Sermon delivered November 24, 2001 by Pastor Kent Crutcher

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Because He First Love Me

"Don't hate me because I'm Beautiful!" Do you remember that advertisement on T.V.? Do you remember that ad on television? What was it for? Was it Shampoo? She had a lot of hair. It must have been shampoo. I don't really remember, but all I remember is how ridiculous it was that somebody would actually say that. I've known people who acted that conceited but none who said anything like "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful." Actually, she was ugly! We all are. (And don't say "Speak for yourself.") We have a very warped idea as to what is beautiful. Much like what we eat. If I complain that what is good for me tastes bad and what is bad for me tastes good, my wife just tells me that my taste-buds have been warped. The same goes for our eyes. We have not seen true physical beauty for 6,000 years. The only people to see true physical beauty were Adam and Eve. Adam looked at Eve and Eve looked at Adam and said "Wow, your perfect!" And they were right. God had created them perfectly beautiful in His image, inside and out. That's the last time that ever happened. Ever since then we have been imperfect.

Sin has taken its toll on our looks. When we are changed on that Last Day into what we were supposed to be, we will look at each other in amazement. Husbands will look at their wives and say, "Wow, I thought you looked great before but was I ever wrong!" And wives will say to their husbands (after they get back up), "Who could have ever imagined that you could look so good?"

Mean while, almost every advertisement tries to convince us that we will look good if we only try their product, whether it be shampoo or make-up, clothes or jewelry, cars or S.U.V.s., diets or exercise machines, tanning booths or health clubs. But no matter what we try, we are still ugly in comparison to what we were meant to be. But we think of these things as helping our image. I've been looking around for a vehicle and my wife ask, "what about one of those?" And I said, "No, I'd never be seen in one of those. What would people think? No, I've got to have something a little bit more macho than that. No way!" We've spoke on that. It's ingrained on our minds to wear the right things, drive the right cars, do the right things, people are going by to accept us because we ar beautiful.

Some of us are uglier that others. Sin has been more harsh to some. Just look at the man in today's story. He was ugly. Sin had caused a disaster in this man's life. Turn with me to the book of Acts. In Acts 3 we find the story of this man. Remember, at this point, Jesus has risen and returned to Heaven, the Holy Spirit has come at Pentecost, the disciples had been speaking in tongues and were given courage and they have been preaching the risen Savior in Jerusalem. And here in Acts 3 we find Peter and John.

Acts 3:1,2 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.

How ironic! A man crippled from birth, ugly as a result of sin and place by the gate called Beautiful. Can you imagine the life of this poor man? His parents must have had an awful time. In that day, if your child was deformed, it was because of your sinfulness. It was seen as a punishment from God. I wondered, When did they first know that their son would not walk? Maybe he didn't kick in the womb. Maybe he wasn't a "bouncing baby boy." Maybe it was when he was never able to take that first step that parents long to see. That's amazing to me how parents can long to see that first step. People have been taking first steps for thousands of years, but when it's your child... I remember when Joshua decided to turn over the first time. Susan needed to go to work and she said, "Don't let him do it without me being there." I couldn't stop him. He seemed so determined so I set up the video camera in time so we caught it. She had to miss it in person. And parents long to see that in person. But that child never took his first step. He must have longed to be able to play with the other children. He must have suffered as a teenager, knowing that the girls would never have an interest in someone who could only beg for a living. He must have had a spirit of resignation to his ugly lot in life as an adult. -- Until the day that he heard about Jesus. Jesus had been healing people like him! Hope dared to enter into the walls he had built around his heart. His life had been one disappointment after another. Should he dare to think that he could be made whole? He looked at himself. Two useless legs, dead weight for him to drag through the streets. Calloused hands from being used like feet to get from place to place when he could not bear to burden a friend. Could he dare to imagine himself standing upright? How tall would he be, anyway. He didn't know. Could he ever be rid of the guilt that plagued his mind? Guilt for being imperfect. Guilt for the way he felt when people looked at him in scorn, wondering whether it was his sin or his parents that had caused this crippled state. Could Jesus really do anything?

He finally convinced some friends to take him to Jerusalem and to the Temple gates. Maybe there, he would see Jesus. But as they arrived, the news of the cruel death of Jesus came to his ears. "I knew it! It was too good to be true. Nothing ever works out for me. Just leave me at the temple gates and maybe someone will have pity on me and give me a few coins for my supper." There he was placed, day after day, to make a meager existence for himself. What a crushing blow to his last hope. According to Acts 4:22, he had been in this condition for over 40 years.

At least he had something beautiful to look at. The Temple was magnificent. The gate that his friends had set him by was called "Beautiful." And it was beautiful. It is generally believed that this was the Nicanor Gate and was made of Corinthian Bronze. And there he sat.

Look at Acts 3:3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. He only asked for the most that he could expect to get. To him, these were ordinary men who could only give him ordinary things. They were indeed ordinary men, but they knew an extraordinary Man, Jesus.

Look at Acts 3:4. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then peter said, "Look at us!"

The Greek text implies that the look of Peter and John was the kind of intent look that reads character. They could see a man who had the faith to be healed if he was given the chance. And they said, "Look at us!" They weren't saying, "Well, wow! Look at me!" They were saying, "Look over this way. Let us have your full attention. We want you to know where this is coming from and Who gives us the power.

Acts 3:5. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. They looked at him and he looked back. But his look was not the same as theirs. He just gave them his attention expecting the usual handout. He did not read in their character anything different that anyone else who had given him a few pennies. They didn't have anything else that anyone else didn't have who had given him a few pennies.

Acts3:6. Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."

This is one of those instants when so much happens that it must have seemed like slow motion. You've been in situations like that. Like before a car wreck. "I saw everything that happened." This is one of those instances. So much happened at once he could hardly take it all in. At first, the look on the man's face must have been one of disappointment as he heard, "We don't have any money." But as he continued to listen, he realized something important was about to happen. His look must have changed from merely attentiveness to one of intense interest, trying to read in the face of these men what was about to happen. Something inside him said, "This is it! I can't believe it!" I think his brain was going ninety miles an hour. "Is this really about to happen to me? Are they about to do what I think they are going to do?"

As I read this story, a thought flashed into my mind. Susan and I were exploring the beautiful gardens around the Eli Lily home on July 31, 1987. You know, the Eli Lily that produced the drug company. He had a beautiful plantation because he made his money well. On July 31, 1987 Susan and I were exploring the beautiful gardens and lands around his house. We were crossing a small stream on a little wooden bridge set in the woods and surrounded by flowers. Suddenly, my heart began to beat like it had never beat before. It was coming so loud I kind of expected Susan to ask, "What's wrong with you?" My heart was about to come out of my chest, because I knew what I was about to do. She didn't. I turned to her and my conversation became suddenly more serious. As she realized what was happening the look changed in her eyes from one of polite interest to one of intensity. It was as if she did not want to miss a single word! I knew that she knew what was coming. She knew that I was proposing to her! One year later, to the day, we were married! So you know what the answer was.

This man did not have to wait a year. And the intensity of his look, "Is this about to happen to me, now?" Acts 3:7,8. Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. Can you picture that? Legs that had been withered, atrophied, unused suddenly became strong. Muscles that had never been formed were formed. Bones were strengthened. It doesn't say it here, but I'd guess the callouses on his hands disappeared right there. He wouldn't need those callouses any more. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Can you see it? Right there in church! He's so excited he has found Jesus, even though Jesus had died, he found Jesus. Jesus has been resurrected. He still has power, and He can send that power through people. Do you remember ever feeling this way? That is what I felt like doing when Susan said "Yes!" My heart was jumping for joy. Do you feel like that about Jesus? I hope so!

Turn to Revelation 2:1-5. To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but they are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Jesus is telling His church that they have done many wonderful things but they have lost the feeling that they had when they first accepted His proposal for marriage. He advises His church to act like they did when they first fell in love with Him or there will have to be a parting of ways. It doesn't matter how much we do, it's how much we love. Jesus wants us to have that fresh experience with Him every day! "If you love Me, you're going to do those things. Then you're going to keep My commandments. But love Me first."

David said it so well in Psalm 51. Turn there with me. This is a prayer I pray most often. I need it so much. Psalm 51:10- 13. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. You don't know how many times each week I say that. Do not cast me from Your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.

Is that what happens when we regain that first love experience with Jesus? Do people listen to us differently? Are they impressed with what has happened and is happening to us so much that they want to know how it happened, and why it happened, and Who caused it?

Now let's go back at Acts. We'll see how the people reacted. Acts 3:9-11. Remember now, this guy has been jumping in the church. He's been praising the Lord for his new legs. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon's Colonnade.

People flocked to them. "What has happened? What is causing him to praise the Lord so much?" Because of what had happened to this man and his actions of love and gratitude, Peter was able to preach the Gospel to people who would not have paid heed to him otherwise! An attitude of gratitude will go far in spreading the wonderful news of Jesus' love! Like Peter and John's silver and gold, if you don't have it, you can't get it. If you used to have it, you can't get it. The word, Thanksgiving, implies something that we can't keep; the giving part. We can't keep it if we are thankful we have to give it to others.

And what about Peter? We were talking about this other cripple. What about ugly Peter? How did he become so bold a preacher. This incident landed Peter and John into real hot water. They were dragged before the Sanhedrin and threatened. Yet Peter was able to boldly stand for Jesus and accuse the Sanhedrin of crucifying the Son of God. What transformed him from being afraid of the taunt of a servant girl during the trial of Jesus? So afraid that he denied even knowing his own Savior and friend! It was the love and the forgiveness that freely came to him from Jesus. When that happens, we can no longer remain the same! The Sanhedrin admired his simple boldness, they hated the beauty of Jesus that was shining out of him, that was coming from his heart, because it convicted their souls. They had done something wrong but it had not changed their souls. They had to cover up.

What changed Peter? Look at 2 Corinthians 5:14-20. For Christ's love compels us, That's the motivating factor. Anything else cannot motivate us to do good. Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should not longer live for themselves but for Him Who died for them and was raised again.

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, Who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God mad Him Who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Did you catch verses 16 and 17? We're no longer to regard each other as we see each other in an ugly way. We're to look upon the heart.

Our beauty is to be the same as was found in Jesus. Not outer but inner beauty that comes from realizing and being grateful for the fact that Jesus first loved us! May this time of thanksgiving be a time to renew our first-love experience with Jesus for what He has done and continues to do for us.

I believe that God sometimes feels like four-year-old Martha. She was holding a doll in each of her chubby arms. She looked up at her mother and said, "Mamma, I love them and love them and love them, but they never love me back."

Lip service to God is not Love service.

Jesus is proposing marriage. Does He have more than just your attention? Are your eyes glued to His face seeking His love that is there? Is your heart leaping for joy for what He has already done for you? Do you want to sing His praises because of what He means to you? If so, be careful, because you indeed are beautiful. Many will be attracted to the Lord because of your inner beauty, but many will hate you because you are beautiful.

Bulletin
Hymn of Praise: #559, Now Thank We All Our God
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Hymn of Response: #579, 'Tis Love That Make Us Happy



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