A Lame Man’s Surprising Day
As we continue working our way through the Book of the Acts of the Apostles we come now to the third chapter which contains the account of a man who was born lame. This man was healed by the ascended Lord Jesus Christ who continues the work he began in the gospels in person by now working through the intervention of his followers.
In some significant ways chapter three follows the same overall pattern that dominated chapter two.
Chapter two opened with a miracle. The Holy Spirit, poured out upon Jesus’ disciples, enabled them to speak in languages that they had never learned so that they might communicate with a wide range of visitors in Jerusalem in their mother tongue.
The miracle quickly drew a crowd and so presented Peter with a great opportunity for preaching about Jesus. In that first sermon of the church era Peter made frequent reference to OT prophecy concerning the plan of God and the Messiah.
Peter wanted to leave his hearers in no doubt that God was at work:
· He was speaking through the prophets
· He was attesting Jesus with mighty works and wonders and signs
· He was active in raising Jesus from the dead
· He had made Jesus both Lord and Christ
· He was even now issuing the gospel call to believe in the Lord Jesus
Chapter three also opens with a miracle; a man born lame is made completely whole.
It didn’t take long for others in the Temple complex to be made aware that something extraordinary had taken place. Some recognised him and word quickly spread – it didn’t take long before a crowd was running to find out just what had happened.
The presence of this crowd gave Peter another preaching opportunity which he didn’t miss. In his new sermon Peter didn’t major on the healing of men’s physical ailments preferring instead to direct attention towards the spiritual problem of sin that we all have and for which he demanded repentance.
Well this morning we’re going to limit our thinking to what took place that day leaving to another occasion a closer study of Peter’s sermon.
The Scene is Set
Luke doesn’t bother to tell us on which day this particular episode took place but he is concerned to tell us at what time of day it all came to pass. And it all began around 3 o’clock which was the time afternoon prayers at the Temple. It was a time when many devout Jews would make their way to the Temple to pray and the early Christians, being Jews, were amongst them
Now if you’re going to be a successful beggar there are some things that you have to know. You have to know what the best places are for begging and you need to know when most people are likely to be there. There really is not a lot of point in begging in a place when no-one is around! You also want to be in a place where the passers-by are likely to be sympathetic and open to distributing hand-outs.
So, we’re not surprised to find that this crippled man had made the necessary arrangements for his friends to carry him to his favourite spot in the Temple as the hour of prayer was approaching – it would be a busy time. More people meant a better chance of success and the religious type who frequent religious gatherings are perhaps more likely than others to be generous, especially when motivated by the vain hope that their generosity will “buy” them some favour with God as they try to put themselves in his good books.
I remember when we used to live in France we had to drive past a Catholic church on our way to our own church building. There were always some “regulars” standing hopefully by the door with a bowl in their hands.
Well this lame man had his own regular spot and it was a good one too, it was by the Beautiful Gate an impressive entrance through which many people would pass. Here was a man who wasn’t leaving anything to chance – he wanted and needed charity – after all he had never been able to walk in his entire life and he was already 40 years old. Work wouldn’t have been easy for him to come by and there was no social security net to catch him and meet his needs. So he went to the Temple everyday seeking alms.
And that day had probably started for him like any other. Now he was simply calling out for alms as people passed by on their way into the Temple.
Luke tells us that the man saw Peter and John as they approached and he called out to them but he done this so many times in his life his cry now was somewhat impersonal as he hardly really looked at them – you’ll notice the same thing today with beggars on the streets. Perhaps they’re just so used to being ignored.
But Peter and John have stopped and Peter, it’s always Peter, speaks out. He tells the man to look at them – pay attention, I’ve got something important to say; something significant is about to happen.
And the lame man who has been asking for alms naturally expects that he’s going to get some money. So he eagerly turns and fixes his gaze on the two men standing in front of him.
How many times had he done all this before, I wonder? But this time things were going to be so different, so life-changing! That ordinary day was about to become an absolutely exceptional one in this man’s life.
When Peter had the man’s full attention he spoke to him. How important it was for this man to listen to what was being said to him! How he might have missed out in life had he not paid attention! Would he have known any benefit at had he not listened carefully to what Peter was about to say to him?
I wonder whether Peter’s opening words came as something of a disappointment to the beggar waiting for some coins to drop into his cup? “Silver and gold have I none” – what use was that to a poor beggar? Is was money he needed, surely? But the next words were electrifying!
Acts 3:6b “but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
Did Peter pause before he uttered those staggering words or did he just hastily press on? I don’t know but soon enough he had made his wonderful declaration.
“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” means by the power and in the presence of Jesus himself.”
And “stand up and walk” was just what this man wasn’t able to do by himself. He had been lame from birth so standing and walking, things which come naturally to everyone else, was impossible to him.
Ah, but Peter didn’t tell him to act in his own strength but upon the authority of Jesus’ command! It was Jesus’ authority and ability that counted, he was and is able!!
Peter was there both as a messenger and an encourager. He took hold of the lame man’s right hand and helped pull him up. Was this evidence of lack of faith? Not a bit of it. It was a loving gesture – it was just the kind of thing he had seen Jesus himself do. Do you remember how the Saviour raised Jairus’ daughter to life after she had died?
Mk.5:41 “Taking her by the hand (Jesus) said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
Peter had learned his lesson well. Some time later he would employ the same gesture as he raised Tabitha to life when that precious lady had also died:
Acts 9:40-41a “But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up.”
How important and how comforting such human contact can be! Surely something that was brought home to us during the lengthy period of lockdown and social distancing we’ve recently been through.
Once on his feet there was no stopping the man who had formerly been lame. Jesus’ command had contained divine power and this man’s life had been thoroughly changed by it. Lame since birth he had plenty of catching up to do. There was no hesitancy in the man as he expressed his joy by walking, leaping and praising God. And should not be surprised and we certainly shouldn’t want to criticise him.
What a literal fulfilment this was of part of Isaiah’s prophecy that we read earlier in the service:
Is.35:6 “then shall the lame man leap like a deer,”
In the Greek translation of the OT known as the Septuagint the word used for “leap” is the same as we find Luke using in his description of the formerly lame man. What cause he had for praising God!
The Episode as an Illustration
I want to move on and show you how this whole episode provides us with a wonderful illustration of the human condition and of the way in which the gospel meets that need. Before I can do that though I want you to understand that this in no way detracts from the historicity of this healing. The man healed was a real person who had real physical problems until he experienced Jesus’ power and authority which brought him a full healing.
The crowds knew that it was a real event too – they knew that this was no fable of publicity stunt. They knew this man. They had seen him there day after day begging at the Beautiful Gate and now that same man was sitting no longer but walking and leaping and praising the God who had been so gracious to him.
The crowd weren’t duped but they were stunned with amazement at what they saw. They had never seen this man able to behave like this before. Word of what was happening quickly spread and soon a crowd came running to find out more.
What an opportunity for Peter and he seized it. We’re privileged too because Luke is going to treat us to a summary of this sermon too.
What would Peter say? Would he invite others who had physical needs to raise their hands or to come to the front so they too could be healed? How exciting that might appear to some!
Peter had another set of priorities though. He wanted to speak to the crowd about God, he wanted to tell them about God’s plans and he certainly wasn’t going to fail to tell them how much God approved of Jesus!
And as he told them of God’s 100% approval of Jesus of Nazareth how that would clash with the abject way in which his hearers had rejected and denied the same Jesus! They had wanted him dead preferring to have a murderer than the Prince of Life but God had an altogether different estimate and so glorified him raising him from the dead.
Yes, the miracle was there but Peter was interested in talking about the miracle worker than the miracle. You see he wanted his hearers to revisit their evaluation of the man from the Nazareth. And what about you What is your estimate of Jesus? How precious and valuable is he in your opinion?
Well, I said we would look at the sermon on a later occasion so we must leave it there for now.
The event described by Luke was a genuine miracle and I hope you don’t have a problem with miracles. If you do have a problem let me tell you it is a moral problem and not an intellectual one and it stems from the fact that you have a problem with the miracle worker, Jesus himself. The gospels contain a wide variety of miracles that Jesus carried out during his lifetime and here in the Acts we have a number more of the miracles he performed by the intervention of his followers. Peter and John didn’t have the power to work miracles and they knew it but they knew Jesus did and attributed this miracle to him. It was yet another act of compassionate loving power and demonstrated his ability to transform and restore broken lives.
No, if you have a problem with the miracles of Jesus it is because your sin binds you and you are continuing to deny and reject the God-approved Jesus. What arrogance and what ignorance! You don’t need more arguments, more data, what you need is repentance. For the Son of God came into the world to destroy the works of the devil and his miracles are just part of that work.
Now having made it very clear that we are dealing with historical fact here it is nonetheless true to say that the whole episode serves well as an illustration of the human condition and the gospel’s solution to it.
What do I mean? Well let me try to explain.
This lame man had been born into this world with a handicap and had lived his whole life under the burden of it – he had been born lame. Similarly, every one of us has been born into this world with our own handicap, it is not a physical handicap but a spiritual one. We have all been born into a rebel race and we all possess a rebellious and sinful nature. Have you ever wondered why you don’t live up to your own standards let alone God’s? It is because you are a sinner by nature. You know what you ought to do but you don’t do it. You know what you shouldn’t do and that you do.
We’ve been made in God’s image ofr a relationship with him but we continually fall far far short. We find we don’t want him to rule over us and so we reject him and we deny him. And just as the lame man was powerless to walk and leap by his own efforts so are we in our sin powerless of living a life in harmony with God because we are in rebellion against him.
Every day the lame man went looking for help at the Temple but no-one could resolve his fundamental problem. Oh yes, they could give a little here and give a little there but all that did was to make his sorry condition a little more comfortable and that was all that the very best people could do for him.
I wonder; have you settled for a little bit of comfort rather than seek a real solution for your sin problem. You can do that in a number of ways:
· You can listen to others who denigrate the truth of the Bible
· You can try to pretend that you’re better than you really are
· You can compare yourself with others and you’ll probably come out favourably if you’re the judge
· You can bury your head in the sand imagining that darkness and ignorance is the only way to go
Many of the people you know are content to muddle their way through life vaguely hoping that all will turn out right in the end.
I want to tell you there is a better way, a much better way.
Have you ever had the sort of Peter and John encounter that this lame man had that day? All of a sudden, totally out of the blue, you have an unplanned and unexpected rendezvous. God is at work and you hear about Jesus.
This lame man didn’t seem to have any special plans that day. He probably wasn’t thinking about living a new life by the end of the day. But Jesus had other ideas and another plan for him. A work of transforming power and this man had a new life and a very different future and, you know what, I bet he didn’t regret what happened to him one little bit.
Neither do those whose sins are forgiven and whose slate is washed clean by the blood of the lamb. A new start and an abundant new life and it’s all down to a Saviour outside of themselves who reached out to them.
Have you understood these things? Have you recognised the seriousness of your spiritual condition and have you come to accept that you can’t do anything to save yourself? Well you must repent and put your trust in Jesus who died for sinners just like you. No, you haven’t seen him with your own eyes and you haven’t heard his own voice but you’ve heard about him as one or other of his followers has spoken about him. And that is all you need for Jesus is ready and able to save you and to keep you.
May we all hear and heed the Lord Jesus Christ and may we all go on walking and leaping and praising God because he has had mercy on us too.
And to God alone be the glory!