The Day After
In the early days of the church, the apostles Peter and John were entering the temple. At the entrance of the temple, at the Beautiful Gate, there was a lame man begging for alms who had been lame from birth. Peter and John stopped in front of the man and not having money to give to the man they give him something better. “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) The text goes on to say that Peter took the man by the hand and immediately the lame man’s feet and ankles were strengthened. The previously lame man was now jumping and running about praising God in the temple. A man who had been a fixture as a perennial beggar at the temple was now upright, and it filled the people looking on with wonder and amazement. (cf. Acts 3:1-11)
There are obvious parallels we could make with this story regarding spiritual sickness. Jesus made this comparison while he was ministering on earth that, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) As the name of Jesus was able to heal the lame man’s physical legs, more importantly the name of Jesus can heal our broken souls. Jesus came to heal us from our sins. And just like the lame man, we are unable to make ourselves well. It is only by the name and power of Jesus that we can be restored to what we were meant to be. Legs were meant for walking and running and leaping. Humans are meant to live in a manner that glorifies God.
That is a basic lesson we can get from this story, and it is a very important lesson. But one time as I was reading through Acts, a detail in the story caught my attention and wouldn’t let go. Later on in Acts 4:22 it is revealed that the man who had been healed was forty years old. I started thinking about what kind of life a man who had been lame from birth must have been. What did he have to do to continue to live until he was forty? In that day, he would have probably been given little if no education. The Jews were generally better about educating all children than many other ancient peoples of the time, but as someone who was lame from birth, if this man had any education it would have been the bare minimum. He also would not have been apprenticed in a trade, nor would he be able to support himself by being a day laborer in the fields. Most likely from a very early age he begged for his living. There was no welfare system in those days to take care of the sick and infirm. People like this man had to rely on the generosity of those better off.
I imagine at the age of forty, this man had spent a considerable amount of time daydreaming about what he would or could do if his legs worked. Then these two men bring him Jesus and suddenly he can walk. It would be this man’s wildest dream come true! He certainly takes advantage of it by not only walking but running and jumping around. He was happy, and who wouldn’t be in such a situation? Something you thought was impossible has now been made manifest in your life. The lame man was no longer lame!
But what happens the day after? The day after the initial surge of joy has dissipated. The day after the amazed crowds go back to their homes. This man cannot go back to begging, obviously. He is no longer lame, and he wouldn’t even be able to fake it because everyone recognized him and saw him running and jumping around. In a strange way, when Peter brought this man Jesus, he not only gave him the ability to walk, but he also ended that man’s entire way of life. He could no longer do what he had done his entire life. At the age of forty, this man would have to start completely over. Perhaps he could find someone who would be willing to teach him a trade at his advanced age. Perhaps he would have to learn to work in the fields. Either option seems difficult compared to sitting and waiting for other people to give you money. And yet, that is the price of being healed. This man’s entire life had to change to fit his new reality. He could not go back to begging. He now had to work.
And thinking about our analogy to sin, it is the same way with us. After Jesus cleanses us from sin, it is just as ridiculous to go back to our former lives as it would be for a healed lame man to go back to begging. Paul talks about the new life we have been given in Christ this way in Romans 6:5-14.
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
And just like the lame man who had work to do after he was healed, so do we.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)