The world has a saying ‘life begins at forty’, and if we look at some Biblical characters, we might agree! Forty seems to be a significant biblical number. Moses lived forty years in Egypt and forty years in the desert before God chose him to lead his people out of slavery. He spent forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai on two occasions (Ex 24:18, Ex 34:1-18). The Israelites were forty years wandering in the wilderness. Elijah went forty days without food or water at Mount Horeb and the prophet Ezekiel laid on his right side for forty days to symbolise Judah’s sins (Ezek 4:6). Jesus was forty days in the desert when he was tempted by Satan prior to the commencement of his ministry. So forty seems to be quite a significant number!
The lame man healed in Acts 3 was, we are told, ‘over forty years old.’ (Acts 4:22) Given that he was lame from birth (Acts 3:2), that was a significant amount of time to be crippled. It’s a vivid reminder, however, that what we have experienced for a long time does not have to last a lifetime. When God moves in power and might, things change. As Chris Tomlin puts it,
‘One word, and the walls start crumbling,
One word, and the blind will see.
One word, and the sinner’s forgiven,
‘Cause You do impossible things.’ (‘Impossible Things’, Chris Tomlin)
We need to have the faith to see that the long term can change when God steps into our situations. Long-term hurts, injuries, illnesses and situations can be turned around by a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:18-20).
For this man, it truly was as if life began at over forty. Suddenly he could walk and leap and praise God. Suddenly he was no longer a beggar, no longer dependent on others to carry him around, no longer an outcast of society. He wasn’t necessarily expecting life to change that day when he went to the temple as usual. But change it surely did… and life can change for us too when God steps into our situations.