“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 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” (Acts 3:19-21).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
We need to set the stage a little bit, before we discuss our text.
Shortly after Pentecost, Peter and John are heading up to the temple for afternoon prayer. A man who has been lame from birth is being carried to the Beautiful Gate of the temple court, a prime location for begging alms. Seeing Peter and John, he asks them for alms. “Look at us,” Peter directs. So the man fixes his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them.
And so, he does—just not what he was expecting. But something even better. Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And Peter takes him by the right hand and raises him up, and immediately the man’s feet and ankles are made strong. And leaping up he stands and begin to walk, and enters the temple with the men, walking and leaping and praising God.
And all the people see him walking and praising God, and recognize him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they are filled with wonder and amazement at what has happened to him.
Peter, takes advantage of the flash mob and preaches an impromptu sermon on the complete sufficiency of Christ. “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?”
As he had done on Pentecost, Peter addresses his hearers as “Men of Israel.” This is to remind them of their responsibility as people who had been especially blessed in receiving God’s written Word and God’s revealed religion. It is to challenge them to act responsibly to the miracle they have witnessed and the message Peter will preach.
The healing has not taken place through the power and godliness of Peter and John. They do not want their countrymen to admire them. They want Israel to acknowledge its Savior. Peter’s message proclaims Jesus as Lord and Christ in much the same way and for the same purpose as did his sermon on Pentecost. You see, all of them in Jerusalem had heard of Jesus. They are not ignorant of Him and His crucifixion. That was just too big of news to keep quiet. The question now is a matter of interpretation. Just what does all this mean?
There were two competing interpretations of the crucifixion: 1) Jesus had failed, and 2) it was part of God’s plan, prophesied in the Scripture. Peter argues that the resurrection is God’s proof that the second explanation is the true one, and therefore Jesus has the authority to speak as God’s servant.
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. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses (Acts 3:13-15).
In saying, “the God of our fathers,” Peter identifies with his hearers and insists that he and John are also true Israelites. He will not wash his hands of his people, but will try to give them faith in Christ, showing them from Scripture that Jesus is the Christ foretold by the prophets.
The prophet Isaiah had spoken of God’s servant who would suffer and be glorified (52:13, 53:11-12):
Behold, My servant shall act wisely; He shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted… Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied; by His knowledge shall the righteous one, My servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
Surely the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could not deny the one who God had glorified. But they had! Through their representatives they had. Upon hearing Jesus’ answer to the question of His identity, the high priest, Caiaphas, had torn his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death” (Matthew 26:65-66).
Israel’s Messiah was holy, dedicated to do the will of His Father and blameless in carrying it out. He was righteous, conforming perfectly to the standard of God’s law. The centurion who witnessed Jesus’ last breath, praised God and declared, “Certainly this man was innocent!” Even Pontius Pilate could see that Jesus had done nothing deserving death. When they brought Him to trial, “Pilate sought to release [Jesus], but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar’” (John 19:12). Nevertheless, when Pilate offered to release Jesus or a notorious prisoner named Barabbas, the crowd, persuaded by the chief priest and the elders, chose Barabbas. And when Pilate had asked, “What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They said, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:20–23).
Again, it was not only the Pharisees or the chief priests or the Sanhedrin who did this. Peter charged his hearers with complicity and responsibility in the crime: “You killed the Author of life.” What a devastating preaching of the law!
“You killed the Author of life.” Let’s not go past this statement too quickly. Here is a great paradox and mystery. The divine originator and guardian of life was put to death so that you might have life. Peter is saying, “That man is God and God died as that man.” What man was required to do and could not do—keep God’s law—God came and did for us. He came as a man to do it. The work of salvation is divine work, and He who lived and died for our salvation is divine. The God-man’s work was successful and accepted by God, for “God raised [Him] from the dead.”
Peter and John are witnesses that God has done this, and the healing of the lame man is further testimony. It is a further attestation to the fact that Christ is alive and that He acts in grace and power. “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” (Acts 3:16).
The name of Jesus is the revelation of His grace and power. Jesus’ holy name works not by magic but through trust, or faith. That name, or revelation, created faith in the lame man. It created the faith that enabled the man to receive the complete healing which had filled the crowd with wonder and amazement. Jesus’ grace and power to make him strong were there before the man believed. The man’s faith had laid hold of them. Twice Peter mentions “name” and “faith” to emphasize that no power in him and John or in the lame man had been responsible for this miracle of healing.
To emphasize this is all a part of God’s plan of salvation, Peter continues:
“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18).
Peter does not mean to say that ignorance is innocence. The people could not be excused for disowning God’s servant and killing the Author of life. But Peter is leading into the thought that God has used their evil act for His good purpose and that the gracious Lord is ready to forgive their sins. His words are in the spirit of Jesus, who prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). No, God did not order the people to act as they did, or will that they do it. He did not cause their ignorance. But through their ignorant actions, God accomplished what had to occur because His Word had prophesied it.
Popular Jewish belief did not think of the Messiah as suffering. It still does not. But God foretold it and God fulfilled it and His Christ did suffer.
But Jesus’ suffering was not an accident or tragic mistake. It was God’s way of delivering all sinners from eternal suffering. Therefore, Peter calls them to repentance and opens a grand prospect to his hearers, which is far beyond his own former conception and that of all other Jews and their earthly Messianic kingdom:
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 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 (Acts 3:19-20).
In other words, “Repent of your past sins and turn to God by confessing that He whom you killed is, in fact God’s Anointed and your Savior. Then your sins shall be blotted out; then you shall enjoy seasons of spiritual refreshing; finally, you will experience Christ’s glorious return, and the fulfillment of all prophecies concerning the final restoration of all things. All this will be yours.”
All that the prophets preached and foretold spoke of Christ and His coming to restore everything. The healing of the lame man is an example and a foretaste of what God will do when His appointed time comes.
The Christ who came as a baby, as one of us, God in human flesh, the Savior who comes to the hearts of sinners and makes them saints, the Lamb of God who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification, this Jesus, who was taken up into heaven will come again on the day that God has set as the time to restore everything. As heaven received Him visibly, so will He return visibly.
The results of the Fall will be reversed, and then “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Years after he preached these words, Peter wrote: “But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). John received this revelation from the Lord: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1).
Until that great and glorious day, the Christ appointed for you comes in His Word and Sacraments. In Holy Baptism, He gives you faith and forgiveness by the power of His triune name. Through His called and ordained servant, the Lord preaches the same message of repentance and forgiveness spoken by Peter in the temple courts. The real presence of the Lord is with you in the Lord’s Supper: In, with, and under the bread and wine, you receive Christ’s very body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through these means of grace, He brings you times of healing and refreshing.
Repent therefore, and turn again that your sins may be blotted out. Hear and believe this Good News: For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.