Some thoughts from my personal Bible study, mainly asking questions of the text and pondering some potential answers.
Did the lame man know who Peter and John were?
In the previous chapter we saw that 3000 believers were added following the giving of the Holy Spirit, and that they spent a lot of time in the temple together. They’d have been a regular sight. Now we hear that this lame man was placed at the temple every day to beg. So it’s likely that this man had noticed the increase in the number of people, and would probably have been aware of what was going on. After all, he was lame, not stupid.
So when Peter and John came past, and he asked for a donation, did he realise who he was talking to? Was he perhaps banking on the generosity of these new believers, who shared everything they had? It reminds me of a scene in the film “Yes Man”, where the protagonist waits outside a “yes” convention to capitalise on their guaranteed positive reaction! So maybe this lame man was raking in a lot more since the Holy Spirit came.
On the other hand, maybe the years of begging had worn him down so much that he didn’t even have any hope. Maybe that’s why Peter had to tell him to “look at us”, because he wasn’t actually engaging with anyone with any enthusiasm. Either way, he got a lot more than he bargained for. He certainly didn’t ask to be healed, but nor do we see any protest when it happens; in fact, it seems like a transformation of character as much as physicality.
Do we expect God to change us? I think sometimes we come to him like that lame man, asking for the bare minimum so that we won’t be disappointed when nothing much is given, not bothering to make proper eye contact because we’ve lost hope. If that rings true, this account should be a massive encouragement – God doesn’t just give us what we ask for, but what we need, and that can completely transform us.
Why is the name of Jesus so powerful?
It’s as if those syllables posess some sort of special power. Peter commands in the name of Jesus, and stuff happens. It’s interesting, because he hadn’t commanded in the name of Jesus when he was preaching, and yet the Holy Spirit still worked through him, and there are plenty of other accounts where miracles happen without that exact phrase being spoken. What’s so special about the name, and why isn’t it used all the time?
I think it comes down to intention. Here, Peter was making the point that it wasn’t his own power or authority that made it happen. Later in Acts we meet Simon the Sorceror, who gets the wrong end of the stick about this. Essentially, the miracle is performed to glorify Jesus, not for selfish gains. By that logic, it’s possible to use the name of Jesus without actually believing in him. It’s also possible to believe, allow God to work miracles through us, and not technically utter the name of Jesus. It’s not a switch, it’s not like the power of the Creator is somehow ‘on tap’ if we perform certain rituals in the right way. God doesn’t work like that. Peter’s point, which he goes on to talk about, is that it’s all about the person of Jesus.
“Repent… so that times of refreshing may come” – wouldn’t they come otherwise?
Peter’s expectation was that Jesus would return soon. His instruction was therefore filled with urgency, pleading with people to turn their lives around before it was too late. It’s not that the Second Coming is tied to our actions, we can’t force it to happen by what we do or achieve, it’s entirely in God’s hands. Jesus made this clear before he ascended, saying “it is not for you to know”. We’re not in control, God is.
But there is still urgency, and Peter is right to highlight it. Without urgency, we dilly and dally and never actually get round to it. And then, one day, perhaps when we least expect it, or perhaps when we think it’s too late to change, our life comes to a close. If we’re going to really see the benefit of turning our life around, it needs to happen now, not later. We’re promised eternal life, and that starts here on earth – those times of refreshing start today!