We are in the midst of a study of 2:1-8:1a, which is a record of the disciples’ witness in Jerusalem. It also can be characterized as a series of firsts for the Church. Two lessons ago we studied Acts 2:1-13, in which Luke recorded the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church. Then we studied 2:14-47 in which we saw the first recorded Christian sermon (2:14-36), the first Christian converts (2:37-42), and some details about life among the believers in those early days (2:43-47).
In this essay we are studying Acts chapter three, which has two parts. In verses 1-11 we see the first recorded Christian miracle. And in verses 12-26 we see a second sermon by the apostle Peter.
One day Peter and John were going to the temple to pray (v. 1). There were three scheduled times of prayer at the temple daily: 9:00 AM, Noon, and 3:00 PM. The first and third prayer times also were the times of the morning and evening sacrifices. So Peter and John were going to the temple at 3:00 PM for the evening sacrifice and prayer time. As they were entering the Beautiful Gate, a lame man, crippled from birth, was being laid there by friends or family, so that he could beg from those going in and out of the temple (v. 2).
Most scholars identify the Beautiful Gate with the main entrance to the temple area from the Court of Gentiles. The Court of Gentiles was part of Herod the Great’s huge expansion of the temple. Anyone could go there. Then came the Court of Women, into which Jewish men and women could enter. The Court of Israel into which only Jewish men could enter was next. Then came the temple proper, which had three parts: the Court of Priests, which only priests and Levites could enter in order to do their official duties, the Holy Place where priests on duty officiated, and the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest could go, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement.
Coming back to the story, the crippled man asked Peter and John for alms as they passed by (v. 3). They stopped, and Peter told him, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (vv. 4-6). F.F. Bruce reports a story told by an earlier Christian about Thomas Aquinas and Pope Innocent II. It’s the kind of story that may not be true, but it makes an important point. Thomas called on the Pope and found him counting a large sum of money. “You see Thomas,” said the Pope, “the Church no longer can say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’ “True holy father,” said Thomas, “and neither can she now say to the lame man, ‘Arise and walk’.”
Peter did not expect the lame man to respond with faith without help. He held out his hand to help the man up. And instantly, the amazing healing took place. We learn fro 4:22 that the man was over forty. And yet he not only was able to stand up, he was able to walk, even though he never had walked before. Thus the miracle was one of learning as well as one of physical healing. Then the man realized that he not only could walk, but he also could jump (vv. 7-8). And he went into the temple with Peter and John, “walking and leaping and praising God.”
The formerly lame man was well known to the people at the temple. He had lain at the Beautiful Gate every day begging. And so when he came into the temple walking and leaping and praising God, an amazed crowd quickly gathered (vv.9-11). Peter took advantage of the gathered crowd. He moved to Solomon’s Porch, likely gathering more and more people along the way. Solomon’s porch was a double row of marble columns with a cedar roof of that ran along the sides of the temple. Once there, Peter addressed the crowd.
The first thing I would point out about this second sermon is the similarities to the first. Just as the miracle of speaking in tongues had produced a crowd and prompted Peter’s first sermon, this miracle of healing produces a crowd and prompts a second sermon. As he had done in the first sermon, Peter gives the glory for the miracle to God (vv. 12-13a, 16). As he had done in the first, in the second Peter accuses the Jews of crucifying Jesus (vv. 13b-15). And as in the first Peter proclaims the resurrection of Jesus (v. 15).
In Acts 3:17-26 we see Peter cutting the people some slack. He admits that they, and their rulers, had crucified Jesus out of ignorance (v. 17). And he declares that what they had done fulfilled Old Testament prophecies (v. 18). They wrongly had believed that Jesus was a revolutionary rather than the Messiah. But their ignorance did not absolve them of guilt. They still were responsible for their actions. And so Peter called them to repentance. They must repent of their sin and turn to God (v. 19a). And if they would do that, three blessings would be theirs.
First, their sins would be wiped out (v. 19). William Barclay illustrates this way, “Ancient writing was upon papyrus, and the ink used had no acid in it. It therefore did not bite into the papyrus as modern ink bites into paper. It simply lay upon the top of it. To erase the writing a man might take a wet sponge and simply wipe it away. So God wipes out the sin of a forgiven man” (Barclay, p. 32). Barclay oversimplifies this process. Many biblical manuscripts that have survived were written on parchment (animal skins) rather than on papyrus. The scribes didn’t simply wipe off the original writing from parchment manuscripts. They re-scraped the parchment, washed the writing off, and then re-smoothed the parchment before re-writing on it. By using certain chemical reagents and ultraviolet lamps, scholars have been able to read the underwriting and recover the biblical text. At any rate, their sins were wiped out.
The second blessing that Peter said the believers would receive when they repented and turned to God was that they would receive, “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord” (v. 20a). Peter didn’t explain exactly what he meant by that. But at the very least he meant that the Lord would strengthen us in times of weakness and give us peace and rest in times of weariness and stress.
Finally, the third promised blessing was, “that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets” (vv. 20b-21).
This third promised blessing is more difficult to interpret than it might seem on he surface. To begin, we see here that there will be a “universal restoration” at the return of Christ. So there is an end-time element. Jesus, following his resurrection and ascension into heaven remains there until his second coming. And when he comes again, he will restore everything to its uncorrupted state.
But the prophecies in verses 22-26 refer to Christ’s first coming, rather than his second coming. So both comings of Christ are part of Peter’s message. For example, verse 22 is a quotation from Deut. 18:15. Moses declared that a prophet like him (that is, like Moses) would arise from among their people. Jesus fulfilled that prophecy during the earthly ministry of his first coming. And as the prophecy says, we must heed him by doing whatever he says. Those who do not heed Jesus, as verse 23 says, will be rooted out of God’s people. That is to say, persons who refuse to do what Jesus demands will not be part of God’s covenant people.
Peter goes on in verse 24 to say that the prophets from Samuel on also predicted those days, meaning the days of the Messiah. In other words, Messianic prophecies are common in the Old Testament rather than rare. And then in verse 25, Peter declares that his listeners were the descendants of the prophets and of the covenant, meaning the Old Covenant. Then he reminded them that the covenant began with Abraham whose “seed” (singular) would bless all the families of the earth. Finally, in verse 26 Peter says, “When God raised up his child, he sent him first to you [the Jews] to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.”