Life is full of BIG questions that everyone must answer if they wish to live an intellectually satisfying life. Christianity is unique in how it answers those questions. One question is this: What is “wrong” with the world? Why is the world not as it should be?
The Bible says the problem is sin. The evilness of sin has infected everyone and it is constantly spreading. But the Bible also provides the solution. “God did not just overcome evil at the cross,” writes John Piper. “He made evil serve the overcoming of evil. He made evil commit suicide in doing its worst evil.”1
Acts continually points us to the horrors of the cross. But the good news is always brought with it. Peter will remind us of that once again in our passage this morning.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
As the crowd gathered around Peter, John, and the healed beggar, the last thing they were expecting was to be blamed for murder. The sting of Peter’s words no doubt led to their arrest in the next chapter. But what we see here is that: The forgiveness of Christ is offered to the enemies of Christ.
No one really see themselves as enemies of Christ. That is one of the hardest concepts to grasp. But the Bible says we were enemies when Christ died for us (Rom. 5:10). And we have all lived in rebellious sin before a perfectly holy God (1 Cor. 6:11). Those who reject the gospel simply think they are keeping an open mind or waiting on more convincing evidence. However, the problem is not the lack of evidence, but our faulty interpretation of the evidence.
Once again we see the importance of preaching a message of repentance for forgiveness. Jesus Christ was central in Peter’s first sermon, and he is central again here. We see the early development of Christology (the study of the person and work of Christ). The titles we see in this passage reveal two main themes: glory and suffering.
The phrase at the beginning and end of this sermon refers to Jesus as “the servant” of God. So my outline combines the two themes with the servant figure:
First, we will look at God’s Glorified Servant (11-16). Second, we’ll see God’s Suffering Servant (17-26).
God’s Glorified Servant (11-16)
We have already seen how the people in the temple “were filled with wonder and amazement” (v.10) upon seeing the lame beggar now walking and leaping and praising God (3:8-9). And as this man is clinging to Peter and John, the crowd—“utterly astounded”—begins to surround them (v.11).
Again, some critical scholars actually argue that the man was clinging because he wasn’t truly healed. It is a miracle in itself that anyone could come up with that interpretation from this text. Are we to assume Peter and John were helping him leap throughout the temple too? “Everyone, check this out! You have seen this man begging at the gate every day, but look at him now—(grunting and lifting the man up) help me out here John—He’s leaping in his own strength! It’s a miracle!” That interpretation is laughable.
Peter, takes advantage of the opportunity to preach about Jesus. He begins by clarifying how this man was healed. The people were looking at the apostles as if they were responsible for the miracle (v.12). So Peter quickly corrects them by directing their thoughts towards Jesus.
Peter draws out the contrast of God’s intentions and the people’s actions (vv.13-15).
- You rejected Jesus: The God of our nation—glorified his servant Jesus (v.13). In Luke 22:37, Jesus had associated himself with the servant of Isaiah 53. Later on Phillip will share Jesus with the Ethiopian eunuch from Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:32-33). The servant is said to be gloried in Isaiah 52:13.
- You disowned Jesus: You chose to release the murderer Barabbas instead of Jesus—the Holy and Righteous One (v.14; cf. Isa. 53:11). Not only that, but…
- You killed Jesus: You took the life of the Author of life (v.15)! Some translations have “Prince” instead of “Author” (both are valid). The word indicates a form of leadership, but Peter is highlighting the contrast between Jesus and a murderer. So “Author” or even “Pioneer” fits the context. The point is that they took the life of the one who leads people to life.
Peter makes three indictments of the crowd. He doesn’t pull any punches. This sermon, preached within the walls of the temple, was even more dangerous than in chapter two. He told them they were all guilty of rejecting, disowning, and killing Jesus. It is shockingly bold!
In addition, this man who is standing before you has been healed by faith in the name of Jesus (v.16). This healing took place because the Christ whom you crucified—God glorified!
Peter begins his sermon attempting to convince the people that Jesus himself is this man’s healer. In the process of doing so he explains who Jesus is.
John Stott writes, “Servant and Christ, Holy One and source of life, Prophet and Stone—these titles speak of the uniqueness of Jesus in his sufferings and glory, his character and mission, his revelation and redemption. All this is encapsulated in his ‘Name’ and helps to explain its saving power.”2
Like Peter’s audience, all of us—at first—are guilty of misunderstanding who Jesus is. We can place ourselves in their position because we were in their position (and it’s possible some of you still are). Hearing these titles of Jesus Christ we should ask ourselves if we understand him appropriately and worship him accordingly. We might associate him with the actions of some of his followers. Oftentimes, we simply haven’t taken the time to really consider who he is. We have relied upon others to tell us what we are to think about him.
If that describes you, let me encourage you to open your Bible and begin reading about him yourself. You might start in one of the gospels. Or you might consider joining us this Thursday night for the first week of Christianity Explored. As the flyers state: “Take the time and space needed to consider the BIG questions of life and to explore the life of the person at the heart of the Christian faith—Jesus Christ.”
We need to realize that the Bible is revelation of God’s redemptive plan. It reveals past, present, and future realities that provide us with ample resources to glorify God with our whole being. The Bible is not a lucky rabbit’s foot we open whenever we want something. It isn’t simply meant to give us a lift when we are down.
J.I. Packer writes, “When the words bring to our minds a soothing thought or a pleasant picture, we feel that the Bible has done its job for us. It seems that the Bible is for us not a book, but a collection of beautiful and suggestive snippets, and it is as such that we use it. The result is that we never read the Bible at all. We take it for granted that we are handling Holy Writ in the truly religious way; but in truth, our use of it is more than a little superstitious.”3
Jesus was God’s glorified servant, but before that he was…
God’s Suffering Servant (17-26)
The crowd is probably thinking, “If we indeed are guilty of killing the Messiah, we are hopeless!” But rather than heap on them further condemnation, he gives them an invitation to repent. As Dennis Johnson writes, “The threat of covenant curse was accompanied by the promise of covenant blessing.”4
After making it clear that they had rejected the Messiah, Peter acknowledges that they acted in ignorance (v.17). They were only following in the steps of their rulers who were urging Jesus’ crucifixion. However, their ignorance does not provide them with an excuse for their actions.
And it all happened according to God’s ordained plan. God fulfilled what he foretold by the prophets—that this Christ would suffer (v.18).
“Therefore” indicates Peter’s transition to application. If all of what has been said is true, then they must repent (v.19)! Forgiveness is offered to those who crucified Christ. We cannot imagine a greater sin than to kill the Son of God. Both verbs “repent” and “turn” emphasize their need to change the direction of their lives. They are not redundant, but emphatic.
From indictment to invitation to the promise of restoration. Jesus Christ will return and restore all things (v.20). Jews had always associated this universal restoration with the coming of the Messiah. But they separated it from the language of the suffering servant. Peter’s interpretation here reveals the tremendous theological progress the apostles have already made from their question in 1:6. No longer merely political, this restoration will be comprehensive and completed when the “new heavens and a new earth” are established (2 Pet. 3:13).
We can summarize verses 17-21 with the three blessings of forgiveness, refreshment, and restoration that are offered to those who repent. Although these blessings are added over time, and they culminate at Christ’s return, they are presently active in the life of the believer.
This is what the prophets promised:
- Moses—The Lord will raise up a prophet that you must listen to (v.22). Those who don’t listen will be destroyed (v.23).
- Samuel and after—Proclaimed these days (v.24).
- Abraham—All families of the earth shall be blessed (v.25).
God raised up his servant (v.26).
This is a new community, but they derive their understanding from the Old Testament promises. Once again the apostles emphasize continuity with the Old Testament. The New Covenant is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.
This was important to emphasize in a culture that considered new religions to be illegitimate, and speaking to a Jewish audience that would have been familiar with the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah. He was teaching them to read Scripture with a new interpretive lens—recognizing Christ as the central figure. The symbolism of the Old Testament had found its fulfillment in Christ.
The pattern of the servant suffering before being glorified is consistent with the crucifixion followed by Jesus’ resurrection. Even though these verses do not provide a direct quote from Isaiah, they almost certainly are an allusion to the themes of Christ’s suffering that are found in the so-called “Servant Songs” (Isa. 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12). The servant bore the punishment due to the very people who persecuted him.
There are several examples of the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled in his death:
- …Jesus would be rejected (Psalm 118:22)
- …Jesus would be hated (Psalm 35:19)
- …Jesus was betrayed by his disciples (Zechariah 13:7; Luke 22:3-4; John 13:18)
- …sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12; Matthew 26:14-15)
- …was silent before His accusers (Matthew 27:12-14)
- …how His hands and feet were pierced (Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 27:31)
- …how He was crucified with thieves (Matthew 27:38)
- …how He was given gall and vinegar to drink (Psalm 69:21, Matthew 27:34, Luke 23:36)
The blessing is not only complete forgiveness, but believers also receive the righteousness of Christ. It is an exchange or our sin for his righteousness.
The restoration that awaits is something we long for, but also something we taste even now. There are “times of refreshment” some Sunday mornings. Maybe in the middle of the week, amidst a busy schedule, you enjoy the blessings of your salvation through a moment of prayer, or bible reading. It is as if your spirit is revived right then. Those are encouraging moments that we should not only look forward to experiencing in the future, but we should anticipate them occurring every day.
The servant that God prophesied would come, has indeed come and suffered. But now he has been glorified and his work carries on through the Church.
All of us are guilty of rejecting, disowning, and killing Jesus. It was our sin that held him to the cross. Yet, God offers us forgiveness, refreshment, and restoration if we repent and place our faith in him!
How would your life change if you were regularly reminded of what you have been rescued from? Repent and believe or be destroyed!
1 John Piper, Spectacular Sins, 12.
2 John Stott, The Message of Acts, 92.
3 J.I. Packer, “The Plan of God,” in God’s Plan for You, 18-19.
4 Dennis Johnson, Acts, ?.