Acts 3 - True Compassion
Acts 3 – August 1
Today our text contains a pretty straightforward event with no theological curveballs or complexities. So, let’s get super practical with three points of application from this passage.
1. Pray Like You Need Jesus
Notice that this event begins when Peter and John are on their way to pray at the temple. This is astounding to me as a pastor. Consider the fact that their congregation has just gone from roughly 120 people to north of 3,120 people in one day. And Peter is the chief apostle! This guy is responsible to shepherd the souls of thousands of people. Our little church is nowhere near this size, yet I often find myself overwhelmed and exhausted and in over my head. But what does Peter do? How is he spending his time? He is going with John to pray. Nobody can read the book of Acts and make the argument that prayer is unimportant. It is a constant reality for the early church. We see that on a small scale here as it is Peter and John who go together to pray. It is clear from the gospel accounts that these two had a bit of a competitive spirit towards one another. Yet, now we see them walking together in unity to pray with each other.
On the way, they see a man that they have probably passed by many times before. But, this time it is different. They stop and heal the man, and this leads to another opportunity for Peter to preach to a captive audience.
Let’s talk about our prayer lives for a moment. Charles Spurgeon once said, “If I feel myself disinclined to pray, then is the time when I need to pray more than ever.” You must fight for a strong prayer life. JC Ryle speaks to this when he says, “Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer.” Private prayer is vital. But, we must also have a strong practice of corporate prayer. Pastoral prayers are not just a time filler on Sunday mornings. Stay and pray is not just a way for us to kill some time. As John Onwuchenkwa says in his book on prayer, “A church that practices prayer is more than a church that learns; it’s also a church that leans. . . . We learn dependence by leaning on God together.” Regardless of how busy our lives are, we are not too busy for prayer.
Application 2 from Peter: Have Genuine Compassion Like Christ
Let’s talk for a moment about genuine compassion. I want to do this by seeing the seeming contradiction between what Peter says to this man and the words we find in the book of James. When speaking about faith and works in James 2:15-17, James makes this argument. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
Yet, in this passage, Peter essentially says to the man, “I know what you want, but I can’t give you that.” Imagine the disappointment the beggar must have felt at that moment. When Peter told him to look up, he was probably expecting a huge payday, then his hopes were smashed when Peter revealed his own empty pockets. But then, Peter promised him something much better than he could have ever asked for.
Genuine compassion is not simply an emotion born out of seeing someone with less than you have. Eventually, that kind of compassion fades away. Eventually, you get desensitized to the homeless people lining the street. And, you can’t help everyone. Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” You will eventually run out of money to give. Genuine compassion goes deeper. Biblical, Christlike compassion comes by seeing the deeper need that all people share. Jesus looked upon the crowds and felt pity for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. They needed lots of things, but what they needed most was the Good Shepherd.
The vivid metaphor that is being presented by this story is that people are looking for topical, surface level, band-aids to cover the symptoms of their depravity. People want to feel better. They want their needs to be met. However, they are not often seeking a cure for their deepest needs. We will consider this on a church-wide level in a few minutes, but let’s think this through on a personal level now. How different would your life be if you were constantly reminded that the overwhelming majority of people that you know are running at breakneck speed toward hell? If you truly believe in God’s wrath and God’s grace, then it should give you a softness towards unbelievers. It should give you the desire to give them the gospel in any way possible. Genuine compassion means seeing that they need salvation above any other earthly need. Verse 4 says, “And Peter directed his gaze at him.” That phrase literally means that he was staring at this man intently. He felt compassion for the man.
Let me explain this on a pastoral level for a moment. There is a debate in the preaching world about what the focus of a sermon should be. And oftentimes, the modern church movement has determined that it is best to preach to what they call the felt needs of the people. The problem with that is this: most of these felt needs would be dealt with by exposing and curing the deeper problem of their spiritual needs. As we will see in a minute, Peter’s sermon does not put its emphasis on the felt needs of the people, but on the unfelt need.
Peter’s sermon is absolutely filled with things that many modern churches refuse to say from their pulpits. Notice how Peter lays the death of Jesus at their feet in verses 13-15, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”
What an incredible paradox. This is one of the starkest and most bitter oxymorons in the history of the universe. “You killed the Author of Life.” Though they had not hammered those nails, he lays them right at their feet. Likewise, a true gospel message begins with the news that you are an enemy of God. Your sin has separated you from God. Peter explains their actions this way in the following verses, “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.”
He recognizes that they didn’t fully understand their actions, but he does not excuse them. He doesn’t say, “Since you didn’t realize what you were doing, it really wasn’t a big deal.” Let’s say that you were driving 75 mph and you get pulled over. The cop says that you are in a school zone and the limit is 20mph. You can plead ignorance, but it doesn’t matter. He has the right to give you a ticket even if you didn’t know because you were breaking the law and endangering children.
This text is calling on us to preach the gospel with compassion to all we encounter by seeing their deepest need. It means that we must not shy away from telling people the bad news of their current state and then giving them the good news of the salvation that comes through Jesus’ work at the cross. Even though people might not take it this way, it is a blessing that you would shine the light of the gospel in their direction. Consider the final sentence of Peter’s sermon. “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
So, I implore you to share the gospel with true compassion.
Do not act like the credit belongs to you.
Peter is getting massive amounts of attention for the healing of this man. It is likely that everyone in the temple has seen this beggar on a daily basis year after year. They know that he is not acting or pretending. So everyone is astonished and they literally ran over to see what was happening. It is the perfect setup for Peter to gain personal notoriety or fame. But instead, he appropriately deflects all of the glory to Christ. I cannot think of many things more foolish than bragging about how many people you have led to Christ.