After telling us about the amazing events on the Day of Pentecost, Luke turns next to the ministry of Peter and John. He provides a lengthy record which revolves around a miracle performed by the apostles at the temple in Jerusalem. This section, which begins in chapter three and extends through most of chapter four, is about the healing of a lame man and what happened as a result of that incident.
This miracle brings out different reactions from those who witness it or hear about it. Much like what can be observed in the ministry of the Savior, this miracle attracted some to the faith and caused others to resist. Some rejoiced and believed in the Savior, others were angry and sought to silence those who spoke of the Savior.
I’ve outlined this long section according to four points: First, we have the miracle described. In 3:1-10, Luke tells us about a lame man who is healed as a result of Peter’s attention. Second, in 3:11-4:4, we have the miracle explained to the Jewish worshipers. They wondered how such a thing could occur and Peter takes the opportunity to call them to repentance once again.
Third, in 4:5-22, we have a confrontation between the apostles and the Jewish religious officials. In spite of evidence literally standing in front of them, these men choose to silence Peter and John. They ignore the miracle because the implications were contrary to their interests. Fourth, in 4:23-31, we find the new Church praising God and celebrating the outcome of this miracle. Here we get some valuable insight regarding how the early Christians viewed those events and the destiny of the Church.
In today’s sermon, I will cover the first two points—the description of the miracle and the explanation of the miracle.
- The Miracle Described (3:1-10)
3:1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. 2 And a certain 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 And when he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. 4 And Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze upon 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 And 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.
These verses are easily divided into three observations. Notice, to begin with, the condition of the man in question. Peter and John are at the temple at three o’clock in the afternoon. It is the time of the evening sacrifice. Like Paul after them, Peter and John continued visiting the place of Jewish worship in the early days of the Church’s existence.
On this occasion, Luke tells us they encountered a certain lame man. This man “had been lame from his mother’s womb,” we’re told. Later, of course, we learn that he is “more than forty years old” when this miracle occurs (cf. 4:22).
It is hard for us to imagine such an existence, especially at this time in history. This man was unable to walk—in fact, he had never walked. The only way he could move from place to place was to be carried by friends or someone who would have mercy on him. I want you to think about this man’s perspective on life. Immobility in this society was a sentence to extreme poverty, ridicule, and a lifetime of dependence.
There were no support groups or government agencies. This man lived a miserable existence, far more difficult than anything we can envision. Years before this day, he must have resigned himself to the fact that his life was going to be one of despair. The best he could hope for—and this isn’t much—was to be given a little bit of money as he begged each day.
It’s worth noting that this man chose the temple as his place to beg. Notice the text says that this man was put in this same place every day. He knew that the people coming to the temple were religious people and religious people, unless they are rank hypocrites, are supposed to be compassionate people. He reasoned, then, that this was probably the best location in the whole city.
If people were going to be generous, then this is where that was most likely to happen. And so, he sat there, day after day, begging from those who walked into the temple. This was his life—this was his past and, as far as he knew, this was his future.
The next observation has to do with the man’s request. Verse 3 says that when he saw Peter and John, he did what he always did—he “began asking to receive alms.” For his entire life, this man had done what he now was doing—begging for money so that he could make it one more day and eat one more meal.
By now, he was used to the rudeness of those who ignored him; and he was used to the looks of disdain and the coins tossed at him in disgust. By now, this man knew that every once in a while, someone came by who took pity on him. This was his hope; this is what he had to cling to day by day.
This lame man had no way of knowing who these men were. He didn’t know that they had walked with the One who routinely healed people like him; he didn’t know that these two men now entering the temple had been appointed by the Son of God to go forth in His name and carry on His ministry to the needy and the poor and the lost.
In his ragged state, the lame man muttered those words he had spoken countless times in the past. Did you note that the context indicates he didn’t even bother to look up anymore (cf. 4, 5). Perhaps he found it easier to beg if he didn’t have to look into the face of the person walking past. Things are about to change.
My third observation has to do with Peter’s response to the lame man. Peter knew what the lame man wanted—it was the only thing that mattered to the man, in fact. The apostle had no silver or gold, as he states, but he had something else, something far more valuable and something this man needed. Peter was willing to share what he had, so he commands the lame man: “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” The man begged because he could not walk; Peter by-passes the request for money and eliminates the need for begging.
It is important to note Peter’s words. He commands the man in the name of Christ. He is invoking the authority of the Savior to heal as he speaks to this man. Peter is not relying on his own ability, as he explains later, he is relying on the power and willingness of Jesus Christ to deliver this man from his helpless state.
Knowing that the lame man naturally would be stunned by his words and would not instantly attempt to stand, Peter took the man’s hand and raised him up. The Scripture declares that “immediately his feet and his ankles were straightened.” (v. 7)
This was not the kind of healing you see on television where the person hobbles around on stage looking like they are going to topple over any moment. When Christ heals, he heals completely. This man had never stood before, but now, “with a leap, he stood upright and began to walk.” (v. 8)
Whatever was wrong with him was fixed; whatever he lacked in muscle tone was provided; whatever brittleness there may have been in his bones was gone. This is what true healing looks like. It was as if this man had never been afflicted.
Luke adds that the man entered the temple with Peter and John. He wasn’t silent, not after all those years of lying on the steps begging for money. He wasn’t going to go quietly into the temple. He was walking and leaping and praising God. This kind of activity draws attention. Everyone noticed this man. (v. 9)
And they immediately recognized him as the one who used to sit outside begging for money. (v. 10) The reaction is what you would expect: “they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” No other reaction could have been forthcoming. They all knew who he was and, therefore, they all knew that something incredible had taken place.
- The Miracle Explained (3:11-4:4)
11 And 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 do you marvel 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 up, 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.”
Luke indicates that a crowd gathered around the healed man who is clinging to Peter and John (v. 11). Once again, it is Peter who offers a proper interpretation of what has happened. The first thing he does is deny that the apostles are responsible for the miracle that occurred (v. 12). Clearly, the people jumped to the conclusion that Peter and John were responsible for healing the lame man and now they waited expectantly to see what might happen next.
But Peter indicates their assumption was wrong. The man had been healed, to be sure, but the apostles were not responsible. Peter continues and tells them that their God, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers,” was responsible and He was, in fact, glorifying Jesus Christ in this event (v. 13).
I should point out that Peter uses a well-known covenantal formula when he offers his explanation for the miracle. God is often introduced as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” as a means of emphasizing His faithfulness to His people and the continuity of His work of redemption from generation to generation.
Those present in the temple on this day were the sons of these patriarchs and they needed to understand that God had healed this man, but He had healed Him in order to glorify His Son and it was that Son which the Jews “delivered up and disowned in the presence of Pilate” even though Pilate had decided to release Him.
Peter is explaining how this miracle took place, but as he does, he is creating a problem for the Jews. He is telling them that their God, the God of Israel, healed the lame man, and he is telling them that God healed the lame man in order to glorify Someone whose name they hoped never to hear again—Jesus Christ.
The problem here is that these Jews rejected Christ. If the God of Israel did, in fact, heal this man in order to glorify Christ, then that means the Jews made a terrible mistake when they rejected the Savior.
Peter declares: “You disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you…” (v. 14) These words must have shocked the crowd. They came together because they witnessed a miracle and now, as the miracle is being explained, they are being returned to the dreaded subject of what happened to Jesus Christ shortly before.
“You put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (v. 15) The Jews chose a taker of life over the One who gives life. As Peter speaks, the focus shifts dramatically from the healed man to the Jews. The miracle has become an occasion for Peter to accuse the Jews once again in the rejection and death of the Messiah.
And, as before, he tells them that though they consented to the death of Christ, God—the God responsible for this miracle—raised Him from the dead. So now the Jews begin to realize, as the context indicates shortly, that they do, indeed, have a big problem. They were in the temple to worship God and they witnessed a miracle and they are told that God did this miracle to glorify the One they previously disowned the killed.
This puts the Jews in direct opposition to God Himself. The miracle that grabbed their attention has become the occasion for them to be confronted for having turned against their Savior.
Now Peter returns to the point of their curiosity: “And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man…” (v. 16) There’s no doubt regarding which “Jesus” he has in mind. He’s made that clear. The power which belongs to Jesus, the same One rejected by these Jews, healed the lame man. Faith in this Jesus, the One left to die at the hands of the Romans, has given the man “perfect health.”
17 “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 should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore and return, 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.”
As he did before, Peter shows a degree of sympathy for the Jews. His goal is not simply to condemn them and leave them to suffer. His goal is to identify their sin and then lead them to repentance and restoration—which is always the goal of confrontation. This statement reminds us of what Jesus said on the cross: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
And it brings to mind Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 2:8: “… if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” It is a wonderful thing that God recognizes our ignorance when we sin. Here, Peter is a superb example of how sin can be identified and yet not lead to the utter destruction of the offender.
A call to repentance follows the accusation of sin, and Peter puts before the Jews the offer of God’s forgiveness. God had let it be known beforehand through His prophets that the Savior must suffer and die. But now that same God was willing to forgive even this, the greatest of sins. “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away…” (v. 18)
What comforting words these must have been. The Jews had committed the ultimate act of rebellion, but they could return to Him and have their sins forgiven. God was prepared to send “times of refreshing” to His people. God was ready to forgive them.
Their Messiah was now in heaven, not decaying in a tomb outside Jerusalem, and from His exalted place in heaven, He had begun the “restoration of all things,” that is, the application of His atonement to the peoples of the earth (cf. v. 21). It was possible, therefore, that these Jews could yet have Him as their Messiah.
God long ago promised this One who would be the last Prophet and He must be heard for He is the final word from God (cf. vv. 22, 23). The coming of this Messiah-Prophet was foretold repeatedly, Peter adds, by all the prophets before Him. His reign as the Savior-King was announced by God’s servants throughout the history of Israel. And now the day of His reign has come and these Jews were the sons of those who spoke of this day and held out the glorious vision of the Messiah’s coming to the people.
These Jews were sons of the covenant which God made with Abraham when He promised to bless the families of the earth (cf. v. 25). The day of salvation has come and these Jews, who initially were attracted to Peter by the healing of the lame man, are now being called to repentance and restoration. They are being warned that continued rebellion against the Messiah will be disastrous for them; they are being urged to seek God’s forgiveness so that they might walk in peace with Him. Their Messiah has come and they must receive Him now (v. 26).
This is where Peter’s remarks are interrupted:
4:1 As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
Luke records that the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came upon them (v. 1). All this talk about Jesus being alive was unacceptable to the Sadducees who denied the possibility of resurrection from the dead. They were “greatly disturbed,” Luke writes, particularly because Peter was speaking about Jesus (v. 2). And so, the explanation of the miracle ends here, as far as Luke’s record is concerned. Now, “they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day…” (v. 3)
This seems like such a puny attempt to silence Peter and John. Consider what they have been saying. Jesus was crucified but God raised Him from the dead. He is in heaven now and by His power a man lame from birth had been fully restored. What is a prison cell compared to that? What power do the Sadducees have compared to that?
Luke writes that “many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” (v. 4) According to the construction in the Greek, Luke probably means that the Church now numbers around five thousand. And, if by “men” he means males or heads of households, then we are talking about a much greater number for the total membership of the early Church.
The arrest of the apostles is not the focus up to this point. The focus is the incredible response to Peter’s words. The Church is growing rapidly and, thus far, all growth has centered on the resurrected Savior. This is, as I pointed out in an earlier sermon, the key message of the early Church.
In the next section, which we will explore in the next sermon, we find a confrontation between the apostles and the Jewish officials.
As we give our attention to some application, there are several things I could mention, but I’m going to concentrate on just one idea. I want to say a few words about the lame man. I believe that when Jesus physically healed people in the Gospels, one of the points of such activity was to teach spiritual lessons.
The healing of physical maladies was meant to direct attention to the lost state of sinner who had nothing they could do on their own to change their condition. Their only hope was the intervention of God and, in His Son, God did intervene numerous times and people were healed. These episodes emphasized the unique power of the Savior not only to heal, but as He Himself said on some occasions as He healed someone, to forgive sins, as well.
Consider, then, the lame man as a picture of every sinner who has ever been saved by the Lord Jesus. Here was a man who had no hope, who was in a condition which was unchangeable, as far as his power was concerned. Here is a man who resigned himself to a life of misery having realized his pitiful condition and having concluded that this was his lot in life. He would have remained in this sad state had not Jesus Christ intervened.
So it is with every sinner, so it is with you, if you are walking with Christ today. You have been spiritually restored, not by your own power and not by the efforts of anyone else, but only because Christ had mercy on you. Your outlook was even more bleak and disturbing than that of this lame man before he was healed. Your lameness was spiritual in nature.
You had no hope, nothing to look forward to, nothing to make your existence more bearable. And the really sad part is that, unlike the lame man, you didn’t even know you were in such a horrible condition.
But then Christ had mercy on you and He not only revealed your condition to you, He also changed you and made you fit for heaven. If that lame man had cause to leap for joy while praising God, how much more cause do we redeemed sinners have to be joyful and thankful while we praise God for having saved us in His Son?
That lame man would never live a single day for the rest of his life without thinking of what had been done for him. I wonder if we are as aware as we should be of what Christ has done for us as we go about our routines day after day. I’m afraid that it’s just a sad fact that we lose sight of what God has done for us in Christ and, in time, our lives show very little evidence that we know what the Savior gave us.
I want to leave you with the image of that lame man, suddenly healed and able to stand up and walk and run and leap into the air. He was filled with thanksgiving and gladness. And as you think about him, I want you to consider that Christ has done something even more impressive, something even greater for you when He gave Himself in your place and purchased your redemption with His own life.
How should you be reacting to that truth? Shouldn’t your life be characterized by thanksgiving and gladness? Shouldn’t your life be characterized by a desire to let others know what the Savior has done for you? Shouldn’t your life be a daily testimony to the fact that you have been saved and are being prepared for heaven?
The sacrament reminds us of what Jesus did for us. As you receive the elements, take time to reflect on where you would be without the Savior. Take time to reflect on what He did for you and how you should respond to Him. Is your life a fitting example of thanksgiving, gladness, and humble service? Can you relate to the joy of the lame man when we stood to his feet and realized what had been done for him?
Matthew 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”