“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 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. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 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!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 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.” (Acts 3:1-10 ESV)
Even though this group of Christ followers or “fellowship” has already begun meeting daily, the disciples continue going together to the Temple at the designated prayer times. The ninth hour (3 pm) is the time of the evening sacrifice. Peter and John are going together to evening prayer and they encounter a situation that elicits a response from the Holy Spirit. Notice that Luke tells us not only what time they attended, but also that the man they encountered was a “regular” at the Beautiful Gate.
We find out that this man has been lame since birth and that he has been assisted in coming to this gate to beg for alms. It seems that this is his regular habit and we can likely assume that he’s been doing this for several years. Why is that significant? If my assumptions are correct, then this is probably not the first time Peter and John have encountered him at this gate. However, as they pass by on this day the Holy Spirit moves Peter and John to action. The man is requesting alms from everyone who’s passing by and some, no doubt, throw a few coins his way. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re going to worship. It helps quiet the nagging sense of unease that develops when your beliefs and actions aren’t in harmony.
But Peter isn’t responding from a sense of guilt but rather from divine guidance as the Spirit nudges them into action. It says that Peter “directed his gaze upon him, as did John.” The man is scanning the crowd, trying to make eye contact with as many as possible. Doing so increases the likelihood of receiving something from someone, anyone. The crowd plays a similar game, only in the opposite direction. Don’t make eye contact. To do so implies you’re a target for their pleas. Peter is moved by the Spirit to “lock on” his gaze towards the man and this is extremely important to this man, the early church and to us. Here’s why…
Peter is directed by the Holy Spirit to directly engage this man in his appeal for help. But, Peter’s response is not a monetary response. I find it interesting that Peter fixed his gaze upon the beggar but the beggar didn’t immediately fix his gaze upon Peter. I mentioned that he’s likely scanning the crowd, but not just to make eye contact. He’s also assessing the various people on their dress and demeanor because it indicates their financial ability and likelihood to give alms. I’m guessing he might have glanced at Peter and John and recognized them as working class tradesmen and directed his appeal towards those more affluent.
In fact, it seems that’s a critical piece of information in this story because Luke notes Peter’s words, “Look at us… I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give to you.” He had glanced at them and then immediately directed his gaze at someone else, perhaps at someone with finer clothes, more money and a need to assuage his guilt or ease his conscience. Peter pulls his attention back, “Look at us!” I wonder if he didn’t look expectantly at Peter and then he hears Peter’s next statement and his hope fails, “I don’t have money, but I’ll give you what I have.”
What? Don’t waste my time, fella. I don’t know what you have, but if it isn’t money then it’s not worth my time or attention. If you don’t have what I’m seeking, then my focus and attention would be better placed elsewhere.
Seriously, this guy was seeking a hand out (alms) and almost missed God’s hand reaching down to him because it didn’t come in a familiar package. He thought God’s blessings would come as a few extra coins and he almost missed God’s true blessing.
Don’t we often approach God like that? We come with an agenda already laid out. We think we know what we need or want from God, our idea of what will fix our lives. Often, like this guy, we think a bit more money will fix everything that’s wrong in our lives. But just like him, it’s easy to miss God’s hand for just a few more dollars. Perhaps, you need to hear God say, “Look at me! Stop scanning the crowd for a solution, stop looking for a few coins, stop making assumptions about Me based on your personal desires or beliefs.” So, let me share with you three things God points out in this passage and the immediate context of the surrounding Biblical text.
First, our church must be concerned with the needs of those we meet each day because God is concerned about them. In last week’s text we found that the early church was enjoying “shared life” and helping meet each other’s needs. We now see this same thing happening from overflow of the church’s fellowship as Peter and John encounter a man with obvious needs.
This man appears to have been sitting by this gate of the Temple for years hoping for God’s blessings to overflow from the Temple Priests onto him. Surely, if God was truly present in the Temple rituals then some of God’s power, mercy, and love might overflow onto him. I don’t doubt that his early years of sitting by the Beautiful Gate was marked by fervent prayer for healing. But, after years of of unanswered prayers, no doubt his prayer had simply become that God would show mercy upon him through generous people and sufficient alms to meet his daily needs.
God has called the church, you and me, to be sensitive to the Spirit’s nudging as we encounter people just like him, people who have given up on ever experiencing God’s grace, let alone on seeing His power at work in their lives. Which brings me to the next part…
When God’s Spirit nudges us into seeing their needs He is also wanting us to respond with confidence in His ability to meet their needs. We are often hesitant to respond to perceived needs when the needs are beyond our abilities to meet. But God is calling us to respond to the needs of our community based on His resources and power and not ours. Notice Peter’s response, “I don’t have what you’re seeking (not enough personal resources – no silver or gold), but what I do have (confidence/trust/faith in God’s abilities to meet your needs) I offer to you… get up!”
For the church to begin to meet the needs of the people we meet each day we must begin to look beyond ourselves for the resources to meet those needs. Here’s an interesting idea… what God calls us to do He equips and enables us to do. Now, don’t misunderstand me. God has every right to demand that you and I give everything we have to Him for His use, and He will (demand it and use it). But He will also push you into challenges and to meet needs that are far beyond your personal abilities to meet, just like Peter and John in this story.
Faith is not just something that a believer exhibits at salvation, but something God calls you to have as you live each day. The same faith you exhibited in God when you entrusted your life to Him for salvation is the very same faith God calls you to exhibit each day as you follow Him. Even as you “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV).
So, God is at work in you (developing your faith) and also at work through you (service and ministry) to show others who He is through your obedience to His commands. By the way, the phrase “work out” in this passage doesn’t mean that you earn salvation by “working” for it or earning it, but it means to bring it to the surface and to make it visible to others. Faith isn’t just a belief or feeling that is hidden inside you, but is a trust in God that ought to be visible through your actions towards others and your daily choices.
Peter knows God wants him to minister to this man who’s unable to walk but he doesn’t have the physical resources the man seeks. But, Peter knows God is capable of meeting this man’s deepest needs. It is extremely important to note Peter’s next words, “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Peter isn’t speaking or acting by his own authority, but by the authority and in the name of Jesus. When God speaks, Jesus speaks (see Jn. 12:49). When Jesus speaks, heaven and earth respond in obedience to His command. In this instance, Peter knew God was moving and speaking and he called upon the authority of Jesus’ name to display His glory through making this lame man walk and God answered. Immediately! Powerfully! Visibly!
A word of caution is in order. Never, ever presume to speak on God’s authority when you’re only speaking on your own authority. Never attribute to God what are merely your own words, thoughts or beliefs. But in the same vein, never take personal credit for what God is doing. When God begins to move or speak, let Him and then give Him the glory and praise. Which brings me to…
How can you and I exercise true faith and speak confidently in the name and authority of Jesus? How can we be certain that our ministry efforts are Spirit led and empowered? It comes through intimacy with God’s Word and familiarity with His ways. In other words, you know God so well that you easily recognize His voice and His work.
It has been almost thirty years since my father passed away. I haven’t seen his face or heard his voice in almost three decades. I’ve not seen him sign his name in quite some time. But I can assure you, I’d know his voice the instant I heard it. I’d recognize him immediately if shown a photo. I’d know his signature or hand writing the moment I saw it. Why? Because I know him. In fact, I see him every morning as I’m shaving my own face.
As a Christian, we should be so familiar with God that we recognize His voice. We should know Him so well that we recognize His work, His hand writing. Peter recognized His voice when it urged him to say, “rise up, walk!” He spoke with confidence because of his faith and because he recognized Jesus’ voice speaking to his spirit.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27 ESV)
Intimacy comes through trust, time and familiarity. It begins and is established through trust, but it grows and deepens only through time and familiarity. So, while intimacy with Christ is initially established through faith or trust, it only deepens and strengthens through spending time with Him and becoming familiar with Him. You must learn to know and recognize His voice and His ways (His Word/Scripture). As you do, His voice and His actions will become more and more recognizable.
In conclusion, John says we should “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1 ESV) If you’re in doubt as to whether someone is truly speaking on God’s authority or if the prompting in your spirit is from God, I recommend you read 1 John chapters 3 and 4, Romans chapters 8 through 15 and James chapters 1, 2 and 3. God’s messengers and message will be consistent with His revelation as personified in Jesus Christ. In other words, if I claim to be speaking on God’s behalf then my words and actions should resemble and be consistent with Christ’s.