Acts 3 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
The Healing of a Crippled Beggar
Modern medical care uses sophisticated equipment to monitor people with serious illnesses. Their "vital signs" give us hope. In spiritual matters, too, we live by signs. Luke's account of the healing of a crippled beggar serves as such a sign.
According to Jewish custom, Peter and John live out Acts 2:42, 46, going up to the temple (both literally and spiritually) to pray and worship at the time of the evening sacrifice (Ex 29:39-40; Ps 24:3; 122:4). As they arrive, a man with no use of his legs because of a congenital condition is being carried to his accustomed begging place. The depth of his need is apparent to all. In these ordinary circumstances--apostles practicing their devotion to God, a lame man plying the only trade he knows, appealing to the generosity and piety of his peers--an extraordinary encounter occurs.
Peter fixes his eyes on the man, as later Paul will do when a miracle is about to occur (13:9; 14:9), and asks for the same attention in return. At first Peter disappoints the beggar by declaring his lack of money. This serves only to heighten the value of the great gift he does offer: complete health. But it is in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that it must be given. A name is an expression of a person's very essence. The power of the person is present and available in the name (Haenchen 1971:200). In the case of Jesus, the invocation of his name is a direct link between earth and heaven. It is not a magic formula but a simple recognition that if any salvation blessings are to come, they must arrive in and through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus so commissioned his disciples (Lk 24:47) and the disciples so preached and ministered (Acts 2:38; 3:16; 4:10, 12, 30; compare the direct declaration "Jesus Christ heals you," 9:34).
Peter commands the man to walk (literally, continuous action--"be walking") and grabs him by the right hand to raise him up. "The power was Christ's but the hand was Peter's" (Stott 1990:91). So must the church ever act.
Instantly (compare Lk 4:39; 8:44, 55) the man's feet (the term can also mean "tread" or "step") and ankle bones receive strength. Jumping up, he stands for the first time in his life. He tries out his new freedom by walking around; then, in a response natural to one who in faith realizes that he has been touched by God's power, he moves into the court of women and then the court of Israel, walking and jumping, and praising God (compare 2:47). He has become the living embodiment of the messianic age as predicted in Isaiah 35:6, "Then will the lame leap like a deer" (also see Lk 7:22).
Should we expect such miracles today? True, the apostles are no longer with us, and miracles seemed to cluster around them; even in the first century, miraculous signs were not everyday occurrences. But Jesus still is present by his Spirit in the church. So we should not be surprised if we hear reports of miracles, especially where an atmosphere of pervasive unbelief or false religion calls for a power encounter. But a healing miracle in the New Testament sense must have the following marks: It must be an instantaneous and complete deliverance from a grave organic condition. It must occur in response to a direct command in the name of Jesus, and it must be publicly acknowledged as indisputable (Stott 1990:103).
All the people (laos; see comment at 2:47), who had known the man in his previous condition, become witnesses to the miracle's authenticity. More than that, they were filled with wonder (awe felt in the presence of divine activity; compare Lk 4:36) and amazement (the state of being lifted out of one's habitual life and thought by encountering the power of God; compare Lk 5:26; Haenchen 1971:200). But this is not saving faith. Only two times do Luke's summary statements imply that witnessing a miracle leads directly to faith (Acts 9:35, 42). Witnessing miracles may contribute to a person's embrace of faith, but it cannot produce faith (see Lk 16:31).
That is why God's Word must now be preached. It will interpret the extraordinary and call for a decision. By the Spirit's power this proclamation will work repentance and saving faith in its hearers.