'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.