Have you ever met a beggar before? I remember my first time. I was in seventh grade. It was on the island of Haiti. Actually, it was as we were approaching the island. Young men would swim out to the massive ship at least a mile from shore. And there they were out in the middle of the water asking for coins. At least I assume that's what they were asking for. That's what people started throwing at them. And there they were, several stories down beneath the ship. I remember taking quarters and throwing them as hard and as far as I could, and they'd see where they splashed. They'd swim for that little splash and dive down and get that coin. It seemed like a long time before they came back up, but most times they'd show us the quarter. "I got it!" They put it in their mouth and begged for more, until they had a mouthful, I guess. I thought begging must be fun. You get to go out there and swim and get free money. That's really nice.
And then we got to the island itself. When we went ashore, the reality of the situation hit hard. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. I witnessed the people using the restroom in the gutter and three feet downstream somebody else washing dishes. And that was a common sight. Begging was a lifestyle for many. Children would chase after our taxi, the moving car, and they'd run their arms into the car with a hibiscus flower they had picked of a bush beside the road, asking for money for the blossom. I saw mothers teaching their toddlers how to hold out their hand, just so, and how to get the right expression on their face and speak a little bit of English. And their mother was teaching them to say, "No mama, no papa," and hold out your hand. The family business.
Beggars around here we see out close to the mall with their cardboard signs: "We'll work for food." And you wonder. Would they? I had a friend that wondered that. He has a corporation in Atlanta printing labels for different products. A lot of these beggars would be around the intersections right close to his business. He felt very bad passing them every day seeing their signs: "We'll work for food." So, one evening as he was going home, he stopped at every one he could find, at least a half a dozen, and handed them his business card. "You'll work for food, come and work for me. If you show up tomorrow morning, you have a job. I'll pay you in food or I'll pay you in money, whichever you want." Do you know how many showed up the next morning? None.
Are we skeptical? Do we believe this? And that's what makes it hard. We get uncomfortable around these people because we're not sure. Do they really need this or are they scamming (cheating or swindling) me? At some of our street corners they even work in shifts. They know when their time is up on a particular corner and they will leave when the other guy comes to take their place. Sometimes wars break out over who gets what street corner. No, they don't want to take on a legitimate job because they're making more money there than they can in many other places.
So, beggars make us nervous. We may not be sure if they are really in need or if they are scam (cheat or swindle) artists. I was down at Erlanger hospital a couple years ago when and riding the elevator up to around the seventh floor. H was with another family there that I didn't know. Of course we had an awkward elevator silence. When the doors opened we all got off on the same floor. And there was a man standing there that looked pretty sad. He approached the family that got off, and I started to go my way, but I overheard him a little bit. He was explaining to this family about his sick daughter that was in need of life-saving treatments that he just could not afford. He didn't know what he would do. Would they help? I felt bad for him.
A couple weeks later I was riding on that elevator again by myself. I got off at a different floor and there he was again. He approached me and said, "Sir, my son is dying and I can't afford the life-saving treatments." Well, my reply was not too great. "I'm so sorry. How many dying children do you have? Last week it was your daughter." He quickly walked off down the hall. I though, "I missed my opportunity to witness. I should have told him I was a pastor and I would be glad to come to the room and pray with the child." But I knew the child did not exist. This same man approached me some time later. As he was coming down the hallway, sudden recognition crossed his face and he turned and went down another way. I must have made that beggar nervous.
They usually make us nervous though. Beggars who are more legitimate also make us nervous because we are made to feel guilty about our abundance or of our inability to help. We may also be bothered by the realization that we could end up in the same situation. So we try to avoid them, to ignore them.
Today, we look at a story where a beggar was not ignored, a beggar who was not avoided, and something wonderful happened. Turn with me to Acts chapter 3. This is the sixth sermon in our series on how the Holy Spirit was present in the early Christian church, and how He is also present here today.
Acts 3:1. One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. You may remember from last week that the early Christians were all Jews. They still went to the Temple as always, yet with greater understanding of the symbolism they saw there. Peter and John are arriving at the same time of day that Jesus had been crucified. The time of prayer, of all things.
Peter and John. Now that is a strange combination. They had long been associated with each other. They had been partners in the fishing business. They had been sent out on various missions together by Jesus. But I have wondered how close they actually were. You more often hear of Peter and Andrew together and James and John doing their thing together. Peter and John were opposites in many ways. Peter was a doer, John was a dreamer; Peter was a motivator, John was a visionary; Peter had his feet on the rock, John had his head in the clouds; Peter would point to John and demand of the Lord, "And what shall this man do? John would whisper quietly to peter in a moment of doubt, "It is the Lord, isn't it?" John would out-run Peter to the tomb; Peter would push past John and rush right in, Peter would dash on out again, his mind in a whirl; John would walk away thinking deeply over the significance of those strangely ordered grave clothes. They were opposites in temperament and personality. Yet they worked well together because they both knew Jesus.
When you both know Jesus, anything is possible. It doesn't matter if your temperaments are opposite, or if they're the same. We can get along if we know Jesus.
Look at the next verse, Acts 3:2. 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. Enter the beggar. A forty year-old man, we learn from the next chapter. My age, who had always been crippled. Now, I've thought about that. I can't imagine that. Having never been able to walk, being a burden to someone every day of his life. Then, always having to depend on somebody to do what you wish you could do. I'm of the temperament that hates to ask anyone to do anything for me at any time. If I can do it I just want to do it myself. I was told yesterday that is a sign of pride. I need to get rid of that. I cannot fathom how this man felt, just having to rely on somebody else every day.
We are fortunate that the Holy spirit chose Luke to write the book of Acts because Luke was a doctor. In this story, he uses Greek medical terminology to describe the lame man's problem as well as his recovery. The Greek word "cholos" translated as "crippled" more precisely means "paralysis in the base or heels of his feet and in the sockets of his ankles." The bones were out of place from birth and he was not able to walk. Of course, everyone would assume that this condition was caused by sin, and it was, wasn't it. We weren't made to be that way. But people would look at him and assume that it was his parents who had sinned. Or maybe his grandparents or his great grandparents that had caused this tragedy on him. His parents must have felt awful about the condition of their son as if it was their fault. "What could we have done differently?"
I was born with twisted feet. Instead of pointing north, my left foot pointed east and my right foot pointed west. They met each other quite often, tripping up on the way to first base, or whatever. I was not often chosen to be first on the team. I was the first person in the Standifer Gap School to wear tennis shoes. Everybody thought I was setting the trend and they all came with tennis shoes, too. They didn't realize the doctor had prescribed them for my crazy feet. I remember the day the doctor told my mother, "There is nothing else you or I can do. He will straighten them out himself when he decides to." I heard that. He was right. When I discovered that girls were not the enemy, I decided to become a little more presentable. Night after night I went to sleep on my stomach with my feet spread in opposite directions, trying to force them apart. Today I still sleep on my stomach, but my feet are straight.
Unfortunately for this beggar, there was nothing he could do for himself, not a thing. He even had to rely on people to bring him to his begging spot. And what a spot it was. This was the perfect place for begging, right at the door of the church. Right where people felt most generous, or most self conscious if they didn't give. Don't you hate when that plate goes by in front of you and you have nothing to put in it? I don't like that feeling. Neither did people, so they often gave to him there.
The "Gate called Beautiful" has been much in debate by theologians with nothing better to do. There is no such named gate at the Temple so they say, "Which one was it?" Many believe it to be the Corinthian Gate which led from the Court of the Gentiles to the Court of the Women. Josephus describes this gate being huge, made of Corinthian bronze. Doors forty cubits high and the gate itself fifty cubits high. Other sources describe it being cast with the symbol of the vine. This brings to mind what Jesus said about being the Vine and we are the branches. And the branches are for bearing the fruits of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit was about to be lavished upon this unsuspecting beggar in the shadow of the gate called Beautiful.
Look at Acts 3:3. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. This beggar saw nothing unusual about these men. They appeared ordinary. So he asked for the ordinary. Just a simple hand-out. One may look upon Peter and John as being uncouth fishermen, Unpolished, untrained and unlovely. But the Holy Spirit does not look for outward qualities in us before He can use us. He looks at our desire and willingness to be used by Him.
My wife's parents bought a house in south Georgia where he pastors two churches. An old, gnarled, stump of a tree with one scraggly little branch sits in their yard. The first time I saw that ugly little tree I said, "Have you got a saw. Let me get rid of that for you." He said, "No, just leave it there." It looked dead. One would wonder why they didn't just push it over to get it out of the way and out of sight. So far this year, that one branch, that one scraggly little branch has produced over 500 delicious pears! That's not the first year that's happened. Bearing spiritual fruit is not dependant upon externals. What matters is the sap that is flowing through our veins. Is it the sap of the Holy Spirit?
But this beggar could only see in these men the means to another crust of bread to ward off the hunger of another night. Many times we cannot see beyond what our senses tell us that we need. That is why Peter and John say what they do in the next verse. Acts 3:4. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" What would he see? Two poor men from Galilee? Or two men in touch with Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit? They wanted him to see Jesus, but he was not ready for that yet. He must first see Jesus in them! Most people that we meet are not yet ready to see Jesus. They're too concerned with their current felt need, things that are going on right now in their lives that occupy their whole mind. They don't have time to see Jesus, so they need to see Jesus in us.
If you said, "Look at me," what would people see? Would they see Jesus? What did Peter and John see? A crippled beggar? Or a man who is a symbol of the human race. We are all born lame, unable to stand before God. We stumble and fall through life and have nothing but filthy rags to show for it. How symbolic. The ugly result of sin at the foot of the Gate called Beautiful.
Look at Acts 3:5. So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them We often wonder about how he felt, but how did Peter and John feel right then? They had not gone to the temple that day expecting to heal anyone. But the were filled with the Spirit. That means that the Spirit guides them and us into ministry opportunities. We don't have to say, "I'm going out to witness to somebody today." It's a lifestyle with the Spirit living within us. We will meet people to witness to in the Spirit's time. I wonder if the phrase crossed their mind, "What would Jesus do?" Could they do what Jesus would do? Dare they try? Faith that it would happen surged in them as they came eye to eye with the lame man. The gift of faith was given to them before they could give it to the beggar.
I can picture hope kindle in this man's eyes. Someone was actually taking the time to talk to him, not just drop a penny in his cup. His eyes quit roving the crowd for other potential givers and he concentrated on Peter and John expecting a fuller stomach than usual. Then I can picture the fall of his face with the next phrase - followed by a strange expectation. "What's going on?"
Acts 3:6 Then Peter said, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."
The following story has been told of at least two men, John Duns Scotus, a theologian whose ideas were so obscure and strange that the Dunce hat was named after him. The other man was Thomas Aquinas. As the story goes, one of these men was meeting with the pope who was counting a vast pile of coins. The pope said, "The church can no longer say, 'silver and gold have I none.'" To which the man replied, "That is true, Your Holiness, but neither can it now say 'arise and walk.'" Which would you rather have?
The easiest way to get rid of a beggar is to give him what he asks for. Drop a penny in his cup, he looks away, you go your own way. Both of you are forgotten. But we cannot give what we don't have. Peter and John were poor in this world's goods but were rich in faith in the Holy Spirit. They can give what they do have. If we do not know Jesus, we do not share Jesus no matter how hard we try.
The beggar's ears must have perked up at the name of Jesus. He had heard of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He would have heard all about Him sitting at the temple gates. He would have hoped Jesus would pass that way and heal him. But Jesus was now dead and all hope was gone. Or was it?
Let's look at Acts 3:7. Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. Did you notice? This man did not get up on his own. Peter grabs him by the hand and stands him up. Some other theologians without anything else to do have determined that Peter was right handed, because he grabbed the man by the right hand. I don't know.
To this point in the text we find no reference to the beggar's faith. It seems to be the faith of Peter and John that does the healing, not of the beggar. His faith appears to arrive at the same time as his healing. So much for these faith healers that claim, "Well, he didn't get healed because his faith wasn't strong enough." This was Peter and John's faith that was strong enough.
Look at Acts 3:8. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. The word "exallomenos," translated as "jumped to his feet," is actually another of Dr. Luke's medical terms. It is a form of the Greek medical term, "hallomai" which means "the socketing of the heel and ankle." In other words, he was healed. The process, which would have taken corrective surgery and months of prolonged healing and physical therapy in modern times, took place in an instant!
Did you notice another miracle that took place here? He knew how to walk! He had never walked before! He had never been trained how to walk. He was crippled. But when he was healed, he was also given the gift of knowing how to walk. He not only knew how to walk, he knew how to jump. He had never jumped before! But he knew how. It was another miracle. He not only knew how to walk and jump, he knew to praise God, not Peter and John. He had gotten the message from them loud and clear that this was done in the name of Jesus!
Did you also notice where he went? For the first time in his life this man has full control of where he goes. He can choose where to go. Nobody has to carry him there. He can now go anywhere he wants to for the first time in his life and he chooses to go to church! He had sat at the gate called Beautiful, but he had never been allowed to pass that gate because of his deformity. Deformities were not allowed in the temple courts. This is the first place he chooses to go. Now, he doesn't hesitate! I wonder how we would have reacted if this man came walking and leaping and praising God into our church. How did the Jews react?
Look at Acts 3:9 and 10. 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. They knew what his life had been like before. Everybody knew him, knew his wretched way of life, knew exactly where he could be found any time of the day. He was as much a fixture at the gate Beautiful as the gate itself. And, now here he is, showing off for all the world to see the miracle that has been wrought in his life, and they meet him where they never expected to see him before, in the temple courts praising God.
The world is always astonished at the evidence of new life in Christ. Here is a man, here is a woman, who comes into a relationship with Jesus. Suddenly, all is changed. The old places are ignored. New places are sought. "You never used to go to church. What's happened to you? Why don't I see you at the old place any more? Why don't I hear that language any more? You seem to be in control of your temper now. What happened there?" People notice when Jesus works a miracle in our life. Spiritual miracles are even more powerful witnesses than physical ones.
Look at Acts 3:11. 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.
The former beggar is hanging onto fellow believers. That is what church is about. Yes, he can walk on his own. He has proven that. But walking on your own and walking alone are two different things. We each have our own responsibility to walk for God but we can encourage each other in that responsibility as we walk holding on to each other.
As he walks back through the Beautiful Gate, past his old spot, do you think he wished to be back where he was? Did he say, "Thanks for everything Peter, but I'm going back now to my old way of life. I have a sentimental attachment to that spot right over there. All I know is begging."? No, he held on to the fellow believers past his old way of life, never to beg again.
Why would we choose to walk in darkness after we have seen the light? Yet, we do it. Last Wednesday, I was at the Collegedale Church visiting the KIDS Center. I saw a young man walk out of the well lit atrium into a dark hallway. He walked right past the light switch with great confidence and never turned it on. He was walking as if he was on a mission. He was walking very quickly and a few seconds later, I heard a loud crash and "O-u- ch!" He had walked full speed into the end of one of the pews that line that hallway. Many choose to do just that, go back into darkness after being in the Light. The best way I know to prevent that is to turn the light on, follow the example of Peter, John and the beggar, and allow yourself to be filled and used by the Holy Spirit. To give of your best to Jesus continually. To accept His gift of faith. To never ever be in the position of begging again because all your needs are met.
Major Sources: Desire of Ages by Ellen White Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol. 6 The Communicator's Commentary, Acts, Ogilvie
Hymn of Praise: #63, O Come, Let Us Sing to the Lord Scripture: Acts 3:4-6 Hymn of Response: #572, Give of Your Best to the Master
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last updated 8/24/2003 by Bob Beckett.