The crowd at the temple had observed the amazing fact that a lame beggar has been healed. It is not surprising that they are astonished and wondering what kind of power is available to Peter and John. The apostles are quick to deny that they have any inherent power; instead they affirm that the miracle is connected to the glorification of Jesus. They also make clear the purpose of the miracle – it was designed to lead the onlookers to repentance. It is obvious that the miracle in itself did not bring about a correct response to God. Until its significance was explained, the observers obtained no benefit from the miracle. This situation reminds us that it is essential that we have the correct framework for assessing God’s actions and understanding what he is doing.
Peter mentions two aspects of knowledge that are essential before there can be genuine repentance. The first is knowledge about what God did through Jesus Christ and the second is an understanding of the seriousness of rejecting the authority of Jesus Christ.
Observe the way that Peter describes God. He is referred to as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ I suspect that inevitably the minds of the listeners would go to the previous occasions when this name was used of God. These occasions were connected to the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt (Exod. 3:6, 15; 4:9). Surely, this was a name of God that would have created expectation in the minds of the listeners. This was the name of God that indicated that he had come to rescue his people, not because they deserved it, but because he was faithful to his promises.
The first detail in the framework for repentance is that we are dealing with a God who is performing a rescue mission. We know that the children of Israel at the time of the Exodus had to be rescued from slavery in Egypt; they needed to be delivered from earthly, political oppression. The rescue mission that Peter had in mind was not from physical slavery, but from the bondage of sin. In Egypt, God had rescued Israel by his servant Moses. The person he used for the greater rescue was Jesus Christ.
So Peter told his audience who Jesus Christ is. He is the eternal Son of God who became a servant, lived a righteous life, died on the cross although he was innocent, and was raised again from the dead by God the Father. The Father has also glorified him, says Peter, which means that Jesus is now exalted to the throne of God, and therefore it is possible for miracles to take place by his apostles who trusted in him.
Peter also reminded them that they had sinned in their attitudes towards Jesus Christ. They had denied him, prevented Pilate from releasing him, and preferred a murderer instead of him. While they did not physically kill Jesus, they were guilty of causing his death, and no doubt they would have got involved if the authorities had allowed them.
Of course, these people were guilty of many other sins in addition to the sin of rejecting Jesus. It is possible, of course, that Peter mentioned these other sins, because Luke did not regard it as necessary to record every word that Peter said on this occasion. What is important to note is that their attitude towards Christ had to be repented of, even although Peter admits that they had acted in ignorance. Ignorance is not an excuse for wrong actions. Although they were ignorant of who Jesus was, their actions towards him were not in line with truth (they bore false witness) and love.
With regard to ourselves, we have to face up to these same two aspects if we are to repent of our sins. We must have correct information about Jesus Christ and we must reflect on our attitude towards him.