Chapter 3 is a record of the next great event that Luke saw fit to record in his early church history. And there are some striking similarities to the first. As with Pentecost, Luke first supplies a straightforward narrative of the miraculous event itself. That is followed by a sermon delivered by Peter in which he interpreted the event in much the same way as he interpreted Pentecost, arguing that this too was the work of the glorified Jesus Christ, the very Jesus whom these people had put to death. At the conclusion of his sermon Peter called upon his audience to repent, as he had before. In 2:43 Luke said that many “wonders and signs” were being done by the apostles. Luke now gives us one particularly dramatic example.
v.1 The ninth hour was 3:00 p.m., the time of the service of prayer that accompanied the evening sacrifice. The mention of John’s presence is an eyewitness touch, since he does not figure significantly in the following narrative and does not speak.
v.2 The man was congenitally lame, literally “lame from his mother’s womb,” and, as we learn in 4:22, at this time he was over forty years of age. He was carried there at that time to catch the crowd leaving the temple after the evening sacrifice, all the more as they would be well disposed after worship to give to a beggar.
v.6 The emphatic point of Peter’s declaration will be the main point of the sermon that will follow: the healing was the work of the ascended Jesus Christ.
v.7 Luke, the medical doctor, is interested in precisely how it was that the man was healed. His “feet and ankles were made strong.”
v.8 The man knew very well that God had done this for him. He was praising God, not Peter, for the extraordinary gift that had been given to him.
v.10 Another eyewitness touch: the astonishment of the crowd. They were baffled to see this man who for decades had been unable to walk now leaping and dancing.
v.11 Solomon’s colonnade was a covered portico that ran the length of the eastern portion of the outer court of the temple, that court known as the Court of the Gentiles and that side that faced the Mount of Olives. Jesus had taught there and we will read in Acts 5:12 that it became a favorite meeting place of the Christians.
v.15 Peter emphasized the horrendous nature of their crime by saying that they had killed the Author of Life. They murdered the very one who came to bring life to the spiritually dead. Thankfully, God raised him from the dead! Their crime was not the last word.
v.16 The main point: it was Jesus who healed this man, the Jesus who was the servant of God but the very Jesus whom these Jews had conspired to kill, had gone so far as to demand his execution when the Roman governor was disposed to release him. By referring to Jesus as the servant of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Peter declared that Jesus was not the founder of some new religion, but the fulfillment of God’s plan for Israel and the whole world.
v.17 Peter didn’t mean that the people weren’t blameworthy. We have already heard him describe the great evil of what they had done and soon he will call on them to repent. In v. 26 he will refer again to their “wickedness.” But they had not sinned in that way the OT refers to as “with a high hand.” They had not sinned in full awareness that they were rejecting God and defying his will. It was ignorance of a kind, but no excuse.
v.18 As Peter had said in his Pentecost sermon, the sinful rejection of Jesus by the people had, in fact, fulfilled the purpose of God. Jesus came to suffer and die because the salvation of the world required nothing less.
v.19 The image of our sins being blotted out, literally wiped away or erased, came from the washing of papyri to remove the ink so that it could be used again as a writing surface. Ink in those days did not contain acid and so it didn’t sink into the papyri as ink sinks into paper nowadays. So it was possible simply to wipe the ink off the paper. [Bock, 174; Stott, 93] Our sins can be wiped away, even this greatest of sins, the killing of the Author of Life. Wiped away as if they had never been!
v.24 Samuel prophesied the coming of Jesus by prophesying the eternal kingdom of David and God’s intention to bless his people through the house of David. Jesus was David’s descendant, a point often emphasized in the gospels.
v.26 The gist of all of that is that Jesus and his suffering and death were the fulfillment of the many ancient prophecies that had been made of the coming one who would bring salvation to Israel and the whole world. For example, Jesus was the prophet that long before Moses had said would come and that God’s people would have to obey or else – a particularly important thing to say to this congregation of Jews. His point was that it was possible, with the various threads found in the prophets, “to weave a biblical tapestry which forms a thorough portrait of Christ.” Think of such ancient prophesies as that of a coming descendant of David, or the servant of the Lord who would suffer and die for sinners, or that the stone the builders rejected would become the capstone, or that David’s son would die but not be subject to decay, or that he would be exalted to God’s right hand, or that through him the Spirit would be poured out, and so on. [Stott, 94-95] In other words, Peter was saying, take those prophets together and what you find is the history of Jesus Christ as it unfolded before your very eyes.
The blessings that come from repentance and faith in Jesus, Peter said, are: 1) the forgiveness of sins, 2) spiritual renewal and refreshment from the Holy Spirit, and 3) a share in the restoration of all things at the end of history.
The “to you first” suggests the future ministry to the Gentile world. But there was no need to distract his audience at this point with the thought of their sharing the gospel with the world, an often unwelcome thought, as we will see.
You remember that at the outset of this second volume, Luke wrote that he would record in his second volume what Jesus continued to do in the world after ascending to heaven. This was the great point of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, namely that the descent of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by a great sign miracle of tongues or languages, was the work of no other but Jesus of Nazareth. The exalted Jesus was still at work in the world, though now not visibly and immediately, but through his disciples empowered by the Holy Spirit.
That this is Luke’s great theme and emphasis is demonstrated in Peter’s second sermon. Another astonishing thing had happened and Peter took the occasion to declare to his audience that this too, the healing of the congenitally lame man, was the work of Jesus of Nazareth.
Now Peter had already said in his Pentecost sermon (2:43) that the miracles of Jesus’ public ministry were signs. Luke then said that the miracles the apostles were performing in Jesus’ name were likewise signs. That is, these works of Jesus’ supernatural power, these astonishing displays of his authority over nature itself, were not performed for the entertainment of the masses. They weren’t even performed primarily for the wonderful benefits they bestowed on the afflicted who were healed, delivered from a lifetime of disability as was this man. In a way, that was a side benefit, not their true purpose. They were signs. They pointed to something else.
That his miracles were pictures of salvation, you remember, was a great emphasis of the Lord during the days of his public ministry. Jesus often made a point of identifying a miracle he had performed with the reality that it signified. Remember the paralyzed man who was let down through the roof by his friends, the account of which miracle we are given in Luke’s Gospel (5:17-26). That account and this have many similarities. In the case of the man let down through the roof, Jesus made an explicit connection between his healing of the man’s body and the forgiveness of his sins. Being delivered from illness was a picture of being delivered from the guilt and the power of sin and miraculous healing was a demonstration that Jesus had authority to grant both. We find Peter drawing that same connection between healing and forgiveness here. After all, in his sermon Peter didn’t talk about how to be healed from bodily afflictions, but how to receive the forgiveness of sins, which is the main thing, the thing of eternal importance.
In a similar way in Luke 5 and often in the case of others of his miracles, the Lord drew attention to the importance of faith on the part of the one being healed or those who brought the person to Jesus in hopes of his being healed. In Luke 5 we read that “when Jesus saw their faith” – presumably both the faith of the man and the faith of the men who brought him to Jesus – he said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven you.” In that way too Jesus made his miracles a picture of salvation: forgiveness, deliverance granted to those who believe in his power to save.
In many ways the Lord’s miracles were pictures or illustrations of salvation. And here too, in Acts, the Lord’s miracles, now performed not visibly and directly but by his apostles in his name, not only continued to authenticate the apostles as the Lord’s ambassadors and spokesmen but powerfully and beautifully to depict the nature of salvation.
You have here a man who was powerless and hopeless. He had to be carried to the gate so that he could beg for alms. He’d done that for years. This man couldn’t fix his problem. In fact, no mere man could fix it. Still today, modern medicine would not have been able to fix his problem. Perhaps they could have given him braces or a wheelchair, but they couldn’t have fixed his problem. Forty years of paralysis was the proof of that! And yet see a lame man leaping and dancing. That is the human predicament – we are incapable of solving our fundamental problem, our estrangement from God – and this is the glorious declaration: what we are incapable of doing, Jesus Christ can do and is willing to do.
But there is more here than simply the demonstration and illustration of that fact. We learn some important things here about how Christ Jesus saves sinners.
- First, the gospel is a command.
We often don’t think of it this way, but Peter didn’t say to this poor man, “Would you like to be healed?” He didn’t even say, “If you wish, I can help you with your feet.” He said, “Look at us. Forget the others passing by whose alms you may be losing. There is more to you than your feet and you’ve got a greater problem than your paralysis. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk!” There is a divine summons in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Men and women, boys and girls, are not invited to believe in Jesus if they wish. They are commanded to believe. As one of the English Puritans put it:
“It is the duty of all the sons and daughters of Adam, who hear the gospel preached, and Christ offered to them, to believe in, or receive, Christ whether they be prepared or not prepared.” [Giles Firmin (1670) in Packer, Quest for Godliness, 173]
People may, of course, refuse to believe in Jesus Christ, but in doing so they are disobeying God at the most critical point. Is this not what Peter said bluntly when quoting Moses in vv. 22 and 23? “Listen” in Deuteronomy, the text Peter was citing, does not refer to the mere act of hearing something that is said. It is a synonym for “obey.”
“The Gospel does not say, ‘There is a Savior, if you wish to be saved,’ but, ‘Sir, [or Madam] you have no right to go to hell – you can’t go there without trampling on the Son of God.” [Duncan, cited in Murray, Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism, 97]
The deliverance from sin and death was the work of the Son of God. To refuse to embrace that salvation is only exacerbating the sinful rebellion for which a man or woman is already condemned. We hear from Peter here both the unashamed declaration of what God has done in Jesus Christ to save us from sin and death and our absolute obligation to obey the summons to believe in him and be saved.
- Second, salvation is the work of God to which a man or woman’s response is only an after-effect.
There is no question, obviously, as to whom this man owed his healing after so many years of being unable to walk. It was Jesus Christ who did this for him. It was Peter who commanded him to get up; Peter who extended his hand to the man to encourage him, but at that moment the man himself fully understood that it wasn’t Peter who made his ankles strong. No mere man could accomplish such a thing. Peter himself emphasized that point when he said, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk.” Nothing could be clearer than that God had healed this man; that the man had stood up only because God had healed him of his life-long paralysis. The man stood up, the man walked and jumped, but that was only his joyful response to what God had said to this man and done for him. And so we read that the man praised God, not Peter, and certainly not himself!
It is a beautiful picture of salvation we are given here. With the command, came the power to obey; with the summons came the ability to respond to it. Even Christians can often be mistaken on this point. Charles Spurgeon, the greatest English speaking preacher of the 19th century, we might think of him as the 19th century’s Billy Graham, though a man with a much more definite theology, recollected his own error on this point when a young Christian.
“When I was coming to Christ [Spurgeon was converted when he was sixteen years of age], I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the young convert is at first aware of this. I can recall the very day and hour when first I received [this truth] in my own soul – when [it was]…burned into my heart as with a hot iron, and I can recollect how I felt that I had grown [suddenly] from a babe into a man…” [Autobiography, vol. I, 164]
Spurgeon had realized, in other words, that salvation, just like this miraculous healing, is the gift, the work, the power, the accomplishment of God, however much it produces a response in us. Indeed, what divine power does is precisely to illicit that response from us. The man walked because he was told to and because God enabled him to. So our salvation; so anyone’s salvation!
- In the third place, on the man or woman’s part salvation is received by faith. Faith is the required response.
In some ways, it is striking, even unexpected that any role whatsoever should be given here to the man himself. After all, nothing is more obvious than that he was helpless. He hadn’t got out of bed that morning thinking he was going to seek God and receive healing. He wasn’t even looking at Peter and John in any hope of being healed. He wanted money, whatever little money they might be pleased to give him. He had been helpless all his life. He was used to being helpless. But Peter did not scruple to say in v. 16 that, while the name of Christ made the man to walk, it did so through faith placed in that name.
And, of course, this is everywhere the Bible’s teaching. The salvation of Jesus Christ – forgiveness, the transformation of life, the promise of eternal life – is received through faith, by placing one’s confidence in the goodness and the power of Christ to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Some have thought that the faith being referred to in v. 16 is Peter’s faith. In the similar case of the paralyzed man let down through the roof in Luke 5, it was not only the faith of the man himself but also the faith of the men who brought him to Jesus that the Lord drew attention to as he performed the miraculous healing. We read there, “when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” But to say here, as Peter does in v. 16, that the man was healed “by faith in Jesus’ name” certainly strongly suggests that the man himself had believed in Jesus’ name.
I think the reference here is to faith on the part of the man himself. I think that’s the natural meaning of the words. Perhaps that is why Peter stressed that the man had to look at him, he wanted the man’s attention, he wanted his concentration on what he was about to say. There was something in Peter’s expression, something in his commanding voice, that made the man realize in that instant that the name of Jesus of Nazareth – someone about whom no doubt he had heard a great deal – was powerful to save him. And at the first dawning of that faith in his heart, at the first tentative exercise of that faith in Jesus, the man was healed.
We see such sudden belief in a number of instances in the Bible: think of Zacchaeus or the Philippian jailer of whom we will read in Acts 16, a man who up to that point had probably never so much as heard of Jesus of Nazareth. But whether sudden or more gradual, whether a response to a single command or to extensive teaching and explanation, this salvation, this change, this transformation of life, this forgiveness of sins, this entrance into eternal life is always the result of a man or woman placing his or her confidence in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Peter here mentioned repentance as well, as he did in his Pentecost sermon. In Acts faith and repentance are virtual synonyms though they lay stress on different aspects of a believing and an obedient response to the gospel summons. Faith is the credit one places in the promise and work of God. Repentance is turning away from sin to the will of God, and it is the way of thinking about one’s life that invariably follows upon placing his or her confidence in the Lord Jesus and his power to save. No doubt the man repented too. Those who joyfully praise God for his grace to them always want also to live to his praise!
But the main thing is to notice that this man believed and Christ saved him.
- And, then finally, God’s work of salvation does not leave us where we were. It changes our lives root and branch.
This man was a beggar. I think we can be sure that he never begged again. He left his former life behind him that day! He had been helpless even to move himself around. Now multitudes were standing agape watching him try out his legs and feet, walking, jumping, perhaps clicking his heels, if you can click heels in sandals! Able for the first time in his life to walk and leap he couldn’t stop doing both. He was making up for forty years of sitting still!
But more important than that, see this man praising God at the top of his lungs. He knew now how gracious God was and how powerful. And his heart was so full of God’s goodness to him that he couldn’t shut up about it. And everywhere in the Bible salvation is this way. It changes a man or woman, changes him or her profoundly. It makes him or her a worshipper of God and changes so much more. Again and again in his letters the Apostle Paul reminds his Christian friends of the life they used to live – how unworthy and how unpleasant it was – and what a difference Christ had made in them. They now live in a very different way, doing very different things, for very different reasons.
Any Christian who has come to Christ in the middle of his or her life often recalls what a tremendous revolution occurred when first he or she came to Christ. As Paul said it, no doubt thinking of his own experience, “All things became new!” Patrick of Ireland, the Patrick of Saint Patrick’s Day, recalled that change in his own case. He had been spiritually in a condition like this man had been in physically. As he put it:
“Believe me, I didn’t go to Ireland willingly that first time [he had as a teenager been captured and carried off by slavers to Ireland] – I didn’t go willingly to Ireland that first time, I almost died there. But it turned out to be good for me in the end, because God used the time to shape and mold me into something better. He made me into what I am now – someone very different from what I once was, someone who can care about others and work to help them. Before I was a slave, I didn’t even care about myself.” [Cited in Freeman, St. Patrick of Ireland, 184]
And so it has always been. When Christ transforms a life he or she does all manner of things never done before and ceases to do what formerly was done without thought. Just like this man who never begged again but who praised God for the rest of his life! And, as with this man, so with others, the changes are visible enough to force themselves upon the notice of people who knew the person both before and after.
In all of these ways and others, this miracle – as Peter explained in his sermon – was a sign of spiritual reality and of the salvation of God. That is its great importance, its great point, the principal reason why it was done. The great thing was not the man’s physical healing. Disabled people go to heaven in great numbers, there to live in wholeness and joy forever. And healthy people by the vast multitudes fail to find salvation because they will not give obedience to the summons of God. What did Jesus famously say? “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” The issue is always salvation itself, or, as Peter put it here, the forgiveness of sins and a share in eternal life. But you can’t see those things with the eye. You can’t tell by looking at people who is going to heaven and who is not.
And so God gave us pictures of salvation, often very dramatic pictures, accounts of the most fabulous things that ever happened in the history of mankind. In the ministry of Jesus before his death and in the ministry of Jesus after his death and resurrection, his miracles served to make clear for all time what otherwise could not so easily be seen: salvation is a work of God’s power and grace, summoning helpless sinners to new and eternal life, drawing from them faith and repentance, and changing them in a host of wonderful ways.
Now, the challenge of the text: can you see yourself in that man? I have been a Christian all my life, but I have no difficulty seeing myself in that man. I can see myself lying on his mat, unable to move, unable to care for myself, unable to live life as it was meant to be lived. And I can hear Peter tell me, “Rise up and walk!” Of course I was never paralyzed and was never miraculously healed. But the great picture of salvation that we find in this miracle, with that I can identify absolutely. I was helpless, Christ summoned me, granted me faith to answer his summons in obedience, and changed my life. That is salvation in the Bible; that is always salvation in the Bible. Can you identify yourself, can you see yourself in that man? Can you see yourself leaping and dancing for joy for the same reasons he did?
If you can, here is your summons: praise God as that man did. Praise him every day of your life for what he has done for you. You have more than enough reasons to praise him as hard and as happily as that man ever did. And if you cannot yet see yourself in that man, remember, this actually happened! This is no fable. It isn’t written as a fable, it doesn’t read as a fable, and it has no marks of a fable. It is a sober account of a fabulous thing that people witnessed to their utter astonishment. This is serious history! And it happened to make absolutely clear what Jesus and only Jesus can do for us. So, if you can’t yet see Peter and yourself in this story, give him your attention, strain to hear Peter’s summons for yourself: “Rise up and walk!”