One of the most difficult tasks of any public speaker is getting started. It is always a challenge to develop an introduction that gets people’s attention. (And I’d guess, starting by talking about how difficult it is to develop an introduction is not a good introduction.)
In one class on teaching the Bible I was told that any good lesson should have three elements: Hook, Book, Took. There should be something to get the interest of the people, a study of relevant scripture, and a practical application.
This morning as we look at Acts 3 Peter has a great “Hook” (in the healing of the lame man) a solid “Book” in his explanation of who Jesus is; and concludes with a great “Took” telling the people how to respond to the Lord.
We are told “one day Peter and John were going to the temple at three in the afternoon.” We don’t know how long after Pentecost this was. Was it days or weeks later? Peter and John were heading to the temple along with all the other good Jews. Traffic was heavy on the road going into the temple as for this daily time of prayer. In fact, this is exactly why the lame man was in this particular location. He was trying to capitalize on the crowd. We are told this is where the man “was put” every day at this time. It was a prime location. People eager to please God were heading into the temple area. What better way to please the Almighty than give to a beggar?
It is likely that Peter and John had passed this beggar several times before. They went to the temple daily and this man came to beg daily. Probably, there were a number of beggars near the entrance of the temple. The question then is, “Why did they stop and extend healing today?”
The only answer we can give is that on this day they sensed the Lord’s command to stop and offer healing to this man. There is no indication that they healed everyone who was there that day. . .just this man. Was it because of the faith God saw in his heart? Was it the “luck of the draw”? Was it the response God knew this man would have and the resultant opportunity for a proclamation of the gospel? Was it the disease he was suffering from? Why this man? The simple answer is, “I don’t know”. We can’t explain why God heals some and not others . . . only that in His Sovereignty this is the way it is.
As Peter and John moved toward the temple, the man asked for a donation. Perhaps he said, “Please help a lame man!” or “Show your love for God by helping one in need.” When Peter and John came near the man asked them for help. (You can only imagine that most people were shuffling by . . . avoiding eye contact in every way possible). The beggar was not speaking just to Peter and John. He spoke to everyone. And that is why Peter said, “Look at us!” And as soon as he said this, the man looked at Peter with eagerness. He had found someone who would notice him and help him.
Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none,” (and the beggar began to turn away . . .why waste my time). “But what I have, I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk!” What kind of a cruel joke is this? If the man could walk would he be sitting at the gate of the temple begging?
We are told, “Peter took him by the right hand” (don’t you love the detail?) “and helped him up and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped up to his feet and began to walk.” Remember, this man was crippled from birth. He had never been able to walk and leap before.
Have you ever been sick for a couple of days? If you have been laid up for longer than this you know how long it takes to get your strength back. The very idea that this man immediately started walking and leaping is incredible. You would have thought it would take weeks for these muscles to get strong enough to even allow him to stand. Today, this guy would have been in physical therapy for weeks! Not this guy. He was dancing, jumping and celebrating.
This healing was unexpected, instantaneous, and complete. In many respects this miracle is a perfect picture of the effect of the gospel.
- The man could not help himself (we cannot save ourselves)
- The man could not be helped by what the world had to offer (silver and gold)
- It was only in the name of Christ that He could be healed
- The first step was to look to the Savior and respond to His invitation
This man had every reason to worship and so the man went with Peter and John into the temple. I’m betting this guy wasn’t quiet about what happened to him. He was jumping, dancing, and saying, “Hey, look at me! Look at what has happened to me . . . I’m walking!” The people recognized him (even though they had tried not to make eye contact with him.) And everyone wanted to know “how?”
The crowd was gathering quickly as news spread that a miracle had taken place. They came to Peter and John the acknowledged “miracle workers”. Since he had their attention, Peter began to preach.
Peter tells the people that Jesus is the one who heals. Peter is quick to point out that he and John do not have the power to heal . . .that power comes from Jesus! The people wanted to focus on the mechanics of the miracle, they wanted to celebrate the agents of the miracle. Peter could have exploited this moment and taken a step to become famous. He could have signed autographs, prayed for others, and taken up an offering. But that isn’t what he does. Instead Peter points people in the direction of Jesus. He encouraged them to use the miracle as a starting point to think differently about God and the way of salvation.
Peter wanted them to understand who Jesus is. Peter draws a contrast between who the people thought Jesus to be and who He really was. Peter draws a contrast between the negative and the positive.
Negatively, Jesus was the one who had been “handed over to be killed”. He was the guy that was crucified the weekend of Passover. In fact, he was the guy that THEY had handed over to Pilate to be killed.
He was the one THEY had disowned (or set-up) before Pilate. Pilate (the Roman governor) did not want to execute Jesus but the people insisted. These very people were the ones who were responsible!
Jesus was the man they had traded for the murderer Barabbas. When Pilate tried to weasel out of his political dilemma he offered the people a choice as a “good will gesture”. Pilate offered to release either Barabbas, a notorious criminal or Jesus. Perhaps today it would be like saying, “Look, I’ll release the prisoner of your choice, you can have Charles Manson or Jesus?” These people chose Manson.
Peter makes sure the people know exactly who he is talking about. He is talking about the Jesus that these folks wanted dead! Peter puts the responsibility at their feet. And then Peter gives the credit for the miracle to this very Jesus! He draws attention to who Jesus really is. Look at how Peter describes Him.
- Glorified by the God of their fathers (13). Showing he was the true Messiah. This is not a new religion but the fulfillment of the old.
- A Servant (13)
- Holy and Righteous (14)
- The Author of Life (15)
- The One God raised from the dead (15)
- The one foretold by the Prophets (18,24ff)
- The Savior (19)
This Jesus that Peter pointed to was not just a good man. He was God in human form. Notice, he is the one who is “holy and righteous” and the “author of life”. This cannot be said about anyone but Jesus. He is the unique Son of God. Jesus is the one and only Redeemer.
Why does Peter take so much time to underscore who Jesus is? It is because this is a central issue. If you are wrong on who Christ is, you will miss out on salvation.
- If Jesus is just a good man, then you will spend your life trying to earn salvation by being good.
- If Jesus is just a good teacher, then you will spend your life trying to obey all His teachings to get to Heaven and you will never find life.
- If Jesus is just a martyr who died for a cause, then all He can do is inspire us; He can’t save us.
- If Jesus is God in human form the one who died in our place and risen from the dead, then your sin is paid for and eternal life is available to anyone who trusts Him. If this is the true Jesus (and it is) then the miracle of the man being able to walk is just a doorway to an even greater miracle, the transformation of a human life.
Anytime you encounter a Christian teacher, this is the first issue to get clear. How do they view Jesus? Is He merely a great man or is he truly God in human form?
19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.[Acts 3:19-21]
Peter wants to drive home his point. He has confronted people with their sin (they crucified Jesus), He has shown them the true nature of Christ and concludes by telling them that it is through the power of this same Jesus and through faith in Him that this lame man is now walking, leaping and praising God.
The follow up question from most people would be: How do I change from being an enemy of God to a part of His family? Peter is ready with an answer. He says we must turn. First, we must turn FROM sin. This is what the word repentance means. It means to stop and go in another direction.
We will not turn from sin until we recognize that we are going in the wrong direction. Repentance means first of all that we must acknowledge that we are lost. Second, we determine to go in a different direction. It is not enough to simply go in another direction. We must go in the right direction. We must turn TO God. Instead of relying on ourselves we must open our arms to the grace and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The problem we face is that we want to get out of the mire of our own sinfulness. We want to turn toward the Lord but as we look at our lives we don’t seem to be living any different. We say we want to change but we seem to continue to sin just as we did before. We wonder if we have ever really repented.
Repentance is kind of like a walk in the woods. When you get deep into the woods it is easy to lose your bearings. You might think you are walking out of the woods and really you are moving deeper into the jungle. If you were a good scout (I wasn’t) you could tell which way you needed to go by the direction of the sun. If you needed to go west and it was afternoon you would follow the sun as it set. If you needed to go north you would keep the sun on your left hand side. If you wanted to go south, you keep the sun on your right. And of course, to go East you need the sun at your back.
Once you stop wandering and begin following the direction set by the sun you have stopped being lost and are on your way home. That doesn’t mean you don’t still feel lost. It doesn’t mean you won’t trip or face obstacles and barriers. But, you are headed toward home.
When a person repents they turn toward the Son of God. They begin to walk toward Him as the reliable and sure guide. There will be times we stumble. We may still get bruised and dirty but we are no longer moving in the wrong direction . . . we are moving toward home.
When a person stops trying to be “good enough” and instead trusts the work of Christ on their behalf they have turned in the right direction. When a person recognizes the emptiness of their life and begins to look to the Lord’s direction they have turned from their sin and are moving toward home. Whenever a person turns away from their own efforts and relies instead on what Christ has done for us Peter tells us that three things will happen.
First, your sin will be wiped out. The word used here means to erase . . . especially in terms of writing. In other words, when we turn to Christ the record of our past is erased. The debt we have incurred is gone. It is like a mortgage being burned or a bank note being ripped up. The debt is cancelled.
That alone is an incredible benefit isn’t it? Peter tells us if we trust what God has done for us through Christ,
- Our past rebellion is forgiven
- Our foolish choices are no longer held against us
- The hurtful things we have done are forgiven by God (even though we may still have some work to do with each other)
- The skeletons in our closet no longer can hurt us
But there is a second benefit, “times of refreshing will come from the Lord”. This is just the opposite of what most people think. Most people seem to resist trusting Christ because they think they will no longer be able to have any “fun”. They would become a Christian but “they want to have a little fun” first.
The Welch preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones draws a great picture. Imagine you are in a hot, humid and crowded room. There is no movement of air, no windows to open and no ventilation. You feel like you are suffocating. You are sweating profusely (and so is everyone else) and you know you are dehydrating and are finding it difficult to breathe. This is the way it is for the person who is outside of God’s kingdom.
When we put our trust in Christ it is like leaving that room and moving into the fresh air and cool breeze of the outside. It is like moving from a sweltering hot day into the 72 degrees of an air-conditioned room.
When we turn to Christ we find love, direction, purpose, strength, and hope for living. And most of all, we find peace with God that leads to the joy we had been searching for all our lives. Turning to Jesus is not a matter of missing out on life . . . it is finding it.
The third benefit of following Christ is that we take one step closer to the day when the Lord will return to earth and make all things new and all things right. Admittedly, this is somewhat obscure to us. We understand the idea of forgiveness, we understand the concept of greater joy . . . but the idea of moving a step closer to that great day of deliverance . . . that is something beyond our imagination. In other words, Peter tells us that we will know release from our past, joy in our present and a hope and glory in our future that we cannot yet begin to imagine.
This is the message of the gospel. We are all like the beggar who sat by the side of the road. We’ve spent our lives believing that we have been given a bum deal. We believe all we need is someone to give us enough silver and gold and we will be happy. But day after day the routine is the same. Our hopes are disappointed. Even on the best days we find happiness and contentment illusive.
What we need is for someone to direct our attention to Jesus. We need someone to take our arm and let us know that by the power of Jesus Christ we can stand, we can walk, we can run, we can dance, and we can worship. We can do all these things because Jesus, the one promised by the prophets, the one betrayed to a horrible death, the one who rose triumphantly over the grave, this Jesus has come as our Savior. And all we have to do to experience His deliverance is to stand up and walk towards the Son who alone can set us free.
Peter had a great introduction to his message. It was a great miracle. What Peter offered the lame man was much better than gold. He not only offered him the ability to walk . . . He offered him eternal life through Christ. And in this world that clamors after riches and power, the gospel offers us the same thing: a new beginning and a secure tomorrow. May God open our ears so we may hear and believe so that our sin might be erased and the freshness of God’s grace might sweep over us and lead us home.