Walking and leaping! (Acts 3)

Acts chapter 3 starts with an event you have probably heard about 

Acts 3 1-10

Peter heals a lame beggar

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’ So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

When I read this passage the first thought that comes to my mind is the song, “silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. He went walking and leaping and praising God,…”  You know it too?

The second thought that comes to me is, what a wonderful miracle! But, what about miracles? We read the story of the miracle and just move on but miracles are a bit contentious. Did miracles really happen? Do they, could they still happen? I did a bit of reading and found that there are quite a few theologians who don’t believe miracles happened.

When you look at the Old Testament you don’t find many events you would call miracles.  Almost all of them are connected to Abraham, Moses, Elijah or Elisha.

Those associated with Moses, including the crossing of the Red Sea became events to be remembered and to be reminded of. The Israelites were to recount them to continually remind themselves of the greatness of God and of his special love, provision and care for his people.

Along the same lines, Elijah and Elisha had amazing events which demonstrated the uselessness of man-made gods, invented deities and idols and of their emptiness in the presence of the one, true Almighty and miracle working God.

This healing of the lame beggar is one of few miracles recorded in Acts. Miracles don’t feature in the Bible after the ones we read about in the gospels although Paul included several chapters in his letter to the Corinthians in which he explained how they should incorporate the supernatural, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in their lives and worship.

In the New Testament almost all the miracles are by Jesus and they are recorded more as Signs rather than miracles.  John’s gospel doesn’t use the word miracles but calls them signs.

They are signs that  Jesus is God incarnate sent as the Son of God, God in their presence, the King of the kingdom of heaven.

Do you believe in miracles? Did this and other events recorded in the Bible really happen?  Are they some sort of supernatural, divine intervention? People who don’t think miracles are real have a number of reasons for this.

1 We have moved on in our thinking.

The idea of miracles simply doesn’t appeal to some people. The idea of miracles makes them uncomfortable. Some people think that human thought and understanding has progressed beyond the need for miracles. However, just because you don’t like an idea doesn’t mean it’s not true.

For example, say you enter a competition such as an election but you lose. But you don’t want to lose! So you insist you have won, that your win had been stolen from you. Despite all the evidence to show you did in fact lose you continue declaring how badly you have been treated.

Believing something doesn’t make it true if it’s not, otherwise the easter bunny would be a reality.  Obviously there’s lots of people who believe in him - look at the easter egg displays in the stores. I’m sorry to tell you that Santa Claus doesn’t exist either even though there are people who believe he does.

At the same time we do believe in Jesus because there is tested, reliable, historical evidence of his existence. I have looked into the evidence for both Jesus and Santa Claus.  Jesus wins every time. 

Denying a truth that doesn’t appeal to you is like claiming extra wisdom beyond that of others and I think it’s more an exhibition of pride, of childishness, which flies in the face of reality.

Here’s some good advice: Proverbs 3:5-7 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.

2 There are natural explanations to miracles.

Another way to avoid the idea of miracles is to invent an explanation as to how they happened.  For example, a violent wind blew the opening In the Red Sea allowing the Israelites to cross and the wind, fortuitously, stopped when the Egyptians tried to follow them. Mind you, the timing of the wind storm was pretty miraculous, don’t you think? 

OR, the man who had been lame since birth really only had a psychological problem which was healed when Jesus showed him love.

These explanations are pure conjecture, of course, but if you don’t want miracles then perhaps you need to conjecture them away. 

At the same time, if it wasn’t a miracle and we can figure out how was it done, if we can work out the natural explanation, then why don’t we repeat it? Couldn’t we use this method to heal  a lame man who was crippled from birth so that he jumps to his feet giving praise?

Of course, it’s true that there has been an immense growth in human thought, ideas and understanding than people had 2,000 years ago, but how complete is our understanding now? We have progressed enormously in science and in medicine but there are still huge complications, unknowns and limits to what we can do.

3 You can’t break the laws of nature.

This objection to miracles is that no one - not even God - can break the laws of nature.  What people mean is that you can’t break the laws of science. To believe in miracles is unscientific.  

But I think that this argument comes from misunderstanding the nature of science and its laws. Apples fall from trees but not because Isaac Newton said they must.  

Newton wrote down his Law of Gravitation as a description about the behaviour of apples and other objects but it is a description of how things work, not a law telling apples how to behave.

No scientific law determines how things must behave.  Every scientific law simply describes our observations of how things behave.  Our scientific laws are devices to help us understand complexity.  Science is man’s attempt to make intellectual order out of the chaos of the universe and it’s a process in continual development. 

It is the role of scientists try to find the exceptions to their laws as part of the process of refining our understanding. The harder we try to prove a law is wrong the more able we are to have confidence in it.

By the way, there’s probably only three scientific laws which really seem to be universal, that is we think that they apply in all of time and space. They are the Law of Universal Gravitation and the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics.

The creator and sustainer of the universe is not limited by laws and expectations invented by his creation. As clever as we might be we are nowhere near as clever as God is.

4 Miracles don’t happen for me.

There’s a very common response we get when we pray and miracles don’t happen. I asked for something but I didn’t get what I want. It doesn’t work so miracles don’t happen. What  childish thinking that is! Let’s throw another tantrum! 

Instead it lead us to another important subject to think about and try to understand. How does prayer work? For now, I’m putting that on the list - a subject to come back to.

5 Miracles do happen

Miracles  do happen for some people - perhaps far more than we know. We have a nephew and niece  who live as Christians in Asia.  People there ask them to pray for healing in Jesus’ name.  They are put on the spot and must respond.  Rather reluctantly, they pray for healing or some other need and often enough their prayer is answered. They don’t see themselves as healers or as people with a gift to bring healing but sometimes it comes. 

They and other missionaries tell of other amazing things that are reported, too.

I strongly suggest that miracles do happen in our lives, and have happened but we don’t notice them. We take them for granted, even pass them off as coincidences.  When I look back over the years I realize that there have been miracles happening in my story. In fact, they happen almost every day.  If only we have eyes to see them.

I don’t believe in luck and avoid using the word.  One friend told me that Luck and Lucky are ideas derived from Lucifer and I’m not giving the father of lies, the deceiver, any credit when I know that my Father God is in charge of everything. 

6. It’s the message that’s important.

We don’t really need to decide whether miracles actually happened if we stop wondering about it and pass over the whole question.  You can decide just to read about them and assume that the stories are there to bring us a message so look for the message.  I think this is an easy way out, fence sitting.

7. An indisputable miracle

One miracle certainly did happen and as Christians we must acknowledge it and accept it as a miracle.  It is the most magnificent of miracles, the most effective and powerful of miracles.  That is,  Jesus’ resurrection. If this miracle didn’t happen then what kind of fools we are.

1 Corinthians 15:14-17And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

If Jesus was not really, genuinely, physically and permanently raised from the dead then we really should pack up now, put the building on the market and go and do something else rather than continue on as hypocritical, futile false witnesses.

This settles it for me. Jesus was miraculously raised from the dead.  He was raised in his eternal, resurrected body.  He was recognisable, met and ate with his disciples. He went back to where he came from: he ascended back to the heavenly realms to sit at his father’s right hand.

He died and rose from the dead never to die again.

This is one miracle we do believe in. You can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe in this miracle.  Not only that, if that one miracle happened then we have no trouble believing other miracles also happened.  And still do!

No, I think miracles are real and they bring a message.  In fact, that’s why in his gospel John calls miracles signs.  The miracle we have just read about certainly is a sign.

Of course, when a miracle happens it takes us by surprise. Perhaps that’s why we miss recognising them. A miracle amazes us.  It’s a wonderful thing.  When the lame man was miraculously healed and was walking and leaping and praising God the local people were surprised.

(Acts 3:9-10) When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Unsurprisingly the onlookers asked the question just as people do nowadays. They asked, “how did you do it?”  Peter answered them: (Acts 3:16)By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.

Again, just as people do nowadays, the people, especially the Jewish authorities, were not at all pleased with this answer. (Acts 4:1-3) The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.

Well, on the next day Peter and John were called up before the authorities to explain this miracle.

(Acts 4:7-10) They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

Peter showed no restraint here. Give credit where it’s due! It was Jesus Christ who healed this man, It was Jesus Christ who carried out this miracle. We are talking about Jesus of Nazareth [who] was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (Acts 2:22-24)

They thought they had fixed the annoying, embarrassing presence of Jesus. But who is in charge around here? Almighty God is real and totally always in charge and in control.

Even while the human authorities were doing their worst, God was fulfilling his plans. They made the decision and took the action to get Jesus crucified.  What blind fools. In fact, Jesus was handed over to them by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge. 

The authorities were demonstrating that human capacity to ignore reality, to insist on dismissing warnings, of rationalising their beliefs, justifying murder, doing evil things. But just how clever were they? 

Jesus was handed over to them and they had him crucified all as part of God’s eternal plan, a plan which was for our benefit!

You can’t keep a good man down and since Jesus was the very best of men God freed him from death.  It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

Who is the winner here? Despite the obvious fact that God’s over-riding power had been clearly demonstrated, people then, and still now, hang on to the delusion they have beaten God.

Peter pointed out to the unbelieving authorities that they had been publicly shown to have blundered. How humiliating! Think how difficult that fact must have been to hear as Peter denounced them in public!  The fact is that you lot have just made the mistake of abusing your power, have manipulated the Roman authorities into doing the dirty work for you. And then God raised Jesus from the dead according to his own plan.

Then, as if to make things worse, not only was Jesus raised from the death the authorities had imposed on him now, right here under their very noses, the same risen Lord Jesus is still carrying out miracles! Killing him didn’t get rid of him! Killing him didn’t stop him doing miraculous things.

 A man who had been lame since birth is walking and leaping and praising God right here in town and Jesus is getting the credit!

So the authorities followed the standard practice for bureaucrats and had a conference to decide how to stop the news of Jesus’ resurrection and rule spreading.  Probably more important to them was how to stop the news of their humiliation spreading.

They then ordered Peter and the disciples not to tell people the wonderful news they had about Jesus.

Increasingly in our society people don’t want us to share the news about Jesus and his teaching.  People don’t want to know things that don’t appeal to them. There are truths that don’t fit their lifestyle,  that even offend them and attempts are made to do as the authorities did with Peter and John, telling Christians to keep quiet about Jesus and his teaching.

But the disciples reply was ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ (Acts 4:19-20)

We have such wonderful news that we are bursting to share!  We can’t help speaking about what we have seen and heard! 

Christ has been raised.  He is the living eternal king.  He is God. He is our saviour.  He is our friend and ever-present Lord. Far from being futile, our faith is grounded in truth and reality and victory! We are not alone! We are forgiven, we are saved!

Should we obey men, submit to our society and shut up about this news, news Jesus wants us to share? Or should we do what God tells us to do? The answer is obvious. Let’s do the right thing.

We can and should share the message our miracle-working God wants us to share, even though there are those who want us to keep it to ourselves. We can come to the conclusion Peter came to and share his message, which is. (Acts 3:19)

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,

We can also follow the example of the man who was lame since birth and go walking and leaping and praising God!

1614 Modified: 17-04-2024
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