John Stott tells of an English Salvation Army drummer who was beating his drum so hard that the band leader had to tell him to pipe down a bit and not make so much noise. In his cockney accent the drummer replied, “God bless you, sir, since oi’ve been converted, oi’m so ’appy, oi could bust the bloomin’ drum!” (Christianity Today [6/12/81], p/ 19.)
Our text records the first miracle in Acts that God enabled the apostles to perform after the Day of Pentecost. Peter and John, going up to the temple for the 3 p.m. prayer service, encountered a man in his forties (4:22) who had been crippled from birth. He asked for a handout, but Peter spoke a word of healing to him in Jesus’ name, reached out his hand and pulled him to his feet. Instantly, God’s miraculous power strengthened the man’s feet and ankles, so that he could walk. He followed Peter and John into the temple, but by now he wasn’t just walking, he was jumping for joy! It may well be that some stern religious leader told him to calm down: “Don’t you know that you’re in God’s holy temple?” But the man would have replied, “I’m so happy that I could jump and dance all night!”
I believe that the man was not only healed physically, but he also was healed spiritually, because he was now praising God. If he was not yet clear on the gospel, I’m sure that he responded to Peter’s sermon that followed. The man’s joy is a fulfillment of what Jesus the Messiah would do. Isaiah 35:5-6 says, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy.” These words were fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry (Matt. 11:5).
So this story in Acts attests to the divine Messiahship of Jesus. It shows that Jesus was continuing to work through His apostles and that His name was still powerful to perform the same gracious miracles of healing that took place when He was on this earth. Luke shares it as a specific example of what he reported in 2:43, that many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. He picked this miracle because it led to Peter’s second sermon (3:12-26) and to the first persecution against the early church (4:1-22). But it was not just a miracle of physical healing; it is also a picture of the spiritual healing that God brings to a spiritually lame world. It teaches us that …
God’s miraculous gift of salvation should cause us to praise Him with exuberant joy so that others will marvel at His mighty power.
There are three lessons for us to consider:
We often underestimate what happens when God saves a soul. We view it in human terms, as a human decision that requires human follow up so that the decision “sticks.” I’m not denying that a person needs to make a decision and receive proper follow up so that he can begin to grow in his new faith. Rather, I’m emphasizing, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature…” (2 Cor. 5:17). Salvation is nothing less than God imparting life to a person who was dead in sin. God’s mighty creative power is involved in saving a soul! It’s a far greater miracle than healing lame legs.
This man had been lame from his mother’s womb. He is a sad picture of the human race, maimed by the fall. This was not a day when there were concrete wheelchair ramps for those who were crippled. In fact, there were no wheelchairs or handicapped parking places! If this man left his house, it was only because more than one friend came over, put him on a stretcher, and carried him. They often took him to the gate at the temple called Beautiful, where worshipers would take pity on him and toss him a few coins so that he could survive. While the temple gate was beautiful, this man with his useless legs was anything but beautiful. He is a sad picture of how sin cripples humanity.
In 1987, Marla and I went to Hong Kong, Macau, and China on a ministry trip. We were walking around on some crowded back streets in Guangzhou, China. It had rained recently, so there were puddles and mud. As we walked along with the crowd, suddenly, we almost stepped on a poor beggar who had no legs. He was on the dirty street, pulling his torso along by his arms, crying out for money. He was a shocking picture of humanity, scarred by sin.
The Bible uses many different metaphors to picture the fallen condition of the human race: dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1); blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4); ignorant and unable to understand spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:8, 14); deceived and deluded (2 Thess. 2:10-11); deaf and dumb (Mark 7:32-37); leprous (Mark 1:40-42); and, lame (Mark 4:1-12).
There were no operations available that could cure his congenital condition. No physical therapy or efforts at self-improvement could help him. He had no hope that he could ever walk. And so he did the best he could to get by—he begged for money.
The Bible teaches that as sinners, there is nothing that we can do to heal our alienation from the holy God. We can embark on a program of self-improvement. We can give away all of our money and possessions to feed the poor. We can enter a monastery where we spend hours every day in prayer and fasting, denying ourselves the normal pleasures of life. We can devote ourselves to a life of selfless service, as Mother Teresa did. At the end of all our efforts, we are not one fraction of an inch closer to God, because we have not eradicated the sin that we inherited from Adam. The Bible says that “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isa. 64:6) in God’s holy presence. Presenting our good deeds to God only reveals the depth of our pride.
This attempt to save ourselves is probably the biggest barrier that keeps people away from God’s salvation. Except for biblical Christianity, it is an essential part of every religion, including Roman Catholicism, which teaches that we must add our works to what Christ has done in order to be saved. But the Bible plainly states, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
The power for healing this man came from “the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene” (3:6). Peter attaches the despised name, “Nazarene,” both to show that God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27), and to emphasize that it was the man Jesus from this village of Nazareth who is still living, who imparted from heaven the power to heal this cripple.
Sometimes in the Gospels and in Acts, a person was healed because he had the faith to be healed. But in many instances, the person was healed as an act of sovereign grace, without any indication of faith on his part. Here, there is no indication that the man had faith in Jesus to be healed. In 3:16, Peter explains to the crowd that it was on the basis of faith in the name of Jesus that this man was healed, but Peter seems to be referring to his own faith, not to the man’s faith. The man was not expecting a healing; he was only expecting a handout (3:5). Peter also makes it clear that the faith that he exercised “comes through [Jesus].” In other words, Jesus gave Peter the faith to believe that He would heal this lame man. Peter simply responded to the prompting of the Lord.
The healed man knew where his healing had come from. He didn’t shout praises to Peter and John. He didn’t praise his own mental attitude, saying, “I knew that if I kept a positive mental attitude, someday I’d be healed!” He didn’t boast in his great faith as the cause of his healing. No, he simply praised God. God and God alone, by His great mercy, was the cause of his cure.
When God mercifully saves your soul, He doesn’t do it because of anything that He sees in you. He doesn’t do it in cooperation with your best efforts. He doesn’t see great potential lurking beneath the surface of your life and save you because He knows that you’ll make a great disciple. He doesn’t see that you really mean well, in spite of your many mistakes, and save you because of your basically good intentions. He doesn’t see great faith and save you because He knows that you will be a model believer. He saves you because of one reason: His undeserved favor. It is totally by His power and grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). All the praise must go to God.
This lame man was not expecting a miracle. He only wanted a handout to get him through another day. Isn’t that a picture of so many who come to God? They are overwhelmed by life’s problems. Perhaps their family life is a mess or they’ve failed in business or they have a life-threatening illness. They come to God just hoping for a handout, something to get them through another day.
But in His great mercy, God imparts to them the miracle of regeneration. They are born again to a living hope, and they obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for them (1 Pet. 1:3-4)! They just wanted a little handout, but they become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ of all the riches that God can bestow (Rom. 8:17)! As Paul exclaims, God is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20). All that we can say is, “To Him be the glory!”
I love the description of this man, “Walking and leaping and praising God” (3:8). I realize that he didn’t leap down the street for the rest of his life. But I’ll bet that he often thought as he walked somewhere, “Praise God for His abundant mercy in healing me!” He often felt the joy of what God had done welling up within him. George Morrison observes,
It takes a little time to find one’s feet after a great experience like that. Give the man ten or twenty years of city life, and he will walk as sedately as any other citizen. First they shall mount up with wings as eagles, says the prophet; then they shall run (as children always do); and then, when time and experience have wrought their sobering work, they shall walk and (thank God) shall not faint. Do not object to preliminary leaping. Do not be hard on a little wild enthusiasm in the man who has really been healed by Christ. Time will convert that spiritual electricity into a driving and illuminating power. Emotion will be translated by the years into the strength of action and of character (Morrison on Acts [AMG Publishers], p. 34, italics his).
We see in this man three reasons why salvation fills us with exuberant joy:
God takes us by surprise. This man’s friends had been bringing him to the temple for years. He had been lying there when Jesus taught in the temple precincts, but for some reason Jesus had not healed him. No doubt Peter and John had walked by him on previous occasions, since they were still in the habit of going up to the temple to pray at the set hours for Jewish worship. But it had not been God’s timing. Even this day, Peter and John didn’t set out for the temple and say, “Let’s see if we can find someone to heal.” They would have passed the man by, except that on this day, the Lord sovereignly acted. The man caught Peter and John’s attention. The Lord prompted Peter’s heart that He would heal this man for His glory. Peter stopped and the man’s life was forever changed.
If we could go around the room and share testimonies, many of you would tell of how you did not see salvation coming until it hit you blindside. You were going through another day, trying to cope with your problems and scrape by, when by God’s providence, you heard the gospel. Maybe you had heard it many times before, but this time it was different. This time God took you by surprise. He moved into your life with His power and you were changed inside. You’ve never been the same. With the psalmist, you can exclaim,
When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad (Ps. 126:1-3).
This man was healed instantly. Peter grabbed his hand and pulled him to his feet and before he was upright, the strength pulsed through his feet and ankles. He didn’t have to go slow until he built up his weak leg muscles. He didn’t have to go for months of physical therapy to learn how to walk (remember, he had never walked before!). He not only could walk, he could leap, and leap he did, over and over again! He was instantly healed.
That’s how God saves a soul—instantly. There is no process of being born again. You are born again in a moment of time, even if you do not remember that moment (as I do not). You could walk into this church service as a person enslaved to some of the worst sins imaginable, get saved, and walk out a new creature in Christ Jesus. The instant that God changes your heart, you are changed forever.
This is a major difference between the Bible’s teaching on salvation and the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. They teach that justification is a process in which we cooperate with God’s grace. But in this life, we can never be sure that we are justified because we can never be sure that we have done enough. Thus our relatives need to pray for our souls after death and give money to the church, so that we will be able to get out of Purgatory, where we need to suffer for our sins.
But Scripture declares that God instantly justifies the one who has faith in Jesus’ death on his behalf. As Paul explains in Romans 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.”
The one who has been justified by God’s grace through faith cannot go on living as he formerly did. He is changed within, so that he begins to pursue a life that pleases God. There is no going back to the old ways. This man would never go back to his friends and say, “Please carry me to my begging spot. I miss my old life.” They would say, “You don’t have any reason to beg now.” With his healing came new responsibilities. All he knew was how to beg for a living, but now he had to learn to work for his keep.
The healing of God’s salvation brings new responsibilities. We can no longer excuse our sins. We must face them and deal with them God’s way. But that new way of life can be traced back to the instant that God imparted new life to us in Christ by His sovereign grace. One minute we were congenital spiritual cripples; the next minute, we could walk and leap for joy. The pivotal change in our standing before God took place in an instant.
When God saves us, He gives us the whole package. Like a man who inherits a fortune from an unexpected source, it all becomes his at once. It may take him a lifetime to explore it and to enjoy the benefits of it. But he possesses it all at once.
In Ephesians 1:3, Paul tells us that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Second Peter 1:3 tells us that God’s “divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” It will take us all of this life and maybe all eternity to realize the abundant riches of God’s grace in Christ. But the point is, He poured it all on us at the moment of salvation. For this reason, we can now “greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Pet. 1:8).
I love this man’s unrestrained expression of joy! Imagine, leaping in the sacred temple precincts! How improper! Can’t you see the disapproving frowns as he shouted, “Hallelujah! Praise God! Glory to His name!” “Hey, keep it down! You’re interrupting other people’s prayers!” But he would say, “Don’t you realize, I have never walked before this day, but God healed me! Praise His holy name!” He couldn’t keep it to himself!
The people who knew this man’s sad past were amazed. Their amazement didn’t get them saved, but it did open them to listen to Peter’s sermon that followed, and God used that sermon to save 2,000 more (4:4). People need to hear the content of the gospel message and repent of their sins to be saved, but a testimony of how God saved someone who was hopelessly lost can open their hearts to listen. If you have received God’s mercy in Jesus Christ, then you can and must tell others. Your joy that comes from being saved should provide openings to tell the good news, that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners.
I used to have a friend, whom I’ve lost track of, named Glenn. He was saved while he was in Tehachapi Prison, doing five years to life for drug dealing. His godly mother was at home praying for her wayward son at the very moment that he wandered into the prison chapel and got saved. This man in Acts 3 reminds me of Glenn. He was totally exuberant and open about what God had done for him. If you were easily embarrassed, you would be uncomfortable knowing Glenn. He would walk into a crowded restaurant, see you across the room, and yell, “Praise the Lord, brother Steve!” Then, having everyone’s attention, he would hand out tracts at every table on his way across the restaurant, telling people, “God saved me while I was in prison. Here, read this. It will tell you how you can be saved.” He always used to say, “I’ve been forgiven much, so I love Jesus much.”
This story of the healing of the lame man should make each of us ask ourselves three questions: (1) Have I received God’s gift of healing for my soul through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? (2) If I have received Christ, does the joy in my life reflect what God has done for my soul? (3) Am I looking for opportunities to share the joy of new life in Christ with those around me who are spiritually crippled?
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2000, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation