The Church in Action (Acts 3)

Acts-768x576Each week, I am seeking to post my written reflections on one chapter in the book of Acts.  Last week: Acts 1.  This week:  Acts 3.  My prayer is that your mind and heart will be challenged and encouraged by these reflections on God’s Word.  

After narrating the amazing outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost and the subsequent forming of the Church (with 3000 new believers), Luke tells us of a miraculous healing and powerful sermon that occurred in the Temple courts.  Peter and John enter the Temple grounds to be part of the 3:00 pm prayer time.  As they pass through the Gate called Beautiful they see a rather unbeautiful sight—a man crippled from birth left to beg at the gate.  Instead of giving him want he wants (money), they give him what he needs (healing).  His exuberant response to being healed draws a crowd.  Peter addresses them with a hard-hitting, convicting message that offers great hope and spiritual healing for all who will repent of their rejection of Jesus, the Christ, and believe in Him.

I’m drawn to focus on verses 11-26 for this study—the summary of Peter’s sermon to the crowd that gathered around them and their newly healed friend.

Peter’s sermon is immediately corrective, a tone he maintains for a good portion of the message.  He asks two questions of the “men of Israel” gathered around (12):  “Why does this surprise you?  Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  I think the crowd could be forgiven for both reactions:  the healing of a man crippled for almost 40 years is a tad surprising!  And the fact that Peter and John spoke the words that lead to his healing would lead most of us to conclude they had special powers or unusual godliness

Peter is not surprised, however.  He’s already been the instrument of “many wonders and miraculous signs . . . done by the apostles” (2:43).  He’s seen the power of the Holy Spirit at work through him and the other apostles, so he’s not surprised.  He also is aware of his own ungodliness, having been humbled by the recent events of his own denial of Christ.  He’s acutely aware that this healing is not the result of his (or John’s) innate power or holiness.  The risen Christ has poured out the Spirit promised by the Father; God is at work in powerful ways in the world.

Peter’s attitude should be the pattern for all of Christ’s ministers.  First, we should not be surprised by evidences of miraculous power as we walk “prayerfully” (3:1) and compassionately (3:4) through life, seeking to serve His purposes in the world.  Second, even when others want to elevate us and credit us with possessing special power or godliness, we should quickly and honestly dispel that notion.  We, like Peter, know ourselves too well to allow that fantasy to persist. Still, we are not surprised that the risen Christ works through us as His servants.

Jesus nameThis healing was done by God’s power in conjunction with human faith.  Peter and John obviously believed God could heal this man (“what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk”—6).  The crippled man also evidenced and exercised faith as well (16).  Here is the answer as to why Peter didn’t heal every needy person in Jerusalem.  This man had “faith in the name of Jesus” (16).  From another angle, we could say he had “faith that comes through him [Jesus]” (16).  Faith is both a gift from God and the response of individuals who believe.  It comes from Jesus and it’s focused on Jesus.  Even the faith to believe is a gift; He gives faith so we can put faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Lord, in the situations I am facing where I feel crippled and stuck, please grant me faith to believe through Jesus so I can respond with faith in Jesus.  May I look to You to do the humanly impossible for the glorification of your Son (“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers has glorified his servant Jesus”—13).  And as You bring help and healing beyond human ability to achieve, may I respond like the formerly-crippled man (“walking, jumping and praising God”—8) and like Peter and John (“Why do you stare at us. . .?—12).  All glory to the Healer of impossible situations.

jesusA few comments on Peter’s impromptu sermon (11-26):  He does a masterful job in beginning with the immediate situation (a formerly-crippled man now healed) and moving the focus to Jesus.  Peter doesn’t ignore the man’s story; he uses it to emphasize the importance of faith (16).  Peter doesn’t dodge the questions of how he and John were able to speak healing to this man (12).  But he quickly and decisively directs attention to Jesus.  Jesus is the hero of the story.

The sermon blends a “prophetic” and “pastoral” feel to it.  Peter boldly calls them out for their rejection of Christ.  He multiplies statements that highlight their guilt (13-15).  He doesn’t go soft on them but has them feel the full weight of their corporate guilt.  But, he also shows pastoral tenderness, giving them the benefit of the doubt:  “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (17).  That’s a charitable assessment, given the callousness of the Jewish rulers.  He couches their treachery in the larger context of God’s sovereignty, emphasizing that all of this was part of God’s prophetic plan (18).

Peter calls his hearers to repentance and faith in Jesus (19, 26), warning them of the deadly consequences of failing to listen to Jesus (23) and promising participation in God’s blessings if they turn to Christ (forgiveness of sin, times of refreshing, sharing in the future restoration of all things—19-20).  He references the Old Testament (Moses, Samuel and the prophets) to support his conclusions about the suffering Messiah (18, 24-25).

The three benefits of repentance and faith (turning from sin and turning to the Lord) were especially appropriate to the Jews who heard Peter:  they needed sins wiped out —especially their sin of rejecting and killing their Messiah!  They needed times of refreshing (rare Greek word used only here and Ex 8:11).  The word has the idea of a cooling breeze or catching your breath.  God brings refreshing even in difficult circumstances.  Ultimately, they longed for the return of the Messiah and the restoration of all things—including the kingdom to Israel (1:6).

Those same three blessings are promised to all who turn from their “wicked ways” (26) and trust in Christ.  God always intended to bless “all peoples” through His people (25).

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