Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The apostle Peter preaches to the crowd (Acts 3:11–26)

[Peter Speaks in Solomon's Portico]
    [11] While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's. [12] And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: "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? [13] The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. [14] But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, [15] and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. [16] And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
    [17] "And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. [18] But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. [19] Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, [20] that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, [21] whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. [22] Moses said, 'The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. [23] And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.' [24] And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. [25] You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' [26] God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness."
(Acts 3:11-26 ESV)

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.7

    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 [Acts, Page 92] Jacob, the God of our fathers, had 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 have 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 others8). 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'.9 (iv) You killed the author of life, a striking oxymoron, in which the pioneer or giver of life (archeœgos 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 Righteous 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 sufferings and glory, his character and mission, his revelation [Acts, Page 93] 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'.10 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 would 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. Exaleiphoœ means to wash off, erase, obliterate. It is used in the book of Revelation both of God who wipes away our tears11 and of Christ who refuses to erase our name from the book of life.12 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.'13 Just so, when God forgives our sins, he wipes the slate clean.14

    The second promised blessing is that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (19c). The Greek word anapsyxis can mean rest, relief, respite or refreshment. It seems here to be the positive counterpart to forgiveness, for God does not wipe away our sins without adding his refreshment for our spirits.

    The third promised blessing is that he may send the Christ who has been appointed for you—even Jesus (20). Although during the present interim period he continuously gives us his forgiveness and his refreshment, yet he himself must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets (21). Some commentators believe that the word 'everything' in this sentence refers not to the universe which God will 'restore' but to the promises which he will 'establish'. Thus the RSV translates the verse: 'until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets …' But apokatastasis is more naturally understood of the eschatological [Acts, Page 94] 'restoration', which Jesus called a 'regeneration',15 when nature will be liberated from its bondage to pain and decay16 and God will make a new heaven and earth.17 This final perfection awaits the return of Christ.

    These Christ-centred promises of total forgiveness (sins wiped out), spiritual refreshment and universal restoration were all adumbrated in the Old Testament. So Peter concludes with more significant quotations and allusions. He refers to three major prophetic strands which are associated with Moses, Samuel (and his successors) and Abraham. First, 'Moses said, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you (22), for anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people" ' (23).18 Secondly, 'all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days', the days of the Messiah (24). Although this is a very general statement, perhaps the chief reference is to God's promise, which began with Samuel, to establish the kingdom of David.19 At all events, Peter assured his hearers, 'you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers' (25a). It is impressive that Peter regards the many and varied strands of Old Testament prophecy as a united testimony, applying to 'these days' because fulfilled in Christ and his people. Thirdly, God 'said to Abraham, "Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed" ' (25b).20 This was a foundation promise of the Old Testament. Consider both the beneficiaries and the nature of the promised blessing. As for the beneficiaries, 'When God raised up his servant Jesus, he sent him first to you to bless you' (26a), the physical descendants of Abraham, as is several times emphasized by Paul.21 But later Paul argues, especially in his letters to the Romans and the Galatians, that the promised blessing is for all believers, including Gentiles who by faith have become Abraham's spiritual children. And what is the blessing? It is not forgiveness only, but righteousness. For God sent Jesus Christ his servant 'to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways' (26).

    Looking back over Peter's Colonnade sermon, it is striking that he presents Christ to the crowd 'according to the Scriptures' as successively the suffering servant (13, 18), the Moses-like prophet (22–23), the Davidic king (24) and the seed of Abraham (25–26). And if we add his Pentecost sermon, and glance on to his speech before the Sanhedrin (4:8ff.), it is possible to weave a biblical tapestry which forms a thorough portrait of Christ. Arranged chronologically according to the events of his saving career, the [Acts, Page 95] Old Testament texts declare that he was descended from David (Ps. 132:11 = 2:30); that he suffered and died for us as God's servant (Is. 53 = 2:23; 3:18); that the stone the builders rejected has nevertheless become the capstone (Ps. 118:22 = 4:11), for God raised him up from, the dead (Is. 52:13 = 2:25ff.), since death could not hold him and God would not abandon him to decay (Ps. 16:8ff. = 2:24, 27, 31); that God then exalted him to his right hand, to wait for his final triumph (Ps. 110:1 = 2:34–35); that meanwhile through him the Spirit has been poured out (Joel 2:28ff. = 2:16ff., 33); that now the gospel is to be preached world-wide, even to those afar off (Is. 57:19 = 2:39), although, opposition to him has been foretold (Ps. 2:1ff. = 4:25–26); that people must listen to him or pay the penalty of their disobedience (Dt. 18:18–19 = 3:22–23); and that those who do listen and respond will inherit the blessing promised to Abraham (Gn. 12:3; 22:18 = 3:25–26).

    This comprehensive testimony to Jesus as rejected by men but vindicated by God, as the fulfilment of all Old Testament prophecy, as demanding repentance and promising blessing, and as the author and giver of life, physically to the healed cripple and spiritually to those who believe, aroused the indignation and antagonism of the authorities. The devil cannot endure the exaltation of Jesus Christ. So he stirred up the Sanhedrin to persecute the apostles.

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