A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 3:11-26. The apostle Peter preaches to the crowd.
*While the beggar held on to Peter and John*, cured but still clinging to them and not yet confident, *all the people were astonished and came running to them*, and assembled *in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade* (11). This was a cloister or ‘portico’ (NEB), formed by a double row of marbled columns and roofed with cedar, which ran all the way along the eastern wall of the outer court. Jesus himself sometimes walked and taught in it (Jn.10:23).
Peter seized the opportunity to preach. Just as the Pentecost event had been the text for his first sermon, so the cripple’s healing became the text for his second. Both were mighty acts of the exalted Christ. Both were signs which proclaimed him Lord and Saviour. Both aroused the crowd’s amazement.
Peter began by ascribing all the credit to Jesus. ‘*Men of Israel, why does this surprise you?*’ he asked (12), presumably pointing to the healed cripple. And ‘*Why do you stare at us*, presumably making a gesture which pointed to themselves, *as if* it had been *by our own power or godliness* that *we had made this man walk*?’ (12). Instead, he redirected their gaze to Jesus, by whose powerful name the miracle had taken place. For ‘*The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus*’ (13a). Peter’s designation of God expressed his conviction that what was new in Jesus nevertheless enjoyed a direct continuity with the Old Testament. Then, in contrast to the honour that God had given to Jesus, Peter is outspoken in describing the fourfold dishonour which the inhabitants of Jerusalem had shown him: (i) *You handed him over to be killed*, and (ii) *you disowned him before Pilate* (as indeed Peter had himself ‘disowned’ or ‘denied’ him before a servant girl and others cf. Lk. 22:54-62), *though he had decided to let him go* (13b). (iii) *You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you* (14), thus demanding both ‘the condemnation of the innocent’ and ‘the acquittal of the guilty’. (iv) *You killed the author of life*, a striking oxymoron, in which the pioneer or giver of life (*archegos* could mean either) is himself deprived of life, *but God*, wonderfully reversing this fourfold rejection of Jesus, *raised him from the dead*, and of this mighty resurrection *we (apostles) are witnesses* (15). So then, it is *by faith in the name of Jesus*, of the once rejected but now resurrected and reigning Jesus, that *this* crippled *man whom you see and know was made strong*. Peter goes on to repeat it for emphasis, this time separating the name and the faith which apprehends it. For it was *Jesus’ name* (all he is and has done), together with *the faith that comes through him*, being aroused by him in those who grasp the implications of his name, which *has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see*’(16).
The most remarkable feature of Peter’s second sermon, as of his first, is its Christ-centredness. He directed the crowd’s attention away from both the healed cripple and the apostles to the Christ whom men disowned by killing him but God vindicated by raising him, and whose name, having been appropriated by faith, was strong enough to heal the man completely. Moreover, in his testimony to Jesus Peter attributed to him a cluster of significant titles. He began by calling him ‘Jesus Christ of Nazareth’ (6), but went on to style him God’s ‘servant’ (13), who first suffered and then was glorified in fulfilment of Isaiah 52:13ff. (cf. 18 and 26; 4:27,30). Next he was ‘the Holy and Righteousness One’ (14) and ‘the author [or pioneer] of life’ (15), while in the concluding part of the sermon Peter called him the ‘prophet’ foretold by Moses (22) and before the Sanhedrin the rejected stone which has become the capstone (4:11). Servant and Christ, Holy One and source of life, Prophet and Stone – these titles speak of the uniqueness of Jesus in his suffering and glory, his character and mission, his revelation and redemption. All this is encapsulated in his ‘Name’ and helps to explain its saving power.
Having exalted the name of Jesus, Peter ended his sermon by challenging his hearers (*brothers*, he calls them) with the necessity and the blessings of repentance, ‘*I know*’, he says, ‘*that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders*’ (17). His purpose in saying this was neither to excuse their sin, nor to imply that forgiveness was unnecessary, but to show why it was possible. Peter was echoing the Old Testament distinction between sins of ‘ignorance’ and sins of ‘presumption’ (eg. Nu. 15:27ff.; and cf. Lk.23:34; 1 Cor.2:8; 1Tim. 1:13). Next, although they did not know what they were doing, God knew what he was doing. For what happened to Jesus was the fulfilment of prophecy, for ‘*this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets*, especially *that his Christ should suffer* (18). Neither their ignorance nor God’s predictions exonerated them, however. They must *repent…and turn to God*’ (19a). Then three successive blessings would take place.
The first is *that your sins may be wiped out* (19b), even their sin of doing to death the author of life. *Exaleipho* means to wash off, erase, obliterate. It is used in the book of Revelation both of God who wipes away out tears (Re. 7:17; 21:4) and of Christ who refuses to erase our name from the book of life (Re. 3:5). William Barclay explains the allusion: ‘Ancient writing was upon papyrus, and the ink used had no acid in it. It therefore did not bite into the papyrus as modern ink does; it simply lay upon the top of it. To erase the writing a man might take a wet sponge and simply wipe it away.’ Just so, when God forgives our sins, he wipes the slate clean (cf. Is. 43:25).
Tomorrow: Acts 3:11-26. The apostle Peter preaches to the crowd (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.