Let us take a look at where we are in our outline:
- Ministry of Peter - Acts 1:1-12:19
- Peter's First Sermon - Acts 1:1-2:47
- In this section Luke describes the waiting Apostles receiving empowerment as the Holy Spirit comes upon them on Pentecost Sunday. We read Peter's first gospel sermon and the thousands who responded in repentance and baptism. Luke then describes the forming and development of the early church as it practiced the five basic biblical ministries of the church: evangelism, teaching, fellowship, worship and service. Luke concludes this first section by declaring that the Lord added to His church as the Apostles ministered to the people. This leads to the next section of the book.
- Peter's Post-Pentecost Ministry - Acts 3:1-4:37
- Luke describes how Peter reacts when the religious leaders forbid him to preach the gospel or witness concerning Jesus' resurrection.
- Peter's First Sermon - Acts 1:1-2:47
Peter's Post-Pentecost Ministry – Acts 3:1-4:37
Healing the Man Crippled from Birth
1Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. 2And a man who had been lame from his mother's womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. 4But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, "Look at us!" 5And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!" 7And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. 8With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9And all the people saw him walking and praising God; 10and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
- Acts 3:1-10
Luke wastes no time commenting on the events of Pentecost. He moves his story along by recounting an event that was as great as the Pentecost miracle, but involved only one man. The first thing that strikes the reader concerning this account is the sureness of the miracle:
- The beggar was well known by the people, having been infirmed from birth.
- The infirmity was complete (could not walk) and we see this as he had to be carried to and from his usual spot each day at one of the temple gates.
- He is healed and immediately walks into the temple with the Apostles, praising God and literally jumping for joy.
- The people who knew and saw him regularly witnessed the before and after of his healing.
- They may have wondered how he was healed but there was no doubt that he was indeed healed of an incurable condition.
As verse 10 indicates (the people were filled with wonder at what they had seen), this miracle sets the scene for Peter's first defense of the gospel before the Jewish leadership. The miracle of tongues may have been baffling to some, and others found ways of denying it (i.e. the Apostles were drunk), however, this miracle was indisputably clear in its power and result as well as its source: Jesus Christ. Peter did not even ask if the man believed or not, he pronounced him healed in the name of Jesus (by the authority of) and the man's infirmity was gone.
Response of the Jewish People and Leaders (3:11-4:37)
In Acts 2, Luke summarizes the activity of the early church in Jerusalem as the day of Pentecost came and went, and life returned to normal.
43Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
- Acts 2:43-47
In the following chapter he doubles back and focuses on the healing of one man and the events that took place as a result of this miracle:
Peter's Second Sermon (Acts 3:11-26)
11While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.
- Acts 3:11-16
As in the case of the Apostles speaking in tongues, this undeniable miracle draws a large crowd. In the same way that people wondered about the Apostles speaking in foreign languages through the power of the Holy Spirit, they are now amazed (literal translation - "dumbfounded") and waiting for an explanation. They saw and believed the "what," they now wanted to know the "how."
This presents a second opportunity for Peter to address a large crowd with the gospel message and he follows the pattern used in his Pentecost sermon. He begins by establishing Jesus as the source of spiritual power, demonstrated in the miracle, by virtue of the fact that He is God's Messiah. He reminds them of their culpability in sending their own Savior to the cross in exchange for a notorious murderer. He proclaims the resurrection of Jesus and the fact that he and John were eye witnesses of this great miracle. Peter finishes by giving glory to Jesus for the healing of the lame man. This, then, is the "how."
In Acts 2:40, Luke writes that after initially preaching to the crowd on Pentecost Sunday, Peter "kept on exhorting them." In other words, he continued to make arguments and encouragements for people to respond in obedience to the gospel message. In Acts 2, Luke does not provide any more information as to the nature of these exhortations, only the results (3000 baptized, verse 41). In Acts 3, however, Luke continues to record Peter's sermon in addition to the results it received.
17"And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;
- Acts 3:17-19
In these verses Peter mitigates their failure in receiving Jesus by stating that they did this in ignorance as His rejection and death were spoken of by the prophets. Their sins did not surprise God and as grave as they were, God was nevertheless offering them and their leaders forgiveness and the peace that the forgiven enjoy.
20and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22Moses said, 'The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' 24And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'
- Acts 3:20-25
Here Peter turns their attention from the present judgment to the judgment to come at the end of the world when Jesus returns. He emphasizes the fact that Jesus, who was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, will return to restore all things. This restoration would include the proper order with God/Christ and the church ruling; the old heaven and earth replaced by the new heaven and earth; and Satan and disbelievers punished. The final restoration, he says, was spoken of by the prophets and was offered first to you, the Jewish people.
For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways."
- Acts 3:26
He sums everything up in verse 26 by reiterating that Jesus' resurrection (the proof that He was the divine Messiah) was given to them first with the purpose of turning them away from their sins and saving them from the present and future judgment to come.
The second event that took place as a result of the healing...
Peter and John Arrested
1As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening
- Acts 4:1-3
While Peter is speaking, he and John are interrupted and arrested by:
- Priests: Several priests that belonged to the 24 groups of priests who were selected by lot to conduct services at the temple on various days. For example, Zachariah, John the Baptist's father.
8Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 9according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
- Luke 1:8-9
- Captain of the Temple Guard: Levites who served as temple police: guarding entrances, closing gates on the Sabbath, ensuring laws concerning movement and conduct in the temple area were obeyed.
- Sadducees: Wealthy priests who were part of the Sanhedrin (ruling council).
The Sadducees, being of the highest rank, probably instigated the arrest, and did so not because there was disorder or too big a crowd, but because of what was being taught. As the principal groups that argued for Jesus' execution, any talk of His resurrection and the subsequent growth of His movement would ultimately come back on them. They feared a loss of authority and position, and the privileges that came with these. They also denied the existence of spirits, angels or afterlife and only accepted the first five books of the Bible as authority, so a "risen Savior" would also disprove their teaching position on miracles and the afterlife.
Although few in number, the Sadducees wielded tremendous influence because they commanded great wealth and social position, and in addition to these, the family of the high priest belonged to their group.
(Lenski, p. 153)
But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
- Acts 4:4
Luke, as he does for the Pentecost sermon, records the response of the crowd and the number who became Christians (2000 plus). He simply mentions that they went from 3000 to 5000 men, a way of giving a general estimate of the rate of growth (2000 men, not counting women and youth). He does not mention baptism and the need to confess Christ because this has already been described as necessary in the process of conversion. Faith is expressed by confessing Christ, repentance and baptism. There is no need to continually repeat this every time a writer is describing a person's conversion (otherwise the Bible would be thousands of pages long). Luke merely states the conclusion and response to Peter's sermon: 2000 plus people were converted.
A third event resulting from Peter's preaching...
Trial Before Jewish Leaders (Acts 4:5-22)
5On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?" 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people, 9if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
- Acts 4:5-12
Although Peter and John are brought before the Jewish leaders for questioning and possible imprisonment, Luke shows that this occasion quickly becomes the scene for Peter's third sermon. This is given to a much smaller crowd, but one with the most wealth and power in Israel.
As is Luke's custom, he provides historical and personal detail by naming some of the prominent men present and their positions:
- Rulers: High priests and family, Annas and Caiaphas (Annas' son-in-law). All Sadducees.
- Elders: Chief men appointed to the Sanhedrin (70-72 rulers/elders/scribes). John and Alexander.
- Scribes: Rabbis/lawyers (Pharisees).
Note that they ask Peter and John the same questions they had posed Jesus when they had confronted Him in the temple courtyard (Matthew 21:23 - "By what authority are you doing these things?"). Peter's response or sermon is the direct fulfillment of what Jesus prophesied in Luke 12:11-12.
11When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
- Luke 12:11-12
Luke even says as much when prefacing Peter's remarks by saying that he was speaking by the power of the Holy Spirit (verse 8).
Luke records the heart of Peter's sermon:
- The miracle was done by the power and authority of Jesus Christ.
- The rulers were responsible for His execution by crucifixion.
- God raised this Jesus from the dead.
- That the leaders would reject the One chosen by God (Messiah) was spoken of by the prophet David (Psalms 118:22). This would have been especially galling to hear since the high priest and other priests in the Sanhedrin were Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection or afterlife.
- Peter finishes with a summary statement that makes Jesus and faith in Him the exclusive pathway to salvation. A statement that continues to offend to this day because it makes Christianity an exclusive religion: Only Jesus and no other can save.
13Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16saying, "What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name." 18And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard." 21When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.
- Acts 4:13-22
The leaders would now have wanted to punish and silence them but for three reasons could not:
- They could not deny Peter's sermon. Many in the city thought the same about Jesus and they had no rebuttal to Peter's argument based on Scripture (Jesus was the rejected Messiah according to Psalms 118:22).
- They could not deny the obvious miracle. They may have even known or recognized this crippled beggar now completely healed standing before them.
- They could not deny the Apostles their freedom. Taking action against them would create a riot and this would demonstrate to the Roman government that they were not able to maintain order and thus might lose the favored positions they held made possible by their Roman overlords.
In verses 23-31, Luke records the joy, praise and prayer that the church experiences after the release of Peter and John. Remember that only a few weeks before, Jesus had been brought to stand before these very same men and had subsequently been crucified. The Apostles and the church gained great confidence after this event.
And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
- Acts 4:31
The Church Flourishes (4:32-37)
The story of Peter and John's defense of the gospel and release sparks a surge in the growth and development of the church along with the expanded ministry of all the Apostles. Luke describes the benevolent work of the church and the generosity of its members.
Luke uses this occasion to introduce a prominent character who will appear later on when he begins to describe Paul's ministry: Joseph, a Levite (temple worker/security) from Cyprus (foreign born Jew), called Barnabas (son of encouragement). He was the first temple official converted by the Apostles.
Jesus Does Not Need Someone's Faith to Act
Our faith in Jesus is important but not the determining factor for His actions. His will is the determining factor in what He does, not how great our faith is. Strong faith helps us to know and accept His will and helps us to persevere when we do not understand or disagree with His will. My prayer of faith hopes that His will is done and that I can trust and rejoice in it even if I do not always understand it.
Keep the Gospel Simple
In Acts 4:8-12, Peter makes five important points in five verses of text that take 40 seconds to read. My point here is that when we are evangelizing someone we should not begin by "explaining" the gospel, we should just "preach" it: the life, death and resurrection of Christ and our response to this. You can then answer questions, challenges and explain in more detail. When it comes to the gospel, first proclaim, then explain.