[3:1-11]. «Peter said, I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!’’».
Peter and John went to the Temple not driven by a particular hidden motive, but for the ritual prayer of the devout Jews: it will then be the Holy Spirit to insert his “agenda”. The healed cripple «entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God» (v. 8). Not only did Peter and John go into the Temple, but they also brought there those they had spoken to about Jesus.
Jerusalem was shaken by that plain miracle, which occurred to an infirm that everyone knew, and this prepared the scene for a second and powerful preaching. In order for the lame to understand in the name of whom he had been healed, it was not enough to say “Jesus” (a name that others also had) and not even to add “Christ” (the priests were also referred to as “Christs”, that is, “anointed with sacred oil”): so they then added “the Nazarene” (“the one from Nazareth”). This saying can make us smile: “When the bishops were of gold, they had wooden chalices”: it means that the chalices then became of gold and the bishops without power. Perhaps we no longer laugh, though, if we consider how far we ourselves have personally travelled.
[3:12-26]. Second Gospel announcement by Peter.
Peter preached to the “men of Israel” (v. 12), to the “sons of the prophets and of the covenant” that God made with Abraham (v. 25): these were the first recipients (v. 26) of a message that would then reach the ends of the earth. Peter used expressions that leave no doubt about his context of reference: “The God of Abraham”, “by the mouth of his holy prophets”, “Moses said”, “all the prophets”, “the covenant that God made with your fathers”. All this cannot be reduced to Old Testament citations, because here the Gospel is immersed in the Old Testament and emerges from the Old Testament; indeed, in some way, it is the Old Testament!
This second discourse of Peter is similar to the first and therefore institutes a “well-established way” of proclaiming the Gospel, which will then be pretty much repeated later and by others. We report a sort of “common denominator” to the various preachings present in Acts, although each announcement has specific accentuations and variations. The message, therefore, generally follows this outline:
1. Jesus was a righteous “man” who has done a lot of good;
2. Jesus was unjustly killed;
3. Jesus is risen;
4. We are all sinners, but Jesus can blot out our sins;
5. Jesus gives the Holy Spirit;
6. Whoever believes must be baptized, establishing a bond with other believers;
7. Jesus will fulfil the promises made to Abraham and David, until the «restoration of all things».
While point 7 applies to the nation of Israel and to the whole world, the first 6 points relate to each individual and end with the synthesis of 3:19 (verse parallel to 2:38): «Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out». It’s significant that, in the Gospel of the same Luke, it would be Jesus himself to summarise this essence of the message and the agenda of its announcement, described in Acts: «Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem» (Luke 24:46-47). However, when the Gospel came to the Gentiles, since they knew nothing of Abraham and David, God initially required to limit oneself to the first elements (as we will see later).
In order to understand the newness of Stephen’s “disruptive style” (Acts 7) it is necessary to note the conciliatory attitude of Peter («I know that you acted in ignorance», v. 17), which offers the nation a forgiveness of God through which, if the nation repents, it will be able to experience the «restoration of all things» (David’s reign, of course, but not only, vv. 20-25).
Peter’s style here is very suitable for an initial approach and attracted many Jews. But to those who refused, and by refusing they hardened their heart, the prophets’ typical and hard message had to be brought, as Christ had also done (Mt 23). But those who had done a first type of work (Peter) were not suitable for the next, so God roused the bright (and little understood) figure of Stephen (as we will see).