The Church At Work | The Book of Acts | 3:1-26 | Pastor Duane Smets
This an expository sermon on Acts 3:1-26. It covers the story of Peter and John healing the lame man who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate and the sermon that sprung from it. Focus is put on how we need the healing of Jesus to live for God in this world and how Jesus’ person and work enables us to repent by turning from sin toward faith in the gospel. This sermon was originally preached on March 4th, 2012 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA.
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
March 3rd, 2012
The Church At Work | Acts 3:1-26
I. The Story: A Gate, A Gimp & A Gift
II. The Sermon: Salvation For Sinners
A. The Person & Work of Jesus
B. Human Guilt, Repentance & Cleansing
Well, I’m pumped about today’s text because in our current series going through the book of Acts we have come to chapter three, which contains an exciting story and a powerful sermon to accompany it. It’s one of those kind of story’s you read and you wish you could have been there.
There are so many great stories in the Bible. I’d love to see Hollywood take more of ‘em on because they’re fun, exciting and moving. Sometimes the same old movies of a love story or a comedy or a tragedy just seems to get rehashed over and over again. It’s different characters and a slightly adjusted storyline…but it’s the same movie. The Bible is not like that. It is full of amazing things God has done and each one of them is unique and gripping.
The story we’re looking at today doesn’t really need a whole lot of set-up. Basically the picture is of Jerusalem and the temple after the festival of Pentecost is over, so the city has died down somewhat as many returned to their homes in other cities. But the church was started and it is moving forward, worshipping, preaching and caring for people.
In last week’s text chapter 2, verse 43 said that in this season of the church “many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.” Chapter 3 is a zeroed in look at and example of one of those wonders and signs.
Let’s go ahead and read it, declare it as God’s Word, pray over it and get into studying it together. (read text & pray).
So there’s basically two parts to this chapter. The story of what happened and then Peter’s explanation and sermon that arises from it. And that’s the basic outline we’ll follow today, “The Story” and then “The Sermon.”
So first let’s look at the story in a little more detail, it’s the story of “a gate, a gimp and a gift.”
I. The Story: A Gate, A Gimp & A Gift
It starts off here in verse one with Peter and John going to the temple at the hour of prayer. Basically there were two times in the day people would go to the temple if you lived in Jerusalem, either in the morning or afternoon. Peter and John are going here in the afternoon at the third hour which is 3pm. During the hour of prayer the priest would offer up an animal sacrifice and then lead those who were there in a song accompanied by trumpets. Then everyone would kneel and he would lead them in a public prayer.
Now, all of this would take place in the 3rd most inner part of the temple called the “Court of Israel.” You had to go through four different gates or doors to get there and it depended on who you were for whether or not you could go through the gates. Anyone was allowed through the first gate, including Gentiles (those who were not Jews). The next area in was called the “Court of the Women.” You had to be Jew to go into this part of the temple, women were allowed there as well as those who were physically handicapped.
Then you came to what our text calls “The Beautiful Gate.” You can see it here in this picture of a drawing we have…it’s right there in the middle. There were 15 steps that led up to it and at the top was the gate and it was a magnificent gate. It stood 75 feet high and 60 feet across and was the largest gate in the entire temple and was covered in the most expensive metal to be had at the time, Corinthian bronze. An Alexandrian Jew named Nicanor had donated it so many also called it the Nicanor gate…and it was truly a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.
Beyond the Beautiful Gate going into the Court of Israel only men who were healthy without disease or deformity were allowed. On the steps leading up to it was the common site of beggars who had some physical ailment which prohibited them from working and made them dependent upon the donations of those who gave them money.
Our story today focuses in on one lame man. He’s lame, which means he can’t walk and never has been able to since birth. And verse two says people carried him to the Beautiful Gate daily and put him there so people would give him “alms” which is money.
Now you got to get your head around this scene from a few different angles. First the lame beggar here. He had probably been coming there for years and that was his spot. We don’t know how old he is but he’s a full grown man and has never walked. His legs probably looked like shriveled up tiny sticks.
Second, there’s Peter and John. Just a few verses earlier in 2:46 we were told they were going to the temple every day. So Peter and John had seen this crippled man numerous times already. He was probably known as the gimp at the gate. And like things that you see everyday you become accustomed to it…they’re just a part of daily life which you see all the time. Like the homeless dudes standing with a sign at the end of various freeway off-ramps in our city, there’s always there…it’s common.
This scene is pretty familiar to us. There have always been beggars in big cities. My favorite one is the dude who has the sign, “I won’t lie: Need money for beer.” I always give that guy money.
Interestingly studies show that many are actually able to make a reasonable living by begging. But no matter how you slice it, it’s still a humiliating thing. Beggars being used to rejection, tend not to make eye contact.
So Peter and John are walking up the steps to go to the inner part of the temple for the prayer and worship service and they see this cripple that they’ve seen many times before…while looking down he asks them for alms. And something comes over Peter. Text doesn’t say what, my guess is it’s the Holy Spirit. And verse four says, Peter “directed his gaze at him” and said, “Look at us.”
The cripple looks up. Verse 5 says he thought Peter was going to give him money. But instead Peter gives him something far better. He says, verse “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
Now this part seems crazy to me. My mind starts to go wild thinking like…How did Peter know it would work? What if it didn’t? Saying that is totally insulting. Obviously the dude can’t walk…telling him to get up is ridiculous, it’s mocking him.
But verse seven says Peter then reaches out with his “right hand” to help him up and when he does “his feet and ankles were made strong.” Luke, the human author of Acts was a medical doctor, which accounts for his attention to detail like Peter’s “right hand” and the cripples “feet and ankles.” His pointing those things is not only evidence the historical authenticity of the Bible but what he is describing here is his legs literally growing with muscle before their very eyes.
The dude realizes it and leaps up and starts walking, never having walked before in a single day of his life. Then verse 8, now he can go into the temple and runs in for the very first time and is immediately praising God!
This story is just incredible. If you have a tough time with the reality or possibility of miracles, you have to remember that Christianity is a religion based on one big miracle, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. So you kind of have to get over the miracles hump if you’re going to seriously deal with the Bible. And really, this story isn’t really so much about the miracle that happened.
Let’s look a little closer at this. There’s some significant sub text stuff going on here. It’s in verses 4-5 and verses 8-9. In verses 4-5 the text puts this huge emphasis where the cripple is looking. He starts out looking down. Then Peter “directed his GAZE at him” and says “LOOK at us.” Then the cripple looks up and “fixed his attention on him.” Once Peter has his attention check out where he directs the cripple’s attention next.
Verse 6. First away from money…”I have no silver or gold.” So he tells him money is not what he needs. Instead, what does he say he needs? Jesus. Instead of giving him gold Peter gives him Jesus. He directs the cripple’s attention to Jesus.
Now it’s easy to just gloss over this and think Peter was giving him the ability to walk. But check out verse 16 when Peter is explaining what happened. He says, “faith in his name (Jesus) – has made this man strong.” Then he says it again, “the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of all.”
What verse 16 explicitly points out is that when Peter told the cripple to look to Jesus, in faith the cripple did…and then he was healed. So his faith in Christ preceded his healing. And you see the evidence of this in the cripple’s response. What does he immediately do in verses 8-9? Praise. And praise who? Peter for healing him? No. He praises God.
He recognizes that God is the one who cared about him and loved him and received him, even though he was a cripple. You got to wrap your mind around this. Lame from birth. Very easy to think God doesn’t love you or care about you, that he slighted you. I mean he couldn’t even go into the worship service and sing to God because of it. But Peter tells him of Jesus, the cripple puts his faith in Jesus and is healed and immediately makes the connection that Jesus is God who healed him and not just his legs but his heart…now he’s full of joy!
The story takes a place of physical beauty, the Beautiful Gate and turns it into a place of spiritual beauty when this man is saved and restored. Interestingly, verse 10 points out the crowd’s reaction. They don’t praise God. They wonder and are amazed at what happened…but they don’t look to God. They look for another explanation, which Peter addresses in his sermon.
We’re going to look into Peter’s sermon here in a moment but before we do I want to make a point of personal application for us. We talked about it when we went through The Gospel of Matthew and saw a bunch of miracles Jesus did. Some of them were very much like this one and in the Bible, whenever there is a healing…like someone blind gets healed, or someone who’s deaf gets healed, or when someone mute gets healed, or when someone lame gets healed…it’s picture of what God does for us spiritually through the gospel.
Because of sin, we’re blind and don’t see the glory of God and his goodness…we’re deaf and don’t hear and obey his word…we’re mute and don’t give God the praise he deserves…and we’re lame and don’t walk in the ways God calls us to. But in the gospel God heals us and changes us…he gives us eyes to see how good and great he is, he give ears to hear his word, mouths to sing his praise and enables us to walk in a manner worthy of his calling.
So before we move on to looking at Peter’s explanation and sermon that springs from this story…let me just ask you today, where do you need God to heal you and enable you to see Jesus? What is clouding your vision? What is dulling your receptivity? What makes you hold back? What keeps you from living for God in your walk through this world? Where and how do you need Jesus to heal you?
Are you looking up and putting your faith in Jesus, in his name alone? Or are you looked down, fixed on yourself and the things of this world? Look up. Look to Jesus. Put your faith in him. He is the only answer.
That’s how we apply this scene to our lives. Some see it differently. I had a friend…well, we weren’t that good of friends…but a friend in Bible College who would read stories like this in the Bible and his immediate response was to think we needed to go find the next person we could in a wheel chair and tell them to get up in the name of Jesus.
Well…I’m not going to tell you not to do that…who knows??? But what is really interesting to me here is how Peter deals with the situation. Peter’s response to this miracle and the crowd’s reaction to it is to preach the gospel. And this is a theme we consistently see throughout the book of Acts. Whenever there are signs and wonders in Acts they are always followed by an emphasis on the proclamation of the Gospel.
We need to recognize this because lots of Christian people get excited about doing social work or social justice…like digging wells in Africa or feeding the homeless or any number of good things people do to help others, but often those efforts are not followed by a proclamation of the Gospel and that’s unbiblical.
It is the same thing with healing ministry of Jesus when you read about his life. The purpose of his miracles were not the healings in and of themselves but what happened afterward. In one story Jesus healed ten lepers but only one responded by coming to Jesus and giving him thanks. Jesus said only that one had faith (Lk 17:11-19).
The purpose of miracles is to inspire faith in Jesus as savior. And this principle is the same for all of the good things that happen in our lives…all the mini miracles we constantly receive…they are meant to inspire faith, gratitude and praise to Jesus.
Okay, let’s get back to our story here in Acts 3. After the cripple is healed together with Peter and John, they all go into the inner part of the temple and when they come out Peter ends up preaching a sermon. So let’s look at, “The Sermon: Salvation For Sinners.”
II. The Sermon: Salvation For Sinners
Word spread pretty fast that the gimp at the Beautiful Gate is healed and when Peter, John and the former gimp come out of the inner part of the temple, a crowd follows them. They end up walks out down the east corridor of the temple in what was known as Solomon’s Portico.
Here’s a scale model picture of it.
It had a ceiling 37.5 feet high, with double rows of pillars made of white marble and ran a length of 300 yards. That’s the length of three football fields. Solomon’s Portico was an area popularly used for commerce business and discussion…sort of a hang out place for various groups.
Akin to what happened on the Pentecost of the first day of the church…something supernatural had taken place, there’s a crowd, a misunderstanding and a sermon from Peter. In verse twelve Peter begins to preach and begins by addressing their wrongly directed wonder and amazement.
Let’s check it out. He says, “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” This is telling. The crowd thinks that Peter and John are something great…that they either possess some magical power or that special holiness or piety. So they are amazed and at wonder at Peter and John!
Peter immediately moves to correct this false assumption and calls the crowd to give their praise to God who is Jesus, his servant of glory. Peter is emphatic that it is not because he nor John had superior morality in any way or that they had tapped into some sort of supernatural ability but that Jesus had healed the lame man. In verse 16 he says it was Jesus, his name who healed the man. The hand was Peter’s but the power was Jesus…Jesus though ascended into heaven, still at work in and through his disciples and witnesses of his resurrection.
Peter squarely puts the whole focus, attention and credit on God. In fact this sermon is just saturated with talk about who God is and what he accomplished in Jesus. In just this one chapter God is referred to 26 different times in 11 different ways and the character of God who God is chiefly described by what he did in and through Jesus. So let’s look at this and what’s said about, “The Person & Work of Jesus” and then we’ll look at “Human Guilt, Repentance & Cleansing.”
A. The Person & Work of Jesus
One of the things that can become a disadvantage for Christians is our familiarity with certain Christian terminology. Some of said it’s almost like Christians have their own language with all these special terms and titles that don’t make much sense to those on the outside…that we speak Christianese. Also, because of our familiarity we can miss the significance and weight of what is said with terms and titles that become common to us.
So for example. Back in verse six, Peter referred to Jesus as “Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Christ is not Jesus last name but rather a title meaning the Messiah or the Savior. So by referring to Jesus that way he is saying Jesus is a human man from the town of Nazareth and he is the Christ, the Messiah or Savior.
Then in verse 14 he refers to him as the “Holy and Righteous One.” To be holy means to be set apart and to be righteous is totally and always right or without sin. Jesus alone from the beginning was set apart and wholly without sin.
In verse 13 and verse 26 he refers to Jesus as God’s servant. This echoes Jesus own words concerning himself that he came “not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45).” Jesus came to serve and to give his life away.
In verses 22-25 Jesus is the prophet like Moses who is greater than Moses and who all the prophets said would come. Jesus came to speak the Word of the Gopsel as God in the flesh.
In verse 25, he is the singular offspring or seed of Abraham through who God promised to bless all the families or peoples of the earth. Jesus the prophet came to be the only and single savior through whose name alone man can be saved.
And then perhaps the most chilling of all is in verse 15 when Peter says Jesus is the Author of life. It’s a breathtaking title and description…the Author of Life. This is a phrase which would normally only be applied to God the Father who created all living things. But here Peter refers to Jesus as being the creator of life and breath and not just that but life everlasting that death cannot touch. Life, physical life and spiritual life comes from Jesus…he is its author and prince.
You see, these terms are filled and loaded with rich meaning and significance. They say so much about what kind of person Peter was saying Jesus is. And they are terms which would have made a person standing there in the first century be shocked to hear. These were radical claims and still are today.
In reference to the work of Jesus, Peter alludes to the event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Everyone in Jerusalem had heard of it and knew the details of what happened so Peter doesn’t go into it in depth but rather goes after what it means.
Verse 15 says Jesus was killed, that’s a reference to his crucifixion on Golgotha hill, and then verse 15 says God raised him from the dead, which is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection three days later which the whole city knew about since it was a scandal that the tomb was empty and on top of that many saw Jesus, over 500 one of the time.
Then comes verse 18 which says that God planned this…that it was “foretold” which means to announce beforehand something you will do…it was ”foretold” by God that “his Christ would suffer.” That was the plan and Jesus came to as this verse states, to “fulfill it.” Jesus dying for sin and rising again was the plan all along. It was meant by God to be his ultimate and greatest work in all of human history. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the focal point of everything.
What’s interesting is in the book of Acts and really in all the New Testament letters there ends up being very little discussion concerning the miracles, healings, and exorcisms Jesus performed. Instead all the talk of Jesus becomes saturated with a focus on his death and resurrection and what that means for us.
You could summarize Peter’s preaching and teaching about Jesus here in this way:
• God sent Jesus into the world as his appointed prophet to speak his word.
• Jesus comes as the servant of man to do what man could not do, be righteous and save himself.
• Jesus was fully man, from Nazareth and fully God, the Author of life.
• Jesus never sinned but was holy and righteous in every way.
• God planned for Jesus to be killed so that sins might be blotted out and destruction escaped.
• God raised Jesus from the dead so that life might be restored for all who repent by turning from sin and toward faith in Jesus.
It’s nothing less than the Gospel.
On one hand it’s marvelous. Every religion tells you there is something you must do. But this Gospel speaks of something God has done. There is no new philosophy of life that is presented. No new system of morals. Just Jesus. Jesus death and resurrection for sinners.
On the other hand, though it’s marvelous…there’s some pointed things that are said here to the crowd who was there and by extension to us reading this today. Pointed and and convicting. So for our last point for today let’s look at “Human Guilt, Repentance & Cleansing” which really digs into how this Gospel works…how it effects us and changes us.
B. Human Guilt, Repentance & Cleansing
First the guilt piece. Did anyone catch the jarring tone of verse 15? “You killed the Author of life.” That’s a pretty strict line and serious accusation…murder.
And it’s not just any murder. There’s an oxymoron here. In verse 14, Peter recalls how Pilate, the governor at Jesus’ trial, tried to get Jesus off the hook and said he would release Jesus but instead the crowd chanted for this other guy named “Barsabbas” to be released and he was a guy convicted of murder. Jesus had never hurt anyone…but he claimed to be God…which the crowd saw as blasphemy, a sin worse than murder. So instead sparing the life of an innocent one they take life by murdering God, the author of life.
Now, many of the people who saw Jesus crucified were there…the sense from all the Gospel accounts is that the whole city came out to see the spectacle. And Peter holds everyone accountable for it. You might ask why? Was it because the crowd chanted “crucify him, crucify him”? Or was there a bigger, deeper reason.
In verse 17, he says they acted in ignorance. This is what’s sometimes called a sin of omission. It’s not sin in the way that you knowingly do something you know is wrong but it’s when you do something wrong that you did not even realize how wrong it was at the time. They didn’t realize they were crucifying the Lord of life.
Jesus himself pointed this out while he was dying on the cross. He spoke out and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34).” Jesus, on the cross prayed for the people on the day Peter preached at Solomon’s Portico.
But what about us? We were not there or even alive when all this went down. Yet the Bible teaches that we too are all sinners and that God sees all our sin both in our hearts and in our actions. In Matthew 12 Jesus said our hearts are evil and out of our evil hearts comes evil words and deeds and that a day of judgment will come when will have to give an account to God for all of it (Mt 12:33-37). God has an account or a record of all of it, written on paper as it were.
Here’s the thing. God foretold and planned the death and resurrection of Jesus. It did not take him by surprise. God did it for a reason…he had a purpose…to deal with sin.
Sin, is what took Jesus to the cross. And not just sin as in it what was done to Jesus was sinful, though that’s true. But if there were no sin, Jesus would not have gone to the cross. Jesus intentionally went there. In Luke 9 he told the disciples he was going to go to Jerusalem to die and then it says he set his face to it, determined to go there (Lk. 9:44-45; 53).
Sin, all sin, their sin, your sin, my sin is what took Jesus to the cross. It’s what killed him. I killed him. I’m complicit. As the song we sing sometimes says, “It was my sin that held him there.” And there is judgment for sin. Verse 23 here says all who don’t listen to him, meaning receive his offer of salvation, will “be destroyed” which Jesus describes as an unending experience of being destroyed in mind, body and soul in hell (Mt. 5:22-30, 10:28, 18:9).
Maybe this sounds kind of morbid. But it is impossible for us to really come to faith in Jesus unless we first are brought to the knowledge of sin and how serious it is. Sin is ugly. It is dark. It is evil.
Verses 13-14 say there was a delivering over, a denying and a deciding involved in the sin that put Jesus on the cross. And we’ve all done that. We are happy to have someone else take the fall…we deliver him over. We all have willfully made decisions we know violate our conscience and the law of God. And we’ve all denied God in not worshipping and loving him as we ought and as He deserves and we’ve denied that we are actually sinful and need salvation. We’re all guilty.
So what are we to do? The cry of Jesus throughout his ministry and the cry of Peter and the apostles through the book of Acts is to repent. To repent. Verse 19, “Repent therefore and turn again that your sins might be blotted out.”
To repent. What does it actually mean? The word itself means to turn around and change your direction. We actually have a double imperative here. To repent and then it’s spelled out, right away “to turn again.” In true gospel repentance there are always two movements…you turn away from sin and turn to faith in Jesus.
Bible scholar Michael Green explains it well in his description of repentance. He says, “People cannot come to receive God’s gift with dirty hands. They need to drop the mud with which they were playing and come with empty hands to be washed and receive the gift of God.”
Repentance is dropping the mud, walking away from it and coming to Jesus to have him clean us. We need repentance. You can’t clean yourself when you have mud all over your hands. We have to have Jesus do it for us.
Which brings me to my most favorite thing in this whole chapter and that’s the second part of verse 19. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your SINS may be BLOTTED OUT.” Oh those are great words.
The Greek word here behind our English word “blotted” is the word “exaleipho.” Here’s what it meant. Back in Bible times when they would write on paper the ink they used didn’t have any acid in it like ours does today…so it would not sink into the paper, it sat on top. So if someone made a mistake in writing something they would take a wet cloth and could simply blot the mistake clean by wiping it away.
So what the gospel teaches us here is that when we come to Jesus with our sin, he cleans us and wipes away that record of our sin that we would otherwise have to give an account to God for on the day of judgment. He wipes it clean! And it’s gone, erasing the record forevermore.
This my friends is why the gospel is so good and so sweet. As sinners we’re bad. Far worse than we realize. Yet God in Jesus has not left us to our sin but came into the world and died for it so that he might blot it out and make us clean. The grace of God goes deeper than the depth of our sin.
To repent is often hard and painful but being made clean is full of blessing. Verse 20 calls it a taste of the refreshing that comes from the presence of the Lord. It is good and it’s what we need. We need the renewing and refreshing life that comes from Jesus alone.
We’re going to receive the Lord’s Supper in a moment and I want to conclude my sermon today by simply calling us to repent. Earlier we talked about being blind, deaf, mute and lame. What we often fail to see is that it is our own sin clouding our sight, blocking our ears, holding our tongue and keeping us from moving toward God with our feet. How we’re rejecting the author of life. Life is what we need and what we want and we push the author of life away. Don’t do that today. See, hear, confess, come…repent!
Repenting is never a one time thing…it’s a lifetime thing. As we continually see more and more of the goodness of Jesus as we are ever turning from sin and turning to faith in Christ and having him make us clean.
What do you need to repent of today? Maybe you know exactly what that is…in hearing me say that something immediately comes to mind. Or maybe it’s something of omission…just a lackluster faith, or lack of passion and love for God?
Our hands get dirty easy. What mud do you need to drop? Come with empty hands today to receive the cleansing gift of God.
It’s so easy to believe a different gospel that says…”I know deep down I will still pay for some of the terrible things I’ve felt, said and/or done.” But the good news of the gospel is that through Jesus God wipes away the entire record of our sinful hearts and deeds.
Jesus is good and he’s all we need. So let’s run to him this morning and have him work in us as we receive the Lord’s Supper which tells us his body was broken and his blood was shed for our sin.
When you taste the bread and when the wine touches your lips remember Jesus paid for it all and wipes you clean.
Let’s stand and pray.