Dear friends in Christ! Today’s text is a glimpse into the life in the Early Church not long after Jesus resurrection and ascension. Peter and John were going to the temple. Every day at the gate of the temple there was a lame man seeking mercy, asking for alms. Peter and John must have walked past this man many times —perhaps giving him something, perhaps at times not. It was even possible that during His earthly ministry, our Lord Himself saw this man begging at the temple. But this day was different! On this day Christ wanted to heal that man so he could walk and so the Holy Spirit moved Peter and John to heal him [Ac. 3.4]: with John, Peter said [to the lame man], “Look at us.” So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping and praising God.
This miracle that Jesus worked through Peter and John was not done for the sake of doing a miracle, not for the sake of a show. It certainly had blessing and benefit for that lame man, but it didn’t end there. The apostles used this miracle as an opportunity to proclaim Jesus as the long awaited and promised Savior who is to be listened to; to show indeed that this Jesus is the Messiah, as He rose from the dead; to call the people to repentance and to faith in this Jesus, as Peter says here—To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities. This preaching about Jesus and His resurrection aroused the wrath of the religious leaders of the Jews who arrested Peter and John. But, for the Jews, the harm was already done: However many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men that came to be about five thousand. No matter how much Christ’s enemies may rage and fight against Christ—as in our text, our Lord’s own apostles are in the hands of those who hate Him—the gates of hell do not and cannot prevail against Christ. This is in fulfillment of the prophecy about Jesus [Ps. 110.2]: Rule in the midst of Your enemies.
1. Christ’s kingdom here on earth is a kingdom of the word. By His holy word He establishes His kingdom as He works faith in the hearts of people, bringing them into His holy Church. That word goes out, today, as it did that day, by faithful speakers of that word who proclaim Christ. Although the Jews’ rejected and opposed, 5000 men heard and believed Peter’s preaching of Christ. Precisely here Jesus is ruling in the midst of His enemies—by His simple, humble Word.
In our text, Peter and John are surrounded by Christ’s enemies, the Jewish council. But Christ is still ruling there! He gives Peter His Holy Spirit and the words to say: Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them… This is precisely what Jesus had promised He would do. Earlier He had told them [Mt. 10.19]: But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Christ is ruling here in the midst of His enemies as He gives His faithful apostles His Holy Spirit and the word to speak.
It is clear that Peter isn’t speaking by his own authority or by his own special speaking ability but by the Holy Spirit. Our text: Now when [the Jews] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they began marveling. That very fact showed that Christ was there—leading and empowering them; ruling in the midst of His enemies; and they could do nothing about it. Christ is where His word His. That very thing that the Jews noticed about Peter and John—that they spoke with authority and boldness, although being uneducated and untrained—was the Holy Spirit in them; was Christ ruling in the midst of His enemies—He was having His word go forth. The power of God is seen all the more clearly as these uneducated and untrained men proclaimed Christ with all boldness.
The same Holy Spirit who was at work in Peter and John that day, is still at work in our Lord’s dear Christians today—in you and me. That same Holy Spirit enables us to give an answer about our faith and hope in Christ. Christ is still ruling in the midst of His enemies as He has His word go out into the world through the proclamation and confession of faith of His dear Christians.
How blessed we are that Christ works through us; that He wants to work through us to get His word out to gather people into His Church, His kingdom.
The facts gradually sunk in to the Jews: They were recognizing that they had been with Jesus. These men had been with Jesus. They had the Holy Spirit. That’s why they were bold and could point to all these OT prophecies and show that they had been fulfilled in Jesus. The same is true with us—we are with Jesus, here in church around His word and sacrament, in our homes around our bibles and faithful devotional books, gathered together with our fellow Christians in Bible Class, when we ponder the word we have heard in church or read and studied in our devotion. The Holy Spirit can then use us as His instrument and speak through us as He brings to our remembrance what He has told us in the word about Christ and His doctrine; He strengthens us so that we are sure of what we believe and can speak boldly what He gives us to say. We are the Holy Spirit’s instrument and mouthpiece like Peter and John were, when we, Peter later writes [I 3.15]: We sanctify the Lord God in [our] hearts and [are] always ready to give a defense to everyone who asks [us] a reason for the hope that is in [us]. Christ rules in the midst of His enemies by the word that we are blessed to share.
He can rule in the midst of His enemies because He is the risen and ascended Lord. Peter says in our text: Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in connection with the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in connection with Him this [formerly lame] man stands before you whole. His enemies crucified Christ and thought was dead—that was their verdict on Him; but God approved Him and raised Him from the dead. Alive, He now rules in the midst of His enemies: He empowered his disciples to do this miracle; He works in His word, the very word He has His dear Christians—like Peter and John, like you and me— speak, and brings people into His Church; He changes hearts from unbelieving to believing. That’s ruling in the midst of His enemies.
When Christ comes to people in His word—even that word we speak—He comes in blessing, giving them in the word every heavenly and spiritual blessing He obtained. Like the lame man in faith received the blessing of physical healing, so also those who hear and in faith receive the word of Christ, those in whose hearts and lives Christ holds sway, receive abundant blessing as they now know and experience Christ’s blessings: peace with God, forgiveness, life, joy, etc.
As did Peter and John, we have experienced these blessings in Christ! That’s why, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we, too, can join them in saying—For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. They were eye and ear witnesses. We, through their word in Scripture, through that which the Holy Spirit has seen fit to preserve and pass down to us, see and hear the same thing. In Scripture we see and hear the great things the grace of God has done through Christ to make us His dear children and heirs of heaven. The peace, joy and hope we have experienced in our heart—how can we not speak of them to others? Just like when Peter and John were asked, how can we not speak of what we believe, of what the Holy Spirit has convinced us is true—how can we not speak these things even to and especially to unbelievers, to those who reject Christ? When we do so Christ, in His word, is ruling in the midst of His enemies!
2. When His Word is proclaimed, Christ rules in the midst of His enemies, and He does so for their spiritual good so that they, too, may come to faith, that they too may be gathered into His Church. Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in connection with the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in connection with Him this [formerly lame] man stands before you whole. This One is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. This is a word of law that Peter preached to the Jews that day. He tells them that the very One that they rejected is the actual Savior promised long ago to Adam and Eve. Jesus is the chief cornerstone of the building of the Church God began building with His OT saints.
Without Jesus, Peter says, the faith of the Israelites—which these religious leaders were supposedly preserving—would collapse because by rejecting Jesus, they are rejecting the fulfillment of God’s promises. When through Peter, Jesus preached His word of Law to His enemies, He was ruling in the midst of them. Although they had tried to wipe out Jesus’ name, tried to stop its proclamation, there, in their very midst, thousands had come to faith in Jesus by the preaching after the miracle. With that miracle as the object lesson and with the sermon Peter preached to them, Christ was, in grace, calling His enemies to recognize and confess their sin; to turn to Him as their only Savior from sin, death, devil and hell.
But they spoke judgment on themselves by rejecting Jesus, who was coming to them in grace and calling them by the Apostles’ voices and in His word offering them forgiveness of sin, life and salvation. To make it crystal clear, Peter tells them that there is salvation only in Jesus, Whom they are rejecting: Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. When they rejected and cut themselves off from the word that proclaims Christ, they cut themselves off from salvation since apart from Christ there’s nothing but spiritual misery and divine curse and damnation.
We, too, as we are called on to give a reason for our faith, on why we believe what we do, will also have to proclaim God’s holy Law—that we are all sinners; that Jesus is the only way of salvation; that all our own supposed good works do nothing; that outside of Him there is only death and damnation; that if we reject Christ, we reject salvation. But this too is for their spiritual good so that they may recognize their sin and their need for a Savior. By this working on their hearts, this proclamation of Law that troubles the heart, Christ is still ruling in the midst of His enemies—they cannot stop His word from entering their hearts and working.
Will all who hear believe? Hardly! It seems that at least on that day, Peter’s words fell flat and led Jesus’ enemies to hate and reject Him all the more. But Peter’s preaching was still the working of the Holy Spirit and Christ was still present, offering His grace and every blessing. Often when we tell others that good news about Jesus, yes, our words seemingly fall flat. But Christ is still ruling in the very midst of His enemies whether His word works faith leading to life or is rejected and works judgment. The fault is not Christ or His word but the sinful heart.
Jesus enemies’ unbelief and hostility toward Him caused them to deny their own better knowledge and wisdom: And seeing the man who had been healed standing with [Peter and John], they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor to teach in the name of Jesus.
Christ was still ruling in the midst of His enemies. He led the apostles to go out into all the world, to write, to preach. He preserved His word down to us. Through all ages He keeps gathering people into His Church—all who were previously His enemies.
Let the world, the devil, and all his allies rage and fight against Christ. The world may be going to hell in a hand basket; chaos in the world and hostility toward Christ and His Church may seeming dominate. But in spite of it all, Christ is still ruling in the midst of His enemies, by His word. Although various powers and empires tried to destroy or at least stop Christ’s Church, His word is still going out by faithful, simple proclaimers of his word like you and me and nothing’s stopping it because Christ is ruling in the midst of His enemies. What a glorious joy and comfort to us, His dear Christians. INJ