Peter and John
Acts 3:1-10 NASB
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. (2) And a man who had been lame from his mother's
womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate
of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were
entering the temple. (3) When he saw Peter
and John about to go into the temple, he began
asking to receive alms. (4) But Peter, along
with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, "Look at us!" (5) And he began
to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. (6) But Peter said, "I do not possess silver
and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the
Nazarene--walk!" (7) And seizing him by
the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were
strengthened. (8) With a leap he stood
upright and began to walk; and he
entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. (9) And all the people saw him walking and praising
God; (10) and they were taking note of him as
being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and
amazement at what had happened to him.
Life of the Beggar
It is difficult for most of us to understand the life of the
common beggar. We are accustomed to seeing people by the roadside with the
cardboard sign, but most of us have never been one. As difficult as this must
be today, think how difficult it was before there was any form of public
assistance. The beggar of this day would need to pay people to take him to the
Temple area. They would leave him there until evening. He could collect coins,
but it's possible he would be robbed as well.
The location chosen — at the entrance to the Temple — was
designed to expose him to all of the pious, good people of the time. The
assumption was that if you're going to the Temple you were a godly person. A
godly person would not neglect the poor, as this was in accordance with the
Your author has some experience in this. I once worked in
downtown San Francisco for over two years at a stretch. During that time I was
exposed to one particular beggar who stood between my subway station in my
office. At first I ignored him. "I can't solve world hunger." But God
reminded me that he had not asked me to solve world hunger; he asked me to feed
one beggar. Gift certificates to a local fast food place became routine. We may
wonder with each other whether or not the welfare state has really served to
increase the welfare of those so needy.
It's worth noting that Peter and John are on their way to
the Temple at the hour of prayer. We are accustomed to the idea that you can
pray anywhere; your location makes no difference. The Jew of this time would
have disagreed. He would tell you that prayer at the Temple was most effective.
It is, after all, the place where God had put his Name. The devout Jew would
prefer to pray at the Temple over any other spot on Earth. We might not feel
the same way, but we may at least note that Peter and John were men of prayer.
Apparently, this was the start of their day.
The dialogue with the beggar contains an interesting point.
You will notice that Peter says, "Look at us!" It has been my
experience that those doing the begging try not to make eye contact with
anyone, apparently because it is intimidating. The beggar is not there to
intimidate you, but to extract some money from you. If you think you're being
robbed, by intimidation, the beggar fails. But Peter, concerned with the human
being as a disciple of Christ should be, tells the man to look at him. He wants
to make eye contact for the cause of Christ. He could drop money in his bag
without even looking at the man. In short, Peter cares about the human being.
It's a point worth noting. I have often been told that the
man with the cardboard sign is not worthy to receive anything. Have you ever
heard someone say that they are all frauds? But let's consider the question
directly: just exactly who is worthy of my charitable giving? We feel pretty
comfortable with large organizations, but human beings rather frighten us. More
than that, we feel that we ought to judge them somehow. We want to make sure
that we're giving our money to someone who is unfortunate, not fraudulent. But
may I ask you to consider these points:
First, they are not defrauding you. You give at the command of
Christ; they are therefore defrauding him. Should you not therefore leave
judgment to him? He will reward you for the giving.
Second, is there anyone worthy of your charity? It implies a
judgment for which you do not have the facts. If you did have the facts, you
with plain to Christ of the burden of making the judgment.
Silver and Gold
A story is told of Thomas Aquinas. It apparently is based in
fact, though I have seen several different versions of it. It seems that
Aquinas was invited to Rome by the Pope. The Pope assigned a priest to show
Aquinas around the city of Rome, in particular emphasizing the beauty and
magnificence of the buildings of the church. At the end of the tour the priest
remarked something like, "well, at least the church no longer has to say
silver and gold have I none." Aquinas replied, "Neither can she say,
rise up and walk."
It is one of the great paradoxes of the church: the power of
poverty. The church which has plenty of money soon finds a place to put it.
That church, like the Laodicean church of the book of Revelation, quickly
becomes lukewarm and content. The church that is lean and hungry appears to be
weaker. Appearances can be deceiving.
So how do you tell the difference? My son gave me the answer
in the distinction between synthetic and natural religion. It's fairly simple:
Synthetic religion concerns itself with the man in the pew. That
man is praised; the activities of the church concern that man; and that man is
expected to produce significant monetary contributions.
Natural religion concerns itself with God. It is God who is
praised; the activities of the church are at God's command – and God is
expected to provide.
Synthetic religion has the merit of being logical and
self-serving. Natural religion is opaque.
Why Does This Surprise You?
Acts 3:11-16 NASB
While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at
the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. (12)
But when Peter saw this, he replied to
the people, "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze
at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? (13) "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the
God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of
Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. (14)
"But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to
be granted to you, (15) but put to death the
Prince of life, the one whom God raised
from the dead, a fact to which we are
witnesses. (16) "And on the basis of
faith in His name, it is the name of
Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith
which comes through Him has given him
this perfect health in the presence of you all.
(The phrase "so-called portico of Solomon" seems
somewhat derogatory; the name of the place was in fact the portico of Solomon.
It was not the original one, though, as the original Temple had long since been
Why Are You Amazed?
So much of what we do depends upon the confidence we have.
Think about this: you normally drive an automobile at speeds in excess of 60
miles an hour. Two tons of steel and plastic at that speed are quite deadly;
yet you have such confidence in your driving that you think very little of
this. If we could transplant Peter and John to our own day, then put them in
the backseat, I suspect that they would have a very different reaction. They
would very quickly call upon you to cease this highly dangerous activity.
Peter is now the one with confident faith; it did not
surprise him in the least that God would allow him to heal a man was born lame.
He is in fact somewhat puzzled why everyone else thinks this is extraordinary.
This is a very common blindness in human beings. Any writer can tell you that
one of the most difficult things to do is to edit your own work. The reason is
simple; as you read what you've written your brain fills in all the parts that
are missing and corrects all the parts that are misspelled. You simply don't
notice what's wrong because you know what the right answer is. This simple fact
is the main cause for the employment of editors. This might explain why Peter
is surprised at their surprise.
Peter is a complete brick, of course. His ability to
introspect is rather limited. I suspect that John perhaps enlightened Peter a
little later on; John, after all, is the thinker of the bunch.
What You Already Know
Peter's purpose in speaking is not just to explain the
miracle which has occurred. His purpose is to introduce them to a correct
knowledge of Jesus, the Christ. So it is not surprising that he starts with
something that they already know, and know correctly. That something is the
nature and character of God. He does this by reminding them of the unique
history of the Jews. He specifically refers them to the God of Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob. The statement is important. Peter is not proclaiming some minor
He then refers them to the history of Jesus of Nazareth,
with which most of them would be quite familiar. It has been a little over
seven weeks since the crucifixion. To this history now adds the one fact which
makes all the difference: the resurrection.
This, then, is his explanation. It is a small and trivial
thing for a man to being given his sight when the power behind that gift is the
We cannot stress this sufficiently: Peter places the source
of power as the name of Jesus. That sounds funny to modern Christians; it's as
if there's something magic about the word "Jesus" that could never be
said about "Fred". But to the Jew of this time it makes perfect
sense; the Temple, after all, is the place where God has put his name. It is by
the power of the name of God that the Jews are who they are. Even to this day
we often end our prayers with the phrase, "in the name of Jesus." It
seems a little bit of a formality to us, but to the early Christian it was
power itself. Older Christians will recall a time when using the name of Jesus
as an obscenity was considered highly offensive. That time is past; however,
one might argue that it should not be so.
What Peter does not say here is that he, Peter, is given any
authority. It is a very key and consistent point about the apostles of the
early church that they clearly followed Christ's principle on this. Christ said
that "if I be lifted up" that the world would be drawn to him. Peter
explicitly proclaims that the power is in Christ — and implicitly tells us that
it is not in the first Pope. There is a lesson for the modern evangelical
Christian in this too. We are often told that the secret to church growth is
for us to invite other people to come to church. The theory is they will see
how good and pleasant things are here and wish to join. The early church saw it
quite differently. For one thing, persecution was a commonplace event in the
early church. So it wasn't a pleasant place; it was a place that lifted up the
name of Jesus. It may seem curious to us, but the power of God is in that name.
It is that power on which the early church relied.
I cannot forbear to add a personal story here. I think it
exemplifies the difference in the attitude fairly well. I was having a
conversation with a member of the staff at my church. I was proposing some
course of action which I thought would be beneficial to the body of Christ. The
staff member asked me, "Just what does this do for the greater glory of
Eastside?" My reply was simple: "What does it do for the glory of
God?" If you want the right answers, you must first ask the right questions.
Acts 3:17-26 NASB
"And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your
rulers did also. (18) "But the things
which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His
Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. (19)
"Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in
order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; (20) and that He may send Jesus, the Christ
appointed for you, (21) whom heaven must
receive until the period of restoration
of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from
ancient time. (22) "Moses said, 'THE
LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU
SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. (23)
'And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be
utterly destroyed from among the people.' (24)
"And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days.
(25) "It is you who are the sons of the
prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to
Abraham, 'AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.' (26) "For you first, God raised up His Servant
and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of
you from your wicked ways."
Fulfilled in Christ
The early church used prophecy in a rather different way
than we do. As far as I can tell, there is no sense of the idea that the Jews
should have clearly understood what was happening in Christ was crucified.
Prophecy, it seems, is a set of clues to what will happen – not a list of
stocks in which to invest. What Peter is doing here is using the prophecy that
his listeners were familiar with, explaining it to them as being fulfilled in
Christ. In other words, he's doing what Agatha Christie used to do: telling you
the answer in the last chapter. The correct reaction is not, "I should
have known that." The correct reaction is, "Oh, that's what that
The particularly difficult point for the average Jew of this
time would be the suffering through which Christ went. There are passages in
the Old Testament which relate to the first coming of Christ, and others which
relate to the second coming. By pointing out those which refer to the first
coming, Peter is revealing to his audience just what God was trying to tell
them. The Christ was going to suffer. This was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.
Therefore you should conclude that Christ has come, and you
need to do something about it. Notice that the "something" hasn't
really changed since the Old Testament. Peter calls upon them to repent and
return, so that God might wipe out their sins and send to them "times of
refreshing." God is very consistent about his policy towards sinners. From
the earliest days he desires their repentance. Following that he wants them to
change their ways and return to him. It's really very simple.
Peter then follows this with a warning. Moses told the
people of Israel but sometimes God would raise up another prophet like Moses.
The warning that Moses gave was simply this: if you don't listen to that
prophet, you will be in big trouble. If you do, things will go well. If you
don't, you will be utterly destroyed. The history of the Jews, starting in A.D.
70, bears this out quite nicely.
Peter also relates the fact that Christ will return. Of
course, the obvious question is this: "When?" Peter then uses a
phrase which explains everything and nothing at the same time: "period of
restoration of all things." It's a frustrating thing; it means that when
God is done doing whatever it is that he's going to do before Christ returns,
then we can expect Christ to return. Those of you who have calculated the exact
date of his return — well, good luck with that.
Having given his warning, Peter turns to the good news. He
tells the Jews quite bluntly that they are the first to receive this good news
because of the covenant God made with Abraham. Out of Abraham's descendents the
entire world would be blessed; that blessing is the coming of Jesus, the
Christ. That blessing is the gift of salvation, freely given at the Cross. That
blessing came to the Jews first. It is a sad but true fact that the Jews, in
general, rejected that good news. As a result, that good news went out to the
Gentiles – just as God planned.
There is much we can say about this; for example, some hold
that all of the Jews in the world have to be converted to Christianity before
Christ can return. An analysis of prophecy concerning the Jews after the time
of Christ is well beyond the scope of this small and limited lesson. That does
not mean, however, that God is done with the Jews and there is no such
prophecy. Clearly, God has a special relationship with the Jews. Points beyond
that I must leave to the reader.
One thing, however, is abundantly clear: Christ came to seek
and save the lost. God sent him to us to be a blessing by turning each and all
of us from our wicked ways, causing us to repent and return to the righteous
ways of God. For this alone the name of Jesus should be held high in our
hearts. The day is coming when the glory of Christ will be revealed. I do not
know the day or hour that will happen; but happen it will. Whatever hour he
comes, we must be ready. If you get nothing from this lesson but the phrase,
"repent and return," you will have grasped the most important