What I Have I Give to You
(c) Copyright 2003 Rev. Bill Versteeg
This is my first sermon in Langley, often called an inaugural sermon, not only because it is the first, but because its intent is to give a flavour for ministry and the direction of ministry as I serve you as a congregation. It is my hope, my dream, my passionate prayer that the Holy Spirit driven picture of religion that we see in this passage will be the realities we experience here in Langley. Turn to Acts 3.
1One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. 2Now 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. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" 5So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6Then 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." 7Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. 8He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10they 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.
11While 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. 12When 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? 13The 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. 14You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16By 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.
This passage is a study in contrasts. Luke uses four different Greek words as he describes the dumfounded amazement of the people when they saw what "suddenly" happened! The point is that what they expected, and what occurred were profoundly different! They were experiencing a sea change on the issue of what religion is about. Everything was being totally redefined! This morning we look at 5 points of contrast.
Contrast #1 Monument vs. Ministry
The context of this passage happens in Monument. It occurs at the Temple gate called Beautiful, otherwise called the Nicanor Gate. Josephus tells us that all the other temple gates palled in comparison. None compared to the beauty of this gate detailed with Corinthian Brass. This monument detailed the art work of some of Israel's most dedicated craftsmen, this was the beauty of religion in all of its glory. Faithful God fearing Jews would look in awe at this gate, at this part of Herod' temple because of its great beauty. For Israel, religion had to do with places and beautiful monuments. After all, their place of religion had to exceed that of the Samaritans who worshipped on "a different mountain" (John 4:19).
What Peter did here under the leading of the Spirit had nothing to do with buildings. For Peter, the temple was simply a place to meet, at the very best a servant to true ministry, nothing more. For God, the temple was nothing more than a building. God's desire was for living temples, hearts indwelled by the Spirit, made beautiful by the Spirit's recreating work. Later, when it was clear that the temple monument would not serve true ministry, God had the Romans come through and tear it down. Not one stone was left upon another.
From this passage, we discover that ministry has little to do with this building. It has everything to do with those who are in it and those who come to it. Institutions are servants to people and relationships, not the other way around! The church is here to bless us, we are not here to serve the church building or the church institution! People are what really matter!
How do you feel about this church? Are you here for the church or is the church here for you?
Contrast #2 Beauty vs. Ugliness
Because religion was defined by monument, there was little room for people that didn't fit in like a beggar, lame from birth, carrying the disgrace of a handicap, always looking up to others, begging for charity, a victim of their religious mood swings. He was a misfit. Some suggest that he was not even allowed in the temple for such ugliness was not allowed in such a beautiful holy place. Only people with the right clothing, all their limbs working, only people with money were allowed in. After all, a beautiful places deserves beautiful people. It was these beautiful people who set the temple ministry agenda. The ugly were outside, ignored, regarded as a stain on this place of beauty.
Notice Peter and John paid no attention to the beautiful crowd entering the temple. This broken miserable man, totally dependant upon others was the one who set the agenda for the day. People's perceptions were turned totally upside down. Letting the weak, the powerless, the unnoticed set the agenda - most gasped at the thought!
How about this church? Who determines your ministry agenda? What institutionally powerless people do you focus on?
Contrast #3 Charisma vs. Character
Now here was a real shocker, and frankly a kicker. People in Israel had a preconceived notion of leadership. To be a leader, you were from a certain family, probably rich, definitely educated, you had to be a natural leader. To be a leader in ministry, the Priests, Levites and Sadducees were experts at selling themselves, demonstrating their good qualities. They would piously pray in public. This was part of their institutional image. They had to have and they had to demonstrate their leadership charisma to qualify for leadership.
Along came Peter and John and they tear apart Israel's concept of leadership. "Silver and gold we don't have." Peter and John were denying every expectation of leadership that existed in that culture. Human charisma (vs. 18), leadership qualities, piety and godliness, expected leadership qualities were put to the side. Instead they presented themselves as simply "human," equal with others. They brought themselves to the level of humanity that everyone else experienced, and then they made it very clear that true ministry happens through real human beings like me and you. True ministry is not of us, it is from God, it is not our qualities or strengths, what ever happens in ministry is because of God's qualities and strengths. God will not share his glory with another.
At the very beginning of my serve to you, I want to start by turning you away from mistaken notions and expectations of leadership even about me. We are not rich, and if you think that I have strengths, you will certainly soon find out my many weaknesses. I am human (like you are), I am fragile (like you are), I struggle with life (like you do) and sometimes wish life was a whole lot easier, I have illnesses (like all of us will at some time struggle with), I have done stupid things (just ask my children), my marriage can be hard (and I am at least 50% at fault for that), I know that there will be a few times that you appreciate me as a pastor, but what I really need more than anything else is your love. You might ask what it is that qualifies me to be your servant shepherd? What qualified Peter and John?
13When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Their qualification for ministry was character, developed by being with Jesus, 3 years of being with him. My hope and prayer is that you will discover that my qualification for ministry is not some piece of paper on my wall (you won't find any). My hope is that you will discover that Jesus has grabbed hold of me, and has led me for many years on a very interesting and exciting journey and it is out of Christ's faithfulness to me that I hope to minister faithfully to you..
Contrast #4 Duty vs. Contact
When this miracle occurred, it was the third time of prayer in the day. Israelites understood their religion as duty so they would pray at regular intervals during the day and you would give the temple tax when that duty called. If your religious mood was especially generous beside their temple tax, some would give a few alms for the poor. Most just fulfilled their duty and when on the way to their religious observances, they noticed a beggar like this one, their response was to avoid contact. They wouldn't talk to him, wouldn't pay attention and so sometimes these beggars could get fairly loud and manipulative just to get past peoples avoidances mechanisms.
This is a very interesting passage! Peter and John meet the crippled man and the first thing Luke describes is that they looked straight at him. Greek can be fun! The original Greek word is "atenizw," we get our word "attention" from it. Peter and John break the mould of ministry. They pay attention to this man. James later would say "faith without works is dead." Here, Peter and John define what those works are. To do the work of faith in the context of ministry is to pay ATTENTION to those in need.
What is ministry? It can be defined many ways! This passage describes ministry as attention - building relationships, making eye contact, listening, attending to another's need. Ministry is a two way street. In this passage Peter and John demand that the lame man also pay attention, Peter and John say "Look at us!"(not the same Greek word). Throughout scripture, Jesus ministry included, you will find that true ministry is bridged by paying attention, getting involved in each others lives, bearing one another's burdens. Ministry involves relationship, a two way street with attention given in both directions.
My commitment to you is that with the elders, and with others serving in ministry here, that we will pay attention to you, we will be here for you.
Contrast #5 Law vs. Grace
Most people walked past this broken man, ignored him because they believed, like so often we do, that his lot in life was deserved. The debates would go on. He was lame from birth! What did his parents really do? Legalism can be vicious. And so in begging this lame man uses an interesting word. He did not cry out for money, rather he cried our for mercy! In the original language, begging was crying our for mercy, the very same word that is used for the mercy of God. And all those who walked by were unwilling to give the mercy of God. (Maybe because they thought God was not very merciful).
But this day, from two men whose only qualifications were that they had been with Jesus, he received without condition the mercy and the grace of God.
And that is finally what we are about isn't it! God has come to us in mercy and because he has come to us in mercy, we give grace to others.
The Lord is saying in this passage that the essence of ministry for the church since the resurrection and ascension of Christ is a ministry which gives the power of new life to individuals and people who have been broken by the weight of sin and the power of the curse on creation. As Jesus Christ was anointed by the spirit of the Living God to bring new life to those whom he touched, so the church now, in the name of Jesus, by his power has the calling and the giftedness to give life to a broken world. Jesus Christ who died has arisen and he has ascended to the right hand of the Father where he reigns in power. Before him ever knee shall bow. And as Lord of all creation who has conquered the powers of death, he now empowers his own people by his spirit to give to this world new life in his name. That's what the Lord wants in ministry! He wants this good news of this powerful gospel spread through the earth. His ministry through us is to heal the broken hearted and to set the captive free, to give sight to the blind and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour. And that ministry involves is characterized by the five contrasts we have seen in this passage.
For me, the most exciting part of being a pastor is seeing people turn from brokenness to walking and leaping and praising God because they received true ministry focused on them, people of Christ-like character touched them, paid attention to them and gave them God's grace.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.