Here is this remarkable miracle of a lame man healed. And because it occurs here in the book of Acts, chapter 3, many people say,
There are many claims along this line. There are those who claim it is wrong for a Christian to be sick. They tell us that Jesus died not only for our sins but our sicknesses as well. Quoting Isaiah 53, “…by his stripes, we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5), they claim that Christians who rely on doctors or even medicines are revealing a terrible lack of faith, for God has provided healing, just as he has provided redemption.
This kind of “whipping-post” theology — the idea that he bore our sicknesses by his stripes and that he was beaten for us — is very current today, and is the basis for the activity of many “faith healers”. They hold large meetings in which they tell people that God expects them to be well, that it is only their lack of faith, which keeps them from being well. And thousands of people are exhorted to come up and let someone pray for them so that they might immediately be healed.
What about all this? Is this what this account suggest to us?
There are two classes of Scripture, which deal with the subject of healing; therefore there are two purposes for a healing outlined in the Scripture. First, there are those, which clearly indicate that healing miracles were intended to be authentications of the message of the gospel. That is, they were indications to the people at the beginning, or in any age in which they might appear, that certain people are genuine messengers of God, that God speaks through them.
One such passage is at the end of Mark 16. Jesus is meeting with his disciples after the resurrection, and he tells them,
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18 NKJV)
There have been many movements based on this passage that says this is the prerogative of any believer. But what they fail to notice is that there is a change in number in the pronouns our Lord used. Mark, like the other Gospel writers, is gathering together some things that Jesus said on this occasion, and this is a highly condensed account.
Please note that Jesus says first, to all of them,
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
And then he says (singular),
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
Then he changes back to the plural:
“And these signs will follow those who believe…”
He means those right there to whom he is talking because Jesus has just rebuked them for their unbelief, has just scolded them because they would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection, even though he was standing right in front of them in a resurrected body. So he says to them,
“And these signs will follow those who believe…”
Why, believe in his resurrection — that he is alive, and that they have seen him. “These signs will follow those…” and he lists them. Then Mark says, to confirm this,
And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. (Mark 16:20 NKJV)
These are then what Paul calls “the signs of an apostle.” In 2 Corinthians 12, he refers to himself as having done the “signs of a true apostle” which, he says, are “signs and wonders and mighty works…” (2 Corinthians 12:12 RSV).
Thus that promise is given to the disciples as authentication of their first ministry. It is not a passage to be claimed by anyone, anywhere, who believes the gospel. Hebrews 2 confirms this where the writer says that the Lord first preached the gospel, “and it was confirmed unto us by them that heard him, God also bearing them witness by signs and wonders and diverse miracles,”(Hebrews 2:3-4 KJV).
The second class of passages indicates that God does heal, at any age and at any time, and according to his purpose, by grace. That is, God is a gracious Father, and there are verses, which suggest that we have every right to ask him to heal us physically and that often he will do so.
James 5 is a case in point, where, if anyone is sick, to gather the elders together and let them pray. God will hear the prayer of faith and raise the sick. James says,
“Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16 RSV).
God does not always promise to heal. There are numerous instances in Scripture when he does not heal even those who are strong in faith. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he referred to his dear friend and theirs, Epaphroditus. They had heard he had been sick, and he said,
“Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” (Philippians 2:27 RSV)
Here is a clear instance when the apostle himself, a mighty man of God that he was, could not heal a sick friend. But God spared him nevertheless and restored him. So we simply have to put this miracle in Acts 3 in perspective. It was a great authenticating work.
Someone has well said that every miracle is a parable, designed not only to demonstrate the power of God, which can literally, physically heal instantaneously and completely, but also to illustrate, in symbolic form, people’s needs and the miracles that can happen in their inner lives.
You see, what happens to your body is not nearly as important as what happens inside you. All the time, your body is getting older and grayer and stiffer and harder to manipulate. Some of us feel this very much.
But what is happening inside?
That is the important thing. Paul says,
“The outward man perishes, but the inward man is being renewed day by day…” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
And these outward miracles are pictures of what is going on in the inner life. You can be crippled and lame and blind not only physically; you can be physically challenged, lame and blind spiritually. Even as believers you can be crippled, blinded, oppressed, limited. All of these physical afflictions have spiritual counterparts.
Here in Acts is a parable of the full age in which we live. This miracle occurred at the beginning of the age, to teach us what the age is all about.
This lame man is a picture of the world, lying at the door of God, asking for help. Here is a sick, lame, crippled society, unable to be the kind of men and women God wants them to be, and looking in vain to the church, to the door of God, for help. They do not know what to ask for; neither did the lame man. They ask primarily for material help. And the church has often made the mistake of doing its best to help only on that level.
As I have said, there is nothing wrong with that kind of aid. But that is not the real assistance the church can give. If that is all we give, we are no better off than the Red Cross, or the Community Chest, or some other secular organization.
What is needed is what Peter and John gave — not silver and gold, but the name of Jesus, the power of a new life, the impartation of a new strength to achieve the result they achieved: A man was made whole, and this is what God offers today. He offers to make men and women whole, not only outside — sometimes, but inside — always!
Are you like this lame man?
Perhaps you have been lying at the gate looking for help, and you don’t expect any more than a loving hand or a little help along the line. But God has so much more to give you — so much more — if you will hear that awe-inspiring name, the name of Jesus — all that God has, wrapped up in that one name and made available to you.
That name is the great word we have to declare today: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk,” and be what God wants you to be. If some of you are looking for help, let your faith center upon him. Look upon him!
Our Father, we thank you for the name of Jesus. It has lost none of its power. It is still transforming men and women, as it always has — and not only spiritually, but occasionally physically. We thank you for those demonstrations of your power yet today. We know that you heal. We are aware that you can change a sick and ailing body and make it well and healthy. But also you can take an ill and weak spirit and make it well and strong, whole, wholesome, and easy to live with. And Lord, some of us who are sick and lame and blind, weak and oppressed, now look to that precious name and ask the Lord Jesus, in his power, to set us free. We thank you for the results — in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Amen