God’s Power for God’s Purpose
The Power of His Name
Dr. Jim Denison
This Sunday the Super Bowl will be on everyone’s mind. As I am writing this lesson (on December 31, 2003), we don’t know if the Cowboys will be the NFC representative. But I can guess. Some teams are like the Cowboys, just glad (and a bit surprised) to be in the playoffs. Others will consider anything less than a Super Bowl victory this weekend in Houston to be an unsuccessful season. We all have goals, dreams, ambitions. We want our lives to count.
Most of us want to make a difference. When our days are over, we want to believe that they were significant, that people were changed and God was glorified because of us. Most of the people who attend your class want to help others know Jesus. But they may not know how to begin.
Last week’s text centered on ways to speak the gospel. This week we will learn ways to live it. Francis of Assisi’s oft-quoted maxim is still worth contemplation: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” This week’s study will teach us how to live in such a way that our words have their greatest impact for God’s Kingdom.
See the one (Acts 3:1-5)
As our story opens we find Peter and John making their way to the Jerusalem Temple for worship (Acts 3:1). At this early point in Christian history, the followers of Jesus are all Jews. And they have not yet broken with their Jewish traditions. Here they are climbing up the steps to the gate titled Beautiful for the evening sacrifice. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, tells us that by this date the evening sacrifice had been moved to 3:00 in the afternoon.
Everything about the story is routine. This is the third sacrifice of its kind that day. Something like Sunday night church after Sunday morning, or the third worship service that morning, or the third time I preached the same sermon that weekend. You’re part of church life—you know the routine.
Even the beggar at the gate is routine. Acts 4:22 says he’s more than 40 years old. Since he was a small child, his parents have brought him to the Temple to beg. Likely to the same gate, seeking alms from the religious people who congregate there. I’ve seen this custom in Israel still—hungry, homeless, hurting people standing around the gates into the Old City, beside the places of worship, hoping for help from those who pass by.
Everything is routine. How many times have these men climbed these steps to walk through this gate to this service, passing this beggar? Something like Sunday morning for you, perhaps. Getting up at the same time, driving the same streets, parking in the same place, sitting in the same pew.
Today, “Peter looked straight at him” (v. 4). The word means to stare with intent purpose. We met it in Acts 1, used to describe the disciples’ stares at Jesus’ ascension. It will be used later of Stephen at his stoning, as he stared into the throne room of God (Acts 7:55).
Others saw the crippled man, but Peter looked. Others heard, but Peter listened. Others rushed by, but Peter and John stopped. And the miracle begins here, because they had an eye for the one.
They learned it from Jesus. Their Master could see Zacchaeus in his tree, a woman touching the hem of his garment in the press of the crowd, a lonely woman at a Samaritan well. He was the shepherd looking for the one lost sheep, the one seeking the one lost coin. Peter and John have passed this man before, likely for hundreds of times. But now Pentecost has come. Now the Spirit of Jesus is living in their hearts. Now they have an eye for the one.
Here is where personal ministry begins: when we see the one we are to serve. The lonely coworker, the new neighbor, or the grieving friend are our next ministry. What hurting person can you name right now? Would you pray for that person by name, right now? Would you ask Jesus to help you help that person?
Trust the name (v. 6)
Peter and John are among the most unlikely sources of help this man might imagine. They are not physicians. They have no money to give to him. They are not men of political power or prestige, able to arrange aid or social support. They are Galilean fishermen now living in the big city of Jerusalem. They have nothing to give.
Yet they have everything to give: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6). Peter and John know their limitations. They know that they can do nothing that matters for this man. But they also know their Lord, and they believe that he can do what men cannot.
So they offer the crippled man help “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” In the Bible, a person’s “name” denotes their personality, character, power, and presence. To speak or pray “in the name of Jesus” is to speak or pray in his authority, to claim his help, to call on his power.
I would love to be able to write a $10 million check to our church, completing the capital campaign and supporting ministry and missions all over the world. But of course, my checking account has nowhere near the capital required to fulfill the promise of that check. My signature is “no good” for that amount. However, if I could persuade the Sultan of Brunei, or Bill Gates, or Warren Buffett to write the same amount over their names, the check would be honored instantly. The name on the check is connected directly to the capital that person possesses.
When Peter and John offered the crippled man help in the “name” of Jesus, they called upon the greatest resource in all the universe. They had seen their Lord astound the scholars, calm the seas, heal the blind and sick, and raise the dead. They knew that he defeated the grave, won our resurrection and victory, and ascended to the Father in heaven.