Healings occur frequently in the New Testament. They testify both to the power and compassion of God. Acts 3 describes the first healing after Jesus’ resurrection: Peter and John’s healing of the lame man at the temple and the speech Peter gave immediately afterward.
The same people who hated Jesus hated Peter and John for this deliberate act of subversion. It’s easy for us to understand its life-changing impact on the beggar. It’s less easy to notice it’s meaning in the life of the church.
The early church and the temple
Acts 3 says that Peter and John were going up to the temple at about 3:00 in the afternoon. They literally had to go up. The temple sat on a hill, far above the rest of the city. There, priests offered sacrifices morning and evening. Nowadays, we don’t think of evening as starting that early, but that’s about the time of the evening sacrifice. Pious Jews would gather to witness it and pray.
Peter and John knew that God had provided a permanent sacrifice in Jesus Christ. Since Jesus’ resurrection, the traditional animal sacrifices were no longer necessary. But at the time, all of Jesus’ followers were pious Jews. They all did what pious Jews did. They all participated in the life of the temple.
Therefore, Peter and John went up to the temple that day not to take part in the sacrifice but for the time of prayer. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they deliberately tried to show up late. They may well have planned to witness the sacrifice, but only the time of prayer meant anything to them.
Now, the gate was called Beautiful, but not officially named Beautiful. So which of several temple gates does the story describe? Scholars have proposed three different gates. We don’t know exactly which one.
At the same time, some men were carrying a man who had been lame from birth so he could sit at the Beautiful Gate and beg. When thinking of the healing of the lame man, it’s easy to assume that he had been sitting there a long time when Peter and John walked past. That’s not what the text says. And it’s not the only time that we easily form a mental picture that’s not quite what the Bible describes.
The Holy Spirit surely made sure Peter and John noticed the beggar’s arrival and knew what he wanted them to do about it.
The life story of the lame man
Acts 3:2 says the man had been lame from birth. Acts 4:22 says he was older than 40. Why was he being taken to a particular gate at the temple at that time?
I can only speculate, but I suppose he begged at more than one place in Jerusalem. There would not be a steady stream of traffic in and out of the Beautiful Gate. It would peak when something, such as the evening sacrifice, was happening. There may have been any number of better places at other times of the day.
Only part of Jesus’ earthly ministry took place in Jerusalem, but he visited there several times and spent as much as a week there every time. He frequently went to the temple. He must have just as frequently walked along all of the busiest streets. Therefore, he must have seen this particular beggar on more than one occasion. And, of course, didn’t heal him.
Did the lame man know who Jesus was? Would he have recognized Peter and John as having been with Jesus? Your guess is as good as mine. On this particular day, he looked at the crowd of people as he always had, scanning faces to see who might stop and help him. And he begged those people for alms.
The healing of the lame man
He saw Peter and John. They saw him.
Peter said to him, “Look at us.” The beggar looked with the expectation of receiving. Years later, Paul was preaching and noticed that a particular man had faith to be healed. But we don’t see anything of the kind with this man. Jesus healed only one person in Jerusalem. There’s no reason to suppose this man even knew about it.
So he looked at Peter and John with faith to receive some pocket change and extended his hand to receive it.
Peter’s strange confessions
And Peter immediately said that he didn’t have any money!
Now, the church historically had too great a fascination with poverty. According to Acts 2:44, believers sold property for the common good. All those people gave the proceeds of their sales to the disciples in general. We see Ananias and Sapphira bringing money specifically to Peter in a later chapter. He must have received other donations, too.
Peter and John had that money, but it wasn’t their money. It was the church’s. They didn’t have any of it with them. They didn’t have any of their own personal cash with them, either.
We mustn’t imagine the beggar being shocked at that statement, or at least not for long. Peter immediately said he’d give the lame man something else. Then, he commanded, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
Jesus, a man’s name. Christ, his title. Nazareth, an identifier of a specific Jesus. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? A man whose parentage was suspect and who never asserted he had been born in Bethlehem. Peter identified a country bumpkin from Galilee as the awaited Messiah.
Now remember. The beggar had no faith to be healed. When Jesus healed someone, he often gave some kind of order: stretch out your hand, or take up your bed, or go to a pool to wash your eyes. It was always something they couldn’t have done without exercising faith.
The healing of the lame man by the power of the faith of Peter and John
But Peter and John didn’t give the lame man the opportunity to show faith. They seized his outstretched hand. Luke the physician, author of Acts, immediately provides a clinical description of the strengthening of the beggar’s feet and ankles.
He not only walked, he leapt about. He praised God for the miracle. The next thing we know, he, Peter, John, and a crowd of excited people are in Solomon’s porch.
Since we don’t know which gate they had been at, we don’t know how far they walked to get there. But lots of people recognized the familiar beggar and saw that he was healed. They were filled with wonder and amazement.
And here’s where the healing becomes subversive.
After the day of Pentecost, we find
They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. Fear came to every soul. And many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common. They sold their property and goods and distributed them to all, according to their need. And continuing daily with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47 MEV
The first recorded miracle during this time announced that the church would continue to confront the Jewish religious establishment as Jesus had. It would continue to do so with healings, miracles, and preaching. And it would insist on proclaiming that an executed rabble rouser was the promised Messiah.
Peter asked the crowd why they marveled at the healing of the lame man. He pointed out that he and John had not done anything by their own power or piety. (Some modern healing evangelists should take note!) The God of their fathers had done so to glorify his Son Jesus.
God raised this Jesus from the dead. It was faith in Jesus’ name that healed the lame beggar.
Perhaps some in that crowd had been part of the mob that demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. And Pilate had wanted to release him, but they asked for Barabbas’ release instead.
In any case, those who sought Jesus’ death acted in ignorance, but, as Peter pointed out, Moses had predicted a prophet like him.
The prophets had foretold a suffering Messiah. And God promised Abraham a descendant who would bless all the families on Earth. Peter himself wouldn’t understand the implication of that truth until he met Cornelius in Acts 10.
The reference to Samuel in verse 24 is puzzling today. Nothing in Scripture seems to point to a Messiah in anything he said. On the other hand, the Pharisees had long taught from an oral tradition. Perhaps that tradition had words of Samuel regarding the Messiah.
But Peter was speaking in the temple, the power base of the Sadducees. They denied the validity not only of any oral tradition but even the reality of resurrection. Here stood the follower of someone they had executed subversively claiming that convict’s resurrection. And proclaiming that whoever wouldn’t hear Moses would be cut off from God’s people.
The Sadducees quickly made their displeasure known in Acts 4. Not that Peter and John cared much.
The early growth of the church
The healing of the lame man not only drew an official rebuke but also contributed to the growth of the church.
Now Acts 4:4 says that the number of believers grew to about 5,000. It doesn’t say that 5,000 men at the temple became believers after the miracle and preaching. Or even that Peter preached and got 2,000 new converts to bring the total membership up to 5,000 men. I have seen both of these claims and believe they read into the text more than is there.
Acts 2:47 says that the Lord added church members daily. Acts 3-4 record one key incident that contributed to the growth of the church. But let’s not forget that twelve apostles ministered around town in ways that Scripture doesn’t record. Like Peter, they defied religious authorities in the process. God rewarded all their acts of subversion with the growth of the church in both numbers and influence.
The healing of the lame man may not have nearly doubled the size of the church by itself, but it was a noteworthy event in the remarkable growth of an institution that overwhelmed the Roman Empire.