need a doctor, and if you're not lost then you don't need to be found

I hate to admit to being lost.  I'd drive around in circle all days before I’d swallow my pride and stop someone and tell them I’m lost.  And until you are ready to admit to the fact  that you need Jesus Christ he can't help you.

Acts 3:4-6  Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!”  The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money.  But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”

3) What He Was Offered Was Better Than What He Wanted

Now, the beggar thought he knew what he needed, he needed a handout.  And he thought that was what he was going to get.   
He asked for alms and Peter said "look at us".  Now when I was in sales I knew when I had a sale.  There were things that were said or done that told me "you got this one in the bag."  "This is a nice suit does it come in blue?"  "Boy I really like this car can I get a cassette deck put in?"  I sold cars a really long time ago. 
"Look at us" they said.  And that was a good sign, why? Think about it what do you do when you see a  bum on the street panhandling?  Or you go to  the mall  and someone is standing there with a box for the minor hockey and you have no change?   You look the other way don't you?  The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money.  When  we approach God in prayer we have to approach expecting an answer.  Matthew 7:7-10  “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.  “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?  Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!
Most of us are pushovers for our kids, we like to give things to them when we can. And when we come to God in prayer and ask that our sins be forgiven we have to expect him to forgive them.  Not hope but expect.  Christ will forgive us and save us and give us eternal life but we have to ask. We need to approach him.  The beggar never would have gotten anywhere if he hadn't asked.  Christ has to be approached with a positive attitude.  The beggar probably didn't say "you probably don't want to give me anything do you?"

Acts 3:7  Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up.

4) All He Had to Do Was Believe 

Put yourself in his spot, every day of his adult life this man had been carried to this spot to beg.  Rain & shine, warm weather and cold weather.  He had had days when he had collected next to nothing and other days when he had tripled his usual take.    He had taken physical and verbal abuse from children and teenagers and adults.  He had been ridiculed and slandered. 

But never had he ever heard anything like this.  He'd asked for a crumb and been offered a banquet, had asked for a pittance and been offered his very life.  How should he react, what thoughts coursed through his head?   "Tens of thousands of people in Jerusalem and I get a fruitcake." or maybe it was "oh no if I can walk then I’ll have to get a job!"  what were his initial thoughts?  Had he heard tell of Peter, John, or Jesus of Nazareth?  We will probably never know.  But this we do know, he believed Peter. 

The scriptures say Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up.  Did you catch that?  Peter  didn't grab him under his arms and lift  him up instead he took him by the hand and helped him  up.  Peter assisted the beggar to his feet, he helped him get up.  And that means that the man must have helped as well.   

He put his weight on his legs and felt the strength course down his thighs.  He did something he had never done before, he pushed himself to a sitting position and then got to his feet.  And as his muscles began to swell, and tingle with the unfamiliar tensions and movement he realized  that he was doing the impossible, he was standing by himself.  And slowly the realization dawned on him, this wasn't a practical joke.  These men indeed had more to offer him then silver and  gold.  For they had given him what nature had deprived him of, they had given him his legs.  But only through his belief did this happen, and only by believing the words of this stranger was he standing.

Acts 3:7  Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened.

5) He Received More Than He Asked For. 

One minute half a man, the next minute whole.  One minute crippled the next minute healed.  Just as his handicap had been beyond dispute so was his healing. Not even the Sanhedrin and high priest could doubt or  disbelieve what they and witnessed.  How do you argue with success?  Here was a man who had been crippled by a cruel quirk of nature, and yet now he was whole, just as if his handicap had never been.  The skin which had hung loosely on useless muscles now clung to the well-defined shape of thigh and calf muscles.  The legs that had never moved now responded to every whim,  the feet that had never felt now sensed the pebbles and dust that lay beneath them.  Although we have a spiritual handicap we can  be made whole.  King David had committed adultery, murder and treason and yet in Psalms 51:7 David writes- Psalm 51:7  Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Paul says concerning sin in Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

 When you ask for forgiveness your being is touched and you are made every bit as whole and clean as Adam was before the fall.  It doesn't matter what the sin, Jesus Christ is  able to make you whiter then snow.  The violent murderer becomes like as innocent as a new born babe.  The foulest prostitute becomes as pure as a virgin.   It was over thirty years ago Madonna had her first hit song and  it said, "Like a virgin, touched for the very first time."  and although it had nothing to do with salvation and forgiveness it could have.   Because that's what happens when Jesus comes into your life, Paul says it best in  2 Corinthians 5:17  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

Every sin, every evil thought, word, or deed, every hurt, every scorn, shall be gone, it won't even be history, because history is recorded.  King David said it best in Psalm 103:12  He (God)  has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

Acts 3:8  He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.

6) He Was Full of Praise  

I like this, nobody had to tell him to go to the temple.  Nobody told him he should thank God but he knew he had to.  His very first act was one of praise and thanksgiving.    He was on fire and he wanted to share it with everyone he met. 

He didn't consider if it would offend them, he didn't wonder if it  would drive them away, he wanted to tell them what happened in the name of Jesus.   I can just hear him now, "excuse me sir, I don't know you but a few minutes ago I was a  cripple, couldn't walk, couldn't even more my toes, just laid there on the street and do you know what a man came up and said, ‘silver and gold have I none but what I have  I give to you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth walk.’  and guess what, well I suppose you can see for yourself, that's right I can walk."  If he had of been like some Christians I know his first reaction would have been, “Oh no, now I’ll have to buy shoes.”

It might not hurt you know if we got a little more excited about our faith, after all if you were drowning and someone threw you a rope you'd get excited.  And if you had cancer and someone developed a cure you'd get excited.  And if your team won the Stanley cup, you'd get excited.

Perhaps in the midst of our problems we need to pray as David did in  Psalm 51:8  Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice.

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