But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted to you;
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Ye denied the Holy One and the Just.—The language, though startlingly new to the hearers, had been partially anticipated. It had been used of the Christ by the demoniacs (Mark 1:24). The best MSS. give St. Peter’s confession in John 6:69 in the form, “Thou art the Holy One of God.” Pilate’s wife, and Pilate himself, had borne their witness to Jesus as emphatically “Just” (Matthew 27:19; Matthew 27:24). It is interesting to note the recurrence of the word as applied to Christ in the writings of each of the Apostles who were now proclaiming it (1Peter 3:18; 1John 2:1), yet more so to think of this as the result of their three years’ converse with their Master. To them He was emphatically, above all the sons of men that they had known, the Holy and the Righteous One.
‘THEN SHALL THE LAME MAN LEAP AS AN HART’
‘THE PRINCE OF LIFE’
Acts 3:14 - Acts 3:15.
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.Psalm 16:10. Compare the notes on Acts 2:27.
And the Just - The word "just" here denotes "innocent," or "one who was free from crime." It is properly used in reference to law, and denotes "one who stands upright in the view of the law, or who is not chargeable with crime." In this sense, the Lord Jesus was not only personally innocent, but even before his judges he stood unconvicted of any crime. The crime charged on him at first was blasphemy Matthew 26:65, and on this charge the Sanhedrin had condemned him without proof. But of this charge Pilate would not take cognizance, and hence, before him they charged him with sedition, Luke 23:2. Neither of these charges were made out, and of course, in the eye of the law, he was innocent and just. It greatly aggravated their crime that they demanded his death still, even after it was ascertained that they could prove nothing against him, thus showing that it was mere hatred and malice that led them to seek his death.
And desired a murderer - Matthew 27:21.
hath glorified his Son Jesus—rather, "his Servant Jesus," as the same word is rendered in Mt 12:18, but in that high sense in which Isaiah applies it always to Messiah (Isa 42:1; 49:6; 52:13; 53:11). When "Son" is intended a different word is used.
whom ye delivered up, &c.—With what heroic courage does Peter here charge his auditors with the heaviest of all conceivable crimes, and with what terrific strength of language are these charges clothed!But ye denied the Holy One; Christ the anointed, when they cried out as with one voice,
We have no king but Caesar, John 19:15; disclaiming our Redeemer, and his being anointed over them.
And desired a murderer; to wit, Barabbas, crying out, Not this man, but Barabbas, John 18:40; which much aggravated their impiety; when the choice was given unto them of two, so vastly different, the just Jesus, and the murderous Barabbas, they chose the latter, to their destruction and confusion unto this present day. Where will blindness of mind and hardness of heart end! Psalm 16:10 and who is "just" or "righteous", both in his person, and in the discharge of his office, and has wrought a righteousness for his people, which is imputed to them. These characters may have a particular regard to the purity of Christ, as man, and to the innocence of his life, and the harmlessness of his actions, in opposition to the unjust charges of his enemies, and the base treatment he met with from them who denied him to be the Christ, the Redeemer and Saviour:
and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; when it was put to their choice, who they would have released, Christ or Barabbas; they requested it as a favour, and desired they might be gratified in having Barabbas, a thief, and a robber, who, with others, had raised an insurrection, and committed murder in it, released, and Christ crucified. They desired an act of grace for him, and a sentence of condemnation to a most shameful and painful death on Christ.But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you;
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Acts 3:14-15. Ὑμεῖς δέ] Contrast to κρίναντος ἐκ. ἀπολύειν; Acts 3:13.
τὸν ἅγιον καὶ δίκαιον] the κατʼ ἐξοχήν Holy (consecrated to God, inasmuch as He is the עֶבֶד יְהֹוָה) and Just (innocent and entirely righteous, see on John 16:10). Comp. Isaiah 53:11. To this characteristic description of Jesus ἄνδρα φονέα (Barabbas, see Luke 23:19; comp. on John 18:40) forms a purposely chosen contrast: a man who was a murderer. Comp. Soph. O. C. 948: ἄνδρα πατροκτόνον. O. R. 842: ἄνδρας λῃστάς. It is more emphatic, more solemn, than the simple φονέα but ἄνθρωπον φονέα would have been more contemptuous, Bernhardy, p. 48.
Χαρισθῆναι ὑμῖν] condonari vobis (Ducker, ad Flor. iii. 5. 10), that he should by way of favour be delivered to you. Plut. C. Gracch. 4; Acts 25:11; Acts 27:24; Philemon 1:22. See Loesner, Obss. p. 172 f.
τὸν δὲ ἀρχηγὸν τῆς ζωῆς] forms a double contrast, namely, to ἄνδρα φονέα and to ἀπεκτείνατε. It means: the author (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 12:2; Micah 1:13; 1Ma 9:61; Plat. Locr. p. 96 C; Tim. p. 21 E) of life, inasmuch as Christ by His whole life-work up to His resurrection was destined (Acts 3:20-21) to provide eternal life, all that is included in the Messianic σωτηρία (Hebrews 2:10). See John 3:16; John 11:25; 2 Timothy 1:10. The inclusion, however, of physical life (de Wette, Hackett), according to the idea of John 1:4, has no support in the text, nor would it have been so understood by the hearers, although even Chrysostom comes ultimately to the idea of the original Living one.
ὃν ὁ Θεὸς … οὗ ἡμεῖς κ.τ.λ.] great in its simplicity. The latter, in which οὗ is neuter, is the burden of the apostolic consciousness. Comp. on Acts 2:32. Observe, moreover, on Acts 3:14-15 : “Graphice sane majestatem illam apostolicam expressit, quam illi fuisse in dicendo vel una ejus testatur epistola,” Erasmus. The Epistle of Peter is written as with runic characters.Acts 3:14. τὸν ἅγιον καὶ δίκαιον: both epithets are used of John the Baptist, Mark 6:20, ἄνδρα δίκαιον καὶ ἅγιον, but Jesus is emphatically “the Holy and Righteous One” R.V. Not only is the sinlessness of His human character emphasised, but also associated with the language of prophecy. St. Peter had already spoken of Jesus as God’s Holy One, Acts 2:27, and if the word used here means rather one consecrated to God’s service, it is the thought involved in the παῖς Θεοῦ (ἅγιος, e.g., ἔκλεκτος θεοῦ, see Grimm, sub v., and cf Isaiah 42:1 LXX). The word was used by the demoniacs as they felt the power of the unique holiness of Christ, Mark 1:34, Luke 4:34, and in St. John’s Gospel, John 6:69, it is the title given to Jesus by St. Peter in his great confession.—τὸν δικ.: the reference to the language of prophecy is unmistakable. The suffering Servant of Jehovah was also the righteous Servant, Isaiah 53:11 (cf. Acts 11:5, and Jeremiah 23:5), see Acts 7:52; Acts 22:14. Later, in the Book of Enoch, the title is applied to the Messiah as the Righteous One, xxxviii. 2, liii. 6, xlvi. 3 (Charles’ edition, pp. 48, 112, 144). In Acts 7:52; Acts 7:56, the title is found on the lips of St. Stephen, and in Acts 22:14, Ananias, a Jewish Christian, announces to Paul that God had chosen him to see the Righteous One. When we remember too that this title is used again in the writings of each of the Apostles, who now appealed to it, 1 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:1, cf. Acts 3:20 (Revelation 3:7), it would seem that it was not only a favourite one amongst these early believers, but that it affords in itself a marvellous proof of the impression made by the human life of Jesus upon those who knew Him best, or who at all events, like St. Stephen, had ample opportunities of learning the details of that life of holiness and righteousness, cf. also Matthew 27:19; Matthew 27:24, Luke 19:47.—ἄνδρα φονέα: nearly all commentators dwell upon the marked contrast between this description of Barabbas and that just given of Jesus. Both St. Mark, Mark 15:7, and St. Luke, Luke 23:19, notice that Barabbas was not only a robber but a murderer. The addition, ἄνδρα, common in Luke, makes the expression stronger than the simple φονέα; cf. Soph., O. C., 948, ἄνδρα πατροκτόνον, O. R., 842, ἄνδρας λῃστάς. No crime was more abhorrent to the Christian life, as St. Peter himself indicates, 1 Peter 4:15.—χαρισθῆναι: to be granted to you as a χάρις or favour, as if St. Peter would recall the fact that Pilate had given them a gratification! The verb is used several times in Luke, three times in his Gospel, Acts 7:21; Acts 7:42-43, and four times in Acts, cf. Acts 25:11; Acts 25:16; Acts 27:24, elsewhere only in St. Paul’s Epistles, where it is found fifteen times. In the LXX, cf. Esther 8:7, Sir 12:3, and several times in the Books of the Maccabees, cf. 2Ma 3:31; 2Ma 3:33, and other instances in Hatch and Redpath, sub v. St. Chrys. writes: “Peter shows the great aggravation of the act. As he has them under his hand, he strikes hard; while they were hardened he refrained from such language, but when their minds are most moved then he strikes home, now that they are in a condition to feel it” (Hom., ix.).14. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just] Whom even the demoniac (Mark 1:24) had confessed to be “the Holy One of God.”
desired a murderer] Barabbas, who had committed murder, Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19.Acts 3:14. Ὑμεῖς δὲ, but ye) The four parts of the assertion are to be observed, or rather the two parts consisting of two members each: God hath glorified—, whom ye indeed delivered up—. But ye denied—whom God hath raised. For Peter states: I. The act of GOD, and the consequent act on the part of the Jews; II. The act of the Jews, and the consequent act on the part of GOD.—τὸν ἅγιον καὶ δίκαιον, the Holy and the Just One) Antonomasia [the substitution of a descriptive or appellative designation for a proper name]. He speaks of the One JESUS. He was Holy, in respect to His being the servant or minister (παῖδα, Acts 3:13) of God, whom GOD hath glorified. For קדש and כבוד, Holiness (sanctity) and Glory, contain almost the same notion. The same was “the Just One” (ch. Acts 7:52, Acts 22:14), even in the judgment of Pilate. Moreover, the preaching (proclamation) of the Sanctity of JESUS is opposed to the opinion entertained by the multitude as to the ‘power’ of the apostles: the preaching of His Justice [His being the Just One] is opposed to the ‘piety, (εὐσεβείᾳ) imputed to them; Acts 3:12.—ἠρνήσασθε, ye have denied) This verb is repeated, having regard to them in a different point of view. They denied His kingdom, Acts 3:13 : they denied His sanctity and justice, Acts 3:14.—ᾐτήσασθε, ye desired) Even if Pilate had offered Barabbas to you, ye ought to have besought him that Jesus should be let go.—ἄνδρα φονέα, a man a murderer) There follows a magnificent antithesis: but the Author, or Prince of life. Christ was this even before His suffering of death.Verse 14. - Holy and righteous One for Holy One and the Just, A.V. ; asked for for desired, A.V.
Or demanded. See on Luke 11:9.
A murderer (ἄνδρα φονέα)
Lit., a man who was a murderer.
To be granted (χαρισθῆναι)
By way of favor (χάρις).
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