Choices That Matter
New Revised Standard Version
3 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4 Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s Portico, utterly astonished. 12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.
He stood in the store aisle excitedly looking at the display with anticipation trying to decide which one to choose. She, becoming impatient, tells him to just decide so they can go. Finally, he makes his choice and carefully takes it from the display. Turning it over in his hand, admiring its beauty and craftmanship, he takes his treasure to the counter. The cashier rings up the sale and says, “That will be $18.79.” The cashier hands him the receipt and the bag containing his new hammer.
Choices matter to the person making them regardless of how big or small.
We have all heard the phrase, “actions speak louder than words.” We know that it isn’t always true. Actions are choices we make that may or may not make sense to others. Words are often necessary to explain the actions. To put the actions in the context to which they belong.
Back in the day of silent films words couldn’t add to the context. You watched the exaggerated movements and gestures of the actors and observed the shifts in scenery and location to try to understand the plot. The story itself was left up to your own interpretation which could be a good thing or could have led you down a path the story wasn’t meant to go. Once the talkies arrived, the addition of words made it easier to follow the plot although less of the story was left to the imagination.
(The development of American Sign Language and closed captioning helps those with a hearing impairment to follow the story more easily.)
Even those events that are so vivid, unbelievable, or gut wrenching that they need no commentary drive people to seek others for words of explanation, comfort, or camaraderie. We go to people who we think can help us make sense of what has happened. People who will share our joy or our sorrow and offer words we don’t have. For many this has been the church especially after significant events. We have turn to the church after events such as the end of World War II, the assassination of President Kennedy, and 9/11. At those times, people flocked to places of worship in their search for understanding and connection with others seeking to make sense of what happened.
In Jesus day, as he performed miracles and taught in new ways with an authority unlike anyone else, the people flocked to see and hear him. They were looking for connection with this one they had heard about and with God. Here in Acts, we see a similar thing happen. The crowd pushed and shoved to get close to commotion, the miracle. To see for themselves what had happened.
People knew this man. Day after day, unable to walk, he lay at the gate begging for money. Some threw him a few coins now and then. Most walked by him taking little notice.
This day was different. It was a day of reckoning so to speak. The day to make a life-changing choice.
“Look at us.” The lame man had a choice – to look or not. He didn’t know what to expect from the two men who stopped in front of him. Would it be a handout, or would it be the ridicule he so often received.
“Look at us.” The choice was harder that it might have seemed. Experience told him so. Those who approached him rarely had good intentions. He had been disappointed so many times when he had chosen to look.
Choices are often harder than they seem. Everyday ones are usually made from habit or made mindlessly. It takes time and desire to think through the options for these seemingly mundane choices. Considering options takes time.
· Do I park farther away for exercise or look for the closest parking spot?
· Buy whatever clothes are on the rack at the store or consider where they are made – how the workers are treated or are they fair trade products?
· Is the food organic, is the packaging environmentally responsible, are the cows grass-fed or the chickens non-GMO?
Now and then, maybe only one-in-a-lifetime, a choice come before us that can be life-changing. Planned or unplanned, this type of choice can impact you for the rest of your life.
“Look at us.” Who knew this would be a life-changing choice for the man laying at the gate? Yet it turned out to be the best choice the man would ever make.
When the people heard the commotion in the temple they pushed and shoved to get inside. The gawkers, the curious, the expectant all came. To see what? More miracles? Get healed themselves? Just to find out what had happened? Eager for something, they surrounded Peter, John, and the man who had been healed.
Whatever the crowd was expecting, I am sure that what they received when they got inside the temple wasn’t what they were expecting… a sermon!
The sermon is really the most important piece of this passage from Acts. It was the thing the people wanted even though they didn’t know it! The words spoken by Peter put the miracle in context, directing the people to the source of the miracle – Jesus Christ. In his sermon, Peter gives credence to his and John’s standing as eyewitnesses to the death and resurrection of Jesus while at the same time condemning those who participated in the events that led up to his death. Most importantly, Peter takes no credit for the healing of the lame man. Peter is clear that it was faith in the name of Christ that healed him.
Oh, that it were so simple, we think. How much faith do we need? How long do we have to wait? The man only had to choose to look at Peter and John. Presto! He could stand up and walk. Just like that.
We want a quick fix to whatever is broken or not working right. Grab the duct tape – it can repair anything! We look for something or someone to be that fix-it. To make things better in an instant. We might even ask, “Isn’t there such a thing as a spiritual duct tape to fix our faith issues?” Maybe all I need is a cookie – it makes anything feel better, right?
Self-help books are so popular because they promise a quick fix to the problems that plague us. Change your life in 5 easy steps. Learn these 7 habits to be highly effective. There is a book that can teach us what to do and how to do it for whatever problem you have. There is even a book for “Dummies” on almost any topic that explains things in everyday language.
People turn to talk shows, podcasts, TED talks, and Wikipedia for advice and solutions for anything from how to spell a word to what to feed your bird to how do I know God if exists. When in doubt, Google it.
Peter says simply, “Look at us.” Look at the One who sent us, who we have faith in. Look at the One we look at – Jesus. He is the one glorified by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God we all believe in. Look at Jesus, the Holy and Righteous One, the Author of Life. The One God raised from the dead. He has the answers you seek. He can change your life. Jesus is the true healer, Peter says. We are simply his servants.
In today’s world, many see God as distant. A God who sits on the sidelines watching us make choices and do our own thing. People look for signs of God’s presence. A way to be sure God is watching. Wondering if God will or even can fix our life and spiritual problems.
Sightings of the image of the Virgin Mary become symbols of hope for some that God is with us. Regular discussion of the validity of the Shroud of Turin – is it really the cloth that covered Jesus’ face in the tomb – become debates on the reality of the claim of Jesus’ resurrection, of his identity as the Son of God, of the claims that God is present and personal. People focus on saints, icons, crosses, and other symbols as signs of God’s presence.
God must be here somewhere. I just must look harder. Maybe all I need is a miracle to be sure and to bolster my faith.
Peter would say, “Look at him.” Look at Jesus. The One we read about in the scriptures, sing about, and hear preached about. Jesus, who healed the sick and taught the truth about God as no one else had before. He changed lives and continues to change lives. When we look at Jesus, we see God. Not God on the sidelines, but God with us on the playing field of our lives.
Jesus is the ultimate miracle worker, and his ultimate miracle is forgiveness. The same forgiveness we pray for every week in The Lord’s Prayer. The forgiveness that is already ours. The forgiveness that is our life-changing miracle.
Through the miracle of forgiveness broken relationships are restored, hungry people are fed, nations could put down weapons and work for peace, and despair can yield to hope. Many of the miracles of forgiveness go unnoticed, are explained away as something else, don’t affect us, or have become, in some sense, commonplace. When we do happen to notice them, it is cause for celebration!
Peter would then say, “Look at yourself.” Recognizing God and God’s forgiving work requires looking in the mirror. To see ourselves as God sees us and to go ever deeper in self-reflection asking ourselves:
· Where is God in us?
· Who are we in God’s world?
· Who needs our forgiveness?
· Where are we in need of God’s forgiveness?
Self-reflection of this kind leads us to the one choice that really matters to have the life God offers us. The choice to repent. To turn from who we are on our own to who we can be when we turn to God. The choice to turn around and change our focus leads us to becoming a faithful partner in God’s work in the world. To becoming one who says to others, “Look at Jesus.”