When the Lord was living on earth, teaching the people and doing wonderful works among them, the disciples were with Him and helped Him. Remember in the feeding of the multitude how the disciples seated the people on the ground and passed the bread and fishes to them. And the Lord sent out the twelve apostles, two and two, into the towns of Galilee, and "gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease." Now the Lord was risen, but they knew that He was still with them, and He still gave them power to do many wonderful works, such as He had done and had given them power to do.
In our story today Peter and John were going together up into the temple in Jerusalem, in the afternoon, as the time was near for the evening prayer. There were great open courts about the temple. In the outer court were covered porches with many columns. That on the east side, from which one could look down the Kidron valley, and across the Kidron to the Mount of Olives, was called Solomon's porch. From this outer court steps led up under beautiful arched gateways to a higher court, and from this to still higher courts nearer to the temple building. The Beautiful Gate in our story may have been the gate in front of the temple, by which people went up from the outer, court. It was a place where many people passed, so that a poor man who had been always lame was carried there day after day, and was laid by the gate to beg from the people passing by.
See now what happened when Peter and John passed by, going up the steps toward the temple. Peter said to him, "Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. 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 he was strong and well. I will not tell too much, for I must read you the story. (Acts 3:1-11) Think of the man who had been lame all his life walking and leaping and praising God.
You know how it was sometimes when the Lord did some good work that showed His power; the common people were glad, but the priests and leaders of the Jews were angry. It was just so now. Among the priests who came together to question Peter and John were Annas and Caiaphas. Do you remember them? How the Lord was led to Annas, and then to the palace of Caiaphas; they were among those most urgent that the Lord should be crucified. How fearful Peter had been that night in the palace of Caiaphas, when he denied the Lord, but now all his fear was gone, as he told the priests that the power by which they healed the lame man was not their own, but was the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, "whom ye crucified." And he said, "There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved."
What gave Peter and John this courage? And how did they know enough - simple fishermen from the Sea of Galilee - to teach the learned priests at Jerusalem? They were "filled with the Holy Spirit." The Lord was with them, His Spirit was giving them courage and putting into their minds what they should say. The Lord more than once had told them that this would be so. "And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say." (Luke 12:11, 12; Matthew 10:19, 20) The promise was beginning to be fulfilled with Peter and John; and as we go on in the story we shall see many other times when it was fulfilled with them and with the other disciples.
While the Lord was living on earth with the disciples had He given them power to do miracles of healing? (See Matthew 10:1; Luke 10: 9) Was there any promise that this power would still be with them after the Lord's resurrection and ascension? (See Mark 16:18, 20) We have a beautiful example of it in our story.
When you read of "the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour," you will remember the several hours mentioned in the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16), and also the hours mentioned in connection with the crucifixion. (Mark 15:33; Matthew 27:45)
Notice what I have said to the younger children about the courts of the temple, and Solomon's porch, and the Beautiful Gate. Do you remember a time when the Lord walked in the temple in Solomon's porch? Find, if you can, a good plan of the temple and its courts, as they were in Gospel days. Notice the court of the Gentiles, the court of the women, the court of the men of Israel, the court of the priests, with the steps and arched gateways leading up from one court to another. You will find Solomon's porch marked quite surely; and the Beautiful Gate doubtfully at the east entrance of the women's court.
As you read the story you will be reminded of miracles done by the Lord Himself. Remember especially the Lord's healing of the man born blind, who also was a familiar object by the wayside in Jerusalem. (Acts 3)
Passing to chapter 4, we are in the midst of the same hostile atmosphere that met the Lord in Jerusalem; we are in the presence of the same Annas and Caiaphas. Notice the Sadducees, and their especial displeasure that the disciples taught of the Lord's resurrection, implying that there is resurrection for all. Remember that the denial of the resurrection was prominent in the teaching of the Sadducees. (Matthew 22:23-32) Three thousand were added to the disciples on the day of Pentecost. The number had now grown to five thousand. Verses 9-12 (which you will connect with verse 12 in the previous chapter) are a splendid confession of the Lord's power with the disciples and with us forever, the only power whereby we must be saved.
The priests marveled at the boldness of Peter and John, perceiving that they were "unlearned and ignorant men." Remember from what life the Lord had called them to be disciples. They did show boldness when they stood before the very men who had caused the Lord's crucifixion, and charged them with what they had done. The saying of the Lord which Peter brought to their recollection (verse 11) was also one which had made them angry when it was spoken by the Lord. (Matthew 21:42-46)
The power of the disciples' words was from the Lord's Holy Spirit with them. Notice first how many times the Lord had foretold to the disciples persecutions which they would suffer for being His disciples. The first mention of such things was perhaps in the blessing, when He said, "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake." (Matthew 5:11) See also Matthew 10:17-22; John 16:1-4; Luke 12:4-12; 21:12-19. This last prediction we find also in nearly the same words in Mark 13:9-13. But joined with the predictions of persecution is the promise that the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, as we usually say, would be with them and teach them what to say.
First, be sure that we know what is meant by the Holy Spirit. It was the Lord's own influence; for He still was present with the disciples. In promising the Holy Spirit the Lord identified it with Himself, saying, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." , (John 14:16-18, 26) Standing among them after His resurrection He breathed on them and said, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit." (John 20:22)
The same Divine presence and Holy Spirit are with us. We may have the enlightenment of it especially as we reverently read the Lord's Word. It gives to those who try to live as the Lord's true disciples a perception and real wisdom which do not depend on natural learning. It helps us to say the right and useful thing to others when we try to come to them with Christian feeling. To be sure that our feeling is right is better than to meditate beforehand what words we shall say.
1. What words did Peter speak to the lame man by the temple gate?
2. In what name did the apostles heal? What did Peter say of the power of that name?
3. How were the untaught disciples able to speak with boldness and power?
4. What promises had the Lord given the disciples of power to heal and power to speak?
The miracle recorded in Acts 3 may bring up the whole subject of miracles; why they were done in the beginning of the Christian Church, and whether Christians ought still to have the power to do them. By much instruction on the subject Swedenborg makes it plain that the power of the Lord is with us forever, as fully now as in the Gospel days and with the first Christian disciples, but that the ways in which that power is manifested have changed. Miracles which were useful in an age when men's minds could be approached only in an outward way are not useful, but would destroy freedom of belief, in an age when they are able to receive truth with spiritual intelligence. "I have spoken with angels," he says, "about the miracles in the time of the apostles, and that they spoke with other tongues, and that they sensibly perceived the Spirit; that this was so because it was entirely unknown everywhere that the Lord had come into the world, who would save souls; and because it would never be received by anyone without miracles. . . . For these reasons miracles were done; but now when doctrine has been received they are done no longer. The inrooting of truth and good with the Gentiles is from external things; but with Christians who are in the knowledge of internal things, otherwise." (Smaller Diary 4724) "The reason miracles are not done at this day, as before is that miracles compel, and take away free-will in spiritual things; and, from spiritual, they make the man natural. All in the Christian world can become spiritual; and they become spiritual solely from the Lord through the Word; and the faculty for this would perish, if men were brought to believe through miracles," with much more explanation. (T. 501. See also P. 130, 132.)
Feel the power of Peter's confession of Jesus Christ of Nazareth as the one by whom the lame man was healed, and of that name as the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:10-12) We do well to learn it in Peter's words.
The Lord speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth. The Divine influence which is meant is especially that which comes to us through learning and living the Lord's truth; it comes to us especially in the Holy Word, with enlightenment and strength and comfort. We cannot expect the Holy Spirit to enlighten and guide us while our minds lie empty. "The Lord does not dwell with an empty man; that is, with a man who does not know His truths and do them." (A. 10645) Such an empty mind is a house swept and garnished, which easily becomes the home of evil spirits. The Holy Spirit can come to us and teach us, as we learn from the Lord's Word, for the sake of good life, and do the truth we learn. Then the Holy Spirit can find something in our minds to rest upon, materials to. work with, to do its regenerating work - to teach us what to say. This it may do "manifestly or not manifestly." (A. 9818; T. 139; Canons)
We have learned that the events at the ascension and at Pentecost represent spiritual things. (R. 642; E. 455) The same is true of the miracles done by the apostles. (See E. 455 and especially E. 706, in comment on Mark 16:17, 18.) The miracles of physical healing represent healing of spiritual ills which the Lord still more desires. Spiritual lameness represents weakness in the love and power to make life effective. The lame often stand for those who are in good, but not in genuine good because ignorant of truth. The man lame from birth (like the man born blind) represents one whose helplessness is not of his own fault, but from ignorance or other deficiency for which he is not to blame. That he begged and expected an alms represents a soul conscious of need and desiring help. The man spiritually lame needs not worldly silver or gold, but the truth and the love which make the soul strong. Compare the expression of strong, joyful life with the promise in Isaiah 3 5 : 6, "Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing"; the hart standing for spontaneous affection, free and joyous. A splendid promise of spiritual strength from the Lord is set before us by this prophecy of Isaiah and by the miracle wrought by Peter and John by the Lord's power in the temple. (E.455; A. 4302)