1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time for prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried up, who was placed at the temple gate called “the Beautiful Gate” every day so he could beg for money from those going into the temple courts. 3 When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple courts, he asked them for money. 4 Peter looked directly at him (as did John) and said, “Look at us!” 5 So the lame man paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, stand up and walk!” 7 Then Peter took hold of him by the right hand and raised him up, and at once the man’s feet and ankles were made strong. 8 He jumped up, stood and began walking around, and he entered the temple courts with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the man who used to sit and ask for donations at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, and they were filled with astonishment and amazement at what had happened to him. 11 While the man was hanging on to Peter and John, all the people, completely astounded, ran together to them in the covered walkway called Solomon’s Portico.
12 When Peter saw this, he declared to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Why do you stare at us as if we had made this man walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate after he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a man who was a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the Originator of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this fact we are witnesses! 16 And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man—whom you see and know—strong. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all. 17 And now, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as your rulers did too. 18 But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets—that his Christ would suffer—he has fulfilled in this way. 19 Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, 20 so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you—that is, Jesus. 21 This one heaven must receive until the time all things are restored, which God declared from times long ago through his holy prophets. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must obey him in everything he tells you. 23 Every person who does not obey that prophet will be destroyed and thus removed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets, from Samuel and those who followed him, have spoken about and announced these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.’ 26 God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities.”1
The story of the healing of the lame man begins in Acts 3 and ends in Acts 4. Chapter 3 begins with the actual healing of the lame man (Acts 3:1-11) and is followed by the sermon Peter preached to the crowd that gathered (Acts 3:12-26). In chapter 4, Luke records the mixed response to the miracle and Peter’s message (Acts 4:1-4), and then moves on to the arrest of Peter and John and Peter’s defense – another proclamation of the gospel (Acts 4:5-12). Luke then records the response of the religious leaders (Acts 4:13-22) and ends with the account with the response of the church to this first wave of persecution (Acts 4:23-31). The final verses of chapter 4 (Acts 4:32-37) serve as the introduction to the first instance of church discipline in the Jerusalem church (Acts 5:1-11). In this message, I will exercise a bit of poetic license in my description of the healing of the lame man, and then we will consider Peter’s message to the crowd who gathered at the temple in response to this wonderful miracle.
Even in the womb, something had been wrong with “Levi’s”3 legs. They were likely deformed and had no strength. He had never walked a day in his more than 40 years4 of life. Knowing this informs us that “Levi” was a young lad when Jesus was born. Was he there in Jerusalem when the magi arrived, seeking to learn where the “King of the Jews” could be found and worshipped (Matthew 2:1-8)? Was he there when Mary and Joseph brought the Lord Jesus to the temple for dedication (Luke 2:22-38)? Was “Levi” there when Jesus remained at the temple, discussing the Scriptures with the scholars (Luke 2:41-51)? He could have been.
As time passed, “Levi” seems to have been promoted to one of the prime begging spots, right at the entrance to the temple, at a gate known as the “Beautiful Gate.” We know that Jesus came to Jerusalem and visited the temple a number of times during His earthly ministry. If I were “Levi,” I would have made every effort to see Jesus and to ask for healing. Did “Levi” try to do this? Whether he tried or not, he was not successful, for he is still lame when we find him in the third chapter of Acts.
The last time Jesus came to Jerusalem, He made His “triumphal entry” (Luke 19:28-40). “Levi,” our lame man, must have been there, somewhere. He must have heard that Jesus was healing many who suffered as he did:
14 The blind and lame came to him in the temple courts, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant (Matthew 21:14-15, emphasis mine).
I cannot help but wonder how “Levi” escaped an encounter with Jesus that would have brought him healing. If “Levi” hoped to be healed by Jesus, the Savior’s death would have been particularly tragic for him. Now, it would seem, all hope of being healed by Jesus was gone – or so it appeared.
Pentecost has come, and Peter has already preached powerfully to a crowd of Jews, nearly 3,000 of whom have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation (Acts 2:41). Among other things, the new believers were persistently devoting themselves to “the prayers” (Acts 2:42), which I understand to refer to the fixed times of praying in the temple. It is approaching three o’clock in the afternoon, and so Peter and John are making their way to the temple to observe this regular time of prayer. They are on their way to the temple, just as “Levi” is on his way to the temple gate,5 in time to encounter many devout Jews. “Levi” has a particular station at “the Beautiful Gate” to which he is brought each day, because it is from this location that he can solicit alms from those who are entering the temple to pray (Acts 3:2). He is hoping that a good number of them will be generous today, if not out of compassion, at least to make a good show for others.6
After many years of practice, “Levi,” like all beggars, had undoubtedly developed a kind of routine. He would be stationed as close to the gate as possible, and every time someone passed nearby, he would call out his petition for mercy. No doubt, as well, “Levi” had perfected his “presentation.” Every beggar must appear to be in dire need. A “plump” beggar must be creative to make it appear that he is in need of food. But those genuinely handicapped, as “Levi” was, need only display their disability. I’ve observed this many times, especially in Asia. He must have left his deformed and powerless legs in plain sight so that all could observe that he was truly disabled.
But on this day, “Levi” had not yet had the opportunity to “set up shop.” He was still being carried to his workplace when he looked over to see two men about to pass through the gate to the temple. Instinctively, he began his routine7 by uttering a plea for money. He surely did not know who these two men were – just two men heading for the temple to pray. My sense is that he hardly looked at them.8 It was Peter who looked intently at him (verse 4). Why are we told this? The same word9 is employed in chapter 14, where Paul will heal a man who was lame from the womb:
8 In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed (Acts 14:8-9, emphasis mine).
It seems clear to me that “Levi” was healed by faith in Jesus:
“And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man—whom you see and know—strong. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:16).
Would it not be reasonable, then, to conclude that Peter looked intently at “Levi” to determine whether he had the faith to be healed (just as Paul does later in Acts 14:9)?
It is apparent that “Levi” does not fully grasp what is about to happen. At best, he is hoping for a generous gift. No one makes eye contact with a beggar who does not intend to give. You look past the beggar, or more likely, you look away from him so as to ignore his pleas for money. He gets the message. When Peter looks intently at “Levi,” he assumes, based upon his experience, that a gift is forthcoming. Still, “Levi” isn’t really engaging with Peter. Perhaps he is looking around for other potential donors. But when Peter rivets his attention on “Levi” and calls him to attention, Peter has some surprising news. First, he does not have any silver or gold to give.10 Now here is a new twist. Those who were about to oppose the apostles (Acts 4:1ff.) could not say this, just as the “hucksters” of today could not say it (if they were honest).
Peter did not agonize about what he did not possess (money) because he knew that he did have something far better – he had the authority of Jesus Christ to perform signs and wonders to promote the gospel to the glory of God. And so Peter proclaims healing in the name of Jesus the Nazarene:
But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, stand up and walk!” (Acts 3:6)
Peter then reached out, seized the man by his right hand, and raised him up. At this moment, the man’s legs were strengthened, so that he leaped to his feet and stood, for the first time in his life.
One might think it would have ended here, that Peter and John would continue into the temple, and “Levi” would joyfully make his way home. But “Levi” was not so easily silenced. His gratitude and joy needed much more expression. He followed Peter and John into the temple courts, “walking and leaping and praising God” (Acts 3:8). Now remember, this is a man who has never walked before in his life. The miracle is not only in his strengthened feet and ankles, but in his instant ability to walk and leap. I can almost imagine this fellow doing cartwheels and gymnastics.
Whatever he did, it was dramatic enough to attract the attention of a great many people. These people were able to connect what they saw and heard. They saw this man’s gymnastics, and they heard him praising God. More importantly, they recognized this fellow as the one who had been lame from his mother’s womb, who laid at the temple gate for years begging for money. They could not fail to see that a great miracle had taken place.
12 When Peter saw this, he declared to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Why do you stare at us as if we had made this man walk by our own power or piety? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate after he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a man who was a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the Originator of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this fact we are witnesses! 16 And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man—whom you see and know—strong. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all. 17 And now, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as your rulers did too. 18 But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets—that his Christ would suffer—he has fulfilled in this way. 19 Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, 20 so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you—that is, Jesus. 21 This one heaven must receive until the time all things are restored, which God declared from times long ago through his holy prophets. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must obey him in everything he tells you. 23 Every person who does not obey that prophet will be destroyed and thus removed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets, from Samuel and those who followed him, have spoken about and announced these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.’ 26 God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities.”
I don’t believe that Peter and John sought to attract a crowd. After all, they were intent on getting to the temple for the time of prayer. I doubt that they wanted to be late. But “Levi” would not be silenced, and the crowds came. Peter saw the crowd gathering, but he also sensed the mood of the crowd. These people recognized that a wonderful miracle had happened. They were not hostile toward Peter and John; instead, they gave these men too much credit. They were giving Peter and John the credit for what had just happened, attributing this miracle to the power and piety of the two apostles.
Peter would have none of this. As clearly as it can be stated, Peter declares, “It was not us, but Jesus.” In his sermon in Acts 2, Peter used two of David prophecies to prove that Jesus had been raised from the dead and that he would return to judge His enemies. Here in Acts 3, Peter points to the healing of “Levi” as proof that Jesus was alive and well. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of their forefathers, had glorified His Servant Jesus.
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power (Acts 2:22-24).
13 “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate after he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a man who was a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the Originator of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this fact we are witnesses! 16 And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man—whom you see and know—strong. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all (Acts 3:13-16).
If I were to summarize the essence of Peter’s words in chapter two, it would be, “Jesus is Lord, the Jesus you rejected and crucified. God raised Him from the dead, and He’s coming back to defeat and destroy His enemies.” In his sermon in Acts 3, Peter expands upon the themes he has introduced in Acts 2.
First, Peter expands on who Jesus is by referring to Him as God’s Servant. Jesus is the “Servant of the Lord” spoken of in the Old Testament. In particular, He is the “Servant” of Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Notice that Isaiah begins and ends this text with a reference to God’s Servant:
52:13 “Look, my servant will succeed! He will be elevated, lifted high, and greatly exalted. 14 Just as many were horrified by the sight of you— he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man; 15 his form was so marred he no longer looked human— so now he will startle many nations. Kings will be shocked by his exaltation, for they will witness something unannounced to them, and they will understand something they had not heard about. 53:1 Who would have believed what we just heard? When was the Lord’s power revealed through him? 2 He sprouted up like a twig before God, like a root out of parched soil; he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him. 3 He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant. 4 But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. 5 He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed. 6 All of us had wandered off like sheep; each of us had strayed off on his own path, but the Lord caused the sin of all of us to attack him. 7 He was treated harshly and afflicted, but he did not even open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth. 8 He was led away after an unjust trial— but who even cared? Indeed, he was cut off from the land of the living; because of the rebellion of his own people he was wounded. 9 They intended to bury him with criminals, but he ended up in a rich man’s tomb, because he had committed no violent deeds, nor had he spoken deceitfully. 10 Though the Lord desired to crush him and make him ill, once restitution is made, he will see descendants and enjoy long life, and the Lord’s purpose will be accomplished through him. 11 Having suffered, he will reflect on his work, he will be satisfied when he understands what he has done. “My servant will acquit many, for he carried their sins. 12 So I will assign him a portion with the multitudes, he will divide the spoils of victory with the powerful, because he willingly submitted to death and was numbered with the rebels, when he lifted up the sin of many and intervened on behalf of the rebels” (Isaiah 52:13—53:12, emphasis mine).
In the same way, Peter begins and ends his sermon with a reference to God’s Servant:
13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our forefathers, has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate after he had decided to release him. . . . 26 God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3:13, 26, emphasis mine).
As Peter concluded in his message at Pentecost,
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
Second, the resurrection of Jesus was His glorification by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs of the Jews. In Acts 2, Peter employed David’s prophecies to demonstrate that Jesus must be raised from the dead. Now he attributes the resurrection of Jesus to the God of the Jews, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel’s God has raised Jesus from the dead and, as a result, has glorified Him. This takes it all the way back to God’s covenant promise with Abraham, a subject to which Peter will return in his conclusion in verses 25 and 26.
Third, it was Jesus who restored this lame man to perfect health. “It wasn’t us, not our piety and not our power, that restored this lame man to health – it was Jesus.” Clearly the inference is that it was the piety and the power of Jesus.
“And on the basis of faith in Jesus’ name, his very name has made this man—whom you see and know—strong. The faith that is through Jesus has given him this complete health in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:16).
Jesus is not only alive and well; He is continuing to do mighty deeds.
Fourth, it was not just Joel and David who foretold these things about Jesus, but it was all the prophets. Notice the emphasis on the prophets in verses 18-26. God foretold the things Jesus would suffer long ago through all the prophets (Acts 3:18). Through the prophet, God foretold the resurrection and ascension of Jesus until all things could be restored (Acts 3:21). Moses spoke of a prophet like himself, and this prophet was Jesus (Acts 3:22-23). All the prophets from Samuel on spoke of these things (Acts 3:24).
Fifth, this Jesus who has been glorified by being raised from the dead is the one you rejected and put to death. In Acts 2, Peter indicted his audience for the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus, making it clear that the Gentiles had a hand in this evil:
“This man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles” (Acts 2:23).
In Acts 3, Peter amplifies his indictment by employing a series of contrasts:
You handed Jesus over to death.
Pilate believed he was innocent and wanted to release Him.
You rejected the Holy and Righteous One.
You asked for a murderer to be released.
You killed the Originator of life.
God raised Him from the dead.
Sixth, in spite of the great guilt of his audience, Peter takes a softer tone here than we would expect. While the emphasis of Peter’s message was on repentance to avoid coming judgment, the emphasis of Acts 3 is upon repentance to enjoy future restoration and blessing.
19 “Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, 20 so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you—that is, Jesus” (Acts 3:19-20).
It all begins in verse 17, with words from Peter that seem totally unexpected:
“And now, brothers, I know you acted in ignorance, as your rulers did too” (Acts 3:17).
How can Peter say this? He has powerfully declared the guilt of his Jewish brothers in chapter two. He amplifies this in chapter three. But now he seems to be backing off. In what sense can Peter say that this crowd and their leaders were ignorant?
I believe verse 17 is the beginning of a new paragraph.11 The explanation of Peter’s words in verse 17 should thus be found in verses 18-26. First, let’s begin by identifying those things of which they were not ignorant:
22 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know— 23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles (Acts 2:22-23, emphasis mine).
They were not ignorant of the signs and wonders performed by God through Jesus. They were surely not ignorant of Jesus’ teaching, or of His claim to be Messiah. With regard to the trial of our Lord (Acts 3:13-15), they knew Pilate believed Jesus to be innocent and wanted to release Him. They also knew that Barabbas was a murderer. Of all these things, they were not ignorant, and they were certainly guilty.
Next, let us be clear that ignorance is not the same as being innocent. Whatever they were ignorant of, they were still guilty of the blood of Jesus, and this by their own words:
In reply, all the people said, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25)
Of what then were these Jews ignorant? I believe they were ignorant of the very same things as the disciples – until the Spirit of God came to make these things clear:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you” (John 14:26).
12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you” (John 16:12-14).
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Messiah would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:44-49).
To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over a forty-day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).
The Jews and their leaders were ignorant of the combined and consistent revelation of the Old Testament regarding the Messiah, His rejection, death, resurrection, and ascension. They, like the disciples of our Lord, could not “put it all together.” That is certainly no wonder, because it was a mystery. The Jews were not guilty for failing to grasp that everything that happened to Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy. They were guilty for rejecting His claims in the light of His attesting miracles. They were guilty for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, and for asking that Barabbas be released in His place.
While their guilt is great, and judgment will come if they refuse to repent, Peter chooses to emphasize the blessings that await those who trust in Jesus as the Messiah. What are these blessings? Well, we are told in verse 26 that God raised up Jesus to bless them by turning each of them from their iniquities. The first blessing then is the forgiveness of sins. The second blessing (dare I say this?) is summed up in God’s covenant promise to Abraham:
“You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed’” (Acts 3:25).
Perhaps these blessings have best been summed up by the Apostle Paul in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians:
3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. 4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. 5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will— 6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us in all wisdom and insight. 9 He did this when he revealed to us the secret of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 toward the administration of the fullness of the times, to head up all things in Christ—the things in heaven and the things on earth (Ephesians 3:1-10).
In many ways, it seems inappropriate to talk about conclusions. Peter’s sermon is interrupted so that the results of his preaching are not found until Acts 4. Let’s take a quick preview of some of these results:
1 While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests and the commander of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 angry because they were teaching the people and announcing in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 So they seized them and put them in jail until the next day (for it was already evening). 4 But many of those who had listened to the message believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. 5 On the next day, their rulers, elders, and experts in the law came together in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others who were members of the high priest’s family. 7 After making Peter and John stand in their midst, they began to inquire, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:1-8)
What are the lessons we should learn from Acts 3? Let me suggest several great, reassuring lessons for us:
Lesson One: Jesus is the Promised Messiah. Think of how these passages, along with our text, all point to Jesus as the Messiah:
4 Tell those who panic, “Look, your God comes to avenge! With divine retribution he comes to deliver you.” 5 Then blind eyes will open, deaf ears will hear. 6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, the mute tongue will shout for joy; for water will flow in the desert, streams in the wilderness (Isaiah 35:4-6).
6 “In that day,” says the Lord, “I will gather the lame, and assemble the outcasts whom I injured. 7 I will transform the lame into the nucleus of a new nation, and those far off into a mighty nation. The Lord will reign over them on Mount Zion, from that day forward and forevermore” (Micah 4:6-7).
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question: 3 “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: 5 The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. 6 Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:2-6).
30 Then large crowds came to him bringing with them the lame, blind, crippled, mute, and many others. They laid them at his feet, and he healed them. 31 As a result, the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing, and they praised the God of Israel (Matthew 15:30-31).
16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to tell them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read” (Luke 4:16-21).
As Peter said in Acts 2:22,
“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man clearly attested to you by God with powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed among you through him, just as you yourselves know—“ (Acts 2:22).
Luke introduced the Book of Acts with these words:
1 I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen (Acts 1:1-2).
What Jesus began to do Himself, as Luke and the other Gospel writers record, He continued to do through His church. The healing of the lame man is proof that Jesus is the Messiah, and that He is alive and at work through His apostles and His church. His words are words that we must hear and heed:
1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).
Lesson Two: The Sovereignty of God. I am convinced that the Book of Acts is a record of the sovereign work of God through the working of His Spirit in the church. The story of the healing of the leper is but one example of the sovereignty of God. Think of how God had been preparing for this harvest of souls for more than 40 years. We know that God sovereignly fashions us while we are still in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). Even the defects with this man’s feet and ankles were part of the divine design. For many years, the lame man lay at the temple gate begging for money. Almost everyone in Jerusalem had to know him, or at least recognize him. Every time they sought to enter the gate to the temple, he would cry out for money. Those years when Jesus could have healed him, He did not, for God had a better plan. It was His plan for Jesus to heal the lame man through the apostles. And as a result of his healing, the gospel was proclaimed and many believed. This man’s suffering was not a waste, and as we know, it was not punishment for his sins or the sins of his parents (see John 9:1-3; 11:1-4, 12-15). If I understand the text correctly, this man was healed by faith, and this would imply that he was not only healed physically, but spiritually as well. His momentary, light affliction was nothing compared to the glory that awaited him (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Surely we can say with Paul:
28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? 35 Or who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him? 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
Lesson Three: God sovereignly prepares people to hear and to heed the gospel. Put differently, various circumstances provide the occasion to proclaim the gospel. As I look through the Book of Acts, I find that people are divinely prepared for the gospel. The people of Jerusalem were prepared for the preaching of Peter by the ministry of John the Baptist, and then by the ministry of our Lord. They were prepared by the supernatural events that accompanied the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. They were further prepared by Pentecost, and then by the healing of the man lame from the womb. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading the prophecy of Isaiah and was ready for Philip to proclaim the gospel to him (Acts 8:26-40). Saul, later to be named Paul, was prepared in a variety of ways to trust in Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 9:1-19). The Philippian jailor was prepared by an earthquake to hear the gospel, but also by hearing the joyful response of Paul and Barnabas to their suffering (Acts 16:16-34).
In our text, the preaching of the gospel comes after a crowd gathers in response to the healing of the lame man. The danger for us would be to conclude that only miraculous and spectacular events prepare men and women to hear the gospel. Peter himself has something to say to us about this:
14 But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. 15 But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess (1 Peter 3:14-15).
The world takes note when a Christian responds to adversity or persecution with hope and joy, rather than with bitterness or anger. The world is watching when we lose our job, or when one of our loved ones dies. The world is watching when we are content with a simple lifestyle so that we can support missions and those in need.
People are open to a message of hope when their life is shaken by disaster (flood, hurricane, earthquake, plane crash) or personal tragedy (the loss of a job, the death of a loved one). We need to be sensitive to those times when people are open to the gospel and to take advantage of the opportunities before us. We need to recognize that God orchestrates events to prepare the way for the gospel, just as He did with the lame man. Not only does God work from the outside in, through circumstances; God also works from the inside out, through the Holy Spirit.
Colin McDougall, a pastor at the Church of the Open Door in Glendora, California, told our church what happened when he returned to the United States after years of evangelism and church planting in Africa. In Africa, there was little privacy. Folks felt free to “drop in” at any time whatever. There were many opportunities to engage the lost and to share the gospel. But when they returned to California, they found that they hardly ever saw their neighbors. They would drive up to their garage, engage the garage door opener, safely within the sanctuary of their cars, behind darkly shaded windows, enter their garage, and close the door, all by remote control.
For some time, Colin reported, he attempted to devise schemes by which he could engage his neighbors. After very little success, Colin decided to change his tactics. He determined to spend the time he spent scheming in prayer, asking God to open doors of opportunity. Doors began to open, and opportunities appeared. Lost souls came to faith.
I am suggesting that we consider Colin’s counsel, and that we spend much more time praying that God would open doors for the gospel. We need to be alert to God’s answers to our prayers and seize the opportunity to engage our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. God prepares the way for the gospel by employing a variety of circumstances. Let us look for these, and seize them, as Peter seized the opportunity to preach to this crowd at the temple.
Lesson Four: The gospel is both good news and bad news. Earlier I made the observation that Peter emphasized the specter of divine judgment in Acts 2, while he stressed the blessings of salvation in Acts 3. While one aspect of the gospel or the other may be emphasized, the gospel is no longer the gospel when we omit either aspect. The gospel is, at one and the same time, the good news and the bad news. Many try to “tempt” the lost to trust in Christ by omitting the bad news and highlighting the good. That is not the whole gospel. Others may speak only of judgment and damnation, without adequate emphasis on the love of God and the blessings of salvation. That is not the whole gospel either. The good news is that we need not face the bad news. Let us learn from Peter to preach the whole gospel, the bad news (Jesus is coming again to deal with His enemies, and we are the enemy) and the good (Jesus has borne our guilt and punishment and offers us His righteousness and eternal life).
Lesson Five: The blessing of unanswered prayer. All the lame man hoped and asked for was a few coins. What he got was much more – energized legs and eternal life. How often my prayers are like the request of the lame man. I tend to ask for too little; I tend to ask for material things. How gracious God was to decline his request and to give something far better in its place. Let us remember that as we pray. Let us seek the better things, and when God declines our request for lesser things, let us look to Him to give us what we need most.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 Copyright © 2005 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 7 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on November 20, 2005. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
5 Luke uses the imperfect tense when he describes the arrival of both “Levi” and Peter and John. I believe he intends for the reader to understand that both are “en route” to their intended locations.
6 You will remember that Jesus addressed the practice of almsgiving in Matthew 6:1-4. Jesus warned against giving publicly, in a way that was designed to obtain the praise of men. I would imagine that “Levi” was more than willing to accept charity from those who were trying to please men. What better place to be seen showing charity than in the gate to the temple, where others could observe?
7 Once again, Luke employs a verb in the imperfect tense, suggesting that he began his routine.
8 Our text reads, “. . . he asked them for money” (Acts 3:3, emphasis mine). The word “them” has been supplied, but wrongly so in my opinion. It is almost as though “Levi” is just starting up his routine. He sees Peter and John nearby and that gets him started, but his petition is not necessarily limited to Peter and John alone. He is not paying nearly as much attention to Peter and John as they are to him. This appears to be the reason Peter instructs him to pay closer attention to them in verse four.
9 The NET Bible renders the word “looked directly” in Acts 3:4; in Acts 14:9, it is rendered “stared intently.” In my opinion, it should be translated the same way in both cases for they are clearly meant to be compared so that the similarities in these two miracles are observed by the reader.
10 In Acts 4, we will be told that the saints were selling their property and laying the proceeds at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:34-35). If this were already happening, it seems clear from our text that the apostles were reluctant, if not unwilling, to “keep the money bag” as Judas did (John 12:6).
11 I am not alone in this conclusion. The NIV, NKJV, and the ESV start a new paragraph at verse 17.