NTC Lesson #6

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Study Series: NTC
The New Testament Church

Lesson #6: July 6, 2001

A Sign and A Sermon
(Acts 3:1-26)

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NASB)

Many consider Acts 1:8 to be a geographical outline of the book of Acts. The church was to start in Jerusalem, then expand to the surrounding areas (Judea and Samaria), and then eventually to encompass the entire world. So far in our study of the book of Acts we've seen the commissioning of the apostles, the ascension of Christ, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the rapid growth of the infant church immediately thereafter. As we turn now to Acts chapter 3, the Christian church is still at home base in the city of Jerusalem, the number of Christians is somewhere over 3000 and growing, and the apostle Peter is quickly becoming the leading figure in the newly-born church.

Towards the end of chapter 2, the writer of Acts tells us that "many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles" (Acts 2:43b NASB). In this lesson, we'll see an example of one such miracle and how God used this event to continue spreading the truth about Jesus Christ among the Jewish people.

The Scene

As we've seen previously, the first members of the New Testament church were primarily Jewish converts from Judaism who had accepted the truth that Jesus was the Jews' long-awaited Messiah. These early Christians did not, however, immediately abandon all the tenets of Judaism; for example, they continued to worship God in the Jewish temple alongside their Jewish countrymen. For them, however, their newfound faith in Christ gave new meaning and fulfillment to the religious practices they had grown up with. As we open to the third chapter of Acts, we see the Jerusalem church continuing its involvement in Jewish religious practice, but impacting it with the truth of Jesus Christ.

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. (Acts 3:1 NASB)

Peter and John, two of the twelve apostles and leaders of the early church, here are seen heading to the temple for the Jewish time of prayer as was customary. ("The ninth hour" reflects the Jewish way of keeping time. Since the Jewish day started at 6:00am, the ninth hour represented 9 hours after 6:00am, or 3:00pm.) According to Judaism, prayer was to be offered in the morning (9:00am), afternoon (3:00pm) and at sunset. Devout Jews often prayed at the temple. On this day, however, visitors to the temple were about to encounter more than they bargained for.

The Sign

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.  When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. (Acts 3:2-3 NASB)

In those days, there were no hospitals or social service programs designed to care for the physically handicapped. A disabled Jew in ancient Palestine who was unable to perform a job could only beg alms (that is, ask for charity) in order to survive. Thus, it was not uncommon to see beggars in public places where they would hope to encounter lots of people. The temple was a particularly strategic spot to beg since many people visited every day and, it being a religious place, a higher percentage of people might feel inclined to give something to someone in need.

The "gate of the temple which is called Beautiful" refers to an entrance on the east side of the Temple which led from the Court of the Gentiles (an outer area around the temple where non-Jews were allowed) to the Court of Women (an area where Jewish women were allowed to go). Here the beggar sat, day after day, asking for whatever he could get from those passing by. This particular day seemed no different from the rest. When Peter and John came along, the man began asking for money as usual. What he got, however, was far from usual.

But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, "Look at us!" And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. (Acts 3:4-5 NASB)

"Ah!" the beggar thought. "These guys must be going to give me some money." But Peter had something a little different in mind.

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!" And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. (Acts 3:6-8 NASB)

Whether Peter had in some fashion been told by God to heal this man or whether he was simply overcome with compassion we are not told. What we do know is that the apostle, rather than simply throwing the man another handout, gave him something much more -- his legs! Notice some of the particulars:

  • According to verse 2, the man had been lame since birth. He had been seen sitting at the temple begging for years. This healing was no carnival side show, no staged scene designed to deceive the gullible. The man's handicap was well-known and verifiable by many.

  • His healing was immediate and complete. It wasn't a gradual healing process over time that would allow skeptics to credit medicine, therapy, flukes, or the like. God wanted no mistakes about it -- this was a miracle.

  • As soon as his legs were restored the man "began to walk" and he entered the temple walking and leaping. But this man had never walked before in his life! Even a baby with normal, healthy legs must go through a learning process to master the skills necessary for walking. This man skipped the learning process and went straight to walking and even jumping! When God heals, it's no halfway job -- He does it right!

Prof's Pointers:

Don't miss the lesson embedded in these verses. The beggar asked for money -- not healing. He had been living in this situation for a long time and thought he knew what he needed. Peter, however, saw beyond the temporary, immediate need and saw what the man really needed. Similarly, we often ask God for what we think we need. God, however, knows what we really need. When you pray, there's nothing wrong with asking God for what you think you need. But allow God to be God. He may or may not reply in the way you expect, but He will always give you what is best -- because you are loved.

The Purpose

The verses which follow immediately lead us towards the real purpose of the miracle.

And all the people saw him walking and praising God; 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. 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.
(Acts 3:9-11 NASB)

We stated in our previous lesson that the purpose of a miracle in the New Testament was always, always as a sign -- to verify the truth. This particular healing was no exception. God had planned this situation for a purpose: to provide the opportunity for Peter to proclaim the truth about Jesus Christ to the Jews who were at the temple that day.

And Peter didn't miss his cue.

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?" (Acts 3:12 NASB)

Notice who immediately gets the credit for what happened -- God. When Peter ordered the man to walk he did it "in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene"; that is, by Jesus' authority and power -- not his own. As people will do, however, everyone's eyes immediately looked to Peter in amazement. They wanted to give Peter the credit, but he would have none of it. He essentially says, "Guys, don't look at me. Look up."

Points to Ponder:

Have you ever been in a situation where you were involved with something good happening and others kept wanting to pat you on the back and give you the credit? While kept in the proper perspective there's nothing wrong with gratefully accepting others' "attaboys"; however, learn a bit of wisdom from Peter. Situations like that provide great opportunities for shining the light of recognition where it is most appropriate -- on the One who "created all things, and by [whose] will they were created and have their being" (Revelation 4:11b). Don't miss those windows of opportunity when you have a chance to make God look good.

The Sermon

The scene had been set, the sign had been given, the purpose had begun to unfold. Now the people were prepared to hear what God had to say.

"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. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses." (Acts 3:13-15 NASB)

Starting out on common ground, Peter reminds them that it is the God of Abraham, the One whose temple they're standing in, who is at work here. Next, he walks them back through the events which had recently occurred in Jerusalem: the Jews' betrayal of one of their own, Jesus, to the Romans; their insistence, over Roman objections, that the innocent One be executed while the guilty one (Barabbus) be freed; and the subsequent bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus -- a report that was rapidly making its way throughout Jerusalem and beyond. This Jesus, Peter unashamedly proclaimed, was alive and well. It was by His power and for His purpose that the crippled man had been healed.

"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."
(Acts 3:16 NASB)

One final time, Peter clarifies who the real miracle-worker is: Jesus, not Peter. But his message today is not to pronounce judgment; it's to offer mercy. The reason for the man's healing? To show the people that God hadn't given up on them. Despite their betrayal, despite their repeated rejection, despite the horrors of the crucifixion, God was still reaching out to them in love.

"And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 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; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 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."
(Acts 3:17-21 NASB)

Peter's words succinctly summarize the good news of the salvation message:

  • "You acted in ignorance". Man willingly rebelled against God, his creator.

  • "God announced beforehand by the mouth of the prophets." God planned a way for man's restoration from the beginning of time, and announced it ahead of time, at various times and in various ways, through the Old Testament prophets.

  • "Therefore repent and return." Jesus paid the penalty for our rebellion by giving his life on our behalf. But a gift given must be received or its value is not realized. We must accept what Jesus did for us, which includes not only being sorry for what we have done, but repenting and returning to God. (To repent means to be so sorry for what you have done that you change the way you live.)

  • "So that your sins may be wiped away"..."that times of refreshing may come"..."that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you". God's response to our repentance? He will forgive every sin; revive our spirit; and come to live personally within us.

  • "Whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration." The time is coming when all things will be made new. Jesus will return from heaven someday. If we've accepted his gift of salvation, we will live forever in restored relationship with Him.

This message of restoration is the same message God had been communicating to the Jews throughout their history. To emphasize this, Peter quotes a couple of examples from the Old Testament:

"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. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 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.' For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways."
(Acts 3:22-26 NASB)

Moses had spoken of "a prophet" from among the Jews. Samuel and all the Old Testament prophets had hinted at what was to come. Even as far back as Abraham, the message of Christ had been predicted when God said that everyone on earth would be blessed by one of Abraham's descendants (his seed).

Peter's message? The long-awaited Messiah had finally come. Jesus, the Christ. It was Him. He had been right there living among the Jews for years -- and they had completely missed him.

They Say History Repeats Itself...

Fast-forward two thousand years. Most of us have heard of Jesus. Some of us were raised in a Christian church. We know the stories. We know the routine. But have we missed the point? If our understanding of Christianity is that it's about going to church, do's and don'ts, and bumper stickers with fish on them, we've missed the Messiah.

Don't make the same mistake the Jews did two thousand years ago. Force yourself to take a few minutes and get alone. No, really. Do it.

Ask yourself, "Have I missed Him?"


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