In the past month I’ve talked to friends of mine who have said they are struggling to pay attention at church because they can’t stop thinking about all the problems in our nation and world. Whether you are talking about the horrors of abortion or systemic poverty, we are surrounded by dangers every day.
In a book on alleviating poverty titled When Helping Hurts, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert write, “We are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. Period. Yet, most of us live as though there is nothing terribly wrong in the world.”1 We could apply a similar statement to just about every problem we face. We are surrounded by innumerable physical and spiritual challenges, and yet most of us carry on as if nothing were wrong.
The early Christian church faced three significant dangers: 1) Persecution, 2) Moral Compromise, and 3) Exposure to False Teaching. These remain common dangers today. This community in Acts is about to face the first, persecution.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
In v.43 Luke spoke of the “many wonders and signs” that “were being done through the apostles.” 3:1-10 becomes the first example he gives possibly because of the great publicity it had received. This healing is followed by another sermonic explanation by Peter, just as in chapter two after Pentecost. And the next day Peter and John appear before the Jerusalem Council in order to explain themselves.
This leads to the first persecution of the Christian church. The miracle raises their reputation further and Peter’s preaching becomes an even greater concern. Jesus had warned them to expect tribulation (Jn. 16:33; Mt. 24:9, 21, 29). We will see the beginning of this community’s trials when Peter and John are thrown in prison in the next chapter (a direct result of the healing and preaching that occur in this chapter).
In the broader context of chapters three and four we will see the intricate connection between the physical and spiritual realms. This temporal/physical healing has eternal/spiritual significance.
First, we will see A Crippled Beggar (1-3). Second, we’ll see A Compassionate Healer (4-6). And third, the result is A Joyful Follower (7-10).
A Crippled Beggar (1-3)
Why were Peter and John praying in the temple at the ninth hour, or 3pm? They appear to be continuing to live as observant Jews (Psalm 55:17; Acts 10:3, 30; Dan. 9:20-21). In these early transitional days they have not formally separated from their Jewish traditions. The Didache (written in the mid to late first century) directed Christians to recite the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. It’s possible they participated in some or part of the temple services until its destruction in AD 70.
The common prayer times may have been associated with the morning and evening sacrifice. It is also significant that at the ninth hour Jesus cried out his dying sentence “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (Matt. 27:46). This probably has something to do with why they continued to pray at this set time. They saw the fulfillment of the evening sacrifice in the death of Christ.
While they apparently attended the prayer services daily, there is no evidence they attended sacrificial ceremonies. That would call into question their understanding of Christ’s atoning work.
In v.2 we see a man lame from birth was being carried to the temple to beg. Luke provides 10 of the 13 uses of the word “alms” and it is often associated with pious action (Luke 11:41; 12:33; Acts 9:36; 10:2, 4, 31; 24:17). This man, who was over 40 (4:22), appears to have had a daily routine of being carried to the temple gate.
Every day he would sit at the Beautiful Gate. Scholars debate on the precise location, but the majority see it as the Nicanor or Corinthian Gate that Josephus speaks of. It is the largest gate, beautifully decorated with bronze. It also provided easy access to Solomon’s Portico.
What did people think of this man? Was he a nuisance? Did they pity him? Their were some competing perceptions on beggars. Roman and Greek culture sometimes associated disabilities with divine judgment and the consequence of a bad character, or misbehavior. The rich generally held the poor in disdain.
The Old Testament called of the just treatment of the disabled (Lev. 19:14; Deut. 27:18; Job 29:15). Rabbis taught that alms please God, but Jewish sources linked most sickness to sin. But many saw their lifestyle as a sign of God’s disfavor (Jn. 9:1-2, 8).
It’s possible that the gate was as close to the sanctuary this crippled man was allowed to go. It is clear that later rabbis believed those unclean, which likely included those with deformities, were not allowed to go beyond the gate. This man’s deformity would have prevented him from participation in certain rituals (Lev. 21:17-20).
Over forty years old, a social outcast, unable to enter parts of the sanctuary because of his deformity. Derek Thomas writes, “It was a pitiful existence with little relief. The sheer monotony of his life is enough to elicit sympathy from the hardest heart.”2
Physical healing points to a spiritual healing. Therefore this man’s physical needs points to our spiritual need. Sickness and disability is the result of living in a fallen world. This is a picture of you and me. That is our condition from birth. We are born in sin and unable to heal ourselves.
Crippled beggars need…
A Compassionate Healer (4-6)
Next, Peter and John direct their gaze at the man and Peter says “Look at us” (v.4). I wonder if it was common for this man to be overlooked. He was likely looking down, a posture of shame or humility common among beggars. I wonder if we can learn something from the way Peter and John treat this man with dignity. Peter’s compassion went beyond his wildest dreams!
The man turns his attention to them with hopeful expectation (v.5). Surely, he anticipates receiving a gift, probably holding out his hand or cup. Maybe he is used to being ignored. But, when Peter states that he has no money to give (v.6)—you can imagine the man’s face falling back to the ground.
But Peter goes on to command him to rise up and walk in Jesus’ name. The name of Jesus was combined with the man’s faith (3:16). Invoking the name of Jesus in not magic. If that were the case the sons of Sceva wouldn’t have been overpowered by evil spirits (Acts 19:13-16). Peter was inviting this lame beggar to believe (3:16). He was healed because he had faith in the name of Jesus.
The command to walk was accompanied by the enablement to walk. Same resurrection power of Jesus at work. Jesus performs the healing, Peter mediates. Darrell Bock, “God took the initiative to bring needy people to Peter. Peter took the initiative to bring Jesus to someone who needed him.”3
In When Helping Hurts, Corbett and Fikkert suggest:
If we believe the primary cause of poverty is a lack of knowledge, then we will primarily try to educate the poor. If we believe the primary case of poverty is oppression by powerful people, then we will primarily try to work for social justice. If we believe the primary cause of poverty is the personal sins of the poor, then we will primarily try to evangelize and disciple the poor. If we believe the primary cause of poverty is a lack of material resources, then we will primarily try to give material resources to the poor.
They go on to argue that the best approach to alleviating poverty is developing relationships with people to determine the best way to care for them. WARNING: This takes time, energy, and material resources. And it can often be messy.
We should not form a philosophy of mercy ministry based upon this one passage. The text does not prohibit meeting material needs, and neither does it advocate giving spiritual help only. If anything, we see Peter giving what he was capable of giving. If Peter had money to give, would he? That might be a helpful question to ask, but the text doesn’t answer that for us, and we shouldn’t force it to do so.
I’m not going to suggest what you should do when a beggar asks for money. There are cultural difference between the modern homeless population and the desolate in Scripture. However, what is clear is that the Church is called to show compassion to those in need. It’s the kind of thing they devoted themselves to. Just as they cared for those within their community, they cared for those outside their community.
A crippled beggar meets a compassionate healer and becomes…
A Joyful Follower (7-10)
The fact that he was lame from birth serves to magnify the healing. Ankles never used to supporting his weight were immediately strengthened (v.7). You could imagine his legs are skin and bones. He’s the bodybuilder who skips leg days. There is an emphasis upon the man’s “leaping” (v.8). Complete healing emphasized (physical and spiritual). This is quite possibly the first time this man is entering into the temple courts. He is overwhelmed with joy leaping throughout the temple shouting his praise. He immediately joins them in praising God.
This healing transforms the beggar’s life. He no longer sits at the gate—he is ushered into the courts of the King. From this day forward, the man has a new purpose and a new passion. His healing mirrors salvation (4:12).
Vv.9-10 His praises drew the attention of “all the people.” The people saw him, recognized him, and were amazed. The power Jesus used to heal people has now become active in the apostles. Miracles served to authenticate the authority of Jesus (Mark 2:10-11) and they serve the same purpose for the apostles here. The miracle results in people being “filled with wonder and amazement.”
In Luke 7:22, Jesus confirms his identity as the Messiah to John the Baptist, alluding to Isa. 35:5-6:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.”
This is a picture of Eden before the fall. Jesus had been healing the blind, the deaf, and the lame. Here we see this continuing through Peter. Later on, in Acts 14:8-18, we will see it in the ministry of Paul.
Christ’s first coming ushered in the beginning of God’s restoration of the world. Christ’s return will bring it to completion. The lame leaping for joy signals the arrival of the last days. They provide us with a preview of eternity.
One reason we rejoice is because we have the promise that one day all physical disabilities will be gone. We will receive new bodies, ones that will never perish—or appear like their perishing! However, I think a greater reality is being pointed to. Dennis Johnson writes, “Astonishing as it is for a man of forty who has never walked to leap in the temple, the cure of hearts paralyzed in sin is even greater.”4
Physical miracles convey spiritual truths (Jn. 11:25-26). It is a picture of salvation. Just as Peter gave the impossible command for this crippled man to “Rise up and walk,” sinners are commanded to “Repent and believe!” Derek Thomas adds, “We are spiritually in the position that the lame man was in physically: if this lame man was going to be healed, someone other than himself must do it.”5
Our spiritual need can only be met by the compassionate healing of our God…
We find several other examples of God’s compassion in Scripture. He showed compassion to Nineveh by sending Jonah there. He showed compassion to Ruth and Naomi through Boaz, their kinsman redeemer.
On the other hand, we see examples in Scripture where the righteous endure great suffering. The examples of Joseph, Job, and Daniel immediately come to mind. Where was God’s compassion upon their suffering?
I don’t know where your story fits in. Maybe you can relate a little to both examples. Either way, here’s what we all need to hear: Compassion doesn’t always mean temporal alleviation, but it should always involve the offer of eternal joy.
Do you know the hope of that promise? All of the dangers and problems that surround us will be finally dealt with in a comprehensive and entirely just manner. As much as we look forward to our physical restoration at the resurrection, the far greater purpose is the fact that people are being ushered into the Kingdom of God.
Sickness is the result of sin. The elimination of sickness points to the superior reality that sin will be no more! As much as we long to be free from pain, we should long even more to be free from the power and penalty of sin. Our hope is not temporal healing, but eternal healing (Acts 3:21; Rom. 8:22-25).
This is your opportunity to repent and believe. It is an impossible command apart from the mercy of God in your life. But it is freely offered to all who will receive it.
1 Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts, 28.
2 Derek Thomas, Acts, 69.
3 Darrell Bock, Acts, 164.
4 Dennis Johnson, The Message of Acts, 65.
5 Derek Thomas, Acts, 75.