Pentecost 16b

Preached: September 16, 2012

How Much Our God Exceeds Our Expectations!
Acts 3:1-10

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us closer to Jesus is Acts 3.

Peter and John headed up to the temple for the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. A man who was lame from birth was being carried up. Day after day they would place him at the temple gate named Beautiful to beg alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.

Looking intently at him, Peter along with John said, “Look at us.” He kept fixing his attention on them expecting to receive something from them.

Peter said, “I don't have silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth get up and walk.” Grasping him by the right hand, he raised him up. Immediately his feet and ankles became strong. Leaping up he stood and began to walk. He entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God. They kept recognizing him, that he was the one sitting at the temple's Beautiful Gate begging for alms. Amazement and astonishment at what had happened to him filled them. (Acts 3:1-10).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A few weeks ago the Prayer of the Day thanked God for granting us more than we desire or deserve. Those words struck me and maybe you noticed them as well. Of course, God gives us more than we deserve. We know that because we realize how sinful we are and how great his grace and mercy is. But does he really give us more than we desire? Don't we want things and even pray for them but don't get them? How many things on your wish list don't you have? Can we truly say he gives us more that we desire?

Now prayers written by people can be wrong. But doesn't that prayer echo what God Word says in Psalm 145? With words given him by the Holy Spirit, David prayers, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open you hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:15, 16 NIV84).

Despite my common sense telling me that my desires are not all met, yet I must hold my heart and mind captive to the Word of God. Then my spirit can honestly and joyfully proclaim: How much my God exceeds my expectations! That's the theme today.

The account in Acts 3 can help us do that. We see that this crippled man was led to know how much God exceeded his expectations. May the Holy Spirit through his word lead our lives to exclaim the same. How much our God exceeds our desires and expectations.

A. Much more than the crippled man desired

It wasn't long after Pentecost and what a day that had been in Jerusalem! The sound of a rushing wind, but no wind. Flames of fire above the disciple's heads. And these men from Galilee proclaiming the wonders of God in the native language of each of the hearers. Peter proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, put to death on the cross but raised to life by God, as the Scriptures had foretold. Three thousand repented and were baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.

Now a few days, maybe a few weeks later, Peter and John head up to the temple to worship the Lord at the hour of prayer about three in the afternoon. Some family or friends of a crippled man were carrying him to the gate that entered the temple's courtyard. He had been crippled from birth and later we learn he was about forty years old. Day after day, year after year, he would beg at the temple.

What did he desire from Peter and John? What hopes rose in his heart as Peter and John focused on him and said, “Look at us” (Acts 3:4 NIV84)? Did he expect a copper coin, maybe even a silver or gold one if they were well off? Peter dashes that expectation, doesn't he, but gives the man so much more than he desires. “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth walk” (Acts 3:6 NIV84). He takes the man by his hand. His feet and ankles are instantly well. He leaps. He walks. He praises God. No physical therapy, no learning curve, no recovery time, but a miracle.

No doubt, this man had heard about Jesus before. Since he regularly begged at the temple, wouldn't he have seen Jesus as he taught there during Holy Week before his crucifixion and several other times when Jesus visited the temple during his three-years of earthly ministry? Might he have heard how Jesus healed many others, making the lame to walk and the blind to see? Might he have wondered why not him?

But then he would not have been there for Peter and John to heal. And this miracle benefited not only this one man but many others as well. As he walked around and praised God, people recognized him as that crippled beggar. They gathered around in astonishment and amazement. Peter explained it all, and no doubt, this man, as well as the crowd, listened intently.

Peter said, “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this ... Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you -- even Jesus” (Acts 3:12-15, 17-20 NIV84). How's that for exceeding expectations!

B. Much more than we desire

What do you desire, dear Christians? I must confess that like this beggar my natural thoughts are first drawn to material stuff when asked what I want. If someone offered my $1000 free and clear, I wouldn't turn it down. You can do a lot with money, more than just buy stuff. Yet having stuff you like certainly scratches an itch.

But I don't think it would take you long, dear Christian, to realize that there are greater things we desire than money and stuff. If Peter had given the beggar a choice between a gold coin and being able to walk, we all know what he would have chosen. Still today many people look beyond money and stuff. Instead they desire health, friendship, family togetherness, happiness, peace, love, integrity, respect, beauty, goodness, and the like. That crippled beggar would agree that, even though he never got a coin from Peter, he got much more than he desired. So also, even if we have little earthly wealth, the Lord has richly blessed us. How much our God exceeds our expectations!

But even those immaterial blessings are still earth-centered, aren't they? There's a desire that goes far deeper in us, a desire we may not even recognize because so many other desires mask it. People spend their lives pursuing happiness, peace, love, and goodness. But even when they think they've found them, there's still something missing. This deepest desire remains unfulfilled.

What is this desire? Picture a deer running, never at rest, hounded on all sides. It's legs numb with pain. It's heart racing, lungs burning. It's mouth dry, so dry. How it longs for that quiet stream, that precious drink. “As the deer pants for streams of water, my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42). Saint Augustine put it this way: “You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Confessions, I, 1). Our deepest desire is that fellowship that rests in God.

That's what came to that once-crippled beggar through Peter's preaching. So much greater than being able to walk, he now knew his Savior Jesus Christ and through Jesus had fellowship with God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the one, true God, the Savior-God. Hadn't the Lord given him so much more than he desired. How God so exceeded the beggar's expectations!

So also the Lord God is at work in your life, dear Christian, and in mine. He wants to draw us closer to himself. And isn't that what you desire more than anything else, dear Christian, to be closer to your God? Isn't that our greatest desire and all others are nothing in comparison? Isn't that our deepest desire even if we don't fully realize it all the time? And when God does not gran us one of our lesser desires because it gets in the way of this deepest desire, isn't that truly giving us more than we desire, much, much more? How our God so exceeds our expectations!

Note, dear friends, carefully note that it was the message of Jesus preached by the Apostle Peter that drew this once-crippled beggar and the other listener into fellowship with God. That's how still today he draws you and me closer to himself and satisfies our deepest desire. Through the message of Jesus. Through the message of Jesus proclaimed in the Scriptures, the written record given by the Holy Spirit through the prophets and apostles. Through message of Jesus fed to us in the sacrament as Jesus gives us his real body to eat and his real blood to drink to proclaim his death for us. Through the message of Jesus, the Good News of forgiveness -- forgiveness for our sins, which had destroyed our fellowship with God, forgiveness from God bought by the blood of Jesus that washes us clean. That's the message Peter preached. That's the only message that meets our greatest desire.

Go to his word and sacrament to enjoy fellowship with your God. Go to his word and sacrament to satisfy that deepest desire. Go to his word and sacrament to keep his message burning in your heart of faith. How much our God exceeds our expectations!

As his word live in our hearts, we can say with the Psalm writer: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25 NIV84). As we live those words, then we too rejoice in all circumstances because we have fellowship with God, even as this beggar rejoiced. Did you notice how his joy and celebration brought others to pay attention to the Apostle's preaching? Let your joy draw others to hear the message of Jesus so that they too have that deepest desire met that longs for fellowship with God and they too come to know how much our God exceeds all expectations. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313