Acts Lesson Thirteen

Acts Lesson Thirteen: 6:8-15 – Stephen’s Witness

Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. Then some from what is called the Freedmen’s Synagogue, composed of both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to stand up against his wisdom and the Spirit by whom he was speaking. 

11 Then they persuaded some men to say, “We heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God!” 12 They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; so they came, dragged him off, and took him to the Sanhedrin. 13 They also presented false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. 14 For we heard him say that Jesus, this Nazarene, will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.” 15 And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (HCSB)

Today’s passage serves as a deeper introduction of Stephen and lays the groundwork for the events that occur in chapter seven. Before we start today’s lesson, let’s list six features of his character and ministry, with a couple of them stated in the previous lesson.

  • He was full of faith – 6:5.
  • He was full of the Holy Spirit – 6:5.
  • He was full of God’s grace and power – 6:8.
  • His opponents were members of the Freedmen’s Synagogue.
  • His opponents couldn’t stand up to Stephen’s wisdom.
  • His opponents couldn’t stand up against the Holy Spirit, who spoke through him.

Opposition to Servants: Acts 6:8-11 When a person is selected for church leadership, the type of ministry experiences may be different from what they expected.

Verse 8

Up until this point, Scripture only mentions the Apostles performing miracles (Acts 2:43; 5:12). But we read that Stephen also had the power to perform miracles. Since it’s clear that the performing of miracles was not restricted to an Apostle, what conclusion can we draw? It would seem that it was the level of faith and filling of the Holy Spirit that empowered Stephen to perform miracles for the glory of God. If that is true, and Scripture leads one to believe it is, then miracles can still be performed today. However, why do we rarely, or ever, see miracles in the Western church, but we do sometimes hear about miracles in the mission field? This is my position, based upon what is contained in Scripture and the characteristics of the church today.

  • The Holy Spirit is not emphasized or even mentioned in many churches. In some cases, this may be deliberate as a counterbalance to those churches that may overemphasize the working of the Spirit. Both positions are wrong. God exists in three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is clear from our journey through Acts so far that the Spirit was the source of power, just as Jesus claimed, for the events that were occurring. 
  • Faith has been replaced with consumerism and materialism in the congregation and leadership. Ministry leaders have wrongly determined that their church and service must be attractively marketed to persuade people to attend. God doesn’t need marketing; He needs faithful shepherd leaders who follow Scripture. Congregation members are often concerned with having their needs met instead of worshipping God and contributing to their church. Appearance and reputation have replaced content and substance as the most important “measurable” of the church.
  • Those in the mission field often have a higher reliance on the Spirit and an understanding of the evil spiritual forces opposed to their work. Their level of faith and reliance on the Spirit is often higher. 
  • The modern church could see miracles occur if they follow the blueprint in Acts.

Verse 9

First, let’s define the Freedmen’s Synagogue. 

  • Historical records indicate that sections in Jerusalem were comprised primarily of Jews who had settled in the city from various nations in the area. The freedmen were descendants of Jews previously held as slaves but who were now free from Rome. 
  • This particular synagogue was comprised of people from Cyrenians and Alexandrians. Both of these people groups came from locations in North Africa. People from Cilicia and Asia. The second people group, Cilicians and Asians, were from areas in modern-day Turkey and Syria.
  • Thinking ahead in the book of Acts, it’s possible that Paul may have been in this synagogue since Paul came from Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 21:39). However, there is no historical data to prove this position conclusively.

During this period, Judaism had four key symbols, and challenging any of them could provoke a confrontation.

  • The Temple.
  • The Law or Torah.
  • The holy land focused predominately on Jerusalem and the Temple.
  • The national, ethnic identity of all Jews and proselytes.

Because paganism was rampant in the areas around Israel, even with the nation itself, faithful Jews knew they had to zealously guard their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and not tolerate any new ideas that could result in a compromise or idol worship.

We don’t know the basis of the dispute between Stephen and this particular synagogue, but based on the context of what had occurred since Jesus’ ministry and the early church so far in Acts, it seems reasonable to conclude that the synagogue felt that Stephen’s message undermined at least one of the four key symbols listed above. Their conclusion was that Stephen was committing blasphemy.

Verse 10

This is a short but powerful verse. Those who chose to debate Stephen about the Gospel message were sorely outmatched. A quick explanation of the Jewish understanding of wisdom, based upon cultural and Old Testament concepts.

  • Wisdom refers to a person’s approach to life.
  • This approach came from a life in the covenant given by God and was considered a gift from God.

The Greek word used here for wisdom occurs only four times in Acts (6:3, 10; 7:10, 22), and it refers to inspired wisdom through the power of the Spirit. This would verify what Jesus said in Luke 21:15, for I will give you such words and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Regardless of the motivation of the Freemen Synagogue, they no put into place a plan to kill Stephen. In many ways, what transpires is similar to what happened to Jesus leading up to His crucifixion.

Verse 11

Now the plot against Stephen begins to unfold. We can speculate about the reasoning behind the plot, but in the end, it doesn’t matter if it was jealousy or, like the case with Paul (Saul), they felt they were the ones being faithful to God, and Stephen wasn’t. The Greek word hypoballo, translated here as “persuaded,” actually evokes a much stronger meaning. The Greek-English Lexicon defines it as: to hire a person to act in a particular way, often involving dishonest activities – to hire, to bribe, to induce. The bribe was to spread a rumor throughout Jerusalem that Stephen was speaking blasphemy against Moses and God, a grave charge in first-century Israel and the only case where capital punishment administered by the Jews was allowed by the occupying Romans.

We should take a moment and consider why would displaced Jews who returned to Jerusalem act in such a vehement way. In general, Hellenistic Jews tended to be less dogmatic than Hebraic Jews. However, they were highly nationalistic and were highly zealous when it came to the Law and the Temple. In some academic circles, they were labeled as “Zionists.” 

The false charges brought against Stephen are quite similar to what the religious leaders tried to do with Jesus. However, in Jesus’ case, they couldn’t produce any evidence that He had violated the sanctity of the Temple, Law, or God. Therefore, they couldn’t execute Him themselves, so they brought Him to Pilate and had Jesus executed by the occupying Romans. As events unfold in Stephen’s case, the Sanhedrin is able to falsely convict Stephen of the charge of blasphemy.

Persecution of Servants: Acts 6:12-15 Even in the most difficult of circumstances, God can provide comfort and peace – even in the face of death.

Verse 12

The end result is for the first time, the general population of Jerusalem began to oppose the young church. In addition to the residents of Jerusalem, the elders (representing the Sadducees) and the scribes (representing the Pharisees) were involved. The third arrest of Christians now took place, soon to be followed by a third trial before the Sanhedrin.

Verses 13-14

The false charges are now presented before the Sanhedrin. In addition to those previously against Stephen, false witnesses are now produced to add more weight to the false claims presented against him. The charges are focused on two areas.

  • Blasphemous words against the Law.
    • To speak against Moses was to speak against the Law.
    • The false witnesses claimed they heard Stephen preaching that Jesus would change the customs of Moses, hence the Law which they held sacred would be changed.
  • Blasphemous words against the holy place.
    • The holy place was the temple.
    • To first-century Jews, this was viewed as the dwelling place of God, with His very presence in the holy of holies.
    • An attack against the temple was considered an attack against God.

Although the charges were false, they stirred up the people as well as the Sanhedrin because of the perceived seriousness of the accusations. As previously stated, the entire situation bears a striking resemblance to the charges brought against Jesus. While it is true that Jesus desired to bring change to Jewish society, He never threatened to destroy the temple, and He affirmed the Law by stating that He came to fulfill the Law.

Verse 15

Now that the charges were stated, they turned to Stephen to see how he would respond. We can only wonder if Stephen’s reaction caused any surprise on the part of the Sanhedrin. On the one hand, there was doubt about the seriousness of the charges brought against him. On the other hand, the Sanhedrin had already had two trials with Christians as defendants, and they had yet to instill any sense of fear or remorse on the defendant’s part.

Let’s define one phrase before we go further in this verse. The phrase is “looked intently.” The Greek word is atenizo, and from the Greek-English Lexicon, we see that it means: to fix one’s eyes on some object continually and intensely—to look straight at, to stare at, to keep one’s eyes fixed on. The entire Sanhedrin was now focused on Stephen and what his response would be to the charges. It is very likely that Stephen was intensely staring back at the high priest.

There are several possible reasons and characteristics for Stephen’s appearance to resemble an angel.

  • Stephen was filled with the Spirit and had no fear.
  • He wasn’t angry.
  • He wasn’t fearful.
  • He held no bitterness.
  • He possessed a quiet confidence.
  • He looked peaceful.
  • He felt secure.
  • He had courage.
  • It is possible that his face reflected divine glory, just as Moses’ face did in Exodus 34:29 and referenced in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18.
    • Both Moses and Stephen bore the mark of having been with God.
    • However, Stephen was accused of speaking against both Moses and God.

This sets the stage for what will transpire in the next lesson.

Applications.

  • Develop your spiritual life and gifts so that you are ready when God calls you. We also need to be flexible as the calling may not be where we expect it. 
  • Allow yourself to be used in various kinds of ministry. Although we should serve predominately in the area(s) of our gifting, we may be called to serve temporarily in other areas. Regardless of what area you’re called to serve in, at the forefront or in the background, serve faithfully.
  • Don’t try and serve God without proper preparation or qualifications. Serving in this way will likely result in disappointment and maybe even hurt the ministry.
  • If you are involved in any type of public ministry, expect opposition. Scripture is filled with faithful and godly men and women who faced opposition. To think that we would escape opposition for faithful work is wishful thinking.

Acts Lesson Eleven

Acts Lesson Eleven: 5:17-42 – Truth and Consequences

17 Then the high priest took action. He and all his colleagues, those who belonged to the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 So they arrested the apostles and put them in the city jail. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail during the night, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple complex, and tell the people all about this life.” 21 In obedience to this, they entered the temple complex at daybreak and began to teach. 

When the high priest and those who were with him arrived, they convened the Sanhedrin—the full Senate of the sons of Israel—and sent orders to the jail to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police got there, they did not find them in the jail, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing in front of the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 As the commander of the temple police and the chief priests heard these things, they were baffled about them, as to what could come of this. 

25 Someone came and reported to them, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple complex and teaching the people.” 26 Then the commander went with the temple police and brought them in without force, because they were afraid the people might stone them. 27 After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, 28 “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to bring this man’s blood on us!” 

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had murdered by hanging Him on a tree. 31 God exalted this man to His right hand as ruler and Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” 

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men  to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you’re going to do to these men. 36 Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. (HCSB)

In this lesson, we’ll see how the persecution against the church grows. Still, at the same time, the church stands firm in its beliefs and conviction, denying the religious establishment to continue proclaiming the Gospel.

Let’s do a quick summary of Acts to this point before diving further into this passage. After the events at Pentecost, the message of the resurrection of Jesus spread rapidly throughout Jerusalem, as well as the surrounding area. This led to many professing faith in Jesus. The Apostles not only preached the Gospel, but they also performed many signs and wonders. Their work left little doubt that God was behind this new movement. However, as is often the case, the established order was not happy with this new movement. The religious leaders had opposed Jesus, crucified Him, and were now starting to fight against the Apostles as they saw their grip on religious teaching and authority slipping. There is a quote by a Christian martyr, Hugh Latimer, who said, “Whenever you see persecution, there is more than a probability that truth is on the persecuted side.”

I will break this passage into four sections with corresponding themes.

  • The religious council was attacking the truth, 5:17-28.
  • The Apostles were affirming the truth, 5:29-32.
  • Gamaliel was avoiding the truth, 5:33-39.
  • The church was announcing the truth, 5:40-42.

Attacking the Truth: Acts 5:17-28

There were three reasons that the religious leaders, the Sadducees, arrested the Apostles.

  • Peter and John had not obeyed the official order to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. By refusing to obey, they were guilty of defying the law of the nation.
  • The message of the church was in direct conflict with the doctrine of the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in a resurrection, by teaching and giving evidence that Jesus had, in fact, been resurrected.
  • The religious leaders were filled with jealousy because of the success and acceptance of these uneducated and unauthorized men. 

This time it wasn’t just Peter and John who were arrested; it was all twelve of the Apostles. The passage indicates that they were put in a “city jail.” This would be a structure where those incarcerated would be visible to anyone passing by. The irony is that even while being detained in an openly visible structure, they would still be released by God’s hand. 

The faith displayed by the Apostles is an example to all of us. They knew that they had been ordered to stop teaching in Jesus’ name, they knew they had disobeyed the Sanhedrin’s order, they knew that this was a serious offense, but most importantly they knew that they were being obedient to God and Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. This knowledge gave them unshakeable faith and determination regardless of the consequences.

Their faith was rewarded as during the night, an angel set them free. This fact pours more irony on the already stoked fire. Not only don’t Sadducees believe in the resurrection, but they also don’t believe in angels (Acts 23:8). However, the angel didn’t just set the Apostles free; they were told to go right back to preaching the Gospel, the very act that put them in the jail they were just freed from. What did they do? They obediently went back to the same location and continued to preach the same message. How many of us would follow in their footsteps, going from freedom right back to the actions that got us jailed in the first place?

In the meantime, the Sanhedrin had convened and asked for the “prisoners” to be brought before the council. One can only imagine their astonishment as they went to the jail, with the guards on duty, in full view of everyone, and the Apostles were nowhere to be found. This astonishment was likely compounded when the situation was explained to the Sanhedrin. The religious leaders were trying to stop the Apostles from performing miracles, but another miracle had occurred because the religious leaders had put them in jail!

Let’s take a moment to contrast the two groups.

  • Sanhedrin.
    • Educated.
    • Ordained.
    • Approved.
    • Lacking in a ministry of power.
  • Apostles.
    • Ordinary laymen.
    • Uneducated.
    • Ministry powered by the Holy Spirit.

The religious council was desperately trying to protect themselves, their positions, and hold on to their dead traditions. The Apostles were risking their physical lives to share the Gospel. The church was proclaiming the new; the religious council was defending the old.

There are numerous emotions in this section.

  • Jealousy – verse 17.
  • Baffled – verse 24.
  • Fear – verse 26.

Still, the high priest accuses them of defying the law and stirring up trouble. The high priest wouldn’t even mention Jesus’ name, instead saying “in this name” and “this man’s blood.” However, even this was an admission that the church was growing. It’s possible that the high priest may have sensed a critical moment here. If the Apostles were correct, then the Sanhedrin was guilty of unjustly executing Jesus, and His blood was on their hands. As the trial progresses, the Apostles become the judges, and the council is on trial.

Affirming the Truth: Acts 5:29-32

The conviction of the Apostles didn’t waver from Peter had stated in Acts 4:19-20. They continued to obey God and trust Him, regardless of their circumstances or perceived danger. They stood firm in serving only one master, God. Diplomats try to reach an agreeable outcome for everyone; ambassadors faithfully represent those who sent them. The Apostles acted as faithful ambassadors to God; 2 Corinthians 5:20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” 

Paul restates the charges he made in chapters three and four and then declares other facts on the events happening in Jerusalem.

  • The Sanhedrin was responsible for the death of Jesus.
  • Jesus has been raised from the dead.
  • Not only was Jesus resurrected, but He also sits at God’s right hand.
    • The place of honor, power, and authority.
    • Stephen would see Jesus standing at God’s right hand.
  • The work of the Holy Spirit is evidence that Jesus kept His promise that He would send the Helper.

The statement that Jesus had been raised from the dead must have been particularly unsettling to the Sadducees as that was in direct conflict with their theology. 

Peter once again calls on the Sanhedrin to repent, submit to the lordship of Jesus, and receive salvation. Once again, the council ignores the very message that would lead to their eternal rescue. If we take a moment to reflect on the Apostle’s challenge to the Sanhedrin, it is really quite remarkable. The very organization that held the power of religious authority and religious punishment in Israel is being challenged to their face by a group of common folk. 

Avoiding the Truth: Acts 5:33-39

The main player in this section is Gamaliel, a highly respected Pharisee. Since the Pharisees and Sadducees were often at odds with each other, it is not a stretch to think Gamaliel’s position was at least partly motivated by a desire to see the Sadducees not accomplish what they had set out by arresting the Apostles and bringing them before the Sanhedrin. Let’s consider some facts regarding this man.

  • He was a scholar who was highly respected by the people.
  • He was rather liberal in his application of the Law.
  • He was moderate in how he approached problems, as evidence by this event.
  • He was Paul’s teacher (Acts 22:3).
  • He was the grandson of the famous rabbi, Hillel.
  • Rabbinic tradition stated he had the title of president of the high court.
  • His power within the Sanhedrin is evidenced by him and not the high priest, ordering the Apostles to be removed from the proceedings.
  • As a Pharisee, he would have at least had sympathy with the Apostles theologically.
    • A belief in the coming Messiah, resurrection, and life after death.
    • Oral tradition that gave them flexibility and openness to change.
  • When the Sadducees agreed to his advice, this was an indication of how well respected and distinguished he was in Jewish society.

We might think that what Gamaliel did was wise and helpful to the young church. However, there were several aspects of his advice that demonstrated a lack of wisdom and understanding.

  • He grouped Jesus together with two rebels. 
    • This is evidence that he had already rejected the evidence that the Apostles presented.
    • To him, Jesus was just another zealous Jew who was trying to free Israel from Rome.
    • Theudas and Judas never did the things attributed to Jesus. Neither were raised from the dead.
  • Gamaliel assumed that history would repeat itself.
    • Both Theudas and Judas had rebelled against the establishment.
      • Both were subdued.
      • Their followers abandoned the cause and fled.
    • If the Sanhedrin were patient, the same thing would happen again.
    • While it is true that cycles occur in history, the events taking place were breaking into new territory.
      • Ministry on the level of what Jesus accomplished had never occurred before. 
      • The events surrounding His crucifixion were new; darkness, earthquake, the veil being torn in two in the temple.
      • Jesus was resurrected and seen by hundreds before being seen ascending to heaven.
      • The events surrounding Pentecost were new.
      • God had visited the earth in the form of a man.
    • Gamaliel’s assumption is that if something is not from God, it must fail. This fails to take into account man’s sinful nature and the presence of Satan in the world.
      • Cults often grow faster than the church and cause many to be trapped in lies.
        • Mormons.
        • Jehovah’s Witnesses.
      • False religions.
        • Islam.
        • Buddhism.
        • Hinduism.
      • It is true that in the end, they will all fail. However, in the meantime, these false religions are leading millions to eternal damnation.
  • His motivation.
    • The council was facing an issue that demanded a decision, and he was promoting a position of neutrality.
      • However, neutrality is a decision.
      • Each person is either for or against God; there is no middle ground.
      • His vote could be interpreted as “no,” but maybe someday he would believe…if the movement persevered.
    • Jesus made it clear that one can’t be neutral about Him and His message. Matthew 12:30 Anyone who is not with Me is against Me, and anyone who does not gather with Me scatters. 
    • The council knew what Elijah said in 1 Kings 18:21 Then Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow Him. But if Baal, follow him.” But the people didn’t answer him a word.
    • Being neutral is often a quiet and cowardly decision to reject God. The first group destined for hell is the cowards. Revelation 21:8 But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars – their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
  • If Gamaliel was really afraid of fighting against God, he should have honestly investigated the evidence presented, searched through Scripture, listened to the eyewitnesses, and asked God for wisdom. 
    • He was presented with the opportunity of eternal salvation but rejected it.
    • Daniel Defoe, who wrote Robinson Crusoe, stated that nobody was born a coward. “Truth makes a man of courage and guilt makes that man of courage a coward.”
    • What some would call caution, God would call cowardice.
    • The Apostles were ambassadors.
    • Gamaliel was a religious politician.

Announcing the Truth: Acts 5:40-42

There were at least some in the Sanhedrin that wanted to kill the Apostles. However, Gamaliel’s speech tempered the flames, and they reached a compromise. The compromise was that they would receive a flogging, likely thirty-nine lashes, they were commanded to no longer speak in the name of Jesus, and they were released. 

  • Deuteronomy 25:1-3 “If there is a dispute between men, they are to go to court, and the judges will hear their case. They will clear the innocent and condemn the guilty. If the guilty party deserves to be flogged, the judge will make him lie down and be flogged in his presence with the number of lashes appropriate for his crime. He may be flogged with 40 lashes, but no more. Otherwise, if he is flogged with more lashes than these, your brother will be degraded in your sight. 
  • 2 Corinthians 11:24 Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews.
  • There were strict guidelines for carrying out this punishment.
    • Although Deuteronomy 25:3 states forty lashes, over time, the standard practice was to give thirty-nine in case of a miscount. 
    • Regardless of how many lashes were given, it was a severe punishment.
    • The recipient was placed in a kneeling position with their upper body bare.
    • The lash was a triple strap of calf hide.
    • Two lashes were given across the back and then one across the chest, with the cycle repeated as necessary to reach the number required by the punishment.
    • People had been known to die during the punishment.

As brutal as the punishment was, it still wasn’t enough to stop them from obeying God. Much to the contrary, they left the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they were worthy of sharing in the suffering of their Lord. Also, they continued to meet in homes and gather in the temple area, teaching and proclaiming the Gospel message.

Applications.

  • No matter how difficult your circumstances, do you trust that God is with you, and do you have faith to follow Him? There were numerous times that it would have been easier for the Apostles to fall away, yet they held firm. Have you taken the necessary spiritual steps to prepare yourself for persecution? Do you spend time in the Word daily, pray without ceasing, gather with other believers, and hold firm to obedience to God? Reassess these areas of your life and prepare yourself to face persecution. None of us desire it, many will not face it to the level in this passage, but some of us will.
  • When confronted with falsehood, stand firm in the truth. A practice of mine is that whenever I’m in a discussion with others about spiritual matters, usually unbelievers, but it can be with other believers over doctrinal issues, as much as possible, I let Scripture do the arguing/convincing. If I try and support a position with my words, it becomes an opinion. However, if I use Scripture, more weight is added to the discussion. Additionally, if the other parties in the conversation continue to reject what Scripture says, they are rejecting God. 
  • If you do face actual persecution, whatever the form, rejoice that you have been permitted to share this with Jesus, knowing that He is walking with you during the experience.
  • Don’t be neutral in your Christian walk. Your actions either align with or go against God. There are no gray areas. Be firm yet gentle in your actions, always letting the light of Christ shine through you, penetrating the darkness of this world and reaching the lost with the saving message of the Gospel.

Acts Lesson Five

Acts Lesson Five – Acts 3:1-26 Miraculous Healing, Powerful Preaching

Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon. And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. So he jumped up, stood, and started to walk, and he entered the temple complex with them—walking, leaping, and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized that he was the one who used to sit and beg at the Beautiful Gate of the temple complex. So they were filled with awe and astonishment at what had happened to him. 

11 While he was holding on to Peter and John, all the people, greatly amazed, ran toward them in what is called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you. 15 You killed the source of life, whom God raised from the dead; we are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in His name, His name has made this man strong, whom you see and know. So the faith that comes through Him has given him this perfect health in front of all of you. 

17 “And now, brothers, I know that you did it in ignorance, just as your leaders also did. 18 But what God predicted through the mouth of all the prophets—that His Messiah would suffer—He has fulfilled  in this way. 19 Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus, who has been appointed for you as the Messiah. 21 Heaven must welcome Him until the times of the restoration of all things, which God spoke about by the mouth of His holy prophets from the beginning. 22 Moses said: 

The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to Him in everything He will say to you. 23 And everyone who will not listen to that Prophet will be completely cut off from the people.

24 “In addition, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those after him, have also announced these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, And all the families of the earth will be blessed through your offspring. 26 God raised up His Servant and sent Him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your evil ways.” (HCSB)

As we look at this passage, it can be divided into two main parts:

  • Verses 1-11 centered around the power of Jesus.
  • Verses 12-26 centered around Peter’s message to the crowd.

Also, keep in mind the following ideas as we dig into this passage:

  • Verses 1-5: As we are involved in ministry, it may require us to see the opportunities and to determine the real needs of the people we minister to, and identify any resources we may have to help them.
  • Verses 6-11: As we serve, our service can’t be conducted in our own strength. It is only through divine power according to God’s will that will count in the end.
  • Verses 12-16: Our service for Jesus begins first with self-denial, centers on Him, and proclaims faith in His name.
  • Verses 17-26: By God’s grace, repentance brings forgiveness through Jesus, and that forgiveness is available to all who would call on His mighty name.

Verses 1-5

We’ll look at these verses in light of two key ideas. One idea is correctly understanding the needs around us. The second idea is a correct understanding of the rabbinical view on charity.

  • Correctly understanding the needs around us.
    • The lame man.
      • The man was born lame; all of us are born sinners.
      • The man couldn’t walk; no sinner can walk in a way that pleases God.
      • The man was outside the temple; sinners are outside God’s temple, the church.
      • The man was begging; sinners are beggars; they are searching for the fix that will satisfy their wants.
    • The need wasn’t money.
      • The man needed healing.
      • The man needed restoration to corporate worship. According to Old Testament Law, those who were crippled were not allowed inside the temple. Leviticus 21:18 No man who has any defect is to come near: no man who is blind, lame, facially disfigured, or deformed.
    • Peter and John were presented with an opportunity for ministry.
      • Peter didn’t perform the miracle to remove the man’s handicap.
      • Peter did it for two reasons.
        • To save the man’s soul.
        • To demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • The man illustrates the state of each of us who has not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus.
  • Correctly understanding the rabbinical view on charity.
    • There were three pillars in the Jewish faith; the Torah, worship, and charity.
      • Charity was one of the main ways of kindness.
      • Charity was considered a major expression of a person’s devotion to God.
      • Worshippers entering the temple would be drawn to giving charity to a lame beggar, thus demonstrating their piety.
    • Charity was not just a characteristic of the Jewish faith; it was an expected part of their worship life.

These first five verses illustrate how we, as believers, can practice charity in a lost world.

  • We can share the greatest gift possible, the Gospel message.
  • The lame man represents those who are in disobedience to God, sinners.
  • Each of us has opportunities, maybe daily, to be a “Peter” to a lame man.

Verses 6-11

The first section set the stage; a lame man in need of healing. However, from the study of the first section, we understand that he only looked at the surface need, money, so that he could eat. He didn’t understand his deeper need. If he were healed of his disability, he would be able to work and no longer have to beg.

You can almost feel the anticipation-the man begging for alms. Peter and John were staring intently at him and telling him to look at them. No doubt in his mind he was going to receive a gift, maybe even a large one since they engaged him in that manner. However, the gift he received was not what he was expecting, yet it went far beyond his grandest imagination. He was instantly and completely healed of his disability. 

Peter, in the name of Jesus, commanded the lame man to walk! In a biblical context, a name is more than a label. It is a representation of the person and is an extension of the person’s being and personality. To call in to use the name of Jesus is a call upon the authority and power of Jesus. Jesus, through Peter, was continuing the healing ministry He conducted while walking the earth. The healing power spread from his feet to his ankles. He jumped up and began to walk. Not only that, he entered the temple with Peter and John. Previously, as a lame beggar, he sat outside the temple begging for alms. Now, not only was he healed of his physical impairment, he was given spiritual acceptance as well. For the first time in his life, he was considered worthy to enter the house of worship.

There is little wonder that the man was not only walking, but he was leaping and praising God in God’s house. The word for “leap” used here is a rare one. It is the same word used in Isaiah 35:6a, “Then the lame will leap like a deer.” The people inside the temple recognized the man; doubtless, they had seen him hundreds of times, yet here he was inside the temple, and he was not only walking, but he was also leaping for joy and praising God. At the sight, they were filled with awe and astonishment, which prepared them for the message that Peter would now speak.

Verses 12-26

Peter now uses the opportunity presented to share the Gospel and for the members of the crowd to receive forgiveness for their sins. Just as in verses 2:14, 22, Peter addresses them as “Men of Israel.” Peter had preached Jesus to them and accused them of denying their Messiah. Just a few weeks earlier, Peter had denied Jesus three times. However, Peter has confessed his sin and was restored to Jesus; he was able to forget and move on from his failure.

In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he needed to refute the accusation that Jesus’ followers were drunk. Here, Peter needed to refute the idea that Peter and John had healed the man by their own power. Jesus was the true source of the power that healed the lame man. Not only that, Jesus was glorified by the God of their fathers; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

Before a sinner can be lead to repentance, there must be conviction. Imagine a sick patient. Before they will accept treatment, they must believe that they are sick. Only then will they take treatment from the doctor. Peter now turns the temple into a courtroom, laying out the evidence that Jesus is God. How could two ordinary fishermen perform a healing miracle unless God was working through them? Nobody could deny the fact of the miracle. They had seen the lame man countless times at the entrance to the temple. Yet, here he was leaping and praising God in the temple. To deny the miracle was not an option. This left only one choice. Accept the miracle as genuine, and since the miracle was done in the name of Jesus to admit that Jesus is the living Son of God and that His name has power.

This section also deals with the Jewish responsibility in the death of Jesus. There are four points regarding this topic contained in this section of the passage.

  • They did it in ignorance. In the Old Testament, there was a difference between unintentional and deliberate sins; Leviticus 4-5, Numbers 15:22-31.
    • Those who sin deliberately were a rebel against God and were to be cut off from their people.
    • Those who sinned unintentionally were given an opportunity to repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Ignorance doesn’t remove the guilt, but it does alter the circumstances.
  • Nowhere in Acts is there a blanket condemnation of the Jews for the death of Jesus. Only the Jews in Jerusalem are given that responsibility.
  • Gentiles shared in the blame; lawless men 2:23, Pilate 3:13.
  • The suffering of Jesus was part of God’s plan of salvation for mankind, 3:18.

Peter now draws on the Old Testament, and the greatest prophet found there, Moses. Any Jew who had even a slight understanding and knowledge of Scripture would see the link Peter was making. Belief in Moses should produce belief in Jesus. At the same time, belief in Jesus does not nullify the belief in Moses. Peter demonstrates that Moses pointed to Jesus in Deuteronomy 18:15-19.

Peter closes the sermon by reminding them that they are the natural heirs of the promises that date back to Genesis 22:18, “And all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring because you have obeyed My command.” Every prophet of Yahweh looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, from Moses all the way to John the Baptist.

The “offspring” referred to in verse 25 is singular. The Abrahamic covenant points to Jesus. Jesus is the sole offspring through which the blessing would come. He was Israel’s Messiah.

As we look back on this passage, there are two points we would do well to remember.

  • Ministry is meant to be done in teams. Lone rangers often do not last long in ministry.
    • Throughout Acts, we see ministry done in teams.
    • When Jesus sent out the twelve along with the seventy, they were sent out in pairs; Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1.
    • When Peter addressed the crows at Pentecost, he stood up with the eleven; Acts 2:14.
    • When Peter went to the home of Cornelius, he took six brothers with him; Acts 10:23 and 11:12.
    • Biblical context dictates that ministry is done with teams.
    • Each believer has one or more spiritual gifts to equip the team to function as a whole.
    • Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 gives four benefits of teams:
      • Greater fruitfulness – Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts.
      • Help in times of personal failure – For if either falls, his companion can lift him up, but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.
      • Warmth of affirmation in times of need – Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm?
      • Strength to face attacks – And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.
  • Ministry is meant to be done in power, the power of the Holy Spirit.
    • Throughout Acts and much of the New Testament, we see the power of the Holy Spirit evident in the life of the church.
    • In the example in this passage of the lame man, we see that spiritual poverty is a greater curse than economic poverty. An economically poor church that is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit is, in reality, a rich church.
    • With the increase in affluence within much of the church community in the West, the dependence on God has declined. The church is identified with its ornate building, its famous pastor, a worship team that could perform in any major theater, or any other worldly measure of richness. But it may not have any spiritual richness.

Applications

  • As we engage with individuals in the world around us, pray for wisdom and discernment for their actual needs, not their surface needs. Just as the example in this passage, there may be a distinct difference between the two.
  • As we are involved in ministry, do we try and do it in our own power, or do we submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit and work through His power?
  • Do we glorify Jesus in our work? We may never perform a miraculous healing, but whatever ministry work we are engaged in, we should always give glory where it is due, Jesus.
  • Do we try and engage in ministry by ourselves, or are we part of a team? Being a lone ranger is dangerous on a couple of points. First, it is easier to take the credit for success instead of glorifying Jesus with success. Second, it is much easier to succumb to sinful temptations when we go it alone.