Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.…
You will not see the whole beauty of this paragraph unless you connect it with the chapter preceding.
1. You remember the infinite excitement of that chapter. There had never been such a day in the Church before. Life was raised up to a higher level than it had ever attained, and the people were praising God from morning till night. Surely the millennium had come! After this there will be no more common-place. Who would willingly come out of the blue heavens to walk again on the pathways of ordinary life? But read the opening words of the third chapter. After the excitement of Pentecost, is not this of the nature of an anti-climax? Two men, former partners in the fishing trade, "went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer." Then see that the ecstatic hours of life ought to be succeeded by quiet worship, for that alone can sustain the heart with true nourishment. God grants unto His Church hours of enthusiasm, days when the whole horizon opens like an infinite door into the upper places of the universe; but after such peculiarly solemn manifestations of power and grace, He expects us to go up into the temple to pray, as He knows such visions make all other life ordinary and common. Whatever luxuries you may enjoy occasionally, you must have bread permanently. We cannot always live in the extraordinary; for by the very fact of its being always extraordinary, it would cease to be other than usual.
2. But were not the men inspired? Yes; yet the two men "went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer." The clock was not altered; the great Pentecostal storm had rushed across the heavens, and had left behind it showers of blessings. Still the quiet clock ticked and travelled on to the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, and Peter and John were not so transported by special ecstasies as to forget their daily and customary engagements with God. Suspect any inspiration that makes you contemptuous of ordinary religious duty. Inspiration never lessens duty. Any supposed inspiration that has withdrawn men from the temple and poisoned them with the delusion that they could sufficiently read the Bible at home, is an inspiration coming otherwhere than from heaven. You were not made to live at home always. There is in you that which finds its completion in public fellowship. It does every man good to be now and then in a crowd; public assembly has an educational and social influence upon the individual life. Standing alone, a man may seem to be very great, important, self-complete; it is when he enters into a crowd that he realises his humanity, his littleness, and yet the very greatness that comes of that contraction of individuality. "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together." Peter and John did not. Are we not wrong in supposing that prayer can ever be of the nature of common-place? What is prayer? Is it not communion with God. The apostles had not lost their inspiration, as is evident by what they did. Verily, these men then had not lost their inspiration, or they never would have taken this course with the suppliant at the Beautiful gate of the Temple. They could work this miracle. Let that be taken as a proof of the continuance of their inspiration; and yet we see that, notwithstanding, they are going up like ordinary humble worshippers to pray in the temple. Beware of any inspiration that leads you away from apostolic practice. Your ambition may be easily excited, and you may not require a very expert tempter of the human mind to say to you that perhaps you may be a genius, that you need not submit to take upon you the yoke of religious custom. When such temptation seduces you, give it the lie. The law would seem to be that every great effort of human life should be followed by a religious exercise; every outgoing of the soul should have its compensatory movement in silent communion with God. After you have been striving arduously and valiantly in the fight, plunge into the bath, so to say, of Divine meditation and heavenly communion, and therein leave your weakness and recover your strength.
3. This incidental conversation with the poor lame beggar at the Beautiful gate of the Temple gives us some particulars about the apostles themselves, and those particulars are the more valuable because of the way in which they are introduced into the narrative.
I. IT IS PERFECTLY EVIDENT THAT HAVING ALL THINGS COMMON HAD NOT ENRICHED PETER AND JOHN. Apostolic communion was no priest's trick; it was no attempt to enrich the apostolate at the expense of the Christian public. "Silver and gold have we none." So much the better for them I Woe unto the apostle who spends one half of his life in getting silver and gold, and the other half in watching that they do not run away from him. What had they then? Divine energy, spiritual life, social sympathy, and hearts to bless those who needed benediction and assistance. The poverty of the apostles was in material substance only; and therefore it was no poverty at all. He is the poor man who has nothing but money. He is rich who has high ideals and noble sympathies, and who lives in the presence of God and in the service of truth. Have your riches in your mind, in your heart, in your thoughts, in your purposes, in your beneficent plans.
II. THIS ACTION SHOWS HOW POSSIBLE IT IS TO BE GIVING LESS THAN OTHERS, AND AT THE SAME TIME TO BE GIVING MORE. "Silver and gold have I none." "Then he could give nothing" would be the swift and shallow reasoning of those who read the surface only. "But such as I have give I thee." That is the giving that does not impoverish; the more given the more left. The sun has been giving his light for thousands of years, and yet he is as luminous as when he first looked out upon the darkness which he dispelled. Give mechanically, and you will weary of the exercise; but give spiritually, and you will increase your possessions by the very giving of your alms.
III. A MAN MAY PRAY NONE THE LESS PRAYERFULLY BECAUSE HE HAS AIDED SOME POOR CREATURE BEFORE HE ENTERED THE SACRED PLACE. We should have enjoyed the service many a time much more keenly if before coming to it we had made some sorrowful heart glad. That is the preparation for prayer. If you want to come .up at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice with glowing, thankful hearts, ready to receive any communication God may make to them, spend the intervening hours in doing good to those who sit in solitary places. Then you will come, not in a spirit of criticism, but in a spirit of sympathy, and from the first note to the last there shall be a shining forth and revelation of the Divine presence.
IV. CHRISTIANITY NOW, AS THEN, MUST PROVE ITS DIVINITY BY ITS BENEFICENCE. "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." Peter did not preach a sermon to the man. To the excited multitude he expounded the Scriptures; but when he came face to face with the man, he preached no sermon, except as the mention of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is always a sermon, but bade him rise up and walk. Here is the sphere in which Christian argument may yet secure its highest triumph. Words can be answered by words, phrases beget phrases, and the easy trick of recrimination is the favourite amusement of mere controversialists; but a Church seeking out the lowly, helping the helpless, healing the sick, teaching the ignorant, standing by the cause of righteousness, defying the oppressor, and suffering and working for the right, is a Church whose beneficence is its noblest attribute, and whose character is the only vindication it requires.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.