Friday, March 21, 2014

God outside the Temple

The third chapter of Acts tells the familiar story of a crippled beggar healed by (Jesus through) Peter and John one day as they were going to the Temple. They were going in the Temple, but of course the beggar had to remain outside and beg alms from the faithful going in; he was not allowed to go in because of his condition.

When Peter and John come up, he sticks out his hand and asks them for some money with which to take care of himself. Evidently his state is so lowly that he doesn't even lift up his face to look at them, because Peter afterwards has to tell him, "Look at us!" (v. 4). The beggar's condition is a very sorry and tragic one: he's an old man, over forty years old (see 4.22), and perhaps has been like this for most or even all of his life. He's who has forever been removed from real fellowship with God and God's people: he's not allowed in the Temple (at least so I think), he's incapable of working and sustaining himself. He's miserable and an object of pity at best.

But one fateful day God comes outside of the Temple and visits this beggar. Peter tells the beggar these famous lines: "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!" (v. 6). The beggar gets up, his legs miraculously receiving power from God that moment, and for perhaps the first time in his life, he goes into the Temple courts jumping and praising God (v. 8).

God was thought to be located in the Temple in a special way, and I take it that the beggar's condition prevented him from entering into it. But one constant of Jesus' ministry was a pronounced judgment against the Temple: he performs miracles and offers forgiveness of sins outside of the Temple context, offering himself as an alternative to the Temple, bringing salvation to those who otherwise would have been excluded (e.g., Gentiles, sinners, the unclean, etc.). In this way Jesus announces the corruption of the Temple and the beginning of something new that God was doing.

The healing of the beggar who sat outside the Temple courts is exactly that: God performed a healing outside of the Temple by the name of Jesus Christ, not inside where the Temple authorities who rejected Christ were. It's simultaneously an act of incredible mercy towards a perennial outsider and a pronounced judgment against the Temple system and those who rejected Christ.