An Unexpected Gift
Another day had dawned. The man’s friends arrive early to pick him up and take him to the Temple. They brought the man to the Temple door. But he does not enter in. you see, he is a crippled man, and crippled men were not allowed in the Temple. He could come to the door of the Temple. It was a beautiful door made of fine Corinthian brass. It took much silver and gold to pay for it. For years, the man looked upon this door and admired it. Perhaps he could hear the sound of praise and worship in the Temple. All he could do is to lay at the door. He was close to the Temple, but he was in a sense a million miles away.
This man was born with crippled feet. He had never walked a day in his life. He was dependent on charity. Occasionally a copper, or even a silver or gold coin was given to him by those entering into the Temple. What did these worshipers think of this man? Did they give to be seen by others? Or did they give grudgingly as many do when they try to get past the Salvation Army kettles at Christmastime? Maybe others, knowing that the man was there, decided to enter through a different door.
How often did this crippled man think what it would be like to walk? What was worship in the Temple like? But the reality of despair held the man in his iron grip. He was never going to walk. He was never going to enter. The crippled man had to lower expectations. Perhaps today, he would be lucky. Perhaps he might get a silver coin today. That would be a good day as it would pay for his upkeep for an entire day. A gold coin would be a holiday. But even these days were rare. Little did this man knew that on this day, he would receive a gift far more valuable than gold or silver.
The text says that Peter and John came to the Temple at the time of the evening prayer at 3 PM. The man had probably been lying there all day. Soon his friends would arrive and take him home. I wonder how the day went for the man. Had the people been generous? Or would he have to satisfy himself as he often did with a few crumbs. Here was an ugly man at the beautiful gate, visible to all, yet unseen.
Peter and John were ordinary men. Their appearance did not give the man all too much hope for a large donation. But at this late hour, any donation was better than none. The man noticed that these men did something that most of the passersby did not. They looked at the man. They saw him. His hopes were raised because he was at least a somebody to Peter and John, if even for a moment. Even when others dropped a coin, they did so without taking personal notice of the man. Their minds were elsewhere.
The most unexpected exchange now occurs. Not only did Peter and John see the man, they began to speak to him. This man who was cursed by infirmity was being treated as a person. By now, the crippled man’s hopes had risen. But then the words came out “We don’t have silver and gold.” These were not the words the cripple expected to hear or wanted to hear. After all, this man’s life had been reduced to that of silver and gold. This is what he begged for.
However, Peter and John do not stop here. They say that they do have something to give. “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Peter then reaches out his hand to pull the crippled man up. He touched the man. And something happened when he did. The crippled man was astonished. He could stand up. He could walk. The man was delighted. He immediately was healed! There were two things he had never done. The first was to stand on his own two feet. The second was to enter the Temple from which he as a cripple was excluded. He could enter the Temple with all those who had passed him by over the years and worship. He was healed in soul as well as body. So often in Jesus’ ministry, the people he healed did not return thanks. Not this man. When he was healed in Jesus’ name, he went in to worship, jumping, leaping for joy and praising God. He would have to find some other means of supporting himself. He was no longer the beggar at the gate. He has a new identity.
We know that this man was not the only man who was healed by either Jesus or the Apostles acting in Jesus’ name. Why was this one recorded when so many others were reduced to a group of people whom Jesus healed?
In answering this question, we should not assume that Jesus considered these healings any less personally than this man. And to those who have been healed by Jesus, there was no reason to expect these people to be any less thankful. The problem of having to be selective in the accounts of Scripture is not due to any lack of notice on God’s part. Rather it is the fact that we who are readers of the Scripture are unable to process all of the miracles of Jesus or those done in Jesus name on a personal level. So the Holy Spirit who inspired Luke to write Luke and Acts did so to teach us an important lesson.
Too often the church makes the mistake of thinking it is all about silver and gold. We certainly beg for it enough, as though this is what the church is all about. We want the silver and gold to put on a spectacular show, thinking this is what attracts worshipers. We look for those wealthy donors who pass by. No wonder the church is impotent! There is a story told of the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas who was being given a tour of all the church’s treasure in St. John’s of the Lateran in Rome. He was told upon seeing all the silver and gold that the church no longer had to say “Silver and gold have we none”. Aquinas reportedly answered, “Neither can the church say “Rise up and walk.”
God did not raise up his church to build beautiful temples. In fact the very Temple before which the cripple was laid would soon become rubble, beautiful doors and all. The silver and gold would be carried off by the Romans. A few chapters earlier in Luke’ epic Luke-Acts, Jesus took note of what was going on inside the Temple. Rich men and women dropped their silver and coins into a metal box to which a horn shaped like the old fashioned hearing aids was attached. This magnified the sound of the dropped coins to the point that all could clearly hear how many and what type of coins were dropped. The loud sounds of the offering of the rich was interrupted by the dull thud of two little copper coins thrown in by a widow woman. Jesus noticed that this woman gave her all. Before we get to sanctimonious in using her as an example of giving, we need to consider the significance of that event. The others had given much to buy Corinthian bronze doors, blocks of the finest marble, and objects of silver and gold for the Temple. This woman, when she gave the two mites was going to go home and die, just like the widow of Zarapath was going to use the last of her meal to make cakes for her and her son to eat before dying. Elijah told her to bake him a cake first with a promise that the meal and oil would not run out. This pagan woman was commanded to take care of the prophet of the God of Israel. She believed, and God provided.
What had made Jesus really mad is that the people who came into the Temple with their silver and gold could easily have supplied this poor widow woman’s need. Their heart was in the wrong place. What the church needs to do is to be faithful in sharing resources with those in need and trust God for supply. We don’t need to be making bigger and better places of worship. We need to enlarge our heart to address the worship that God commands.
We should consider that the great miracle of this story is that a man who was excluded from participation in the worship of the God of Israel was now included. The healing of the feet was only the means of this greater healing. How many obstacles has the church thrust up to exclude others from entering! We pass out tracts like little pieces of copper to a hungry and begging world. But are we inviting them into the church to our worship. When the poor come to church, do we throw a biscuit to them out the back door, or do we invite them through the front door?
This miracle in a sense began to open the door for others to come in and join the assembly of the true Israel. Soon the Samaritans, the Ethiopians, then Gentile God fearers, and finally the heathen would be invited to participate in the Temple of the Spirit.
What we need to do is to see, speak, and touch others with the gospel in the name of Jesus that they might be miraculously transformed from what excluded them from worship into being a member in God’s household. This transformation is prerequisite to entering. The lame man had to be healed of what separated him from the Temple in order to enter. The invitation is not to enter as you are. The miracle of transformation must still happen by the power of God. The household of God is made up of those who were once excluded from fellowship. Every single one of us has to be transformed by the gospel of God’s grace to enter. We must still remember that God’s house is a holy place. It is not a place for sin to be comfortable. But at the same time, it is not to be a holy club that does not look outward to invite the “whosoever will”, no matter how ugly their lives might be. We must be careful about our motivations.