Times of Refreshing

Acts 3:17-26
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, June 14, 1998
Copyright © 1998, P.G. Mathew

The Healing of a Crippled Man

The third chapter of the book of Acts speaks of the miraculous healing of a lame man. In Acts 3:1-10 we read about the miracle itself; in Acts 3:11-16 we find an explanation of the miracle; and in Acts 3:17-26 we find an exhortation for those who witnessed this mighty demonstration of the power of God to be saved.

Only a few days before this miraculous healing of a lame man, the high priest Caiaphas and people of Jerusalem were rejoicing because they had disposed of Jesus of Nazareth, who had claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God. Now, however, they were troubled because they heard that this Jesus was no longer dead but alive and that he, through his unschooled apostles, had given perfect, instant, and public healing to a forty-year-old congenital cripple who used to sit and beg at the gate called Beautiful at the entrance to the temple.

When the crippled man was healed, he began to walk, leap and praise God in the sight of all the people. A crowd gathered to find out what was happening, and Peter began to address the crowd, saying, in effect, “Do not look at us as if our piety and power performed this miracle. It did not! No, this is a demonstration to all that the God of Abraham, the covenant God of our fathers, reversed your verdict concerning his servant Jesus. You condemned and disowned Jesus and handed him over to be killed–he who was the Suffering Servant, the Holy One, the Righteous One, the Author of life, the Prophet that Moses prophesied about, the Christ of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the Savior of the world. But the God of your fathers, the God of the covenant, reversed your verdict and by his incomparably great power raised Jesus from the dead and glorified him. This same Jesus ascended into the heavens and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father. In other words, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ, and we are witnesses of these facts.”

Peter continued to speak to the crowd, saying, in essence, “If you ask if we healed this crippled man, we must say that we did not. But this Jesus, who is alive again, this Jesus, who is Lord of all, this Jesus, who rules and reigns with all authority in heaven and on earth, is the one who healed this cripple on the basis of his faith in him. Yes, this is the same Jesus who, before he died on the cross, healed a paralyzed man by telling him, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.’ That man went home praising God as we read in Luke 5. This same Jesus is continuing to heal through us his apostles.”

When Peter said, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk,” the crippled man was fully healed and began to walk. “In view of these facts,” Peter was asking, “what should you do–you, who committed the most horrible sin of murdering the Christ, the Lord, the Son of God? What must you do?” And then he said, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord. . . .”

This passage tells us that through the gospel God offers to all in Jesus Christ times of refreshing. Let us, then, examine three points from this text: recognition of our own ignorance, our need to repent, and the meaning of refreshment and reconstitution of all things at the return of Christ.

Ignorant of God

In Acts 3:17 Peter said, “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders.” In other words, Peter was saying that the Jewish crowd and leaders committed the horrible crime of killing Jesus Christ because of ignorance.

There are some people who claim to be far too intellectually sophisticated to believe in the Bible or in miracles or that Jesus Christ is very God and very man. They say they are far too knowledgeable to believe in God and his word. Such claims are not true, though. The real reason many people do not believe is that they are ignorant of God. They are blind to his reality and prejudiced against him, and thus they suppress the truth of God rather than acknowledging it and embracing it.

Paul describes this state of mind in Ephesians 4:17, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” In 1 Corinthians 2:8 he writes, “None of the rulers of this age understood [this wisdom], for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” In Romans 8 Paul explains that the sinful mind, meaning the mind of an unbeliever, is hostile to God. It is biased and prejudiced against God. “It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7).

It is impossible for an unbeliever to understand God. Therefore, intellectual sophistication is not the real reason that people do not believe in Jesus Christ. Rather, it is sheer ignorance, prejudice, and enmity against the true and living God. It is sheer blindness and hardness of heart.

Jesus referred to men’s ignorance of God when he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Even the brilliant Saul of Tarsus, a highly educated Roman citizen, said that he was blind and ignorant until God in his mercy poured out upon him a spirit of grace, supplication, and repentance. In 1 Timothy 1:13-16 Paul wrote, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” And then he said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”

What is man’s problem? Ignorance, enmity, prejudice, blindness, and hardness of heart. Saul of Tarsus was brilliant, but he hated Jesus of Nazareth and his followers until his eyes were opened supernaturally. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that all people are naturally ignorant, first and foremost, of God–the true and living God, holy, righteous God–the God who is one existing in three persons. Jesus himself said the same thing in reference to God the Father in his high priestly prayer in John 17:25: “The world does not know you.”

Thus, Peter said, these people acted in ignorance–ignorance of the triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit–and more specifically, ignorance of the deity of Jesus Christ and his perfect humanity.

The Ignorance of Man

These people also acted in ignorance of themselves as human beings. Man is ignorant of his true self. He pretends he is okay and, in fact, thinks he is not just okay but ascending and evolving. He is thoroughly saturated with self-esteem and laughs at God’s view of man as found in the Scriptures. He doesn’t understand that he is a fallen creature, a civilized beast, perversely corrupt in his mind, desire, will, and emotion.

Man is also ignorant of his destiny as a man. The Bible teaches that it is appointed for man once to die and then comes the judgment. As responsible beings, all people must stand before God, but man is ignorant of that until God reveals it to him.

Man is also ignorant of Scriptures. In Matthew 22:29 Jesus said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” Man is ignorant of the Scriptures and the power of God by which he created the whole universe and maintains it, and by which he raised his own Son from the dead. That is why he does not believe in miracles.

Man is also ignorant of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. He looks at the cross and mocks the one who is hanging upon it. He sees only a man–a weak person–being crucified, but that is an ignorant view. He does not understand this is God/man crucified for us in our place that he may redeem us. Christ died for our sins, but man is ignorant of that.

Finally, man is ignorant of the blessings of salvation–the forgiveness of sins, the refreshing that comes from the presence of God, the reconciliation with God and the communion with the Holy Spirit. When man comes to experience such communion with God–God dwelling with man and man dwelling with God–he is experiencing true life and joy. But man is ignorant of all of this, although he will not admit it as he hides behind his power and degrees.

Inexcusable Ignorance

Peter was telling the crowd, “You ought to have known, but you are ignorant of the most important facts concerning Jesus Christ.” But we must note here that even though man is ignorant, he is still culpable for his sin. Ignorance is not an excuse, in other words. Peter was saying, “In view of the facts of Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and enthronement, all of which we witnessed, if you repent, you shall receive full pardon. However, if you do not repent, you shall be eternally condemned. Why? The plea of ignorance is no longer a valid excuse. God raised his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, from the dead–a fact you can verify by observing his empty tomb. You condemned and killed him but God reversed your judgment, raising him and glorifying him, and you must now deal with the risen Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no excuse for ignorance once the gospel is declared to you.

You Must Repent

What is the second thing Peter told the crowd they must do in view of the miraculous healing of the crippled man? “Repent, then, and turn to God,” Peter said. In other words, “Change your thinking completely about God.”

What is repentance? It is a change, first in our minds. We must think about God correctly. When you speak to a Moslem about God, he will be unhappy because the God of the Bible is triune. If you speak to a Jew, he will also be unhappy because the God of the Christian is triune. But the true God is triune–one in essence in three persons, and we must line up our thinking with that revelation. We cannot come to God and say, “I believe in one God, period.” We must affirm the deity of Jesus Christ, the deity of the Holy Spirit, and the deity of God the Father.

Peter was telling the crowd, “You must change your thinking completely about God, about Jesus, about yourself, and about the world. You must acknowledge Jesus to be Lord and Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and God to be the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, infinite personal God, true and living God, self-existing and self-sufficient God. You must change your thinking until it aligns with the way God has revealed himself in his holy word. If you do not, you will be demonstrating your ignorance even while you are pretending to be intellectual, scholarly, educated, and evolved. Additionally, you must acknowledge that you are not okay. In fact, you are a wicked sinner, deserving of God’s just wrath for your sin–the sin of disobedience to his holy commandments. You must acknowledge it and change your thinking, desires, will, and decisions. Turn around! Change from being self-centered and self-anchored to God-centered, Christ-centered, and Bible-centered. In deep sorrow turn from sin once and for all and, in faith, turn to God. Confess your sins and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Surrender to him and live a new life to please this Lord Jesus Christ.”

Repentance Is a Gift from God

How can a person repent? How can a sinner whose mind is at enmity toward God ever come to confess Jesus Christ is Lord? He cannot unless God helps him because repentance is a sheer impossibility unless God in mercy pours out a spirit of supplication and grace upon us–a grace which will transform and regenerate us and change us in our thinking, our will, our desires, and our hearts once and for all.

We read about this outpouring in Zechariah 12:10 where God said, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a first-born son.” These people crucified the Lord Jesus Christ in ignorance and defiance, but God in his infinite mercy poured out in great abundance upon them a spirit of grace and supplication.

We need this spirit as well. Whenever we realize the enormity of the sin we commit against God, may we, like these people, cry out, “O God, have mercy upon us! Have mercy upon us!” That is repentance, which God alone can grant.

The Present Ministry of Jesus

The Lord Jesus, who is seated on the right hand of God, is now engaged in building his church. How do you think he does that? By raising from the dead one sinner at a time and granting him repentance and faith in Christ.

In Ephesians 2:4-5 we read, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.” Additionally, Paul writes, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (v. 6). Isn’t that wonderful? This Jesus Christ who is Lord is seated on the right hand of God the Father. He is ruling and reigning and saving his people, one at a time, by granting to each one a spirit of repentance, grace, and supplication so that they cry out to God, saying, “O God, I am a wicked sinner. Have mercy upon me!”

Jesus is building his church. How? By working powerfully in the world through his ministers of the gospel who act in his name. He who has received all authority in heaven and on earth is now saving and making alive those who are dead in trespasses and sins. Just as he healed this crippled man, so will he grant repentance and faith to every sinner of his eternal election.

We find a beautiful statement of this plan and purpose of God in Acts 3:26. Peter declared, “When God raised up his servant,” meaning the Lord Jesus Christ, “he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” You see, we cannot turn ourselves from our own wickedness, but here is a Savior who calls us to turn from it. The present ministry of Jesus, the seed of Abraham and servant of God, is to bless his people and save them by turning them from their wicked ways.

The Lord Jesus blesses a sinner by separating him from his sin and adding him to his church. The angel said his name would be Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus makes a sinner glorious. He makes him a person without spot or wrinkle, purging him from all sin and wickedness and making him glorious, so that he will be fit to be a bride of Jesus Christ, the glorious one. He does such a marvelous work in us so that when we shall see him, we shall be like him, conformed to his image.

The Grace of God

We must realize one thing: we cannot turn ourselves from our sin. But that which is impossible for us to do Jesus Christ does through his grace. He alone can turn a sinner from his wickedness and then the sinner is able to turn. That is why the Bible says, “Turn us, O Lord, that we may be turned.” But God must act first.

We read about this work of the Lord Jesus in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. . . .” That is salvation. Through his grace God does such a work within us that we will delightfully say “No” to ungodliness and wickedness and with great joy begin to live self-controlled, righteous and godly lives in this present age, shining as lights in this world. In Ephesians 5:8 Paul says, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Why? God has acted.

We see an example of this in the life of Saul of Tarsus–blind, ignorant Saul of Tarsus. God poured out his grace upon him, and he became a battle-scarred veteran of the cross, an apostle of the gospel of Christ. Paul was a blasphemer and a violent man, but he became an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What Is Refreshment?

The third point we must consider is the issue of refreshing. In Acts 3:19 Peter told the crowd, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” What does it mean to be refreshed? It means the satisfying comfort one receives in the midst of overwhelming weariness, misery, hunger, thirst, loneliness, darkness and restlessness. Only God can give us such true refreshment.

Sinners need God’s refreshment. A sinner is one who is weary and miserable. He is like one dying in the oppressive heat of the Sahara desert. Thirsty and tired, he knows no comfort. He is a slave to the world, the flesh, and the devil. He tries to relieve his distress by drinking again and again from the salt water of drugs, sex, and entertainment. He looks to the power of the world as a panacea for his misery. He is full of stress, strain, and neurosis. He is tired of the rat-race and oppressed by an iron girder of guilt that presses him down.

What does the gospel offer such people? Refreshment. In Exodus 1 and 2 we see a picture of the misery that the Israelites were experiencing. God, in his infinite grace, came down, and in the burning bush spoke to Moses. In Exodus 3:7 we read, “The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of the land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.'” This is true refreshment–deliverance from weariness, misery, suffering, and oppression.

God performed what he promised and brought refreshment to his people by bringing them into the promised land. In Joshua 21:43-45 we read, “So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. . . Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”

Refreshed by Christ

Sinners find true refreshment in Jesus Christ alone. In John 10:10 he said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full,” meaning abundant life. Jesus Christ wants to refresh sinners.

A sinner is like the man we read about in Luke 8 who was filled with a legion of demons–violent, crazy, chained, lonely, naked, hungry, wandering, restless, and miserable–destroying himself and the society around him. Jesus Christ himself searched for him and delivered him, and in Luke 8:35 we read of him sitting at the feet of Jesus, dressed and in his right mind. He was now able to go home to his family and declare to all what God has done for him in Jesus Christ. What transformation! What change! What refreshment! What salvation! What peace for him and for his entire family! This is refreshment from Jesus Christ.

A sinner is also like the prodigal son in the far country–lonely, naked, needy, and hungry. But when he came home, he received total forgiveness, and in Luke 15:22-32 we find him with his family, clothed and full of dignity. No longer hungry and lonely, he is eating and drinking, singing and dancing, and basking in the love of his father. There is joy instead of gloom. That is refreshment!

Through Jesus Christ we receive great relief, rest, and peace. Didn’t Jesus say, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)? The burden of the pilgrim falls off at the cross, and he is refreshed. No longer oppressed by the heat, he is breathing fresh, cool air ; no longer parched with thirst, he is drinking the cool, refreshing water of life which only Jesus Christ gives.

Times of Refreshing

We experience great refreshment when we are saved by Christ. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out,” Peter told the crowd. In ancient times people wrote on papyrus, but the ink did not have acid in it, so what was written would merely lie on the surface of the papyrus. If one wiped the papyrus with a damp cloth, all traces of writing would come off. In the same way, Peter was saying, when we repent and turn to God, the record of our sin is wiped so clean by the blood of Jesus Christ so that if anyone looks, he will find nothing. We find such great refreshment in Jesus Christ through all aspects of our salvation, including adoption, forgiveness, justification, answered prayer, and fellowship with God and man.

We also experience great refreshment from the Holy Scriptures, if we are Christians. We can now read God’s word and be refreshed by it. I have always been inspired by my mother who, whenever she found a little time, would open her Bible and read. Then she would resume her work, singing and praising, encouraged and refreshed by God’s word. Why? The Scripture is for our comfort, encouragement, and hope, and she was refreshed by it.

We also can experience great refreshment from the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2:38 Peter told another crowd, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism in the Holy Spirit is refreshing, as we see in the example of Peter. He denied Jesus Christ three times, but on the day of Pentecost he was refreshed by the outpouring of the Spirit of the living God and became bold, confident, and powerful. He who was unschooled now boldly declared to the leaders of the Jews that they were ignorant of God. And as we read Peter’s sermons, we marvel at the full understanding of the gospel God gave him.

What about the gifts of the Spirit? Do they refresh us? Certainly! Prophecy is designed for the comfort and edification of the church. That is refreshment. And the Bible says that he who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, meaning he is refreshed and strengthened. Additionally, God refreshes us through his gifts of pastors and teachers. We may come to them confused, restless, and bewildered, but when they minister to us from the word, we will receive refreshment and comfort.

Peter had been filled with the Holy Spirit before he spoke to the authorities, but in Acts 4 he was filled again. Christians do not need to worry what rulers and authorities will do to them. If God puts us in those situations, the Spirit of God will put into our mouths what we should speak to them. Again, that is refreshment.

In Ephesians 5:18 we read, “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is another form of refreshment. In fact, our whole salvation is refreshment.

So Peter told the crowd to repent and turn to God, “so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” That is what happened to me and that is happened to you. Our souls have been truly refreshed by Jesus Christ.

Jesus Wants to Refresh Us

Let me ask you: Are you hungry and thirsty, weary and miserable? If so, Jesus wants to refresh you. Didn’t he say, “Come unto me and I will give you rest”? The Lord Jesus Christ is offering us refreshment through the total wiping out of all our sins. He is offering us refreshment through the outpouring of the Spirit of the living God upon us. And when we experience these things, we will begin to discover that the Holy Scripture is sweeter than honey and more precious than gold, bringing joy to our hearts and refreshment to our souls.

If this does not make any sense to you, you need to cry out to God for salvation. But if you want refreshment from the living God, he will refresh you–with the living water and the living bread of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

May God have mercy on us! God sent his Son, not to condemn us, but to bless us, and that is what he will do until he comes again. What is that blessing? It is separating us from our wickedness and bringing us to vital, nourishing, edifying fellowship with the true and living God–the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, may we all trust in Christ today and experience times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Amen.