Updated: Feb 3
Peter addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.”
This is the reading selection from the Acts of the Apostles from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B 2018. It will next be read aloud in church by a reader on Sunday, April 15, 2018. It is important as it is considered Peter’s second sermon given, following his sermon to the pilgrims in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (the Fiftieth Day). Here, Peter called for the Israelites to recognize their sins against God and to repent so those sins can be erased.
In this excerpt from Acts 3, it is important to realize that Peter was preaching “at the so-called portico of Solomon,” after having healed a lame beggar who sat for years at the “Beautiful Gate of the temple.” (Acts 3:1-3)
Chapter three begins by stating “Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.” The first thing to grasp from that setting is that one has to realize that John was John of Zebedee, and not John the Beloved (of the Gospel of John). The Apostles had begun to travel in pairs, with adult partners, which is why John is named as being with Peter. Children (underage males) were not specifically named in text and neither were common women, even if their names were known. John of Zebedee was an adult, one of the eleven filled with the Holy Spirit of Pentecost.
Second, because each day a Jew (Israelite) is required to pray in the morning, noon and evening, an official rite of “morning prayer” would be held in all synagogues, as well as in the Temple of Jerusalem, in the morning hour of nine o’clock of all days. Thus, this identification could be any day. However, as chapter two dealt with the Day of Pentecost (a Sunday) – THE Day of Shavuot in Jerusalem, the next morning (Monday) would represent the last official event on the schedule that began with the Passover, seven weeks prior. As such, morning prayer on that day would then officially send all pilgrims from foreign lands back home. Therefore, seeing this as the timing of Peter’s second sermon would mean he gathered a larger crowd of listeners, than he would on any typical day of morning prayer.
When verse eleven states, “While [the healed lame man] was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement,” one has to see this as happening after the morning prayer service was over, and after Peter, John and the healed lame man had left the priestly area and gone to the portico along the Temple wall. Thus, when verse twelve shows Paul state, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us,” the identification of “Israelites” means more than hometown Judeans were gathered there (a sign it was the end of a two-month pilgrimage).
When Peter continued in verse twelve to add, “as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk,” this relates back to verse six, where Peter said to the lame beggar, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” This makes verse twelve explanatory of “what I do have I give” and “In the name of Jesus Christ.” Thus, Peter told the Israelites it was not some special privilege that made Peter or John healers, it was the presence of Jesus Christ within them – as it truly was Jesus the Christ, Son of God, whose presence had made a man – lame from birth – walk.
When Peter then said, “by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong,” Peter said he had faith in God and faith that Jesus was His Son, has healed a cripple. As such, the faith held by Peter allowed God to act through his physical body, as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter then pointed out that it was the same Jesus whom the Israelites had killed, who not only resurrected in wounded flesh (to which Peter witnessed), but Jesus Christ had then resurrected in Peter (and the other Apostles). These statements of Peter are then highlighting the CORE ELEMENTS of Christianity.
The power to heal and have one returned to perfect health, after a lifetime of being crippled by the circumstances that signal sin to others, this is the same power possible to all. In a worldly environment, sin surrounds EVERYONE in the same crippling manner. As mortals, humans are born with a life-long crippling condition that makes all beg for grace. However, to be able to stand and walk, after sin’s disability, this can only come by sincere repentance, increased faith, and a willingness to sacrifice self needs for the needs of others.
The lame beggar represents more than just one person in Jerusalem whose sins were clearly marked by his inability to use his legs (thus not allowed to fulfill his commitments to prayer with the other Jews). The lame beggar was then a reflection of ALL the Israelites who had just condemned Jesus to death. Still, the lame beggar is a reflection of ALL Christians today, who reject not allowing Jesus to Resurrect in them. The rejection of God in one’s heart and denial of Jesus Christ to baptize one’s soul with the Holy Spirit means it is easy to walk past the poor and downtrodden, tossing a coin of guilt on the ground, rather than stop and heal another.
Let’s look at what Peter said to those who were “amazed” at a lame beggar having been healed. He said, “the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” Peter came down heavy on those Israelites, because he spoke the truth. They chose to free Barabbas, and let Jesus be murdered.
By seeing the lame beggar as ourselves, we are then able to see how all the fortunate Israelites (not lame from birth) become a model for so many fortunate Americans and Westerners. While many give credit to God and Christ for their fortune and good standing in their Church, is it not true that many Christians have also chosen to release a murderer, over “the Holy and Righteous One”?
Christians struggle with the mere concept of being Jesus Christ, as they see Jesus the Icon, an idol of worship. That makes Jesus a statue or household idol, which is always kept far from one’s soul. That distant relationship leaves one vulnerable to the influences of sin. Therefore, anyone who has not become the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has chosen to release Satan, the one who murders souls. As Peter said it was their ignorance and that of their rulers who killed Jesus (a must to fulfill prophecy), the same judgment can be used today. Rejecting Jesus Christ his rightful Resurrection in a disciple is also an act of ignorance, which can only be overcome through sincere repentance that calls upon God for Spiritual guidance.
As a reading from the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season – the equivalent of the Jewish Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, and the celebration of Moses delivering the Law to the Israelites, as well as a celebration of the harvesting of the first fruits of the land – Easter as a Christian event symbolizes the Resurrection of Christ. More than Moses bringing down the Law, Jesus Christ is offering to bring down the Holy Spirit of righteousness to the faithful.
This period of time beyond Easter Sunday and until the Fiftieth Day (called Pentecost Sunday by Christians) is symbolic of how Christ must find Apostles in whom he can Resurrect again … and again. Therefore, the lesson here, which links with the Easter lesson from Luke 24, when Jesus appeared before his disciples and their companions, is to be “witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48) that foretold of the Messiah in Scripture. One can only be such a witness through the presence of the Holy Spirit and the knowledge of God that comes from the Christ Mind. To witness Christ, one must become Christ reborn.