Acts is about a vital period in history when the foundations were laid upon which Jesus’ church has been built (Ep 2:19-22). Key to this task was the apostles’ teaching (2:42). They’d spent 3 years with Jesus, watching, listening, learning. Now, as his representatives, they needed to turn all that and more (Jo 16:12-15) into a structured body of teaching which could be readily memorised and passed on orally (books/scrolls were expensive). But the apostles knew they also needed to pray (6:4) and here we see Peter and John doing just that at the temple (v1). However, the Lord, as at Pentecost, utilises the visit to issue a fresh challenge to Jerusalem using a miracle.
A disabled man sits daily at the gate, begging for money (v2). The apostles have probably passed him before, but this time contact is made (v3). An intense stare passes between the two parties, as though Peter senses this is an important moment (v4,5). He offers no money (since he has none v6 cf 2:44,45) but, instead, gives something better: Christ’s healing power! Frustrating weakness of one kind or another is found in every life so we can understand a little of the man’s exuberant response as Peter stretches out to enable him to stand (v7,8). His life is completely renewed as he experiences a strength flowing into him that he’s never had. The change is stunning, unlike the so-called ‘healings’ that some claim as miracles today but which are nothing like this. Of course, this is only temporary help since the man will become weak again and, one day, die. However, this act of mercy by the Lord demonstrates his divine power and points forward to the great day of resurrection when all feebleness will be gone for believers (1Co 15:42-44).
The delighted man enters the temple where his appearance triggers a ripple of amazement (v9,10). He clings to the apostles as people run towards them, and Peter knows that the Lord would have him preach. He begins by asking them why they are so surprised. Jesus has done this, not him or John (v12): one whom God has long told them to expect! As before, Peter reaches back into the Old Testament for his words. Jesus’ people are like a new Exodus (see previous sermon) and that comes through as Peter echoes God’s words to Moses at the burning bush (v13; Ex 3:6 – Jesus used this famous passage when speaking about resurrection, Lk 20:37,38). At the bush God told Moses that he does not change (Ex 3:13-15), so the Israelites should know him: he’s the God of their forefathers! Peter issues the same challenge. His hearers should see that what’s happening is being done by the God they know. Jesus is clearly his servant, as predicted by their prophets (eg Is 42:1;52:13-15). Yet Jerusalem has dishonoured him, putting him to death using a Gentile lord, preferring a murderer to the author of life (v14,15)! They killed the Holy One – a man fully fit for God. They killed the Righteous One – an innocent man able to bring justice to others. They are facing disaster! But there’s hope: the apostles can testify that God raised Jesus up.
Peter preaches strongly, but he has to because these people are in danger of not listening (Lk 13: 34,35;16:30,31). It’s an experience we may have too. Some will not listen when we warn them about their lives. But as the Lord gives opportunities, we should still speak and not feel we’re to blame if they don’t listen. Rather, we should keep holding onto the wonderful promise of life Jesus has given (v16; Ph 2:14-16): a wholeness which cannot be found anywhere else.