By J.R. Miller
It could not have been more than a few weeks or months after the day of Pentecost. The apostles were busy teaching the three thousand converts. They continued to attend the temple services, at least the daily hours of prayer. The first miracle was wrought in connection with one of these services.
Peter and John appear here together. They were close, personal friends. They were complements of each other--the one having what the other lacked. Peter was the speaker. John was the quiet apostle. It was at the hour of evening prayer that the two men were going up to the temple. They were going to offer worship--they had no thought, so far as we know, of any special ministry of their own--the miracle they performed was a piece of wayside ministry.
As the two men came near to the Beautiful Gate, a beggar was lying there. There probably were other beggars there who had come or had been brought by their friends to beg from the people. "Now a man crippled 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."
As this man had been brought daily to this door, probably for many years, there is little doubt that he was there ofttimes when Jesus passed and repassed that same door. Probably he reached out his hand many time to Jesus, as He was passing the temple--but having no faith to ask for healing--he had remained unhealed all the while. So, year after year, multitudes of people lie unblessed and unhealed about the very gates of God's sanctuary, while Christ constantly passes by them. It is not enough to live near a church, even close by a church door. One may be lost even in such a favored position.
This first apostolic miracle was more than a miracle. It illustrated the work of the Church. The man who lay at the gate was helpless--he had been carried there. The unsaved cannot save themselves. The beggar saw Peter and John about to enter the temple and "asked them for money." He did not know that they were able to do something far better for him than to put a silver coin into his hand. So, continually, in our praying we ask for little things, bits of money, or bread, or some worldly things--not knowing, or not realizing, that there are infinitely better things which we might get. We are fooled by life's appearances. The things that we think are the most important things--are the least important. Bunyan tells of the man with the muck rake, gathering up the rubbish--but not seeing the crowns, which hung in shining beauty close above him.
Many good people pay no heed to beggars. They do not give them a kindly look or a gracious word. How do you know who the beggar at your door may be? Of William Cullen Bryant it was said that he thought of every man he met, as an angel disguised, and treated him as such. Peter had a kindly heart. This man did not ask for healing. The miracle was not wrought in answer too his prayer--but the merciful thought had its origin in the heart of the apostle. So Christ looks upon us, sees our needs and pities us--even when we ask nothing of Him.
Notice, too, Peter's condescension and humility. He was not too fine a gentleman to stop and have a little talk with a lame beggar. He spoke gently to him. He did not forget that under those rags there beat a human heart whose feelings could be hurt by rudeness. It is certainly worthwhile for us to learn this one little lesson in passing. Even if we are finely dressed--we need not brush by a ragged beggar or poor man with disdain. We do not know who the person is. We do not know that wrapped up in that heap of wretchedness, is an immortal soul, which is capable of shining in heavenly glory. It may be one of God's children who sits there. At least it will do us no harm, in passing, to stop and say a kind word. We must not forget that Jesus said, "Inasmuch as you did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least--you did it unto me."
We may study the way Peter showed kindness to the beggar. There are a good many people who cannot give money to the needy--but they need not therefore do nothing. "Silver and gold have I none--but what I have--that give I you," said Peter. He was a poor man. He had left all to follow Christ. He had no money with him that day to give to any beggar, and he might have heaved a sigh, dropped a tear, and then passed on to his evening prayers. But that was not what Peter did. He did not conclude that because he had no money with him, therefore he could not do anything for the poor man. He would give what he had to give.
Money is not the only thing people need. It usually the poorest alms that can be given. Kind words are better, love and sympathy are finer. So far as we know, Jesus never gave money to anyone--and yet there never was such another giver of blessings as He was. We cannot impart the same large measure of help that Jesus gave--but we can give the same kind of help. There is not one of us who cannot give to other things, which will enrich their lives far, more than if we put money into their hands. We can give a cheering word, if nothing else, to some weary one in the way; a word will brighten his heart for many a long mile. Courage put into a tired heart, sympathy into a sorrowing heart--are better than any gift of gold. None of us are too poor to give something to others. If we cannot give silver or gold--we can certainly give love and sympathy, which are better than money.
It is interesting to read on and see what Peter did for this man to whom he could not give money. He said, "Silver or gold I do not have--but what I 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!" Surely this was very much better than any alms Peter could have given the beggar. If he had given him money--it would have helped him along a little further as a beggar. That would have been all. But when the man was healed, he did not need to be helped any more. He was able now to take care of himself. Was not that a far better way to aid him--than if he had left him still helpless, merely giving him temporary monetary relief?
Note the twofold help Peter gave this man. First, he spoke the word, which kindled hope and faith, and led to the man's healing. Then he reached his own strong hand to help the man rise. It is a good thing to lend a hand when one is down--to help him rise again. There are many about us who need the helping hand. It is not enough to preach and teach; we must give sympathy, love and help to those who are lying helpless in their sins. Then the sorely tempted and those also who have fallen--need a hand to help them rise. There is a wondrous power in the touch or clasp of a human hand. While we bid men to rise up and walk--we must be ready always to help them.
The lame man instantly responded. "He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God!" The cure was instantaneous and complete. The healing was proved by his rising and walking and leaping. We must prove the reality of our conversion, by acts of spiritual activity. Some people profess to have become Christians, and then just lie where they were, inactive, showing no evidence of spiritual life. They have mouths--but they speak not for Christ; they have hands--but they take up no work for Christ. They have feet--but they walk not for Christ. Conversion ought to send the life tingling into every member. When Christ enters our heart--we will walk and leap and praise God!
"Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God." He did not want to lose his friends and clung to them. Besides, he wished to make confession of his healing before men. The newly converted Christian should at once join Christ's people, and make his friendships and companions among them. This implies open confession of Christ, and that is a most important duty. Christ requires it, and it is needful to the completeness and the wholesomeness of Christian life. It implies also union with the Church, and this is a duty of great importance.
The effect of this miracle on the people was very great. "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!" The mere sight of the man walking about--this man who had never walked before, whom all the people had know for years as a beggar at the gates--was a sermon in itself. If he had sat still after he was healed, still holding out his hand and asking for alms, his healing might have been a little comfort to himself--but it would not have been worth a straw for testimony or influence. Those who have been healed by Christ--ought to manifest it. To know of such a great Physician of souls and not tell men about it--is a crime against nature. Confessing Christ and speaking of Him--will bring deeper joy to our own hearts. Besides, it makes known to others in similar need, the Healer and Friend to whom they may go for blessing. We should rise up when Christ has blessed us in any way--and let people know about it--at least let them see in our life what He has done for us.
"Why do you stare at us--as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?" The people's first thought was to regard the apostles as wonderful men, because of the miracle that had been wrought through them. But Peter hastened to turn all the glory of the miracle, to Christ. It is a mark of true religion, that we seek to give Christ the honor and glory of whatever good we do. We are apt to accept compliments and gratitude ourselves when we have been blessed and used in doing good to others, forgetting that to Christ belongs the honor and glory. We cannot but be pleased to have Christ do good through us--but we need to watch that all the praise and honor shall go to Him.