The Roman culture of the early 1st Century was highly visual, a practice that it had adopted from the Greek pantheon and culture. Because of this, they had many different words to talk about vision and sight, each with a slightly different nuance and meaning. For them, the word used could determine the meaning of the sentence and what they were trying to convey.
We could do something similar too if we weren’t so lazy all the time.
For example, if I told you to look at the painting in our living room (pictured, right):
If I just say, Look at it, the intended meaning is ambiguous and all options are valid.
Acts chapter three tells a story about a lame man who finds healing and restoration through an Act of kindness. Peter, here in this chapter and the next, is going to explain critical issues about the life of the church and the nature of the work that God’s people do on mission.
Acts chapter two tells us that the believers met together daily in the temple courts, and it’s reasonable to assume that Peter and John were on their way to this meeting. They wanted to be present for the time of prayer and fellowship and were just entering the temple grounds to meet up with their friends. On their way in, they notice a man, “was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.” (Acts 2:2)
This is the point in the story where we need to understand the different types of looking that do.
It first says that the man saw Peter and John enter the temple.
Next, Peter looked straight at him.
Then, Peter commanded the man look at us.
Finally, the man gave Peter and John his attention.
So what’s going on here? With a bit more descriptive additions, the story should probably read something like this (‘looking’ words are bolded):
A man, who was often placed at the temple gate called Beautiful, noticed that two men entered the temple to worship. Peter, seeing the man, stared intently at him, and drew the man’s attention to him. The man, hopeful he would receive some monetary donation expectantly locked eyes with Peter. “Look beyond our appearance, do you notice anything different or special about us? We don’t have silver or gold to give you, but we do carry with us the Spirit and Power of the resurrected Jesus so let’s free you from this infirmity. The man was instantly able to get up and joined Peter, John, and the rest of the believers for afternoon worship and his miraculous healing became a testimony in the early church.
The man notices two men, Peter stares and immediately calls the man to look with something beyond physical presence, he appeals to the man’s spiritual eyes to notice the power with which Peter and John enter the temple grounds.
Peter knew (and we’ll see his explanation in the next chapter) that he walked with the power and presence of Jesus. Our modern leadership culture often praises the brash, headstrong, alpha male leader. Peter reveals that ego has no place within the servant driven model of Jesus style leadership. It was not his power, ability, passion, or desire that could help the man, but the Spirit’s enabling that prompted Peter to action.
I’ve written before about the power of prayer, that prayer is the power cord that connects us to the power of God. If you want to know more, sign up here and I’ll send you my discipleship manual free. Prayer is vital and important for the life of the Christian. Acts two tells us that the early believers were devoted to three main areas: the apostles teaching, fellowship, and prayer.
One of the reasons I love this passage is because it incorporates all three of these elements. On their way to practice fellowship and prayer, they first practice the apostles teaching (which I argue is the teaching and ethic of Jesus). Peter and John, two men that had been with Jesus, were responsible to shaping and calling the early church to live like Jesus. They knew the stories, had seen the miracles, and called the church to live in the same way.
So we must see here the direct connection between this healing and Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. They knew of the implications for seeing someone in need and walking by. They knew the harsh criticism Jesus had reserved for those that disconnected religious piety from humble service. They knew Jesus’ praise for those willing to help, comfort and aid the lost, lonely, and languished. They also knew the punishment for neglecting such manners and how quickly Christ would condemn such actions.
So Peter and John acted in the manner and way of the Good Samaritan (and ultimately in the way of Jesus). They noticed the man, they acted with compassion, and they drew him into fellowship. They called this man to a new life and a new story in the movement that Jesus was leading with his sacrificial love and generous hospitality. Peter’s act of kindness leads to a religious confrontation, and as we will see in the next chapter of Acts (and the next post in this blog series), this act of compassion leads to a confrontation of our own religious beliefs and the many ways in which we often go astray in our faith.