27 April 2011Acts 3:1-10
"But Peter said, 'I have no silver or gold; but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.'" (v. 6)
Acts chapter 2 ends with a summary of the early days of the
Church (Acts 2:43-47): the events of Pentecost have
resulted in a Spirit-led movement of thousands of joyful believers,
in and around Jerusalem. We are given the impression of a church
spreading and growing rapidly. Chapter 3 is to be seen within the
context of those early days. Worshipping God at the temple in
Jerusalem was part of the practice of those who were part of
Jesus-movement (see Acts
2:46). Those who were to be known as Christians had not yet
broken away from Judaism. Their teaching up to this point had been
about the resurrection of Jesus being a continuation and fulfilment
of what God had begun in his people Israel - it was not about
starting a new religion.
Today's passage focuses on one particular disabled man - "lame from birth" (verse 2). In the absence of a welfare state, those who could not look after themselves and had no family to do so, would often have to beg to make a living. Almsgiving was an important part of Jewish religious duties, and so the man was helped to his regular spot at the temple gate: not only a prime tourist attraction, but the major place of worship. Notice the term used: he was not 'begging' as such, but 'asking for alms' (verse 2), and yet there was still a lack of dignity about it - highlighted in the little detail that the man apparently wouldn't look people in the eye, and that disabled people weren't allowed to play a full part in religious life.
Enter Peter and John. The first thing they do is seek to restore the man's dignity. Peter didn't pretend he hadn't seen him, or turn away in disgust. He stopped and gazed at him. And then said, "Look at us" (verse 4) - don't hide your face away in shame. When their eyes met there was no convenient lie ("Sorry, I haven't got any change"), but only the innocent words of one who, in faith, believes he has so much more to offer than money. Peter, who had witnessed his friend and master heal on numerous occasions, was now the instrument of God's grace. What Peter had to offer, he gave to the lame man: dignity, a human touch, and an invitation to walk in the name of Jesus the Messiah from Nazareth.
It's this name which will crop up again and again in the Acts of the Apostles (as when the new believers were told to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ). In the ancient world, a person's name was generally understood to represent that person, and so it would be understood by Peter and John that in fact it was Jesus who healed the man. His work goes on! Just as before, Jesus reaches out to the excluded and marginalised. If people are to be kept from entering God's house then God will come out on the streets to meet them! The unbridled joy of the man now healed was reminiscent of so many previous miracles. And the man who sat in the same spot outside the temple for years would, of course, be recognised by almost every Jewish person in the city. What an advert!
Read Isaiah 35:3-6. How does this relate to what God is beginning to do through Jesus and his movement of followers?
How important are names today? What lengths would you go to 'clear your name' if someone threatened to slander it? How do you feel when you hear someone use the name of Jesus as a swear-word?
Our churches are now much more accessible to people with physical disabilities (although there's always room for improvement). But just how accessible is the church to those who cannot come to worship because they must work on Sundays? Or to those whose appearance or lifestyle wouldn't fit? Or to those whose own culture makes it very difficult to adapt to the well-established culture of 'church'? What steps need to be taken to restore their dignity and how can we show God's grace to them?