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becomes a devil all at once, and no man becomes an angel all at once.
Trust yourself to Christ, and He will lift you to Himself; turn your
back upon Him, as some of you are doing, and you will settle down,
down, down in the muck and the mire of your own sensuality and
selfishness, until at last the foul ooze spreads over your head, and
you are lost in the bog for ever.



'THEN SHALL THE LAME MAN LEAP AS AN HART'

'Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of
prayer, being the ninth hour. 2. And a certain man lame from his
mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the
temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into
the temple; 3. Who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple,
asked an alms. 4. And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him, with John,
said, Look on us. 5. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive
something of them. 6. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but
such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth
rise up and walk. 7. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him
up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. 8. And
he leaping up, stood, and walked, and entered with them into the
temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God. 9. And all the people
saw him walking and praising God: 10. And they knew that it was he
which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were
filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.
11. And as the lame man which was healed held Peter and John, all the
people ran together unto them in the porch that is called Solomon's,
greatly wondering. 12. And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the
people, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so
earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made
this man to walk? 13. The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob,
the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Son Jesus; whom ye delivered
up, and denied Him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to
let Him go. 14. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a
murderer to be granted unto you; 15. And killed the Prince of Life,
whom God hath raised from the dead, whereof we are witnesses. 16. And
His name through faith in His name hath made this man strong, whom ye
see and know; yea, the faith which is by Him hath given him this
perfect soundness in the presence of you all.' - ACTS iii. 1-16.

'Many wonders and signs were done by the Apostles' (Acts ii. 43), but
this one is recorded in detail, both because it was conspicuous as
wrought in the Temple, and because it led to weighty consequences. The
narrative is so vivid and full of minute particulars that it suggests
an eye-witness. Was Peter Luke's informant? The style of the story is
so like that of Mark's Gospel that we might reasonably presume so.

The scene and the persons are first set before us. It was natural that
a close alliance should be cemented between Peter and John, both
because they were the principal members of the quartet which stood
first among the Apostles, and because they were so unlike each other,
and therefore completed each other. Peter's practical force and eye for
externals, and John's more contemplative nature and eye for the unseen,
needed one another. So we find them together in the judgment hall, at
the sepulchre, and here.

They 'went up to the Temple,' or, to translate more exactly and more
picturesquely, 'were going up,' when the incident to be recorded stayed
them. They had passed through the court, and came to a gate leading
into the inner court, which was called 'Beautiful.' from its artistic
excellence, when they were arrested by the sight of a lame beggar, who
had been carried there every day for many years to appeal, by the
display of his helplessness, to the entering worshippers. Precisely
similar sights may be seen to-day at the doors of many a famous
European church and many a mosque. He mechanically wailed out his
formula, apparently scarcely looking at the two strangers, nor
expecting a response. Long habit and many rebuffs had not made him
hopeful, but it was his business to ask, and so he asked.

Some quick touch of pity shot through the two friends' hearts, which
did not need to be spoken in order that each might feel it to be shared
by the other. So they paused, and, as was in keeping with their
characters, Peter took speech in hand, while John stood by assenting.
Purposed devotion is well delayed when postponed in order to lighten
misery.

There must have been something magnetic in Peter's voice and steady
gaze as he said, 'Look on us!' It was a strange preface, if only some
small coin was to follow. It kindled some flicker of hope of he knew
not what in the beggar. He expected to receive 'something' from them,
and, no doubt, was asking himself what. Expectation and receptivity
were being stirred in him, though he could not divine what was coming.
We have no right to assume that his state of mind was operative in
fitting him to be cured, nor to call his attitude 'faith,' but still he
was lifted from his usual dreary hopelessness, and some strange
anticipation was creeping into his heart.

Then comes the grand word of power. Again Peter is spokesman, but John
takes part, though silently. With a fixed gaze, which told of
concentrated purpose, and went to the lame man's heart, Peter
triumphantly avows what most men are ashamed of, and try to hide:
'Silver and gold have I none.' He had 'left all and followed Christ';
he had not made demands on the common stock. Empty pockets may go along
with true wealth.

There is a fine flash of exultant confidence in Peter's next words,
which is rather spoiled by the Authorised Version. He did not say
'_such_ as I have,' as it it was inferior to money, which he had not,
but he said '_what_ I have' (Rev. Ver.), - a very different tone. The
expression eloquently magnifies the power which he possessed as far
more precious than wealth, and it speaks of his assurance that he did
possess it - an assurance which rested, not only on his faith in his
Lord's promise and gift, but on his experience in working former
miracles.

How deep his words go into the obligations of possession! 'What I have
I give' should be the law for all Christians in regard to all that they
have, and especially in regard to spiritual riches. God gives us these,
not only in order that we may enjoy them ourselves, but in order that
we may impart, and so in our measure enter into the joy of our Lord and
know the greater blessedness of giving than of receiving. How often it
has been true that a poor church has been a miracle-working church, and
that, when it could not say 'Silver and gold have I none' it has also
lost the power of saying, 'In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
walk'!

The actual miracle is most graphically narrated. With magnificent
boldness Peter rolls out his Master's name, there, in the court of the
Temple, careless who may hear. He takes the very name that had been
used in scorn, and waves it like a banner of victory. His confidence in
his possession of power was not confidence in himself, but in his Lord.
When we can peal forth the Name with as much assurance of its
miracle-working power as Peter did, we too shall be able to make the
lame walk. A faltering voice is unworthy to speak such words, and will
speak them in vain.

The process of cure is minutely described. Peter put out his hand to
help the lame man up, and, while he was doing so, power came into the
shrunken muscles and weak ankles, so that the cripple felt that he
could raise himself, and, though all passed in a moment, the last part
of his rising was his own doing, and what began with his being 'lifted
up' ended in his 'leaping up.' Then came an instant of standing still,
to steady himself and make sure of his new strength, and then he began
to walk.

The interrupted purpose of devotion could now be pursued, but with a
gladsome addition to the company. How natural is that 'walking and
leaping and praising God'! The new power seemed so delightful, so
wonderful, that sober walking did not serve. It was a strange way of
going into the Temple, but people who are borne along by the sudden joy
of new gifts beyond hope need not be expected to go quietly, and
sticklers for propriety who blamed the man's extravagance, and would
have had him pace along with sober gait and downcast eyes, like a
Pharisee, did not know what made him thus obstreperous, even in his
devout thankfulness. 'Leaping and praising God' do make a singular
combination, but before we blame, let us be sure that we understand.

One of the old manuscripts inserts a clause which brings out more
clearly that there was a pause, during which the three remained in the
Temple in prayer. It reads, 'And when Peter and John came out, he came
out with them, holding them, and they [the people] being astonished,
stood in the porch,' etc. So we have to think of the buzzing crowd,
waiting in the court for their emergence from the sanctuary. Solomon's
porch was, like the Beautiful gate, on the east side of the Temple
enclosure, and may probably have been a usual place of rendezvous for
the brethren, as it had been a resort of their Lord.

It was a great moment, and Peter, the unlearned Galilean, the former
cowardly renegade, rose at once to the occasion. Truly it was given him
in that hour what to speak. His sermon is distinguished by its
undaunted charging home the guilt of Christ's death on the nation, its
pitying recognition of the ignorance which had done the deed, and its
urgent entreaty. We here deal with its beginning only. 'Why marvel ye
at this?' - it would have been a marvel if they had not marvelled. The
thing was no marvel to the Apostle, because he believed that Jesus was
the Christ and reigned in Heaven. Miracles fall into their place and
become supremely 'natural' when we have accepted that great truth.

The fervent disavowal of their 'own power or holiness' as concerned in
the healing is more than a modest disclaimer. It leads on to the
declaration of who is the true Worker of all that is wrought for men by
the hands of Christians. That disavowal has to be constantly repeated
by us, not so much to turn away men's admiration or astonishment from
us, as to guard our own foolish hearts from taking credit for what it
may please Jesus to do by us as His tools.

The declaration of Christ as the supreme Worker is postponed till after
the solemn indictment of the nation. But the true way to regard the
miracle is set forth at once, as being God's glorifying of Jesus. Peter
employs a designation of our Lord which is peculiar to these early
chapters of Acts. He calls Him God's 'Servant,' which is a quotation of
the Messianic title in the latter part of Isaiah, 'the Servant of the
Lord.'

The fiery speaker swiftly passes to contrast God's glorifying with
Israel's rejection. The two points on which he seizes are noteworthy.
'Ye delivered Him up'; that is, to the Roman power. That was the
deepest depth of Israel's degradation. To hand over their Messiah to
the heathen, - what could be completer faithlessness to all Israel's
calling and dignity? But that was not all: 'ye denied Him.' Did Peter
remember some one else than the Jews who had done the same, and did a
sudden throb of conscious fellowship even in that sin make his voice
tremble for a moment? Israel's denial was aggravated because it was 'in
the presence of Pilate,' and had overborne his determination to release
his prisoner. The Gentile judge would rise in the judgment to condemn
them, for he had at least seen that Jesus was innocent, and they had
hounded him on to an illegal killing, which was murder as laid to his
account, but national apostasy as laid to theirs.

These were daring words to speak in the Temple to that crowd. But the
humble fisherman had been filled with the Spirit, who is the
Strengthener, and the fear of man was dead in him. If we had never
heard of Pentecost, we should need to invent something of the sort to
make intelligible the transformation of these timid folk, the first
disciples, into heroes. A dead Christ, lying in an unknown grave, could
never have inspired His crushed followers with such courage, insight,
and elastic confidence and gladness in the face of a frowning world.



'THE PRINCE OF LIFE'

'But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be
granted unto you; 15. And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath
raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.' - ACTS iii. 14, 15.

This early sermon of Peter's, to the people, is marked by a comparative
absence of the highest view of Christ's person and work. It is open to
us to take one of two explanations of that fact. We may either say that
the Apostle was but learning the full significance of the marvellous
events that had passed so recently, or we may say that he suited his
words to his audience, and did not declare all that he knew.

At the same time, we should not overlook the significance of the
Christology which it does contain. 'His child Jesus' is really a
translation of Isaiah's 'Servant of the Lord.' 'The Holy One and the
Just' is a distinct assertion of Jesus' perfect, sinless manhood, and
'the Prince of Life' plainly asserts Jesus to be the Lord and Source of
it.

Notice, too, the pathetic 'denied': was Peter thinking of the shameful
hour in his own experience? It is a glimpse into the depth of his
penitence, and the tenderness with others' sins which it had given him,
that he twice uses the word here, as if he had said 'You have done no
more than I did myself. It is not for me to heap reproaches on you. We
have been alike in sin - and I can preach forgiveness to you sinners,
because I have received it for myself.'

Notice, too, the manifold antitheses of the words. Barabbas is set
against Christ; the Holy One and the Just against a robber, the Prince
of Life against a murderer. 'You killed' - 'the Prince of Life.' 'You
killed' - 'God raised.'

There are here three paradoxes, three strange and contradictory things:
the paradoxes of man's perverted and fatal choice, of man's hate
bringing death to the Lord of life, and of God's love and power causing
life to come by death.

I. The paradox of man's fatal choice.

There occurs often in history a kind of irony in which the whole
tendency of a time or of a conflict is summed up in a single act, and
certainly the fact which is referred to here is one of these. Let us
put it as it would have seemed to an onlooker then, leaving out for the
moment any loftier meaning which may attach to it.

Peter's words here, thus boldly addressed to the people, are a strong
testimony to the impression which the character of Christ had made on
His contemporaries. 'The Holy One and the Just' implies moral
perfection. The whole narrative of the Crucifixion brings out that
impression. Pilate's wife speaks with awe of 'that just person.' 'Which
of you convinceth me of sin?' 'If I have done evil, bear witness of the
evil.' 'I find no fault in Him.' We may take it for granted that the
impression Jesus made among His contemporaries was, at the lowest, that
He was a pure and good man.

The nation had to choose one of two. Jesus was the one; who was the
other? A man half brigand, half rebel, who had raised some petty revolt
against Rome, more as a pretext for robbery and crime than from
patriotism, and whose hands reeked with blood. And this was the
nation's hero!

The juxtaposition throws a strong light on the people's motive for
rejecting Jesus. The rulers may have condemned Him for blasphemy, but
the people had a more practical reason, and in it no doubt the rulers
shared. It was not because He claimed to be the Messiah that they gave
Him up to Pilate, but because He would not meet their notions of what
the Messiah should be and do. If He had called them to arms, not a man
of them would have betrayed Him to Pilate, but all, or the more daring
of them, would have rallied to His standard. Their hate was the measure
of their deep disappointment with His course. If instead of showing
love and meekness, He had blown up the coals of religious hatred; if
instead of going about doing good, He had mustered the men of lawless
Galilee for a revolt, would these fawning hypocrites have dragged him
to Pilate on the charge of forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, and of
claiming to be a King? Why, there was not one of them but would have
been glad to murder every tax-gatherer in Palestine, not one of them
but bore inextinguishable in his inmost heart the faith in 'one Christ
a King.' And if that meek and silent martyr had only lifted His finger,
He might have had legions of His accusers at His back, ready to sweep
Pilate and his soldiers out of Jerusalem. They saw Christ's goodness
and holiness. It did not attract them. They wanted a Messiah who would
bring them outward freedom by the use of outward weapons, and so they
all shouted 'Not this man but Barabbas!' The whole history of the
nation was condensed in that one cry - their untamable obstinacy, their
blindness to the light of God, their fierce grasp of the promises which
they did not understand, their hard worldliness, their cruel
patriotism, their unquenchable hatred of their oppressors, which was
only equalled by their unquenchable hatred of those who showed them the
only true way for deliverance.

And this strange paradox is not confined to these Jews. It is repeated
wherever Christ is presented to men. We are told that all men naturally
admire goodness, and so on. Men mostly know it when they see it, but I
doubt whether they all either admire or like it. People generally had
rather have something more outward and tangible. It is not
spiritualising this incident, but only referring it to the principle of
which it is an illustration, to ask you to see in it the fatal choice
of multitudes. Christ is set before us all, and His beauty is partially
seen but is dimmed by externals. Men's desires are fixed on gross
sensuous delights, or on success in business, or on intellectual
eminence, or on some of the thousand other visible and temporal objects
that outshine, to vulgar eyes, the less dazzling lustre of the things
unseen. They appreciate these, and make heroes of the men who have won
them. These are their ideals, but of Jesus they have little care.

And is it not true that all such competitors of His, when they lead men
to prefer them to Him, are 'murderers,' in a sadder sense than Barabbas
was? Do they not slay the souls of their admirers? Is it not but too
ghastly a reality that all who thus choose them draw down ruin on
themselves and 'love death'?

This fatal paradox is being repeated every day in the lives of
thousands. The crowds who yelled, 'Not this man but Barabbas!' were
less guilty and less mad than those who to-day cry, 'Not Jesus but
worldly wealth, or fleeting bodily delights, or gratified ambition!'

II. The paradox of Death's seeming conquest over the Lord of Life.

The word rendered 'Prince' means an originator, and hence a leader and
hence a lord. Whether Peter had yet reached a conception of the
divinity of Jesus or not, he had clearly reached a much higher one of
Him than he had attained before His death. In some sense he was
beginning to recognise that His relation to 'life' was loftier and more
mysterious than that of other men. Was it His death only that thus
elevated the disciples' thoughts of Jesus? Strange that if He died and
there an end, such a result should have followed. One would have
expected His death to have shattered their faith in Him, but somehow it
strengthened their faith. Why did they not all continue to lament, as
did the two of them on the road to Emmaus: 'We trusted that this had
been He who should have redeemed Israel' - but now we trust no more, and
our dreams are buried in His grave? Why did they not go back to Galilee
and their nets? What raised their spirits, their courage, and increased
their understanding of Him, and their faith in Him? How came His death
to be the occasion of consolidating, not of shattering, their
fellowship? How came Peter to be so sure that a man who had died was
the 'Prince of Life'? The answer, the only one psychologically
possible, is in what Peter here proclaims to unwilling ears, 'Whom God
raised from the dead.'

The fact of the Resurrection sets the fact of the Death in another
light. Meditating on these twin facts, the Death and Resurrection of
Jesus, we hear Himself speaking as He did to John in Patmos: 'I am the
Living One who became dead, and lo, I am alive for evermore!'

If we try to listen with the ears of these first hearers of Peter's
words, we shall better appreciate his daring paradox. Think of the
tremendous audacity of the claim which they make, that Jesus should be
the 'Prince of Life,' and of the strange contradiction to it which the
fact that they 'killed' Him seems to give. How could death have power
over the Prince of Life? That sounds as if, indeed, the 'sun were
turned into darkness,' or as if fire became ice. That brief clause 'ye
killed the Prince of Life' must have seemed sheer absurdity to the
hearers whose hands were still red with the blood of Jesus.

But there is another paradox here. It was strange that death should be
able to invade that Life, but it is no less strange that men should be
able to inflict it. But we must not forget that Jesus died, not because
men slew Him, but because He willed to die. The whole of the narratives
of the Crucifixion in the Gospels avoid using the word 'death.' Such
expressions as He 'gave up the ghost,' or the like, are used, implying
what is elsewhere distinctly asserted, that His death was His offering
of Himself, the result of His own volition, not of exhaustion or of
torture. Thus, even in dying, He showed Himself the Lord of Life and
the Master of Death. Men indeed fastened Jesus to the Cross, but He
died, not because He was so fastened, but because He willed to 'make
His soul an offering for sin.' Bound as it were to a rock in the midst
of the ocean, He, of His own will, and at His own time, bowed His head,
and let the waves of the sea of death roll over it.

III. The triumphant divine paradox of life given and death conquered
through a death.

Jesus is 'Prince' in the sense of being source of life to mankind, just
because He died. Hie death is the death of Death. His apparent defeat
is His real victory.

By His death He takes away our sins.

By His death He abolishes death.

The physical fact remains, but all else which makes the 'sting of
death' to men is gone. It is no more a solitude, for He has died, and
thereby He becomes a companion in that hour to every lover of His. Its
darkness changes into light to those who, by 'following Him,' have,
even there, 'the light of life.' This Samson carried away the gates of
the prison on His own strong shoulders when He came forth from it. It
is His to say, 'O death! I will be thy plague.'

By His death He diffuses life.

'The Spirit was not given' till Jesus was 'glorified,' which
glorification is John's profound synonym for His crucifixion. When the
alabaster box of His pure body was broken, the whole house of humanity
was filled with the odour of the ointment.

So the great paradox becomes a blessed truth, that man's deepest sin
works out God's highest act of Love and Pardon.



THE HEALING POWER OF THE NAME

'And His name through faith in His name hath made this man strong, whom
ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by Him hath given him this
perfect soundness in the presence of you all.' - ACTS iii. 16.

Peter said, 'Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power
or holiness we had made this man to walk?' eagerly disclaiming being
anything else than a medium through which Another's power operated.
Jesus Christ said, 'That ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on
earth to forgive sins, I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and
walk' - unmistakably claiming to be a great deal more than a medium. Why
the difference? Jesus Christ did habitually in His miracles adopt the
tone on which Moses once ventured when he smote the rock and said, 'Ye
rebels! must _we_ bring the water for you?' and he was punished for it
by exclusion from the Promised Land. Why the difference? Moses was 'in
all his house as a servant, but Christ as a Son over His own house';
and what was arrogance in the servant was natural and reasonable in the
Son.

The gist of this verse is a reference to Jesus Christ as a source of



Online LibraryAlexander MaclarenExpositions of Holy Scripture: the Acts → online text (page 8 of 57)