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Life of Peter

The Lame Man

Acts 3:1-26

Lesson audio

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 Commandments.

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.

Peter

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 destroyed.)

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 deity.

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 risen Lord.

The Name

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.

Prophecy

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 means!"

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.

Prophetic Warning

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.

Blessing Prophesied

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 message.

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