Sights, Sounds & Suspicions in a Prayer Meeting, pt. 1

Sermon Tone Analysis
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Call to worship
Psalm 100:4–5 ESV
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Sermon reading 1, for perspective
Luke 23:44–45 ESV
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
Sermon reading 2, main text
Acts 3:1–10 ESV
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
Prayer after the reading (or Psalm reading)
Psalm 24:9–10 ESV
9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah
It still amazes me— not even 60, or 70, or 80 days after all that’s happened with Jesus’ death and resurrection.
So close to the dust settling and the debris of the earthquake being scurried away in dustpans:
Still after all that, in our passage this morning, there’s still a temple in operation—and probably still with sacrifices, and offerings, and bulls and goats.
So a question for you: When is Christianity just overspent and undelivered, empty and ready to be closed up?
(I remember Dennis C’s classis exam being asked over 10 years ago…)
1 Corinthians 15:14,17,19 (ESV)
15:14, And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain (empty) and your faith is in vain.
15:17, And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile (worthless) and you are still in your sins.
15:19, If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied (miserable).
Some recognized that a temple in Jerusalem, at the ninth hour, had a new usage. At the old hour of evening sacrifice, it was now the “hour of prayer.”
Jesus had come, Jesus had died…Jesus was raised!
Luke 23, the curtain is torn. – The people who couldn’t see, or recognize the worthlessness: did they sew the curtain back up and repair it, so it was empty “business as usual?”
We have a story and a gospel episode here that’s focused and concentrated on access. A lame man receives welcome and healing being ushered amazingly into the people and presence of God himself!
Peter and John—Jesus’ insiders, his closest disciples—are going up at this time, and they’re finding a man who is left for the outside.
Literal Greek, “a man lame from his mother’s womb, existing, was being carried as a burden, whom they laid down daily at the gate [i.e., while they themselves went on and entered the temple].”
Beautiful Gate: point of speculation and difference in the commentaries.
Best guess: it was the last gate that divided the Gentiles from the Israelites.
Separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of Women. – (Where Luke’s Theophilus probably would have found his physical access barred. Theophilus, “lover of God” (Acts 1:1 and Luke 1:1), probably being Greek and therefore uncircumcised, though even possibly a follower.)
It’s two steps removed from the entry to the Holy of Holies, the “mercy seat.”
The man is laid there to beg alms (lit., “mercy”) in the form of handouts, money, physical donations of goodwill.
Peter and John discover this.
Consider the disparity and the unevenness subjected over this man.
Acts 2:42, all the believers were TOGETHER.
Acts 2:46, DAILY they were attending the temple TOGETHER and breaking bread in their homes.
(Meanwhile, DAILY he’s dropped off and left about his begging and panhandling, while the worship continues right on—just paces from where he lies!)
Why the disparity? --Introduce Mrs. I’s story. Homeless person after evening service.
Was the disparity caused in Leviticus 21:18-19 (the only command involving those who were lame / injured in body)?
Leviticus 21:18–19 (ESV)
18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand.
The man can’t “draw near,” right? He’s cut off and forbidden from the presence and meetingplace of God…
It’s legit, right? It’s just the limits according to the law?
(Guess again!)
This was a command regarding the condition of the temple/tabernacle priests and Levites! Not a command about the worshipers in the courts!
More likely, it was a forgetting of the imago Dei / the image of God / the humanity of the man they were carrying.
“Burden.” He was “existing.”
APPLY: do we have that?? Have we shown that??—Who are we content to be disconnected from or leave on the outskirts?
APPLY: do we have that?? Have we shown that??
Who are we content to be disconnected from or leave on the outskirts?
--Maybe it was in the old masking or no-masking days… “To vaccinate, or not to vaccinate…”
--Maybe it’s the immediate aftermath of political and election season…
--Or there are denominations whose churches dismiss non-members prior to members receiving communion…
--Maybe it’s in the architecture of our buildings: whether we accommodate the aged or the differently-abled, and whether we take the time to consider and make their access as easy as it is for us…
--Or far be it from us to invite people into our homes to share an evening meal, and on that night we SKIP family worship and family devotions (rather than bringing our neighbor or friends right into that time with us)!
It’s something for thought, on their parts and ours—the signals, conscious and subconscious, that we make—and it needs a good reminder:
James 2:1–6 (ESV)
1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in,
3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,”
4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
6 But you have dishonored the poor man.
Peter and John enter as Jesus’ insiders—and they “see” the man.
It’s an operating word for the portion of scripture—and it makes all the transforming difference!
V. 3, The blind man SEES Peter and John entering.
V. 4, Peter “directed his gaze” (our word, “attention”), as did John, and said, “LOOK at us.”
V. 5, the man “fixed his attention” (different Greek word still).
We look at this and ask—why in the world, in a passage about healing and walking, is everything focused on looking?
Let’s look here then and ask about the nature of faith.
Why, in a situation of life-after-death, do we ourselves focus on faith?
Why, in eternal life, are we focused on grace, and faith, and forgiveness?
Shouldn’t it be good works, and good living, and making the best use of our time and abilities for the service of the world, in the time that we’re allotted?
Shouldn’t those be where we’re focused, rather than on the strange things of righteousness, and justification, and divine mercy?
Why, in the here and now, are we so focused on a heaven and getting to heaven??
If you asked the world, “how is it that you live,” the chances most likely are that the reply won’t be, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Isn’t that right?
There are all sorts of ways that the world could say in response to how, or why, or in what way do you live.
But belief and faith and trust probably aren’t going to be the way.
It seems counterintuitive.
It seems mismatched.
It seems misconstrued.
BUT…the healing of a lame man that focuses on looking, is the faith of the gospel that focuses on trusting, and believing, and having confidence in Jesus!
So a man is lame, crippled from birth, unable to use his legs and perhaps his arms as well.
He hasn’t used his legs, not once, to walk or to move on his own from the day that he was born.
He’s carried and moved about, “like a burden.”
And yet the thrust and dynamic of the passage is to focus on the eyes, on looking.
Peter seeing…
The man looking
The man fixing his attention
(You go to the doctor and say, “Doc, I have this pain in my ankle.” And the doctor, rather than examining the ankle, starts looking into your eyes!)
How do you react??
Do you even stay with the doctor, or do you start searching for another one???
Peter does two things after gaining the man’s attention that are worth noting:
(1) He doesn’t give the man the handout or the money that the man was normally expecting.
(2) He points a tossed-aside lame man toward the compassionate and understanding source of healing who understands being tossed aside and neglected.
So, number 1, he doesn’t give the man the handout and the money that he’s normally begging when he goes to the gate each day.
It’s interesting that Peter points to his own empty pockets, and he says (like many of us say to homeless people on the streets, maybe on our walks to the office or in a night out on the city), “I don’t have that money that you’re wanting! Sorry, I don’t have any cash today!”
But, unlike me with many of the homeless, Peter doesn’t NOT GIVE and doesn’t KEEP WALKING AWAY!
(Instead he says, “What I do have, I give!”)
It’s interesting and so similar to what Peter himself later writes, that it’s almost a wonder if Peter didn’t have this situation in mind when he wrote to believers not many years later:
1 Peter 1:18–19 (ESV)
18 Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
Peter doesn’t give the man the cash, sort to speak, but “what [he does have] [he gives] to the man.”
And then he does the Number 2 thing of note, he points the cast-off lame man to an unexpected but totally understanding source of his healing. He points him, middle of v. 6, to “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
Jesus of Nazareth, whom John no doubt remembered recording in his Gospel Nathanael saying of him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
Nazareth: the town where Jesus himself was from, but also where he was rejected, disregarded as “Joseph’s son” (Luke 4). – Chased out of the synagogue, and run out to the edge of a cliff!
Nazareth, too: the backward and backwater town of Judah’s hillbillies, giving rise to Nathanael’s derision and sideways-glance in the Gospel of John.
But he’s also “Christ”—the Lord’s anointed. The one chosen. He may be rejected in the world’s eyes—but to him belongs the divine stamp and imprimatur!
Peter doesn’t point to the “name of the Son of Man” or the “Lord of hosts” or “the Son of David.” Instead he points a lame man, set aside and dropped-off, to the Jesus Christ who, he too, was rejected and scorned—written off and discarded—
Isaiah 53:3 ESV
3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Both of these things Peter does—and then, really the third and most astounding thing he does:
He tells a man, lame since the day he met this earth, to “rise up, and walk.”
And the man, “immediately,” does just that!
We find out later, 4:22, that he was 40+ [“more than 40 years old”], too.
Imagine the lack of development, the atrophy, the bones and muscles and sensations never knowing the feeling of walking—or even of toddling. (40 years ago being 1982…or 40 years from now being 2062….)
He hasn’t run, he hasn’t walked, he probably hasn’t even crawled.
(If anything—maybe he could scoot and nudge his weight across the floor using only his hands.)
And imagine not even the atrophy, but just the total ignorance and unknowing of the man after all those years…unknowing of what we do without even thinking!
(I have a step tracker! 250 steps per hour, 10000+ steps per day! This man says, Huh???!)
But what’s so subconscious for us, so natural and involuntary and reflexive.—It becomes that, in an instant, for the man born lame, too!
And we had to learn it! (Not so for him!!)
“Immediately,” none of the paralysis and crippling matters.
None of the stages either that usually happen in babies’ development and learning—no rolling to tummy, pulling with arms, backing down stairs, crawling on knees; bumps, and bruises, and tears from falls; none of it.
Chris Rice’s lyrics in his beautiful Untitled Hymn—“And remember when you walk, sometimes you fall.” NOT THIS MAN!
V. 7, “Immediately his bones and ankles were made strong.”
V. 8, “And leaping up, he stood and began to walk. And [he] entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.”
It’s a beautiful fulfillment of Isaiah 35, of the “lame man [leaping] like a deer,” while eyes of the blind are opened, deaf ears are unstopped, and mute tongues are loosened, and wildernesses receive water and full blooms of flowers.
It’s also a beautiful undoing of all the disparity and otherness that this man “daily” was subjected to.
He’s entering the temple now, v. 8.
The gate is no longer a barrier or a dropoff point blocking his access, but it’s an open door. ((He RUNS thru!))
The man previously begging “alms” and mercy, he gains entry to the “mercy seat!”—The curtain of the temple has been torn back for him, too!
He’s a part of Israel, rather than cast out and cast aside as an “other” APART FROM Israel.
For him, literally a “dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14) is no more and it’s destroyed, so that he’s one with the people of God and able to be “together” attending the temple (recall Acts 2:46) and able to be a full communicating member of all their fellowship and life together…which they were already enjoying, and now he is able to walk right into it, himself.
To close:
The people recognize the man, healed and running about.
Vv. 9 and 10, they recognize him, they see him—that key operating word, again.
(He rubs shoulders with them, bumps into them, sends them scurrying out of his way, no longer constrained to the entry of the gate where they previously dumped him off.)
They’re filled with “wonder” and “amazement” (our word, “ecstasy”) for the crazy and miraculous thing that it was.
And in all the commotion, we hear these words from John the apostle—Jesus’ closest insider along with Peter, who also received later a vision of the heavenly temple and the place where all the saints are gathered for eternity:
And this John writes,
Revelation 21:22–27 (ESV)
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
24 By its light will the nations (Gentiles) walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,
25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.
26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
And so there’s us. Gentiles. Who SHOULD be left out and on the outside!
Can you do it? Can you follow a Lamb, when Springfield and everywhere else want a lion, a tiger, or a bear?
Can you wait for a place in heaven, a place that’s promised—promised by faith right now, and NOT by sight?
Can you wait? Can you long for it?
Jesus Christ is the temple. He’s from backwater Nazareth—and yet he’s also Christ, signed, sealed, and delivered.
And he’s taken up the main and glorious seat of heaven’s wonders!
He seems like a waste and a foolishness to the world.
But to those who are in his book of life, he’s the most precious thing there is—and the reason for all our praising, all our shouting, and all our leaping for joy.
So come to him now.
Leaping, crawling, plodding…come to him.
Crying, rejoicing, laughing…come to him.
Sorrowing, maybe even lost…
Cast aside and disregarded…come to him. (And find someone to walk with!)
Come to him, and find your transformative life.
The Chris Rice lyrics again:
And remember when you walk, sometimes you fall.”
And those are the times he will take you by the hand, and he will welcome you home.
Come to him now.
“Fellowship time” is open and eternal…and you’re invited and most welcome.
Prayer following message,
Psalm 122:1–2 ESV
1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” 2 Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!
1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 ESV
23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
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