The Grace and Power of God Among Us
Reflection by Rev. Richard Jorgensen
1 Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.* 2 A certain man who was lame from his mother’s womb was being carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask gifts for the needy of those who entered into the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive gifts for the needy. 4 Peter, fastening his eyes on him, with John, said, “Look at us.” 5 He listened to them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” 7 He took him by the right hand and raised him up. Immediately his feet and his ankle bones received strength. 8 Leaping up, he stood and began to walk. He entered with them into the temple, walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 They recognized him, that it was he who used to sit begging for gifts for the needy at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. They were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11 As the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.
12 When Peter saw it, he responded to the people, “You men of Israel, why do you marvel at this man? Why do you fasten your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had determined to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, to which we are witnesses. 16 By faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.
17 “Now, brothers,† I know that you did this in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But the things which God announced by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.
19 “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that he may send Christ Jesus, who was ordained for you before, 21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God spoke long ago by the mouth of his holy prophets. 22 For Moses indeed said to the fathers, ‘The Lord God will raise up a prophet for you from among your brothers, like me. You shall listen to him in all things whatever he says to you. 23 It will be that every soul that will not listen to that prophet will be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24 Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and those who followed after, as many as have spoken, also told of these days. 25 You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘All the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring.’ 26God, having raised up his servant Jesus, sent him to you first to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your wickedness.”
Immediately following the summary about the life of the church which described their four-fold commitment to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of the bread and the traditional hours of prayer, we find Peter and John going to pray in the Temple at the ninth hour, or three o’clock in the afternoon. As they enter the temple, there is a man who has been lame from birth who has been carried there daily to beg for alms for the needy. A couple of things are worth noting about this description. Although Jesus rejected the notion that sin caused the man to be born blind (John 9), there was no doubt still some sense of assumed guilt for this man who had been lame since birth. However, as he laid by the entrance to the Temple begging for “gifts for the needy,” this man also presented an opportunity for people to practice almsgiving. In fact, the story reminds us several times that this man is there to gather gifts not just for himself, but for others as well.
While he played a role in the faith life of God’s people, he would also be something of an outcast among the people. In Leviticus 21:18, priests were not allowed to be blind or lame, to have any number of other physical challenges and then serve to present the offering to the Lord. It is perhaps no accident that the list of those who could not offer sacrifice to the Lord because of some perceived physical imperfection mirrors the same list of physical limitations which would have made an animal unfit sacrifice to the Lord. While the original prohibition was only supposed to apply to the priests in their role of offering sacrifice to the Lord, it was later interpreted to apply to anyone with any sort of physical disability, and would have meant that this man who had been lame since birth, would have been allowed to beg at the entrance to the Temple, but not allowed to actually gather with the congregation in worship.
While we might consider Israel’s prohibitions harsh, they may not be all that different from the way our own society treats the homeless today. We may or may not be inclined to give when they beg. We might notice all the places where they are not welcome, and we might also realize that Israel at least had a spiritual practice of caring for those in need; the same is not always true for our society today.
Often as the church we assume that we need money and resources to do God’s mission; however, I discovered a long time ago that it often does not cost much money to do ministry that really matters to God and to the world around us.
As Peter and John enter the temple, they are greeted by the man who has been lame since birth, who begs from them, and expecting that they might offer some sort of money for the needy. Instead, Peter and John invite the man to look at them, and he does because he expects to receive something. However, Peter says that neither he or John have any money. And perhaps the man would have been disappointed, but there is yet another surprise waiting.
Peter says, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” Just as Jesus had predicted, his disciples are now carrying on the same work he had done during his earthly ministry. Peter makes it clear that the power to heal does not come from him or John, but only by the power of God. When he offers the man that he might be healed, he not only announces this healing, but also takes him by the hand and helps him stand. Now, for the first time, this man always on the outside looking in enters the Temple, walking, leaping and praising God. No longer left to the side by the gate, he now enters as would any other worshipper of God.
Just as the crowd in Acts 2 was amazed or incredulous at the coming of the Holy Spirit, we see a crowd gather around the man who had been healed; they recognize him and wonder how this happened. Just as the miracle in Acts 2 required some sort of explanation, we see Peter once again explaining what God is doing. This is his third major speech in the book of Acts in just three chapters. It is perhaps doubly remarkable that the same Peter who often misspoke or misunderstood what Jesus was doing at any number of times in the Gospels is now able to proclaim the Good News of Jesus with power and clarity, calling people to repent, and to receive the mercy of God offered through Jesus Christ. It is an indication that Peter really has been clothed with power from on high. He can speak about Jesus and interpret scripture with both courage and clarity. This also reminds us yet again that our own proclamation of the Gospel is never by our own power or wisdom, but always by the grace and power of God among us.
Sometimes it is tempting for any one of us who has spent time in the church to emphasize the wrong things. Often people measure the viability of a ministry by its size, property, and financial resources. Sometimes our ministries are measured in numbers rather than in the ways we manifest the healing love and power of God in the world today. Perhaps it is safer to stay with the numbers, because even if they are not good, at least it is safer than acknowledging the power of God which is present and active among us. I believe that all too often we have chased the wrong things, and forsaken our birth-right as the church to call upon the power of God, to trust that God really can and will work wonders today, and that we can participate in what God is doing. We can also help others to see the power and presence of the Holy Spirit among us still and even more, to help others claim the life that is offered and given to each of us. And we are called to discover anew, “that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
Gracious Holy Spirit, you continue to dwell among us with mercy and power. Teach us to treasure your gifts which are poured out among us, and to call on your name for our own healing and for the healing of others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.