Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.…
The history contained in the Acts of the Apostles continues to be a record of Peter's lead. This great honor is bestowed on the active, earnest, impetuous disciple of the days of Jesus' flesh. And it must be accepted as a certain proof that his repentance had been deep and sincere. The name of his loving companion and old brother disciple John is now introduced. But nothing that he may have either said or done is noticed with any particularity as yet. That he did contribute something in both of these sorts, however, is evident from the language of vers. 3 and 11 in this chapter, and vers. 1, 13, and 19 of Acts 4. The continued happy and hearty co-operation of the two is meantime worthy of notice, and tells its own tale; and if a conjecture is to be hazarded at all, none but the most natural need be repaired to - that John was feeling the quiet and reverent way to a service which he loved with his whole heart, and willingly yielded the precedence to another, Peter, whom he saw, ever since the issue of the race of the sacred sepulcher, if not before, to be a born pioneer. The really central fact of this portion of Scripture is another sermon from Peter, with its occasion so significant and its results so gladdening. Let us notice -
I. ITS VERY FORCIBLE TEXT - A MIRACLE. The days of discoursing on the description of what had been were not yet come. Peter founds his discourse on something to which he literally pointed his hearers, saying, "Ye see and know" it. Nor has Peter now the hard task of exciting attention and interest. These are abundantly excited. Deeds have gone before words, certain practice has gone before doctrine. The subject is invested with life and reality all round, and Peter undoubtedly has the grand advantage of speaking to ears that want to listen, because mind and heart are inquiring. Yes, Peter discourses upon the text of a miracle. And it is one
(1) which is verified within the actual knowledge of those whom he addresses;
(2) which is of an undeniably beneficent kind;
(3) which is wrought, not on inanimate or unconscious nature, but upon nature both animate and conscious, and yet in addition possessed of reason;
(4) which, claims some connection evidently with human eye, voice, and hand, namely, those of Peter (vers. 4-7);
(5) which nevertheless appears to draw for its duper potency upon the inspiration of a Name invoked by that very Peter;
(6) which results not merely in some surprising and most welcomed physical effect, but in certain spiritual manifestations as well (vers. 8, 9);
(7) which derived some additional interest and significance from the very place where it was wrought - at a gate of the temple;
(8) which found its occasion from a prayer for help, but meantime gave help out of all proportion to that which had been asked. Four general observations respecting the miracle as a whole should be made.
1. This miracle is the first recorded as wrought by the apostles in the new Church.
2. It most distinctly professes to be wrought "in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth."
3. It created a widespread interest, and awakened prompt and close scrutiny.
4. It is characterized by certain among the whole number of those who considered and investigated it as "a notable miracle," and one which they "could not deny," though with the very best wishes to deny it.
II. THE AUDIENCE TO WHOM THE SERMON WAS PREACHED.
1. It is a large and evidently altogether miscellaneous assembly.
2. It is an assembly who immediately look as though they attributed the miracle to "power" or to "holiness," or both.
3. It is an assembly who, in their wonder, excitement, and probably, also, genuine gratitude, are ready to attribute that "power" and "holiness" to two fellow-men.
4. It is an assembly guarded and corrected upon this matter without an unnecessary moment's delay.
III. THE SERMON ITSELF. No picture ever brought out more faithfully or forcibly some figure in the landscape, no portrait some feature of countenance, than does this once spoken, now written, sermon bring out forcibly and faithfully certain truths. Note:
1. The grand subject of it. "Jesus Christ" (vers. 13, 18, 20). And
(1) the transcendent relationship belonging to Jesus is with unqualified emphasis now asserted. He is the "Son of the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob." He is the "Son of the God of our fathers." Before the death of Jesus, Peter had boldly borne most unequivocal testimony to his own faith in the "Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:17; John 6:69), and, it may be supposed, to that of his fellow-disciples at the same time. And Peter had been in that act blessed with the great reward of hearing his Lord's own estimate of the special grace bestowed upon him. "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." Be this so, it is equally certain that this "generation of the Son Jesus" had not only not been publicly preached to the people, but had in a sense been suppressed. Far otherwise now. Jesus has suffered, risen, ascended. And his right and dignity in this most cardinal respect is to be proclaimed.
(2) The names to which Jesus has entitled himself by character, by sufferings, and by achievements are boldly spoken. He is "the Holy One and the Just... the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead;" and he is "that Prophet."
(3) His treatment at the hands of men, and even of those who were at the moment the hearers of Peter, with all the aggravations of it, is enlarged upon. It is not only the fearless fidelity of Peter that is worthy of note here. Beyond and below this, the method itself is to be noted, which consists in going to the very root of the disease, probing it to the core. Thus Peter, looking at thee guilty in the face, says, "Whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go. But ye refused the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; and ye killed the Prince of life." And yet it is "his Name... that hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know... and given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all." There is in all this no slurring over of the guilt, of the aggravations of it, or of the fact that those who were there and then listeners were the abettors of it or accessories to it.
(4) His very contrary treatment at the hands of his Father, God, is brought into prominence. "God... hath glorified his Son Jesus,... God hath raised him from the dead... and to you first hath sent him to bless you." This all, involved the vital point. The Jew who could have brought himself to believe that God was thus "well pleased" in Jesus, would have been the first to condemn himself; and with swift force is this, therefore, brought down upon him, in that incontestably he ought to have believed and seen long ago. The Jew is answerable for his guilt and folly, let them be mixed in whatever proportions. Let his "ignorance" bear what proportion it may to the sum total of his fault, his ignorance was his own look out, was not necessary, was inexcusable, and the smart of the consequences of it he must now become acquainted with and must wince beneath it. Peter sees the door opened for him, and he enters in. He has his hearers now. The link that often seemed missing to them, who had no eyes to see aught except a negation, is found, and Peter is determined that eyes shall no longer pretend being shut to it. With such crushing effect betimes do circumstances prove providences, and the sudden glorious crisis at the Beautiful gate that evening at nine o'clock crowds with conviction and humiliation and shame many a conscience, many a heart. Things are rapidly reversing now. This is the hour of Jesus. Peter now puts on his head one crown of glory - the crown of thorns in the past!
(5) Lastly, the inherent force of Jesus is asserted. His is a Name - there can, there shall be no denial of it, no mistake about it - above every name. With a certain power of repetition, which is not "vain repetition," does Peter state it: "And his Name through [by-the- method of] faith in his Name yea, the faith which is through him," is what hath given this man "this perfect soundness in the presence of you all." In which grand and emphatic statement these two gospel axioms may be found,
(a) that Christ is the one Object on which faith may try her virtue - "My faith would lay her hand on that dear head of thine:" and,
(b) that Christ is the one Object whose virtue - "for virtue went out of him" - it is worth faith's while to try. There is unsurpassed virtue in Christ, and the access to that virtue, the method of drawing upon it, is by faith. So there is unsurpassed virtue in faith also. Christ, and Christ alone, meets, and meets abundantly, the want of man, of any and every man. Faith, and faith alone, brings Christ and man so together that the one imparts and the other receives all that can be needed, asked, desired. This must be called the kernel of the apostle's sermon now. And it is the kernel of Christianity. This is the essence and distinctiveness of Christianity. And beyond a doubt this it is that constitutes its unwelcomeness to a proud world's heart, its inexpressible welcomeness to an humble, stricken heart, that only asks one thing - if now at last its unfathomed depth and unceasing craving may be worthily, sufficiently filled.
2. The appeals that follow upon it. Peter is, indeed, all the while earnestly appealing to the people; but this appeal is no mere declamation, either vague or impassioned. It is grounded, firmly grounded, upon other appeals.
(1) The first appeal is to events quite recent - to a history within the actual knowledge of all the nation, but most of all of the city of Jerusalem. The "holy" character of Jesus, his "just" conduct, his betrayal and repudiation by "his own," his suffering, resurrection, and glorification, at least in so far as the Ascension was concerned.
(2) The second appeal is to their own "oracles," and the prized stores of their own treasured prophecies. Peter well knew the just purchase he gained in confronting his audience with quotations from their prophets (vers. 18, 21, 22, 24, 25).
(3) The third appeal is one made to their own conscience. This consisted not only in the plain and uncompromising manner in which Peter brought to their remembrance their most recent offences against their own conscience, partly under the cover of ignorance in their crucifying of Christ, but beside this in his direct naming of them as sinners. He exhorts them not as "the ninety and nine" "which needed no repentance," but emphatically as those who needed to "repent," needed to "be converted," needed "the blotting out of their sins," needed the "sending of that very Jesus Christ" who had been "preached unto" them, though hitherto in vain; needed the warning of that terrible prophecy, that said, "The soul that heareth not shall be destroyed from among the people;" needed to be reminded that they were the" children of the prophets and of" a most venerable "covenant;" and needed to be reminded, withal, of the last highest touch added to their privilege and their responsibility, in that to them "first God had sent his risen Son," to offer them first the fullness of that richest "blessing," which consisted in the "being turned away each from his iniquities" - glorious diversion indeed! There is not a sentence but was a message to the conscience. Not a sentence but what must have "pricked the heart." And not a sentence but what would have been a winged barbed arrow, except for the mercy that each time took the aim, and which mercy was as "purposed" as the arrow's aim was deliberate. Such a marshalling of allegation against hearts and consciences, and the living men to whom they belonged, rarely had been, rarely has been. But when it has, true it is that it is in part material that it has occurred - in the matter of men's treatment of Christ and of their own souls. Withal Peter did not distrust the influence of
(4) the appeal to hope. Through all the faithfulness of plain speaking and the severity of naked truth, kindliness seems to betray itself, and to wish to make its deeper existence felt. The prompt disclaiming of any special and superior power or holiness in himself and brother apostle was a happy beginning on the part of Peter, and tended to put to sleep envy and the spirit of a comparison that would all have added to the smart of the reproof for conscious wrong-doing. Again, Peter does himself (ver. 17) mitigate in some degree their sin, by the suggestion of their "ignorance" and of that of their "rulers;" and in the same breath addresses them as "brethren." His allusion to the fulfilling of prophecy amid all the stern facts of the "suffering" of Christ had also the germ of hopefulness in it. The "blotting out of their sins," and the whisper of "the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord;" the inspiring quotation of the "Prophet to be raised up from among their brethren, like unto" Moses; and the fixing of the fact that it was on these very existing days that the whole ranks of "prophets from Samuel" downwards had concentred prophetic attention; and, last of all, the rehearsing of the old promise to Abraham, clenched by the assertion of its being now in course and act of fulfilling; - surely all this was ground thickly sown with the seeds of hope. So absent was the tone of disparagement and depreciation, when the lips of Peter spoke most stinging truth! Great is the recuperative energy of souls, when there is any room for hope left. But depreciation is a cruel foe to hope, if it take effect; and if it do not take effect, it is sure to make more irreconcilably active the spirit of self-defense and of opposition. Nor can we doubt, nor would we wish to doubt, that the sermon of Peter showed one grand fulfillment of the promise, that it "should be given in that same hour what they should speak" to those who were called by the Spirit to speak for Jesus.
IV. THE FIRST EFFECTS OF THE SERMON. The first effects were a plain augury of what occurred very often in later times. These first effects are not all discomfiture. Nor are they results that count half and half, with no clear balance either of gain or of loss. To count nothing on what may succeed them, the first results show the preachers Peter and John bound, the Word they preached not bound.
1. The apostles, who preached, are imprisoned - for what length of time the sentence discreetly left unsaid. The apostles were laid hands on by ecclesiastics, committed by self-interest to endeavor to maintain the status quo in the Church and the world - by one official and by a few self-styled theologians, driest of the dry and most erring of the erring (Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24, 27).
2. The doctrine they had been preaching was not imprisoned. "Many who had heard it "believed." Fresh wings were given to it to fly abroad. Either the additional, or more probably the total, number of believers was now "five thousand" And the imprisonment of Peter and John is certain to have had these two consequences upon them, viz. that fresh thought would be stirred up in every one of them, and fresh utterance of the mouth of every one of them be provoked. Thus it is very far from being a case of all loss. The "Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth 'wrought great things this day, and truth made great advance. - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
WEB: Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.