RPM, Volume 17, Number 7, February 8 to February 14, 2015

A New Testament Sermon on an Old Testament Text

Acts 3:11-26

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Now turn with me, if you would, to the third chapter of Acts — The Acts of the Apostles, or The Acts of Jesus Christ, or perhaps even The Acts of the Holy Spirit.

And last Lord's Day evening we were looking together at the healing of the crippled man, the lame beggar in the temple. And Peter and the disciples have gathered in a location in the temple known as "Solomon's colonnade" or "Solomon's portico" that ran around the outside wall area of the temple—a fairly broad and tall structure with Corinthian-like columns on the inside. And they're at one of the gates, a gate called Beautiful. A beggar, who had been carried in there by perhaps friends or relatives, begging for alms—a sight evidently that they would have seen on a daily basis. And now this man whom Luke has described for us as having been lame since birth, a congenital defect of some kind, has now been totally healed. He's being seen leaping and dancing about in the temple and praising God, and now Peter is about to preach a sermon — what will in effect be his second sermon. He preached one following the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and now this will be his second sermon, beginning at verse 11. Acts 3:11.

Before we read the passage together, let's come once again before God in prayer. Let us pray.

Our Father, we bow in humility at Your feet, thankful for the Scriptures. We've sung several hymns tonight about the Bible, about the Scriptures, the word of God. We thank You for this precious gift. We thank You that we have a copy—several copies—of the Scriptures in our own native language. We bless You for this word of revelation from on high, given by the out-breathing of God and profitable for doctrine, reproof, and correction, and instruction in the way of righteousness, that the man of God might be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. We ask Your blessing as we study it together this evening. Make this word come alive in our hearts, in our souls. And we pray, O Lord, that we might not just be hearers of the word, but that we might truly be doers of it also, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

Acts, chapter three, and at verse 11:

While he [that is, the crippled man who had been healed]…While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called portico of Solomon, full of amazement. But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, and why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all. And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Moses said, 'The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.' For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways."

Amen. And may the Lord add his blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.

I don't know whether you've seen it—some of you I'm sure have—it's a spoof video on MyTube.com, and it's about the church: the "Me Church." It's a pretense at an advertisement that a certain church is giving. There's a lady comes on, and she says, "I live a very busy life. My week is extraordinarily busy. I just wish…at the weekends, I'm tired…I just wish church would begin when I want it to begin." And the voiceover says, "Church will start when you get there!" And a couple with a baby, and the baby is crying and fussing, and the husband says, "I just wish we didn't have to get up and leave every time the baby fusses." And the voiceover says, "Everyone else will leave, but you can stay." Another one says, "We don't give a lot to the church, but we sure would like to know who does." And the voiceover comes across and says, "We'll give you all the details of what everybody gives to the church." And a young college student says, "I'd like tickets for the Big Game." "Okay," the voiceover says, "we'll throw that in, too." And a little boy says, "I'd like a pony." And the voiceover says, "Look in your back yard. It's the Me Church. It's all about You." It's a spoof, of course, but it's far too close to the bone, isn't it?

You know, there's an extraordinary thing that happens here, because in one sense you might have expected Peter to have taken some of the credit for himself. The extraordinary thing that we see here is that in what is so evidently an opportunity for self-aggrandizement, for self-advancement, Peter gives all of the glory to Jesus Christ. It's not about me, he says. It's not about us, the apostles. It's not even about you. It's about Jesus Christ and His glory:

Not I, but Christ, be honored, loved, exalted;
Not I, but Christ, be seen, be known, be heard.
Not I, but Christ, in every look and action;
Not I, but Christ, in every thought and word.

That's the theme of Peter's sermon. Evidently people are looking at him, gazing at him and the rest of the apostles because of this astonishing thing that's just happened: the healing of this cripple. And what we have in this sermon is an example of what Luke has already described as one of the marks of the early church: they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, and fellowship and breaking of bread, and of prayers, Luke has said at the end of chapter two. And here's an example of the apostles' doctrine.

What is the doctrine, or the teaching, that the apostles gave as they ministered and proclaimed in the early church? It's all about Christ. It's all about Christ. You see in verse 18, and again in verse 20, it's about the Christ appointed for you. It's about Messiah, it's about the Anointed One. It's about that one whom the Jews were looking for, the one that the Old Testament spoke about. It's all about Him.

I want us to look at this sermon and I want us to ask what does this sermon teach? What are the truths that are taught in this sermon? And I want to look at it along three or four lines of thought tonight.

I. First of all, it answers the question, "How should we read the Old Testament?" How should we read the Old Testament…you notice how the sermon begins in verse 13? "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of your fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus…"

Do you see what he does? He goes all the way back to Father Abraham. There was no one for the Jews more important than Abraham. He was the father of the faithful. And what they had seen was the work of Jesus Christ, but he wants them to understand that this is what the Old Testament had been talking about and predicting. He takes them back all the way to Abraham.

This is a Jewish audience that Peter is addressing here in the temple: a Jewish audience that's hostile to Jesus Christ. They had, after all, put Jesus Christ to death. Peter is as forthright as he was in the first sermon: he reminds them that it was them who had called out for Barabbas, a murderer, in Jerusalem when Pilate had offered to release Jesus.

But they had crucified the Lord of glory. They had crucified God's Anointed One.

Peter is giving us…let me use a big word here: Peter's giving us a hermeneutic. He's giving us a key. He's giving us a way of interpreting the Old Testament, a way of understanding the Old Testament. You'll notice at the end of the sermon he goes to Moses and he goes to Abraham, and he quotes something from David in II Samuel 7. He's quoting from the Scriptures. (Of course, there is no New Testament.) He's quoting from the Bible, he's quoting from their Bible, from their Old Testament Scriptures, and he's saying this is the key, this is how you read the Old Testament, this is how you understand the Old Testament.

He'd learned it, of course, from Jesus. You remember on the Emmaus Road on that seven-mile journey, when Jesus spoke to one called Cleopas and one who is unnamed (and some commentators actually think it was Luke), and you remember what He does as He catches up with them, their faces all sad, looking to the ground because they thought that Jesus had in fact died and was buried, and was still buried. And beginning in Moses and in all of the prophets, He began to interpret for them the things concerning Himself. He took them on a Bible study through the Old Testament, a walk through the pages of the Old Testament to those great high points of Old Testament revelation—perhaps to these very passages that Peter is now quoting here. I can't imagine but that those two disciples came back and told the disciples what that Bible study had been all about. I can't imagine but that these apostles were curious as to what those passages were, and perhaps Peter is now quoting them here in this sermon. He goes back to Abraham, and he goes back to David, and he goes back to Moses. He talks about the promise that Moses makes in Deuteronomy 18 of a prophet like Moses whom God will send, and they are to listen to Him; the coming of the great Prophet who would teach them all that they needed to know. He takes them to II Samuel 7, the promise of a king-like figure who would establish a kingdom. He takes them all the way back to Genesis 12 and the promise that God made with Abraham, the covenant that He made with Abraham: that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And Peter is saying, 'Here's how you read the Old Testament. Here's how you read your own Scriptures. There's a line of continuity from Genesis all the way through to the coming of Jesus, and now into the emergence of the church in The Acts of the Apostles. It's one story.

I remember—oh, they were fashionable, I think, way back in the 40's and 50's (I don't remember that, you understand!)—but I do remember visiting a lady, and she had one of these…she called it a promise box. Maybe you have one. It was a fussy little thing, and you opened the box and inside were these little scrolls of paper with texts on, and you had a tweezers and you pulled them out and you opened it, and it was sort of a promise for the day. And then you rolled it back up, and you put it back in the box. Well, you can read the Bible like that, for sure. We were hearing this morning in the work of the Gideons of someone who read Matthew 11:28: "Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." That was the verse that brought me to Christ. I didn't know anything about the Bible, but I read that verse and it brought me to Jesus Christ. But you know, Peter is saying there's a much better way of reading the Bible. That's OK, because every verse of the Bible is a promise of God, but how do you read the Bible?

Peter is saying you read the Bible like you read any book. You read the Bible beginning at the beginning and working your way all the way through to the final chapter. You read the Bible as a story that has continuity and cohesion and integration, because it has one Author. You read the Old Testament history as one developing story of the promise of God that He makes back in Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman will crush the head of Satan. He's giving to them a key. When you go back to the Old Testament, you look for Jesus Christ. You look for the Messiah; you look for the Anointed One; you look for the Deliverer; you look for what God has been promising to do, and you see God fulfilling that promise.

Actually, what Peter is doing, and it's a very important principle, he actually mentions it towards the end of his sermon. He talks about in verse 25 a "covenant which God made with your fathers." He's saying in effect that you read the Bible covenantally. You read the Bible as God's redemptive promise to sinners to save a people for Himself. And you see that with Abraham, and you see that with Moses, and you see that with David; and what you now see, Peter says, is the fulfillment of all of that; that here were the shadows, and here were the types, and here was the beginning, but now you see the fulfillment. Now you see it in all of its glory. He's telling them how to read the Bible cohesively, integratively, as the divine redemptive message of God.

II. What has happened to Christ?

But in the second place, not only how to read the Bible, but…what has happened to Jesus Christ? What has happened to Jesus Christ? And you see in verse 13 specifically, He has glorified His Servant Jesus. Yes, you killed Him, you put Him to death, you slew Him. And yes, He was buried. But God raised Him from the dead, and God has glorified His Servant Jesus.

You look at that word Servant. Have a good look at it. Look at verse 13: "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus…" Now that's a very important word. It's a word that would have caused bells to go off in the ears of his hearers, because it's a word again that's drawn from the Old Testament Scriptures — one of the promises that God makes through His prophet Isaiah is that a Servant will come.

You're familiar with the so-called "Servant Songs of Isaiah" in chapter 42, and chapter 49, and chapter 50, and the lengthy one from the end of chapter 52 and all the way through chapter 53: the coming of Jesus in His incarnate and the lowly estate. You remember Jesus, when James and John, asking Jesus for places of honor and distinction in the coming kingdom, and you remember Jesus' reply: "Even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." He'd come as the Servant, as the Servant of the Lord.

I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Jesus read and re-read and pondered and meditated those Servant Songs in Isaiah. They suffused His preaching and teaching. He saw Himself as the Servant of the Lord. Paul will talk about it in that wonderful hymn in Philippians 2: "…Who, being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and was found in the form of a servant."

He was in the form of God, but He became in the form of a servant. He humbled Himself.

But God has glorified Him. God has glorified this Servant of the Lord, this One who had been found in fashion as a man and the form of a servant; this One who had humbled Himself in His incarnation, but "the foxes have their holes and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." This Man who was spat upon and reviled and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not; who bore our griefs and sorrows and shame; and God has glorified Him! God has taken that lowly body of humiliation and glorified it, so that now He still has a physical body, you understand; He still has arms and legs, and eyes and ears and a nose, and a skeletal system; He still is in physical form, in union with His divine nature. But it's a glorified body.

And you ask me what that means, and I'm going to say I'm not quite sure what it means. I think you see glimpses of it in the resurrection when John tells us that the doors were locked and Jesus appears in the upper room with His disciples. Now I know that some commentators, including our friend Don Carson, say that the passage doesn't actually say that He walked through the door, but everything on the surface seems to say that: that Jesus passed through the locked doors. He appears and then He disappears again, as though that physical body was capable of movement in space and time that we know nothing about. So allow your imagination to run a little as to what our glorified bodies will actually be like - not these tattered bodies that are giving out and giving way, and not functioning as they used to function (at least, that's true of mine.) But we look for a glorified body.

Paul speaks of Jesus in Philippians 2 as being in possession of a glorious body. I think you see it in a kind of glimpse form in the transfiguration. Luke is trying to find language to describe what happened to His body, and he says at one point in Luke 9, he says that His body shone with the brilliance of a lightning flash, as glory effused through His body. You understand there's a sense in which, in Jesus Christ, we've already begun that process. You understand that. We're changed — how does Paul put it in II Corinthians 3? — We are changed from glory into glory, as we behold the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ.

"Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place;
Till we cast our crowns before Him,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise."

Isn't that what the hymn writer says?

And Peter is saying 'Do you see this One, this One that you killed, this One that you put to death, this One that was buried in a tomb? God raised Him from the dead and glorified Him. He's in heaven now with a glorified body, pouring forth His Holy Spirit, enabling this very miracle that's occurred in their presence, until [in verse 21]…and look at your Bible at verse 21: "…whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things…" He has a glorious body, and there's a sense in which we've already begun in union with Jesus Christ to enter into that glory. You and I, we're caught in a tension between what is true of us now and what will be true of us then. "Now are we the sons of God, but it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him. We shall see Him even as He is."

And Peter is alluding to the restoration of all things, and I think what he means by this is he's talking about the end, he's talking about the eschaton, he's talking about the final process by which God will refashion and reform this world—this broken world, this marred world—in the new heavens and in the new earth. He's answering the question, "How do you read the Old Testament?" And he's answering the question, "What has happened to Jesus Christ?" and he's saying "He's in glory until the time of the restoration of all things." He's reminding his listeners that here we have no continuing city; that "time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away." He's reminding his readers to look up and look ahead, because a great day is going to dawn.

III. What is demanded of us.

And he's going to remind his readers, in the third place, of what is demanded of us. What is demanded of us? And two things are demanded of us: Faith and repentance.

Faith, in verse 16: and he says two things. He says faith in the name of Jesus as the object of faith, and faith that comes through Jesus as the origin of faith. We've got to trust Him. We've got to cast ourselves completely and utterly upon Him and upon Him alone, for our salvation. You've got to believe in Him. You've got to trust Him and Him only for your salvation. Are you an unconverted sinner tonight? And you're caught up with the weariness of this world, and God has brought you, perhaps, into a corner, through trials and difficulties and problems. And He's saying to you there's only one answer, there's only one solution to the problem of our sin and the problem of our guilt, and the problem of our wickedness, and it's faith: Faith in Jesus Christ, faith that comes from Jesus Christ — the outstretched hand that says

Nothing in my hands I bring;
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked, look to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

Faith, but repentance, too. And you see that in verse 19. He says in verse 19 "Therefore repent and return…"

Thomas Watson says faith and repentance are like the two wings of a bird, whereby we fly into heaven, and you need both. You need faith and repentance.

And repentance consists of two things. It consists first of all of recognition of the offensiveness of our sins to God. They're a stain…they're a stain. You look at verse 19: "…that your sins may be wiped away…" It's a blot.

I was messing about with a fountain pen this afternoon (I love fountain pens), but as I was filling it with ink, my thumb was covered in blue-black ink. It took me a long time to remove it. He uses a word…you know, in ancient times ink didn't contain the acid that it contains today, so it didn't burn into the papyrus, and all you needed to do to remove the stain was to take a sponge and wipe it away, and that's what's being alluded to here: sin is a stain that needs to be wiped away.

You notice in verse 17 he makes a remarkable concession. He says, "I know that you acted in ignorance…" That's a remarkable statement, isn't it? That they acted in ignorance. They didn't really understand what it is they were doing in Jerusalem. They really didn't realize that it was the Lord of glory that they were putting to death.

Paul says something similar in I Corinthians 2:8 — "None of the rulers of this age understood, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." He's saying that not to excuse them; he's saying that because he wants them to understand that their sin is forgivable, and where better to see that than at the foot of the cross itself. The centurion who had actually put Jesus to death, who had actually been part of the party of Roman soldiers that had driven those nails into His hands and feet, and hoisted Him onto that cross…and there at the foot of the cross, what did he say? "Truly, this was the Son of God." There the very crucifier himself had found forgiveness.

But it involves not only recognition of our sin, but a turning away from that sin, and a turning in the direction of God. Salvation, you see, is more than just forgiveness. It involves sanctification. It involves a walk now that moves away from sin and moves in the very direction of God. What is it that God asks of us? Faith and repentance. Turn away from sin and cleave to Jesus Christ and Him alone for salvation.

IV. What is promised to us.

But not only does Peter tell us in this sermon how to read the Bible, and what has happened to Jesus Christ, and what is demanded of us, but, in the fourth place, what is promised to us—to those who believe, to those who repent.

What is promised? And He promises three things. He promises in verse 19 that your sins may be wiped away. Though they be red like crimson, in Jesus Christ they are as white as snow; that the record of sins against us is washed away, never to be seen again. And secondly, and in some English translations it's in verse 19, and curiously in some English translations it falls in verse 20, "…times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord."

One of the blessings that Peter speaks of here is not just the forgiveness of sins; it's not just that our sins will be washed away; but there will be seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. It's a remarkable statement, as though Peter is saying that in the Christian life there are moments when God gives us a place of refuge, a place of rest. It's like…ah! it's like a cool breeze on a warm humid evening, coming from that fan…a season of refreshing—times when we are very conscious of the presence of God.

You know, in the past many commentators and preachers have seen this as a reference to those seasons when God draws near in revival, as He did in the Great Awakening in the 1740's, for example: that God comes, and His presence is felt. It's no longer just me and the person sitting next to me, and in front of me and behind me, but I'm in the presence of God, and in the presence of the Holy One of Israel. What a glorious thing that is! "Until the restoration of all things…"

You see what Peter is saying? We're pilgrims. You are I are pilgrims. We're marching toward a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

You know, we spend all our time and all our efforts, and all our energies, and far too much of our money, on the things of this world, things that moth and rust will corrupt, and thieves break in and steal, instead of investing in that which can never be destroyed. And Peter is saying this is what Jesus gives us: He gives us a glimpse of not just what this life is all about, but He gives us a glimpse of what the entire existence is all about. It's about living with an eye to the end. It's living with your bag packed up and ready to go, because the time of restoration of all things is coming. Time is moving on.

The days are passing. The weeks are passing. The months are passing. The years are passing. And soon, soon, we will be gathered on the other shore, having crossed that river, to enter those gates into that marvelous golden city of Jerusalem with all of its glory; and there in that city, the presence of God and the face of the Lamb, and Jesus in all His glory there to enrapture our souls. Doesn't that make you want to sing,

Finish, then, Thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee.
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place;
Till we cast our crowns before Him,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

What an extraordinary sermon this was, in the very midst of the temple. May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear, and hearts to beat in tune with the majesty and glory of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Let's pray.

Our Father, we thank You again tonight for Your word, for this sermon of Peter's. We pray very especially for anyone in here tonight who is not a believer; for though they may have come very close to the kingdom of God, have never actually entered the kingdom of God. Grant them repentance and bring them to faith by Your sovereign, effectual, irresistible power, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Please stand and receive the Lord's benediction.

Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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