SERMON: Ordinary Opportunities
TEXT: Acts 3:1-26 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re continuing our series in the book of Acts today — a series we’ve titled “Ordinary” — as we’ve been discovering that God is in the business of using ordinary people to be His witnesses in the world. So if you feel ordinary — you’re in good company — because God loves to use ordinary people just like you.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
And if you have your Bible please turn with me to Acts chapter three. We’ll be looking at verses one to twenty-six.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question in to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
WHAT WE PERCEIVE TO BE OUR GREATEST NEEDS
And while you’re finding Acts chapter three, let’s begin with a question. If I were to ask you, “What’s our world’s greatest need,” what would be your answer? Maybe the world’s a bit too big, so “What about the greatest need of our nation?”
There are many ways to answer this question. Now we’re in church, so many of you would give the perfect Sunday school answer, but what would your answer be if you were having this conversation at work tomorrow? Or when you’re watching your favorite news station? Or if your friends came over and one of them started talking politics, what would your answer be then to the question, “What’s our nation’s greatest need?”
- Some of you might say that our nation’s greatest need is better political candidates because you’re tired of the ones we’ve got.
- Some of you might say that our nation’s greatest need is better education. This is in no way meant to be a put down of our teachers — our education system is much more complex than that — but in recent years the US has been ranked as low as fourteenth in education of all nations in the world — according to research done by The Learning Curve. Putting us behind South Korea — which is ranked number one — Japan, China, Canada, Germany, and Russia among others. It’s hard to say we’re the “best nation in the world” when we’re not number one in a key category like education.
- Others of you might say our greatest need is mental health care. According to a few surveys — one done by the World Health Organization — as a nation — the US has been ranked as one of the top three nations in the world for anxiety disorders the past few years — we even held the top spot recently — not exactly the category we want to be number one in.
- Others of you may say that our greatest need is to get our kids out of poverty. According to research done by UNICEF, twenty-one percent of our nation’s children live in poverty — that’s over fifteen million children.
- Whether it’s reducing our number of prisoners — which we rank number one in the world in — or cocaine use — which we rank third in — or our divorce rate — which we rank twelfth in — or that our nation ranks thirty-first in life expectancy, which is probably why we rank nineteenth in the world when it comes to happiness — just a decade ago we were the third happiest country in the world.
- When it comes to answering, “what’s our nation’s greatest need” — well — the possibilities are seemingly endless.
But let’s shift from our country to us — to you. “What’s your greatest need?”
A new job? A raise? A significant someone in your life? To lose weight? For better health? For me to stop sharing such wonderful news about the state of our country?
Well in our story — in Acts chapter three — we encounter a man who thinks he knows what his greatest need is. In fact — not only he — but everyone in the town would probably have given you the same answer. What’s his greatest need? His greatest need is for someone to carry him to the temple gate. Why? So he can beg for money because he can’t work and the only way he has an income is through the generosity of others.
Let’s look at how his story begins and how his life is changed by an ordinary opportunity. Acts chapter three. Beginning in verse one.
STORY OF A LAME MAN IN NEED
“Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.
Now last week — if you remember — we saw that the Christians were meeting daily with one another. Sometimes in smaller groups meeting in homes — but as in our case — they’d also meet in large groups at the temple. And here we see Peter and John meeting together to go to the temple to pray. This “hour of prayer” — mentioned in verse one — was a prayer service at the temple that took place with the evening sacrifice. So this is an ordinary day for Peter and John.
And remember Peter and John — and the other disciples — didn’t see themselves as Christians yet. They saw themselves as Jews whose Christ had come. Thus they wanted to participate in the life of Judaism so they could point their fellow Jews to Jesus. And one way to interact with their fellow Jews — one ordinary opportunity to be a witness for Christ — was during this evening prayer service.
Let’s continue in verse two. While Peter and John were going to the temple someone else was also headed there. In verse two we read… 2 And a man (who was what? A man who was…) lame from birth (meaning, he couldn’t walk. This man…) was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple.
So this man has some friends who’d carry him to the temple so he could beg for money from people who were going in to worship. Now the Jewish faith put a high priority on helping the poor and those in need. So more than likely this guy was taken care of by people heading in to the temple to worship. But you can imagine how difficult of a life this man must’ve had, right?
He’s never been able to walk. He’s dependent on others to carry him to the temple. He has to beg for money. Then he has to find someone to carry him back home. And next week, we’ll learn that this man is forty years old — so his life has been hard for a long, long time. But this is an ordinary day for him — begging at the Temple for money.
Continuing in verse three we read…
3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. (He asked them for money.) 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting (what? He fixes his attention on Peter and John expecting to…) receive something from them.
Now what is he expecting to receive from Peter and John? Money, right? That’s why he’s there — that’s his need. He needs money in order to be able to live. He can’t work, he can’t steal, so he has to beg. And he’s at the temple gate to beg for money. And he’s asked Peter and John for some money, so when Peter says, “Look at me,” of course this guy’s thinking, “I’m about to get some money.”
Why? Because he thinks that’s his greatest need — for people to give him money. So he’s certain that he knows what Peter’s about to give him. But in actuality this man doesn’t have a clue as to what he’s about to be given. Read with me in verse six.
6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.
And you can imagine this guy’s probably thinking, “No silver. No gold. I’m pretty sure you don’t have what I need.”
And if we’re honest, we’re no better than he is. How many times have you told God what you need only to have Him tell you, “I’m not giving you that — that’s not what you need.” This man is certain that his biggest need is money and so Peter and John — not having any — would mean they don’t have anything to give him, right? Well look at what Peter tells this man. Continuing in verse six Peter says…
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (In the name of Jesus. And this name — Jesus — represents authority and power. This name represents the authority and power of God. This is the name where hope is experienced and joy is found. Jesus is who Peter is pointing this man to so that his greatest need will be met. In the name of Jesus, Peter says…), rise up and (do what? Rise up and…) walk!” 7 And he (Peter) took him by the right hand and raised him up, and (look at how quickly this man is healed. They raised him up and…) immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and (doing what? The man’s walking. He’s leaping. And he’s...) praising God. 9 And (notice what happens because of Peter taking advantage of an ordinary opportunity to be a witness. The man is praising God. And what else happens? In verse nine we see that…) all the people (who were at the temple) saw him walking and praising God,
This man — who was once a lame beggar — is now a witness to the power of Christ’s resurrection. This healing he’s experienced is evangelistic in nature. Meaning, this man is healed so others might see the power of the Holy Spirit at work, believe in Jesus Christ, and praise God along with this man.
Remember, Peter and John were going to the temple to do what — to pray — they were having an ordinary day. They could’ve ignored the man. They could’ve been so focused on getting to the prayer meeting that they passed him by without even seeing his need. But Peter and John were ordinary followers of Jesus. They knew they were sent ones by God. So they’re going to a prayer meeting — yes — but they were called to be witnesses first — so if being a witness disrupted them from getting to the prayer meeting — then so be it. They lived life looking for ordinary opportunities to be a witness for Jesus.
And this is how every follower of Jesus is supposed to live. Don’t go to the grocery store to buy groceries. Go to the grocery store to be a witness of the resurrection of Christ and while you’re being a witness buy some groceries. Take your kids to the soccer game to be witnesses first, and while you — and your kids — are being witnesses, enjoy playing soccer. Go to school to be a witness for Christ and while you’re there, learn. Go on vacation to be a witness for Christ and while you’re there enjoy God’s blessing of a vacation.
Go about life — doing ordinary things — but go as a witness for Christ — looking for ordinary opportunities to point others to Jesus — for that’s what we’re called to be — we’re called to be His witnesses.
And look at what happens because of Peter and John’s faithful witness of the resurrection of Christ. God met this man’s greatest need — through his healing he believes — and all the people witness him praising God…
10 and (continuing in verse ten...) recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And (look at what happens to the crowd) they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
What the man didn’t realize earlier — is that though Peter and John lacked silver and gold — what they did have to offer him was the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and give them power to be witnesses of His resurrection. And remember that this unified, single-minded, fully devoted church was seeing the miraculous performed through the hands of the apostles. And they had — as a community — committed themselves to being a witness for Jesus.
And right here, we have a glimpse of what the miraculous looked like. A man born lame, unable to walk, who had to beg for survival. A man who for forty years had experienced the hopelessness of being completely dependent upon the charity of others just to live. A man who did not have eternal joy — all because of Peter and John’s faithful witness to the resurrection of Christ — all because they took advantage of an ordinary opportunity — this man experienced joy in Jesus and became — himself — a witness to the power of Christ’s resurrection.
And now Peter is going to preach his second sermon as he explains to the crowd what they’ve just witnessed. In verse eleven we read…
11 While he (the man who’d been healed) clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. (So word has spread that something crazy has happened — so people in the temple — and people all around the temple — are coming to see for themselves if the story is true.) 12 And when Peter saw it (this crowd full of astounded individuals) he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this (“Why are you surprised,” he asks...), or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?
Peter’s making it clear. This man isn’t walking because of my power. He’s not walking because John and I are super godly individuals — we’re two ordinary guys. Here’s why this man is praising God.
13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. (Notice that Peter is pointing the crowd to Jesus and he’s also pointing out their biggest need. He lets them know that they delivered Christ over to be killed. They denied Christ freedom from being crucified in the presence of Pilate. Peter holds nothing back as he reminds them of their greatest need and — he continues in verse fourteen with…) 14 But you denied (How does Peter describe Jesus? He calls Him the…) Holy and Righteous One, and (you) asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and (in verse fifteen Peter tells the crowd that you…) killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this (Peter says) we are witnesses. 16 And his name — by faith in his name — (His holy, beautiful, and magnificent name…) has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus (the name that’s more powerful than all other names. Faith in Jesus…) has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
And now you all are witnesses of the power of the resurrection of Christ. You know this man. You know that he was unable to walk. You can see that he’s been healed. You cannot deny what you see with your own eyes. You are witnesses to the power of the resurrection of Christ.
But did you notice how this man was healed? He was healed by what? By faith in the name of Jesus. And an important question for us to ask is, “Whose faith?” Whose faith in Jesus healed this man? Was it his faith? Was it Peter and John’s faith? Whose faith is being referred to?
Let’s start with what’s clear. When the man first looked at Peter and John what was he expecting? Money. So at that point in the story he didn’t have any kind of faith in Jesus — only Peter and John had faith in Jesus.
But — the man does respond to their message. They tell him to stand and he does. And upon being healed he immediately begins praising God. So in some sense he shows early signs of faith after Peter speaks to him. So this man’s healing is a case — where — Peter, John, and the lame man’s faith all play a part in the miracle. But the point of this story isn’t the miracle of the man being healed — the healing isn’t the point. Peter using the miracle to point the crowd to Jesus in the point. In verse seventeen he continues with…
17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he (God) thus fulfilled.
Peter tells the people, “You acted in ignorance when you had Jesus found guilty — though He was innocent — and had Him killed — though He was no criminal. You were ignorant and all of this took place to fulfill what God foretold through His prophets — that Jesus would suffer and die. And remember — what we saw early on in the book of Acts — what God has promised is guaranteed to happen. What God’s Word says will happen — will happen.
So if Christ being killed is something God promised would happen — and these people acted ignorantly when they were the means by which God’s promise came true — are they responsible for their actions? You bet they are. Let’s not confuse ignorance with innocence. You can be ignorant and still be guilty. That’s why — in verse nineteen — Peter tells them that they need to do what? In verse nineteen Peter tells them to…
19 Repent therefore, and turn back (to repent is turn away from your ignorance — to turn away from your rebellion — to turn away from your sin and turn to God. Why — what’s the point of repentance? Peter tells them to repent so…), that your sins may be blotted out, 20 (in verse twenty Peter tells them to repent so…) that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
And as he did in his last sermon, Peter takes us to Bible school. And he shows us how the whole Bible points to Jesus. Peter takes us back to the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus as he quotes Moses who…) 22 said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be (what? The prophet is Jesus — by the way — and those who listen to Jesus repent, have their sins blotted out, and find refreshment. But those who don’t listen to Jesus are what? They shall be…) destroyed from the people.’
Now that’s about as stark of a contrast as one can find. Refreshment or destruction. Repentance or rebellion. Finding joy in Jesus or finding joylessness for all eternity.
Peter continues his Bible lesson in verse twenty-four...
24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to (do what? Because all of this destruction stuff is so heavy — so let’s not lose sight of the fact of why God sent His servant — Jesus. Jesus was sent to…) bless you (...how so?) by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:1-26 ESV)
And Peter has now shown the crowd their greatest need. Their greatest need is to be turned away from their wickedness. They need their sins blotted out, so they might be blessed by God. This crowd — their greatest need — is a Savior — and Peter points them to Jesus.
WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST NEED?
So back to that question we were wrestling with earlier. What’s your greatest need? The lame man thought he knew his greatest need — more money — but he was given something infinitely more valuable. He was given life, hope, and refreshment for his soul as he found joy — as he found life — as he found his Savior — in Jesus.
What’s your greatest need?
I suspect that some of you came here today like the beggar. You came here today expecting to get something. Maybe you came here hoping to get some good advice. Or maybe you came here so you’d have a few more reasons to elbow your spouse about that thing you keep nagging them about. Maybe you came here because you’ve been looking for a place for your kids to be around some good influences.
And instead of those things, what you’re being offered is healing in the name of Jesus — an immediate healing. A healing of your brokenness. A healing from your lameness. A healing from the things that have kept you from leaping and praising God.
The Bible tells us that we’re all born spiritually “lame from birth.” That all of us start out in this life as poor beggars — spiritually — in need of Jesus to offer us — not gold or silver — or the things we think we need — but we’re all in need of Jesus to offer us faith in His name.
And in offering us faith in His name — He tells us to stand up and to walk in the new life we’ve been given in Him. A life that will stir wonder and amazement among people who know you. A life that will astound people because of the change they see in you because of what Christ has done for you. Where your hopelessness is turned to hope-filled-ness. Your anger is turned to patience. Your sorrow to joy. And these changes will cause people you know — to wonder and stare and ponder, “What’s happened to you? For it’s obvious, you’ve been changed.”
What did you come here expecting today? But — more importantly — will you leave here having received the gift of faith you’re being offered?
Others of us came here today acting ignorantly in our unbelief. This doesn’t excuse you — ignorance doesn’t equal innocence. You’ve been rebelling against God and now you know it. You’re on a path to eternal destruction unless you repent, turn to God, believe in Jesus, and live for His glory alone. And Jesus is offering the gift of faith and forgiveness to you right now.
Don’t think that this offer will be available to you tomorrow or next week. Don’t think that God may give you the good fortune of waiting until this evening or next year to take hold of this gift. Your ignorance does not excuse you from your guilt. Christ died for the guilty and all are guilty regardless of their ignorance. What will you do with this gift of forgiveness that Jesus is offering you?
Others of us have had our greatest need met. You believe in Jesus. You’ve turned from your sin and turned to God. Your sins are blotted out. You’ve experienced refreshment in your soul. And now you need God’s power — a filling of God’s Spirit — so you can be an ordinary witness to the resurrection of Christ. So you — like Peter and John — take advantage of ordinary opportunities to point others to Jesus. What you need is the boldness of Peter and John.
Peter wasn’t afraid to tell people why a good deed was done. “Here’s why this man has been healed,” he said. But often I find myself — and maybe you do to — willing to do good deeds for people, but am reluctant to tell them why the good deed was done. I’m willing to serve, but hesitant to point them to Jesus with my words.
HOW JESUS MEETS OUR NEEDS
And no matter who you are — the Christian who isn’t being the ordinary witness for Christ you’re supposed to be — or someone caught up in ignorance — or if you’re like the lame man — thinking you know your greatest need — the only hope for any of us…is Jesus.
You see Jesus became a cripple for us — when He was beaten and bruised by the soldiers. He was so weak that He was unable to carry His cross and had to have someone carry it for Him. And as He was lifted up to be hung on the cross He carried all of our sins, so that we might be lifted up by God, be given the gift of faith, and experience the immediate healing of our brokenness — all so we might leap and praise Him for who He is and all that He’s done.
Jesus was delivered over to death for our sake. As we denied Him the justice He deserved as an innocent man — we hung Him on a cross to die. And though we denied Him the justice He deserved — He denied us the justice we deserved and instead blotted out our sins making us guiltless before His Father.
Jesus experienced physical, emotional, and spiritual distress when His Father abandoned Him on the cross, all so that through faith in His name we can experience the refreshment that comes from the presence of the Lord. And none of us will ever have our greatest need met unless we see ourselves as nothing more than poor beggars — completely hopeless on our own — but who are being offered everlasting hope through faith in Christ.
For when we see Jesus for who He is — when you direct your gaze and look intently upon His face — I promise you — you’ll be amazed by the wonder and beauty that’s found in Him. If you look to Jesus, you’ll be astounded by Him. And you’ll understand that your ignorance is no excuse for your guilt. And you’ll repent of your sins as you turn to Christ in faith for the healing of your brokenness.
And when you see Jesus for who He is. You may turn to Him thinking you know your greatest need — only to find that you’ve been given a gift that’s entirely unexpected. Perfect spiritual health. Your sins blotted out. And refreshment for your soul.
And when you see Jesus for who He is — you’ll be given all that you need to be an ordinary witness to the resurrection of Christ.
This is possible when we receive from Jesus — not just what we think is the answer to our greatest need — but when we allow Jesus to be the answer to our greatest need. How will you respond to Jesus today? Will you allow Him to be the answer to your greatest need? Let me pray that you will. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, I pray that everyone who hears my voice will be receptive to what You’ve said to us through Your Word today. I pray that You will remind us often that our greatest need is Jesus. That there is Good News for all of us: That through repentance and faith in Christ — by turning from our sin and turning to Your Son — our sins are blotted out and refreshment for our soul is found.
No matter how we came here today — Lord — I ask that You would heal us of our spiritual lameness. Give us perfect spiritual health. Challenge our ignorance, so that we do not leave here today guilty before You. And empower us as Your witnesses, so we take advantage of ordinary opportunities to point others to Jesus — in whose name we pray. Amen.