The Dealings of God With Peter: 10. In the Acts of the Apostles

Acts 3‑9  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 7
1Acts 3-9
We have had the remarkable discourse of the apostle which followed the gift of the Holy Ghost. There we found not merely the proof of Jesus as the Messiah, instead of being weakened by the cross, confirmed; and that rejection, and, consequently, His departure to heaven, instead of being a stumbling-block, contrariwise the fulfillment of the most distinct and weighty prophecy in the word of God. But now, in this third chapter, we have the apostle not so much explaining what was new and essential to Christianity, but showing us a remarkable dealing of God—the tender mercy that still yearns over Israel. For this fresh discourse of Peter is strictly suitable to one that was not only an apostle of the church, but an apostle of the circumcision. This the Lord indicated long before, and it becomes more and more manifest that Peter was peculiarly one in whom God was mighty towards the circumcision. He that was to manifest the power of God to the uncircumcised had not yet appeared. Hence a striking miracle wrought by Peter and John his companion, and wrought, too, in the temple itself, gave an opportunity for the apostle to open out an appeal to Israel; and it is strictly so.
There is nothing now in this chapter about the gift of the Holy Ghost; there is nothing at all about their being baptized when they took the place of confessors of Christ; but he explains to them with great care that it was by no power or wisdom of theirs that the great deed was done. It was God putting power upon the Man whom they had despised and the nation abhorred. Solemn circumstances! A terrible fact to face! The Jews, the people of God, and the God of Israel, were totally opposed; and they were opposed not merely about something in their own moral ways; they were opposed about the One that God had raised up—raised up and sent to bless them. How awful, therefore, must their guilt be, that it was not merely failure. Even those that are most faithful fall, but here it was a blank and distinct rebellion against God, and rebellion against God when He had raised up the Messiah. Hence, the very object of it was to arrest the conscience of the Jew, but in doing so there is a most characteristic appeal of the apostle Peter which I cannot but say a little upon in passing.
He charges them with denying the holy and the just. What, Peter? Had not Peter denied the holy One and the just? The very thing he had done himself! Now, of two things one must be true. Either Peter was a man extremely insensible and dull in the matter of his own sin; or, on the contrary, God had so completely purged away that sin that Peter could speak as calmly and as triumphantly as if he had never been guilty of it. And that is exactly what God does, and I have no doubt that God was using this very thing—that God was bringing out that great truth which we know as an essential one of Christianity, but which was of peculiar moment to bring out for a Jew, because a Jew, having the law, would always be in danger of thinking that there must necessarily be some painful remembrance of what had been done against God by the law's knowledge of sin; and, accordingly, there would be, as they must have reasoned, a continual keeping up of the remembrance of delinquency, even if forgiven.
Now there is another thing that God is occupied with, and that is, not man and his sins, but Christ and the perfectness with which He has blotted them out from before God; nay, more than that, the perfectness, too, with which He has purged the conscience of the believer so that it is not hardness or insensibility for a man to speak calmly of the very sins he has been guilty of himself; but it is the triumph of faith to be able to look at them without a blush—to be able to speak of them without a blush—to be able to declaim against, and to charge upon the conscience of others, without the smallest wincing, the very thing which had been once his own shame, once his own sin, and that publicly before all, and that not very long before.
Now that is the fact as to Peter. You know very well that his ardor and, I must add, self-confidence had encouraged him to follow the Lord when He was apprehended, and to find his way among the servants, public and private, of the high priest; and there it was, when they detected by his language, if by nothing else, that he was a Galilaean too, and charged him with being one of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, that Peter there and then fell, and fell repeatedly, and fell, too, in the most solemn manner. And yet, beloved friends, that is the very thing that he here speaks of, and puts upon their conscience, as if he had never been guilty of it along with them.
I refer to this as a beautiful illustration of, what the apostle Paul calls in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “the worshippers once purged having no more conscience of sin.” Of course that does not mean that conscience did not feel, but that now conscience is clear—so completely clear that one could speak with this perfect freedom and, in fact, lay it at the door of other people. Surely Peter would not have denied it himself for an instant, but Peter was bound there and then not to be speaking of what he had judged himself for already, and what he was completely clear of before God. Now he had to do with them, and he had also to do with them as a witness of Jesus and of His redemption.
Well, this discourse of Peter, which we have before us now, does not merely bring out the power of the blood of Christ, but further, there is another thing that I must draw your attention to, and that is, the manner in which he presents the coming of the Lord Jesus. He never speaks about the Lord taking us to heaven. It is His coming to the earth that occupies Peter. Indeed, this is the way in which, habitually, the coming of the Lord, wherever it is treated in the Acts of the Apostles, is named. For instance, in the first chapter that same Jesus should “so come in like manner as they had seen Him go into heaven.” That does not mean His taking us there, but His coming thence Himself. It does not bring forward our accompanying, but it is the very same time; it is when we do accompany Him; when we follow Him out of heaven. In short, it is His coming into this scene—the world—His coming back again. So here, in addressing the Jews, he puts that before them. He says, “Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” We are all familiar with that change— “so,” not, “when.” “And he will send Jesus Christ which before was preached unto you.” Mark that. “Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things.” That is the point. It is not the removal of the saints to heaven, but it is the restitution of all things on the earth.
Now you must not suppose that that is any defect in Peter. Not only was it no defect, but it was exactly the right doctrine at the right time. You see that he was addressing not the children of God that were looking to follow the Lord into heaven, but he was speaking to the Jew, and he was showing that the coming of the Lord already—His humiliation, His suffering here below, His cross—had not taken away in the least degree the hope of Israel. Here is the hope of Israel. It is as fresh as ever. It is as fully maintained by Peter as by Isaiah. It is even more clearly presented by the apostle now than it had ever been by any Jewish prophet before. And you see the propriety that the apostle of circumcision should follow in the steps of, but should, at the same time carry forward the hope of, the prophets of the circumcision. All is harmonious in the word of God. He that was called for another work, who is to be taken out of Israel for the purpose of making the grace of God so much the more conspicuous to the Gentile, will come before us later on. I do not say that I shall take up his doctrine and his history in this course, though I may just look at it in passing. Our proper theme is Peter. I am merely now showing the consistency of the preaching of Peter with the place which we have seen assigned him by the Lord Jesus. I am showing, too, how he was being guided of God as being the foremost man at that time in file testimony of God here below. But how blessedly and simply, too, but convincingly, he was made the instrument of bringing forward exactly the right word of God for that time and place.
He tells them to repent and be converted, and this has always a great place as said to Israel; not by any means that repentance is withheld by the great apostle of the Gentiles. It would be a terrible lack if they had been called to repent, and we had been called only to believe, but it is perfectly true that faith gets an exceedingly marked place in the call to the Gentiles, and that repentance has an equally strong and prominent place in the call to Israel; only you must remember that he who repents always believes, and he who believes always repents. Still there they are—in the one case repentance being the prominent thing, and in the other place faith. And why so, seeing that they were both found in both? The reason was just this: the one had had the favored testimony of God, and had been false to it; therefore they are to repent. The other people had had no testimony at all, and they are called to believe. That is not that they were not called to repent, for I repeat again that there is no soul ever brought to God without repentance. It is not merely without faith, but without repentance. That is to say, that Gentiles are just as truly sinners as the Jews, only there is this difference—that we are never called “transgressors” like the Jews, nor are the Jews merely called “sinners” like us. “Sinners of the Gentiles,” “transgressors in Israel.” This you will find to be, if I may so say, the technical or the great difference between the two; and it is connected with this very point that I am now pressing; that is, that repentance has a conspicuous place in the call to the Jew, and faith has a conspicuous place in the call to the Gentile. Only, I repeat, both elements are in every soul that is born of God.
Well, this discourse has another point in it which I would say a word upon, for I am obliged to choose in so large a subject. It is not strictly correct that the apostle presented our Lord as God's Son, as in our common version. It is said, for instance, in the 13th verse, “The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus"; and again, in the last verse, “Unto you first God having raised up his Son Jesus.” In both these places it ought to be “Servant.” He does not mean Son. It is the word that is translated “servant” in the Greek version of Isaiah. “My elect, my servant, in whom my soul delighted,” and so on. It is not the proper word for son. I shall show the importance of this presently. It is Messiah; that is the point. And, as Messiah, the Lord Jesus is not prominently mentioned as Son. I do not the least deny that Son is recognized. For instance, in the second Psalm, “Thou art my Son.” That does not mean servant. It is Son, and therefore it is perfectly true that we do find the Sonship of the Lord Jesus connected with the Messiah, but it is not at all the characteristic way of speaking of the Messiah; whereas, when the apostle Paul comes forward we shall find that “Son” is the very foundation-stone. Indeed, it is because Peter in the Lord's ministry had confessed Him to be the Son of the living God that the Lord Jesus said, “Upon this rock.” I was right, therefore, in saying that it is the foundation-stone—the foundation-rock on which the church is built. And, immediately after, he reveals His intention to build the church.
Well now you see it is not a question of the church being brought out clearly yet. For that, Paul was raised up. Peter is still pleading with the Jews. He is still calling upon the nation to repent, and he is telling them that if they do repent God will send His Son, His Servant, His Messiah. That is the meaning of it. He would raise up His Servant, this Messiah, who would bless them, and he would bring in a new covenant and all their blessings. They refuse this, and accordingly this is what I am about to trace—the history of the refusal of the testimony of the Holy Ghost, as the Gospels show us the history of the refusal of the Lord Jesus.
When Peter was still preaching to them on this very occasion— “As Peter and John spake unto the people, the priests and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” All their system of thought, their unbelief, properly speaking, was in danger, for at that time the prevalent notion among the leaders of Israel—not the Pharisees—was that there was no resurrection. Those that took the lead at that time were Sadducees, and they felt most deeply the proclamation of the truth that there was a man risen from the dead and gone to heaven. It overthrew their whole system. They were moved, therefore, that they preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. It was not only the resurrection, but it was aggravated by this—a resurrection that had brought the power of God into the world as it is now. A man was raised from the dead and gone into the heaven in the midst of them. Why, it was clear that if that was the case it brought the power of God very close to them. Where had this mighty deed been done? In their midst—in Jerusalem itself, in their own day. It was not done in a corner; it was not done in some recess of the earth; it was not done where nobody had seen it and nobody had heard anything about it. It was in the midst of an armed band. It was in the midst of a nation that had been fully warned against it. That deceiver, as they said, had told them that He was to rise in three days. They were, therefore, fully aware of what they were to expect. All that made the miracle so much the more mighty as a testimony of the present power of God in dealing with this very world. He had risen from the dead, we may say, before their very eyes, although they did not see it. But still, there they were, guarding the very spot, and if it had been possible to see it, it must have been seen. But no, it was of that character that God would not give it to be seen except by chosen witnesses. They saw the Lord after the flesh; they never saw Him after He rose from the dead. Well, but still there was the fact. They were grieved about it; and hence they come down and lay hands upon the apostles, and put them in hold until the next day. This did not arrest the work of the Lord.
Many believed. The number of the men was about five thousand.
Well, on the morrow we see they hold their council. They were gathered together; “Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this? Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost.” It is clear that Peter was the man of that time. He was the man that God was using at that hour. Filled with the Holy Ghost, he said, “Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole, be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” And you will observe that he does not qualify it here. Now that he has these guilty leaders before him he does not say, “I wot that through ignorance ye did it,” for now you see they were making it most palpable and manifest that there was a will—a wicked will. Accordingly he does not allow of any excuse, and it is always so with God. When He meets souls at first He meets them as they are, with nothing but grace, and when they proceed in rejecting Christ it is no use denying that there is a rebellious will. And so it is here. “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.” And he quotes the well-known 118th Psalm, “This is the stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.” It was only accomplishing their own scriptures. But he adds, “Neither is there salvation in any other.” Here was the One they were rejecting above all! “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” And the Lord had brought in that great truth that it is in vain to look for salvation above the heavens. It is under the heavens; it is here on earth. The Son of man has on earth, as Christ says, power to forgive sins.” That is what He brought down from heaven, and here it is that this name continues to go forth. The Holy Ghost gives it currency and power to go forth here alone. It is not there, it is here, that a man must lie saved if saved at all. “So when they saw the boldness of Peter and John”
[W. K.]
(To be continued)