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Narrative Lectionary Text: Acts 3:1-10
When we started having kids in the early nineties, my wife and I made the decision to move into that next phase of life as a suburban family. We bought…a minivan. As an artist, I was somewhat reluctant to become the typical minivan driving soccer dad. So, we had to get one that was special.
One day we went to a big tent used car sale at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas to look around. That’s when we found it. It’s like it called to us. It was the coolest minivan I had ever seen.
A 1991 Toyota Previa. Oh yeah. It looked like a shuttle craft from the Star Ship Enterprise. We fell in love instantly.
I had never seen one before, so I thought we were being unique. Then something strange happened. We started driving it around, and, “Hey, look! There’s a Previa. Oh, look over there! Another one.”
There seemed to be a Previa on every street corner. We were trend setters!
The brain is a funny thing. Every day we are bombarded with data. Hundreds of faces, signs, words, sounds, smells. If we took the time to notice every one, we would be overwhelmed. So, the brain blends them all together into a white noise. We only notice the things that we have been conditioned to notice.
If you are driving along and a car gets too close to you, you notice it.
If you are a Packers fan and you are living in a sea of purple noise, then you see a green and yellow shirt, you notice it.
I had never noticed the Previa before because it wasn’t on my radar. Once it became part of my awareness, I saw them everywhere.
Awareness. That’s what we’re talking about today.
At the end of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus instructed his disciples to be aware. To keep watch. To stay awake. Why, because the kingdom of God was at hand.
We are done with the Gospel of Mark. Last week Pastor Mark launched us into a short, four-week series on the book of Acts.
We saw that the whole book of Acts can be summarized in one verse. Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
This picture shows how the whole book can be divided into those three regions.
Today, our passage is Acts 3:1-10. We are going to zoom in to the city of Jerusalem and witness the very first act of the Apostles after the day of Pentecost.
I invite you to take out your Bibles and turn to Acts chapter 3. We are looking at the first ten verses.
I geeked out as I studied the text this week and discovered that the specific words are really important. So, I drew a series of images that will, hopefully, make sense out of this story.
The story begins with a contrast. On the left we see Peter and John. They are two able-bodied men who are going to worship at the temple. The Law of Moses stated that only men who were ceremonially clean and fully intact could enter the temple for worship.
Women, children, cripples, and foreigners had to stay outside and watch.
On the right we have the crippled man. The theology of the day said that he was crippled because of sin in his family. His place in life was to sit by the gate and beg for loose change his entire life.
Verse 3 says that he saw Peter and John. The word translated here is eidon. It means the simple act of seeing. Hey, there’s two able-bodied men walking by. Another source of loose change.
So he calls out to them.
Verse 4 says, “they looked intently at him.”
This is the word atenizo. It’s where we get the word attention.
This is where Peter and John had a Previa moment.
We find out later in the story that this man is over forty years old. He is older than Jesus, and most likely older than Peter and John. He has been sitting next to this gate for years and years. They have walked past him hundreds of times.
This got me thinking. That means Jesus had walked past this man hundreds of times.
So, why didn’t Jesus heal this guy when he healed all those other people?
Those of you who follow my blog know that I struggled with this question earlier this week. I knew that I was going to have stand up here and talk about a man who gets healed to people in this congregation who have not experienced healing.
I want to tell you right now. Jesus doesn’t heal everybody. The purpose of Jesus’ ministry was not healing. The purpose was to reveal the Kingdom of God.
If you are here today and are suffering, I hope you will see that this particular healing story had a specific purpose and does establish that all people will be healed.
Let’s keep reading.
Peter and John had never noticed this man before today. Now they paid attention.
Then they say something curious. “Look at us”
Why did they say that? He’s obviously looking at them. He saw them and called out to them.
The word here is blepo and it is often used to mean a deeper, or spiritual insight. “You see us, but really look at us.”
Verse 5 says, “and he fixed his attention on them.” This word is Epochon and it has the sense of what a rabbit does when it smells the fox. It perks up and pays close attention, but with extreme caution.
Verse 5 continues to say that he was expecting to receive something from them.
Do you see what’s happening here? What does this man see when he looks at Peter and John? He is a cripple. They are able-bodies. The only transaction that can ever happen between them is the tossing of some loose change, without ever seeing each other.
Now the miracle begins.
Peter says, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give to you.”
What does Peter have?
A relationship with Jesus.
He says, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Walk!”
We might think that this is the moment of the miracle. You know, just pronounce the magic word and “POOF!” The guy is healed.
Notice what happens next.
Verse 7 says, “and he took him by the right hand.”
I find it interesting that Luke, the author of Acts, specifically says he grabbed him by the right hand. Why not simply say, “ he took him by the hand?”
Have you ever heard the expression “the right hand of fellowship?” In that culture, the right hand was the one you used to greet a friend, or someone in your own station in life.
In this simple gesture, Peter was breaking all the rules. He was crossing over the barrier between cripples and able-bodies and touching this man as an equal.
He took him by the hand and raised him up.
This is the word egairo and it can be translated be alert, be awake, and…wait for it…resurrection.
Do you see what this is? This is the power of the resurrection at work in the world.
Now, keep reading verse 7. It says, and immediately his legs were healed. It wasn’t until after Peter took him by the hand and raised him up that the physical healing took place.
Now, look at verse 8. It says that he entered the temple with Peter and John. This is the first time in this man’s life that he has been allowed into worship.
And when the people saw this, they were filled with awe and wonder.
Here’s my big question from this story. What was the real healing here?
I isolated this drawing, because I think this was the moment it happened. This was a mutual conversion story.
Peter and John paid attention to this man for the first time. On this side of Jesus’ resurrection they now see this man, not as an object of pity, but as a fellow human who deserves the right hand of fellowship.
And the man, for the first time in his life, does not see himself as the cripple and Peter and John as the source of loose change, but as fellow humans whom he can trust.
Today, we are called to carry the same mission that Peter and John were called to live. We are called to be Jesus’ witnesses. We are called to “look intently” at the world and see it the way God sees it. Al people are God’s creation, not objects to be used or ignored.
It is only when we extend the right hand of fellowship to all people that the resurrection power of God’s kingdom can work.