“Leap Ye Lame for Joy”

Acts 3


I. The event occurs some days after Pentecost, for the previous verses mention the communal life of the church as it developed following that stirring event.

Phrases such as “continually devoting themselves, … were taking place, … began selling their property and possessions, … day by day continuing, … was adding to their number day by day” (2:42–47).

A. The apostles, and probably all the Christians, maintained their activity in the worship practices of their faith.

They dd not interpret these events and the fulfillment of Scripture as a reason to interrupt the way in which they had expressed their knowledge of and worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, and the prophets. They went, therefore, to the temple at the hour of prayer (3:1).

B. The day-by-day normality of the setting for this event is highlighted by Luke.

He narrated the actions of men who carried along the lame man “whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple.” This was his job. He did this every day. By begging he sustained himself. All the people knew him and were aware of the congenital nature of his inability and of the natural impossibility of a cure.

C. Performing according to habit, the man looked at Peter and John and began asking them for alms.

The verb indicates that his pleading was not complete but only in the first stages. He had begun the oft-reiterated request for mercy to help him sustain his restricted life. Before he finished, Peter interrupted. Probably the man was accustomed to being passed by or receiving alms without a personal glance in his direction. Now, however, Peter neither passes by nor drops his gift in an impersonal way but fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” (4). The beggar had developed a habit of being just as impersonal as his almsgivers. This kind of intense concentration surely prophesied a substantial gift.

D. As occurred at Pentecost, God used a sensational event to draw attention to the witness of the Apostles, a duty and privilege to which they were assigned (Acts 1:8, 22).

Quickly Peter disappointed the beggar’s expectation of monetary advantage—“I do not have silver and gold”—but perhaps piqued his interest with what followed: “What I do have I will give you” (6). It is interesting how many thoughts can surge through the mind in a short time when prompted by a surprise event or unexpected word. What followed was outside the realm of any possible expectation and completely discontinuous with his perceptions of past, present, or future.

E. Note the parts of Peter’s mysterious gift.

    1. “In the name” This phrase is used to denominate the character and legitimate prerogative of a person or an office. It could refer to power bestowed by appointment, by election, by inheritance, or by dint of manifested power.
    2. “Jesus Christ” identifies a specific person and adds to the name an office—Anointed One, Messiah. The invocation of the “Name” of Jesus is enforced by this title. Peter had seen and confessed this earlier—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”—and had been told that such a confession was revealed to him by the Father and also would be the message by which Jesus would build his church (Matthew 16:15–19). Peter now is doing precisely what the words of Jesus warranted—setting forth the message that Jesus of Nazareth is both Lord—the Son of the living God—and the anointed prophet, priest, and king through whom God is known, propitiated, and served in sincerity and truth (6; see also 2:36).
    3. The Nazarene, the man from Nazareth further makes specific the reality of the particular person through whom this power operates. This person is not a phantom or the idealizing of a human hope but a single person, from a particular town, the member of an identifiable family (John 1:45, 46). Soon this event would give Peter the opening to expand his explanation of the name and title he has just invoked.
    4. He issued one simple command: “peripatei-walk” (6). A simple command, yes, but an impossible activity prior to this moment. As Jesus said on another occasion concerning a debility from the womb, “It was that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). That the command could be obeyed depended on the infusion of the power of the Creator, symbolized in John 9 by Jesus’s careful use of clay in restoring the sight of the blind man.

F. Not only did he rise up when Peter gave him his hand, but, feeling the heretofore unknown strength surge into his feet and ankles (and probably the entire muscle structure of both legs), he leaped up (7, 8).

From his mother’s womb he had been lame and never had his muscle structure exercised, nor had his skeletal system supported his walking uprightly. This would startle those in the immediate vicinity. As he walked, he could not restrain himself but vaulted, and leaped, and skipped in the emotional exuberance connected with this healing. He had seen others walk and run but never had done it himself. How little we appreciate the blessings of normal human development. This man knew precisely the truth that Jesus uttered, “Without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

II. The Observation

A. This event happened in one of the most public places in Jerusalem, and the number of people who saw the man was large.

Not only was the place—the temple—streaming with people, but the particular location around the temple where this lame man was stationed was obvious to all. He had chosen his place well to maximize the opportunity for alms.

B. His demeanor upon the healing also was of the type that would gain immediate and widespread attention.

His leaping combined with the elevated volume in the words of praise to God drew a crowd. The text uses the phrase, “All the people saw him walking and praising God” (9).

C. Soon they made the connection between this specific ostentation and the reason for it.

They noted that he was the man who for decades had begged at “the Beautiful Gate of the temple” (10). They recognized him, probably had given alms from time to time out of pity, compassion, sympathy, and a host of other reasons. Some were among those, perhaps, who did their alms before men to be seen of them (Matthew 6:1–4), but none had ever given him the ability to jump, walk, and leap.

D. They saw him enter the temple with Peter and John, in fact “clinging to Peter and John.”

None of the people had any category to understand what had happened. The level of immediate attention on a pervasive scale was described by Luke as “wonder and amazement,” and again, “full of amazement” (10, 11). A. T. Robertson depicts the mental response as “wondering out of measure.” Peter had to focus their attention on the right place and take advantage of the public excitement to point to Christ in his completed work.


III. The Sermon was prompted by the possible and real misperceptions of the people (12–26).

A. Who is responsible for this healing? (12–16)

Very quickly Peter turned their attention away from him and John. Peter asked two questions and filled his explanation with a convicting gospel presentation.

    1. The first question, “Why are you amazed at this?” assumes that they should know the source of this benevolent and miraculous event. The second, “Why do you gaze at us as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk,” points to the incongruity of their not having a proper frame of reference concerning the first question. Peter indicated by the rhetorical question that the apostles had not caused this healing either by their effective power or by their power of merit.
    2. The crowd should know that the only source of such a display of power and compassion is the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers.” That conclusion, however, was not congenial to their minds as the healing had been done in the name of Jesus of Nazareth (6). That Jesus is so related in power and merit to the God of their fathers was precisely what they did not want to conclude. Peter, however, immediately makes them draw that conclusion. God “has glorified his servant Jesus.”
    3. He forced on their minds and consciences that they had been opposing God in the most powerful manifestation of revelation, prophetic fulfillment, and redemptive activity yet manifest in this world and specifically within the context of those who should have been prepared for his appearance.
      • A pagan ruler had declared his innocence, but they had forced him to give a verdict of guilty. Pilate had no prejudice against him, knew that he could not be guilty of the criminal charges the Jews sought to pin on him, even stated I find no guilt in him (John 18:38),but owing to political pressure surrendered him to their wretched wishes.
      • The one whose merit is intrinsic as well as achieved—holy and righteous—was rejected in preference to a convicted murderer.
      • Peter pronounced the absolute incongruity as well as the infinite criminality of their actions compared to the nature of the person and the evidence of his final approvedness by God (15). Jesus is the “Prince of Life,” and the Father raised him from the dead, but in their state of spiritual blindness and moral insanity they put him to death. The apostles speak with such confidence because they were witnesses of the resurrection.
      • Now, before their eyes, the power of this resurrected supposed former felon has done this healing so awe-inspiring. Peter gives a rich, thick presentation of the power of Jesus and the non-negotiable exclusivity of his authority and the unassailable evidence confirming this.
        • He focused on Christ by insisting that “faith in his name” gave healing because, indeed, “the name of Jesus” has strengthened him. Also “the faith that comes through him”—that is, he himself is the author and generator of this faith—has been the channel of this strength.
        • He pointed to the man before them who now walked, leaped, and praised God: “this man whom you see and know;” “has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all” (16).

B. How should the people respond to this revelation?

Peter’s consequent instruction includes an intense combination of hortatory urgency, prophecy, disclosure of fulfilled prophecy, and immediate application.

    1. The source of their actions was ignorance. This is not an acquittance but an intensification of the crime. The clouding of the mind expresses moral perversity in this case even as it did in the case of Paul—“I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). This kind of ignorance reveals the saving grace of God as more abundant and highlights its unilateral operation—“exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14).
    2. Though their sin is “abundant,” by it, God has accomplished the effectual sacrifice for sin—“He has thusfulfilled” (17). This is the ultimate paradox that the divine sovereignty in saving grace by the death of Christ comes through the spiritually ignorant unbelief and hostility of sinners toward him. This is the same truth proclaimed in Acts 2:23. No passages have deeper implications for the final harmonization of absolute human responsibility, human depravity, and divine sovereignty than two public proclamations by Peter in the initial stages of Christian history and apostolic revelation.
    3. Though their guilt is doubly infinite, Peter’s message holds out hope even for the most vile among them, for God sends the message of repent (see also 2:38) and return. Have genuine sorrow and remorse for your sin and determine to know and follow the path of redemptive truth now proclaimed to you. The result of repent and return is the wiping away of sins and times of refreshing from the Lord (19).
    4. Peter now sets forth material related to the return of Jesus in glory at the end of the age when this present world in its fallen condition is ended and replaced, or restored, in the glory of a new and uncorrupted natural order (20, 21). Peter expanded on this revelatory truth in 2 Peter 3:10–13, calling it “the day of the Lord.” Until then, we live in an age of repentance (19, 26; 2 Peter 3:9).
    5. Like Paul after him, Peter emphasized the great advantage given to the children of Israel. He identified Jesus as “the Christ appointed for you.” They should see Jesus, in light of this truly and undeniably great demonstration of power, as “the Christ appointed for you” (20). Having ascended into heaven after accomplishing the promised redemption, he will remain there until “the period of the restoration of all things” (21). In order to show that he was not advocating anything inconsistent with what they had been reading in the canonical works of inspiration, and that this Jesus whom he preached was the culmination and perfection of the prophetic message, he identified this time as that “about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (21).
      • Peter reminds them that the prophetic has been a consistent element in the revealed religion of Israel even as Moses taught in Deuteronomy 18. In one sense, every prophet would be like Moses in that he would speak truth and refusal to believe and heed that truth would result in exile and destruction (cf. Jeremiah 28:10–17).
      • He reminds them that they are ethnically and covenantally in line with the prophets (25). He carries this all the way back to Abraham with the reminder that he and his heirs were to be a blessing to all nations—“all the families of the earth” (25).
      • To them first—both in the call and covenant with Abraham and now in the covenant fulfiller, Jesus the Christ—God has given demonstration of his faithfulness and his saving intent. That they were first means that blessings to others would follow. Presently, Jerusalem was the focus (see 4:5–12; 6:7), soon Judea would follow (5:16; 8:40), then Samaria (8), and then the uttermost parts of the earth (8.26–38; 10:34–45).
      • Peter maintains the focus on Jesus as the particular servant of Yahweh who would bring all these promises to pass and would make a way for forgiveness and salvation through repentance (26).
    1. When great advantages in the spiritual realm are not heeded and improved, they become fuel for increased misery, even utter destruction (23). “Utter destruction” does not mean cessation of existence, but continual consciousness unpunctuated by any moments of pleasure or relief. In 2 Peter 2, Peter describes the increasing perversity and susceptibility to judgment of false teachers. He wrote that it would be better for them had they never known the “way of righteousness” than to have turned away after knowing it (2 Peter 2:20–22). In his clear and stern warnings about false teaching in combination with apostasy, he employs phrases like, “their destruction does not slumber,” “reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment,” “will utterly perish in their own corruption,” “the latter end is worse for them that the beginning,” “reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men,” “to their own destruction,” and described their final sentence as consisting at least in part of “the blackness of darkness forever” (2 Peter 2:17).


Acts 3:12–26 Poem

In the name of Jesus, a man was healed who for four decades could not walk.
New strength in his feet gave him new speech; without praising God he would not talk.

The people knew him well; he begged; he asked for money at the temple gate.
Wonder and amazement made them run to Peter who did not hesitate.

“Do not look to me or John for this merciful power is not of man.
The God of promise gave us Jesus whose resurrection fulfills his plan.

God approved him; you disowned him; you disdained the righteous for a killer.
The Author of life you put to death—of the temple of God chief pillar.

As faith in him who died and rose has made this lame man leap and walk again,
So your wicked act, through God’s plan, will find God’s mercy to forgive your sin.

Now He’s in heaven, the One you killed, Messiah, prophet, priest reigning king,
Who fulfilled all covenant promise for the earth, final judgment to bring.”

Sinful ignorance, hostile transgression, in Jesus God can now forgive;
Death’s payment made, Satan disarmed, those buried in sin’s death now can live.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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