Have you ever thought what life would be like if you couldn’t walk? How hard it would be to get out of bed in the morning. Couldn’t walk anywhere. Couldn’t run or jump or climb. Life would be very different. And that was even more true in Jesus’s time. Life was completely different for a lame person in the days before wheelchairs were invented. They would be totally reliant on other people, even to get them a drink of water. They could not do any form of work so they depended on the charity of other people giving them money simply to stay alive.
Relatively few people today are unable to walk. But many are afflicted with other kinds of physical illnesses. And many more face other kinds of problems. Some people are depressed, some are stressed, some are lonely, some are discouraged. Some people face problems in the family or at work or with neighbours Many people are angry or bitter or hurting in all kinds of ways. Last week our Family Service looked at the story of the lame man who was healed by the Beautiful Gate in Jerusalem and that story definitely deserves more thought. As we hear about the way God worked in that man’s life, we find out how God can work in our lives too.
Right at the start of the Early Church, only days or weeks after the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled those first Christians, two of their leaders the apostles Peter and John were on their way to pray at the Temple in Jerusalem. The gates of the Temple were surrounded by sick people – they weren’t allowed into the Temple itself. But they were allowed to sit and beg for charity from the worshippers. One such was a man who had been lame all his life. His family or friends carried him there in the morning so he could beg and then they would carry him home again at night.
Acts 33 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
The lame man was expecting charity. But hear what Peter says.
Acts 3 6 “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.
SILVER OR GOLD I DO NOT HAVE
So many people have problems to do with money. They are struggling on a low income. They may well have debts they can’t pay. Often debts which are actually increasing when people can’t afford to pay the interest let alone the capital. At the extremes of poverty there are more than 85,000 households classified as homeless in England, with around only 40,000 beds available in hostels and at least 500 people sleeping rough every night around the country, half of them in London. By the government’s measure of household income less than 60% of the median income, almost one fifth of people are living in poverty and four million of those are children. One third of disabled adults are living in poverty as are one in six pensioners. Last year more than one million people made use of Food Banks.
Christians always have and always should care about the poor. Here in Chelmsford we have the Churches’ Homelessness Emergency Support Scheme CHESS. Several churches are running Food Banks and others are running the Christians Against Poverty (CAP) Money Course to help people manage their money and cope with their debts. Most churches have a Communion Fund or Fellowship Fund offering support to members of their own fellowship in financial need.
We have seen in previous weeks how the first Christians looked after each other.
Acts2 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 4 32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
The first Christians were looking after each other and meeting each other’s financial needs. So what Peter says to the lame man is particularly interesting.
“I don’t have any silver or gold to give you.”
In the world’s eyes, if the name Christian still has any good connotations, it is of doing good deeds, being charitable and helping your neighbour. Many people look to the church to solve all the problems of society. Some come to the church looking for money, or advice, or practical help. And when we are able to do anything, it is right and good that Christians will try and help everybody as much as we can! But still Peter says to the lame man.
Acts 3 6 “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.
Christians should be helping poor and homeless and marginalised people, the widows and orphans and refugees. But that is not the church’s main mission. That is not the most important thing which the church has to give.
Acts 3:6 “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
RISE UP AND WALK!
The heart of the mission Jesus Christ gave to his disciples was not, “feed the poor.” It was not, “find homes for people.” It was this.
Mark 16 15 … “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
Christ sent his followers out to preach the good news and heal the sick and drive out evil. Feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless is important, but declaring Jesus Christ as Risen Lord is even more important. Bringing God’s Kingly Rule in words and actions is the most important thing!
Acts 3 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.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 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. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 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.
Can you imagine how it must have felt, for that man who had never been able to walk to stand up and see the world on his feet for the first time? To walk, and jump, and praise God! To be allowed to enter the Temple and to worship! What an amazing miracle!
This is just the first miracle of healing which we read about in the book of Acts. We will read many more and Acts 5 gives this summary of the kind of things which God kept on doing in the Early Church.
12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15 As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.
Signs and wonders. Miracles of healing and deliverance. The end of Mark’s Gospel says this.
Mark 16 19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
We had another great evening of worship, teaching and ministry here on Wednesday evening at “Celebrate Jesus.” But I was particularly challenged by one of the speakers who said that he hardly ever hears any sermons on healing. And I am afraid I think he is right. Many parts of the church have neglected or ignored that element of the church’s ministry and commission. Even though history shows us that miracles of healing and deliverance did not die out with the apostles but continued in the church for several centuries.
In the second century Irenaeus (c. 130-200) Bishop of Lyons wrote this. “Those who are in truth his disciples, receiving grace from him, do in his name perform [miracles], so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe [in Christ], and join themselves to the church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them and they are made whole. Yea, more¬over, as I have said, the dead have been raised up, and remain among us for many years.”
In the third century the theologian Origen (c. 185-254) wrote, “They expel evil spirits, and perform many cures, and foresee certain events … The name of Jesus …. can take away diseases.”
God has continued to work healing miracles in the life of the church even to today. The healing of the lame man reminds me of the story of Jennifer Rees-Larcombe, All the time we knew Jennifer while we were in Tunbridge Wells she was paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. But in 1991 God miraculously healed her and just weeks later she was enjoying a walking holiday in Scotland. Jesus still heals today!
When we were in Borehamwood at our friend Geoff Pike who was 75 was sent home from hospital on palliative care suffering with liver cancer and told he had just 48 hours left. Folk prayed for Geoff and we saw a miracle! He made a rapid and full recovery and wrote two booklets about his healing. There are other miracles of healing which I have seen, as well as miracles of deliverance from demons, but for today let me just say that I myself experienced miraculous healing from a back injury I experienced when I used to play my very dangerous sport. So I know for certain that God still heals today!
HE WENT WALKING AND JUMPING AND PRAISING GOD!
Well – wouldn’t you ??? !!! The man who had been healed was filled with joy! He didn’t say, “Where’s my money?” He didn’t complain that Peter and John hadn’t given him what he asked for, because what God had actually given him was far more important and far more precious! We can learn so much from that man’s overflowing gratitude and exuberant praise. Sometimes we can take for granted all the amazing things God has done and continues to do in our lives.
But is wasn’t only the lame man who was blessed that day.
Acts 3. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 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.
People were filled with wonder and amazement when they saw that the man had been healed. So they began to ask, what’s happening, how did that happen? And the apostle Peter seizes the moment.
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. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
The Jewish leaders had conspired with the Romans to crucify Jesus. But God had raised Jesus from the dead and so the message is clear.
FAITH IN JESUS GAVE COMPLETE HEALING
It was Peter and John’s faith in Jesus of course. Not the lame man’s faith – he didn’t have any until after he was healed. It was faith in the all-powerful name of Jesus that brought healing to the man. And Peter makes this offer to the crowds.
19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.
The offer of God’s blessing is not just for the lame man but for everybody who believes in Jesus, who repents and turns to God. Anybody who puts their trust in the name of Jesus can go walking and leaping and praising God! Even us!
Let me leave you with one last picture. The other night I watched a few minutes of a disaster movie. You know the kind of film I mean. Every seat on the plane is filled with a major star playing a minor part and every character has their story to tell, some life or death reason for making that journey. Then disaster strikes – a seagull flies into the windscreen, the pilot and co-pilot are injured and it’s up to the hero to take over the controls of the jumbo jet and land the first plane he’s even been up in. The lives of the hundreds of people on board depend on this one brave volunteer – it’s all up to him.
Maybe Peter and John felt the same sense of impossible challenge and enormous responsibility that the hero in the movie feels. Jesus was gone – He had ascended to heaven and it was their turn. They had to fulfil their commission and continue Jesus’s ministry. Guided by Jesus’s teaching, empowered by the Holy Spirit, it was up to them to preach the gospel, heal the sick, drive out the demons and lead the first Christians in their mission to save the world. Peter and John were in the hot seat – it was their responsibility.
Well, now it’s our turn. We are in the hot seat. The responsibility to preach the gospel, heal the sick and drive out demons falls to us. The eternal destinies of hundreds, maybe thousands of people, rest with us. We have the authority of the all-powerful name of Jesus. We have received the Holy Spirit, power from on high, power to be witnesses for Jesus. Are we prepared to step into the hot seat? Or are we just going to sit back in our seats, turn up our headphones, enjoy the in-flight movie and let the whole world crash around us?