Time, Trust, Touch
James C. Denison
This week I came across some actual newspaper ads which caught my eye:
Dinner Special—Turkey $2.35; Chicken or Beef $2.25; Children $2.00.
For sale: an antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers.
Now is your chance to have your ears pierced and get an extra pair to take home.
We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.
Man wanted to work in dynamite factory. Must be willing to travel.
Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for antique lover.
Now that I have my AARP card, I may need to look into that.
Speaking of ads, I learned the other day that atheists in Great Britain have been buying advertisements on city buses. The ads read: “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying And Enjoy Your Life.” If there is probably no God, I’m going to start worrying even more. You know the reasons: the global economy is in crisis; global climate change is in the news every day; the conflict in Afghanistan is deteriorating; people are worried about the election and its aftermath. Closer to home, teachers at DISD are being laid off, companies are downsizing, retailers are worried about Christmas sales, real estate isn’t moving.
On a day like today, you and I could use some good news. That’s why I’m glad we have come to Acts 3 in our fall sermon series on early Christianity and the power of God. This text is in the Bible for your sake and mine. We need to learn this story today, so it can be your story this week.
The formula which changed the world
Our story begins as one of the most routine events in all of Scripture.
Peter and John are on their way to the temple at the hour of prayer, 3:00 in the afternoon. Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that by this time the Jews had moved their third sacrifice of the day to this hour.
This is the third time that day the Jews had gone to observe the sacrifice, to perform the ritual, to watch this rite. Up the same stairs, through the same gate, to watch the same routine, again and again and again. All routine. It’s like your typical Sunday morning. You get up at the same time, drive the same streets, park in the same place, sit in the same pew—you hope. All routine.
Even the beggar is routine. He’s been here over forty years, according to Acts 4:22. Then and now hurting and physically-challenged people gathered at the doors of religious places for help. For forty years they’ve seen him, heard him, walked by him. Routine.
But today something is different. Our text says that Peter “looked straight at him.” The Greek word means to stare with intense purpose. It’s the same word used when the disciples stared at Jesus ascending to heaven; the word used when Stephen stared at Christ in heaven as he was being stoned to death. To fix your gaze with intense purpose.
The others saw; Peter looked. The others heard; Peter listened. The others rushed by; Peter and John stopped. The others ignored; these followers of Jesus cared. They had a heart for the one. They made time for the one.
Now, it does no good for us to find the one if we can’t help when we do. So Peter says, “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). Very simply put, we are called to find the one and share the name.
The “name” of Jesus means his presence, his power, his help. Peter and John don’t trust their money, or their wisdom, or their programs, or their strength. This man needs what they cannot give—he needs the power of God. And so they share the name of Jesus. They trust the power of Jesus. Now finally they are ready to touch the hurt: “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up” (v. 7).
The Jews thought that anyone like this man, handicapped from birth, was being punished for sin. Remember the disciples’ question about the blind man of John 9, “Who sinned, that this man was born blind?” You don’t touch someone like this. Toss him a quarter, pity him, but don’t touch him lest you become contaminated and unclean.
But Peter touches him. In fact, the Greek says that Peter “seized him.” He stoops down and picks this man up. And when he does, the man is healed. He walks, leaps, praises God, and all Jerusalem runs to see. But only when Peter touches the hurt.
Here’s the formula which changed the world: Time, trust, and touch. Time for a hurting person; trust that God can heal him; touch that shares God’s grace where it is needed most.
Watch Jesus heal the leper, cleanse the demoniac, and raise Lazarus—it’s the same formula. Watch him win Nicodemus and Zacchaeus, restore Peter and call Paul. Watch Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch, and Peter with Cornelius. It’s always the same pattern—time for the one, trust in God’s power, touch for the hurt.
The formula which still changes the world
Have you noticed that the lame man is never named in the story? Here’s why: He’s you. And the person sitting next to you this morning. And me. Our church doors are your “gate called Beautiful.” What God did for that man, he wants to do for you today.
But in a day like ours, that’s sometimes hard to believe, isn’t it? I can hear the atheists in England now—if there’s a God, how can he possibly have time enough for every one of us, every moment of every day? How can he really hear your prayer in English, and a Chinese believer’s prayer in Mandarin, and a Cuban believer’s prayer in Spanish, all at the same time? How can he have time for the two billion people on this planet, much less for you?
The simple answer is that the creator God transcends the space and time he created. We understand the fact that God must transcend space to be God—if he were confined to a physical body or dimension, he could not be the omnipresent Lord of the universe. It’s harder for our minds to conceive of the fact that he must also transcend the time dimension he created, but it’s true. He created time, and will one day end it. There are no clocks or calendars in heaven. When we step into the presence of God, we step out of both space and time into a spaceless, timeless eternity with him.
As a result, your Father literally has all of eternity to listen to your next prayer, and to see your next problem, and to know your next hurt. And your last. In fact, you can pray for the great-great-grandchild you’ll never see, knowing that your prayers offered today will be effective decades from now.
What’s even more mind-boggling, your prayers today can not only change the future—they can even change the past. God knew in what we call “five years ago” that you would be praying for a job today, and began working then to answer your prayer next month. His word to the prophet is his word to you today: “The LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18). That’s how he feels about you today. He literally has all of eternity for you, and can’t wait to spend it with you.
He has time for your need and power you can trust. I can hear the atheists in England again: If God is truly all-powerful, why don’t we see more of his power today? Why doesn’t he still storms and heal bodies and raise the dead today? The fact is, he does, wherever we ask him to and truly believe that he will. Then he gives us whatever we ask or whatever is best.
I once got a migraine headache in Cuba. They have no medication for such a problem, so two of the church elders came to my hotel room, anointed my head with oil, and prayed for my healing. Later that night, the headache was gone. I was moved with gratitude, but they took it in stride—this is typical “medicine” in the Cuban church.
We’re shocked when God heals a body or restores a marriage or provides a job in ways we call “miraculous,” but our very surprise says something about our faith. Chinese believers in the underground church are not astonished when God does what he did in the Bible and has done throughout history. Neither are believers in South Korea, or Latin and South America, or anywhere else the Fifth Great Awakening is going on today. But we must believe if we would receive. When Jesus returned to his hometown, “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58).
I’m not saying that God will do whatever we ask if we have enough faith. I’m saying that God will do whatever is best if we have enough faith. But we must open the package first. If you don’t trust the chef, you won’t eat the steak.
Dr. Will Willimon is Bishop of the United Methodist Church for North Alabama, after serving for 20 years as dean of the chapel at Duke University. He tells a wonderful story about a young seminary graduate serving in his first pastorate. He had come to believe that miracles are fables, that God doesn’t really intervene in the affairs of life, that faith is the courage to accept things as they are.
He found himself in his first week on the job, visiting a woman in her hospital room. She was lying in her bed, paralyzed from the waist down. The new pastor asked her how he could pray for her. “Ask God to heal my legs, of course,” she quickly replied. The young man bowed his head reverently and offered the most ambivalent prayer you’ve ever heard, something like, “Dear God, we ask you to comfort this dear sister in her time of need. If it be thy will, we ask for her healing. But if it is not, dear God, we ask for the peace to live with her infirmity by your grace. Amen.”
He shook her hand and started to leave when the woman gave a cry of shock: “I can feel my legs!” She began moving them back and forth, yelling for the nurses and doctors. Everyone came running. She got up out of bed and began walking, shouting and praising God. Everything was pandemonium. The young minister finally got out of the hospital and to his car. Standing in the parking lot, he looked up at the heavens and said, “God, don’t you ever do that to me again!”
Do you believe God could heal that woman? Do you really?
He has time for your need, power you can trust, and a touch you can feel. Our atheist friends would ask why they haven’t felt the touch of God. I wonder—would they know it when it came?
He touches our minds with his word, but we must believe it is his word. He touches our spirit with his Spirit, but we must be close enough to receive what he wants to give. He uses the Church as the “body of Christ,” his hands and feet, but we must ask before he will act. The fault is not that he is distant from us—it is that we are too busy and self-reliant for him.
Julia Ward Howe, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, asked Senator Charles Sumner to help a needy person. The senator turned her down, explaining that he had grown too busy to concern himself with individuals. Mrs. Howe replied, “Charles, that’s remarkable. Even God hasn’t reached that stage yet.” She was right.
If you’re lame today, God wants you to know that he has time for your need, a power you can trust, a touch you can feel. If you’re Peter and John, God wants you to know that he wants you to make time for the lame man you know, trust his power for that problem, and touch that hurt. Your lame man didn’t come to our door today—he’s waiting at your door tomorrow. Ready for your time, trust, and touch.
I can testify personally that your touch is still God’s hand for hurting hearts today. After Mom’s death, so many of you have sent us cards and notes, far more than I can answer personally. Please know that each one of them has extended the touch of God to us.
One of the many which blessed me came from Dr. Jim Pleitz, pastor of Park Cities from 1976 to 1992. When you look up “pastor” in the dictionary, there is his smiling face. He remains a dear friend and comforter to many of us. In his note he said, “Some might say, ‘Jim lost his Mother…’ Not so! You did not lose your Mom—she has gone on before—she is with our Jesus.” He continues with very kind words for me and my work and closes, “I’m proud of you Jim—and so is your Mom!” The thought that she would be proud of me today, right now, was a touch from God. It still is.
Where do you need a touch from God today? Who needs a touch from God through you tomorrow?