In the third chapter of the book of the Acts we have Peter’s second recorded sermon. These apostolic sermons are of tremendous interest, or should be, to us today because they show just how God chose to present the message of His grace through the early apostles. Their one theme was Jesus Christ Himself-Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ glorified. They did not seek to occupy the people with abstruse doctrines, nor did they reason about profound theological problems. Instead they presented the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ in “words easy to be understood.” In this they are models for preachers all through the dispensation.
Notice here how the miracle and the message coincided. Miracles were never performed either by Jesus or His apostles simply to amaze the people. These signs were done to reveal the grace of God to needy men and women. This truth comes out here most beautifully.
As the chapter opens we find Peter and John wending their way to the temple to pray. The temple was still standing in Jerusalem. It was to remain there another forty years, though the curtain was torn and the old dispensation had come to an end. But it was still the place where the people gathered together to worship God at the regular hours for prayer. The ninth hour was the time when the evening sacrifice was offered. These sacrifices at the temple had no value now for those who knew the Lord Jesus as the One who had fulfilled all the types and shadows of the law.
As the apostles approached the temple their attention was directed to a poor man who lay at one of the entrances. He was lame and could not walk; he had to be carried daily to the gate Beautiful. We can see him there, holding out his hand, beseeching the more fortunate passersby to contribute to his support. As Peter and John came along, something about them, perhaps their kindly faces, stirred his heart and made him feel that here were two men who would help him, so he asked them for alms. “And Peter,” we are told, “fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.” He was definitely calling the lame man’s attention, and the beggar looked up, thinking surely now he was about to receive a coin that would supply his temporal needs. But Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”
I am sure that to the very end of his days Peter could have said: “Silver and gold have I none.” These early followers of the Lord Jesus Christ did not look upon the gospel ministry as a means of enriching themselves. They had taken the place of poverty and were willing to follow Jesus, no matter what it meant. We remember that when Christ was here He said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Mat_8:20). And as the apostles followed Him there was a power in their message that is sadly lacking when men use the gospel merely as a means of personal enrichment.
In connection with this I am reminded of an interesting story of the medieval church. That great scholar, Thomas Aquinas, came to the city of Rome to pay his respects to the one who was then pope. In the course of his visit, the pope proudly showed him all the wonders of the papal palace and took him to his treasury and showed him chests of silver and gold received from every part of the world. With something of a smile on his face, he said, “You see, Brother Thomas, we cannot say, as did the first pope, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’“ (The Catholic church claims Peter was the first pope.) Thomas Aquinas looked the pope in the eye and fearlessly replied, “No, and neither can you say, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.’” Riches had come, but power had gone. With Peter and the apostles there were poverty and power. They were men who walked with God, esteeming it greater riches than all this world could give to be used of Him in a mighty way. There was identification with Christ in His earthly poverty.
As he uttered the words, “Rise up and walk,” Peter reached out and “took him by the right hand, and lifted him up.” Immediately the lame man felt new life come into that crippled body of his; new strength came into those legs. We are given a graphic picture indeed. “Immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking and leaping, and praising God.” You can just see the man fairly dancing with delight, using his newfound strength, like a child skipping along the way. So overcome with joy was he over the miracle that had been done that he was not at all concerned with what people might think of him, or of the strange appearance he made as he ran ahead of the apostles. The people who saw him were filled with amazement too, and were glad for him as they came running, eager to learn more of what had taken place.
Peter said, “Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?” Then Peter used the miracle as an occasion to preach the gospel message. He disavowed any power in himself. He would not have people occupied with him or his devoted companion, the apostle John. He turned their eyes away from the servant to the Master of the servant, the Lord Jesus Christ, who had healed the poor cripple.
He began his message with, “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers.” He spoke as a pious Jew, and I wish that our Jewish friends everywhere could realize that in Christianity we have the fulfillment of that which all the types in Judaism were but the pictures. We too reverence the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not another god; not some strange god, but the God who of old appeared to the patriarchs. The Lord Jesus is the promised seed through whom all blessing comes for both Jews and Gentiles.
“The God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus.” Some manuscripts read, “His Servant Jesus.” It is not exactly easy to decide which term the apostle Peter used, but it would seem a little more in keeping with his general message to have used the word servant; for the Lord Jesus Christ is that anointed Servant spoken of in the book of the prophet Isaiah, “Behold my servant” (Isa_42:1). So Peter presented the blessed Lord as the One who came into this world to serve the Father by making atonement for our sins.
Then he drove home to these people the sin they had recently committed in rejecting Him. “Whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go.” One might feel Peter could have dealt with them more gently, and not have stressed the point that they had denied Christ. But let us remember it is ever the work of a good doctor or surgeon to be faithful to his task. So it is never a kindness on the part of a servant of God to gloss over the sins of the people to whom he preaches. God would have men’s hearts probed to the very depths. He would have men realize the corruption of their nature and their sinful acts that placed them in condemnation before God. After all, it is my sin that gives me the right to the blood of Jesus, and it is the blood of Jesus that secures my claim to Heaven.
And so Peter stressed the sin of which they were recently guilty. “Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you.” When given the choice of either Barabbas or Jesus, they asked that Barabbas be freed and Jesus condemned to die.
Then Peter added, “And killed the Prince of life.” One might say, “But they didn’t kill Him. It was not the Jews who nailed Jesus Christ to the cross-it was the Gentiles.” Yes, but it was Jew and Gentile who together rejected Him and together gave Him up to die. It was in the heart of His own people Israel to destroy Him, so God spoke of His having been slain by them. Actually, no one could kill Jesus. He said Himself, “No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (Joh_10:18).
It would have been utterly impossible for either Jew or Gentile to put an end to the earthly life of Jesus if He had not voluntarily placed Himself in their hands and gone to the cross. Even when nailed on the tree He did not die of the physical suffering He endured. We are told that when He cried, “It is finished,” He then said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luk_23:46). And when he had said that, the King James version says, “He gave up the ghost.” Actually it is, “He dismissed his spirit.” The work was done.
His death was voluntary. But we are told in another portion of Scripture, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1Jn_3:15). So because they had hatred in their hearts they are said to have killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead.
I would like to pause here and put a question to my readers. What is your attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you ever turned to God as a repentant sinner and trusted the Lord Jesus for yourself? If not, you still belong to that world which God judges guilty of murdering His beloved Son. Until you come to the place where you repent of the sin for which the world stands condemned-the death of God’s Son-and you take Him as your own Savior, judgment hangs over you because of man’s attitude toward Christ-He who “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom_4:25).
Peter said, “God hath raised [Him] from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.” That was a very bold statement. This was only a few days after Pentecost. The apostle Peter had nothing to cover up. He could have given witness after witness of people who had talked with Christ and walked with Him. God made the resurrection of His Son abundantly evident so that no one who wanted to know the truth need be misled.
So Peter declared it was through this risen One that the lame man was miraculously healed. “And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.”
Then, having driven home to the hearts of the people their own sinfulness and their accountability before God for the murder of His Son, Peter opened for them a door, as it were, into the city of refuge. You will remember in the Old Testament God made special provision for any guilty of putting another man to death unintentionally or through ignorance. Scripture illustrates it like this: If a man, for instance, is chopping wood and his neighbor is near and the ax head flies off and hits the neighbor and the man falls dead, the one who slew him is not to be treated as a murderer. He is guilty of manslaughter, but is not a murderer (Deu_19:4-6). God commanded that there be six cities located at different points, with good roads to them. The man who unintentionally slays his neighbor is immediately to flee to the nearest city and abide there until the death of the high priest. “And ye shall take no satisfaction for him that is fled to the city of his refuge.” (Num_35:6-32). The revenger of blood is not to seek him out nor treat him as a murderer.
Peter continued, “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it [killed the Son], as did also your rulers.” In other words, “You did not understand: you did not know Jesus was really the Messiah and Servant of God. You thought you were fulfilling God’s purpose perhaps in putting Jesus to death. You did it through ignorance.” Peter was opening a door to a city of refuge. He was saying in effect, “God is ready to treat you not as a murderer, but as one guilty of manslaughter, and as long as the high priest lives you are safe if you enter the place of refuge.” Our High Priest is the Lord Jesus and He lives forever. Those who accept the salvation God has provided are forever secure from the avenger, for God will not permit a charge to be brought against any who are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul said, “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Co_2:8). So again you see they did not know. Pilate did not know; the Roman soldiers did not know, neither Jews nor Gentiles understood. That is what Jesus meant when He said on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luk_23:34).
One thinks of those excited Jews in Pilate’s judgment hall demanding the death of Jesus. Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your King?” And the Jews cried out, “His blood be on us, and on our children” (Mat_27:25). What a dangerous malediction they were calling down on themselves and their children! I have heard some thoughtless people say that is why the Jews are suffering today and they should suffer. They say Hitler was right, the Fascists were right, and the anti-Semites are right in causing the Jewish people to suffer. Those who speak like that forget this prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” So instead of charging His blood to either Jew or Gentile, He is declaring that His very death has opened a city of refuge, a way of deliverance from judgment for all who flee to Him for mercy.
Peter explained that even in the very rejection of Christ, God’s own Word was being fulfilled. We see this most clearly when we turn to the wonderful fifty-third chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. In light of that, Peter urged their instantly turning to God: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted.” That is, change your attitude and turn to God. Judge yourselves as sinners before Him. Confess your guilt. Be turned around. That is what conversion implies. When men confess Christ they are turned from the power of Satan to God, from sin to righteousness.
“That your sins may be blotted out.” Again we think of the prophet Isaiah, through whom we hear God speaking to Israel. “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee” (Isa_44:22).
It is necessary to draw attention to a slight change of translation from the King James version, which makes for a clearer understanding of the passage that follows. “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that [not when] the times of refreshing [may] come from the presence of the Lord.” That is, if Israel will turn to the Lord it will hasten the time when the Lord Jesus will come back again and bring with Him refreshing for all the world. That is still true. The final blessing of this poor world is wrapped up in Israel’s repentance. When the people of Israel repent and turn to God they will become the means of blessing to the whole earth.
“And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things,…”Shall we stop there? If we did it would put us on the ground of universal restitutionalism; it would put us in the company with those who say all men eventually are going to be saved.
But that is not what Peter declared. We cannot stop with the comma but must complete the sentence: “.. .which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” You see, the sentence as a whole means restitution of all that God has spoken by His prophets. Everything the prophets have spoken will eventually be fulfilled through Christ for He is the Prophet of whom Moses spoke in Deu_18:15 : “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me: unto him ye shall hearken.” That Prophet is our Lord Jesus. God calls on all men to receive Him and put their trust in Him.
“And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that Prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days” (Act_3:23-24). Peter reminded his hearers that the prophets had foretold of the days to come when Jew and Gentile would be saved through the death of the appointed Savior that God was to provide.
Then Peter added, “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.” How the heart of God goes out to His earthly people Israel. “Unto you first.” If any Jewish friend reads these pages, I hope he will listen to these wonderful words, “Unto you first.” Unto you, God’s chosen people Israel! Unto you first! God has set the nation aside, but His heart goes out in yearning love to every individual Jew.
“God, having raised up his Son [or literally, His Servant] Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Salvation, full and free and complete, is offered to Jew and Gentile-to everyone who will turn in repentance to our Lord Jesus Christ.