This is Part Three in the series “Behind the Scenes,” where I give you a look at how I contemplate—and then write about—scripture. Curtain #1 was all about slowing down and reading closely. In today’s installment, we slowly pull back a curtain of words to find deeper meaning.
I have to admit… the teacher part of me wants to ask if you read Acts 3:1-10 three times, out loud, but after I left classroom teaching I promised to only use my teacher voice in emergencies. (Having a superpower comes with responsibility.) So whether you’ve read the scripture once, twice, or none, we’re just gonna jump in and give it our best. We will definitely make mistakes, both large and small, but you know what?
We will learn from our mistakes. Ready? Let’s go!
Note on layout: I’ll provide scripture in italics and then give a brief synopsis of my personal response. These are my thoughts on the scripture, but they are not the only thoughts to be had! I’d love to read your reactions and insights in the comments section below. Let’s learn from each other!
1 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon.
Acts 3:1 establishes the time, setting, and two of the main characters, Peter and John, who are going to the temple for prayer. The details let us know that Peter and John are Jewish men who don’t see any problem with actively practicing their faith (the faith of their fathers) and following Jesus.
2 And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple.
In verse 2, we meet our third primary character: the man who has been lame since birth. I read this verse multiple times, but it wasn’t until the fifth or sixth reading that I had an insight into the man’s situation. People were carrying him to the temple gate every day so he could beg; apparently, not one of these people had ever considered teaching him an honest trade or skill that he could use to support himself with dignity. Instead, their way of helping was to give him a good location for begging! One of the notes I wrote beside this scripture was this: How many ways do we think we’re helping people when all we’re really doing is holding them down?
3 When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4 Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”
First, the lame man didn’t seem to realize who Peter and John were even though they had been actively preaching and healing others in the area. Maybe the lame man had his head lowered? Peter did find it necessary to say to him, “Look at us.” Was he ashamed of his dependence on begging?
Second, verse 5 says that the lame man expected to get something from Peter and John, but they didn’t have silver or gold. And what he ultimately received wasn’t from Peter and John… it was from Jesus. Peter had the authority to share the power and love of Christ, and he gave that to the lame man when he called on the name of Jesus and told the man to stand and walk. (Insight: Unlike the people who perpetuated the man’s situation by carrying him to the gate to beg every day, Jesus was able to completely transform his life.)
7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
The lame man walked, leaped, and praised God (not Peter or John because the healing was not of them), and served as a witness to the power and love of Christ for all the others. (Insight: It’s important to let others know what God has done in our lives.) The people knew him as the “one who used to sit and ask for alms.” They identified him as a beggar and concluded that he was not, nor could he ever be, anything more. How many times had they walked by him? How many times have I done the same thing?
There are other things we could glean from Acts 3:1-10, but I think this gives you an idea of the process. I not only read the words in front of me, but I also make inferences about things I’m not explicitly told. I ask questions. I speculate answers. But most importantly, I listen. We must always ask and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit when reading and analyzing scripture. I believe we see the Spirit’s guidance in those moments of profound insight.
Next time, we’ll look at the other scriptures surrounding Acts 3:1-10 to see if we can find larger themes the author may have in mind. Remember… this scriptural excerpt is a small part of a much larger picture.
Father, thank you for the gift of this time together, studying scripture, and listening for your voice of guidance and reassurance. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… Amen.