A Sign and A Sermon
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 verses which follow immediately lead us towards the real purpose of the miracle.
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 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.
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.
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.
Peter's words succinctly summarize the good news of the salvation message:
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 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?"
Next Lesson: Overruled!