MVMT 03: The miracle and the message

Acts 3:1-26

Acts 3:1-10 – Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

I love this text. I especially love the line, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” What a powerful line. Every time I read this text, I am reminded of a story I heard many years ago. There is a church in America that has many college students. When the school is in session, the attendance of the church triples. That’s exciting. But here is the not exciting part. The pastor of the church says that although the attendance tripled, the offering only increased by about seventeen dollars a week. Why? Because most college students are broke. On one occasion a college student put a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit into the offering bucket with a little note, “Silver and gold I have none, but such as I have, I give unto you!” I thought that was funny. But please do not come to church next week and put your vegemite sandwich on the offering box with a little note, “I have no silver and gold….” That is not the correct application of this text. It is funny when it happens to another pastor, but it is not funny when it happens to me.

This text is the story of the first miracle we see in the book of Acts. At the end of Acts chapter 2, Luke tells us that many signs and wonders were done through the apostles. So, the apostles, empowered by the Holy Spirit, performed many miracles and people were being saved day by day. But now in Acts chapter 3, Luke decided to zoom in on one miracle. It is a miracle of a man lame from birth who received physical healing. Why did Luke choose to zoom in on this one particular miracle? I think there are two reasons. First, Luke is a physician himself. As a doctor, he understands the impossibility of what is happening in this text more than anyone. How can someone who was lame from birth walks and leaps? It does not make any sense at all to him as a professional physician. That is why it is a miracle. And second, many scholars say that if you understand the miracle in Acts 3, in a way, you understand all miracles. This miracle tells you the primary message behind every miracle. As we look at what happens in this story, we will discover the message behind miracles and how we should think about miracles today. In particular, I want to answer the question, “Should we expect to see miracles today?” Or if I can get more specific, “Does God still perform miraculous physical healing today?” In a sense, today is Titik Temu 3, but without the other two pastors. So, you have no choice but to believe what I say. But before we go there, it is important that we define the word miracle properly.

The word miracle is one that is used very loosely today. Let me give you a few examples. Let’s say that you go into a mall on boxing day and you pray, asking God to give you a parking spot. And the moment you drive into the parking lot, there is one open spot just for you. You would say, “Wow, that’s a miracle.” Or let’s say you have a really hard exam and you are not sure if you will be able to do well on the exam. You tell that to your MC and they pray for you. A week later, the result comes out and you get a high distinction. You would say, “Wow, that’s a miracle.” You know those annoying people right? They keep saying that they didn’t do well on their exams, only to get a distinction or high distinction. Yeah, I am one of them. What about this one. Let’s say that you have to pay the bill tomorrow and you are running extremely short on money. You have no idea how you are going to pay for it. You pray to God and you go to sleep. The next morning you wake up and you find that someone just transferred the exact amount to the dollar to your account. You have no idea where it is from. You would say, “Wow, that’s a miracle.” But that is not the right definition of a miracle. All the instances I mentioned are not miracles but providences. Let me give you the definition of providence according to Westminster catechism. “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.” So, providence is the way God cares and preserves all of us in our daily life. God is always active and present in governing every little thing that happens in our life. He is never absent. Those beautiful experiences are reminders that God is always present.

However, a miracle is different. Let me give you a definition of a miracle from Max Turner. “Miracle is an extraordinary or startling observable event; it cannot reasonably be explained in terms of human abilities or other known forces in the world; it is perceived as a direct act of God.” Can you see the difference? So, in my case, when I get healed from leukaemia through chemotherapy, is it God’s providential care or is it a miracle? How many think its providence? How many think its miracle? I believe with all my heart that it is God who healed me. But it is not a miracle, technically speaking. It is God’s providential care. God uses the professors, the nurses, the chemotherapy to bring about my healing. But let’s say that someone prayed for me and I got healed from my leukaemia just like that. That is a miracle. Can you see the difference? We need to differentiate between providence and miracle. Because the question is not whether or not God is still present and active in taking care of his creation today. All good Christians believe that. The question is whether or not God still performs miracles today, especially like physical healing as we see in this story. And if he does, why don’t we much of it happening today? Let’s get into the text.

The miracle

So, one day Peter and John are going up to the temple to pray at 3 in the afternoon. And as they are about to enter the temple, they see a man who is lame from birth asking for money at the gate. I love the name of the gate. The Beautiful Gate. Maybe we should rename the front door our church, the Gorgeous Door. Later we find out that this lame man is over 40 years old. Why is he asking for money in front of the temple? First, he is a social outcast. A lame person is not allowed to enter the inner part of the temple. Second, this man is extremely needy. He cannot do anything on his own. Even to be where he is, he needs others to carry him there. His life is highly dependent on the generosity of others. And what is the best place for you to ask for money from others? In front of the temple. Why? Because the Jews see almsgiving as a meritorious act. Taking care of the poor is one of the commands that is emphasized throughout the Scriptures. So, when people come to the temple to pray, they are more incline to give. There were a couple of times that a homeless person came to our church, asking for money. And of course, whenever that happened, I got called out. And you know what happened next. “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have in my wallet, I give to you. Here is $20.” Right? This lame man greatest need is money. He spent most of his life asking for money from others. He does that for day after day, month after month, year after year. And this particular day is no different. He probably sits where he always sits in front of the Beautiful Gate. He does not expect anything different. All he could hope for is for people to show kindness and generosity toward him. But God is about to give him far more than he ever expected.

So, Peter and John show up at the temple and when the lame man sees them, he asks them for money. Now, this is probably not the first time Peter and John see this man. They have walked past him a lot. Peter probably say to John, “Ah, it’s the usual guy. John, do you have some change? I don’t have any money on me.” But John is broke as well. They are probably still in college. But then Peter says to him, “Look at us.” How many of you realize that this is awkward? It is not awkward when I preach in front of many people and say, “Look at me.” But if I am having coffee with you and I say, “Look at me. No, not there. Look right at me.” That’s awkward. Peter wants this man full attention. Now, if you were the lame man, what would you think? “Today is my lucky day. I’m going to get a lot of money.” Right? This man does not ask for healing. All he wants is money to buy food. So, he fixes his attention on Peter and John, expecting to get some cash. But Peter says, “I have no silver and gold…” And the lame man probably thinks, “Wait. That’s disappointing. You want me to look at you, but you have no money to give? Are you serious?” But Peter is not finish. Peter continues to say, “I might not have what you think you need, but I have what you truly need. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” This is absurd! Peter is commanding a man lame from birth, a man who has never used his feet for more than 40 years, to get up and walk. I am sure the lame man is puzzled at this time. “Did I hear him right? Did he just tell me to get up and walk? Is he making fun of me? I’ve been wanting to walk for more than 40 years. I’ve tried again and again but every time I tried, I fell to the ground constantly. It is impossible for me to walk. And now, he said what? He doesn’t have money to give but he tells me to rise up and walk? Are you kidding?”

And while the lame man is confused, Peter grabs him and raises him. And suddenly the unexplainable happens. The text tells us that immediately the feet and the ankles of the lame man are made strong. This is supernatural. I remember when I dislocated my knee, it took months for me to get better. I had to go to physio once or twice a week and I had to do lots of training to strengthen my knee. It was painful. And this man had never walked his entire life. There is no strength whatsoever in his feet and ankles. For you to be able to use your feet probably, you need to train them. Just like a baby. A baby needs to learn how to walk slowly. There is a step by step process to it. You don’t learn how to walk overnight. You must train your feet to walk. Luke understands this. He is a physician. But at Peter’s words, immediately the feet and ankles of this man are strengthened. The man who is lame from birth suddenly finds himself walking. And not only walking, but he is also leaping. He is overjoyed. And Luke does not want you to miss the point. He repeats the fact that this lame man is walking three times in two verses. And the man is praising God because of it. The unexplainable happened. This is a miracle.

When all the people see this man walking and praising God, they realized, “Wait, isn’t that the lame man who always sit at the Beautiful gate, asking for money? What happened to him? How is it possible that he is now walking and leaping in front of our eyes?” And they are filled with wonder and amazement. So now the crowds gather around this man. And the man is clinging to Peter and John. So, Peter and John are surrounded by crowds who find it hard to believe what they witness with their own eyes. And Peter is not going to miss this wonderful opportunity. Do you know what Peter does? He preaches to the crowd. The miracle attracts the crowd but that is not enough. Because the message is more important than the miracle. You can receive miraculous healing, but it is useless unless you also receive the message of the miracle. Because more than temporary physical healing, what you need first and foremost is eternal healing.

The message

So, what is the message of miracles? There are three messages. First, miracles point to Jesus. Acts 3:11-16 – 11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.

When the crowds look at Peter with amazement, Peter says, “Why are you staring at me? It ain’t me. I can’t do this. I don’t have the power to do it. And It is not witchcraft. It is Jesus who does it. It is the same Jesus whom you rejected and killed. It is in his name that this man is healed.” Do you see what happened? This is consistent with the work of the Holy Spirit that we learned a few weeks ago. The Holy Spirit glorifies Christ. It is not the healer who received glory but Christ. Yes, it is Peter’s mouth and hand that God used to perform a miracle, but it is Christ who healed the man. It is faith in Jesus’ name that healed the lame man. The purpose of miracles is ultimately to point you to Jesus. This is very different from what we see today. If I was Peter, I would probably put this man’s testimony on my healing website. And I would call myself, “the man who healed a man lame from birth.” And I would put in my name card, “Immediate healer with 99% success rate.” But Peter understands that miracles are not about the means of miracles but the God of miracles. Miracles point to Jesus.

It gets even better. Look at verse 16 again. Acts 3:16 –  And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all. When Peter says, “by faith in his name,” whose faith is he referring to? Let me tell you the wrong answer. The lame man. It cannot be his faith as he did not have faith in Jesus at first. All he wanted was money, not healing. This exposes the lie of many prosperity preachers. Many prosperity preachers often say that the reason that you are not healed is because you do not have enough faith. Therefore, you need to believe more. If you do not receive what you ask, the problem is with your lack of faith. But that is not true. I am not saying that you do not need to have faith for you to experience a miracle. The Bible has many examples where Jesus did not perform many miracles due to lack of faith. But I am saying that Jesus is not limited by your faith. Listen carefully. Miracle does not need the right formula; it needs the right name. The name of Jesus is the powerful agent of miracles. The name of Jesus is extremely powerful that it can create faith where there is no faith. Jesus is on the throne and he has all the power and authority to perform miracle anytime he pleases. And by performing this miracle in Jesus’ name, Peter is saying that the message he is preaching is not his message but Jesus’ message. Just as Jesus’ miracles were done to accredit him before the people, every miracle continues to be done to point people to who Jesus is. John Piper puts it this way. “The wonder attracts the crowd to hear the word and the wonder attests to the living truth of the exalted Jesus in the word.” Miracles are a wonderful pointer to who Jesus is.

Which leads us to this question. “Does God still miraculously heal today?” My answer is yes. There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that God has stopped. I believe that the same name that had the power to miraculously heal 2000 years ago still has the power to miraculously heal today. Which lead to another question. “Should we expect miraculous healing to be our everyday norm?” Yes and no. Let me explain. Yes, God still heals, and we should expect him to continue to do so. But even though miraculous gifts still continue, there is something unique about the ministry of the apostles that is not repeatable today. The book of Acts is unique as it marks the transition between the era of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And the people need to know that the message that the apostles are preaching is not their message but Jesus’ message. And that’s what miracles prove. Miracles prove that the apostle’s ministry is Jesus’s ministry and the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ Spirit. Miracles authenticated that the message of the apostles is the message of Jesus. It is like a divine signature that cannot be forged. So, God empowered the apostles with these supernatural gifts to authenticate the fact that he is speaking through them. All my cessationist friends would say “Amen” at this point. However, it does not mean that God does not heal miraculously anymore. Here is where I disagree with cessationist. So, yes to the uniqueness of apostolic miracles, but no to the cessation of miracles. It is clear that the New Testament churches expected the gifts of healings to continue. (eg: 1 Corinthians 12; James 5). Miracles did authenticate the message of the apostles, but it is not the only purpose of miracles. New Testament teaches us that miracles, or to be more specific, the gifts of the Spirit, including the gift of healing, are given for the common good of the church. And these gifts will continue until the church reaches complete maturity, which is when Jesus returns for the second time. So until then, God still miraculously heals, and we should pray and ask God for healing, but we should not expect Acts 3 to be our everyday norm. Remember this. Healing is not a formula; it is God’s sovereign gift. If God leads you to pray for someone in a wheelchair, go for it. But don’t go to a mall and find someone in a wheelchair and randomly command them to rise and walk, thinking, “If Peter did it, I can always do it.” You’ll get sent to a mental hospital.

Another reason why we should not expect Acts 3 to be an everyday occasion is because of God’s common grace in the advancement of medicine. The word common grace means grace that God pours out on everyone and not just believers. For example, rain. God sends rain for both the believers and unbelievers. Medicine is also part of God’s common grace. I am extremely grateful for God’s common grace in the form of chemotherapy. It is what God used to heal me from cancer. Hear me. Believing in the miraculous gift of healing does not replace the need for normal medical procedures. I have heard many bizarre stories of how people refused to receive normal medical treatment because they believe that God would heal them supernaturally. And they died because of it. Luke would not condone that. Remember, Luke is a doctor. He helps people with both medicine and prayer. So, with the advancement of the common grace of medicine, there is less need for the supernatural grace of healing. But besides these reasons, the message of miracle is far greater than simply about physical healing.

Second, miracles point to the deepest problem. As bad as physical sickness is, there is something far worse. It is a spiritual sickness. When the lame man looks at Peter, all he hopes for is some cash, silver and gold. But Peter replies, “I don’t have what you are looking for. But I have something better. I have what you truly need. What you are looking for from me is not enough. What you need is not money. You need something more. And I am going to give you what you truly need.” And eventually, we find out in chapter 4 that this man becomes a believer. This man not only receives physical healing but also salvation. And this is what this man truly needs.

This reminds me of the story when Jesus heals a paralytic man. In Luke 4, a group of friends brought a paralytic man to Jesus for Jesus to heal him. Remember what Jesus does? Jesus walks up to him and says, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Wait. What? Try to put yourself in the shoes of this paralytic man. “Err, thanks, I guess? With all due respect, I think you are missing the point here Jesus. My friends did not carry me here for me to be forgiven of my sins. Well, I guess forgiveness from sins is good but that’s not why I am here. Can’t you see? I am paralysed. I can’t walk and move. What I need is not forgiveness from sins. What I need is for you to make me able to walk.” But do you see what Jesus is truly saying? Jesus is not saying that physical healing is not important. Jesus ends up healing the paralytic. But what Jesus is saying that there is something deeper that you need than what you think you need. Physical healing is not enough. Silver and gold are not enough. What you need above all is a relationship with God. And for you to have that relationship with God, you need forgiveness from sins. As bad as your sickness is, it is not your primary problem; sin is. And what you need more than physical healing is to have your sins forgiven so that you can have a right relationship with God.

Every miracle is a parable to our greatest need. A lot of time, we think what we need to be happy are silver and gold. We think what need to be happy is for us to be able to walk. “If only I can walk… If only I can marry that person… If only I can have that job… If only I can have a child….” All of us have something superficial that we say, “If only I have that, then I’ll be happy.” But Jesus is telling us that having that thing will not make us happy. Let me prove it to you. The lame man probably thinks that if only he can have silver and gold, or maybe if he can walk then he will be happy. Let me ask you a question. How many of you can walk and still feel unhappy about life? So, we know that walking does not equate to happiness. We need something more, something deeper, than what we think we need. We need a relationship with God. God is the only one that can satisfy our greatest need.

That is why when the crowds gather around Peter and John, Peter does not use this opportunity to do a healing crusade. He could have. “Bring all the sick people to me and God will heal them all.” That is not what’s happening. Do you know what Peter does? He preaches the gospel to the crowds. He says to them, “You have sinned against God. You have killed Jesus who healed this man.” Then he continues. Acts 3:17-21 – 17 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

Peter calls the crowd to repent. Turn back from sins and turn to God. It is the only way they can receive forgiveness from sins. Miracles point us to our need for repentance. But here is the problem. We are unable to repent on our own. Our natural hearts are inclined toward sin and we rejected Jesus. Just like the man is lame physically, we are lame spiritually. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. If we are going to be healed, someone else needs to do it for us. And the good news for us is that Jesus has entered the sinful world to heal us from our sins. And this is the greatest miracle of all. That Jesus, the author of life, the one with all the power, made himself weak. The infinite God made himself killable. He has the strength to kill us, but he was killed for us. He took on the punishment of our sins upon himself. He died and he was resurrected. And now he is sitting on his throne with all power and authority. And he is saying to you and me, “Your sins have been forgiven. Rise up and walk!” And when we hear his words, immediately faith rises up. Supernatural strength enters our sinful heart and makes it new. The words of Christ create faith in our hearts. Our hearts see Jesus and believe in him. And the moment we believe in him, all our sins are blotted out. We are forgiven from all our sins and we have a relationship with God. And this is the greatest miracle that we truly need. But this is not the end.

Third, miracles point to the future. Every commentary I read notes that this miracle is a foretaste of what God will do in the future. The world that we lived in right now is not the world that God originally created. In the beginning, everything was good. There was no sickness nor pain. But sin entered the world and corrupted God’s good creation. That is why the world that we lived in right now is filled with pain and suffering. But that is not the end of the story. When Jesus died at the cross, he not only purchased our forgiveness, but he also purchased the restoration of all things. There will come a day where there will be no pain and suffering. And the healing of this lame man is the foretaste of that future. Listen to what Isaiah said. Isaiah 36:4-7 – Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” 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; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

The lame man leaps like a deer. This is what we see in Acts 3. However, we have yet to see the grand fulfilment of Isaiah 36. That day is yet to come. From the day of Pentecost until the day Jesus returns, we enter a new era, which the Bible describes as the last days. And in these last days, miracles function as an anticipation for the future glory. It does not mean that everyone who is sick will be healed now. There were other lame people in Jerusalem that day, but Peter only healed one. Miracles are not fulfilment but a sign of the full restoration we will have in the future. Today, we still have many lame people. But what miracles do is it points us toward a day where there will be no more lame people. For those who experienced disabilities right now, there is a promise of the new heaven and earth where you will have a new resurrection body. Where the blind will see, and the lame will leap for joy. This is the purpose of miracles. Miracles in the New Testament are not simply a demonstration of God’s power. All miracles are pointer toward the new heaven and earth.

So, should we go out there and pray for the sick to receive healing? Definitely. We can go and pray for the sick with massive confidence that Jesus has all the power and authority to heal the sick. 2000 years ago, there was a name that when it was proclaimed, people were saved, people were healed, and lives were changed. People who hated Christ became lovers of Christ. And the name is still as powerful today as it was two thousand years ago. There is power in the name of Jesus. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And today, you and I are Jesus’ hands and feet. The Holy Spirit is living in us and working through us do to the works of Jesus. Jesus can work through us as he worked through Peter. So, we should be bold in believing and trusting God to do miracles. Does that mean that everyone we pray for will be healed? No. Because miracles are simply pointer and not fulfilment. The day of full restoration has yet to come. There will be people who will not experience healing in this lifetime. Here is what we must get. Sometimes Christ exalts himself by making sick people get well and sometimes Christ exalts himself by enabling sick people die well.

Let me close with the story of Joni Eareckson Tada. If you don’t know who she is, she is a famous Christian author. She broke her neck as a teenager in a diving accident and she is paralyzed from her neck below. She is now in her 70’s. She experienced pains and sufferings that we can’t even begin to imagine. But she writes that she hopes that one day she can take her wheelchair to heaven. With a new glorified body, she will stand up with new legs from her wheelchair and she will stand next to the Lord Jesus. She will feel those nail prints in his hands, and she will thank Jesus for dying and saving her. And then she will say, “Lord Jesus, do you see that wheelchair over there? Well, you were right. When you put me in it, it was a lot of trouble. But the weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on you. And the harder I leaned on you, the stronger I discovered you to be. I do not think I would ever have known the glory of your grace were it not for the weakness of that wheelchair. So, thank you Lord Jesus, for that… Now, if you like, you can send that thing off to hell.” Sometimes, God has a bigger purpose to accomplish than giving us physical healing. Sometimes he allows us to know him more through the pain we experienced. And sometimes he uses our suffering to let others see the beauty and the worth of the gospel. So, what is our role? Our role is to trust him. Move in the power of the Holy Spirit. Ask God to do miracles. And trust him with the results.

Discussion questions:

  1. Explain the difference between providences and miracles. Give examples.
  2. When you first read the story, what impression comes to your mind? Share it with others.
  3. Look at the three meanings of miracles. Which one stands out the most for you? Why?
  4. What is the greatest miracle and why is it the greatest?
  5. Why is it important for us not to neglect God’s common grace in the light of God’s supernatural gifts?
  6. Spend time to pray for one another. If there is anyone in need of miracles in your small groups, pray and believe that God is able to perform miracles.
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