STUDIES IN ACTS, Part 5

Acts 3:1—10

An Amazing Miracle

In Acts 2, we are given a glimpse by Dr. Luke the historian into the routine of the early Christians.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42—47)

In chapter 3 we have a short story illustrating this. Luke picks one particular miracle to give the reader an idea of what life was like for the very early Church. He could have related any number of miracles, but he chose the healing of the lame man.

Also in this third chapter of Acts, we have a record of Peter’s second sermon. The theme of this second sermon is the theme of all the apostolic sermons in Acts: Jesus Christ. Specifically, Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, risen, and glorified.

But the miracle cannot be separated from the sermon. Miracles were never performed by Jesus or His apostles to appease or amaze the people. These “signs and wonders” were performed to draw attention to the exposition of the Word of God.

1. The setting, 3:1

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon.

Luke’s attention during these early days was focused primarily on Peter, the spokesman of the twelve apostles. Peter was accompanied by John, the son of Zebedee. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, Peter and John were part of our Lord’s “inner circle,” and were with Jesus at the time of His transfiguration (Matthew 17:1), and they were with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33). No doubt Peter and John worked well together, and the church in Jerusalem recognized them as leaders from the very beginning. They were often paired together, although Peter was the one who generally spoke while John listened.

That these two church leaders made a habit of going to the temple to pray regularly is suggested by the use of the phrase “were going up.” This phrase, in its Greek form, is in the “past progressive form,” which indicates that this “going up to the temple to pray” was a regular part of their daily routine. Not only was it the daily habit of Peter and John, but of all the early Christians, who considered themselves as Jews who worshiped the Messiah, and would have never given up traditional prayer times at the temple.

Herod’s Temple was still standing in Jerusalem, and it would remain for the next 40 or so years. Josephus wrote that even during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD, the priests continued to offer their sacrifices on the altar. The Jews and Jewish Christians both made full use of the temple and its grounds. At three o’clock in the afternoon, when Peter and John were heading into the temple, the evening sacrifice was being offered. These sacrifices, however, were now valueless to all who worshiped Jesus, for He fulfilled all the types and shadows of the Law. Nonetheless, these two men go into the temple, not to offer a sacrifice, but to pray, as was their custom.

Remember, this is the Church in its infancy. Initially, the Kingdom was to be offered only to the Jews, then it would be offered to the rest of the world. At this point, the Church is full of Jews; few if any Gentiles. So, it should make perfect sense that in these very early days the Jewish-Christians would remain faithful to both Christ and elements of the Law. Very shortly, however, the Gospel would break into the Gentile world.

2. The confrontation, 3:2, 3

Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.

Like the two apostles, a man “lame from birth” made going to the temple part of his daily routine, but for very different reasons. Strangely enough, this man wasn’t brought to the temple to pray for healing or to worship God, but to beg for money. This was a very common practice in New Testament days. Handicapped people were not taught a trade but taught to become beggars. Close friends or relatives would bring the lame person to the temple and place them where the most people would walk by them and, hopefully, give them some money. The fact that almsgiving was seen as a very virtuous act by this time shows how far Judaism had fallen from God’s ideal. When the Law was given, God made it clear to the Israelites that there should be no poor people living among them.

However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you. (Deuteronomy 15:4)

For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you. If anyone is poor among your people in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. (Deuteronomy 14:6, 7)

The Jews, however, ignored God’s command and the result was, as Jesus observed, that “the poor you will always have with you” (Mark 14:7). Interestingly, the early church was determined to wipe poverty out from its ranks by making sure the truly needy had their basic needs met. And it seems that for a while, they were successful. How it must have grieved God, however, to see His House so misused. A minor, but powerful lesson for the Church of Jesus Christ today. Let’s make sure the Church does what Jesus Christ founded it to do and not what makes us feel good.

As they went into the temple through the Beautiful Gate, the beggar set his sights on Peter and John. He expected them to help him out financially. The beggar “asked them for money” is a phrase written in the imperfect present tense, which suggests the beggar asked Peter and John repeatedly for money; over and over again.

3. A surprising response, 3:4—6

Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Here is Peter the mouthpiece of the Church, while John remained silent. There are a couple of points that should be noted. First, we need to note what Peter did NOT do: he did not give the beggar any money. Obviously, Peter had resources. He had access to all the money from the people who sold lands and other valuables. What better use for the church’s money than to help out a poor, crippled man? That’s how modern Christians think, but that’s not the purpose for which the Church was founded. Those resources were to be used to help members of the Christian community, not people outside the Christian community. Does that mean that God, or Peter and John, were cold and heartless? Not at all!

Second, what Peter gave the beggar was what the beggar really needed. The beggar thought all he needed was money, but the beggar’s need ran deeper than the need for material things. Peter healed the man in the name of Jesus Christ. Does this mean that the man needed to be healed? No, it means something more than that. The word “name” in Semitic thought is significant because it involves the whole revelation of the person mentioned. So when Peter says to the beggar “name of Jesus Christ,” Peter is referring to everything knowable about Jesus: His virgin birth, sinless life, His ministry and teaching, His suffering and atoning death, His resurrection and ascension. So what Peter offered the crippled man was not merely healing, but salvation.

4. The beggar’s response, 3:7, 8

Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

The offer made by Peter called for faith on the part of the crippled man. He needed to put his faith in Jesus. To encourage his faith, Peter extended a hand to the man, who reached out in faith. Jesus did a very similar thing when He healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Peter’s own home:

So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. (Mark 1:31)

This must have made an impression on Peter! He later used the exact same technique when he healed the lame man. In both instances, the one needing healing had to reach out first, before a miracle took place. In the case of Peter’s mother-in-law, she took Jesus’ hand and then He helped her up. After the lame man took hold of Peter’s hand, “the man’s feet and ankles became strong.” There was a responsibility on the part of ones needing healing to do something, no matter how minor, to demonstrate their willingness to receive what was being offered them “in the name of Jesus Christ.”

For the first time in his life, this once-crippled man was able to stand up. Now that was a miracle! But that was just the beginning. As soon as the man was able to stand up, a second miracle took place: he began to walk. This ability to walk is a learned skill; it normally takes time for a child to learn how to walk. But this man started walking right away. In fact, he didn’t just walk, he jumped and walked and praised God all at the same time. Think of the change. Just a few minutes ago, all this crippled man wanted was a few dollars to get him through another day. He had never walked. He had to be carried everywhere. Although he was at the temple every day, he had never gone inside; never praised God with his family or his friends. And what was the very first thing this man did after he was touched by Jesus? He ran inside the temple, praising God!

5. Other responses, 3:9, 10

When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

There were many, many people in the temple for the afternoon hour of prayer and sacrifice; many Jews and many Jewish-Christians. This once-crippled man was well-known to all Temple-goers. We can imagine that he hit many of them up for an offering in the past. They now recognized this man who was now walking, jumping, and praising God as the man who had never walked in his life. They were completely surprised, amazed, and astonished at this miracle.

This may well be the most significant miracle in the whole Bible, not because it is any more amazing and astounding than other miracles, but because of what Isaiah wrote centuries before;

Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:6)

When the Spirit fell during the Day of Pentecost, not only was the Church of Jesus Christ empowered to its work, but it would be last time the Kingdom of Heaven would be offered to the Israel. Time and time again, the children of God rejected the Kingdom. They ultimately rejected the King Himself, preferring to crucify Him than worship Him. But Jesus made it clear that after the Spirit fell, Israel had one last chance. The newly energized Church was not to take off running with Gospel to the four corners of the earth; that would happen later.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

It was to start in Jerusalem. This would be Jersualem’s final chance to accept what Jesus Christ was offering. Many who heard Peter preach believed; 3,000 the first time, 5,000 the second time. And here was one man who believed and immediately was able to “leap like a dear…and shout for joy.”

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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