Miracles and signs

Sermon: Sunday, 29th October, 2023
Speaker: John Johnstone
Scripture: Acts 3:1-10

What a remarkable miracle we have here in this historical account. There’s a man who is lame. He is over 40 years old, and so for his whole life he has had to depend on others for everything – to carry him to where he wants to go, and to give a few coins so that he has enough money to buy food. It’s not much of a life. Imagine you had to sit outside of our church each week begging for coins, just because you were born with a disability. He must have been a permanent feature outside the temple gate. It was probably a good place to beg, with synagogue goers perhaps more likely to give alms on their way in to worship.

It does beg the question, however, why did this congregation not help the man in a much more significant way? Should he have had to beg? They seem to have overlooked their responsibility to care properly for the poor. ‘If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.’ (Deuteronomy 15: 7-8)

Remember the new Spirit-filled church and their attitude to those in need: ‘They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.’ (Acts 2:45) The lame man asks Peter and John for money, as he had done to others thousands of times in his life. Peter gives him something much better – healing. This is a miracle of instantaneous healing. His feet and ankles suddenly become strong. Muscles which had never worked properly began to work. He wasn’t just able to take a few tentative steps, but even to leap around. What an astonishing sight!

When we come to a passage like this, we ought to be asking what it meant to Christians then and what it means for us today as well. We read in Acts, ‘Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.’ (Acts 2:43) There were many signs in Jerusalem, but this is the only one recorded for us in full, making it very significant. We don’t need to wonder if the miracle truly happened or not. The people themselves know this man very well and recognise him. Even the enemies of apostles admitted that it had taken place: ‘What are we going to do with these men?’ they asked. ‘Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it.’ (Acts 4:16) Notice the word ‘sign’ again. A sign is something which points beyond itself to something greater. So, the question is, what does the sign of the healing of a lame man tell us?

1. It is a sign that Jesus is alive and is still at work in the world.

We see that Peter wants the crowd to be crystal clear regarding the source of this miracle: ‘It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.’ (Acts 3:16)

‘You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.’ (Acts 3:15) What a shock this must have been to most of the crowd. They had been so wrong about Jesus, not believing that Jesus was God’s chosen King. ‘… 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.’ (Acts 4:10) Remember what we said a few weeks ago – a better title for the book of Acts would be ‘The Acts of Jesus Christ, by the power of his Spirit, through the church’.

By implication, if this healing proves once more that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, then it also means that the good news Jesus offers is also true, and that the apostles are indeed speaking on behalf of Christ. David Cook puts it this way: ‘The historically validated healing of this man was God’s accreditation of this gospel then, and it remains God’s accreditation today.’ Peter is so clear that this miracle is done ‘in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.’ (verse 6) In other words, it is Jesus’ living and active presence, present by his Spirit, which has healed the lame man.

This is just as exciting for us today, as Jesus’ power is still available today, saving lost souls, and helping Christians to keep going, in spite of all their weaknesses and trials and temptations. Let me put this more personally: Jesus’ power is available to you today, if you come to him in repentance and faith. How much do you experience the power of God in your own life? Power which changes you.

2. This miracle is a sign of what it means to become a Christian.

As already said, this man is helpless. He is totally dependent on others. He is unable to change his situation himself. In fact, there is nothing which he can do about his situation. His present circumstances are bleak, and he has no hope for the future. His muscles do not work and he is unable to walk. This is a picture of the spiritual condition of someone who is not yet a Christian. Spiritually speaking, we are lame, unable to live lives which pleased God. Like the man, it has been that way since birth. We were born in sin, we are crippled by sin, and we are unable to free ourselves from its condemnation. We were, if you like, spiritually paralysed.

The good news is this: Jesus is able to do for us what no one else is able to do. He can deal with our sin, and he can restore us spiritually, so that miraculously, we begin to turn away from wrongdoing, and place our trust in Jesus. The muscles of ‘faith in God’ and ‘love for God’ begin to work, and only because of his amazing work of grace in our lives.

No one else could restore this man. But it wasn’t a problem for Jesus. So, if you are not a true follower of Jesus yet, listen to this: Jesus restored the lame man physically, and he is able to do this work of restoration in you spiritually. Spiritual healing is possible for you today. Think about what the lame man wanted – just enough money to be able to buy food. But God is offering us so much more. He offers you forgiveness and eternal life in Heaven forever. He offers you a place in his family. ‘Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…’ (John 1:12) So, the question is, will you admit your need of forgiveness, and in prayer, receive Jesus as the only one who can forgive you, based on his death on the cross? What should your response be to this miracle, and to the evidence that Jesus is Lord? V19 tells us: ‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…’ (Acts 3:19)

Those of us who are followers of Jesus, perhaps there are still areas of life where we feel crippled. It might be circumstances we are in just now and there seems to be no hope. A family situation or a sin in your life which seems to be sucking the life out of you. Is Jesus able to strengthen you? Or is your situation beyond Jesus’ scope and power? Of course not! We must keep on believing that the risen Jesus can empower us today: ‘Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:16)

3. This miracle is a sign of the ultimate restoration to come.

What do I mean by that? This amazing sign does not just point to what Jesus can do in the lives of individuals. It also points to what Jesus is going to do in the world at the end of time. Just as the lame man is restored to the way he was supposed to be, one day, the whole world will be restored to the way it was always intended to be. Sickness and death and suffering and war and cancer and loneliness and violence will be swept away forever. Does this passage really say that?

‘Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.’ (Acts 3:11) Jesus has just restored the lame man, and now Peter is preaching to the crowd about the day God will restore everything. Clearly, the healing is a mini taster of what is to come in the future on a massive scale.

There’s another clue in the passage. The lame man begins to leap. Many Jews might have been reminded of the famous passage in Isaiah. ‘Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.’ (Isaiah 35:6-10)

I loved watching Planet Earth 3 last week. The footage is just phenomenal. However, each episode reminds us of the damage human beings inflict upon the earth. And each episode reminds of the death and sadness in the cosmos, as well as the life, colour and beauty. ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’ (Romans 8:22) The groaning of the earth will not last forever. One day the universe will be restored, without the possibility of ever being spoiled again. Of course, this will happen when Jesus returns at the Second Coming. We look forward to that day of total restoration. ‘Let heavens rejoice, and earth be glad; with joy let oceans ring. The fields and all in them will shout, and forest trees will sing. They all will sing before the LORD, who comes to judge the earth. He’ll judge the world in righteousness, the peoples in his truth.’ (Psalm 96:11-13) The created world itself is looking forward to being restored!

Last Sunday, some of us were discussing the problem of evil, and the mystery of why God allowed evil to enter the world. There is much we do not understand. But God has revealed this: evil will not have the last word. What Satan and fallen humanity has spoiled, Jesus is going to restore. He will fix everything wrong in the universe and the repair will be permanent. This is our future hope.

4. What Christians have to offer.

Fife is full of people who, spiritually speaking, are like the lame man. They’re unable to be saved without the power of God. They want the equivalent of silver and gold – money and what it can buy. But they are unaware of that their greatest need is God’s forgiveness. What can we offer them as a church? Yes, we can help to feed the hungry and befriend the lonely. But the main thing we have to offer people is Jesus himself. Our café is pointless unless it leads to us saying to others: ‘What we have we want to share with you is good news about Jesus. He saved me and he is able to save you’. As we pray for the lost, we ought to be pleading with God to perform spiritual miracles in people’s lives, for God’s glory alone.