When Australian composer Joseph Haydn was asked how it was that his church music was always so cheerful’, he made this most appropriate and insightful reply, “I cannot, make it otherwise,” he said, “I write according to the thoughts I feel. When I think upon God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes dance and leap from my pen; and since God has given me a cheerful heart, it is my honor, that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit.”
Now, the Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians; to be joyful always. In fact, when we worship God, we are to do it with shouts of great joy and leaping, that is what worship means.
I don’t know about you, but some days I just don’t feel that joyful. When it feels like I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, I don’t always have a smile to share in fact, it’s all I can do not to cringe.
One fellow that must have known how I feel, is the crippled man in Acts Chapter 3. Our Bible says he was over 40 and had been disabled since birth. He was unable to run, walk or even stand up. For over 40 years, he had watched the world pass him by. As a child, he watched out the window as other kids ran and played. No one wanted to include him, because they believed his condition was a curse from God. The day in question, started as just an ordinary one like all the others.
His brothers had gotten him out of bed and helped him dress. On their way to work or to worship, they carried him to his usual spot at the Temple gate. It would have been nice, if they would have just taken him into church and placed him on a pew, only he wasn’t welcome inside. Can you imagine that? The idea turns my stomach.
I would never want to be a part of any church that turns people away. Every one of us, is a sinner in need of a savior. This sanctuary is meant to be a haven for the lost, the sick and the outcast. Jesus himself said in Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, – but sinners.”
But that isn’t to say that some won’t choose to leave. For some, the word of God is too much of a burden or their hearts are just too hard for them to hear and believe the truth. If you stay, you must allow God to transform your heart, your mind and your life. The Bible tells us to turn away from sin, not continue in it. Some will hear that message, refuse and eventually leave on their own. That is because that cannot or will not admit they are sinners.
One of the best sermons I ever heard on this topic was from a Baptist Minister named, Rev. McClinton Hall. His sermon was called, “The Danger of being at church and not in church.” He said, “Have you ever noticed how many people come to church, but they are never really in church? They sit in the pews but they never really worship? They are dressed to kill but when they leave, they are unchanged.”
He said, “There is nothing sadder than being at or near church but never allowing the church to be in you, is there? Never allowing God in for fear that you might have to change.”
“How do you ever expect to have the Joy of Christ in you, if you never open the door to him? How do you expect to have peace, grace and mercy if you’re never open to receive it?” It is one thing, to walk out of church on your own but some have never been invited in. Some don’t even know, what they are missing.
This lame man had done nothing wrong, but he was an outcast. He would have love to go into the Temple, but he was kept at the doorstep. Each day, probably twice a day at morning and afternoon, he was placed by the Temple gate to beg.
Have you ever had to beg for something? Have you ever had a need so important you had to humble yourself to ask for it? We are proud people, just asking for help not even begging is painful for many of us. But there are times we must ask. It is the right thing to do.
Every day, this man sat on a blanket and hold out his ceramic bowl and cried to those passing by, “A shekel, half-shekel or mite for a poor old man, anyone?” And most days he gets a little. Most days people would curse or spit on him. Even children would sometimes kick him, as the passed by.
But he was used to this, he had been this way for over 40 years. And after all those years, everyone knew there is no hope. His parents were gone, and he had been a burden on his family his whole life. And now, 3/4th of life was over and of course, in his day, when you were handicapped, life was shorter.
And so, here he sat, an insignificant man in the eyes of the world. Ours is a world that values physical beauty and strength. They were part of the Roman Empire and they loved the Gladiators and the Olympics.
This man is a constant reminder of all the things the people want to ignore or forget about the hardships of life. And get this, he sat, in all his ugliness, in front of the beautiful gate to the temple. Now there is a contrast!
Jewish historians tell us that this is the East gate known as the Nicanor gate. Josephus writes that this gate was so large; it was 75 feet tall and 60 feet wide and took 20 men to open and close it. It was made of Corinthian bronze and was overlaid with gold and silver.
It was everyone’s favorite entrance, when they arrived at the Temple, and it blazed with divine brilliance in the sun. Here sits our beggar. Luke never even tells us his name, and he sits along with many others, who are trying to make a living, by relying on the charity of others.
Along comes Peter and John, headed to the 3 o’clock prayer service. At once, the man does what he does best, he calls out, “A shekel, half-shekel or mite for a poor old man?” And he tries to do it before the other beggars. Luke records ‘in the book of Acts’ that Peter, as did John, looked right at him. (Acts 3:4)
Let me ask you, when you see a beggar, where do your eyes go? I think most of us look away or if they are standing, we look down. But we seldom look them in the eye. Because if you look right at them, they know they have your attention and they are going to want something, right?
There is a great song by Casting Crowns called, “Does anyone see her?” It is about a woman who is lost, hurting, alone and scared yet she is like a ghost. No one wants to acknowledge her.
Knowing this, both Peter and John stare at this man. The phrase looked straight at him literally means they had a piercing glare, as if, they were looking into his soul. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” It is a command, but I am sure it was said with kindness. So, the man did. He gave them his full attention expecting to get something in return. (Acts 3:4)
With all the other beggars there, why this one? What did Peter see? Maybe he remembered Jesus on his knees bent down washing his feet like a servant or a beggar. Maybe he could tell that this man had not become bitter or angry over time, but instead, kept a hopeful attitude. Scripture never tells us and so, it leaves it up to our imagination. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold, I do not have, but what I have, I give you.” (Acts 3:6)
No money, how disappointing, the beggar must have thought. Ok, then maybe they will give me some food or water. Beggars can’t be choosers, right? Ha-ha. But wait a minute, why is it that Peter and John have no money? The world revolves around money, even in their day. Is it possible, that they were lying? Surely, they had something for the church?
More than likely, they had no money because they already choose to give it all away, to others in need. When Jesus sent the disciples out, he said, “Do not take a purse, bag or scandals.” (Luke 10:4)
This poor man had to notice that the disciples were empty handed. What then, pray tell, could they be giving him? He must have been curious. No one promises something and then gives nothing. Even in his wildest dreams, this beggar had no idea what was about to transpire.
When you are in a deep pit of despair or hopelessness, rescue seems impossible. And it is easy to believe, when the weight of sin seems to be crushing you, that no one could ever possibly forgive you.
This man couldn’t have imagined healing, not after all these years. He had grown to accept his condition.
Let me ask you, ‘Do you know how he feels?’ So, you must wonder what he thought when Peter said, “In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
He must have thought, “Hold on, hold on, what? Is this a joke? Am I on first century ‘Candid Camera’? Are you messing with me?” There is no indication he stood up, he just sat there probably in shock.
So, Peter reached down and helped the man up and scripture says instantly the man’s feet and ankles become strong. And as soon as the invalid sensed this, he didn’t just slowly stand up, instead, he jumped to his feet.
Not only did he leap with joy, he also began praising God. He knew Where, this blessing had come from. This wasn’t the work of men, but a healing from God alone In the Name of Jesus.
Now, what to do? Go home? Run off? No, he followed Peter and John into the Temple to praise God. This was a miracle, pure and simple so now, it was time to praise the Lord. Do you suppose he went in and knelt, sat down, or stayed quiet?
My guess is that he was shouting, laughing, singing, dancing, jumping and raising his hands in jubilation. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever said to yourself, ‘There’s nothing that is going to contain this overflowing, endless joy in my heart, soul and mind! It just has to gush out.”
That is the way it should feel the first time you understand that Jesus has forgiven your sins and washed you ‘white as snow’. Or healed you from an illness.
It is right and a good thing always to give praises to the Lord. If you have never felt that, you may have to ask yourself, have I really given myself to the Lord. Do I really know him?
But the truth is, even the most committed Christian is going to come down off that high. Even this healed man will come back to reality. So how do you keep that wonderful joy that keeps you dancing like a child with wild abandon?
The truth is, we cannot do it on our own. We must keep going back to the source of our mercy, grace, forgiveness and peace. We must keep Jesus close. We must let the Spirit transform us and give us new eyes, a new heart and a clearer understanding.
To rejoice in the Lord – or to learn to ‘leap for joy’ is more than positive thinking. That kind of joy cannot be bought with silver or gold. It must come from someplace deeper from a heart of love, faith, mercy and grace.
In the movie ‘Patch Adams’, Robin Williams plays Patch. He is a doctor looking at a world of pain and he finds that he must reach deep down inside to find joy and laughter that transforms. As he walks into a children’s ward, he becomes a clown and makes the kids laugh hysterically. It is the first time they have laughed in a long time.
It would have been so easy to walk away from those kids. But if he had, nothing would have changed. Do you get the feeling, some things should change?
Sometimes, when I feel the weight of the world, I open my Bible to Luke 6:20-23, and read;
Looking at his disciples, he (Jesus) said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”
There are times we must stop and remind ourselves; things may not be exactly how we perceive them. And keep in mind that all things are possible with God.
If we can do that…than some of that joy can well up in our lives again, because we know ever good and perfect gift comes from God who has our back. (James 1:17)
Now, before we end, I want to leave you with just one thing…some of the greatest lessons come to us as children. Get ready to follow along when you know what I am singing, ok?
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. (Where?) down in my heart, (Where?) down in my heart.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. (Where?) down in my heart to stay!
Great Job!!! Keep that song close and may God Bless You as you dance and sing it in the days ahead.
“And all God’s People said, Amen”