ON IMITATING JESUS
A sermon based on Acts 3:1-19
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
April 18, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Acts 3:6-7
Aside from the Bible, it is considered to be “the widest read and best-loved religious book in the world.” Written in the early part of the 15th Century, it has been translated into more languages and gone through more editions than any other book in history—again, second only to the Bible.1 Over 2000 editions of the work are known to exist and new translations of the original Latin text are being produced even into the 21st Century. It is an acknowledged spiritual classic that continues to guide those who seek a deeper connection with God. The book that I am describing is called The Imitation of Christ. It is a work by a monk named Thomas à Kempis.
The book could best be described as a manual of Christian devotion. That is, it is a “how-to” book, giving practical advice on how to more closely follow Christ in one’s daily life. Though it was initially written by a monk for the benefit of the monastic community, its teachings are universal and speak to anyone interested in cultivating a deeper relationship with God. It has had a profound influence on many devout and faithful Christians through the years…Perhaps the power of the book can be best illustrated in the remarkable life story of a man named John Newton…
John Newton was an 18th Century seafaring Englishman. He had lived a hard life, growing up on the streets in the tough sections of London. As a teenager, he was publicly flogged for desertion from the Royal Navy, after having jumped ship off the coast of what is now Sierra Leone. Eventually he found himself as the captain of a slave trading ship. Though no one doubted his sailing skills, he had a reputation for being one of the most foul-mouthed, uncouth and profane men ever. One biographer described his life at this time as, “He moved in the lowest and vilest circles and sank to the depths of vice.” He was someone who seemed to be far outside the reach of God’s love and compassion if anyone was…
In February 1747, John Newton found himself as a passenger on board a sailing ship headed from West Africa to England. Looking for something to do to pass the time, he found a copy of The Imitation of Christ among the few books on board the ship. He started to read it, rather by way of a joke at first. Yet, as he read on, he could not help but occasionally wonder if the book were, in fact, true.
1 Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ. Ed. Harold C. Gardner, S.J. (New York: Doubleday, 1955), 10.
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Reading the book put him at the beginning of a long and arduous path to becoming converted to
the Christian faith. Newton later went on to become a minister in the small town of Olney, where he
began a long and fruitful career as an Anglican minister. He was also in the forefront of the movement
to outlaw slavery in England, repudiating his earlier life as a slave trader.2
You may not immediately recognize the name of John Newton—but I am confident that you
know his work. Newton is the author of what is arguably the most beloved hymn in America, “Amazing
Grace.” It has been suggested that “Amazing Grace” is really John Newton’s testimony in song. And his
spiritual journey began by the reading of the book The Imitation of Christ.
Imitating Jesus…Ultimately that is the essence of the Christian life…As followers of Jesus, we
seek to imitate Jesus through our words, our actions and our thoughts. And thereby we are drawn closer
to Christ and closer to God. In today’s scripture text from Acts 3, we see an example of the apostles
imitating Jesus in the early days of the church. And we see the profound effect that it had on those
The text starts off by telling us that two of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, Peter and John, were
going up to the Temple for the regular time of prayer at three in the afternoon. At first, that may seem
strange to us, but remember—at this time, the followers of Jesus were still seen as those who were a
part of the larger Jewish family. The Jesus movement was not seen as being distinct from that larger
body of the Jewish faith. So they met in the Temple courtyard to teach about Jesus while observing the
tenants of the faith of their ancestors. For all intents and purposes, they still considered themselves as
good, faithful Jews…
So as they approach the Temple, they encounter a beggar who had been lame since birth. We
are told that his friends took him that same place every day in the hopes that particularly pious people
going to the Temple would have mercy on him and drop some money in his basket.
When Peter and John arrived, the crippled man called out to them asked them for money. The
text says that the disciples first just stared at the man and told him to look at them. The man did as
Peter asked. He no doubt was hoping that disciples would give him a nice amount of money. But then
Peter told the man, “I have no gold or silver…”
I wonder what went through the crippled man’s mind at that point. It was obvious that the two
were not going to drop any money in his basket. I imagine that he was either really disappointed…or
that he got a bit angry, thinking to himself, “What tightwads these two guys are! Cheapskates—they
won’t even give any money to a crippled beggar. So much for them being good religious people…” In any
event, the crippled beggar could not have anticipated what would happen next.
2 John Henry Johansen, “The Olney Hymns,” The Papers of the Hymn Society of America XX (Springfield, OH: The
Hymn Society of America, 1956), 5. In his later years, Newton sometimes referred to his earlier self as “the old
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Peter takes the man by the hand, says “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and
walk.” He helps him up, and the man’s legs were instantly healed. For the first time in his life, his legs
worked like they were supposed to. He could jump up. He could walk around. And he began praising
God for the miracle that had happened, telling everyone who would listen how he had been healed.
That brings us to the main takeaway of today’s sermon. And that takeaway is this: In the healing
the crippled beggar, Peter was just doing what he had seen Jesus do over and over again. Peter was
simply imitating Jesus…
During the three years of Jesus’ preaching and teaching ministry, the disciples witnessed Jesus
perform a lot of healings. The truth of the matter is that we really do not know how many people our
Lord healed during his earthly ministry. Sometimes the gospel writers would just briefly summarize
Jesus’ actions and healings among the crowd that followed after him. For one example among many
that could be mentioned, Matthew 4:23-24 tells us, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their
synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the
people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various
diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed,
and he healed them.” There is no telling how many crippled people were healed by the hand of Jesus
that day. But the disciples—including Peter—had witnessed every single one of them…
In Mark 2, the story is told about how Jesus came to Capernaum to stay awhile. When word got
out about Jesus being there, it was said that the house he was staying in was crowded to overflowing.
Some men brought a paralyzed man to Jesus to be healed. After telling the crippled man that his sins
had been forgiven, Jesus then told him, “Get up, take your mat, and go home.” He got up, took his mat
and walked out of the house in full view of all the people.3 And the disciples—including Peter—had been
there to witness it…
In John 5, we are told that Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate one of the feast celebrations.
While he was in the city, he found himself at the Pool of Bethesda, a pool of water just outside the
Temple walls. At the pool, Jesus encountered a man who had been paralyzed for thirty eight years. Jesus
saw the man and said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” So the man did just that” he picked
up his mat and walked.4 And the disciples—including Peter—had been there to witness it…
So when Peter and John came upon the crippled beggar at the gate of the Temple, Peter was
able to heal him. And in that action of telling the man to get up and walk, Peter was only doing what he
had seen Jesus do many times before. Peter was simply imitating Jesus…
3 Mark 2:1-12. See also the parallels in Matthew 9:2-8 and Luke 5:18-26.
4 John 5:1-9.
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In the life of the Spirit, that is what each of us is called to do. Oh, as followers of Jesus, we may
not be called to miraculously heal people who have been paralyzed since birth. Peter was, but we may
not be. But we are all called to reflect Jesus in our lives. Through the power of God’s indwelling Holy
Spirit, we are called to be transformed more into the image of Jesus. We are all called to imitate Jesus…
So what does that look like? It means living a life that reflects what Jesus taught his followers.
And in a practical sense, what would some of those things be? What should characterize our life as we
imitate Jesus each day? One good place to start would be the characteristics that our Lord lined out in
the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount. You know the verses. I imagine that they are very
familiar to you. Here they are in a modern translation:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for when there is less of you, there is more of God and His rule.
Blessed are you when you’ve lost what is most dear to you, for only then can you be embraced
by the One who holds you most dear.
Blessed are you when you are content with just who you are—no more and no less—because
that is the moment that you find yourselves to be proud owners of everything that cannot be
Blessed are you when you have worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the
most satisfying meal you’ll ever eat.
Blessed are you when you care, for at that moment, you find that you are being cared for.
Blessed are you when you get your spiritual life in order. Then you will be able to see God at
work in the outside world as well.
Blessed are you when you can help make peace and teach others to cooperate, because that’s
when you discover who you really are. That’s when you discover your place in God’s family.
Blessed are you when your commitment to God provokes persecution, because the persecution
will drive you even deeper into God’s kingdom.5
That is a good place to start, for these characteristics of the kingdom that Jesus put forth also
describe his life and ministry. And when we follow what Jesus has said, then we are imitating Jesus in
our lives, doing what he would do—living as he would have us to live…
The sermon concludes with this closing passage from The Imitation of Christ, the book that we
talked about earlier in the sermon. It is my prayer that you will seek to imitate Jesus in all that you say
and do this week, and that God will grant you his blessing and peace throughout the week and into the
Go, therefore, with a pure and undoubting faith…with humble reverence. Commit faithfully to God
whatever you cannot understand, for God will not deceive you…God walks with simple people, He shows
himself to humble persons, He gives understanding to those who are poor in spirit, He opens wisdom to
5 This reading of The Beatitudes is my adaptation of Matthew 5:2-10 from Eugene Peterson’s translation The
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pure, clean minds, but He hides His grace from [overly] inquisitive and proud people. Our reason is
humble and weak and soon deceived, but faith is firm and true and cannot be deceived.6
And to God alone be the glory! Amen.