I was attending a Christian College in the spring of 1992 where I spent my days struggling with life, and what God wanted from me. Other students seemed laser focused on what they were going to do with their life; I mean they had even been on the four dates that were required before you bought the engagement ring. (I’m kidding, but not really kidding).
During those days I didn’t even own a laser to focus. One minute I wanted to take the sword of the spirit and boldly conquer the world for God. The next minute going back to my parents house and eating pralines on the couch seemed like a viable option. Everyone seemed to know who they were, and more importantly they seemed to know God. Their prayer lives seemed better, their bible understanding seemed better, and their relationship with God just seemed closer which was all a bit foreign in my world. There were a thousand times in my life I felt that God was keeping me at an arm’s distance or just pushed me away all together. It’s hard to worship a God that doesn’t seem to want you around.
I mention the spring of 1992 because that’s when I first fell in love with the book of Acts. I am not overstating my case for poetic license; falling in love was a pretty good description of what happened. Until that spring I simply read Acts, when I did read it, as a history of what happened in the early days of the Church. The book of Acts was the book in the Bible we had to pick apart so we could figure out the pattern God wanted us to follow so we could make Him happy with us. Once we deciphered the pattern all that was left was to do our best so we could get a passing grade on the test. If we could get a good enough grade then God would have no choice but to let us into heaven. Once we arrived in heaven the best I could hope for is that God would be in His palace and I would live out all eternity in my mansion just over the hilltop. My home would be on the outskirts where God would continue be distant and far from me. But I reasoned, living in heaven with God distant from me was a better option than spending eternity in hell.
That’s not the story of Acts, and definitely not the story of Acts 3 where we are introduced to a man who Luke tells us had been lame since birth. Not being able to walk, his friends who would carry him to the temple gate where he could beg for money from the people going in and out of the temple. It was not the life that he wanted, but it was the life that he was condemned to live. We discover in Acts 4:22 that the man was over 40 years old, and every day his job consisted of begging at the temple gate. He did not have the ability to walk, or to be a productive member of society. He simply relied on the mercy of those who were going into the temple to worship.
The reason this man was placed at the temple gate is because he was not allowed to go any further. According to Leviticus 21 people who had any type of defect were not permitted to approach the altar. In 2 Samuel 5:8 King David seems to up the ante and says that the lame and blind are not even allowed to enter the house of God. So by the time we get to Acts 3 you have a man who has never been able to experience fellowship in the temple. He has never been able to hear the reading of the scriptures, or to participate in the festivals, or even enter in to the court of the Gentiles. If anyone felt like God was keeping them at an arm’s distance it was this 40-year-old lame man. I wonder at what point in his life did he lose the desire to go into the temple to meet God and just stared longing for the money that those going to see God could provide.
At the 9th hour of the day business is picking up, folks are rushing into the temple so that they can offer their prayers and the man begins his spiel, “Alms, anyone have alms for a poor man? Show mercy to the lame, help the poor. Alms!” His voice betrays the fact that he is resigned to live his life on the outskirts; as an outsider separated from God. That is until God closes the gap.
Peter hears this man pleading for help and offers him what he wanted most in life but had given up hope of ever receiving. Peter says, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you today, but I have something better. In the name of Jesus get up and walk.” In that one moment God closed the gap. A few moments ago the man was not allowed to go into the temple, he was not allowed to be a productive member of the community, he was not allowed to have a life, and now everything changed. Now because of Jesus this man is whole. Because of Jesus he can enter the temple, and more than that he can get close to God who only moments earlier was so far away.
That story is told time and time again in the book of Acts. We have separated ourselves from God because we refused to believe, refused to trust, refused to accept and the story of Jesus closes the gap. The disciples, who only days before were hiding out and afraid, are now speaking boldly in plain sight because Jesus closed the gap. People are selling their possessions and freely meeting each other’s needs because Jesus closed the gap. Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans are all welcomed at the table because Jesus closed the gap. A murderer risked his life, was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and snake bit because Jesus closed the gap. In Acts 15 the church comes together and decides that since Jesus has closed the gap, we cannot do anything to cause further separation in the lives of those whom Jesus has closed the gap.
We cannot take this beautiful story of what God has done to draw us closer and turn it into a list of requirements or a pattern we must decipher. The story of Acts is the story of Jesus and His love for us. The story of Acts is that God has closed the gap, and finally we are free to get close to Him, the place we were created to be.