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 recognized 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.
I was a junior in high school when our youth group went on a strategic neighborhood prayer walk. We went door to door, every day for a week, asking people for their prayer requests. Then we would meet at night to pray for each request. It was awkward some times, but we felt we were really connecting with the community.
One of the evenings we were greeted at the door by two little girls. We asked them if we could speak to a parent. Their father came to the door in his wheelchair.
“Hello there, we’re from the church down the road and we’d like to know if you have any prayer requests today. We will write them down and pray for them this evening.” He looked at us with the same skeptical face that you do when religious people bother you at home. Through clenched teeth he said,
“Nope, we’re just fine.”
“Are you sure? Is there anything we can ask God to do for you?”
He scowled and dared us, “You could ask God to make my damn legs work again.”
“Sure, God can do anything. Sure thing. We’ll pray for you. Here’s some literature about our church. Have a blessed day.” I felt sick about the whole experience, but another member of my team felt a different leading.
“I think we should go back and pray for healing. I think God wants us to go knock on his door and pray for him right there. Lay hands on him.” “Lay-hands-on” is a reference to an early church practice of praying and imparting blessings by putting one’s hands on the person for whom one is praying. But I felt unsettled about this.
So we trekked through the neighborhood, back to the man’s house. At the time, I would have described him as that Angry Man. That was how he treated us, but as I look back, I wonder if he was angry or just shaking his head at us and our naive attempt at evangelistic prayer. I wouldn’t blame him.
He answered the door with his girls. His face fell. Here we go again.
“We’d like to pray for you. Here and Now.”
I still can’t believe he brought us into his home. We were a ragtag handful of teenagers with one small-group-leader-mom, hoping to bring down some modern-day, instantaneous healing on this guy. I was mortified on his behalf. We prayed. We said, “Amen.” That was it. We left, dragging our enthusiasm behind us.
It was a risky move. I knew it at age 16. But I was still mad at God that he didn’t just come through for us. Yeah, people are dumb, but God, you could have shown up. That would have been really cool of you.
Healing is tough. Entire faith communities exist around this spiritual phenomenon. It’s supposed to work this way: If you have faith, you pray, and your brothers and sisters lay on hands, you will be healed! Unless…
- you didn’t have enough faith
- or God isn’t ready to heal you yet because you haven’t learned the intended lesson
- or your endurance through suffering is bringing him glory
- or his divine cosmic plan depends on your infirmity
- or he is planning to give you “ultimate healing” which means you die and go to heaven and get your new body
- or you need to go get prayer from a faith healer
- or God doesn’t do miracles like that anymore
- or God doesn’t do miracles like that for westerners who have modern medicine
- or he was just in a bad mood that day.
So, how is it supposed to work again?
When I was a kid, healing stories gave me faith and hope. As a child I heard the same ones over and over again. Every Sunday School curriculum includes these sweet stories of restoration and healing. You don’t run into too many six-year-olds who know the ugly stories of death and annihilation. Ehud and Eglon, anyone? You are supposed to tell a six-year-old about the Feeding of the Five Thousand and the Healing of the Blind Man and the Resurrection of Lazarus. Miracles are so great! Anything can happen! God feels so close.
The ugly stuff comes later.
Now that I am an adult and have lived through some trials, the miracle stories are some of the most disturbing parts of the Bible to me. Miracles aren’t the world I know. Supernatural, instantaneous healing seems far more distant than suffering and agony. Even divine retribution (as in the coming story of Ananias and Sapphira) makes more sense. Sinners deserve death. That part is easy. The tough question is, why does God choose some sinners for supernatural healing while leaving others in pain? Why doesn’t God heal my friend with cerebral palsy? Why did the most effective teacher in my school have to die of breast cancer? Why did the lame beggar find healing, but millions of people die of hunger without any miraculous intervention?
I know Luke didn’t put this story in his account for the sake of making other sick people feel miserable, so there must be something more to find.
Every Bit as Miraculous
My friend has cerebral palsy. She has been around enough churches and among enough denominations that she has experienced every version of healing prayer you can think of. She grew weary of hearing that she would be healed if she had enough faith. From faith healing to naturopathy, she has experienced it all. And she still suffers.
I asked her about this passage. I confessed my own skepticism and hopelessness and she seemed genuinely surprised.
“Why does the story make you feel that way?”
“Because no one ever gets healed around me. What’s the point? Is it some cosmic tease?”
“For someone who suffers daily, these stories offer hope. I may never be instantaneously healed, but it could happen. On the other hand, I feel like God is healing me slowly, every day, and that is every bit as miraculous.”
What kind of story is this?
What if this isn’t a story about healing?
If we look at this as a story about healing, we end up with the question, “why not me, God?” But is it a healing story—or is it a common-people story? A story about the good news? A story for me and you? Peter healed a lame beggar, a man outside the temple gate, who felt just as alienated as we feel.
Luke wrote Acts to chronicle the progress and power of the early church. The location of this miracle is critical to Luke’s overall theme that the good news is for everyone. This healing, the first recorded miracle of Peter, takes place at the outer gates of the temple at the gate called Beautiful. God’s presence is at the outer gate, no longer confined to the Holy of Holies or the inner sanctum of the temple. The Holy Spirit is busting out, taking to the streets. This Jesus is for everyone, even for a lame beggar on the outskirts of the center of worship. Luke says that the separation of a Holy God from his unholy people ends now, and here’s proof!
This is not a healing story. This is a “Who-do-you-know?” story, as in, “do you know this guy? Because I think he can get you in. He’s a pretty big deal around here. People just say his name and stuff starts happening. I’m not sure there’s ever been anyone like him.”
And that name is Jesus Christ of Nazereth.
That name is powerful. In a culture where elite names open doors or change circumstances, Peter invokes the name of Jesus to heal this man. Luke is establishing that Jesus was no ordinary prophet. His Spirit did not die when he ascended. He is only beginning his work of restoration. This name is going to change things. For everyone. Peter invokes the name of Jesus and a man is miraculously changed forever. His life will never be the same.
This story is about the name of Jesus and his reach which is stretching to the outer limits of humanity to collect us all in his pocket and take us home.
This is not a healing story. This is a beggar’s story.
What about sincerely being awed by the fact that God healed anyone at all? How great for that guy! If God only healed one person on earth and it was “Lame Beggar at the Gate,” I guess I’m really happy for him. His life might have been really hard and awful and God healed him. That is worth celebrating whether God intervenes supernaturally in anyone’s life ever again.
I hope he does intervene in the lives of my friends and family, but if he doesn’t, we’ll always have Lame Beggar at the Gate.
But it still hurts.
When we suffer, we may never see any supernatural healing on this earth. (Are we allowed to say that in church?) Jesus came to suffer with us, not remove suffering from our experience. He cries the tears with us, he draws the excruciating breaths with us, and he limps along with us. A companion in the journey, a redeemer to make it all worth it.
Jesus also came to make all things new. The trouble is, his “new” is so “new” we may not recognize it. When Jesus heals something, what does it look like? Watching my friend with cerebral palsy experience healing day by day is “new” to me. It’s miraculous. It’s healing.
Seeing my friend’s autistic son develop his spoken language and begin expressing thoughts, feelings, creativity, and prayers is “new” to me. I’ve never seen anything like that before. It’s healing.
Watching my children progress through their own grief and suffering as adoptees is “new”. Their healing is miraculous. God is collecting their tears and bandaging their wounds and setting them right.
But is this enough? I don’t know. I have experienced many supernatural things, but I’m still waiting to see a lame person walk. I know there are many among us in our community who have experienced miracles. Perhaps if we continue to rejoice in our stories, we will discover the miraculous is more common than we imagined.