The Suffering Servant & Author of Life
Passage: Acts 3:1–3:16
Acts 3—we’ll be looking at verses 1-16, where a lame beggar gets healed by Jesus through the apostles. Let’s hear the word of the Lord…
1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. 11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon’s. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”
Connecting Acts 3 with Acts 1-2
It’s been a couple weeks, but I want us to see some connections between this passage and what came before. Context always helps us to see the larger message of a book, especially one like Acts. First of all, remember that Acts is a book about all that Jesus continues to do and teach. Gospel of Luke was part one—Jesus’ ministry on earth; Acts is part two—Jesus’ ministry from heaven. This healing must be read in that light.
Also, Luke forms a sharp contrast between Jesus’ new temple, the church, with the old system under the Jewish authorities.[i] Chapter two ended with this amazing snapshot of the church filled with the Holy Spirit, manifesting the power of God, selling their stuff to meet each other’s needs (Acts 2:42-46). But here’s a lame man, who daily sits at the temple gate of all places and begs for money.
Who’s meeting his needs? Who’s bringing him into the presence of God? Not the Jewish authorities behind that Beautiful Gate. It’s the apostles, who bring him the presence and power of God in Christ. Luke is drawing out the reader: Which temple do you want to be part of? Is it the one that lets needs persist and excludes the weak from the presence of God? Or is it the one that meets needs and brings the weak and the broken into the presence of God through Christ?
Something else is that Luke mentioned in 2:43 that “many signs and wonders were being done through the apostles.” Many signs. Luke now focuses on just one sign, this healing. And it clarifies how the signs function.[ii] While not a necessary component to the gospel—the signs do function as one concrete expression of the gospel the apostles preached. They preached the kingdom of God coming in Jesus Christ. But the blessings of that future kingdom so break into present, that people get foretastes of the holistic liberation Jesus will bring—not just for the soul, but for our bodies as well.
The Healing Jesus Performs through the Apostles
Let’s see that playing out by looking again at the healing Jesus performs through the apostles. Peter and John head up to the temple to pray (Acts 3:1). They notice this man begging for money. Later, we find out that he was over 40 years old (Acts 4:22). Luke really stresses the state of his helplessness. He was lame from birth (Acts 3:2). He didn’t run around with other kids and play ball. His disability is such that they have to carry him everywhere. He obviously can’t work. He asks Peter and John for money.
And here’s where it all begins. Peter directs his gaze at the man, as did John, and says, “Look at us” (Acts 3:5). For all he knew, Peter and John were about to give him some change. You can imagine the disappointment at the first half of Peter’s words: “I have no silver and gold” (Acts 3:6a). What?! Peter doesn’t have any money. But that doesn’t mean he can’t help the man. He knows the power of Jesus.
Peter gives him more than he expects: “but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6b). What a remarkable thing to say to a lame man. “Do what you lack the ability to do. Rise up and walk.” That’s the way God works, doesn’t he? He commands us to do what we cannot do in our helpless state; and then he gives what we need to do it, so that in the end he is praised.
Peter takes him by the right hand and raises him up, “and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong,” it says. “And leaping up he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:7-8). His helpless condition gets totally reversed, and it results in joy and praise to God.
But notice what made all the difference. Sandwiched between his helpless state and his total healing is this phrase: “in the name of Jesus Christ.” That’s not intended to be a magical formula that guarantees healing. It’s not the pronunciation of “Jesus” that heals; it’s Jesus who heals by the authority he possesses and chooses to use according to his wisdom. We’re not told how Peter and John knew that Jesus wanted to heal this man; only that Jesus uses them to heal the man.
We can discern that this healing parallels the way Jesus healed the lame during his earthly ministry (e.g., Luke 5:24-26).[iii] In that sense, Luke gives us a little hint that Jesus’ ministry must not have stopped once he returned to glory; he was still working through the church (cf. Acts 1:1; John 14:12). The fullness of what that means, though, comes out as we read Peter’s response to the crowds. The healing wasn’t simply to give this man a better life. It wasn’t to establish a healing crusade. Like other signs in Jesus’ ministry it points to so much more that Jesus did, is doing, and will do for his kingdom.
The Explanation: God Glorified His Servant Jesus
So, we’ve seen the healing itself. Let’s look now at Peter’s explanation of the healing. In sum: the healing shows that God glorified his servant Jesus.
The healing produces a massive response. It wasn’t a secret. How does a lame man of 40 years get up and leap? Not just scoot around, go see a physical therapist—No, he gets up immediately and leaps! All these people see what’s going on. They run to Peter and John; and immediately the apostles turn the glory to Jesus.
Verse 12, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we’ve made him walk?” My kids have this book called Fool Moon Rising—F-o-o-l. The point of the book is how foolish it would be for the moon to boast in its own light, when in fact its light comes from the sun. The moon should point others to the sun, the true source of its light. That’s what the apostles do.
Don’t look at us. Don’t talk about our power. Don’t talk about our godliness being the cause of this man’s healing. There’s only one explanation: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus” (Acts 3:13). The healing of the man in Jesus’ name is evidence that God glorified his servant Jesus—that’s the main argument.
Isaiah 35:6 – the lame shall leap like the deer in God’s future kingdom
But how exactly does Peter get there? Several clues suggest he’s getting it from the way Jesus fulfills the kingdom promises of Isaiah. So what we’re going to do is establish the connections with Isaiah’s prophecies. We already flew by one. Notice the lame man leaps and praises God in verse 8. A lame man leaping—that’s our first clue. Turn with me now to Isaiah 35:5-6.
Israel is in a desperate state. God’s curses have fallen. And in the midst of their helpless condition God gives them a future hope. His glory will come (Isa 35:2). He will save them, verse 4 says. Eventually, he’ll turn their desert into a garden paradise where holiness prevails and the ransomed finally return with joy and gladness (Isa 35:8-10).
But part of that salvation includes verse 5: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy…” In other words, when God brings his final salvation, the broken world will experience a divine reversal. Everything that’s broken will be made new: deserts become streams, the deaf hear, the lame will leap.
There’s a lame man leaping in Acts 3. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point I want you to see is that God’s future kingdom would reverse the brokenness; it would bring wholeness and healing for his people. The images anticipate a new creation.
Isaiah 52:13; 53:11 – God would glorify his righteous Servant who dies for sinners
Another connection is the titles Peter gives to Jesus in Acts 3. He calls him the “Servant” that God “glorified” and the “Holy and Righteous one.” These come from the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 52-53. Look at Isaiah 52:13, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted [or glorified].” Only God and his temple mount get described this way in Isaiah; and yet here he applies it to the Servant. The Servant will be exalted/glorified as God himself is.
Then we get this in Isaiah 53:11, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” So, God will glorify his Servant, by lifting him up when he gives himself for our sins and makes many to be accounted righteous. Our sins on him; his righteousness on us; God glorifies his Servant.
Peter announces that Jesus is the Servant of Isaiah 52-53. Jesus gave his life as that substitute. He is the only righteous one. Even Pilate testified to that. Pilate wanted to release Jesus; he couldn’t find any fault (Acts 3:13). But you denied him in the presence of Pilate and killed the Author of Life, Peter says (Acts 3:14). Jesus is the Suffering Servant—the Righteous one died for the unrighteous like us, that we might gain his righteousness before God. That’s another connection.
Isaiah 53:4 – the Servant takes away illnesses by dealing with our sin
But why would a passage like Isaiah 53 be so important to Peter in relation to the lame man leaping? Because part of the Servant’s work was to carry away our illnesses by dealing with the main cause behind our illnesses, sin. All illness and brokenness and death is caused by sin, whether directly or indirectly. God broke the world in response to sin. To redeem the world from illness, sin must be conquered.
I want you to look at Isaiah 53:4-5. The ESV has “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” But Matthew’s Gospel translates verse 4 like this: “Surely he took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” Part of the Servant’s work is to carry away our illnesses. But the way he does that comes in verse 5: “Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Total healing is possible only when God deals with sin.
Matthew uses this passage to connect Jesus’ atoning death with Jesus’ healing ministry. Look at Matthew 8:16-17. “That evening they brought to [Jesus] many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases’”—that’s Isaiah 53:4.
In other words, Jesus’ healing ministry must be viewed with the cross before him. And the church’s healing ministry must be viewed with the cross behind them. Healing is but one fruit of Jesus’ atoning death. By dealing with our sin, God wins for his people not only forgiven souls but eventually healed bodies as well.
The healing evidences Jesus’ power and prefigures his future kingdom
Now, let’s put the pieces together. Isaiah 35 promised that God’s kingdom would bring for his people a divine reversal: the lame are going to leap like the deer; wholeness and healing will characterize the coming kingdom. But Isaiah 53 shows, that couldn’t happen unless the cause of all brokenness was taken away first, our sin. Your greatest problem and my greatest problem is not a bad day at work, a wayward husband, a broken bone, headaches, cancer and chemo, or even death. Our greatest problem is the sin behind all that brokenness. Listen, God sent his Son into the world to deal with that greatest problem. He died for our sins on the cross: to pay the penalty our sin deserved, to satisfy God’s wrath, to carry away all sorrows that sin causes, including illnesses.
Jesus died to do that for us; and then God raised him from the dead, and glorified his Servant to his right hand. Peter is saying, “Look, you see that man leaping for joy over there. That means God glorified his Servant. That means Jesus’ atoning work is for real. That means his death truly brings us life. That means his resurrection vindicated him as King. That means Jesus is reigning in heaven with all power and giving you a little glimpse of what his kingdom is about—the lame leaping for joy, the broken becoming healed, the outcasts brought-in God’s presence. No sin marring anything. Hearts rejoicing. Bodies healed. Don’t look at us; trust in Christ!”
Trust in the glorified Jesus who brings the kingdom blessings
That’s where he goes next in verse 16. “And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”
He’s very clear: “Jesus’ name…made this man strong.” Yes, he adds, “by faith in his name.” The healing involved trust. But even that faith was a gift. He calls it, “the faith that is through Jesus.” Jesus gave it to him. All the credit belongs to Jesus, even the credit for the faith involved. The focus isn’t on the amount of faith they had, but on Christ who healed through the faith they did have.
This faith stands in direct contrast to the unbelief of those who killed the Author of life in verse 15. Unbelief kills the Author of life. You want to see the insanity of unbelief: here’s a perfect example. They traded a healer for a murderer, the Life-giver for a life-taker? Unbelief is suicidal—all unbelief. If you oppose Jesus, you oppose life. If you oppose Jesus, you oppose justice. Worst of all, if you oppose Jesus, you oppose God. You know why? God glorified his Servant Jesus.
There’s an implicit appeal in this, isn’t there? “If God raised and glorified his Servant, and through him just brought a little foretaste of the kingdom’s blessings, then where does that put you?” That’s the idea. “What’s your take on Jesus? Was he just a trickster when he healed all those people? Or was he truly the Author of life? Here’s a healed man for; you tell me.”
It’s never good to make judgments about Jesus that God disagrees with. For Luke the answer is plain: because they witnessed Jesus healing the lame and raising the dead; because they now understood that Jesus’ death conquered sin; because they witnessed the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus to God’s right hand; because they witnessed this 40-year old lame man leap into the temple, God glorified his servant Jesus. And you should put your trust in him too if you want life in the kingdom.
The appeal isn’t to put your trust in Jesus to receive immediate healing. But let this healing be another reason you trust in Jesus as the One who brings all healing. Jesus took care of our biggest problem—he died for our sins. For the Christian, the biggest problem in life is behind us. Every day in front of us anticipates glory and final healing and wholeness in the kingdom to come. The lame man leaping is just a foretaste.
Remember that God displays power through weakness
Now, because of the way “health and wealth” teachers take passages like this one, I want to use this as an opportunity to make a few clarifications in terms of healing.
I can’t help but notice that the apostles have no silver or gold when they heal this man, nor do they ask him for any. I also can’t help but notice that most everybody in the New Testament that heals somebody have no place to lay their head (Matt 8:16-17, 20), get crucified (Acts 3:15), stoned (Acts 6:8; 7:54-60), persecuted (Acts 8:1, 4, 7), thrown in jail for preaching Christ (Acts 4:3), or get treated like the scum of the earth (1 Cor 4:9).
God displays his power through weakness. The gospel advances through a suffering church. That’s a stark contrast to the prosperity teachers nowadays. There’s healing power in the cross—Amen—but the cross bids us come and die. Part of its healing power is in the way it releases us from idolizing treasures on earth.
Remember that the kingdom is “already-not-yet”
The “health and wealth” teachers also have an over-realized eschatology—No, I didn’t just speak in tongues. That’s a fancy way of saying they try to claim all the blessings of God’s future kingdom now. We can agree that the atonement brings healing—in fact, we can agree that every kingdom-blessing comes as a fruit of the atonement in some sense. But we can’t say the fullness of those blessings become ours on demand now. I don’t see anybody naming and claiming their resurrection body!
No, healings evidence Jesus’ power and prefigure the kingdom to come. Yes, we should expect for Jesus to heal people, and pray for him to heal people. Healings are one characteristic of God’s kingdom already breaking-in to this world—we see an example of that here in Acts 3. It foreshadows the divine reversal. But we still live in the “already-not-yet.” Christ’s kingdom is already here; and it’s not yet fully here.
Acts 3:21 helps us here: “heaven must receive [Jesus] until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the…prophets.” The time for restoring all things isn’t here yet. Just because we get the benefits of forgiveness now, fellowship with God now, the Holy Spirit now, doesn’t mean everybody gets healed now. Some may get healed—but not in an ultimate sense. It’s also true that God leaves some in their sickness and suffering to demonstrate his care, glory, sufficiency, and power in other ways.[iv] Healings prefigure God’s ultimate will for our bodies in the age to come.
Hope that God will make us whole in the future kingdom
In that sense, even a healing like this one becomes hope for us all, because it reveals God’s ultimate concern with our bodies. If you have your sins taken away in Jesus, God will bring your body ultimate healing at Jesus’ return. Even better, it’ll be a new body. Untainted by sin. Never perishing. No pains in the knees. No cancer. No cracks in the back. No obscure vision. No emotional chaos from this to that week. All disabilities made right. Everything will be functioning perfectly, remade so that we excel in praise to God and unhindered, joy-filled service to each other.
That hope belongs to everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ. He bore our illnesses. He carried away our diseases. He will one day make us whole in his kingdom. If you happen to see someone healed, that’s just a little window through which to be reminded that God will make all of us new one day. We’ll all leap like the deer.
Until that day, we can also have hope that Christ’s Spirit working in us now is the Spirit of restoration. We don’t yet see the final kingdom, but Paul calls everyone in Christ a new creation? We’ve got all kinds of problems, not just physical ones. But the Spirit is already working new-creation glories day by day. Because of Christ’s finished work, we can trust the Spirit to turn right-side up all that sin turned upside-down.
We simply need Jesus and his power to impact others
This passage also gives us some perspective on ministry in the present. We don’t need wealth to impact people’s lives; we simply need Jesus. He’s the one with all power in heaven and on earth. He’s the one God glorified. He possesses all wisdom and wealth and power. If we’re walking with Jesus, we have all we need to make a difference in the lives of others. In Christ, we’re able to bring the presence and power of God.
That doesn’t mean we’ll heal somebody—perhaps we will if God so chooses to use us in that way. But let’s not forget that God’s power works through his people in other ways as well. He produces faith, joy, unity, worship. The Spirit inspires prophetic witness to all nations. Paul says there’s a variety of gifts and services and activities the Spirit inspires for the building up of the body: wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, service, leadership, teaching, mercy, generosity, and so on. These too are Christ’s power at work through his people. Don’t ever think you can’t do much for the kingdom without money. God loves proving his power through weakness.
Turn others to the glorified Christ as God uses you
We also get a perfect example of how to turn whatever the Lord accomplishes through us to the praise of Christ or an opportunity to proclaim Christ. Not for one second do the apostles enjoy the attention for themselves. They deflect the glory and return it to the Lord. They use it as opportunity to preach Christ’s cross, Christ’s resurrection, Christ’s glorified state. We must follow their lead.
God uses us not to make much of ourselves, but to make much of Christ. The gospel of Jesus and his coming kingdom must remain central. We’re reminded of its centrality in the church today as we come to the Lord’s Supper together. As we eat and as we drink, let us remember the Suffering Servant who died to give us fullness of life in his coming kingdom. True and ultimate healing comes through his wounds.
[i]The contrast becomes more obvious in the way he links these two passages. Both mention the temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1) and prayer (Acts 2:42; 3:1; both record signs by the apostles (Acts 2:43; 3:6-7); both have instances of neediness (Acts 2:45; 3:2), praising God (Acts 2:47; 3:8-9), and the powerful impact of God’s work in the church on outsiders (Acts 2:43, 47; 3:9-11).
[ii]I mentioned in the last sermon that God used signs to authenticate his apostles (e.g., 2 Cor 12:12; Heb 2:4). The present passage seems to indicate that the signs did so intrinsically rather than extrinsically. That is, the signs of the kingdom gave concrete expression to the gospel of the kingdom.
[iii]The Gospels also record Jesus healing the lame: Matt 11:5; 15:30-31; Luke 7:22.
Remember that Luke’s Gospel was about all that Jesus “began to do and teach,” the implication being that Acts is all that Jesus continues to do and teach.
[iv]John 9:1-3; Rom 8:35-39; 2 Cor 1:3-11; 4:17-18; 12:7-9; Phil 2:25-27; Heb 12:3-11; Jas 5:7-11.