The Good News
We are studying Acts, not just as an accurate historical account of the first 30 years of the Christian movement, but as an inspired analysis of corporate spiritual renewal (DEFINE). Therefore, we are focusing not so much on the details of specific events as on the spiritual patterns that recur in Acts and during times of spiritual renewal.
Here’s another pattern that recurs in Acts: Jesus’ followers pray for the power to be his witnesses. Jesus answers their prayers by showing his redemptive power through them toward others. Those who witness this react—and many of them ask for an explanation. Jesus’ followers explain the message about Jesus. Many of these “others” believe this message and become Jesus’ followers.
We saw this pattern in the teaching two weeks ago about the day of Pentecost. Jesus’ followers were praying for his priorities (1:14; 2:1). Jesus answered their prayers by showing his redemptive power through them toward others (2:5-11). These “others” reacted—and many of them asked for an explanation (2:12,13). Peter explained the message about Jesus (2:14-40). Many of his listeners believed this message and became Jesus’ followers (2:41).
This same pattern recurs throughout Acts—including the very next chapter. Let’s read the passage with this in mind.
Read 3:1. Peter and John were on their way to the Jewish temple to pray. As we saw two weeks ago, corporate, kingdom-centered prayer was key lifestyle priority. Like other devout Jews, they prayed at 3:00 at the Temple—but their prayers were directed personally to Jesus, to ask him to empower them to be his witnesses.
Read 3:2-8. Somehow, Peter understood that Jesus wanted to heal this crippled man. Peter cooperated, and Jesus not only healed this man’s paralysis but also instantly restored his muscles so that he entered the temple leaping for joy. (Luke probably emphasizes the man’s leaping because Isa.35:6 predicted that the Messiah would heal the lame and enable them to “leap like deer.”)
Read 3:9-11. People who had seen this crippled beggar for years were understandably amazed and gathered together around the beggar and Peter.
In 3:12-26, Peter seized the opportunity to explain this healing as the work of the risen Jesus (MORE SOON).
Read 4:4. Many of Peter’s listeners put their trust in Jesus as Messiah and became his followers.
As I said earlier, this pattern recurs throughout Acts (e.g., Acts 16:25-34). And it has recurred throughout the last 2000 years in both individuals and churches that are spiritually renewed. Sometimes, Jesus manifests himself through his followers in overtly supernatural ways.1 More often, he does so through the changed lives and striking love of his followers. This pattern was the context of my own conversion (EXPLAIN). I know that many of you met Jesus through the same basic pattern, though the details were different. And I know that some of you are here this morning because you are in the midst of this pattern. Jesus’ followers have prayed for you and to be his witnesses. He has reached out to you through their changed lives and/or their sacrificial love—perhaps during a time of great need in your life. So here you are, seeking an explanation for the redemptive power you have seen in their lives. So it is my privilege to unpack Peter’s explanation in 3:12-26.
This message is called the “gospel” or “good news” (euangelion). In the Roman Empire, this term was used to refer to the announcement of an objective event that had changed the course of human history, and a summons to align one’s life to this event. When Caesar Augustus was born (29 BC), heralds were sent throughout the Empire to proclaim this “gospel.”2 Peter is proclaiming announcing a much greater event, and issuing a much greater summons...
The explanation/announcement (3:12-18)
Read 3:12-18. Peter disavows any credit for this healing—he points attention away from himself and toward Jesus. There are a lot of Old Testament references and concepts here with which Peter’s Jewish audience was familiar. But don’t miss the forest for the trees—he’s making three titanic claims about Jesus, and he is giving evidence for these claims.
Jesus is the One—the unique Messiah for all humanity. Notice the titles Peter uses for Jesus (“the Holy and Righteous One;” “the Author of life;” “God’s Christ”). These are not titles that you give to a good man or even to a great prophet! This is not the language of religious pluralism!3 These are Old Testament titles for the Messiah—God’s chosen Ruler, the unique One who comes to establish God’s kingdom over all the earth. In fact, Peter’s reference to “the name” of Jesus is a reference to his deity.4
Jesus died because of our sins. If Jesus is the Messiah who establishes God’s kingdom, how could he have gotten killed? This has always been the main reason for Jewish people’s rejection of Jesus. But Peter says that, far from discrediting Jesus, his death at the hands of his enemies demonstrates that he is the Messiah because the same Old Testament prophets who predicted Messiah’s kingly reign also predicted his suffering and death (3:18). That’s why he refers to Jesus as “God’s servant” in 3:13. As we saw in our previous series (“Jesus in the Old Testament”), Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would die because of our sins (read Isa.53:5,6). The Holy and Righteous One came to take the guilt of our sins on himself and pay the penalty of God’s judgment for us.
Re-read 3:13-15. When Peter says that his listeners had Jesus killed, he doesn’t mean that they literally prosecuted and executed him. Nor is he making the anti-Semitic claim that all Jews are the “Christ-killers” (Peter is Jewish!). He means that all of them (like all of us) put Jesus on the cross through our sins. This is how heinous our sins are—they cost the Son of God his life. Yet this is how amazing God’s love—he willingly sent Jesus (and Jesus willingly came) to die for our sins! Only Jesus’ death makes it possible for us to face the awful reality of our sinfulness—yet be totally secure in God’s acceptance in spite of our continuing record of sin! And he predicted it in advance because otherwise we’d never believe it!
Jesus is alive and is manifesting himself through his followers. In 3:15b,16, Peter claims that God raised Jesus from the dead—and that Peter and many others were eye-witnesses of the resurrected Jesus (and later died rather than retract this claim). Jesus’ resurrection means that his death for our sins was effective (Rom.4:25), and it means that he is alive and present today, pouring out his redemptive love and power through his followers as yet another evidence that he is the Messiah.
The invitation/summons (3:19-26)
Peter doesn’t simply explain who Jesus is and leave it to his hearers to figure out what to do with this information. He spells out both the proper and improper response and challenges them to respond properly. Read 3:19-26.
Peter explains how to respond properly in 3:19 by using two terms: “Repent and turn to God.” These two terms help us to understand what I means to believe in Jesus (4:4).
“Repent” means more than feeling sorrow over your sins. It means literally to “change your mind”—to adopt a different perspective on how to approach God. Instead of approaching God through religious systems of your own preference, you must approach him through Jesus alone because Jesus is the one way to God. And instead of approaching God through your own moral record or religious performance, you must approach him through Jesus’ perfect record and performance on the cross.
“Turn to God” means that you must do more than mentally agree that Jesus is the Messiah, that he died for sins, etc. It means that you personally call out to God, that you approach him on the basis of Jesus’ death, telling him that you want to know him and live your life with and for him.
Peter promises three tremendous gifts that you will receive if you repent and turn to God through Jesus.
First, he promises that “your sins will be wiped out.” Exaleipho means to obliterate, erase, or blot out. This is the word that God uses to describe how he will wipe away all of our tears when Jesus returns (Rev.7:17; 21:4). Even though you have committed grievous sins, and even though you will sin in the future, God promises to completely eliminate your guilt through Jesus’ full payment on the cross (Col.2:14).
Second, he promises that “times of refreshing” (anapsuxis) will come from the Lord. This means literally “reviving of your soul.” God not only removes the burden of our guilt; he also positively infuses new spiritual life into our hearts by “moving into” our hearts through his Spirit. His Spirit enables us to personally experience God’s love (Rom.5:5), to know in our hearts that God delights in us as he delights in his own Son—not as we are in ourselves. And this enables us to love God for who he is—not for what he can get us. Connected to this blessing is the blessing of having God “turn us from our wicked ways” (3:26). The Holy Spirit changes our hearts, leading us away from the idolatries that were corrupting us, and enabling us to follow the way of life for which he designed us. He changes our moral lives from the inside out—and this change sets us free!
Third, he guarantees us a place in his future “restoration of all things” (3:21). This same Jesus who came the first time to suffer and die for our sins is coming again at the end of the age to “make all things new” (Rev.21:5). He will not merely enable us to live forever with him in heaven; he will restore the entire universe and give us restored bodies that will be able to enjoy this universe! In other words, the “refreshing” we experience in this life is only the first installment on a complete restoration! This is why we can live with hope (rather than fear) concerning the future. And this is why we can work for psychological and social and physical healing in the meantime—to be a demonstration of Jesus’ future restoration!
Peter ends with sober warning (3:22,23). It is a serious matter to reject God’s rescue plan. Jesus is God’s ultimate Spokesperson; to reject his words is to reject God and to forsake all hope of forgiveness, refreshment and restoration. The alternative is not between different aspects or degrees of salvation to which all people are destined. The alternative is between total salvation and total ruin. Process this message carefully, and evaluate the evidence for it. But know that how you choose to respond to it will determine where you spend eternity. So choose well! I beg you to embrace the living Jesus, like millions of others (including myself) who have never regretted their decision!
Do you want to see spiritual renewal in our church? We can’t make this happen (only God can), but we can cooperate with this pattern. We can pray regularly and corporately that Jesus will empower us to be his witnesses. We can to allow him to show his love through us to people who don’t yet know him. And as people are struck by this love, we can either take credit for it by being silent—or we can explain this message and invite them to meet the living Jesus!
1 For examples of miracles related to spiritual renewal in China, see David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2003), pp.85,273,274.
2 “In the Roman imperial world, the ‘gospel’ was the good news of Caesar’s having established peace and security for the world.” (Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire). For example, this announcement from a provincial assembly of Asia Minor: “Whereas the Providence which has guided our whole existence and which has shown such care and liberality, has brought our life to the peak of perfection in giving to us Augustus Caesar, whom it (Providence) filled with virtue for the welfare of mankind, and who, being sent to us and to our descendants as a savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order; and whereas, having become visible . . . ; and whereas, finally that the birthday of the God (viz., Caesar Augustus) has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel (euangelion) concerning him, (therefore, let all reckon a new era beginning from the date of his birth).” (cited in http://www.deuceofclubs.com/books/228gospel_fictions.htm.)
3 It is popular today to say that Jesus and the first Christians never claimed that Jesus was the unique Messiah. This religious pluralism view claims that the New Testament’s view of Jesus was fabricated by the church several centuries later (e.g., The Da Vinci Code). But this view is historically untenable. Luke and Acts were written around 60 AD—merely 3 decades after Jesus lived. Luke relied on eye-witnesses of Jesus’ ministry and this early period of the church. Luke couldn’t afford to fabricate these claims about Jesus because there were hundreds (maybe thousands) of people still alive who could have contradicted his claims.
4 “... ‘the Name’ (to onoma) was a pious Jewish surrogate for God and connoted his divine presence and power.” Richard N. Longenecker, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1978), p.296.