Chapter 6: The First Miracle

Reaching This Generation Through Principles From The Book of Acts

 The First Miracle

Miraclean event that cannot be explained according to the laws of nature and is considered to be an act of God or something extremely lucky that would not normally be possible.

Miracles by definition are supernatural events, or the results of extreme chance. For members of the family of God, chance events are rare. Miraculous manifestations of the presence of God are not.  They are common, and expected.

They are often referred to as “Signs”. They serve a dual purpose of meeting an immediate need, as well as proclaiming who God actually is. We all have a time in our lives where we need a miracle.

In the classic movie “The Princess Bride” Indigo Montoya needed a miracle to bring Wesley (the Dread Pirate Roberts) back to life. He and the giant Fezik took Wesley to “Miracle Max”, who pronounced him “mostly dead”.

Max prescribed his famous chocolate-coated “reviver”, and Wesley eventually recovered. Was it a true miracle? My children often ask me how these things in the movies happen.  I just shrug and say, “Because it is in the script.” Anything is possible in a movie!

With God too, anything He wants to do is possible, because after all, He is the Creator who exists above the timeline and who operates outside the physical laws of this universe.  When He wants to do something, it will happen.  And when it goes against the laws of physics, medicine, economics, behavior, and relationships, we are astounded, and proclaim it to be a “miracle”.

Jesus asked His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had empowered them before they went forth as His Witnesses. Some of the results of that supernatural empowerment include the spiritual gifts that are listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. According to the Bible, these “empowerments” are possessed by each member of the Body of Christ, and are to be used to serve others and bring attention to our Lord Jesus.   This is what happens as Peter and John are walking up to the Temple for worship.

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.

Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting a gift. But Peter said, “I don’t have any money for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!”

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and anklebones were healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.

All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded! They all rushed out to Solomon’s Colonnade, where he was holding tightly to Peter and John. Everyone stood there in awe of the wonderful thing that had happened. Acts 3:1-11

 

Here are the facts of this miracle:

1)      Peter & John were on their way to worship at the Temple;

2)      They passed a man who had been born lame, who was over 40 years old, and had been brought to the gate of the Temple to beg for alms for many years;

3)      Jesus had probably passed this man many times on his way into the Temple;

4)      With sudden inspiration, Peter proclaimed that God was going to allow this man to walk;

5)      When he lifted the man by his right hand, the man’s feet and ankles were healed and strengthened;

6)      The formerly lame man was able to walk and leap, and this resulted in him loudly and unabashedly proclaiming that God had indeed intervened in nature and healed him;

7)      The crowd at the Temple took notice, and was filled with “amazement”.

 

The Greek word used in the text for amazement is “ekstasis”, which means “an ecstasy in which the mind is for a time carried, as it were, out of or beyond itself and lost: great astonishment.

Miracles take us out of our standard way of thinking into a realm where all norms are laid aside. Suddenly we are open to a new way of belief. Deep Desires only hoped for are now possible.

God loves to take us out of our own minds and into His.

Peter sees an opportunity to make the point of this supernatural intervention and addresses the crowd.  He points out that it was not him that caused this miracle, but rather Jesus of Nazareth, who was rejected by the authorities and the people, and crucified, who was responsible for this healing. Jesus is alive, and Peter and the others are witnesses of his resurrection. Now he softens his speech to appeal to the crowd.

“Friends, I realize that what you did to Jesus was done in ignorance; and the same can be said of your leaders. But God was fulfilling what all the prophets had declared about the Messiah beforehand—that he must suffer all these things.  Now turn from your sins and turn to God, so you can be cleansed of your sins. Then wonderful times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord, and he will send Jesus your Messiah to you again.  For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his prophets. Acts 3:17-21

Peter announces that according to the Jewish prophets of old, Jesus had to die for our sins.  Now it was the responsibility of all to turn from our own sinful paths, and return to a personal walk with the Lord, who will forgive us of all our sins. When we make this decision, we will enter a time of “refreshment” by being in God’s very real presence.

It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “refreshment” is  “anapsyxisis”, which has the sense of refreshment, relaxation from burdensome circumstance, or a state of cheer after a difficult time. (from the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Sematic Domains). It can also mean a “recovery of breath”.

In the normal course of this life, with all its cares and problems, Peter declares that once we enter into a personal relationship with God things will change.  Jesus, our Lord, will be there to bear our burdens and provide us with cheerful relief, in this life as well as in the next.  This is one of the practical benefits of being a member of God’s family.

Peter finishes his speech with some cultural connections of Jesus with Moses, Samuel, and finally with Abraham.  These Old Testament characters understood who Jesus is, and spoke about Him, and the effect He would have on mankind.

Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up a Prophet like me from among your own people. Listen carefully to everything he tells you.’ Then Moses said, ‘Anyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be cut off from God’s people and utterly destroyed.’(Deuteronomy 18:15)

“Starting with Samuel, every prophet spoke about what is happening today. You are the children of those prophets, and you are included in the covenant God promised to your ancestors. For God said to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants all the families on earth will be blessed.’ (Genesis 22:18)

When God raised  up his servant, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.” Acts 3:22-26

 

Was this an effective message?  Did Peter connect the dots for his audience? Luke records:

While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the leading priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees came over to them. They were very disturbed that Peter and John were claiming, on the authority of Jesus, that there is a resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and, since it was already evening, jailed them until morning. But many of the people who heard their message believed it, so that the number of believers totaled about five thousand men, not counting women and children. Acts 4:1-4

 

Yes, Peter’s message was clear to the religious authorities, who were mostly from the Sadducee party, which did not believe in a future resurrection.  They were incensed that Peter was proclaiming this event through the resurrection of Jesus.  They ordered John and Peter jailed overnight.  The crowd however responded positively to Peter’s message, and over 5000 men, along with many women and children, believed and became followers of Jesus.

What an event!  What a miracle!  What a harvest!

I have sat many times on the South Steps of the Temple in Jerusalem, contemplating this event.  The steps of Jerusalem limestone are the original step in the original location. They are irregular in shape, so that one could not just approach God without thinking about his steps. It was here that rabbinical schools met, and here also that beggars gathered to collect alms from those entering the Temple grounds for worship.

How many times did Jesus pass by this man born lame who would be just a few years older than Jesus?  Did he pass him by with a smile on his face, knowing what was in store for this invalid in only a short time?  Did he stop and speak with this man encouraging him that indeed God knew his situation, and cared? (This by the way is the definition of “joy” for a Biblical Jew).

Did Jesus hint to him that God had a plan to use him in a way that he could not even imagine?   I can’t help but believe that Jesus did stop to speak with this future disciple; Maybe more than once.

I have spent the past 29 years walking with Jesus, involved in discipleship and evangelism ministry.  In these past decades, I don’t think I have seen even close to 5000 come into the kingdom because of my efforts. Yet this man, who often passed his days without much going on, with little hope beyond meeting the needs of today, with thoughts of how God had cursed him from his birth, was used through his faith, to bring thousands into the Kingdom.

Somehow, I find great encouragement in that.

The next day, Annas the High Priest, along with Caiaphas, John, and Alexander and all their cronies called Peter and John before them to explain their actions.  Imagine the scene: Learned Men who were the spiritual leaders of the nation of Israel; men who had devoted their lives to God, His Laws, as well as the traditions of the rabbis.  In front of them stood two Galilean fishermen, and a formerly lame 40 year old man whom had lain at the gates of the Temple for many years.

On one side were the religious elite; on the other were common men. The religious leaders were dressed according to the personal wealth they possessed.  The fishermen and beggar were attired in ordinary clothing, displaying their low station in life. The elite had heard of and taught about the miracles of God for generations, but they personally had not been involved in any supernatural move of God. The common men had just performed an electrifying miracle.

The contrast could not have been more stunning.

They brought in the two disciples and demanded, “By what power, or in whose name, have you done this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Leaders and elders of our nation, are we being questioned because we’ve done a good deed for a crippled man? Do you want to know how he was healed? Let me clearly state to you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed in the name and power of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, the man you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead. For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,

‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’

There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of heaven for people to call on to save them.” Acts 4:7-12

The stone that the builders rejected?  Why did Peter pull this seemingly obscure verse from the book of Psalms?

There were three Feasts in Jerusalem which required the attendance of all Jewish males- Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles.  It was the custom of the traveling families to sing the “Songs of Ascent”, Psalms 120-134 (in reverse order), as they journeyed up the central ridge of the country to Jerusalem, which sits at 2800 above sea level. Jericho, in the Jordan Valley, is at the north tip of the Dead Sea seven miles to the east of Jerusalem, and is situated at almost 1300 below sea level. Walking from Galilee down the Jordan valley, you definitely have to “go up” to Jerusalem!

According to the rabbinical traditions, when the pilgrims reached the top of the Mount of Olives, they shifted to singing Psalm 113, and then Psalm 114 as they began the descent into the Kidron Valley. Psalm 115 was sung as they looked down on the Temple and Psalm 116 as they walked through the graveyards along the valley.  Psalm 117 is a short one for the steep uphill walk from the Kidron to the Temple gate, and finally, as they entered the Temple, it was common practice to sing Psalm 118.  Listen to the words of this significant song that every Jew for generations sung during these three annual pilgrimages.

Open for me the gates where the righteous enter, and I will go in and thank the Lord.

Those gates lead to the presence of the Lord, and the godly enter there.

I thank you for answering my prayer and saving me!

The stone rejected by the builders has now become the cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous to see.

This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Please, Lord, please save us. Please, Lord, please give us success.

Psalm 118:19-25

This verse was so significant that in one of his conversations with the chief priests and religious leaders, Jesus applied this passage of Scripture to Himself (as recorded in Mark 12:10).

We could conceive in our minds an understanding of this passage:  How Jesus, the true foundation of the Kingdom of God, was rejected by the religious leaders because He didn’t obey their laws and traditions, and did not fit into their perceptions of who the Messiah would be. We could be satisfied with this understanding.  But there is an even more meaningful, even more electrifying illustration of this principle.

When the Assyrian Empire was sweeping through the northern Kingdom of Israel in the 8th Century B.C., many refugees fled this conflict to the city of Jerusalem. It was during this time that the King of Judah ordered a bigger wall constructed to encompass those “daughters” of Jerusalem who were residing outside of the city walls.  A portion of this wall is visible in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City today.

One of the quarries where the stones were cut for this wall is to the west of the ancient wall.  This quarry was active until the 6th century, when the Babylonians conquered Judah.  For over 500 years the quarry sat abandoned, used only for the burial of the dead.  In the midst of this quarried area is one promontory of rock that has cracks running throughout the limestone. The stone cutters quarried about this cracked rock, as it was unsuitable for construction.

When the Romans arrived in the First Century B.C, they used this outcropping of rock of the abandoned quarry to execute their prisoners.  It was after all visible to all travelers who were heading west to the coast road, and this “public visibility” was important for the terror control that the Romans wanted to exert on their subjects.

The Scriptures record that Jesus was led outside the city to the “Place of the Skull” where he was crucified.  When His body was removed, it was taken to a nearby tomb which had never been used.

Today the Church of the Holy Sepulcher sits atop this site. When you enter the door to this church constructed in the 11th and 12th century, you can take an immediate right turn, climb 28 steep steps, and find yourself standing before a glitzy altar that sits on top of this outcropping of rock.

Recently, archeologists covered the top of this rock with Plexiglas panels, which clearly reveal the cracks running through the rock.  Descend down the back stairs and you are standing in front of the “Chapel of Adam’, where these fissures are upfront and close. You can reach out and touch them.

Less than 150 feet away is the Syrian Chapel, where in the last century the walls were moved further out in an expansion effort, revealing a series of First Century “kohem” style tombs. This area was clearly a burial ground during the time of Jesus.

I have stood often in front of the altar at the top of the promontory, and sat for long periods in the “Chapel of Adam”.  I have taken most of my friends into the tombs on the side of the Syrian Chapel.

The physical evidence for Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is compelling.  And as you stand looking at the cracks running through the stone that was rejected by the builders in the 8th and 7th century, and where the Son of God died for your and my sins, you cannot help be overwhelmed by God grand design to demonstrate His presence among men, and His Grace to invite us into His family.  It is a powerful image.

Now Luke and the Holy Spirit give us a most empowering principle of ministry.

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men who had had no special training. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus. But since the man who had been healed was standing right there among them, the council had nothing to say. Acts 4:13-14

 

The well trained, well educated members of the Ruling Council did not expect these Galilean fishermen to speak in such an eloquent and compelling manner. After all, they were “ordinary men with no special training”. The original Greek text uses a word here to describe Peter & John that is noteworthy: “Idiotes”.

This word means “illiterate and unskilled”. We get a word in our English language from this: “Idiot”.

These learned men also realized something even more important: These were men who had spent time with Jesus.

Again the contrast is evident: educated and trained men who had rejected Jesus’  teaching, miracles,  and authority, who were powerless in spiritual matters versus “idiots” who had spent considerable time with Jesus, and who has accomplished a very evident miracle.

Here is the Principle for us in our ministry in Utila and the rest of the world:

God loves to use ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.

In 1984, I traveled to Honduras on what I thought was going to be a two-week trip to deliver some relief supplies to Nicaraguan Miskito refugees.  My trip was extended, and eventually I made it back to Maui in May of 1986, and that was only a few months to collect my things, and return to Honduras by July of that same year.  It was that year that we began Project Ezra, our primary school project, which has continued for over 24 years.  I have no professional credentials as an educator. Indeed, my education experience is limited to just being a student.  Yet God chose to use me along with other “idiots” to put together a Christian education project that has lasted decades.

It was the year 2002 that my good friend and pastor from Hope Chapel Maui, Craig Englert, visited us on the Rio Coco. It was an intense two weeks of rain, mud, bugs, and hot weather as we visited our schools and worked with our teachers, pastors, and students.  One afternoon Craig made this comment to me: “Mike, this project has certainly been a work of the Lord.

Just about the time I started to congratulate myself, he added: “I know you well, and it wasn’t you who accomplished this great work.”

He is right.  God loves to use willing “idiotes” to accomplish great things for Him.  Why?  So that when people notice, they will be assured that God is indeed God and capable of using anybody to accomplish His great things!

A second principle from this passage is equally important:

Spending time with Jesus is the most important thing a Christian can do.

We all can adopt a lifestyle of living with Jesus on a daily basis.  We can talk with Him, read His Word, sing songs of worship to Him, hang out with His family members, and be involved in works of service with Him to the people around us.  The disciples did all this when Jesus was present with them, and we have the opportunity to do the same today. It is our personal time with Jesus that really causes deep changes to take place inside us. Our intimate moments with Him help us realign our thinking to His thoughts and principles. It is in these private times that issues are discussed, frustrations revealed, and forgiveness given and received. Burdens are lifted, solutions are revealed, and refreshment is provided. Spending time with Jesus is the “oxygen of our spiritual life”. We cannot survive long without it.

Luke continues:

So they sent Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves. “What should we do with these men?” they asked each other. “We can’t deny they have done a miraculous sign, and everybody in Jerusalem knows about it. But perhaps we can stop them from spreading their propaganda. We’ll warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.”

So they called the apostles back in and told them never again to speak or teach about Jesus.

But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about the wonderful things we have seen and heard.”

The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot. For everyone was praising God for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years. Acts 4:15-22

Should we bow to the pressure of religious leaders and curtail our efforts to build the Kingdom? According to Peter, not if God is telling us to!  Even when threatened with physical punishment and banishment we must have the courage to continue on the path that God has placed us. The important key is to hear from God and know what direction He wants you to go.  When we meet with opposition, we must often pause and reconfirm God’s direction, and then press on with boldness and confidence.

Peter, John, and the formerly lame man were released, and returned to the other disciples. Where it might be natural to pray for protection against the threats of the authorities, these disciples asked the Lord for something extraordinary.

And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give your servants great boldness in their preaching. Send your healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After this prayer, the building where they were meeting shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And they preached God’s message with boldness. Acts 4:29-31

 

When God does something special in your midst, expect opposition from the world and from satan and his rebellious angels. Just as spiritual empowerments were considered normal by those First Century believers, this worldly and spiritual opposition was also part of the landscape.

 

Peter and the others understood this, and prayed not for protection, but for boldness in their preaching, and more miraculous signs and wonders.

Shall we not do the same?

Let us proceed with boldness in the ministry that God has called us to!