Thursday, March 31, 2022

Acts 3

Acts 3: The Lame Beggar Healed, Peter Speaks in Solomon’s Portico


Peter and John are heading to the temple “at the hour of prayer” (verse 1), and come across a lame man. We’re told that he’s been lame from birth, and that he’s been coming to the temple gate every day to ask for alms (that is, money for the poor). So, as Peter and John are entering the temple through that gate, he asks them for alms, too. Peter, however, offers something better:

But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. (verses 6–10)

So the people all rush over to see Peter, John, and the freshly healed man. They’re impressed with Peter and John, but Peter is quick to point out that it’s not them people should be impressed with, but God. In fact, over the course of verses 12–26 Peter gives a sermon in which he makes a number of points:

  • People shouldn’t think that Peter and John, through their own power or piety, have made this man walk
  • God—that is, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of the Israelites’ fathers—glorified his servant Jesus in performing this act. (The ESV footnote indicates that the word “servant” might also be translated “child.”)
  • This is the same Jesus who was handed over to Pilate to be crucified
    • And, incidentally, Pilate had determined to release Jesus, but despite that the people denied “the Holy and Righteous One” and asked Pilate to release a murderer instead, killing the Author of life
  • But God raised Jesus from the dead, which Peter and John witnessed
  • It was this Jesus who healed the lame man and given him perfect health
  • Now, Peter recognizes that the people and their leaders acted in ignorance when they killed Jesus. In fact, God had already prophesied, through earlier prophets, that the Christ would suffer, so Jesus has now fulfilled those prophecies.

Peter wraps up his sermon by inviting his listeners to come to Christ:

“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”


The first things that strike me about this passage are the same things that struck me about recent passages:

  1. Peter living up to the role Jesus has assigned to him, as the leader of the new Church, and
  2. Again, clearly these men view Jesus’ teachings, sacrifice, and offer of forgiveness of sins as a continuation of all that had been spoken of by the Old Testament prophets, not as something entirely new. The passage even starts with Peter and John going to the Jewish temple for “the hour of prayer;” if you were to ask them, at that moment, to identify their religion (though I don’t think they would have thought in those terms), I’m positive they would have identified themselves as Jews.

Peter’s Sermon

Obviously the focus of this chapter is Peter’s sermon to the people. I’ve heard preachers mention before that they believe some or all of the sermons in Acts (and probably Jesus’ sermons in the Gospels) are abridged; they’re not necessarily capturing, word-for-word, every single thing that the speaker said, but they’re getting the overall points that the speaker had mentioned. If that’s true, it may be that Peter took longer to get through all of these points than what is recorded here—where he seems to be covering a lot of theology in a very short period of time!—but even if this was a longer sermon than is recorded here, Peter still covers a lot of ground.

I’m also struck by the fact that some of the early sermons recorded in Acts pull no punches when they talk about Jesus’ crucifixion: “You killed him!” See, for example, verses 14–15 here:

“But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.”

This isn’t something that would be used in a sermon today—it wouldn’t make any sense—but it is true that people need to come to terms with their sinful nature before they can even understand what’s being offered in the Gospel. Peter doesn’t just say, “you killed Jesus,” he says, “you killed Jesus, but that’s exactly what He came here for, and that same Jesus now offers you life everlasting.”

Humans being humans, I’m sure preachers have difficulty getting this exactly right. A person’s temperament might make them very good at the “you’re sinful” part but not as articulate at the “Jesus offers you life” part, and another person’s temperament might make it very easy to talk about the love of God but make them reticent to mention that we’re all sinners who don’t deserve that love.

That makes it very beneficial to look at Jesus as an example in the Gospels, because He didn’t always treat every person the same; sometimes he might be very blunt with someone, and sometimes he might be very gentle. An example I see pointed out from time to time is Jesus encountering Mary and Martha after Lazarus’ death: Both women approach Jesus in almost identical manners (“if you had been here my brother wouldn’t have died!”), but with one woman he talks theology and with the other he simply cries with her. He illustrates that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with people, and I’d say it’s clear that that extends to sermons too. (See my post on John 11 for a slightly more fulsome discussion.)

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