In this series of posts we are seeking to clarify our understanding of the good news, not for merely theoretical reasons, but as a way of equipping ourselves to be useful to our Master. He may well give us opportunities to speak, and we need to be ready (cf. 1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:2-6). Our way of clarifying the message in this series is to explore the good news that was told in the book of Acts. Since Acts is the only record we have of the earliest Christians actually telling the good news to non-Christians, it is an especially good source for our purpose.
Audience: Jewish people in the temple courts, including a man who was formerly crippled and begged for money at one of the gates of the temple.
Occasion: Peter healed the man in the name of Jesus Christ. The man entered the temple courts walking, jumping and praising God. People recognized him as the one who used to beg, and they were filled with wonder and amazement. They ran to Peter and John at part of the temple called Solomon’s Colonnade.
Result: Some of the leaders of the Jews were disturbed about what Peter and John were saying, so they arrested them. Yet many who heard them believed (4:1-4).
Notice that, once again, God worked to create this opportunity for telling the good news by enabling Peter to heal the man (cf. 2:43; 5:12; 14:3; 15:12) and gathering an astonished crowd (3:6-11). On each of the seven occasions where Luke gives us an extended summary of the telling of the good news in Acts, he also indicates that God worked to create the occasion for his people to speak. As in Acts 2, Peter saw and made them of the opportunity (Acts 3:11-12).
The general outline of Peter’s message here seems to be 1) telling the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus and their meaning (13-16), and 2) urging the people to respond to it so that they would receive the blessings God intends to give through Christ (17-26). The flow of thought within the two sections is not as obvious as it was in his message in chapter 2. We might say his approach here is a little more “right-brained” (less analytical and more artistic).
Peter began as he done at Pentecost (2:14-21), by explaining what was going on at the occasion (v. 12). His explanation, however, is closely tied up with what God did in Jesus (3:13-15), and this is the emphasis in the first part of the message. Sometimes I “explain” why I have done a good deed in more general terms such as “we all ought to be nicer to each other” or “it’s the least I could do.” Peter did not down play his true motivation. The thing that accounted for the good deed he had done and indeed for all his life was Jesus and the gospel, and he did not hesitate to say so. This seems more conducive to finding opportunities to speak than the general and somewhat evasive ways I have explained my actions.
Peter began his explanation with the assertion that God has glorified his servant Jesus (Acts 3:13). His beginning here is parallel to the conclusion he made in his previous message, that God had made Jesus both Lord and Christ (2:36). In both messages, the resurrection was the means or basis through which God demonstrated the glorious identity and status of Jesus (3:15). Elsewhere Peter used the similar word “exalted” to describe Jesus’ present position at the right hand of God (2:33; 5:31). Since Peter began by stating a major premise (God glorified Jesus), we might describe this as a deductive approach (stating a conclusion first), whereas we might call Acts 2 an inductive approach (stating particulars first that lead to a conclusion).
After stating that God glorified Jesus, Peter told the story of what had happened and upon which his conclusion about Jesus is based. Notice again the narrative form of his speaking. What Peter was doing was telling news—a story. The two main events he told about are the death and resurrection of Jesus. As in chapter 2, what he said about Jesus’ death is not what I formerly would have expected. He did not say Jesus’ death was for our sins, though of course we now know that it was. Instead, he mentioned that his listeners had handed Jesus over, disowned him, asked for a murderer to be released instead, and killed him. He also repeated the contrast noted previously between “you killed” him and “God raised him from the dead” (3:15). This contrast is repeated often in the early messages and underscores the magnificence of the resurrection. Through it, God glorified Jesus (v. 13). Note too that he used the pronoun “you” (killed him) speaking in Jerusalem where the people had actually called for his death. After telling the basic story of Jesus’ death, resurrection and consequent glorification, Peter circled back to his beginning point of how this man was healed. It was by faith in the name of this glorified Jesus (v. 16).
We should note that the identity of Jesus nicely serves as the explanation for the healing and is also Peter’s primary point. He wants them to know that Jesus is a glorious one (3:13). Jesus is also God’s “servant” (vv. 13, 26; connecting with Isaiah 42:1-4; 52:13-53:12), “the Holy and Righteous One” (v. 14), and the author of life (v. 15). Jumping ahead a little, Peter will also say Jesus is the Messiah or Christ (vv. 18, 20) and prophet (v. 22; connecting with John 1:21; Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, 19). We noted in the previous post that Messiah (Hebrew) and Christ (Greek) both mean “anointed one” and point to kingship. The Scriptures indicate that his sufferings show him to be Messiah (3:13-15, 18). Through all these terms there is here, as in Acts 2, a strong emphasis on the exalted, authoritative identity of Jesus.
In the second part of his message, Peter gives some additional explanations and urges his hearers to respond to what has happened so that they can share in its blessings (3:17-26). We already noted the primary explanation he gives, that what happened to Jesus was God’s way of fulfilling the prophecies that his Messiah would have to suffer (cf. Luke 24:25-26, 45-46). When Peter said he knew they had acted in ignorance (Acts 3:17), it may be an acknowledgment of the difficulty of seeing in the Scriptures the necessity for the Messiah to suffer. Precious few seemed to have noticed that fact beforehand, and I feel certain I would not have either. As in Acts 2, prophecy (Scripture)(vv. 18, 21-25) and being a witness to the events (v. 15) are the two pieces of evidence Peter offered for his claims about Jesus.
Next Peter called them to repent and turn to God, as he had done in Acts 2. “Turn” is a synonym for “repent” (cf. Acts 20:21; 26:20). Similarly, Peter adds that God sent Jesus to bless them by turning them from their wicked ways (3:26). In addition to repenting and turning, another right response to the Messiah is to listen to him (3:22; cf. Matthew 17:5).
The result of the people responding to the Messiah in these favorable ways would be that their sins would be forgiven (3:19). Even though the sermons to non-Christians in Acts do not state that Christ died for our sins, they did offer forgiveness in his name (cf. 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38). Again, however, we know from the letters that Christ did indeed die for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3). Peter stated two other results of repentance as well, namely, that times of refreshing would come, and God would send the Messiah (3:19-20). Some think the times of refreshing will come when the Messiah returns, but it seems to me that we enjoy a significant degree of refreshing even now due to the living water of Christ and his Spirit (John 7:37-39). The second coming of the Messiah would also be a blessing indeed. Yet another blessing Peter mentioned is that Jesus would turn them from their wicked ways (3:26). This may not be the kind of blessing we think of when we hear God’s promise to bless Abraham’s offspring nor the kind of blessing we most desire. But Peter considered it blessing to be turned from our wicked ways.
In addition to blessings, Peter also mentioned a consequence of refusing to listen to the Messiah—being completely cut off from God’s people (3:23).
“These days” (3:24) refers to the days of the Messiah which people had been looking forward to. They indicate the time period after God had sent his Messiah into the world the first time but before he sends him back again. Elsewhere the period is referred to as “this age,” in distinction to “the age to come” (Matthew 12:32; Mark 10:30). Though things are not perfect during “these days” and evil still remains (cf. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), they are nevertheless times of refreshing and blessing brought about by the Messiah. This is what God had promised to do (Isaiah 9:1-7; Jeremiah 31:27-34; Ezekiel 36:24-32).
Honestly, it’s harder for me to follow Peter’s flow of thought in this message than the one in Acts 2. That may well be because I am “left-brained” (analytical, methodical). Yet I’ve noticed many people today prefer messages that are not so linear but are more free flowing, so it is certainly good that the Bible gives us different approaches. Regardless, the big picture points are clear. Peter tells the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, concludes from it that Jesus is the Christ (and other exalted titles), calls on the people to repent and turn, and promises them forgiveness and other blessings. Does that sound like the good news you (would) tell non-Christians?