In Penang, there is a famous temple up in the hills dedicated to the goddess of mercy. When I was a child, long before my family became Christians, my family would visit this temple whenever we had a holiday in Penang. There was a large pond in the centre of the temple filled with hundreds of tortoises. One of the treats for me was to buy bunches of ‘kangkong’ or water spinach to throw to them to eat. But the other striking memory I have of the place was the many beggars who sat along the steps. Some of them had missing arms or legs, or boils all over their body. As they sat there, they raised their hands for begging. It was an unpleasant sight. But in a place dedicated to ‘mercy’, what else would you expect?
This scene reminds me of the lame man in Acts chapter 3. Each day he would be laid outside one of the gates of the temple to beg. We know nothing about this man except that he was lame from birth and that he was now more than 40 years old (4:22). The Temple in Jerusalem must have been much like this famous temple in Penang, bustling with people as they went to say their prayers as Peter and John did that morning. It would be a good place for a beggar to sit to be noticed and to receive some charity from those entering. No doubt there could have been hundreds of beggars sitting at the different gate entrances to the temple. Much like when I was a child, I would have quickly walked past them, paying little heed to their plight. Or maybe like my parents, some people would casually drop a few coins into their hands and do nothing else. This is what was expected and the lame man himself expected nothing more in return, just some scraps to see him through the day.
But that day, something prompted Peter and John to stop and look directly at this man. Peter then addresses him, tells him to rise in the name of Jesus and walk. And in what is the climax of this entire dramatic scene it is written that, ’immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.’ (3:7-8)
Now the gate must have been crowded with people and there must have been many beggars lying at the same place. Peter and John had probably even seen this lame man many times before, as he was clearly recognized by the crowds (3:9). In such a situation, the Singaporean in me would either:
a) Be rushing to get to prayers on time that I would not pay any notice to this one unremarkable beggar.
b) Too shy or embarrassed to do anything in front of such a crowd of potential onlookers.
Yet the Spirit prompted Peter and John to stop and to pay heed to his one man at this moment.
Peter’s words are of particular significance to me. Directed at the man’s desire for coins, he says instead, ‘I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.’ What exactly is it that Peter has that he gives to the lame man?
Peter answers this question in Acts 3:16. It is faith in the name of Jesus that has healed this man. Faith in Jesus made the man’s legs strong, faith in Jesus has given him the perfect health they are witnessing today.
By some miracle and work of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John were stopped in their tracks on the way to an important gathering. They then supernaturally passed on their faith in Jesus to a man who needed more than just alms, he needed healing and salvation. This man who was helpless from birth, unable to move freely such that he had to be lifted every day to this spot was given a new life. It is no wonder he started walking and leaping and praising God.
In Japan, much like in Singapore, even though I don’t see lame beggars lying around on the street, I meet and encounter many people who are spiritually crippled inside. They are stuck in one spot, hoping for alms to get through the day even though what they really need is complete healing. Yet even when I do see someone who I think really needs to know Jesus, things don’t always turn out for me like they did for the disciples then.
Sometimes I’m like the passersby who walk by quickly and ignore those in need. Other times I try to help but only offer up alms instead; something that I think will help but only helps them to continue in their crippled state one more day.
What they really need is to know Jesus, to receive faith in His name and to be saved. All other gifts pale in comparison. The disciples knew that all too well on that day because it was by the Spirit of faith that they healed this man.
I want to give them this faith.
Brothers and Sisters of True Way, I hope that we too would be so firmly rooted in faith in the name of Jesus. So thankful and transformed by our own redemption that all other possessions would just pale in comparison to this great gift of faith that we have too received. A gift too precious to keep to ourselves but we would want to keep giving to those around us, until all are healed and saved.
Even today there are many people, like the man lame from birth, who are lying just outside the temple of God, waiting for their chance to go in to meet Him. I pray that the Spirit would draw our attention to them and stop us in our tracks from what we are doing. In the same power I pray that we would give them this faith that what we have so that they too could be saved and go walking and leaping with joy.
After all, at a gate named Beauty what else would you expect?