He had urged his friends to take him to Jesus. But they were too late. Jesus had been crucified.
His only hope of being rescued from the useless body that enslaved him was gone forever.
And so each day his friends carried him to a dirty pallet and left him at the entrance to the Golden Temple. Clean, beautiful, and sparkling in appearance with its gate of burnished bronze, the temple was a stark contrast to the tired, weary man sitting propped up against its walls. He was not alone; his many invalid companions sat with him or lay on the dusty paths, each intent on survival. The pious men and women walking through the golden gates would have had to have been extremely hard-hearted not to toss a few shekels at the begging entourage.
Everything about him spelled hopelessness. Dressed in clothes that were drab and colorless, he called out “alms, alms” in a flat monotone voice. Slouched over his tattered money purse, with dark eyes that clearly reflected the anguish of being a paralytic since birth, he exuded an aura of a man whose heart was brimming over with pain.
He looked with envy and longing at those who traipsed by him. He often wondered what it would be like to walk proud and purposeful and to feel the grass tickle his toes in his open sandals.
He looked at the children running with the wind blowing through their hair, broad smiles and laughter lighting their faces. How he yearned to be like them! He wanted to run, run, run, until his thighs ached and his feet cried out to stop and his body pulsated with life and energy.
But he never would. He looked at his legs, limp, without movement, just useless bits of flesh and bone, tagged onto his body. And he felt useless, incapable, crushed inside. He never knew what it was like to earn a wage packet, to take it home to a warm, affectionate wife and exuberant, energy-bursting children. Each day he woke up as a spectator to life; he saw it whirling around him, bustling, vibrant, alive, noisy, and exciting. But he could not be a participant; those ineffective legs disqualified him.
But at least he had his two friends. Daily they conveyed him to the Golden Gate. He was dependent on them. They took him to the bathroom; they pushed his sandals onto his awkward, heavy feet; they dressed and undressed him. He had no dignity, no privacy. And they laid him on a crude bed at night, while they went out to enjoy the “night-life.”
The nights were the worst for him. In the darkness, the hot, angry tears would fall from his sad eyes. So many empty, painful years, forced to be an invalid, to have life but not to be able to live life.
And then he heard about Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus who worked miracles. Jesus who enabled people to live life to the fullest. He begged his friends, “Take me to Jesus!” They agreed, for at times they grew weary of looking after their crippled friend.
They were told Jesus would be near the Golden Temple. With each mile they trekked, the man let go of his pain. He dared to hope he would walk back instead of being carried. With excitement mounting, he let his mind luxuriate in all the things he wanted to do—splash in the sea of Galilee, kick a ball, run through a cornfield, dance at a wedding—perhaps even his wedding! With every thought, he became more and more desperate to meet Jesus, for Jesus would free him from this prison, this fortress, that was suffocating his spirit. But they were too late.
Jesus, the only giver of hope, had been nailed to a rough splintered cross. In Jesus’ death, the paralytic died too. He died inside; he pulled down the shutter of his heart and resigned himself to a life as a paralytic forever. But God did not create man to live in darkness, in a shuttered world. God has a way of opening the shutters that others pull down. And He asks us to help Him to do that.
The Bible tells us in Acts 3 how God lifts the shutters of a man’s heart. Read how God answers this man’s deepest longing.
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, several months after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Many people bustled and jostled against one another as they filed into the temple to pray, as was the practice of the Jews. Peter and John walked among them. These two men, who at one time competed to be first in Jesus’ heart, gave up their childish behavior. After the special blessing of the Holy Spirit, they now worked together as a team. They were going to the temple to pray, or so they thought, but God wanted them to open the shutters of a man’s heart.
Above the chatter of the people, they heard the feeble voice of the paralytic man calling “alms, alms.” Peter and John stopped, looked at the man, and gave him the only thing they could. They had no “silver or gold,” as all their money had been pooled in a common purse, but they did have their experience with Jesus Christ. With words mighty, powerful, commanding, and full of authority, Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Nine words, uttered by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and in the power of Jesus Christ.
The next thing the paralytic knew, Peter had grabbed his hand and pulled him up. He was standing, actually standing. It was great—all that he ever imagined it would be. His ankles became strong, the joints in his hips slotted into place, the limp flesh became firm. He jumped and leaped and ran and hopped and kicked a stone and pushed his toes deep into the dusty ground. He was walking. He was no longer a useless, incapacitated, overlooked paralytic, but a whole healthy human being!
Oh it was glorious, all his dreams had come true! All the energy he had bottled up within him now came flowing out with force. Tears of joy trickled down his face, lost among the creases of laugh lines that lit his expression. There was no stopping him. He ran up to strangers and shouted, “Look at me!” Over and over he performed his party piece. He jumped up and down like a Russian Cossack dancer, he lay down, he got up, he even attempted a cartwheel!
He hugged Peter and John, who were chuckling and muttering to themselves. “Well, Jesus did say He’d give us the power to do this sort of thing. Praise be to Jesus and the power in His name.”
For a while there was confusion. Just as people clamber to the scene of an accident, they flocked to the man. “Was this the beggar man who sat daily by the Golden Gate?” they asked one another. Questions bobbed up and down like a tiny boat on the open sea.
Finally Peter and John managed to slow the healed man down and persuade him to go into the temple and praise God. They almost had to frog-march him in so intense was his enthusiasm, energy, and excitement.
Let’s pause there for a moment. Freeze that picture in your mind. Backtrack with me to another similar scene—one that involved Jesus of Nazareth. It is told in John 5:1-18.
This scene also occurred at a time when people were flocking to the temple—on this occasion for a Passover Service. It was equivalent to a camp meeting—great numbers of people, great music, great praise, great worship. They gathered together to celebrate a great God, but the One they were going to honor wasn’t there.
Jesus had planned to be there. But He stopped en route. We watch this tall, white-robed figure move slowly among the ill at the pool of Bethesda. Instead of listening to praise, He listens to the aching hearts of people “not whole.” We never know if Jesus makes it to the Passover Service! But we do know that He caused a 38-year-old man “to take” up his bed and walk.
Just as Peter and John emulated Jesus Christ, we too are to imitate Jesus and “stop” for those in pain. Everywhere we go we are surrounded by people who are struggling emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Jesus asks us to stop and share with others our experience with Him. But do we? Do we really share Christ with those who need Him?
Let me share with you something about a lady whom I shall call Sally. If ever Christians needed to stop, it was for her. But no one ever did. I met Sally in a grocer’s shop; we started chatting about healthy living and she invited me over to talk. She told me something really bad happened to her when she was six years old—something so awful she closed down the shutters of her emotions. When older, she married and had two children. She never wanted children though; she was afraid that what happened to her would happen to them. Within time, she and her husband divorced.
Depressed and ill with various ailments, she looked for some kind of help but didn’t know where to turn. Desperate to be free from at least the physical pain, she turned to the book, Raw Energy. Her health improved as she followed the diet in the book. It was then that one of her children, confused about the absent father and the depressed, emotionally starved mother, told her that he hated life. He wanted to die.
Desperate to pull herself together emotionally and to be mother and father to her children, she turned to reflexology. Frequently she visited her reflexologist to inspire her with a hope and a future. But my Bible tells me that the only One who can truly give us a hope and a future is God. But the woman learned to depend on seven bottles of aromatherapy oils, each one for a particular problem—stress, decision-making, patience, etc.
I felt ashamed that in all her 40 years of life, in all those awful periods of need, no Christian had stopped to share Jesus Christ with her.
And so I shared. I told her that Jesus Christ was my closest friend, and that He supplied the inner resources to cope when everything went astray.
She tilted her head to one side, looked at me with sad eyes and very slowly said.
“Does God really work? You are so lucky!”
There are so many people who need to know Jesus, but how do they get to meet Him if we don’t make the introduction?
Perhaps that sounds strange. Here I am reminding Christians to stop and share Christ with others. After all, that’s what Christians do, isn’t it? It is our soul’s desire to stop and share Jesus Christ with the broken people of this world—but do we? Are people having to rely on substitutes because we are too weary to share the real thing with them?
Some time ago, a pastor said to me, “I just can’t face running anymore seminars or evangelistic programs. I’ve done so many and the results have been so minimal. I just can’t do it. I don’t even want to talk to people on a one-to-one level; nobody wants to know about Jesus. All I ever wanted to do was to share Christ. I just can’t face the pain of disappointed dreams.”
I imagine that pastor is not alone. I imagine that many of us feel disillusioned because the ministry we live is vastly different to the ministry we planned to live.
In reality, some of us live with a crushed spirit because we do not preach as passionately as we dreamed we would. We live with the frustration that we do not evangelize as effectively as we yearned. We live with the despair that we have not been able to feed our congregations so dramatically that their spiritual lives have stretched in our presence. We live with deep despondency because we have not be able to robustly raise the rallying cry to our members to stop and share Jesus Christ. We flounder with our lack luster Christian experience and wonder where all the power to achieve our aims has gone.
The hurt is just too much, and to deal with it, we pull down the shutters and with sadness lay aside our calling to serve God passionately and settle down to caring for His earthly family.
Donald Whitney says, “Despite the divine command to spread the word, many Christians redirect their energies into areas of spiritual activity that are more satisfying and in which they are more likely to achieve success.”1
We settle down to being a referee to the endless power struggles that simmer in our churches. Like a jack-in-the-box, we squash down our desire to battle against things unseen and instead fight the inevitable battle of whether the church organ ought to be placed two feet to the right or two feet to the left.
We smother that longing to tell the good news of Jesus and concentrate on renovating our church to make it user-friendly for the odd non-Christian who may stumble through our doors. We submerge that yearning to evangelize and sit by while the church board spends time discussing what color curtains should hang in the sanctuary.
There is nothing wrong in building up a supportive, loving community and making our church the best it can be. After all, look at Acts 2:42.
Peter and John healed the paralytic. But notice it was only a springboard to launch them out to share Jesus. Have we wrapped ourselves in a cocoon that is so comforting we have closed our ears to the cries of those beyond our church walls? Have we allowed ourselves to focus more on church procedures than on God’s runaway children? As long as this world continues, there will always be people out there entrenched in the pain of sin. The question is, does God have a group of pastors who refuse to let go of their passion to share Him—a group of ministers so filled with the Holy Spirit that nothing can prevent them from stopping to heal those who are hurting? Or have we pulled down the shutters because we feel our ministry is a failure? Do we fail to reach out to the needy?
If you have, ask God to lift that shutter. He did it for the paralyzed man. He can do it for you! God asked you specifically to serve Him in the unique role of ministry. God does not make mistakes. He called you and He will use you. In Psalms 138 we read “Though I walk in the midst of trouble you preserve my life. The lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” You know one of the reasons we may feel so disappointed in the ministry is because God isn’t using us the way we want Him to.
When Jonathan and I entered the ministry, we had a very clear-cut idea of how we wanted to work for God. I had only intended to work within the church. Jonathan intended to focus primarily on evangelism through seminars. However, his apparent lack of success caused him to want to quit the ministry on several occasions.
But in the last fewyears, God has been opening avenues we never considered. Jonathan’s recently-discovered acting ability makes him a natural for child evangelism. His patience with those most of us would give up on targets him to use his counseling skills in the ministry. His love of all things modern causes him to work with contemporary-style worships to attract non-Christians.
As for me, my desire to be creative has given me a passion for child evangelism too. My love of being with people causes me to network with non-Christians and for times when my life has to slow down, God has opened up writing as a means of sharing Him. The strange thing is that this unplanned ministry that we now live feels so right. It’s like slipping your hand into a pair of gloves that fits perfectly.
If ministry has become bland and no longer has that “zing” for you, if ministry no longer challenges you to seek out those who need Him, perhaps you need to give God your plans for the ministry and tell Him you want to work completely with His purpose for you. And when you give Him permission to use you the way He sees best, also give Him permission to do it in His time. God has not called you to be a carbon copy of another minister but to be yourself, to use your spiritual gifts the way He intended.
Ministry will then be satisfying, not because of the 10,000 people who may come flocking to your campaigns but because you know that you are doing the will of your Father. And ultimately that is really all God asks of us. Even though you will go through discouraging times, you will not be so disturbed because the peace of God will be within.
Let’s leave that thought for now and return to the picture of Peter, John, and the healed man. Let’s accompany them as they enter the cool austere interior of the temple. Many times the healed man dreamed of entering the temple in an upright position, and finally it has happened. His face radiates gratitude and pleasure.
But on that day the quiet, soft, reverent atmosphere was laid aside, for as Peter, John, and the man walked to the altar, the whispering began. “Surely, this is the man we’ve seen begging at the temple gate, look at him!” Soon amazement and curiosity overtook the usual hushed, hallowed tones of speech, and the place was alive with animated talk. Very soon our heroes were encircled by a flock of people, some with heads nodding, some with heads shaking, some with fingers pointing, and some just standing with their mouths open in disbelief.
And as for the healed man, he just drew himself up to his full height, linked arms with Peter and John, and wore the broadest grin you have ever seen. And his eyes? They no longer portrayed pain but sheer unadulterated joy. God had lifted the shutters of his heart for eternity. But once God gets started on the healing business, it is hard for Him to stop! He had healed the man with the paralyzed legs, now He wanted to heal the men with the paralyzed hearts, hearts rendered frozen and numb by the delusive power of Satan.
He does so through Peter’s speech. Follow it with me in Acts 3. Peter gives a response to the questions fired at him and his friends. There is no hesitancy in his voice, no sweaty palms, no thumping of the heart. With boldness and firmness, Peter declares how the miracle took place.
Backtrack again with me. Compare this strong, fearless man with the way Peter was before receiving the Holy Spirit. Remember the boastful Peter, the one being engulfed by the water as he attempts to walk on it? Remember the frightened Peter who impulsively severs an enemy’s ear in the garden of Gethsemane? Remember the unconfident, unsure Peter who questions whether he should build temples after the transfiguration? Remember the cowardly, weak, shivering Peter who denies Jesus in the courtyard of death? Finally, remember the weeping Peter, who in the darkness of a lonely night cries bitterly for the way he denied Jesus.
What a changed man! The old Peter is changed into a brave, strong, resolute Peter who, because of the Holy Spirit, is able to powerfully share his allegiance to God. He begins in verse 12 by saying “Men of Israel ...” You can almost imagine him shrugging his shoulders, lifting his hands as he answers the questions. Notice the way he takes the spotlight that is focused on his actions and redirects it so it is focused on God.
Verse 16 shows Peter’s passion; he continues to say that it is faith in Jesus that made the healing possible. Faith in the power of His name and that faith is a gift from God. It is as if Peter is saying that the fact that God worked through him is irrelevant because everything that made it possible was from Jesus, through Jesus, and by Jesus!
With immense courage Peter now turns this temple for God into a courtroom for God, and he becomes the prosecutor. He points the accusing finger and exclaims, “You, you delivered Him up, you killed Him—you disowned Him, you slaughtered the Son of God.” No skirting around the issue, no gentle intimadations. Peter directly levels the blame at the Jews. He now moves to the other side of the courtroom as it were and suddenly becomes the defense lawyer. In verse 17 he says, “But it’s okay, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, and it had to happen to fulfill prophecy.”
Then Peter points them to the Judge of the trial—God. In verse 19 we see the intense love and mercy of God. These very Jews who spurned the ministry of John the Baptist, who ridiculed, scoffed at, and crucified Jesus are being given yet a third chance to accept a free pardon from God.
We surmise that the horrific murder of God’s Son took place several months earlier. Some of these men may actually have hurled the words, “Crucify him, crucify him” at the tortured Jesus as He staggered past them dragging that heavy cross. Yet God gives them another chance. Peter then utters the only words that will give life to those with a paralyzed spirit. Verse 19 says, “Repent then and turn to God .. .”
Many did repent that day; according to the following chapter, the church grew to 5,000!
This final part of Acts 3 is passionate, powerful, and portrays the main intent of Peter and John and any follower of God—to glorify the name of Jesus Christ.
Acts 3 is also a vibrant, inspiring, action-packed snippet of the New Testament, one that surely warms our heart and brings smiles to our faces. It also brings praise to our lips when we see the power of God unleashed. But when the razzmatazz is over and the colorful snapshots of this story are tucked away in the corner of our minds, there remains a vital question to be asked, “Lord, why do we not see much dramatic results to our sharing of You?”
The answer comes, “You can, if you really want to.”
There’s a church in America whose members truly want to stop and share Jesus with those with paralyzed hearts. I do not know the growth figures for the adults, but I do know them for the children. Twenty years ago this particular church started out with a handful of children and two or three women who liked to work with youngsters. Their lessons took place in the church foyer. These ladies never let go of their passion to share Jesus with unchurched children. Twenty years later, 6,000 children attend their church every weekend. They now have 400-500 teachers. Every week these children bask in a warm Christian environment and know that Jesus Christ is on their side!
Oh, you say, but that’s America. Everything happens in America, but that’s not possible in cold, conservative Europe! Isn’t it?
Last year an Adventist church in London ached to share God with those on the outside. Together the 45 members and their pastor decided that within one year, they were going to double their membership. Many laughed and perhaps thought the pastor was under too much stress! Well, at the end of last year they didn’t baptize 45 new converts, they baptized 50 instead!
What made it possible? What made it possible for these two churches to reach out and to be effective in their sharing of God? The same thing that made Peter and John (just two men) effective in healing a man with a paralyzed body and 3,000 men and women with paralyzed hearts. The same thing that took a frightened man and turned him into a hero for God—the Holy Spirit!
We need the Holy Spirit. But that’s nothing new. You know that. But what are you doing to receive the Holy Spirit? Ellen G. White tells us that if you want the Holy Spirit, you need to spend time with God. She says, “Nothing is more needed in our work than the practical results of communion with God.... Men will take knowledge of us, as of the first disciples, that we have been with Jesus. This will impart to the worker a power that nothing else can give” (Ministry of Healing, p. 512). We need to make sure we have time with God and in that time we need to pray for the Holy Spirit. Ellen White again says, “He who calls men to repentance must commune with God in prayer. He must cling to the Mighty One, saying ‘I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me. Give me power to win souls to Christ’ ” (Gospel Workers, p. 509).
Have you really pleaded for the power of the Holy Spirit in your ministry and in your church? Really pleaded, as if everything depended on it?
When Jonathan and I began ministering at one of our current churches, no one congratulated us on taking up pastoring there. In fact, most people commiserated with us. The church has long had a reputation for internal fighting. The situation was aggravated by a split in the church by Firm Foundation followers. The atmosphere of the church was awful, and the Firm Foundation members were increasing. Our regular members could stand the conflict no longer and were threatening to leave the church at the end of the year, allowing it to be run by extremists. Jonathan had to visit the conference to see if the church could be disbanded.
There seemed to be no other solution to what was a thoroughly bad situation. However, a group of us began to pray regularly, asking God to send more church members so that the extreme influence was not so strong. We prayed for more official backing from the conference to discipline the members in rebellion. For one year we prayed. We prayed with real depth of feeling, and at times, we shed tears. We asked God to unleash His power through the Holy Spirit and to deal with the problem. By the end of the year, we received the notification we wanted from the conference and two new families moved into the church with so many spiritual gifts the church began to heal. In fact, now it is a pleasure to worship there, all because of the mightiness of the Holy Spirit!
The potency of the Holy Spirit did not end with Acts 3, it only began there, and there is no stopping what it can do in your life, your ministry, your church, if you really ask for it.
We need the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit to “spring clean” us. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to scrub away the discouragement within, to lift up the shutters we have pulled down, and to polish us so our dreams of sharing Christ will not be tarnished by the obstacles we meet.
We need to ask the Holy Spirit to wash down the walls of our hearts that are stained with the ugly blotches of self-exaltation and to repaint our hearts with the desire to glorify our gracious God.
We need to ask the Holy Spirit to vacuum away the deposits of self-righteousness and to freshen us with purity of attitude and action.
We need to ask the Holy Spirit to gently dust away the hurts of a damaged ministry and to make us sparkle with a vision of what we can do for God when we let Him use our talents the way He wants.
We need to ask God to make us clean so the Holy Spirit will be delighted to take up residency within. And we need to ask God to pour within us the beautiful fragrance of Jesus Christ so we may become bold like Peter and stop for those with paralyzed hearts.
If you plead individually and collectively for the Holy Spirit, perhaps Acts 3 will not just be re-enacted in a church in America or a church in London. Perhaps it will be reenacted in your church too.
Are you ready for that?
The author gratefully acknowledges the thoughts of Max Lucado in He Still Moves Stones (Dallas, Texas: World Publishing, 1993), p. 106.
1 Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Bucks, England: Scripture Press, 1991), p. 97.