Online Text Sermon - At the Gate Beautiful, Acts ch.3 vv.1-11
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||At the Gate Beautiful|
|Text||Acts ch.3 vv.1-11 |
Links to Bible chapters open in a new window.
'Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk' (Acts 3, 6).
I wonder if you noticed in the reading the great contrast between the end of Acts 2 and the beginning of Acts 3. In Acts 2, at the end, we are in church. It was the early church, the church of the apostles. Three thousand had been converted on the Day of Pentecost and here at the end of Acts 2 we are given an insight into the kind of men and women these early Christians were. This of course was done deliberately by God in order that we might know what real Christianity is. Notice the love between the people of God. If anyone had goods or property they sold it and distributed to those that had need. "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread [which is another word for the Lord's Supper], and in prayers" (Acts 2, 42). They were devout Bible Christians, full of prayer, full of love - what harmony, what unity. It was truly a heaven on earth. That of course is how true churches ought to be, and when churches are true, that is, of a biblical picture and pattern, that's how they are.
At the end of Acts 2, we come into this Acts 3. Here we have the picture of this poor, lame man, and the contrast is tremendous. We are no longer in church - we're outside the church now. Christians feel the difference between being in church and being outside it. Quite recently we had a communion service here with several services and fellowships, and then the Lord's Supper. But then, what a difference when you go into the world, when you preach and speak to people in the High Street. What a difference - it's the same contrast: in church, out of church; in church, in the world - it's a tremendous contrast, and no doubt intended to be so by God.
Well I want to learn some lessons tonight from this story, or picture, of this lame man. Let me tell you a little bit about him. We are informed, here, as to this man, that he was lame from birth: he had never walked. His legs had never been strong enough to carry him: he couldn't stand on his own. He was a cripple. He couldn't get a job. How then could he hold body and soul together in these days? There was no National Health Service in these days, so what people did if they were crippled or couldn't work was, to beg. So some of his friends, every morning or afternoon, would carry him bodily and place him beside this gate of the temple in Jerusalem called the Beautiful Gate. Here they would just leave him, and the man would take off his hat no doubt, and put it beside him. Maybe he had a little tin box which he put on the ground, and he hoped that some many of the people would drop a coin in. This he did, day by day, year by year. I suppose the reason why they put him at the Beautiful Gate of the temple is because churchgoing people are usually more generous than others. If you dropped him at the door of a public house he might starve to death; but here, outside the house of God, some would have pity on him.
We are told what time of day it was - it was the ninth hour. That means - in the reckoning of the Jewish clock - 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The time was reckoned from 6am to 6pm, twelve hours of daylight, and so the ninth hour clearly was something like 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I presume they put him there because the sun would not be quite so hot at that time of day. At midday, in Palestine, it can be scorching hot, and this poor man of course would not be at all comfortable in burning heat, so my guess is that that's partly why they put him at the gate; and partly because this was the moment, the ninth hour, when in the Jewish arrangement for worship many would go to pray in the temple, and so they would be likely to give him a coin. Let me show you that here in this picture we have a spectacle of misery, sheer human misery. It's typical of the way people are in the world. People without God, people who have never come to His house, their life is a life, more or less, of misery. They may not always know it, and they may not know it yet, but sooner or later they'll discover life in the world and without God is miserable. There are three forms of misery that I see here in this man's life, which are typical of the lives of all men and women in the world without God.
The first one is sheer boredom. Can you imagine what it must be like lying crippled at a gate, hour upon hour, day after day? The only change would be a different dog would coming to annoy you, or more flies to pester you, or a slightly different sum of money at the end of the day - maybe 10 coins one day, 5 the next - eking out a pittance of an existence. Having been in London some weeks ago, I can picture in my mind something that did not use to be seen in London: young men sleeping rough in the Underground. As you go into the station there were people just with old blankets, sleeping on hard concrete, with a dirty towel under their head and just a few bundles of things for their possessions. I hope you all realise that this is a sad world. I hope you all appreciate that this is a picture here of the way people are, more or less - boredom. That's why the pubs and clubs thrive and flourish; it's because life without God is essentially and inherently boring, and the only way to keep going is by taking a stimulant. You know how people in the world talk? They say, 'Oh I've got that Monday morning feeling.' What does it mean? Well it means that they had a good time on Friday night and Saturday night and Sunday night, drinking or taking some stimulant, enjoying themselves with the pleasures of the world, laughing their heads off. But then Monday morning comes again, as it always will, and they've got that 'Monday morning' feeling. What they want is that Friday afternoon happiness: to get away from it all, to get back to spending the money that they've earned, to make life a little less boring.
The second thing I notice here in this man's life, in addition to boredom, is his disability: he was crippled. This man couldn't have walked. Supposing a fire had burst out beside him - he couldn't walk, he was disabled. I don't know whether this comes across to you clearly enough in the reading, perhaps it doesn't, but let me open it out. What we are told here is that at the very moment when Peter and John were coming along to enter into the gate, these friends were actually carrying this poor man - "And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried' (Acts 3, 2), or, was being carried, at that very moment. His friends were just about to lay him down. At that very moment who was coming but Peter and John, these men of God, these apostles. He was completely disabled. That's the way worldly people are, in a much more serious sense than this, not simply that they are physically disabled - that's not always true of course of worldly people - but they are disabled in spiritual things. They can't enjoy the things of God. They have no pleasure in God. They have no love for prayer, or the Bible, or worship. Or they may come along because somebody has pressed them and invited them to come, but they can't enjoy these things and the reason is, because they have no faith, and without faith we cannot enjoy the things of God.
Another thing about this poor man is that, of course, he had no hope. He expected to be crippled for the rest of his life. When he got up that morning and pulled on his few rags of clothes, and picked up his tin or his hat - whatever it was that he collected the money in - and when the friends came to cart him off and drop him at the gate of the temple, it never crossed his mind that a wonderful change would come into his life. He was living a hopeless existence. All he could look forward to, to his dying day, was begging, poverty, ignorance, wretchedness, living off the mere pity of others. You know, the worldly man's life is a life of hopelessness.
I was trying to get the news on the radio the other day, and I just got the end of a programme. In this programme, apparently, there were people being interviewed - on the radio, just a few days ago - as to what they thought about heaven. Maybe some of you heard it too. One lady was saying, well, yes, she believed in heaven. She said she thought that after death we would all be together again. Then came another lady on, and she was being interviewed on the same subject, what did she think about heaven. Well she had a very cultured voice, and her opinion of heaven was this: 'No,' she said, 'I don't think we will live after death.' She said, 'I think this is what will happen, that when we are gone, we'll be remembered by our children, and they will be remembered by their children, and we may just survive for three or four generations in people's memories. That's how we shall live after death,' she said, 'but I don't think there's anything after we've gone.' You see the hopelessness, the way people live. They don't believe really seriously in heaven, not in the biblical view of heaven. If they have any notion of heaven, they don't really know how to get there.
The unconverted man's life is one of boredom - pubs, clubs, sport, entertainment - that's all they've got; inability to do anything spiritual; inability to love God or the things of God; no prayer in their life, and no hope after death. Let me tell you how the Bible describes the life of the unconverted person. It says the unconverted people are - "strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2, 12). My dear friend, I am speaking to you. If you're not a converted Christian I'm describing your life whether you recognise yourself here or not. I'm holding a mirror up to you and I'm saying to you, this is how God describes your life - it's essentially boring, and essentially hopeless, and you have no ability to love the things of God. That is the first point.
I come now to the second point. This passage of scripture tells us what Christians have to offer to the world. We've seen that this man is a professional beggar. There are professional beggars in Inverness. There need not be; it's a pity there are. But there are professional beggars all over our country today. They sell a certain kind of magazine. As you pass by they offer you one. I think it's very sad that in this country there needs to be a class of people who must sell these magazines to get some money - very sad in a country like ours with a history like ours, but it's true. Well this poor man here was looking for money, and as Peter and John came along he was hoping to receive something from them: half a shekel, or a full shekel - that would be great - or some other little coin. He looked hopefully towards these two men. His hopes were raised you notice, 'He gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them' (Acts 3, 5). As Peter and John came walking along, I daresay they looked happy and maybe they looked kind, so he looked at them and with his appealing eyes he more or less said, 'Have you got anything to spare?' - you know how beggars do? It's a sad thing. It's a miserable existence. 'Can you spare a penny, sir?' 'Have you got a little money to spare, a coin of some sort?' Peter and John draw near and Peter said, "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk" (Acts 3, 6).
I'm drawing attention to what the church of God has to offer, what the Christian church has to offer. Here's the picture. There's a man lying there, looking to the church, if you like, for help. What has the church got to offer? Well the sad thing today is that the church has forgotten what God has given it to offer. Of course the church has to offer many things. There's nothing wrong at all in giving humanitarian aid. There's nothing wrong at all in a church giving medicines, and foodstuffs, and necessities for the hungry in Third World countries or providing beds for the homeless in hostels. But that's not the main thing that the church has been called on to do. These other things may have their place, but the great danger is that the church simply becomes a humanitarian organisation, giving aid by means of hostels, and food gifts, and parcels of this and that - all very well as far as it goes, but the main thing the church has to give is not silver or gold. It is the same thing as the Apostle Peter gives here - nothing material, nothing humanitarian - it is a message. The thing which the church ought to be doing today, in Britain, is to give the message of the Gospel to society. The reason for the mess that we're all in as a country is because most churches are not doing it. Indeed, comparatively few churches are doing it. They are coming to people with silver and gold, giving aid - which is good as far as it goes, I'm not decrying that, I respect that, of course we must, but it's not the main thing. "Silver and gold have I none," says Peter, "but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk' (Acts 3, 6).
The principal thing that you and I, if we are Christians, have to give to the world is the gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let me remind you concerning the apostle Paul: he was that other great apostle. There was Peter, and there was Paul - and we are told about both of these men in the Acts of the Apostles. For your Bible study, I can tell you this very quickly. The Acts of the Apostles really consists of two halves: the first twelve chapters of the Acts of the Apostles talk about Peter mainly; but then, from Chapter 14 right the way through to the end in Chapter 28, it talks mainly about Paul. Peter first and then Paul. I'm going to talk about Paul and remind you what happened to Paul. He was converted. In Chapter 9 we read about his wonderful conversion. You may know, he was on the road to Damascus and he hated Christianity. He was a very religious man but not a Christian and, as I say, he hated Christ and hated the gospel. But then, as he was walking along in a certain place in Palestine, he saw this great light, brighter than the noonday sun. It was Christ shining upon him. He fell to the earth and was converted, and began at once to witness for Christ. I want to show you how he witnessed. This is what we are told at the end of the chapter where his conversion is narrated: Paul "preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus" (Acts 9, 27). And again, "He spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 9, 29).
A little bit later he was called upon to be a missionary, and what did he do as a missionary? We are told when he came to Antioch he said, "To you is the word of this salvation sent" (Acts 13, 26). "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins" (Acts 13, 38). Or again, a little bit later, we are told this: "Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord' (Acts 14, 3). What did he say? Well he said this: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16, 31). Again he said this: God "now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17, 30). When he was talking even to a Roman governor, what did Paul speak about? He said that God had given this message: Christ Jesus has come into the world. Paul reasoned with this man, Felix, of "righteousness, temperance, and judgement to come" (Acts 24, 25). So clear was his message that even the Roman governor trembled at the sound of judgment, knowing his own worldly and irreligious life (Acts 24, 25).
My very dear friends, we must never allow anything to displace the centrality of the gospel message that we bring to men. This is, if you like, a very epitome, a summary of all the church's duty. The world is looking on to the church, and the world is looking for the church to do something. Will you not give us aid? Will you not give us more finance? Will you not give us this and that? But as churches, our duty is not to give the world what they are wanting; our duty is to give the world what we are commissioned to tell them: "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk" (Acts 3, 6). Conversion is the great thing which is brought before our attention in the Bible. Have we appreciated that? Is this something that we realise, all of us? That there is nothing more important for us all than that we should be attentive to the gospel of Christ, and receive it into our own lives.
Let me go on to a third thing. This section of scripture reminds us that the gospel that we bring to men is a gospel of power. The Christian faith has power attaching to it; it's the only religion that does. No religion under the sun can do what Christianity can do. It has power. How do we know? Well the miracle - anyone could go to a beggar and say, 'Rise up and walk.' But on this occasion we are told here that as Peter and John spoke these words, "He took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength" (Acts 3, 7). This is a miracle. Some people say, 'We don't believe in miracles.' They are too educated to believe in miracles. Well, let's answer that point. Of course people don't believe in miracles if they don't believe in God, but if God created the heavens and the earth by the word of His power, there's nothing surprising in a miracle. A miracle simply means that God, for a little time, suspends the ordinary laws of nature. Usually when people are crippled, they remain crippled all their lives, but God is of such power that in a moment He can change the crippled condition of a person. You may say to me, 'But why don't these miracles happen today?' Well if you're interested in studying the whole question of faith healing, I would recommend to you this book. It's a famous book by a man, Henry W. Frost, and it has the title, Faith Healing. If you've never read it and you're interested in the subject of faith healing there's the book to go for - Henry W. Frost on faith healing. But I can't stay on that subject in detail, of course, just now, but what I would say to you is this, that this miracle is a sign of the supernatural power of God. All miracles in the New Testament were signs. They were pointers to the power of God. The message of course was this, that if God could heal the body of this man, visibly, so that from being crippled from his mother's womb until then, he could now rise up and walk and jump in the air, the same God who did that can do wonders for our lives as a whole - for our hearts, for our souls, for our eternal and spiritual good. It was a sign of the inward change, which is brought about through conversion.
It's for this reason that the Apostle Paul, speaking about the gospel, says: 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God..." (Romans 1, 16). Here is the difference. There are many religions in the world, many religious messages that could be brought, but the gospel is the power of God. What does it mean? It means it really does work; it does change people's lives. Nothing else will do it. The gospel is the only thing that can transform a person's life. How does it do this? Well let me mention just three things.
First of all, when the gospel is believed by a person, what happens is, they see the truth. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines into their hearts. I know because I've felt it, I've experienced it - there are many here who have, the same as I have. They have experienced this transforming power of the gospel. It's not confined to one or two, or a few; it's open to all. The same transforming power can come into a person's life, and as soon as you believe in the gospel you will experience this power, you will know it for yourself. But you have to believe. You have to take God's word for it. You have to receive the message into your heart. You have to bow before Christ as Lord. If you won't do that, you will never understand, you will never know the truth.
The second thing that happens in the gospel is that it is the power of God in that it actually gives faith to people. The gospel requires faith, but it also gives faith. There was a very famous prayer spoken, I think, by Saint Augustine as we call him - many, many years ago, centuries ago - and the prayer went like this. Listen carefully. He said to God: 'Grant what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.' Have you got that? 'Grant what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.' Well now, God requires faith. It is through faith that we are saved. Faith is the condition of salvation but... it is also the gift of God - both the condition and the gift. God requires faith, and also gives faith. He demands it, and bestows it. Because the gospel that tells us to believe also gives us faith. We can't of course believe of ourselves, it is impossible. No man can come of himself, but the God who commands us to believe can also, does also, give us faith.
Boys and girls, let's use an illustration, it may just help. About this time of the year, many farmers are ploughing their fields. I know very little about ploughing or sowing, but we all know what a seed is - of wheat, or barley, or some other crop - and we all understand that when the farmer has ploughed his field, one of these fine days he will plant the seed. He has a machine that puts the seed in the ground. You don't see anything, do you, all at once? You don't see a green field with waving corn the very next week. You have to wait. But given time the corn will grow. How does it grow? Because the seed is in the ground, and the seed has life, and the life will show itself by becoming like grass, and then becoming the full corn - 'first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear'. It's alive, it's growing; so is faith. When the seed of God is planted in the soul at the new birth, it comes to life. Indeed, in this case it comes to life immediately, just like this man in Acts 3, 7. Notice, "immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength" (Acts 3, 7). As soon as we believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, immediately a change comes about in our life. As it did in this man's body, so it comes about in men's hearts and lives and souls.
Then, a third thing that is changed with the power of God is this: the ability to live the Christian life. You can't live a Christian life without power, it's impossible. There have been many people who have tried to live the Christian life without the Spirit in their lives, without the Spirit of God in their hearts, and all they have done is gone through the motions of being a Christian. But that does not make them Christians. What they do is, they go regularly to the Lord's Supper, every week, and sometimes every day, and they won't eat fish on a certain day of the week, and they go religiously to certain services in the church. They're trying to live the Christian life without the grace or power of God. It never works. It's impossible. The only way to live the Christian life is to have the seed of faith planted in our hearts. That's where some people have gone wrong. They have professed faith in Christ, but they did not as yet have the seed of new life planted in the soil of their heart. But as soon as the power of God comes upon us, then our lives are truly changed - we are never the same people again. We have this light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in our hearts. We are new men and new women.
May I pause a moment in my remarks and ask you, do you know what I'm talking about? Have you experienced it? Is this something that you are aware of in your own life? Or are you like this poor man, your life is so boring. You're looking to the church to do something for you, or somebody else to do something for you. You're really living without hope, without power, there's no power in your life. Anyone can make a profession of being a Christian, but if there's no power it's worthless. There has to be the power of God in your life. It's miraculous, supernatural, divine energy, poured upon the heart and the soul as it was upon this poor man's body.
Let me come to my final point, fourthly. Did you notice here, my friends, that Jesus Christ the Saviour makes poor men and women happy, as nothing else can do? He makes them happy. Let me read: Peter "took him by the right hand, and lifts him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God" (Acts 3, 8-9). Now that's a wonderful picture. What a transformation! This poor, wretched man, lying there begging, day by day - he'd done it for years, probably since he was an early teenager. Everybody knew him. We are told that in the next verse, "They knew that it was he which sat at alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple" (Acts 3, 10). He was a familiar sight. Everybody knew this man was always there. It was his stance, if you like. They put him there day by day, and everybody saw him, going in and coming out from this 3 o'clock service of prayer. They recognised him; they knew his clothes; they knew the shape of his body; they saw his wretched ill-formed legs. But what did they see now? This same man - leaping, walking about, praising God! Obviously he's ecstatically happy. Wouldn't you be, if you were a cripple and suddenly healed like this in a moment of time? What a stupendous act of the power of God - the word happy isn't good enough. As we say, he was over the moon. He was unutterably happy. He was holding on to Peter and John - do you notice that, "The lame man which was healed held Peter and John" (Acts 3, 11). He held onto their shoulders and their arms, and he was patting them and thanking them, praising God for them; holding on to these two beloved apostles who were the instruments of this utter, wonderful transformation. Well, of course, we are being told here that Christ makes men and women happy, as nothing else does. Have you realised that? Why were they happy? Let me give you some reasons before I close.
God had done something for this man that he would never, never stop talking about till his dying day. We're not told about this man, we don't know how much longer he lived, but let's just exercise our imagination. Let us suppose that he marries, and then has eventually children and then grandchildren. I don't know whether it's accurate or true, but nevertheless, if it's not grandchildren it's somebody else's grandchildren. You can imagine when he's a very old man, these grandchildren coming round, or somebody else's children coming anyway, and saying to him: 'Oh! Tell us that story again as to what happened! Grandfather, how did you get that power to walk? You told us that when you were young you couldn't walk. What happened? Tell us again, granddad!' And you can imagine his face would beam with happiness. 'Well,' he said, 'I was sitting down at the temple gate and these two men came - those wonderful servants of Jesus Christ called Peter and John. As they came towards me I looked to them for a few pennies, but they said that they had neither silver nor gold, but in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth they commanded me to get up and walk! And I felt something happening to me. My feet suddenly were strengthened, and I stood up and I held them, and I leaped up and down. All the people who were coming to the worship service were amazed! And they came gathering round and Peter preached a sermon to them. And they said, "Don't look at us as though we did this. It is God, and Christ, who's done the miracle."' And friends, this was a happy man.
But then, when you have the power of God in your heart, converting you, you'll be a happy man, or woman, or boy or girl then. It's just the same. You talk to any of the Christians here and you'll discover the only thing that really is important to them is when they came to know God, and Christ, and when the power of God made them new men and women. That's what we want for you. How do you get it, you say? Well you get it in the same way that this man got it, through the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth - there's no other way to get this blessing, no other way for the power to enter your heart. Christ can do it. That's why the Bible says to you, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.' You don't have to wait for years and years. You can get it right here and now. The moment you truly trust in Jesus Christ, the power will come and you will be delivered from the worldliness and the hopelessness and inability which characterises every unconverted person's life. That's one thing.
Before I close, there is this. God gave to him new life. No doubt he was totally different after this happened. No more begging now. He lived a normal, healthy life. What else did God do? Well I think there's evidence to suggest he was truly blessed in his heart. He was not simply healed in his body, surely. Look at what he's doing, he's praising God. Surely this man had an inward change as well, and that's the more important of the two. To heal the body is one thing, but to heal the soul and the heart is far more important.
So then, how are you today? Have you got this blessing? Do you know this happiness? When people look at your face do they say, 'What a happy young man!' You can see at a glance, he has got something that other people don't have. Or do they say, 'What an unhappy person he must be. You can see on his face sadness. There's something wrong there.' Well I'll tell you what's wrong. You haven't got God. You haven't got your sins forgiven. You haven't got peace with God.
Download This Text Sermon
This text sermon can be downloaded in HTML format so that it can be viewed off-line using an internet browser, and many other programs. (As you can read this page, you can view HTML format files on this computer.)
Download this sermon now - to download please right click and select "save target as" or "save link target as". Please note: It is strongly advised that you use this link to download a sermon, rather than simply saving the current page.