ACTS3v1to10: THE HEALING OF THE CRIPPLED BEGGAR

(A) Introduction (Read the passage.)

This is one of my favourite Bible stories and I have preached on it several times. It is a poignant, dramatic and joyful account of Christ's power in action. So this should be a better than average exposition!

(B) A poor sort of beggar - but not overlooked.

The crippled man had everything going for him so far as begging was concerned. He was in a good place by the gate called, 'Beautiful.' Pious Jews passed his pitch on their way to and from the Temple. They were as likely as any to throw the beggar a few coins. His deformed feet and ankles were a great asset. It was clear that he had been born with his disability. Finally the beggar should have been good at his job because he had been at it for nearly 40 years. (Ch4v27: For the man ...... was over 40 years old.) Yet the man was a poor beggar.

He made no eye contact with Peter and John. Peter had to say, "Look at us." v4. The best beggars always make eye contact. One dinner hour I was walking down the corridor back to my room when I was accosted by a pretty little girl with a big bucket. The lovely thirteen year-old Lois was collecting for Children in Need. She said, "You'll give something won't you Mr Reed?" I replied, "With pleasure Lois - as long as I get a kiss on the nose." Lois was a game young beggar and even prepared to kiss my nose for a 1! The point is: Lois made eye contact and made a direct, personal, approach. It was hard to overlook her!

It would have been very easy for Peter and John to overlook the half-hearted beggar by the Beautiful gate. I am afraid that there are people we are liable to ignore or dismiss:

    (a) The embarrassing.
    Recently I read a biography of the 19th century novelist, Anthony Trollope. In 1881 Lord Astor discussed with members of the Gladstone family the possibility of giving Trollope a peerage for services to literature. The idea was dropped on the grounds that he was noisy! Trollope who could write with such sensitivity and good humour was a loud, boisterous and argumentative man. It is a scandal that he never received the honor he deserved because his company was embarrassing.

    I daresay some would have found the paltry gift of the certain poor widow embarrassing. She gave God so little - two lepta. Luke21v2. Nobody paid her any attention except Jesus. Jesus does not overlook the embarrassing.

    (b) The uninteresting.
    One of my pet hates is to be at a party, or some other function, and to be speaking to a person who is not paying any attention because they are looking about for someone more interesting to talk to. It is so rude and dismissive.

    Jesus did not overlook the uninteresting. He chose James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas son of James to be his disciples. These three were such undistinguished individuals that absolutely nothing further is recorded about them in the New Testament. Jesus was prepared to recruit nonentities to his kingdom.

    (c) The liabilities.
    Every year that I was at Debenham High School I took year 9 to the small seaside resort of Aldeburgh where they did some Geography fieldwork. The children worked unsupervised in small groups. None was allowed to work alone. In one class I had three oddities who needed to be allocated to three different groups if they were to do any work. Nobody would take Paul. He was judged a liability and a disruptive influence. He didn't want to work with anyone! He kept muttering, "I don't want to go on a fieldtrip. I'd rather stop at school. Nobody asked me if I wanted to go on a fieldtrip. I'll stop at home that day." On and on he went - tossing his blond locks in a mega-sulk. Eventually a dear, spirited, dark-haired girl said, "He can come with me." She managed him better than I did!

    There are Christians who specialise in dealing with the church's liabilities. My sister-in-law, Ruth, is very good with the more difficult members of my brother Paul's church in Clapham, London. I noticed that Ruth sat amongst the alcoholics at the weekly meal the fellowship lays on. Old Jack who attended our chapel for many years was a liability. My fellow elder, Edward, whom Jack would sometimes abuse, was always prepared to help him in times of trouble.

    Jesus did not overlook men who might prove a liability to his cause. He chose Matthew and Zaccaeus to be members of his kingdom. They did not do anything for the reputation of Jesus.

We should not overlook or ignore anyone.

(C) Two poor men with something to offer.

Peter and John had nothing in their pockets. They were travelling light! As such they could not give the beggar what he asked for.

Frequently we cannot give people what they want, or even what they need. We feel so helpless. A couple of years ago one of the lads I taught rode his bicycle out onto the minor country road by his house and was hit by a car. He is still paralysed and unable to talk. How I wish I could restore him to health - but I cannot. Nor can anyone else. We have a lady in our church who cares for her husband who is afflicted with Parkinson's disease and osteoporosis. The main object of that loving wife is to care for her husband in his weakness. She, herself, is going blind. I know what Jesse needs but I am unable to give her new eyes.

Peter said to the crippled beggar, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" v6. Peter and John gave the man what they could!

We all have something to give to help others. During my career what helped to keep me going more than anything else was the cheerfulness, affection, friendliness and appreciation of my pupils. During my last year a girl in my form smiled at me every day in morning and afternoon registration. Her smile was a daily tonic.

On Dec 27th 2002 I read the obituary of the Rev. Denis Shaw in the Daily Telegraph. In 1950 he was in charge of a train carrying refugees from East Pakistan to Calcutta. He was particularly concerned about a rather pathetic little group of a grandmother and her two orphaned grandchildren. The grandson had cholera. Denis Shaw gave them his compartment and kept the boy alive with rehydrated Robinson's Barley Water. When the train reached its destination Shaw alighted and began moving down the platform. The boy's sister ran after him calling, "Shaw Sahib, Shaw Sahib - red monkey." The girl gave Denis Shaw her only worldly possession - a painted wooden doll. He treasured it for the rest of his life.

We all have something to give in the name of Jesus. One of our pupils at Debenham, Simon, died of cancer. It was very hard to bear because he had fought so bravely to live. He did not deserve to die. The Christian members of staff had prayed for him and were convinced he would overcome the horrible disease of leukaemia. His form teacher decided to hold a memorial service in school for Simon. She asked me, with great hesitation, if I would take part. I have to say I was surprised by the faltering way she made her request. Perhaps, I was becoming a baleful presence. Jean asked if I would say a prayer. I did not find it easy to compose a prayer. I was disappointed with God, too. But I did offer a prayer in Jesus name. It was a little something I could give and God made it a blessing and a comfort.

(C) The helping hand and the dropped bowl.

We read that Peter: "Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up.." It is significant that Peter took him by the right hand. It meant in all probability that the beggar dropped his bowl. The beggar was fed up with the life he was leading and prepared to change. He could have refused the helping hand - many do. It is refused for:

    (a) Lack of trust.
    There are some who reject the outstretched hand because they suspect the helper of an ulterior motive. Around Christmas time I went a visited my friend Dorothy. She said, "Hazel Smith is coming to see me. She knows you." I taught Hazel about 35 years ago. She was returning home to England from Australia to see her mother who had been Dorothy's next-door neighbour. Well a few days later Dorothy phoned to say, "Hazel would like to see you." So I met up with her again during her visit to Dorothy. Hazel reminded me of a day she had spent with her fellow sixth formers studying the Brancaster marshes in North Norfolk. I marched them across the extensive saltings making them jump wider and wider muddy creeks. What sticks in my memory is standing on one side of the widening creeks offering to catch anyone jumping across. Not a single girl took up my offer. They preferred to lose their footing a fall back into the black estuarine mud. Those lovely girls refused the proffered hand because they suspected me, probably in this instance correctly, of an ulterior motive.

    Sadly there are those who reject the offer of salvation because they are suspicious of the church's motives

    (b) Lack of humility.
    A lot of folk do not like being helped. They can manage for themselves. So the helping hand is brushed aside.

    For the last six weeks of my father's life nurses came in to help me get him up. I always got my father up and dressed before the nurses arrived. I had managed for so long alone I wasn't going to accept help as the end approached. I was not showing much humility or appreciation of the nurse's willingness to assist.

    The novelist Anthony Trollope worked as a surveyor with the Post Office for 30 years. He was one of the chief organisers of postal collections and daily deliveries. On retirement he took a keen interest in foreign postal services whilst travelling abroad. Trollope often met with senior managers and gave them advice on how to improve the postal service in their country. He reported that he was always listened to, and treated with politeness and respect, but his advice was invariably ignored. The civil servants he talked to were not prepared to accept that Trollope knew better than they did.

    Unless a sinner is willing to acknowledge that he cannot save himself there is no way that Jesus can save him. The gospel has no appeal for the man or woman who believe they can please God through their own efforts. The gate to the narrow way that leads to life is small and few find it. A sinner must stoop to pass through and throw aside most of his equipment for the journey.

    (c) Love of ease.
    A beggar's life was easy. He sat in the sun all day with outstretched bowl. He had nothing to do but beg. The cripples deformed feet and ankles were his bread ticket. If the beggar was healed he had no job to go to or qualifications to fall back upon. He faced an uncertain future. In spite of the risk, he dropped his bowl; he took Peter's hand and instantly his feet and ankles became strong. He rejoiced in his freedom - walking and jumping and praising God.

    Gladys is 91. She has been longing for a second knee replacement operation as the first one left her in chronic pain and immobile. I thought at her age she was taking a big risk. She might be even worse after another operation and unable to walk at all. Gladys was determined. She wanted to ride on the bus again and go shopping in Bury St Edmunds. Well, she has had her operation and is rejoicing in her freedom to walk without sticks.

    Many who attend our churches are frightened to change. They are not committed to Jesus. They are limping through life. Spiritually they are stunted and crippled and of limited use to Christ. Such people are fearful of what surrender to Jesus will cost. The unregenerate cling on to their begging bowl - sticking with what they know - never to walk and leap and praise God.

(E) The beggar had something to walk and jump and praise God about.

Why was the beggar so happy? He could walk, that's all. We can walk! Do we ever thank God that we can walk?

There are so many things we take for granted and forget to thank God for. On Easter Monday I was all alone. It is easy to feel just a little sorry for yourself in such circumstances. In the afternoon I went out to Kirtley for a walk. This is what I wrote in my diary: 'It was gorgeous. The day was so beautiful - the sky a washed blue with the small white cumulus clouds hurrying busily overhead. The trees were decked out in their new spring costumes - subtly different tints of green. The grassy track down which I strode was gay with dandelions and daisies. The larks were singing. I was ecstatic with pleasure. I could feel the joy catch me in the throat. It was like being in love.' I was so grateful to God that I could see and enjoy it all. I have given him thanks many times during my solitary walks.

Christians have an even greater gift than the poor crippled beggar received. He was given the opportunity to lead a normal life. That is what young Simon who died of leukaemia longed for - to be like his friends. If he had been given a normal life he, too, would have rejoiced. Jesus' gift of salvation allows the believer to commence a new life, a more abundant life that culminates in eternal life. Perhaps this calls for a bit more walking and leaping and praising God.

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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