Seeing Those Around Us

February 12, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor

Acts 3:1-26

As Luke tells the story of Peter healing a lame beggar in Acts 3:1-26, three questions face us:

  1. Who does God want me to “see”?  On their way to prayer, Peter and John “saw, looked at, gave attention to” a man lame from birth. who was begging at the temple gate (Acts 3:1-5). In the midst of their normal day, the Holy Spirit directed them to fix their attention on this man.
  2. What has God given us to give to those we are led to “see”?  Peter responded to the man: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (Acts 3:6)
    Our job is just to see what the Holy Spirit has given us which will help meet the needs of others, not to try to “fix” all their issues.
  3. How does our seeing and serving others point them to Jesus?  The lame man is indeed healed and is “praising God”(Acts 3:7,8). Jesus is the one who gets all the attention in Peter’s remarks to onlookers (Acts 3:12-26).

Our goal as the “body” of Christ on earth is to serve supernaturally in His power, doing what Christ would do if He were here (joy, love, compassion, courage, etc), so that we can begin telling others about Jesus Christ Himself.

Discussion Questions

  1. Can you share an example from your own life of when a Christian “saw” you in the midst of a difficult circumstance and served you?
  2. How do we know what the Holy Spirit has given us to give someone else?
  3. Is it random, or can we prepare for acts of service and witness?
  4. What keeps us from “seeing” others, serving others, witnessing to others?
  5. How do we grow in faith to be able to talk directly to others about Jesus?

Introduction

I knew Chuck Sloan. How many of you could say that with me “I knew Chuck Sloan?” Chuck was one of the Seniors at our former church. I knew Chuck as his Pastor. I visited him in the hospital. I counseled him once or twice. I knew him. I knew Chuck was a cheerful believer in Christ and a good Dad. I knew he was an NC State fan. His brother Norm had coached the Wolfpack. I knew he had served in the military as some kind of pilot. I knew he could be kind of hard to get away from in a conversation. I knew that he and his wife, Jeanette, had an interesting relationship: they were always teasing each other, almost antagonistically. I remember when he fell in the garage and broke his hip, and she had to call the ambulance. Before she did, she closed the garage door told him it was embarrassing for the neighbors to see him laying there! They were funny! They really loved each other!

So, I knew Chuck Sloan – kind of. I don’t think I really saw Chuck. I mean really saw him for who he was – saw what an amazing person he was – saw him for all his worth – until near the end of his life – and really – his funeral. As we prepared for his funeral, I learned that he wasn’t just a good Dad. He was a great Dad, who always made time for his kids. I learned that his cheerfulness came from a depth of character that kept him joyful even when he was in great pain. I learned that “some kind of pilot” was the understatement of the century. Chuck was a helicopter pilot who was a war hero with 20 military medals and 2 Bronze stars for heroic service in combat. He had survived two plane crashes. He had gone behind enemy lines twice to rescue his fellow soldiers. One of those times, he went without orders to rescue a man that no one thought would make it and no one would go get. That man lived because of Chuck.

When I conducted Chuck’s funeral – complete with a 21 gun salute – I remember standing there and wishing that I had seen – really seen – Chuck earlier. Everybody needs to be seen. Today we are continuing in our study of the first 7 chapters of the book of Acts called “Launch.” Today we are at a turning point in the book of Acts. The church is going to begin to launch out into the community around it. It’s going to happen when the disciples run into a man who was largely unseen – someone that many people probably by-passed and never noticed. We’re going to see how God used the Apostles not just to see this man – but also to serve him – to give him a gift from God – and to glorify Jesus while they were doing that. Today we are going to look at the story of Peter and John healing the lame man at the temple. I love this story! It’s a favorite Sunday school story. Today as we go through this story, we’re just going to look at it in terms of three big questions – three questions about the people in our lives that God may want us to see and serve.

If we really believe that God is active in the details of our lives – and we really do believe that – the Bible tells us that He is – then we believe that the people around us – at home – in our neighborhood – at our job – here at Perry Creek – we believe they are not random, but that God has placed them in our lives for a purpose. So how do we interact with that fact? Well, this passage gives us some guidance on that – some guidance on how to interact with some of those people around us that may need to be seen.

I think this will generate some really good discussion for your small groups, so leaders I would encourage you to take out a pen and paper and jot down some discussion questions to put in the box to help Carol with our discussion guide.

This is the perfect time for us to be studying this passage as a church, because this week at the Valentine’s Lunch here at River Bend Elementary we begin to launch into the community. As we look at this passage, these three simple questions, I hope, will guide the way we serve in that event – and in future events – and I really pray it will guide the way we live our lives from day to day – missionality at its core.

Let’s just read through the story in Acts 3:1-26. To set it in context for you, this story happens fairly soon – probably days, or at the most weeks – after the miracle of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has come on the disciples. They are living in the kind of community with one another that Tim described last week, when Luke tells us this:

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

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.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 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.

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. 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? 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. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 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.

“Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’
“Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”
– Acts 3:1-26

We’ll look at our passage in terms of three questions; we’ll have:

  • A Who?
  • A What?
  • A How?

The first one is Who?

Who does God want me to see?

There are people all around us that need to be seen – that need to be noticed – and cared about – really seen. Our story invites us to recognize this – you might not have noticed it when I read the story aloud – but seeing is a really big deal in this story.

Let me show you what I mean. When our story begins, Peter and John are going to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem to pray. Even though they are Christians, they are still ethnic and religious Jews who believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament Judaism. So as our story begins, they are doing what Jews did: Every day at 9AM and 3PM, sacrifices were offered in the Temple. So every day pious Jews who lived in Jerusalem would go to the temple at one or both of these times to pray. It’s like the Geico commercials: “If you’re a first century Jew, you go to the temple to pray – it’s what you do.” Jews did this every day, and every day while the Jews were doing this something else happened as well: Look at verse 2:

Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. – Acts 3:2

Luke tells us that there was a man who was crippled from birth. We don’t know exactly what the nature of his disability was – whether it was palsy – or a deformity – or paralysis. We know that whatever the cause was, this man could not get around at all. He was lame. Luke tells us in the next chapter, that he had been that way for 40 years.

So every day – day in and day out – they would take this man to what was called “the Beautiful Gate” – probably the Eastern entrance to the Temple courts – and they would leave him there to beg. After 40 years, I’m sure that he was like a temple fixture – part of the furniture. He had a good spot. I’m sure everybody had glanced at him multiple time. They recognize him after the healing. Maybe they had tossed him a coin or two. I’m sure the disciples had encountered him there at the entrance on one of their many trips to the temple.

But I don’t think he had really been seen. Luke really seems to want us to know this. Look at what he says in verses 3-5:

When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. – Acts 3:3-5

When Kelley and I first read this story together months ago, we noticed that there is something about “seeing” in this passage. When I looked at it closely – it’s amazing. Five times Luke points out either that the man saw them or that they saw him. He saw them. Peter looked straight at him as did John. Peter said “Look at us.” The man gave them his attention.” In the Greek, Luke uses four different verbs that mean to see: Everything from the man just viewing them, to them paying attention – to carefully observing something. At first, that really puzzled me. I wondered “Why does Luke do this?” He doesn’t do this with any of the other miracles he tells us about in Acts. What is Luke saying? What is this all about?

I think the point Luke is making is that they saw him. They didn’t just catch a glimpse of him. They didn’t just throw a coin at him and turn away. They saw him. While they were on their way to do their religious duty – like they had several times before – the Holy Spirit who had come into their hearts, directed their attention to this man – this man that nobody was seeing. This man that was like a part of the landscape.

They saw him. They engaged him. They cared. For the first time, they saw this guy as someone that they cared about – someone that God might want to help. Luke tells us that they fixed their attention on him, and they told him to fix his attention on them.

Can I ask you a question? I think this is a question that Luke wants us to ask: Who is it in your daily life that God wants you to see? Not just catch a glimpse of – not just acknowledge – who does he want you to see? Who is it in your day to day life that you carelessly pass – that the Holy Spirit is calling you to notice? Who might God be wanting you to care about? Who might God be wanting to help through you?

Because I promise you – every one of you – that there is someone. There is someone in your life that needs to be seen. So who is it? For some of us, maybe it’s someone we hardly know – like the guy who bags our groceries or the girl who sells us coffee. Kelley was in Wal-Mart the other day and in the past she has “seen” the lady who works at the automotive counter and engaged her. This lady just started pouring out her life’s story to Kelley. She needed to be seen.

For some of us, maybe it’s a co-worker whose life seems so put together on the outside, but is dying on the inside. They are begging someone to see them. For some of us, maybe the person we need to see is a Muslim neighbor who is wondering if they are still welcome in the neighborhood? Maybe for some of us, it’s going to be a child or parent at this school. We are going to serve here Tuesday at the Valentine’s Day lunch. We have to decide are we really going to see people? For some of us, maybe it’s your spouse or one of your children. Maybe things started out good – but over the years, it’s just gotten distant – and they’ve almost become part of the furniture.

People need to be seen, and God calls us to see people. So the first question is: Who does God want me to see?

What has God given me to give them?

The Holy Spirit has directed Peter and John’s attention to the lame man. They have “seen” him. He’s “seen” them. Now in verse 5 Luke tells us:

So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. – Acts 3:5

Then look at what Peter says in verse 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.” – Acts 3:6

Peter takes the man by his right hand and he lifts him up, and the man stands, and then he walks, and then he jumps around in the temple, praising God. And I love it! Wouldn’t you love to have been there, when that guy took his first steps? I remember how excited we were when Elisabeth and Calvin took their first steps. We counted them. We got out the camcorder. We were so jazzed! But this guy is 40 years old. Jesus just healed him, and he’s taking the very first steps of his life. That would be awesome!

Notice what Peter says here in verse 6 again. He makes a very significant statement: “Silver and gold I do not have – but what I have I give to you.”

Peter sees the man. He knows he doesn’t have any money, but somehow he recognizes that the Holy Spirit has given him at that moment the power to heal the man, so he gives the man what God has given to him.

I say that’s a significant statement – “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have I give to you” – because I think sometimes the reason we choose not to see people is that we know we can’t fix all their problems. Ministering to people in need – whether their need relates to finances – or health – or a crumbling marriage – or just to spiritual poverty – is tough! It’s messy. It’s intimidating. It can be shameful, because we always know – if we’re honest with ourselves – that we are not enough. We probably don’t have the resources – or the time – or even the answers to fix all their problems, so we can kind of turn away.

Notice that Peter sets us free from all that: “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have I’ll give to you.” Peter didn’t say that because was stingy and didn’t want to share. remember last week’s passage – this was the most generous community on earth! He didn’t say it because couldn’t get silver and gold. I’m sure he could have gone to the church and gotten something for the man. Rather, he says it because silver and gold were not what God had given him to give to the man.

Sometimes when people are in pain we think we have two options: Fix it or ignore it. Most of the time when people are in real pain, we can’t fix it. We can’t. So we tend to pick the other option and ignore them.

You don’t have to fix it. It’s not our job to fix every problem. Think about it. I’m quite certain that on this day there were other beggars and disabled people at the temple, but God didn’t call Peter to heal them. In fact, if you think about it – this man would have been begging at the temple when Jesus was at the temple. At that time Jesus did not heal him. It’s not our job to fix everything.

Actually our job is much easier – and please hear this – because if you do you will engage in so much more ministry. Our job is simply to take what the Holy Spirit has given to us and give it to the people he calls us to see. Whatever the Spirit gives us, we share freely with others. We don’t have to share anything more. Sometimes that will mean that you give them silver or gold. If God’s given you enough to be financially generous, and he brings someone to your attention that needs it – be financially generous! Sometimes the Holy Spirit may just give you a word of encouragement – or a prayer that’s just right – he may give you words that help them see that the Holy Spirit is active in the situation. You may wish for more, but if that’s what God gives you – it will be enough.

A year ago last fall Jeff Aiken unexpectedly suffered a major stroke. And you know, there are times that I wish I could just lay my hands on Jeff and heal his body. There are times I wish God would give me the insight to tell him what the path is for him and how this is all going to turn out. God hasn’t given me that yet, but he has given me words – when we talk together – when we pray. Sometimes I get to be the one the Holy Spirit uses to give Jeff the hope he needs to keep believing – keep working – one more day – one more week.

Sometimes it’s resources – sometimes it’s a word or a prayer – and sometimes – once in a great while – it’s healing.

Kelley and I were at lunch with Tim Brannagan last week after he spoke. He told us about a time when he was teaching a group of believers and unbelievers about divine healing. He said “God’s primary healing is spiritual, but yes there are times when God does actually heal people.” Just as he said that, here comes a woman in a wheelchair up to the front. She says “As you were speaking, I believe the Holy Spirit told me that you are going to pray for me, and God is going to heal me from the top of my head to the tip of my toes, and I’m never going to use this wheelchair again. I have MS and I’ve been in this wheelchair for 20 years.” Tim thought “Oh boy!” I mean – can you imagine? He called his wife, Nancy, and some other mature Christians up there, and they prayed for the lady. And she stayed in the wheelchair. The next day she went to Mayo Clinic, and they said “you don’t have MS. Your left side just atrophied for some reason, and what you need is PT. She got out of the wheelchair and never used it again.”

Sometimes God may heal, but listen: Your job is not necessarily to heal – or to have all the answers – or even necessarily to give people what they are asking for.

Your job is to give them what God has given you. That’s it.

  • Who does God want me to see?
  • What has he given me to give to them?

How does that Point them to Jesus?

Notice in the story that the lame man is healed, and God uses Peter and John to do it. But who gets all the attention? Jesus – He’s the star of the show. That’s why Peter says “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk.” That’s not some magical incantation where if you hold your mouth just right it really works! Rather, Peter is simply identifying Jesus as the one who has already decided to heal the man. He’s pointing him to Jesus. He does the same thing in the sermon. Look at what he says in verses 12-16:

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? 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. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 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. – Acts 3:12-16

What is Peter saying? He’s saying “It’s all about Jesus.” It’s not about us and our goodness. It’s not about the power of suggestion. It’s not about “We want to feel good about ourselves, so we helped this poor guy out.”

  • The reason we care about something other than ourselves –
  • The reason we fixed our gaze on this man –
  • The reason we were able to reach out to him and heal him –
  • The reason he stands before you –
  • The reason we can even begin to have the courage to be in the city where Jesus was executed – in the temple that brought his persecution – testifying to the very men who called for his death
    is Jesus Christ – and his resurrection – and his Spirit that now lives in us.

That’s why we see people. That’s why we serve. That’s why we have the courage to step into awkward – and risky – and even dangerous situations – and give people what God has given us to give them. It’s all about Jesus. Start to finish. He’s the star of the show.

And Church, it has to be that way with us. This has to be about Jesus. It cannot be about us, because “we’re such nice people.” We are here to serve at Perry Creek not because we are nice people, but because we are the eyes – we are the mouth – we are the hands – we are the feet – of Jesus. We are the Body of Christ, led by Christ, doing what Christ would do if he were here. It has to be about him. People should be pointed to Jesus when we serve.

We might say “Well, it was easy for Peter to point them to Jesus. He did something no normal person could do.” Exactly: Our goal as we serve at River Bend this Tuesday is to serve supernaturally. It is to serve with such compassion – with such kindness – with such excellence and with such joy – that people say “Those people in the fashionable blue shirts are not normal!” Seriously, we want them to ask what’s different about us, so that we can just begin the process of telling them about Jesus.

We want that to run all the way through everything our church does:

  • We want to be such generous people that it doesn’t make sense without Jesus.
  • We want to be such honest people that it doesn’t make sense without Jesus.
  • We want to be so service oriented that it doesn’t make sense without Jesus.
  • We want to be such compassionate, courageous people that we have conversations that we would never have without Jesus.
  • We want to care about others enough to say the risky things that they need to hear.
  • We want to love them enough to wade into conversations where we don’t have all the answers.
  • We want to love them enough to risk the rejection of telling them about Jesus.
  • We want to love them enough, even to call them to repent – to turn away from sin – if that’s what the Holy Spirit tells us to say.

Did you catch that in Peter’s sermon? Five times he says “By the way YOU killed Jesus.” “You handed him over – you disowned him – you killed the author of life – ” So much for “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life – ” Point 1 of my sermon: You killed Jesus!

Do you think for one minute that Peter would have had the courage on his own to stand in that temple where the trouble started – in the city where Jesus was crucified – before the people who crucified him and say that? No way. Only by the power of Jesus through the enablement of his Spirit.

But that’s exactly what they needed to hear. If you keep reading, another 2,000 people came to Christ because Peter spoke the words that the Holy Spirit gave him to speak. That’s how this all ties together:

  • If we are willing to see the people that God calls us to see –
  • If we are willing to give them what God calls us to give –
  • If we are really doing that –

then they will see Jesus, because there’s no other way our life will make sense.

The job’s not done until we’ve spoken about Jesus. Who does God want you to see? What has he given you to give them? How will that point them to Jesus?