Acts 3:1-26 - Acts 3 Rise Up: The Power and Promise of Christ (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Five years ago, the New York City Rescue Mission conducted a social experiment. They tracked 6 New Yorkers walking down a street with multiple homeless people. What they didn’t know is that one of their closest family members was pretending to be homeless - a cousin, sibling, parent, grandparent, or spouse sat on the side of the road in dirty old clothes, looking forlorn and homeless. And in each case, these New Yorkers walked right by their family member without even noticing. It was all captured on hidden camera. Well, immediately after the experiment they were each interviewed. Each was asked about their family member and each described their care and love for them. And then the producer showed the video… as they walked right by their loved ones. Passing by without a look or concern for them. It was a powerful moment. Tears, sighs, looks of compassion. One woman said, “this makes homelessness so much more real.” And then each of them went out to the street to meet and hug their family...
I think we can all relate. It’s so easy to walk or drive right by someone in need… avoid eye contact, continue our business.
It was the same back in the first century. This man, the one unable to walk from birth. Every day he was carried to this temple gate. Every day he begged for alms-small coins. Every day, the same people walked right by him. Usually avoiding eye contact, perhaps dropping a coin or two his way. And this man, rarely looking up, carrying the burdens and insecurity and shame of his disability. That is, until this day, that changed his life forever.
It was a scene of great contrast. The glory and amazement of the temple on the one hand… and the frailty of man on the other. You see, the temple sat perched on the massive temple mount – about 30 football fields in size. It had all been completely refurbished by the Herod the Great only 50 years earlier. Everything he did was majestic. Josephus, the historian, describes each gate as ornately adorned, overlaid with gold and silver or bronze. And this particular gate, called the Beautiful Gate, …must have been luxurious given its name.
Add to that, it was the 9th hour, which is 3pm… the afternoon sun accentuating the architecture and precious metals.
At that time of day, a large crowd was entering the temple for the hour of prayer. They would have walked up these grandiose stairs and come to the gate itself. The same stairs that this man’s friends would have carried him up each day. And there they were, the disciples, other believers, Jewish leaders and people, and this man… all surrounded by the beauty of the gate and nearby temple.
But on this day… rather than walking by him, Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, felt compassion for this man. And they stopped and looked right at him. At first this man didn’t return the gaze. So they called out to him, “look at us.” And their eyes met. As he fixed his eyes on Peter and John. He, of course was expecting alms. That was a requirement in Jewish tradition. But Peter and John had no alms to give. Peter said, “I have no silver or gold.” This man’s heart must have sunk at those first words… nothing to give? But then Peter continued, “what I do have, I give to you… in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
Notice, this man doesn’t make the first move on his own. Of course not, he’s never been able to walk. So Peter takes him by his hand, and for the first time in his life he stands up. His feet and ankles were “made strong” The description in the Greek is more technical than it comes across in the English. Luke, the author, if you recall, was a physician by trade. Whatever condition this man had at birth was reversed… as the bones and muscles and tendons re-formed and came together.
He was healed!
This marked a turning point not only in this man’s life, but also for many who witnessed the miracle. Because what had been a normal day for those heading to the temple for prayer, passing by this same man… had turned into a time of rejoicing and amazement and teaching and belief.
Nobody around would have missed what happened. This man was not only walking… he was leaping. You can see that description in verses 8 and 9. Multiple times it says… walking and leaping and praising God… they saw him and heard him. And the man didn’t remain at the gate… no, he went into the temple with the disciples. It says “he clung to Peter and John.” He was bursting with joy. It’s hard to even imagine what he must have felt.
And everyone was amazed with this wonder. Because they all knew who he was. They had seen his friends carry him, day after day, they had passed him by.
This was not fake news, He wasn’t pretending to be lame. This wasn’t a staged healing service. No, he was healed… and everyone was “utterly astounded.” That’s what it says in verse 11. The word got out, and they all came running to see and hear about what had happened.
Let me pause there for a moment. Back at the end of chapter 2 verse 43 it says, “many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” So chapter 3 here is one example of the signs and wonders done through the apostles.
A brief side note. Several miracles are recorded in the book of Acts… at some point later in Acts, we’ll consider why these kinds of miracles were unique in the apostolic era, but for now we’ll focus on this text.
Since it says “many wonders and signs were done” why would Luke, through the Holy Spirit, choose to highlight this miracle and Peter’s response?
Well, I think it’s because this chapter is like rocky road caramel swirl ice cream, or tiramisu or a multi-layer chocolate cake. Hmmmmm. There’s so many layers here. To be sure, every scripture text has multiple levels going on, some known and some unknown by the human author, but this text particularly teaches and reveals so much.
When I was preparing, I had different version of an outline going, but decided it was all too constricting.:
• Because one layer includes the responses called for in this chapter. Compassion, rejoicing and praising God, faith and repentance, heeding the warning, listening to Jesus.
• Another layer teaches us who Jesus is… the flesh and blood, fully man, fully God Jesus from Nazareth (verse 6), a servant sent from God - the God of Israel (verse 13). Same word as the prophecy of Isaiah in chapter 53, the suffering servant. Jesus is Holy and Righteous, verse 14. He’s also described as the author of life (verse 15) and the one raised up from the dead …the same word as the disabled man raised up. And we learn that through Jesus’ power that the man was healed (verse 16)
• Well, the next layer in this layer cake is fulfillment… The covenant promises and prophecies… now fulfilled in Christ. Moses’s promise that God would raise up a prophet like him from among the brothers (verse 22). And the fulfillment of the covenant promise to Abraham… that through Jesus, all the people on earth would be blessed.
• And the last is the bitter layer. The warning and judgment. One time, I went to have a bowl of cereal and we were out of milk. But we had this stuff called buttermilk. I thought, I like butter and I like milk. It sounded like a great substitute to use in cereal. Well, I took my first bite and I think it all came shooting out… someone should have named it bitter-milk. Scattered throughout Peter’s sermon are the realities of how Jesus death happened, a confrontation of their involvement in it, and a warning of judgment for those who reject Jesus.
And all these layers are interwoven together. So rather than a point by point analysis and application, let’s just take our forks and dig in.
Well because of this miracle… a large crowd gathered just outside the temple in this sizeable courtyard, Solomon’s portico. It was on the eastern side of the outer temple area. It had huge pillars supporting a roof of sorts with massive stones for walls. It was designed for teaching. In fact, it was likely the only portion of the temple area that survived the Babylonian destruction 600 years earlier. Jesus himself taught there, that’s recorded in John chapter 10. And now this crowd of devout Jews, who had come to pray, would also hear of Christ.
Talk about a captive audience. Peter and John and this healed man were the center of attention. The crowd is amazed at what happened. AND they think that Peter and John had this power in and of themselves.
Well, just like he did at Pentecost, Peter took advantage of the opportunity to speak and explain. And he doesn’t waste time… no he gets right to the point. No, no, no. He says. It’s not us. Not our own power or piety. No, instead, the power to heal this man came from Jesus. The Author of Life, the Holy and Righteous One. By faith in Jesus name, he says, this man was healed. Back up in verse 6… when Peter spoke to the lame man, he said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up.”
And it goes beyond the physical healing of this man. His life has been transformed by faith in Christ. Verse 16 focuses on this man’s faith. Now, some have asked whether it’s referring to the man’s faith or the disciples’ faith. It’s a reasonable question. Most commentators, though, do connect the word faith to this man. Both times that the word faith is mentioned in this verse, the sentence structure closely connects it to this man and his healing. Add to that… the man’s response testified to this faith, as he was leaping, he was praising God. His faith was demonstrated by receiving the healing in Christ and responding with joy and thankfulness.
And really, if we step back and look at the whole, this chapter doesn’t focus on this man’s physical healing. No, rather, it focuses on Christ, faith in Him. Who Jesus is. How to respond to him. This man is right there with Peter. He’s a real-life object lesson of faith. You see, his external healing points to a greater internal healing… I think we all know this, but to state the obvious… his physical healing wouldn’t last forever. This man would still endured other physical trials as he aged; he would eventually pass on from this life. But the spiritual healing he received lasted forever.
And his response should be our response. Leaping for joy, praising our God. Your life should testify to your faith in Christ… to the healing that God has given you in Him. Joy and thankfulness, worship and praise. Remembering what God has done, is doing and will do in your life for eternity.
Ok, the crowd that had gathered in Solomon’s Portico… Some of them were followers of Christ. They were there with the disciples for the time of prayer. But most of the crowd didn’t have faith in him. They were devout Jews.
And in speech, Peter clearly addresses them… connecting their knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures to Christ. But as he does that. Peter also confronts them pretty hard; revealing not just Jesus, but also their sin and role in His death;
Look what he does right there in the middle of 13. He goes right for their heart. He say, “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?” No, no… instead, you delivered Jesus to death, you freed a murderer in his place, and you killed the Author of life. And down in verse 23… if you don’t listen to this Jesus, you will be destroyed. The “wonderful plan for your life” will be hell and damnation if you don’t turn from your sin and believe.
That may sound harsh and heavy handed to you. And you may be tempted to stop listening. But the Bible is clear over and over. God hates sin. It’s utterly contrary to his nature. But you say, how can God be holy and righteous and yet inflict such a harsh punishment. Isn’t that a contradiction? No, it’s actually the reason. Because God is holy and righteous, sin has to be dealt with.
Let me say it this way - You can’t understand the depth of God’s love if you don’t understand God’s hatred for sin. Jesus didn’t die for nothing. No, he died to satisfy the very wrath and anger of God. This is the foundation of God’s love. And it goes far beyond any contrived human understanding of love.
You and I are just as guilty as Peter’s audience. They were there, they denied Jesus, they delivered him to the Romans, they killed him. But we can’t look at them and say “oh, look how bad they were, I’m glad I’m not a sinner like them!” We’ve also denied and rejected Christ in our sin and deserve the same judgment.
Imagine the emotional roller coaster they were on. They were first astounded and amazed at this miracle. And then Peter drops the hammer on them, so to speak. “You killed him”
This is a dividing line… there’s no middle ground. Each one there will either respond with faith… or it will stir up anger in them. In fact, we’ll see in the next chapter that while Peter and John were talking… they were arrested.
But…. Peter doesn’t leave them or us hanging… no, he pivots, he goes from bad news to good news… he declares to them who this Jesus is, and he calls to them to respond.
Peter’s sermon here is amazingly Christ centered. It’s rich with a full picture of Jesus, his humanity, his divine nature, his character, and power and role as God. Peter has already described Jesus as coming from Nazareth, a man, in whose name this miracle was performed. We’re told that this same Jesus is the author of life. And he’s the holy and righteous one.
Besides these character traits and roles… Peter identifies Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies and promises in their Scriptures. His suffering, death and resurrection were fulfilled… verses 15 and 18. Jesus would come to be the restorer of all things, verse 21. Jesus fulfilled the law – Moses’s promise that God would raise up a prophet… The prophet …verse 22. In verse 23, Peter says all the prophets spoke of these days… And then Peter says to them… you are the sons of the prophets and the sons of the covenant that God made with your fathers… verse 25… and he says this Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham. He’s fulfilled the covenant promise. And through him, through Jesus, all the families of the earth will be blessed. And God raised him up and sent him to you first. Verse 26.
What a tremendous summary of how all the promises in the Bible find their yes and amen in Jesus. 2 Corinthians 1. And you see, Peter’s audience knew all the prophecies and promises. They had been engrained in their hearts and minds throughout their lives to this point. And Peter brings it all together for them… that they may, too, believe.
To summarize Peters words… The power for the miracle today… was not our own… no, it came from Jesus… the man whom you killed, but whom God raised up… resurrected and now in heaven. He is the promised one, prophesied from long ago… the one whom you have been waiting for.
And part of Peter’s declaration about Jesus… is a call to respond.
The first call to respond is in verse 19. “Repent and turn back.” Turn from your sin. That word turn is used again down in verse 26.
The Bible does not teach that Jesus death on the cross covered everyone’s sins. Yes, it was sufficient for all… but Jesus didn’t die and then all-of-a sudden the whole world became reconciled to God. No, God calls for a response. We see that both in verse 19 the call to repent… but also verses 22 and 23… Moses’s words… “listen to him… every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people” But the good news that Peter preaches… is that when you do come to God seeking his forgiveness and seeking his help… your sins will “be blotted out.” that’s the second part of verse 19. When you come to him in repentance and in faith.. just as the man who was healed… God removes the consequence of your sin, he takes it away, blots it out, wipes it clean… because Jesus bore your sin on the cross. That’s the good news of the Gospel.
Now, most of you are here because you already believe in this Gospel. Well, the call for you and me is to first remember the complete message of the Gospel. Yes, the good news, of course, but we can’t set aside the reality that Peter has so clearly stated. Our wickedness and sin and God’s judgment on sin. Hell is real. It’s what we all deserve apart from God’s grace.
If we preach a Gospel that is watered down, that doesn’t convey the depth of our separation from God… we aren’t doing anyone a favor. Why? Because we won’t be able to convey the fullness of God’s grace in Christ through the cross. His atoning work…. as the Author of life and righteous one. Dying in our place… taking on our shame and guilt and giving us his righteousness.
We’re to be bold in this declaration as Peter was bold. So that the complete Gospel message may go forth – calling people to repentance and faith… to believe the hope of Christ, that they too may leap for joy and praise God for his salvation.
But our boldness should be compassionate boldness… just as Peter and John’s was. A compassion that sees the true needs of people. Their most important need, Salvation… as David Fraser preached last week. One temptation in this chapter is to focus only on this man’s physical healing… and to miss out on the most important layers, Jesus and faith and repentance.
So may our compassion be grounded in a desire to see people come to faith and be spiritually healed. Redeemed in Christ. Not passing people by without concern for their souls… but as Peter and John did, calling out, reaching out. Gazing into their eyes and declaring the name of Jesus
So, this chapter 3 sweet and sour layer cake… with its calls to respond, its warnings of judgment, its portraits of Jesus and his fulfillment of Scripture, and its account of a man transformed by faith and healed. In all of it, may we see and declare and rejoice in Jesus.