The man no longer asked for a miracle; he just wanted to survive.
Have you ever missed a great opportunity? Has anything good happened to everyone except you? Have you ever felt that God has blessed many, but He just passed you by?
A story in the Bible may reflects those feelings. It’s the story of the healing of the paralytic man in Acts 3.
We know that he was lame from birth; that he was more than 40 years old (see Acts 4:22); that he sat every day asking for alms at the gate called Beautiful at the Temple; and that during His ministry Jesus had not cured him. He may have been one of the last people in Jerusalem not to have felt Jesus’ healing touch.
Before we review this story, let’s recall the story of another man who appears in the Gospels, the man cured at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-9). Jesus noticed him because he had been ill for 38 years. Jesus approached him, and after a brief dialogue cured him with a simple command: “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (verse 8).
An important element of this story is that Jesus was the one who approached him. Normally those who were sick were brought to Jesus. Or someone asked for help on their behalf. But on this occasion, of all the sick people in Bethesda (many, according to the text [verse 3])—Jesus chose him.
I am struck by the possible links of this story in John 5 and that of Acts 3. Bethesda was located in the city of Jerusalem, and the paralytic in John 5 had been ill for 38 years. It was the same time as our friend from Acts, since it is said that he was more than 40 years old shortly after the death of Jesus. So when the healing at Bethesda took place in John 5, he would have been about 38 years old too. Therefore, they had been sick about the same time. Perhaps our friend had also been in Bethesda at other times, among the crowd of “sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed” (verse 3). Who knows?
When Jesus walked through Bethesda before reaching the paralytic, He passed by other sick people, maybe other paralytics. He walked beside their beds; He heard their cries; but He did not heal them. Why not?
Ellen White observes that Jesus wanted to heal more people that day, “but it was the Sabbath day. Multitudes were going to the temple for worship, and He knew that such an act of healing would so excite the prejudice of the Jews as to cut short His work.”1
Jesus had a reason for every action. We know that He could not heal everyone without obstructing His work, but why did he choose this paralytic and not another?
Again, Ellen White notes that this was a desperate case: “His persistent efforts toward the one object, and his anxiety and continual disappointment, were fast wearing away the remnant of his strength.”2
The paralytic was apparently about to give up. Jesus knew all the cases and chose him.
Maybe the disabled men from Acts and John knew each other. Maybe they even saw each other again. Can you imagine the conversation?
“Yes, Jesus healed me!”
“Where is He?”
“I don’t know. He was at Bethesda a few moments ago.”
What would have crossed the other man’s mind? Joy for the healing of someone sick? Anxiety about trying to be healed too? Maybe he started looking for Jesus at Bethesda.
At least twice Jesus performed several miracles at the same time in Jerusalem, both in the Temple. One at the beginning of His ministry (John 2), and the other at the end of His ministry (Matt. 21).
About the first occasion Ellen White writes that after purifying the Temple, Jesus stayed attending the sick who came to Him. “All received attention. Everyone was healed of whatever disease he had.”3 On the second occasion “the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them” (Matt. 21:14). Ellen White adds that those who returned to the courtyard “stood transfixed before the wonderful scene. They saw the sick healed, the blind restored to sight, and deaf receive their hearing, and the crippled leap for joy.”4
Jesus healed everyone present. But our friend was not among them. For some reason he missed the many healings of Jesus. Maybe he began to feel that he was always in the wrong place.
On other occasions Jesus took the initiative to meet those who needed Him. For example, with the Samaritan woman “He needed to go through Samaria” (John 4:4); with the Canaanite woman “Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon” (Matt. 15:21); with the demoniacs of Gadara “they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes” (Mark 5:1).
So the Gospels tell of at least three types of healing: (1) people who came to Jesus and were healed; (2) people who asked for help for those who could not come, such as the man taken to the roof of the house in Capernaum (Mark 2); and (3) people who sought out Jesus.
Interestingly, our friend did not fall into any of these categories. Normally when Jesus passed through a city no one was left sick.
What evidence do we have to reconstruct this story of the paralytic in Acts 3 and Jesus? Ellen White writes about him: “This unfortunate man had long desired to see Jesus, that he might be healed; but he was almost helpless, and was far removed from the scene of the great Physician’s labors.”5 His case was therefore a desperate, fruitless search. Jesus had not looked for him, he did not find Jesus, and nobody took him to Jesus.
Ellen White describes his last effort to see Jesus: “His pleadings at last induced some friends to bear him to the gate of the temple, but upon arriving there, he found that the One upon whom his hopes were centered, had been put to a cruel death.”6
Imagine how he must have felt! I imagine him crying out, “Why, Lord? All have been healed except me!”
Forty years not being able to walk. Forty years of broken dreams. Forty years trying to be healed. But he was always in the wrong place. And when he finally got close to Jesus, he learned that Jesus had been killed.
Our friend had to mourn. Perhaps after a certain time he accepted with resignation that he would never be cured. Drying his tears, he thought, At least I will not be a burden to anyone. I still can ask for alms. I will do that for the rest of my life.
“Take me to the Temple, please,” he probably asked his friends.
In reading the story this way, everything makes sense. The man was brought every day to the door of the Temple. When he saw the disciples, he “asked for alms” (Acts 3:3).
Notice, he no longer asked for a miracle; he just wanted to survive.
But when Peter approached, he said to the man: “‘Look at us.’ So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, ‘Silver and gold I do not have’” (verses 5, 6).
It seemed like the last straw. A bad joke.
But I like to imagine Peter’s conversation with our friend: “I have nothing of what you expect, because I am a time traveler. I’m here to remind you of your dream. I’ve come to give you what you’ve been looking for. I bring you something from Jesus of Nazareth.”
Ellen White observes: “As Peter thus declared his poverty, the countenance of the cripple fell; but it grew bright with hope as the apostle continued, ‘But such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.’”7
What? In the name of Jesus? Jesus was alive?
“And [Peter] took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankles bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God” (Acts 3:7-9).
What a wonderful story!
Healing for All
I don’t know where you are. Maybe you were healed long ago in Bethesda. Maybe Jesus found you there and healed you directly.
Maybe Jesus had to go around because you were far away. Maybe someone brought you to Jesus, or good friends asked for Jesus to heal you.
Or maybe you’re like our friend, sitting at the door of the Temple with broken dreams, frustrated by the undeniable feeling that God has passed you by. You may feel forgotten by God. The last paralytic of Jerusalem.
If so, your story’s not over. God’s ways are inscrutable, unattainable, and incomprehensible. Because when we least expect it, a messenger of God can come into our lives and speak to us in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Every day we meet people like the paralytic. Evicted. At the door of the Temple. Hopeless. Without illusion. They no longer ask for a miracle. They feel forgotten by God.
Our mission, like that of Peter and John, is to remind them of a promise in Jesus’ name: Don’t give up. Keep believing. Keep trusting. Because one day not too far in the distance, there in the temple of the Most High God, you also will walk, leap, and praise God.
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), pp. 201, 202.
2 Ibid., p. 202.
3 Ibid., p. 163.
4 Ibid., p. 592.
5 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 57.
6 Ibid., pp. 57, 58.
7 Ibid., p. 58.