Walking, and Leaping and Praising God
To set the stage for our story in Acts 3 this morning, I’d like to introduce you to what is known as Herod’s temple. The temple and it’s entire complex was a structure that dominated the landscape of Jerusalem in the first century (from everywhere in the city of Jerusalem you went up to the temple) and it was a structure that dominates the early chapters of the book of Acts. And that’s why we want to spend a few moments on it, fixing our gaze on it.
Here is an artist’s rendering of Herod’s temple and what is known as the temple complex or temple mount.
Schematic of temple
Herod the Great began enlarging and refurbishing the temple complex in 20 b.c. The main structure was finished ten or so years later, around 9 bc, but it was not completely finished until 64 AD, sixty eight years after Herod’s death and six years before the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD. In the time of Jesus and the early church, there was always construction going on at the temple complex.
As you can see, looking from the top, the “temple” itself, somewhat center stage in the drawing toward the back, was in the shape of a “T”. It was taller than a fifteen story building. It included the Holy of Holies which would have been the most sacred space in the temple complex. Josephus the historian tells us the Holy of Holies was empty; the Ark of the Covenant didn’t make it back from Babylon. The next most sacred space in front of the temple veil would have been the Holy Place which contained the candlestick, the altar of incense and the table of showbread. In front of the temple was the altar for burnt offerings in the next most significant sacred space, the Courtyard of the Priests.
(HIT ENTER- Boundary of courtyard of the priests comes out).
Two times a day, once in the morning and once in the evening (at twilight or at 3:00pm) a burnt offering was made on the altar of burnt offering in front of the temple.
The court of the women was next. (HIT ENTER- Boundary of court of the women comes out). Women could not enter the temple itself beyond this point. The story from the gospels where Jesus watched a widow put in all she had in the temple treasury occurred in the court of the women.
The next boundary or wall which represented less ‘sacred space’ (and you remember we saw this in our Exodus study with Mt Sinai --there were concentric circles of lesser and lesser sacred space on and down the mountain and the tabernacle again the space got less sacred as you moved away from the Holy of Holies)… the next boundary or wall which represented less ‘sacred space’ was known as the “soreq” which prevented unpurified Jews and Gentiles from entering the temple and approaching God.
HIT ENTER- Boundary delineating the soreq wall keeping Gentiles out
The soreq was a 4 ½ feet latticed screen or railing that kept Gentiles out. Josephus the historian said there were warning signs in Greek and Latin that warned foreigners about entering beyond the ‘soreq.’  In 1871, archaeologists discovered one of those signs in Greek. And translated it said,
IS TO GO BEYOND THE BALUSTRADE
AND THE PLAZA OF THE TEMPLE ZONE
WHOEVER IS CAUGHT DOING SO
WILL HAVE HIMSELF TO BLAME
FOR HIS DEATHWHICH
Some think that Paul was referencing the ‘soreq’ in when he wrote Ephesians 2:14… 14 For he himself (Jesus himself) is our peace, who has made us both (Jews and Gentiles) one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility
Let me point out one last feature of the temple mount that will come into play in our story today—you can see a porch-like structure around the entire outside wall of the temple complex. This porch-like structure is sometimes called a stoa, or colonnade, or portico. It “provided shade and shelter, it served as a social meeting point, and was used for political, religious, and commercial activities.”
I bring it up because the early church would gather in Solomon’s portico or porch, which was an area on the eastern side of the temple complex, which would be the “porch area” to the right on the artist’s rendering.
Now with the picture of the temple complex up on the screen, let me make a final point. Physically and spiritually, in the early chapters of Acts, the center of gravity of God’s story shifts from the ‘holy of holies’ in the temple itself (that which was to be the most sacred space in the 1.5 million square foot area of the temple mount) to the place where the early church meets, Solomon’s portico. And when we get to Acts 7, Steven, in his speech before the religious leaders—a speech which ended in his stoning—Steven will suggest that the temple wasn’t intended to last forever and that it pointed to something greater that was to come.
And we’re reminded in John 2 that Jesus spoke of his body as the temple.
And we’re reminded in John 4 that Jesus, in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, spoke of a time when worship wouldn’t be centered in Jerusalem, a time when true worshipers (would) worship the Father in spirit and truth.
And we’re reminded of what Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:6--6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
And finally we’re reminded of that time during Passion Week, the last week of Jesus’ life—it was Tuesday—when Jesus, in the temple, speaking to the Jewish religious leaders, told a parable called ‘The Parable of the Tenants” And he specifically told it, the parable, against them, the religious leaders.
Jesus’ parable went like this…
“A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. Jesus said. 2 When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? And who is the owner of the vineyard? God. He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.
The vineyard owner will give the vineyard to others.
So as we begin in Acts 3, verse 1, and we encounter the story of Peter and John and their involvement in healing a man lame from birth, in the shadow of this great structure, I believe we’re watching the process as God begins to give the vineyard to others.
If you have your bible, we begin in Acts 3
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.
The tense of the verb translated were going up suggests that it was the custom of Peter and John to go to the temple frequently. We said that last week—that the new Christians seemed to live out their new faith in Jewish ways, continuing some of the Jewish disciplines.
The ninth hour, the hour of prayer would be three in the afternoon. And it was also the time when the evening sacrifice was offered and it was when the daily temple crowds would be at their peak.
2 And a man lame from birth 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.
A lame man (now lame is bad, Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician who lived some 400 years before this story, but who is also considered to be the father of Western medicine—physicians even today take the “hippocratic oath”-- listed the condition of being lame among the disorders that disable a person permanently.), a lame man, lame from birth (in Acts 4 we find out that he was over 40 years old, that’s really bad, every muscle in his body that had to do with walking was completely atrophied; his ‘walking’ muscles had never been used; could we argue they were almost non-existent?) and he was laid daily at a gate of the temple that was called Beautiful.
He was seeking alms, a handout, money. And it was a meritorious thing before God in Judaism to give alms. So this lame man was put in a prime place to get the most help. And those who passed by him were generally open to helping, they were in the right frame of mind, because they were going up to the temple.
Now there is some question about which gate was the gate called beautiful.
If we look at our temple mount diagram again….
Schematic of temple
My best guess is here… (HIT ENTER – Nicanor Gate ) The gate that is called the Nicanor gate. There are definitely other possibilities. The Nicanor gate--leading from the eastern part of the outer court of the Gentiles into the first of the inner courts of the temple, the Court of the Women--was made of Corinthian brass or bronze.
Verse 3--3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms.
Now we’ve all been there before. We see someone ahead who needs help and we quickly make a decision to help or not. And I don’t know if you’re like me, but if I’ve decided I can’t help, I do my best to not make eye contact.
But Peter looked right at him, verse 4, as did John and said, “Look at us” Now if we freeze the frame, I don’t think that happened to this lame man very often. Hundreds of people passed by him daily but I can’t imagine anyone saying that. Don’t you think his interest was piqued? Don’t you think he was hopeful? Verse 5 would seem to say so…
5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.
6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, … what a roller coaster! The lame man’s hopes were dashed….but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
Wow! I’d give anything to know what that lame man was thinking. Rise up and walk? You’re kidding! In the name of Jesus, Christ…Jesus Messiah…of Nazareth? Can any good thing come from Nazareth...rise up… and…. walk? I don’t want to walk, I want alms…but wait a minute… I guess I do want to walk!
What a challenge to the lame man’s faith!
In the name of Jesus Christ…by means of the authority of Jesus Christ. “The power of Jesus becomes a present reality as his name is announced so that people believe.”
The name Jesus Christ is not magic; it points to his power and authority.
The beggar didn’t ask for healing but now his faith is challenged as he is commanded to rise up and walk.
…he could have pessimistically said, “Don’t joke with me buddy…move on!”
…he could have disdainfully said, “This must be a cruel joke…”
…he could have boiling with frustration said, “I can’t…don’t you understand? I’ve been lame for over 40 years!
But he didn’t…
7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong.
In the gospels Jesus did things like this.
Now here in Acts, Jesus does the same kind of things… through his apostles.
(Early on in our series we said that a good name for the book of Acts would be “Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus)
Notice the lame man’s feet and ankles were made strong immediately. The words that Luke uses for feet and ankles are only used here in the New Testament. They are unusual words, in other words. They could be medical terms but are not exclusively so.
The healing was immediate. All of the atrophied muscles that help someone walk and jump—the calf muscles, the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the glutes, the back extensors, the Achille’s tendons, I looked them up—a whole host of muscles became strong and firm immediately. It was, you could argue, a miracle of creation. Only the creator God could do this!
8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
Verse 8 has seven verbs. This lame man is making up for a lot of lost time.
He cannot contain himself. He not only walks but he leaps and praises God.
There is a connection between this leaping lame man and a prophecy in Isaiah. Let me put it up on the screen. It’s a prophecy of the Lord’s coming.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, 6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy…
Have you ever seen a deer leap? Wow!
9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms.
You see it’s conceivable that this man had been begging for alms had been doing it for over 30 years! He was a fixture at the temple. Everyone would have immediately known him as the one who had been lame at the Beautiful gate. And now he is walking and…say it with me… and leaping and praising God.