The context for this text goes back to the Gospel of Luke (Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles). In his Gospel, Luke tells about:
• The chief priests and scribes “sought how they might put him to death” (Luke 22:2).
• Judas’ betrayal and Jesus arrest (Luke 22:47-53).
• Peter’s denial (Luke 22:54-62).
• The mocking and beating of Jesus (Luke 22:63-65).
• The council of the elders of the people who found Jesus guilty (Luke 22:66-70).
• Jesus’ trials before Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:1-12).
• The crowd’s choosing Barabbas rather than Jesus (Luke 23:13-25).
• The crucifixion (Luke 23:26-49).
Then he tells about the resurrection (Luke 24:1-12)––and Jesus’ appearance to two men on the road to Emmaus and to the gathered disciples (Luke 24:13-49)––and Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11).
In these accounts, Luke points a finger at a number of people who failed Jesus: Judas, of course, but Peter as well––the chief priests and elders, of course, but also the crowd––Pilate, of course, and also Herod. The Roman soldiers carried out the execution and joined in the mocking (Luke 23:36), as did the one of the thieves who was crucified with Jesus (23:39). In other words, when Jesus was crucified, many hands were bloodied. Their guilt forms the background for our text.
Luke then tells the Pentecost story (Acts 2), where Peter tells the assembled crowd about Jesus and then says, “him, being delivered up by the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by the hand of lawless men, crucified and killed” (2:23).
There are several common elements between Peter’s sermon at Pentecost and his sermon at Solomon’s Portico:
• The address. “You men of Judea” (Acts 2:14) and “You men of Israel” (3:12).
• Misconception. “For these aren’t drunken” (2:15) and “Why do you fasten your eyes on us” (3:12).
• Reference to ancestors. David (2:25) and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:13)
• Guilt. “crucified and killed” (Acts 2:23) and “But you denied…and killed” (3:14-15).
• Resurrection. “This Jesus God raised up” (2:32) and “whom God raised” (3:15).
• Glorification. “Exalted” (2:33) and “glorified” (3:13).
• Call to repentance. “Repent and be baptized” (2:38) and “Repent therefore” (3:19).
• Conversions. Three thousand at Pentecost (2:41) and five thousand here (4:4).
THE MORE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT is the healing of a man who was lame from birth (3:1-10). When Peter and John encountered this man in the temple, he thought that they would give him alms. Instead, Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none, but what I have, that I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!” (3:6). Peter helped him up, and the man began “walking, leaping, and praising God” (3:8). “All the people” saw it (3:9) and ” filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (3:10).
Then Luke reports, “As the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering” (3:11). Solomon’s Portico was a part of the Jerusalem temple where rabbis often conducted their teaching. Luke will mention Solomon’s Portico again in chapter five, when he tells of Jesus’ disciples carrying on a powerful healing ministry there.
ACTS 3:12. WHY DO YOU FASTEN YOUR EYES ON US?
12When Peter saw it, he responded to the people, “You men of Israel, why do you marvel at this man? Why do you fasten your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him walk?
It is the healing of the lame man that has drawn this crowd and presented Peter with this opportunity to proclaim the risen Christ. The man had been lame from birth (3:2). They had seen him begging for alms at the gate of the temple every day for years, so his was a familiar face (3:2). There was no cure for someone born lame, so everyone understood that his condition was hopeless.
But now they see this hopeless man “walking, leaping, and praising God” (3:8). “They recognized him…They were filled with wonder and amazement” (3:10).
The crowd would naturally attribute this miraculous healing to Peter and John, the ones who “took him (the lame man) by the right hand, and raised him up” (3:7). But Peter’s first act is to correct that misconception. It was neither their power nor their piety that made it possible for the man to walk. In verse 16, he will tell them who was responsible––but first, he will preach them a sermon.
ACTS 3:13-15. YOU KILLED THE PRINCE OF LIFE
13The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers (Greek: pateron––fathers) has glorified (Greek: edoxasen––related to doxa) his Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up (Greek: paredokate––from paradidomi), and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had determined to release him. 14But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, to which we are witnesses.
“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers” (pateron––fathers) (v. 13a). This is the historic way of identifying God in relationship to Israel. The phrase, “the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac,” goes back to the time of Jacob (Genesis 28:13). The identification of God with all three patriarchs goes back to Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:15). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the seed stock of Israel––it is from them that the nation sprang. They are the progenitors (Greek: pateron––fathers) of Israel.
The phrase, “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” serves as a reminder of the long relationship that Israel has enjoyed with Yahweh. God stuck with them through thick and thin––through times when they were faithful and times when they were not.
“has glorified (Greek: edoxasen––related to doxa) his Servant Jesus” (v. 13b). The primary Biblical words associated with glory are kabod (Hebrew) and doxa (Greek). Glory is characteristic of God, and refers to God’s awe-inspiring majesty.
God’s glory has been revealed to humankind in three ways:
• Through God’s presence, as in the tabernacle and the temple
• In acts of salvation
• In judgment.
Moses asked to see God’s glory, but God said, “…for man may not see me and live.” However God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with his hand while God’s glory passed by. Moses saw God’s back, but not his face (Exodus 33:18-23). Nevertheless, that bit of exposure caused Moses’ face to shine brightly––a reflection of God’s glory. Moses had to veil his face to appear before the people (Exodus 34:29-35).
God shared this glory with Jesus. Like God’s glory, Christ’s glory is revealed in his presence with us, in his salvation work, and in judgment. We saw Jesus’ glory revealed at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) and through his death and resurrection (Luke 24:26). At the parousia (the Second Coming), Jesus will return“in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). At that time, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Peter speaks of Jesus as God’s “servant.” This brings to mind the suffering servant of Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 (see also Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11)––a servant who had “no good looks or majesty”––who was “despised, and rejected”––who “has borne our sickness”––who was “pierced for our transgressions”. “The punishment that brought our peace was on him; and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:2-5).
“In Luke-Acts, (servant) is used in a somewhat generic sense of one who is commissioned by God and serves God” (Bock, 168).
“Jesus, whom you delivered up (paredokate––from paradidomi), and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had determined to release him“ (v. 13c). To understand the healing of the lame man, these people must first understand Jesus, who made the healing possible––so Peter must tell them about Jesus.
The word, paradidomi, is used on a number of occasions in the New Testament to speak of Jesus being betrayed, delivered over to sinners, and delivered over to death (Luke 18:32; 22:4, 6, 22; 24:7; Acts 2:23; Romans 4:25). When Judas betrayed Jesus, paradidomi was the word used to describe that betrayal (Luke 22:22).
Peter makes the point to this crowd that they were responsible for handing Jesus over to death––for rejecting their messiah. They did so in spite of Pilate’s verdict that Jesus was not guilty (Luke 23:14-15) and Pilate’s repeated proposals to flog Jesus and then to release him (Luke 23:16, 20, 22). But the crowd demanded that Pilate release Barabbas, a murderer, instead of Jesus (Luke 23:18-19).
“But you denied the Holy and Righteous One” (v. 14a). This is Peter’s second use of this word, “rejected” (see v. 13). It was this rejection of the messiah that was the core of this crowd’s guilt.
Jesus was holy––a man set apart from the kosmos-world into which he was born. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35)––lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26)––”who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). He has the power to make his followers holy (Hebrews 13:12).
Jesus was also righteous––free from sin––and able to confer on his believers this same kind of righteousness (Acts 13:39).
“and asked for a murderer to be granted to you” (v. 14b). Note the irony––the crowd demands the release of the murderer, Barabbas, whose name means “son of the father” and demands the murder of the Jesus––the Holy and Righteous One––the Son of God.
“and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead” (v. 15a). Again, note the irony. These people killed the Author of life––the one who came to give them life.
Peter contrasts the actions of the crowd (“killed the Author of life”) with God’s action (raised Jesus from the dead).
Jesus was the Author of life in two ways. First, he was present at the creation (John 1:1-4). Second, he defeated death through his death and resurrection.
“to which we are witnesses” (v. 15b). Peter offers his first proof of Jesus’ resurrection. He and the other apostles have witnessed the resurrected Christ. In a moment, he will offer a second proof––the healing of the lame man (v. 16).
ACTS 3:16. JESUS’ NAME HAS MADE THIS MAN STRONG
16By faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.
“By faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all” (v. 16). In verse 12, Peter denied that he and John were responsible for the lame man’s healing. Now he tells them who was responsible. It was God’s servant Jesus (v. 13)––the Holy and Righteous One (v. 14)––the Author of life (v. 15). It was faith in Jesus’ name and Jesus’ name itself that made the healing possible.
In that culture, a person’s name was more than a label. People believed that something of the person was tied up in his/her name. As is obvious from this verse, they also assumed that a name possessed something of the power of the one who wore that name.
While that might sound foreign to us today, it is not. When we talk about a person’s reputation, we are talking about something that expresses the essence of that person. A person’s reputation also conveys a certain power or lack of it. Some names open doors, while others don’t.
Peter repeats a thought in two parallel sentences. It is faith in Jesus’ name that made the leper strong. It is faith in Jesus that made it possible for the man’s health to be restored––perfect health.
The question is whether it was the lame man’s faith or Peter’s faith that proved effective in harnessing the healing power of Jesus. It had to be Peter’s faith. The lame man looked to Peter and John only for alms (3:3-5). It was Peter who said, “get up and walk” (3:6). It was Peter who took the lame man by the hand and raised him up (3:7). It was only when Peter had brought the lame man to his feet that the lame man’s feet and ankles were made strong (3:7).
ACTS 3:17-19. REPENT, THAT YOUR SINS MAY BE BLOTTED OUT
17“Now, brothers (Greek: adelphoi), I know that you did this in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18But the things which God announced by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.
19Repent (Greek: metanoesate––from metanoeo) therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out (Greek: exaleiphthenai––from exaleitho––obliterated, erased, removed, blotted out, wiped away), so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,
“Now, brothers, I know that you did this in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (v. 17). Peter introduces a grace note in his sermon. He has already told the crowd that they handed over God’s servant Jesus to be killed, but now he calls them brothers (friends) and acknowledges that they acted in ignorance.
Note the sequence: First, Peter delivered a word of judgment. Then he introduces a word of grace. Preachers, take note! Judgment without grace destroys. But grace without judgment is “cheap grace”––”the deadly enemy of our church” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).
The breadth of Peter’s grace is breathtaking. He acknowledges the ignorance, not only of this crowd, but also of their rulers––the chief priests––the elders––the Sanhedrin––all those who opposed Jesus––all those responsible for his crucifixion.
Jews considered sins committed in ignorance to be forgivable, but not sins committed deliberately (see Numbers 15:27-31) (Polhill, 133).
So Peter is opening the door to God’s forgiveness for those who crucified Jesus. But Jesus already opened that door when he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Their ignorance, however, is not sufficient to remove their guilt. Repentance is required.
“But the things which God announced by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled” (v. 18). These prophecies include Isaiah’s suffering servant passage (Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12)––and Jeremiah’s “gentle lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Jeremiah 11:19)––and Zechariah’s “I will pour on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they will look to me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and will grieve bitterly for him, as one grieves for his firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
The book of Psalms also includes many writings that point to the crucified Christ (Psalms 22, 31, 34, 69).
Jesus also pointed to his own death, saying, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:46).
“Repent (metanoesate––from metanoeo) therefore, and turn again” (v. 19a). The Greek verb metanoeo is a combination of two Greek words––meta (when used in combination with another word, as it is here, meta means exchange or transfer or transmutation) and nous (mind). Metanoeo, then, means a change of mind––a change of attitudes––a turning from one way of thinking to another way.
The Greeks believed that a change of one’s mind would naturally lead to a change in one’s actions, because beliefs determine behavior. This is quite different from many psychological disciplines today that emphasize feelings as the determinant of behavior––i.e. to change behaviors we must first “get in touch with” and change feelings. However, there has been a movement in recent decades to understand beliefs as the determinant of actions. Beliefs constitute the starting point in the action-cycle. A change of thinking has the power to change both feelings and actions.
So Peter is calling for the members of this Jerusalem crowd to repent of their sin (rejecting the messiah)––to change their way of thinking––to do an about-face and turn. These people need to repudiate their rejection of their messiah and to embrace him.
“that your sins may be blotted out” (exaleiphthenai––from exaleitho) (v. 19b). Exaleitho means obliterated or erased or removed or blotted out or wiped away. Repentance––turning to God––has the power to unsnarl the tangle that sin has made of our lives. It not only opens the door to God’s forgiveness, but it also puts us on a new path that leads from darkness to light. While most people experience this as a gradual process, many experience dramatic conversions that lead to instantaneous changes in their lives. In a few instances, alcoholics have even lost their taste for alcohol. But whether the change is gentle or dramatic, repentance takes us off the death-pathway and puts us on the life-pathway.
While the lectionary reading ends with verse 19, we need to know where the story goes from there. The healing of the lame man attracted a large crowd who recognized the formerly lame man and “were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (3:1-11). That created an opportunity for Peter to preach a sermon (3:12-26).
The priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, annoyed that Peter and John “taught the people and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” arrest them (4:2-3). “But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (4:4).
The religious leaders call Peter and John before their council to explain their authority, but that simply gives Peter another opportunity for a sermon (4:5-12). The council, stymied because of the witness of the healed man, the power of Peter’s preaching, and the crowd’s approval of Peter and John, issues an order to Peter and John to stop preaching––an order which Peter disavows while still in their midst (4:13-21).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, Daily Study Bible: Acts, (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1976)
Bock, Darrell L., Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007)
Bruce, F. F., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Book of Acts (Revised)(Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988)
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV––Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Chance, J. Bradley, The Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Acts (Macon, Georgia: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2007)
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Pelikan, Jaroslav, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Acts (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005)
Polhill, John B., New American Commentary: Acts, Vol. 26 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Soards, Marion L., The Speeches in Acts (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994)
Tucker, Gene M. in Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
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Walaskay, Paul W., Westminster Bible Companion: Acts (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998)
Williams, David J., New International Biblical Commentary: Acts (Paternoster Press, 1995)
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Copyright 2008, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan