Worth more than silver and gold

Scripture: Acts 3:1-10

As we approach the Word today, I want to note a couple of things. One is, just as an aside – it doesn’t have to do directly with what I’m going to preach today – but I was struck, as I heard a slightly different translation read, where instead of “leaping,” which to me inspires images of ballet and lords a-leaping and things like that, it had “jumping.” He was walking and jumping and praising God.

And I don’t know, maybe it’s because of March Madness and things, but I got this image of the temple, after this crowd has rushed to see this man who has been healed, that they knew so well, over forty years, going into the temple, and he’s jumping and waving his hands and praising God, “Hallelujah,” just like you see the crowd go running down onto the court after the game is over, or maybe the football field, when they win the championship.

There’s no goalposts to tear down, but running around like crazy people, raising their hands and shouting and praising and jumping up and down, like a bunch of kids. Little kids. Really excited.

It was quite a spectacle, which is why in chapter 4, Peter and John get called up before the Jewish elders, with the man there, much as Jesus was called up before the elders when he healed the blind man, with similar results. So I wanted to just share that image with you that I get, because of the nature of this miracle.

I also wanted to let you know that as we continue to move through this lectionary, that we didn’t forget about Acts 2. That is reserved for Pentecost. But it’s important for you to understand that Pentecost has occurred, at this point in the narrative, that Peter and John have been visited by the Holy Spirit in the upper room.

They’ve already preached their first sermon, when they converted three thousand people. And they’re beginning to do acts of power, that point to the reality of the resurrection. So all of this kind of sets the stage, as we begin to hear this story, where Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

I know that some of you might say, “Three in the afternoon! Three in the afternoon for prayer?” That’s time for a nap or something. But for the Jews, the day began at sundown. It doesn’t say it was Sabbath. But particularly if it had been Sabbath, their time for worship, their time for prayer, would have been about three in the afternoon.

It would have finished between four and four-thirty, and then they would have walked home just in time to beat the sundown, or dusk, and cook their meal and be prepared for when Sabbath came. Because, if you remember, the Jews are very restricted on the Sabbath, as to what kind of work they can do. So this was a normal occurrence for them, going there at three in the afternoon.

So on the way to the Temple, Peter and John had what you might call a God opportunity. They encountered a man who was crippled from birth. He had a hopeless situation, one for which the doctors could offer no hope.

So each day he would be taken down to the Temple gate called Beautiful – somebody had to carry him, friends or family – where he would beg for his living. You can imagine the tragedy of this situation. Nowhere to work, no welfare system to offer support, and with age, losing relatives to help provide the needs. This definitely was an individual in need of a miracle.

I do have to say, begging was a profession, back in those days. It’s important in terms of understanding what happened between Peter and him. If you’ve ever been out of the country, in some of the – I’d say third-world, but less-developed countries, you know what I am talking about. I went to South America, in Bogotá, Colombia, and I saw real beggars.

Not panhandlers, but folks with sores on the legs, twisted legs, things that weren’t healable by medical means. There were also a lot of kids that would beg. It was one of those things that one of my roommate Ricardo’s friends, Andre – he was a young physician, and he bemoaned the fact that frequently the kids did not go to school.

So they were stuck in their situation. They didn’t want to go to school, because they had to help provide for their family. And you could make a living begging, It wasn’t a great living. But you could make a living begging.

Charity is very ingrained in the culture there, whether from the Catholic roots or not. I saw a lot of cars that would have a little stack of coins on the dashboard. As they’d stop somewhere, at a stoplight or whatever, just like in some of the big cities – you know, where these guys come up and start spraying on your windshield and wiping it down and hope that you’re going to give them a buck – these kids would come running up, in the middle of the traffic, and hope that you would hand out a coin to them. That was the way they helped their family continue to survive.

The reason that I mention this is because as Peter and John passed by, the man reached out, asking for help, for alms. Almsgiving was considered by the Jews as a meritorious act. Reaching out and helping the poor, for those who were pious, was important. And this would be an ideal location for them to demonstrate their piety.

The beggar picked his site well. This was a place where folks would be expected to give charity, where folks would be seen to give charity. So for those who, as Jesus said, were looking for the praise of men rather than God, there was a chance for the big score. And he probably did fairly well.

We know that he was letting the people know he had a need. But we also know that he was professional, I think, because it notes that, even though he asked for alms from Peter and John, apparently he didn’t look at them. Or he had already looked past them.

Peter and John were fishermen. They weren’t wealthy. They were dressed in clothes that were fit for that day, in that particular social class. Apparently the beggar, whose name we don’t have, had already sort of dismissed them. “These guys aren’t going to have any cash.”

So he put his hands out, or his cup out, or whatever, perfunctorily, but he was already looking for who was next. Who was going to be a better mark – a better chance at getting some coins. We know this because Peter and John stop, and Peter says, “Look at us!” He (the beggar) wasn’t looking.

“Look at us!” And the man does. We see something here, that I think is important for us to understand. Sometimes we need to change our focus

The lame man was not finding them as those who would contribute, so he looked beyond them; but Peter looked at him and said, “Look at us!” We see, frequently, even today, people that are so focused on their own need they miss the point of the miracle which is available to them. The thing that helps people who have needs in their lives, the most primary thing – the good news of the gospel.

We change their focus with the gospel, primarily. But also, we can involve them in helping with the needs of others. Involve them in the church and its life. We need to change their focus, off of their problem and to the much broader picture. The result is they not only have their need met, but they can pick up a cause which enables to them help in the needs of others. In life, we can focus on our needs, or we can change our focus and open ourselves up as prime candidates for God’s mercy and God’s miracle.

It’s important for us to understand this change of focus, because of what Peter then says. “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk.”

They were all Jews. This man had sat outside the temple every day for forty years. He had probably heard a lot of sermons. (Some of them might have been as boring as mine.) But he knew his Scriptures. And the Scriptures – the Old Testament, for him – speak of the value of God’s word and the law and presence. Let me quote a few:

Proverbs 8:9-11 says

If you have understanding,
you will see that my words
are just what you need.
Let instruction and knowledge
mean more to you
than silver
or the finest gold.
Wisdom is worth much more
than precious jewels
or anything else you desire.

Psalm 119:65-72 (although the focus is on 71 and 72)

You have dealt well with Your servant,
O Lord, according to Your word.
Teach me good discernment and knowledge,
For I believe in Your commandments.
Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I keep Your word.
You are good and do good;
Teach me Your statutes.
The arrogant have forged a lie against me;
With all my heart I will observe Your precepts.
Their heart is covered with fat,
But I delight in Your law.
It is good for me that I was afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
The law of Your mouth is better to me
Than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

Psalm 19:7-11 says

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.

Finally, again from Proverbs 3:14-18

Wisdom is worth more than silver; it brings more profit than gold.
Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you could want is equal to it.
With her right hand wisdom offers you a long life, and with her left hand she gives you riches and honor.
Wisdom will make your life pleasant and will bring you peace.
As a tree produces fruit, wisdom gives life to those who use it, and everyone who uses it will be happy.

Why do I go through all these Scriptures? Because it was known through these Scriptures that the word of God was more precious than gold and silver. The law of God was more important than the laws of man. The presence of God in people’s life was a source of power and blessing that went beyond anything that man could give.

Peter, when he said, “Silver and gold have I none, but I give you what I have,” he gave him the Word of God, the living Word of God! The one of whom John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and nothing was made that was made without him.”

The Logos. Jesus, the Word. By the authority of the Word, by the power of the Word, in the name of the Word, Peter said, “Get up, and walk,” and held out his hand, and lifted the man up, and his ankles and feet were strengthened.

And it was more than that. Anyone who has had kids and has seen them starting to walk knows you fall over a lot at the beginning. This man had been lame from birth. He had never, ever walked. And yet, he was able to get up and jump around – or leap around, depending on your translation – wave his arms, praise God.

I don’t even think I could leap around, at least not very effectively, these days. I’d probably trip and roll my ankle and sprain it.

Leaping around – he had the coordination and the strength of the thighs and legs. It wasn’t just his feet and ankles. God made him whole. Whole, as he was meant to be. Through the power of the Word, offered by Peter in that moment, when he said, “Silver and gold have I none, but I give you what I have.”

What an amazing thing, that he took the Word, and he held it that precious. And he holds onto it in chapter 4, if you read on. First he gives a great sermon again, at the end of chapter 3. But then he holds onto it when they try to cross-examine him and John and tell them to “Quit doing this! Quit healing people in the name of Jesus.”

The disciples stand up to them. They say, “We do this because and in the name of and by the authority of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the one who came and was crucified and was resurrected.” And everybody was astonished, it says, because these were ordinary men. But they had something precious. They had something worth more than all the gold and silver in the world.

They had the Word of God in their hearts. They held it tightly, and by its authority and power, by the authority and power of Christ himself, whom John called the Word. They had that, and they shared it. They spoke and acted.

They shared it. And through that Word, through the authority of that Word and that person of Jesus Christ, the lame man was healed. Completely, as the liturgist noted, not just strengthened, but given the coordination to do what anyone who was an adult would be able to do, rather than having to start like an infant. Truly a miracle.

I question sometimes today how much and how tightly we hold on to the Word. How precious is the Word to us? How precious is the gospel and the good news of Jesus Christ? The Scriptures themselves, the precepts of the Lord, the law of God – is it worth more than gold and silver?

What would you give up for the Word of God? Would you give up your possibility of income? Would you give up the regard of men? Would you give up some friendships, and even, perhaps some family relationships, to hold on to the truth of the gospel that you know and have experienced?

Or would you go with the flow, and let the world roll over you? Because the world hates the Word. We see that in the Old Testament, as some of the prophets and some of the people are persecuted.

But we see it even more in the words of Jesus himself, who said, “The world is going to hate you, because they first hated me, if you are my disciples.”

How precious is the Word to you? We need to hold on to the Word. We need to exercise the Word, though we also need to share it. I would again challenge you, if the Word is precious to you, if is worth more than silver and gold, more than the regard of people, and if salvation is a matter of life and death, eternal life with God or eternal separation from God, how could you not share the most precious thing that you have and know, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ?

We are called, not only to hold on with all our might to the Word, but by the power and through the authority to share that Word with others. And sometimes, sometimes miracles can occur. It might not be a miracle of healing like this man had, nothing so showy.

But maybe all that you’ve done is you planted the seed. Maybe in your sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ, you’re watering the seed. And maybe you’re fortunate enough to be there at the harvest, where somebody says, “I understand and I accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,” and they come to know new life. It is said that when a sinner repents, all the angels in heaven celebrate and sing.

That’s the miracle, the greatest miracle of all, the one that Christ died for us to experience, as he cleanses us of our sins and was raised again. Why? So that we could be with him and have new life in him. This is what the sacrament of Communion celebrates, and strengthens our faith through. The Word of God. The name of Jesus Christ. More precious than gold and silver.

The disciples held on to what they knew was true, and shared what they knew was necessary, and witnessed to what they knew was right. Because of that, God performed a miracle through them. Are you willing to do the same? Will you be willing to help some other person come to know that precious truth and help them to walk?

To walk first through the road to salvation, and then in the way and the word of God as they live as disciples of Christ – which is what Christ told us to do, not go and make converts, but go and make disciples of all nations. That involves a longer term relationship.

“Gold and silver have I none, but what I have, I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” May you share that treasure as well, that you might teach others to walk in the way of the Lord, that they too might come to know life, real life, abundant life, and eternal life in heaven. If you do, there is blessing. There is blessing for you, and for all those who are with you.

And God will get the praise and glory, for the great things He has done. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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