I’m still thinking about that shriveled, old, beggar. That moment when Peter stretched out his hand, helped the man to his feet, and the thin, crooked legs became strong and the twisted angles straightened, and even though the man was still as thin as a rail, he gasped with astonishment and slowly, shakily at first took a few steps, then laughed, and took a few more steps, then gave a little hop, then laughed some more.
And a crowd started to gather. And murmurs rushed through them, like the rustling of leaves, “Is that him? Isn’t that the beggar? Can he really walk? Is that him?” And the beggar shouts, “Yes, it’s me!” And he runs, and laughs again, still so astonished that it’s really his own legs holding him up. “I’m healed!” he calls out, and then he repeats himself, jumping on each word for emphasis. “I! (Jump) Am! (Jump) Healed!” (Jump, jump, jump!) And then he sees Peter and John over by Solomon’s colonnade, and rushes over to them, now eye level (now no longer looking up at them) and he gives them a huge sweaty, smelly hug, and starts blubbering with joy and won’t let go.
And the people are astounded. And they all rush after the smelly little beggar, who is so radiant with happiness he doesn’t even look like the same person anymore. The crowd is still murmuring. “How did this happen?” “Who did this?” “These men over here?” “But they look quite ordinary.”
Then Peter sees his opportunity, steps up onto the highest step and calls out, “Friends, what’s so surprising about this? It’s not our goodness that healed this man, it’s the power of God, the God that we all worship. It’s through faith in Jesus this man was healed—you all know how crippled he was before. Faith in Jesus name is what healed him…” And Peter goes on to tell them that Jesus is the Messiah. And even though the temple guards arrest them, many people believed that day. And the church grew to well over 5 000 people.
And the Temple leaders didn’t know what to do—they didn’t want these men to keep speaking in Jesus’s name—the Jesus that they killed—but they couldn’t really stop them, because there was that awkward beggar-thing they didn’t know what to do with. They could try to ignore or down-play the Jesus-people’s message, but they couldn’t just get rid of the beggar. The guy was there, in person, walking around, a physical announcement affirming the message of the Jesus-people. Everyone knew the beggar. He’d been sitting crippled at the temple gate for 40 years, and everyone was praising God because he was healed. Not much they can do about that. Awkward.
And this is the pattern all through the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit empowers the disciples to do some Kingdom work—something that heals, restores, redeems. Whether it’s the undoing of Babel that happens when they all are speaking in languages from all over the world, or healing of a beggar, or the opening prison doors—something happens, and then people ask, “What’s this about? What can I do to get in on this? What must I do to be saved?” And then they disciples share their message. (This concept was made really clear for me in the book ‘Walking with the Poor’).
And it makes me wonder about our church today. Are we part of peculiar, undeniably good, Spirit-filled Kingdom work? Are we just huddling together on Sundays and hoping that by some miracle, strangers will wander into our church buildings and we’ll preach a message at them, and somehow that will do the trick? Or are we going out, are we a part of bringing God’s redemption, and doing such wonderful, delightfully compelling, astonishing things, that people are coming to us and asking, “What is this about? Did you do this? Who did this?” And then we have the chance to explain, like Peter and John, “Don’t look at us like we did this by our own goodness. It was God who did this.”
Peter never just got up and started lecturing people. He spoke up to answer people’s questions, to explain the work that happened before everyone’s eyes. People can ignore what you say. (And so often, we don’t even say things, anyway). But the beggar confronts people. He’s real. He’s there. He’s jumping and singing and running. You can’t ignore that. This beggar demands an explanation, because he just doesn’t make sense—he contradicts everything we know. He’s peculiar. But wonderful.
So I’m starting to wonder who the beggar at our temple gate is. I think I have some ideas:
When we partner with crèche teachers and organize sponsors so they can go on a special training workshop, or take 50 kids from Sweetwaters on camp, or go after hours to visit a teenager in hospital, people in Sweetwaters do ask us. They say, “Why are you doing this? You are such good people.” And we have a chance to say, “Don’t look at us, it’s Jesus who’s doing this.” And when big business funders come and see the hours poured in to mentoring crèche teachers, and teaching Life Skills classes, and helping gardens to grow, and their maximum-profit mindset gets a shock and they ask, “Why are you guys even doing this anyway?” we can say, “Jesus.”
And when our Hilton small group goes to play with children in hospital for a few hours, or goes to visit our local police station to encourage and pray (and give cake!) to those working long 12-hour shifts, and people say, “Why?” we can say, “Jesus.”
I have moments where I’m okay at this, and then I blog about it and pat myself on the back and think I’m doing things right. But to be honest, I don’t think my life is patterned around this idea because it’s hard. It takes effort to shut up and listen to the Spirit of God, it takes work to be asking God to show me where he wants me, and to show up in me when I go there. It’s much easier to live my life as I please and show up on Sunday for a service and think everything will be okay. But lately I’ve been convicted that I might be side-stepping a beggar at the gate on my way into the temple.