Jumping for joy

Have you ever suddenly accomplished something you thought you would never be able to do?

When my son was young, he and I spent many hours playing basketball in the driveway. Not being athletically gifted myself, I know how difficult it can be to get the ball in the hoop from twenty to twenty-five feet out, and how satisfying it is to hear the sound that means nothing but net. (You know the sound I mean. Is there a word for that?)

The game of professional basketball has shifted in recent years. Players and coaches seem to have fallen in love with the long-distance 3-point shot. And it’s amazing to see what players can do with it. Records keep getting broken, like most 3’s made by a team in one game. Or most made in one game by two teams playing each other. Most made by one player in a season. In consecutive seasons. In a game. In consecutive games. In a quarter. In a ten-minute stretch on a Tuesday while missing a sneaker and running a fever.

Okay, I made that last one up.

When a record is about to fall, there’s a sense of anticipation. Teammates on the court try to help. Teammates on the bench spring to their feet with each made shot. And when the deed is done before a home crowd, the arena erupts; players leap and bump each other while the fans high-five.

All that excitement for a game.

Imagine what could happen if someone experienced a real miracle.

As we saw in a previous post, the apostles Peter and John were entering the Jerusalem temple for an afternoon prayer service when they saw a crippled man being carried to the place where he would sit and beg alms each day. He asked them for money, probably not expecting much.

And then he got the surprise of a lifetime.

When Peter had the man’s undivided attention, he said, “I don’t have any money, but I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6, CEB). Peter reached down and took hold of the man’s hand. I imagine the beggar already had his hand out, waiting for…well, a handout. Peter gripped firmly and heaved the man to his feet.

Picture the wonderment on the beggar’s face as he stood on his own for the very first time. Did he feel the power of God strengthening his ankles, his feet? Did his toes tingle with new sensations? He started walking around, no doubt gingerly at first, half expecting to fall. But he didn’t.

And then he couldn’t help himself. He jumped for joy. He didn’t just walk. He leaped. He loudly praised God. All this while heading into the temple with Peter and John.

Way to disrupt a worship service.

Or not. The people saw and recognized the man, the pitiful lame beggar who was now giddy with glee and bounding about the courtyard. They were dumbfounded. And who knows? The sight may have given them something new to pray about.

We might have expected something like this. Luke’s already told us that the apostles were doing miraculous signs (Acts 2:43); having said that, he gives us an example. Moreover, in Luke’s gospel, the account of Jesus healing a paralytic (5:17-26) follows closely on his calling of the disciples (5:1-11); here in Acts, Peter’s healing of the lame man follows right on the heels of the massive expansion of the church at Pentecost. And later, the apostle Paul would do a similar miracle in Lystra (Acts 14:8-10).

These were not mere random acts of kindness. Remember, Peter had already preached a sermon tying the miracle of Pentecost to ancient prophecy: in pouring out his Spirit, God was fulfilling the promise given through the prophet Joel (Acts 2:16-21). The resurrection of Jesus, Peter added, was in fulfillment of the words of Psalm 16.

Anyone who saw the beggar that day might well have been reminded of the words of Isaiah: when God comes to save his people, the prophet promised, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared. Then the lame will leap like the deerand the tongue of the speechless will sing” (Isa 35:5-6, emphasis added). That is, after all, one of the passages Jesus himself referred to when the imprisoned John the Baptist sent word to Jesus to confirm that he was in fact the long-awaited Messiah (Matt 11:2-6). Work it out for yourself, John, Jesus seemed to say. You know what Isaiah said. You know what I’ve been doing. Any more questions?

Isaiah’s prophecy ends with these words: “The LORD’s ransomed ones will return and enter Zion with singing, with everlasting joy upon their heads. Happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and groaning will flee away” (Isa 35:10). That day in the temple, it was just the one man, formerly lame, leaping with joy.

But it was a start.