In 2:43 Luke said that the apostles performed many signs and wonders in the midst of the people. In Chapter 3 he highlights a significant sign that has ramifications far beyond the new church. Unlike the miracles that apparently regularly take place within the new community, this sign happens for all Jerusalem to see and thus profoundly affects the future of the new movement.
Peter uses this major demonstration of the continuing power of Jesus to present the gospel for a second time. He again points a large group of people to the guilt they share in the death of the Messiah and the hope that only exists in Jesus. People wanting an explanation of an incredible miracle instead come face to face with the gospel and have their lives changed even more than the one miraculously healed.
Peter and John go up to the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon for the evening prayer time (two sacrifices are offered each day according to the Law – morning and evening – and the times of prayer coincide with these – the new believers apparently continue to observe these times per 2:42). As they enter the temple they pass by a beggar – a man lame from birth who is carried every day to this spot – who calls out to them to ask for money.
Peter and John stop when they hear the man and look at him intently (which most likely is not typical – most probably ignore him or give him money while barely looking at him – in this culture to be lame or deformed is considered a curse or the result of someone’s sin). Peter tells him to look at them (“Look at us!” – a command that is likely unsettling to the man since again most people would not interact with him) so they can address the man and have his full attention. The man looks at Peter expecting to receive money. Peter tells him that he does not have money to give him (which, unlike what most say to beggars, is actually true) but what he does have he will give him – “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!”
As Peter commands him he takes the man by the right hand and pulls him up. The man feels his ankles and feet become strong and realizes he can walk for the first time in his life. He immediately stands up and follows Peter and John into the temple walking and leaping and praising God (notice that he praises God instead of Peter – Peter made clear in how he commanded him that the power of healing was from Jesus, not Peter).
The man has been lame from birth and is now over 40 years old (4:22). He has never walked in his life. Peter heals his disability and overcomes 40 years of muscle atrophy to the point where the man can run and leap (Isa 35:6). This is not a suspicious healing – this is not someone no one knows who wobbles out of a wheelchair or who is healed of an unseen malady or who claims to see dim light through heretofore blind eyes. This is clearly a miracle and everyone knows it. Even the apostles’ enemies will later concede that the miracle is undoubtedly legitimate (4:16).
The people in the temple take notice of the man. For one thing it probably is a little strange to see a middle-aged man leaping and rejoicing. As they look they notice that he is the one who has begged at the Beautiful Gate for years (probably from the time he was a teenager). They know he has never walked and that he is carried to his spot every day. And yet here he is leaping and walking and rejoicing and praising God. Something incredible and miraculous has obviously happened and they must find out how and through whom it occurred.
Word spreads through the temple and a great group runs to Peter and John and the healed man (who is clinging to Peter and John – as if he does not want to let go of the men who gave him such an incredible gift) in the portico of Solomon – the gathering place in the temple for the new church (see 2:46 and 5:12 – this is a large porch running along the east wall of the outer court covered by a roof and bordered by columns – it received its name from a tradition that it is part of the original structure of Solomon’s temple). The people are full of amazement and want to see the great healer responsible for the incredible sign.
Peter does not waste this opportunity. He is faced with an eager crowd who wants to hear from him. He does not turn them away but he also does not draw them to himself. He uses the opening to tell them about the One who really healed the man. Thus the miracle does what miracles always do when God is behind them – it brings people to God.
Peter makes sure the people know he did not heal the man in his own power nor did he manipulate God into healing because of his piety – “Why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” He did not use the name of Jesus as magic and was not rewarded with the power to heal because of his righteousness. Jesus healed the man through Peter – Peter did not heal him at all.
Peter uses the explanation of the healing to immediately move into a gospel presentation. The One who healed the man is God’s servant, Jesus (note how he describes God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers – he wants them to understand that the gospel is the fulfillment of everything they know and have been taught). Jesus was/is the Messiah – the promised One who God glorified.
The people listening to Peter did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah – as the Holy and Righteous One. They instead delivered up and disowned Him and asked for a murderer (Barabbas) to be granted to them when Pilate had decided to release Him. They put to death the Prince of Life (Peter wants to make the contrast clear – they put to death the One who is the definition and source of life – they took the One who IS life and killed Him). God glorified His servant, but they killed Him.
Note the similarities between this sermon and what Peter preached at Pentecost. In both he quickly focuses on who Jesus was and the people’s culpability in His death (and in neither case does he mince words or try to sugarcoat the truth). He knows he must first make them realize the gravity of what they did before the good news makes sense. There is no need of the gospel if there is no sin to be delivered from. It is only effective where sin and condemnation are identified. No one kills weeds they do not see.
Thankfully, God did not treat His Servant as the people did. He raised Him from the dead – and Peter and John witnessed it. And it is the power of Jesus – on the basis of faith in His name – that 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. This healing is not about the man or Peter at all – it is all about Jesus. And Jesus both died and rose again because He was the Messiah. It is the power of faith in His name that healed this man and provides for salvation for Israel.
Throughout this sermon Peter emphasizes the name of Jesus. He healed the man in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. He has called Jesus God’s servant, the Holy and Righteous One, the Prince of Life, and will identify Him as the prophet foretold by Moses. He says faith in His name (hard to know whose faith he refers to – the man’s or his own) strengthened the man. Servant and Christ, Holy One and source of life, Prophet and Stone (4:11) – these titles speak of the uniqueness of Jesus in His sufferings and glory, His character and mission, His revelation and redemption. All this is encapsulated in His ‘Name’ and helps to explain its saving power (John Stott, “The Message of Acts,” The Bible Speaks Today, 92.)
Notice the last section of verse 16 – and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. The faith that saves must be in the name of Jesus – but the faith itself comes through Him. Jesus Himself causes this faith in the hearts of those who hear His name proclaimed.
The people rushed to Peter because of the miracle and thought they would simply hear an explanation of how it happened. Instead they are met head on with the implications of their guilt before God for killing His Messiah. Peter uses the changed life of a lame man to change the lives of hundreds who now listen to him as a result.
Peter turns his attention to hope. He has made the people aware of their guilt and need and how they stand condemned before God. He now softens the message somewhat and transitions into the good news of the gospel. He grants that the people and their rulers acted against Jesus in ignorance. They did not realize who they delivered up to be killed. An argument could certainly be made that their ignorance came from willful blindness and pride, but the fact remains that they did not realize who He was and Jesus Himself attested to this on the cross (“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” – Lk 23:34).
Unlike the people, however, God did not act in ignorance. He delivered up His Son and fulfilled what He planned from eternity past and what was proclaimed by the prophets. Jesus did not die because ignorant people killed Him – He died because God loved the people so much He gave Him up for their sins.
Therefore – verse 19 – they must repent and return that their sins may be wiped away in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. Their ignorance of what they did mitigates their guilt somewhat (see Num 15:22-31 for the Mosaic Law’s teaching on unintentional disobedience – see also I Tim 1:13), but it does not absolve them. They must repent and return. And since God intentionally gave up His Son for them they have hope – their sins can be wiped away. They stand condemned before God for killing His Christ, but that same Christ has made it possible for their record to be made clean and instead for times of refreshing to come to them.
This is pure gospel (just like at Pentecost). You are completely guilty of the worst crime ever perpetrated and stand before the omniscient, omnipotent and ultimate Judge of the world who promises to eternally punish any who come before Him with even the slightest sin to their account (much less the crime of killing His Chosen One). You have no hope and absolutely no ability to remedy your situation – nothing you have done is hidden from the Judge and nothing limits His power to punish. And since He is supreme and ultimate and completely just – and since He is the Author of the Law you will be measured against (He makes the rules) – you have no recourse and no appeal and no hope for leniency or for a missed offense. This is your current situation (NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE GOSPEL WITHOUT FIRST UNDERSTANDING THIS).
There is UNBELIEVABLY good news, however. The good news is that the Judge you stand before (the One who set the sentence for what you have done at eternal damnation) took your punishment. He died so you do not have to. He took your sins – even the worst sin of murdering HIM – and absorbed the sentence He Himself handed down. He knew you would stand before Him with no hope and so loved you enough to deliver you as no one else could. Not only that – but He enabled you to stand with complete righteousness before Him as if you never sinned at all. He transferred your sin to Him and His righteousness to you. And you therefore move from a sentence of eternal death to a reward of eternal life in the presence of the One who delivered you from His own judgment. You get to be rewarded for what Someone else did because Someone else was punished for what you did. This is the transaction available to you if you believe and repent.
[When said this way – does it not make sense that Peter jumps at the chance to present this when given a golden opportunity in front of hundreds of people? And does it not make sense that we should take advantage of any opportunity we might have for the same reason? And does it not make sense that news like this should dominate our thoughts and that we should live on it continually every day of our lives?]
Times of refreshing may correspond to the gift of the Holy Spirit that Peter promised in his first sermon (2:38). Both come as a result of repentance and forgiveness of sin. This phrase, however, appears nowhere else in the Bible so its meaning is hard to define. The context could mean the freedom and peace that come from forgiveness. We are forgiven and declared righteous – we are justified before God and have complete peace with Him. We are no longer God’s adversaries but His sons. Thus we are refreshed – we live in God’s presence (through His Spirit) free from having to earn our way to Him and free of the sin that condemns us to eternity without Him.
The “times of refreshing” are the lifting of the burden of sin, the “relief” from the knowledge of having been implicated in the execution of God’s Messiah, the “relaxation” in the knowledge that the promised new covenant has arrived in God’s revelation in and through Jesus, His Servant who is the Author of Life – in short, God’s blessing and the realization of the “peace” promised at Jesus’ birth. In the context of Acts 2:38, the “times of refreshing” are the age of salvation that has arrived with Jesus, the Messiah, who bestows the transforming presence of God’s Spirit on His people. (Eckhard J. Schnabel, Acts, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; 215.)
In verses 20 and 21 Peter says as a result of their salvation God will send Jesus to them who for now is in heaven – whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things. This does not mean that Christ’s return is predicated on their salvation. What it means is that they will be perfectly restored along with the rest of creation (Rom 8:19-22) when Christ returns – if they are counted as His.
Peter ends his sermon by showing that the gospel is the culmination of God’s covenant faithfulness. Jesus is the One promised by Moses (Deut 18) as the prophet God would raise up like Moses to lead the people. He is the One the prophets proclaimed from Samuel on. He fulfills the covenant God made with Abraham – And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Jesus is the completion of all the law and the prophets.
The people of Israel are the sons of those prophets and now live in the days predicted by them. God sent Jesus to bless them first (Rom 1:16) by turning every one of you from your wicked ways. They have no hope apart from Jesus but God blessed them by sending Jesus to them so they do not remain hopelessly lost.
Verse 23 is Peter’s sobering statement to the people that they now no longer have ignorance as an excuse. They know who Jesus was and is. And if they reject Him now they will be cut off – just as the defiant lawbreaker was cut off under the Law (Num 15:30-31). The people may have killed the Messiah in ignorance but if they reject Him now they do so fully informed and fully guilty. This is the complete gospel – it is good news to those who accept it but awful condemnation to those who do not. For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:26-27, 31).
Amazingly, what Peter did by healing the man and then giving the best news of all time to as many people as possible is about to get him and the whole church into trouble. A miracle like this performed in such a public setting will not go unnoticed. And people blind to the gospel and under the Enemy’s control do not like a public proclamation of the glory of the Son of God.
The gospel, the gospel, the gospel! Nothing is more important in life. Nothing is more worthy of time and meditation or to dominate our thoughts and speech. We cheat ourselves out of real life when we spend time and energy on things that crowd out the gospel. It is the good news for all time to those who believe and the reason we can live in satisfaction and contentment always looking onward and forward.
…that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.