At the beginning of Acts 3, we’re greeted with an interesting portrait of the power of the presence of the Holy Spirit in believers. It tells the account of Peter and John healing a crippled man just outside the gates of the temple. Let’s take a look.
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple for the time of prayer at three in the afternoon. A man who was lame from birth was being carried there. He was placed each day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so that he could beg from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple, he asked for money. Peter, along with John, looked straight at him and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I do have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. So he jumped up and started to walk, and he entered the temple with them — walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him. (Acts 3:1–10)
Peter and John were going to church to pray around three in the afternoon, and they see this lame man, a crippled man, who, from birth, has suffered this defect, this malady. This man, from infancy, has grown up longing and yearning for legs to walk, for the ability to run, for the chance at a normal life. I believe it’s not too great a conjecture to assume that this defect has spawned great bitterness in his heart, for as he saw family and friends and others grow around him and walk as free men, he lies here crippled, enslaved. And yet, what little hope he has in his heart it’s put in the ideal chance of a divine anomaly that might restore his ability to walk; for, he sits close to the temple of Jerusalem — the dwelling place of God — waiting for a miracle. Likewise, too, he knew that those who ventured into the temple were men and women of God, of whom it should be said they were givers. No doubt, he knew or heard of the generosity of Christ-followers, and thus he sat, thus he waited.
But today would be different for this lame man; today he would be met not with the alms he so desired (Acts 3:2–3), but with the riches of grace that only come from Jesus Christ. Peter says as much, when he states: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you.” (Acts 3:6) The apostle’s give the only thing worth giving, that which they themselves have graciously received: the gospel. Truth be told, this is the best thing we can give anyone, the gospel of Jesus’s grace, God’s one-way love for his people, his declaration of deliverance and liberation through the sacrifice of his “only begotten Son.” (John 3:16 KJV)
And thus, being shown Jesus Christ, the crippled man takes the arm of the apostle and rises in strength. Note, not by his own initiative, but strength that is given. (Acts 3:7) “Power came into the shrunken muscles and weak ankles,” writes Alexander Maclaren, “so that the cripple felt that he could raise himself . . . and what began with his being ‘lifted up’ ended in his ‘leaping up.’” The lame man is healed. Words alone can’t do justice to the elation that coursed through his body. He leaped for joy at the dawn of his rescue. His suffering was now gone; his malady vanquished. He was restored. “And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3:10) Such should be our reaction at the power of the gospel — we should all be in continuous awe and astonishment at the grace of God that has been so freely given to us, the vilest of offenders of his law. But the crux of this account remains to be spoken of; for, this story hasn’t been given to us merely for history’s sake, so that we might look back at the apostle’s power and authority and honor them. Moreover, Peter made it quite clear that he came “in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 3:6) John Calvin notes that “he was nothing but a minister, and that Christ was the author of the miracle.”
This story isn’t just to show us the transformative and restorative power of the gospel. No, it’s also meant show us ourselves. You see, we are that lame man, weak and crippled from birth. From the time we entered this world till we die, we are in bondage to and paralyzed by sin. In and of ourselves, we have no strength, no power, no ability to walk — to justify ourselves, to establish ourselves, to save ourselves. This story is a portrait of “our spiritual restoring,” comments John Calvin, “namely, that as the Word, laid hold on by faith, did restore the cripple to his limbs, so the Lord pierceth into our souls by the Word, that he may restore the same.” You see, the crippled man is us before Jesus, us before the gospel, who, without the redemptive work of the Savior on the cross, are left to beg for alms, left to sit in our rags, sit in our filth, sit in our sin, with no hope in sight.
It’s not enough to be religious. It’s not enough to be close to the church. This crippled man was close to the temple, as close as he could get, what with his physical defect. Even though he was near the temple — near religion — that didn’t heal or save him, nor could it ever heal or save him. And so it is with us. We’re just as helpless and hopeless as this lame man if we’re striving in religion without a relationship with God. “The throbbing heart of New Testament religion,” writes A. W. Tozer, “[is] the continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man.” (15) Intimacy is the beating heart of the gospel. It’s not enough to be near the church; it’s not even enough to be in the church; you must be born again, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and saved from sin and hell by grace through faith. You must have a relationship with your Savior; that is the essence of the gospel. “Religion, so far as it is genuine,” continues Tozer, “is in essence the response of created personalities to the Creating Personality, God.” (15)
Furthermore, this healing that is sought, the rest that we long for, will only be found as we run to Jesus and gaze on his work of deliverance. Notice, Peter says, “Look at us.” (Acts 3:4) And just as all that was required of the lame man for healing was a look and a reach, so also is all it takes but a look to Jesus and a reach of faith to receive the glorious freedom of God’s justification, his declaration of righteousness and salvation. When we reach out in faith, we’ll find the hand of grace waiting for us — a reminder of the prevenient love and mercy of Christ for us.
Look to Jesus, for he is your Rest and Remedy and Rescue. Look to Jesus, for his hand of salvation is already extended to you in grace. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith . . . consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself.” (Heb. 12:2–3 KJV) You who seek help and life and value and worth and meaning and purpose and salvation and justification will only find it by running to the cross, by running to grace, and clinging to Christ. We must recognize that until we give up hope in ourselves, we have no hope. We must see ourselves as this lame man, with nothing in us that can merit salvation, nothing of ourselves to stand on for eternal life, but that we’re crippled and filthy and wrecked by sin. This is what Charles Spurgeon calls “the stooping grace.”
The door of heaven is so low that no one can enter in by it unless they will bow their heads. There never was a man who could walk into salvation erect. We must go to Christ on our bended knees; for though he is a door big enough for the greatest sinner to come in, he is a door so low that men must stoop if they would be saved.
We must be brought low before Jesus can raise us up. We must see ourselves as we are, mangled and marred by sin, completely without hope in ourselves for anything more. Then the gospel rescues us. Then the power of God’s one-way love raises us up to new life. This is the message of this story, my friends. Moreover, this is the message of the gospel — that we who are are nothing are given everything in Christ. We who deserve death are given life because of the Son.
So, rejoice, reader. Because even though you’re lame and crippled, even though you’ll never be good enough for God on your own, even though you’ve been found out as “a lot worse off than you think you are,” there’s Good News: that “in Jesus you’re far more loved than you could have ever imagined.” (Jack Miller, in Tchividjian, 89)
Tullian Tchividjian, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Whitakers, NC: Positive Action For Christ, 2007).