Summary: How do you respond when God disrupts what you expected would be another average day?
Just out of curiosity, how many of you think you’ve ever seen or experienced a miracle, something you can’t fully explain, something you still wonder about or marvel at when you think back on it, something that just doesn’t make sense if you try to explain it logically?
How many of you have ever felt a nudge in your soul or your spirit, a strong sense that you needed to do or say something or not do or say something? How many of you feel like God has directed you personally?
This morning we’re going to see both of those things happen. We’re going to see someone experience a miracle, because someone else responded to a nudge. And we’ll see that God was behind it all as the great initiator. Whether we realize it or not, God is at work in the world performing miracles and guiding our lives, often in unexpected and unforeseen ways because He has a plan, He has a purpose, and He’s unfolding it in His way, for His reasons, on His schedule, but for our good.
We pick things up here in Acts 3and we read
Acts 3:1 Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour (3PM). 2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb (he’s forty years old) was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms (money or material goods given to the poor) from those who entered the temple;
Now, you need to know, the temple wasn’t just a single building. It was a complex about 500 yards long divided into various courts with increasingly stringent requirements for entry starting with the court of the Gentiles on the outside where just about anyone could come and then narrowing down all the way to the Holy of Holies which only the High Priest could enter, and even then he could only enter once a year on the Day of Atonement.
The Beautiful Gate – was one of nine gates inside the Temple complex. It was called Beautiful because of its incredible craftsmanship, which was overlaid with Corinthian bronze. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, said it, “far exceeded in value those gates plated with silver and set in gold.” And it was so heavy that it took at least 20 men to open and shut it each day.
So, this is where the man is set to beg for alms, this is his spot and
3 who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. 4 And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” 5 So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” 7 And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8 So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement (Wuest: completely flabbergasted) at what had happened to him.
If you’re taking notes this morning, I want to show you that the miracle was a surprise, the miracle was unique, but the miracle wasn’t really the point, and then see what we can learn from it all.
So, first, the miracle was a surprise. Peter and John had no clue this was going to happen today, they weren’t praying about it, God just nudged them right then and there in the moment. The lame man had no idea this was going to happen today. He asked for some alms, that’s what he expected to receive, but he wound up walking home that night for the first time in his life because God decided this is the moment, now is the time to do something spectacular.
Here’s what we need to learn from all of this: God is the great initiator.
Ps 115:3 (CSB) Our God is in heaven
and does whatever he pleases.
He is sovereign. He has His own plans, His own purposes, and His own timing.
Think about this – the man was crippled from birth. He’s now over 40 years old. Every day people carry him out and set him down to receive alms by begging. Here’s a guy with a tough life, there’s no Medicare, no social security, no health insurance. There’s no Americans with Disabilities Act shaping the building codes in Ancient Jerusalem – there were no wheelchairs, no little buttons to hit that automatically open the door for you, no special parking for your chariot near the front door of all the stores. And I’m not mocking those things, I’m just saying this guy had none of them – he had a hard life, a very hard life, and he depended on the charity of other people.
He was begging for alms from people going in and out of the temple like any other day when he happened to ask for alms from two of the disciples. And for some reason, all the sudden, Peter knew he was supposed to do something more.
Now, you know what I feel like is missing from the story here? Peter’s point of view. I want to know – how did he know he was supposed to do this? This was a big deal, and if he was wrong, if it didn’t work, this was going to be a spectacular and very public failure. How did he know he was supposed to do it?
Well, the text doesn’t say anything. But I suspect what happened to him is the same thing that happens to you and me – we get this nudge from God. This sense that He wants us to do something, or say something. And then he – and we – have to decide, will I go along with that or not? Will we talk ourselves out of it? Rationalize and excuse our way out? Or, will we take a step of faith, a step of obedience, and make ourselves increasingly available to God?
Again, how many of you have had that experience – now, you probably didn’t heal a lame man, but how many of you have sensed God nudging you and you went along with it, and then you saw the outcome and you knew – yes! – that really was God leading me!
Well, that’s what happened with Peter here – instead of giving the man the money he was looking for, God used Peter to miraculously give the man the ability to use the legs he had never walked on.
Atrophied muscle suddenly reformed. Blood flow was rerouted. Bone, flesh, and ligament suddenly changed at the cellular level. Neurological changes occurred as someone who never learned to walk, run, or jump suddenly began leaping and his brain sent out all the right signals to keep his body erect and balanced.
He was expecting to receive alms, but instead he received an extraordinary gift that meant he would never have to ask for alms again. He could do things for himself now that he had never done before. He could go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He could get a job instead of begging; he could do nearly anything.
And here’s the really beautiful, really important part: it wasn’t because he had done anything special.
It wasn’t like he finally completed some quest and now he had all the right materials to go before God and ask for healing. It wasn’t like Peter and John and finally worked up to this moment by doing a bunch of lesser miracles. It wasn’t like they have finally earned enough experience points to tackle the big challenge or that they were wearing their special enchanted tunics today. No. No one earned this moment by getting worked up or by being particularly holy. It was a surprise, a special gift from a sovereign God.
But truthfully, that’s good news and bad news at the same time. Because when we need a miracle, we often just want to know the price tag – what’s this going to cost me God? Do I need to fast for three days? Five days? A whole month of Ramadan or Lent? Do you want me to do a bunch of good deeds? Give enough money to the church or charity? What’s the recipe here God? What’s the equation? What’s the price? You know what I want, now what’s it going to cost? Let’s make a deal.
Friends, the bad news is: God doesn’t work that way. But that’s the good news too: God doesn’t work that way. He’s not selling you forgiveness, He’s not selling you healing, He’s not selling you miracles. He’s a God of grace. But it’s His grace, in His timing, and often, it’s a surprise to us when it shows up or breaks through.
Next week we’ll see Peter tell everyone – ‘don’t look us, as though we did this by our own power or godliness. This work was done in the name of Jesus Christ.’ Peter knows it’s not him, he knows it’s not John, he knows it’s not even the man who was healed.
And friends, that’s good news. Because it means there’s no pressure on you. Can you imagine if it was the other way around, if it was your responsibility to be able to earn or work miracles like this? Then whenever something didn’t happen you’d be wondering – am I just not godly enough? Or you would think, “Oops I just sinned, I hope no one needs prayer this week.”
Look, that’s a terrible way to live. And yet, that’s exactly how some people do live. They think the reason they haven’t received their breakthrough is because they haven’t prayed enough, or had enough faith, or rebuked the devil with enough authority, or avoided enough sin.
Friends, that’s not what we see here in Scripture. Instead, we see the Spirit of God coming upon Peter in a spectacular, unusual way, to accomplish God’s purpose in this man’s life right now. The God who spoke the world into existence just spoke this man’s healing through the lips of Peter. And it was as simple as that. No formula, no price, no pattern. The miracle didn’t depend on the men, and that’s good news.
Now, having said all of that, there is something we can learn something from this beggar. The miracle was a surprise, but the man had a habit of depending on God.
He was begging at the Temple gate. He was dwelling in the house of the Lord. He had not allowed his circumstances to make him bitter and perhaps it is because he was not bitter that God choose to make him better.
When things go rough in life many people feel like God has let them down, as though God owes us some kind of perpetual peace and happiness. This guy accepted his situation and still drew near to the house of God and it was there that he met God in a radical way.
So may I encourage you: if life gets tough, don’t turn away from God – draw even nearer to Him because you aren’t going to find what you need anywhere else.
Even if you don’t feel like it, even if it seems you aren’t getting something out of it, you still derive benefit from ‘going through the motions’ in the dry times. Because when you come to worship you encounter other believers who are also coming to worship. And often times, God will use them to work in your life, just like he used Peter and John with this man.
And if you really want to be made well, but all you seem to be getting is alms, well, praise God for the alms and keep depending on God – He is worthy and He knows what He’s doing.
But let’s be honest, that’s hard to accept at times, isn’t it? Which brings us to our second point: the miracle was a surprise, but the miracle was also unusual.
It was unusual then and it’s still unusual today – that’s kind of bound up in the meaning of a miracle, isn’t it?
You see, there’s no evidence Peter began a beggar healing ministry after this. It’s likely there were other beggars there that day, but Peter doesn’t turn around and start healing all of them.
We know this man was here at the Gate on an almost daily basis but he wasn’t healed the day before, or the day before that. How many times had Peter and John walked past this man? Jesus came to the Temple several times. Did He ever walk through the Beautiful Gate and walk past this man begging? Probably. And yet, even Jesus never healed him before this moment. Miracles are unusual.
But we can read a section of Scripture like this and say – well, God healed a man, that’s amazing. And, we know that God never changes. So, could God heal me? And the answer is, Yes. But will He? I don’t know. Does this mean that God is going to heal all of us? Now, that one I know the answer to, but it’s No.
I wish I had a better answer for you, but the truth is No, I cannot guarantee that God will miraculously heal you or your loved one. For reasons that only God knows, He chose to work in this mans life in this incredible way on this day. After 40 years of being handicapped, God delivered him. And God delivered only him, but none of the others that may have been around.
To be clear: God still does miracles. I once heard Chuck Smith tell the story of a family bringing their grandfather up to him in a wheel chair after the service. They asked him to pray for the man and while Chuck was praying he sensed God telling him to lift the man out of his wheel chair and so he did. And the man started walking up and down the aisles of the church. The family was dumbfounded because they were just hoping Chuck would pray for their dad’s cold.
So yes, we do see things like this happen sometimes. We see tumors reduce or disappear. We see babies show up unexpectedly to infertile couples. We see addictions suddenly broken with no withdrawal symptoms. We see wounds that heal. But these things are rare – they’re special. In more that 50 years of a large and widespread ministry, there was never another story of Chuck lifting someone out of their wheelchair.
And so we have this tension because the Bible is very clear – we should look to God for healing, and if nothing else, comfort in our suffering. We should expect divine healing. James is very clear in his instruction:
James 5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
OK, so that almost seems like a formula right? It almost seems like a recipe. But then you have the Apostle Paul, a righteous man, who prayed fervently, and he tells Timothy whom he viewed almost like an adopted son:
1 Timothy 5:23 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.
Well gee Paul, if you care so much about Timothy, why don’t you just anoint him with oil, pray for him, and let’s see God work a miracle of healing! But that’s not what happens. Paul had no guarantee of miraculous healing on demand. He even struggled with some sort of chronic illness himself and he said he prayed and prayed that God would take it away, that God would heal him, and God said, I’m not going to heal you, but I’ll be the source of your strength to endure it instead.
And so, there’s this tension. We need to look to God. We need to look to Him first, and look expectantly, but we also need to trust Him to do what is best, when it is best, and sometimes that might mean enduring our difficulties instead of being delivered from them.
I know that’s not the answer you want to hear, but if I’m working with Scripture it’s the best answer I have to give you. Miracles are surprising, and they’re unusual.
We are all going to suffer at some point, and all the people we love are going to suffer at some point. God is very clear about this. And He’s very clear about why – there is a real devil at work in the world. There are people who make choices that hurt us directly and indirectly. And sometimes, there are consequences to our own actions. All of these are reasons why we might hurt. But there’s also the fact that we live on a broken planet.
This man was born lame. It wasn’t his fault; it’s just what happened. Sometimes bad things happen on a world infected by sin. Sometimes people are born with defects. Sometimes syndromes and illnesses happen. They remind us that things are broken and that the world, and everyone on it needs fixing.
And that helps us understand why the miracle wasn’t really the point.
The miracle was actually just an attention getter. As much as I’m sure the man appreciated the miracle, the real point is what unfolds in the rest of the chapter and then over into chapter four.
Much like what happened at Pentecost, God makes a public spectacle, which attracts a crowd, remember, when
Acts 3:9 (cont’d) all the people saw him walking and praising God. 10 Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement (Wuest: completely flabbergasted) at what had happened to him.
So crowed gathers and Peter preaches the gospel – we’ll take a look at his sermon next week. And just like the church grew on Pentecost in a massive surge from 120 disciples to a megachurch of more than 3000, now the church will grow to over 5000 men not including women and children.
In other words, miracles support evangelism. We might pray for miracles because we want our pain to stop, but miracles almost always support evangelism.
Jesus told people plainly:
John 10:25 The works I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me.
John 14:8 Philip said to [Jesus], “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
The miracles Jesus worked in person, and the miracles God works through His disciples today are intended to get people’s attention and validate the message of the gospel, they’re not just meant to make our lives better.
In fact, Jesus was pretty hard on people who only wanted miracles and wouldn’t listen to His message. After feeding the 5000 he actually drove people away because He refused to do another miracle and preached hard truth to them instead.
If we’re honest, we want the ease that comes with a pain free life. And that’s OK. Fitness is a blessing. We weren’t made for pain and suffering. The world wasn’t made for brokenness. But sin has entered the picture and everyone who is healed, even miraculously, will still die. This man’s miraculously healed joints will still stiffen with age. Arthritis may have settled into his ankles before he eventually died.
Friends, what we need more than anything else is not alms, or the sudden ability to walk, or to overcome or escape whatever is causing pain in our lives right now – what we need is Jesus.
Christianity is not primarily a religion of perfect health. It’s about our souls. Think about it – what happens next, after this man is healed? More healings there at the Temple? No – preaching, preaching the miracle of the gospel, the new life that is found in Christ, the greatest healing of all.
So how should we live in light of all of this? Well, if you are like the beggar, if you need a miracle in your life, ask for one. Ask God to do something that only He can do. The Bible tells us over and over again that we should pray and ask God for what we need. But also ask that He would do it in such a way that it leads to evangelism, to a chance to share the gospel and remind yourself and everyone else that no matter how great the physical need seems to be, our eternal spiritual need is much greater.
If you need that miracle this morning – I can actually guarantee it will occur. I can pray with you, I can pray for healing. We can even pray about meeting a financial need if what you need is alms. But I can’t guarantee your problem will be solved or your pain will be healed.
On the other hand, I’ve staked my entire life on the promises of God that say that if you need to born again – if you need a gospel reset on your life – if you’re sick and tired of who or what you have become and you want to find forgiveness, relief, rest, and renewal from God you can have it today. Guaranteed.
Listen, God is speaking to some of you, He’s calling out to you, He’s amplifying the things you’ve been hearing this morning, and the things you’re hearing right now are probably lining up with some other things that have been happening. God is getting your attention.
You’re sitting there asking for alms, thinking you need a little gold or silver and I’m here to tell you – look at me – this is not about gold or silver, it’s about God radically transforming your life. Jesus Christ is extending His hand to you – will you take it? Tell Him yes. Tell Him you agree. Tell Him you want Him more than anything else. And I guarantee, absolutely, guarantee He will hear you and things will change. I can’t guarantee healing, He might throw that in, but I guarantee a miracle in your soul.