Acts chapter three tells the remarkable story of the healing of a man who had been crippled since before he was born (Acts 3:2). Acts 4:22 tells us that this man was “more than forty years old.” His condition was such that he needed to be carried to the temple on a daily basis just so he could beg for alms (Acts 3:2). It is hard to imagine a sadder or more pathetic situation. The man was more or less helpless.
Most of us probably don’t identify with this crippled man when we first read this passage of Scripture. But we should. You may never have begged for anything your entire life. The closest that you may have ever been to being homeless may have been a camping trip. You may not think that you can identify with this man’s crippled condition. But you should. Why? Because he really is a picture of each one of us outside of Jesus Christ.
How so? Not financially. Not physically. But spiritually – outside of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, we are all completely helpless and hopeless. We are all utterly incapable of doing anything to save or even help ourselves. In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul gives us a brief thumbnail sketch of our former condition outside of Christ. He writes,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
If you really think about it, that is a much worse situation than the outward estate of this man in Acts 3. Outside of Christ we are all “dead in trespasses and sins.” Outside of Christ we are all blindly “following the course of this world” and have Satan at work in us so that we follow him. Not only are we slaves to Satan and the world, but also to our own flesh – “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.”
Outside of Christ we are not on neutral ground – we have three mortal enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil – and one of them is our own nature! Outside of Christ we are not children of God, but rather “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” by nature.
The truth of those three short verses in Ephesians chapter two should serve to humble us. It should keep us from thinking that we are somehow better or more deserving than those who are still in their sins. And it should also convince us that no one else is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Our attitude will be like Paul’s when he wrote,
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Timothy 1:15).
It should serve to make us thankful people. We should be thankful because our salvation is all about the mercy and grace of God. We are all helpless beggars before the throne of God’s grace.
It is no mystery why, in his letters or epistles, Paul was constantly telling the believers that he was thankful to God for their faith, conversion & sanctification (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:15-23; Philippians 1:3-6; Colossians 1:3-8; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10, etc.). He was thankful to God because the salvation of sinners is nothing less than the supernatural work of the sovereign grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ!
In his book, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, Dennis Johnson writes,
Astonishing as it is for a man of forty who has never walked to leap in the temple, the cure of hearts paralyzed in sin is even greater. As a preview, it shows the final completion of Jesus’ restorative work, when believers’ physical bodies will fully experience the salvation which we already taste in the form of firstfruits (see Rom. 8:18-25). Astonishing as it is for a lame man to leap, it is nothing when compared to the cosmic restoration to come – “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21). (p.65)
Amazing as the healing of this crippled man was, it doesn’t begin to compare to “the cure of hearts paralyzed in sin.” And it doesn’t hold a candle to the cosmic healing and restoration that will take place at Christ’s return.
We really should be more amazed by the grace of God in the salvation of every single believer we know (including ourselves!) than we would be at the most remarkable physical healing that we can imagine.