Loving acts create the opportunity for witness.
v. 1 – Peter & John were going to the temple at the Jewish hour of prayer, about 3pm our time. This pattern is reflected in Acts 2:46.
v. 2 – This man had never been able to walk, which would mean that he would pretty much be unable to work. Luke, as a doctor, notes in verse 7 that his feet and ankles were made strong. Perhaps he had a severe case of club feet?
v. 3 It appears that just as he was being brought to his usually place for alms, he asked for alms.
v. 4-5 Peter and John looked at him. They gave him their attention instead of dropping coins and walking on. The instruction of Peter that the alms requester look at him shows that Peter thinks of the alms requester as an equal. An inferior averts his gaze and does not look directly into the eyes of his social superior. But this cripple is told, “Look at us.”
v. 6 First Peter acknowledges that he does not have money to give. Peter’s gift is not to have material wealth. But what Peter does have, he freely shares without payment: healing.
vv. 7-8 The healing was immediate and, as you might imagine, the man is literal jumping for joy. We will later learn that this man is over 40 years old when the healing occurs (Acts 4:22).
vv. 9-10 Everyone remembered seeing the this leaping man sitting as a cripple begging for alms, which he had probably done in the same place at the same time for many years. They are amazed, just as you and I would be
v. 11 The man wouldn’t leave Peter and all the astonished people followed to see what was going on.
v. 12 Peter did not heal this man with the intent of drawing attention or using the incident for anything other than what it was: a loving act of healing. But when he sees the crowd, his is open to the opportunity to testify about Jesus Christ.
Peter addressing the crowd as “Men of Israel” reminds us that everyone in this picture is Jewish. At this point, the idea that Jesus is the Messiah is a debate between Jews, with some Jews believing he is, some not, and many trying to figure it out. There is, as yet, no real thought of the proclamation of Jesus being for people beyond the Jews. The caveat to this is that God’s people have always been told to welcome those of non-Jewish descent who wanted to become part of God’s covenant people. (”If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land…” — Exodus 12:48, ESV)
Peter is aware of the crowd wondering what kind of person Peter is and what kind of power he possesses that enables him to heal like this. Peter’s first order of business is to put this to rest, which he does in two ways.
First, this healing is not by Peter and John’s own power. This is the simple one: we are not magicians.
Then Peter tells the crowd that it is not by his and John’s own “piety,” that is personal holiness. Having been through his experience of denying Christ and being restored, Peter is fully aware of his own failings. The crowd might think that God listens to Peter because he is such a good guy. Peter will have no part of that!
v. 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a standard Jewish way of referring to God. The “you” in these verses is plural. Paul speaks to these people as “the Jewish nation.” There is a sense of collective guilt when the leaders (and, as we recall, the crowds) do something despicable.
vv. 14-15 Peter is using very messianic titles for Jesus when calls Jesus “the Holy and Righteous One.” Calling Jesus the “Author of Life” is an even bolder assertion. While the title “Author of Life” is not used in that exact turn of phrase to designate God, the Old Testament is riddled with assertions about, laws based in and praises offered to God as the giver or originator of life. The word for “author” in this passage (archēgos) designates the originator or founder. It can also designate a founding leader who is still leading.
Much of the force of what Peter proclaims is wrapped around these six words: “To this we are witnesses.” There are a host of theological implications to Jesus being the Messiah and being raised from the dead, but Peter’s preaching is witnessing — sharing what he has experienced.
v. 16 Again, Peter is no magician. It is by faith in the name of Jesus that this man is now walking.
v. 17 Here Peter follows the lead of Jesus who asked the Father to forgive his executioners because they did not know what they were doing.
v. 18 The path of suffering on the way to the fulfillment of God’s plan is a common theme throughout scriptures. Abraham had to leave his ancestral home when he was an old man. Joseph, whose brothers had sold him into slavery, ended up Prime Minister of Egypt. Upon meeting his brothers, he told them that what they meant for evil, God meant for good. The Israelites suffered under the Egyptians before God delivered them.
vv. 19-26 Repent — turn around, think differently — which includes, of course, repenting of rejecting Jesus as the Christ.
The rest of these verses is a little harder to understand unless we remember that at this time the disciples still thought that salvation was for the Jews. It is not until later that, through visions and the work of the Holy Spirit, the disciples realize that Jesus is for Jews and Non-Jews alike. Peter’s speech seems to indicate that there is still an expectation of Jesus restoring the physical nation of Israel, only now it is when he returns in power and glory after the foretold suffering is fulfilled. Although in verses 25 and 26, Peter recalls God’s promise to Abraham, that all the families of the world being blessed and that Jesus was sent to the Jews “first.” Who is “first”? The nation of Israel to be followed by the rest of the world, or the people of Jerusalem, to be followed by the rest of the nation of Israel?
A Basic Pattern for Everyday Outreach
A basic pattern of everyday outreach can be observed in this encounter. We can’t all heal, but we can all be open to loving and giving interaction with those around us. And, importantly, we can keep our eyes open for opportunities for spiritual conversation and sharing our faith in Jesus.
Notice the progression by which Peter ends up talking to the crowd about Jesus.
v. 1 – Peter and John are going about their business. (step 1)
vv. 2-3 — There is the possibility of human interaction (step 2)
vv. 4-5 — Peter and John essentially say, “Yes” to the man’s bid for interaction. (Note that looking each other in the eyes, in this culture, is an indicator of equality. It is not the lame man, who is lower on the social scale, who initiates this equality. It is Peter and John who tell the lame man to look them in the eye.) (step 3)
v. 6 Peter offers what what he has to give. Then continues on. (step 4)
v. 12 Peter noticed a further opportunity and took it. (step 5, noticing and step 6, acting)