Luke is now going to give a particular instance of those miracles he said in 2:43 the Apostles were performing. And its setting is in the temple courts where we have already read (2:46) the Christians were meeting daily.
The Christians continued to observe the religious worship of Judaism — especially the worship of the temple — and would continue to do so, at least those who were Jewish and lived in Jerusalem, for many years to come. In fact they did not cease to do so until A.D. 70 when, not as the result of any declaration by the church but as the result of an act of divine judgment by which the temple was destroyed, it become actually impossible to observe this worship any longer. It is worth pointing out, however, that the way evangelicals typically think about the transition from OT to NT leaves little room for these continuing practices. In my experience, most Christians haven't thought about this fact and find it very difficult to reconcile with what they assumed had happened and what they think ought to have happened. Blood sacrifice should have been abolished in principle by the death of Christ on the cross, but the Apostles and even Paul are still practicing it thirty years after the crucifixion (21:26; 24:17). Our Confession of Faith has it right, the sacraments of the OT and the NT are, for substance, the same — work the same way, mean the same thing. In every respect those rites and that worship belonged more to the Christian Jews than to the non-Christian Jews.
An interesting detail. John was present two, though Peter does the speaking and acting.
As often in the Lord's evangelism, the apostles take advantage of another's initiative. And do it boldly (Peter's direct look in v. 4).
"in the name of Jesus" = "by the authority of Jesus," as in the baptismal formula in 2:38. That is, it is Christ who acts in this healing, not Peter and John. This is his power.
In other words, this was the genuine article, as all biblical miracles were. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the man had been healed by supernatural power (so 4:7,10,22).
Thomas Halyburton, the 18th century Scottish Presbyterian father, on his deathbed, suffering from painfully swollen feet, said to those gathered around him, "Lame hands, and lame legs; but see a lame man leaping and rejoicing!" [Memoir, p. 244]
Peter begins his address by forestalling one possible misunderstanding — that he and John had accomplished this healing in their own power. And what follows is very much along the lines of his sermon on the Day of Pentecost.
Jesus was God's "servant." And in v. 18 we will read of this servant "suffering." What else is this a reference to but Isa. 53!
"life" in the sense of salvation, eternal life, life worthy to be called life, as in 5:20.
Whose faith? It is not said that the man had faith or believed, but v.7 may imply that he did, a readiness to receive was Peter offered him and to believe that he would walk in Jesus' name. Or Peter's faith, or both. Perhaps it is most likely Peter's faith, as an exposition of his point in v. 12: we didn't make this man walk, Christ did in whom we believe. [Remember Mark 2:5, of the healing of the man let down through the roof: "When Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, 'Rise and walk.'"] In any case, the healing was not by magic, but by the power of Christ in whom men believed.
He does not mean that they were excused for this ignorance or that it was not blameworthy: vv. 13-15 have already indicated the evil they did, in v. 19 he will call on them to repent of it so that their sins might be wiped out, and in v. 26 he refers once more to their "wicked ways." Peter seems rather to be saying that their sin could be forgiven if only they would repent. They had not sinned "with a high hand," in that full awareness that they were rejecting God that the Bible calls the sin against the Holy Spirit or the unforgivable sin. He is also lessening, in an appropriate way, the offensiveness of his remarks so as to gain his audience's sympathy for his message. It was ignorance of a kind. But, the kind one can be damned for.
Two results will come from their repentance (v.19) and the forgiveness of their sins. First, "times of refreshing." This seems to be a reference to the blessings of the era of salvation promised by the prophets, and the case for taking it that way is strengthened by the fact that the second result is the second coming itself (v. 20). Peter's point may be that these will be the eventual inheritance of all who trust in Jesus or, it may be, that he is saying that if the Jews as a people turned now to the Lord and to his Christ those times would have come much more quickly than eventually would prove to be the case, even that the consummation itself would have come much more quickly. But, of course, the Jews did not turn, only a comparatively few among them, and history proceeded in a different way than it would have had Peter's summons been answered by the nation's repentance.
In any case, Peter accepts that some time must elapse before the Lord's return.
Jesus was "the prophet" whose coming was long ago predicted by Moses, whom God's people must obey. A particularly important thing to say to a Jewish congregation.
"To you first" a quiet hint, at this early stage, of what was to come with the mission to the Gentiles. No point in distracting them with that before they had come to repentance.
The connection between "offspring" in v. 25 and "raised up his servant" in v. 26 suggests that Peter is taking "seed" or "offspring" in the same way Paul would in Gal. 3:16 as a singular noun referring to "Jesus." Through Jesus all the world would be blessed.
Now, in the time available this evening, I want to reiterate one point and make another.
We began by saying that the Acts of the Apostles was to be the story of Christ's continuing action in the world. It is the second volume of the history of the Lord Jesus' ministry to the world. What the apostles do they do through him, or, better, he does through them. We have the Apostles Peter and John making exactly this point in connection with the miraculous healing of the crippled man — this was not their doing, but Christ's. We don't need to elaborate that thought again, but simply be reminded by it of the nature and character of our calling as Christians — it is not to save the lost, but to serve Christ in his saving the lost; not to build the church but to serve Christ who is building his church. It is a point to be remembered because it is very easily forgotten. We are always taking upon ourselves what belongs to the Lord alone — and it is this tendency that leads so often either to discouragement in our Christian work (as if it is up to us and lies within our power to produce the results we seek) or an unfaithfulness to the Lord and his methods (as, in an effort to produce results, we do whatever we think will deliver the goods, even if our methods are contrary to Christ's intention).
In one of J.I. Packer's finest works, and one of his earliest, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, he makes this point that evangelism is not producing converts, but proclaiming Christ as Savior, preaching the gospel, with the results to be left where they must be left, in any case, with God. We will find this in Acts over and over again. Sometimes the witness produces a great harvest and sometimes little or nothing. Sometimes Paul stays for a long time in a place because God had much people in that city and sometimes he wipes the dust of his feet off against a city that has refused to receive the message he preached.
The apostles seemed entirely comfortable with this conception of their place and the nature of their work, and if the apostles were, how much more should we be. It is freeing to think in these terms. We have but to speak and to love on Christ's behalf; the issue rests with him. He asks us for nothing but faithfulness. He will give the increase as he wills.
Now, let me briefly consider this miracle that Peter performed.
First, Peter has already said (2:43) that the miracles were "signs," i.e. they point to something else: in this case, that Christ is raised, at work among his disciples, that he is the Messiah, etc. But, it is also a sign of the work he is doing in the world and how it is done.
This was true of the miracles Jesus performed. Think, for example, of the healing of the man let down through the roof in Mark 2. Jesus made a point of using that miracle as a sign of the spiritual salvation he had come to give his people.
— he healed and forgave sins in one breath (which caused an offense to the Jews if you remember)
— he claimed that his miraculous healing was a demonstration of his authority to forgive sins (2:10: "that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sin…he said to the paralytic, 'I tell you, get up, take your mat and walk.'")
— when John the Baptist inquired from prison if Jesus were, in in fact, the Christ, the Lord said to John's disciples, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 'The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised…'"
— In Isa. 35:5-6 the Messianic reign was described in similar terms: "then will the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then will the lame leap like a deer and the tongue of the dumb shout for joy."
The miracles not only authenticated the Lord as the Messiah, they were pictures of his work and his message, they demonstrated in the visible world the saving power he had in the invisible world. And he made this point over and over again. He used his raising of Lazarus from the dead to make the point "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live, even though he dies…"
This is a natural and obvious connection in any case. Blindness and deafness often used as a description of the noetic effects of sin, i.e. the effect of sin upon our ability to know the truth, to hear the Word of God. Physical death is a sign of spiritual death, the inability to think, speak, and act as one who has true life from God.
Now, we have the same double purpose in the miracles that the Lord's apostles performed in his name. A man despondent and hopeless is found leaping and dancing for joy. A picture of salvation. And what can we take away about salvation from this picture? So many things:
- The Gospel is a command. "Rise and Walk!" It is Christ the Lord who saves. There is no separation between Savior and Lord. Often in the Bible, belief in Christ is regarded as an act of obedience (Heb. 5:9). The greatest rebellion of all is unbelief and those who do not believe are not simply the unfortunate, they are, whatever their protests to the contrary, the rebellious.
- With the summons comes the power in the case of the elect. They tell him to rise and he rises! The person responds because God has awakened response in him. God is not asking you to come, in the final analysis, though he approaches you with an invitation and exhortation, he is telling you to come, and you come because you cannot resist the will of the Almighty. A man or woman may not realize this at the time, but he or she knows it later. He could no more refuse that call than he could order the Almighty to leave him alone.
- That coming is marked by changes in one's life. Here the man leaps and dances with joy, he praises God, he joins himself to the apostles (v. 11; cf. 4:14). Augustine similarly ("all the darkness of doubt vanished away; and then his whole life was turned upside down; and so many after him).
Indeed, the changes, though first within and most profoundly there, are observable to others. The others were amazed at what had happened to this man (v. 10). "By their fruit you shall know them."
There is salvation as it comes to pass in this world in a nutshell.
- need to recapture that conviction of power, Christ's through us to others; the power to raise the dead;
- such power demands an optimism, a conviction of success, if not immediately, in God's good time. When God determines to act, no amount of human hostility can stand in his way.
We are so inclined to imagine that God can save sinners only through more gifted speech than ours, through more impressive lives than ours. John Owen was converted by a sermon preached by a substitute minister. He had gone to hear the famous Presbyterian, Edmund Calamy who was the pastor of that parish. But, when he got there, he learned that Calamy would not preach and that his place would be taken by another whose name Owen never got. That was the sermon that brought the Prince of the Puritans to assurance of salvation. A lay substitute for a minister who never showed up because of the weather preached the sermon that converted Charles Spurgeon. Years later there were several who claimed to have been that man, but no one was ever sure what his name was! Augustine was summoned by children playing on the other side of a garden wall who had no idea, never did, that their child's game became the voice of God to summon the greatest Christian who ever lived. The man who was reading Luther's "Preface to the Commentary on Galatians" never had any idea that God was speaking to Charles Wesley — sitting in the balcony — through those words. But, for all his theological confusion when later discussing salvation, Wesley himself knew exactly what had happened to him and he said so:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night,
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
There are great mysteries here, of course. Why does God use one sermon and not another, one conversation and not another? Why was this man, among all the crippled, singled out for the summons and others not? Why does he save so many at one time and so few at another? This is his business. We cannot know and do not need to know. We are to be faithful, that is all.
It is Christ who says "Rise up and walk!" He can use any voice at any time. He sometimes even uses the voice of the unsaved as some of you in this church know! But he can't use your voice if you are not speaking!