Sermon Commentary for Sunday, April 14, 2024

Acts 3:12-19 Commentary

They didn’t know what they were doing or — more importantly — who they were doing it to when they handed Jesus over to be killed, disowning him before Pilate and asking for Barrabbas to be released instead. After a gut-punching litany of accusation like that, there’s a small grace, at least, in Peter’s willingness to attribute this behavior to ignorance rather than malice. It is a small grace mirrored after a much larger grace, that of Jesus himself on the Cross, “Forgive them Father, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Peter does not stand outside the people group he is chastising. He is one of them! At the start of this story, he was on his way to the Temple to pray. He is devoutly Jewish. Willie Jennings refers to this as “an in-house conversation” and a “family argument.” After all, consider the fact that Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion aren’t high points for Peter either.

What he does here is what we are all called to do — we speak to one another about the sin we share. In-house conversations. Faithfulness in the form of family arguments. And, at least in this case of Peter addressing worshippers in the Temple, seeing what NT Wright calls, “An extended invitation, rooted in God’s covenant faithfulness, for them to receive forgiveness and refreshment as much as anyone else. The promise of restoration of all things is, after all, a deeply Jewish promise.”

More than blame or accusation, this is the point Peter is working to make: Jesus is the fulfillment of an old, “deeply Jewish” promise. Thinking with a missiological perspective, or an evangelistic mindset, what Peter does here is beautiful. He embeds the story of Jesus within the history of the people he’s speaking to. “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers…”

This is how God identifies God’s presence to Moses, speaking from the burning bush in Exodus 3. As though God was saying: “This strange thing that is happening right now, Moses? This strange task that I am giving you? This strange moment is part of my covenant faithfulness. I am keeping my promise to you right now.”

Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant faithfulness. The same faithfulness that called Abraham to a new land, that sustained Abraham as he waited for an heir. That same faithfulness is found and fulfilled in Jesus. Peter adds, “This is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.” Peter name drops the prophets and Samuel. And, though you didn’t know it, Peter lands his message with these words, “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you.” The old promise was fulfilled — though not in any way you might have imagined. It is fulfilled through Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

NT Wright summarizes Peter’s teaching like this: “He is understanding the Old Testament as a single great story which was constantly pointing forward to something that God was going to do through Abraham and his family, something that Moses, Samuel, Isaiah and the rest were pointing on toward as well. This great Something was the restoration of all things, the time when everything would be put right at last. And now, he says, it’s happened! It’s happening in Jesus! And you can be part of it.”

Jesus is the fulfillment of an old “deeply Jewish” promise. After embedding the story of Jesus in the history of the people he’s speaking to, Peter turns their attention from the past to the future. Jesus is a new promise foretold. Jesus is in heaven now but he is coming again and, when he does, God will “restore everything, as he promised long ago.” This whole sermon began because Peter and John healed a man. The acts of healing and restoration are the beginnings, the foretastes, the hints of a new Kingdom to come, a complete and total restoration. The creation will no longer groan under the floodwaters or break open along fault lines. People will be restored to one another and to God. There will be no wars between nations or petty disagreements among family members. There is a day coming when all things will be restored.

Like a Venn diagram between the old promise fulfilled and the new promise foretold, Peter is inviting this congregation to live in the overlapping moment. It is the same overlapping moment in which we live today and in which we are commanded, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out that time of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Old promises fulfilled, new promises foretold. Jesus calls us to stand in this overlapping moment — with all our needs and longings, sins, desires and idolatries — and to see that he is standing with us. Jesus himself challenges our idolatries, shapes our desires, forgives our sins, fulfills our longings and ministers to our needs.

After all, this is Peter’s central claim. When the congregation demands to know more about the man’s miraculous healing, Peter tells them: It wasn’t us! Rather, what you have witnessed is a work made possible “By faith in the name of Jesus…It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.”


It is a wonderful principal of interpersonal relations: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.” I was reminded of this principal while reading the text for this commentary because, in fact, it is exactly Peter’s approach to his fellow Jews in verse 17. “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.”


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