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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART TEN

SERMON DELIVERED ON 04-14-18

       Today will be sermon number 10 in a series I started last October on the Book of Acts.  Having completed our review and study of the first two chapters of Acts and a lot of Scriptural material related to what is recorded in chapters one and two; we will today begin with chapter three.

       Acts 3:1: One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon.

       The Jews observed three times of prayer during the course of the day.  The first time of prayer was at the third hour or 9:00 AM.  The second time of prayer was at the sixth hour which was at noon and the third time of prayer was at the ninth hour which corresponds to our 3:00 PM.

       You will recall in our discussion of the giving of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts 2, some accused the tongues speakers of being drunk.  Peter countered this accusation by saying this could not be the case as it was only 9:00 in the morning.  This tells us the Holy Spirit was given around the time of the Morning Prayer.

       Also in Acts 2 it is recorded that the Christian converts “devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

       Acts 2:42: They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

       In the Greek NT the word “prayer” is preceded by the definite article “the” and because of this some English translations render the Greek as “the prayers”

       And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (RSV).

       And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers (ASV)

       These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. (New Jerusalem Bible)

       Because of the Greek having the definite article preceding the word for prayers, some scholars believe this may be a reference to the three times of daily prayer and not to prayer in general.  It must be remembered that these converted at the preaching of Peter on the Day of Pentecost where mostly Jews along with converts to Judaism.  While these new converts had accepted Jesus as Lord and Christ, we know they continued to observe Jewish customs, one of which was to observe the three daily prayer times. It is apparent Peter continued to observe the three daily periods of prayer.  When Peter was given the vision that led to his trip to the house of Cornelius and his family, it was at the sixth hour which would have been the time of the noon prayer.

       Acts 10:9: Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour (KJV)

       It is interesting that when Cornelius received a vision telling him to send for Peter, this vision was delivered to him at the time of the ninth hour prayer time. It is apparent Cornelius, although a Gentile, was observing Jewish custom by praying at the designated daily times of prayer. 

       Acts 10:3: He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him…. (KJV)

       Acts 10:30: And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, (KJV) 

       While praying three times a day is not seen as a commanded observance under the Old Covenant, the Jews very likely were following the examples found in the OT Scriptures. 

       Psalm 55:17:  Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice (KJV).

       Daniel 6:10: Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.

       There is evidence that Christians in the early church continued to follow the custom of praying three times a day. In a document discovered in the 1800’s called the Didache, there is mention of praying three times a day being a Christian practice.  The Didache is believed to have been written in the late first or early second century and is a manual of Christian practice in the early church. Praying three times a day is also mentioned by Tertullian in his writing on the subject of prayer around 200 AD.

       It is interesting that in the seventh century when Islam developed into a major religious system, the practice of regular, specific times of daily prayer became part of this system and is practiced to this very day by devote Islamic's. I remember some years ago Barb and I were travelling overseas and while at an airport, a group of Muslims laid out their prayer blankets, kneeled and prayed right in front of everybody.

       Before we move on from our discussion of the three times of daily prayer, the matter of the third, sixth and ninth hours have caused some consternation as to the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus.  Since we just recently observed the anniversary of the death and resurrection of Jesus, I thought I would address this issue. 

        All four Gospels provide Scriptural accounts of the crucifixion and associated events.  Yet, in reading the parallel accounts of events associated with the crucifixion, we find differences between what the synoptic authors (Matthew, Mark and Like) write and what John writes as to the hour of the day Jesus was crucified.  

       John shows that Jesus appears before Pilate about the 6th hour while the synoptic writers show Jesus on the cross at the 6th hour.

       John 19:14: It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.   "Here is your king," Pilate said to the Jews.

       Matthew 27:45: Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour.

       Luke 23:44: And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.

       Mark 15:25. And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.

       John sees Jesus at about the 6th hour appearing before Pilate.  This would be twelve noon according to Jewish reckoning of time.  The synoptic Gospels show Jesus to already be hanging on the cross at the 6th hour as it is at the 6th hour that darkness covers the land and some standing near the cross are mocking Jesus as the context of Matthew 27 and Luke 23 shows.

       Mark writes that “It was the third hour when they crucified him.”  The 3rd hour would be 9 A.M. according to Jewish reckoning of time.  In looking at the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, one could surmise that the crucifixion began at the 3rd hour (9 A.M.), was still going on at the 6th hour (12 noon), when darkness began to cover the land, and ended at the 9th hour (3 P.M.) when it is recorded Jesus died. 

       John, however, seemingly has the crucifixion first starting sometime after the 6th hour which would be after 12 noon.  Some see this as a major discrepancy between what the synoptic writes say and what John says. 

       In an effort to resolve this issue, some have proposed that an error in the translation of Mark 15:25 may be responsible for it being said Jesus was crucified at the 3rd hour.  Some believe the Greek letter digamma was inserted in place of the letter gamma. Digamma was used for 3rd whereas gamma was used for 6th.  However, there is no hard evidence for this and this still wouldn’t solve the conflict with John.  John shows Jesus before Pilot at the sixth hour, not on the cross.

      Furthermore, Matthew and Luke clearly show there was darkness over the land from the 6th to the 9th hour indicating Jesus was on the cross at the 6th hour and already had been on the cross for some time.  Therefore, it is apparent Mark's account of Jesus being placed on the cross at the 3rd hour or 9:00 AM is correct.  Can this apparent difference between Mark and John as to the time Jesus was nailed to the cross be in some way resolved or harmonized?

       It is apparent Matthew, Mark and Luke were using Hebrew time in their writings.  Hebrew time split the day and night into watches with the first day time watch beginning at 6 A.M.  The 3rd hour would be three hours removed from 6 AM or 9:00 AM which is the second watch and also the time of the Morning Prayer. The third watch is the 6th hour (twelve noon) and would be six hours removed from 6 AM and also the time of the mid-day prayer. Matthew and Mark’s account of the crucifixion shows Jesus died at the ninth hour which would have been the fourth watch which would be around 3:00 PM and also the time of the evening prayer. 

       So why does John show Jesus appearing before Pilate at the sixth hour which would have been twelve noon when it is obvious Jesus was already on the cross and had been their for some time.

       It is apparent John was using Roman time rather than Hebrew time.  In Roman time a day begins at 12 midnight.  Therefore, the 6th hour would have been 6 AM and not 12 noon as in Hebrew time.  When you read the Gospel of John, it appears he is using the Roman method of reckoning time in other of his writings.  Therefore the 6th hour for John would be 6 A.M.  When reading through the events leading up to the crucifixion in all four Gospels, a 6 A.M. appearance before Pilate appears very likely. 

       Most Christian apologists see John’s 6th hour as being Roman time, a very reasonable solution to the apparent discrepancy between Mark’s 3rd hour and John’s 6th hour.  This clearly allows for the crucifixion to have begun at the 3rd hour as seen in Mark and as indicated in Matthew and Luke.  Therefore, this seeming discrepancy is easily resolved.  Let’s now get back to Acts.

       Acts 3:1-6: One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."

       Peter proceeds to take this mans right hand and helps him to his feet and instantly the man's feet and ankles become strong and he begins to walk. The man proceeds to walk with Peter and John into the temple courts jumping up and down praising God.  It is then recorded that all the people who saw this recognized him as the same man who sat begging at the temple gate and they were filled with wonder, amazement and astonishment at what had happened to him.

       When we read through the Gospels and see the various healings and other miracles Jesus performed, we find these events were often associated with the greater purpose of demonstrating to the people that the man Jesus was not just any man but was indeed a man sent by God to bring about a new order of things to Israel and by extension to the entire world.

       The miracles Jesus performed were meant to provide evidence that Jesus was empowered by God and therefore should be listened too.  John, in his Gospel records a number of Jesus’ miracles and indicates they happened as signs to reveal who He was.  When Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, John records this as the first sign.

       John 2:11: This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

       John continues throughout his Gospel to record six more signs that demonstrate Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and the Son of God.  John records Jesus healing the son of a royal official in Cana, the invalid at the pool at Bethesda, the man born blind from birth, Jesus walking on water, feeding the 5000 and finally raising Lazarus from the dead.  John gospel concludes with this statement:

       John 20:30-31: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

       The author here says the miraculous signs Jesus did in the presence of His disciples were recorded so that those reading these accounts would believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God which is to imply that the miracles Jesus performed were largely done to demonstrate He truly was the Christ, the Son of God.

       After the ascension of Jesus to the Father, signs continued to be given to demonstrate that the crucified Jesus had indeed been raised from the dead and was now empowering His disciples from on high.  The continuance of miracles was necessary to demonstrate that Jesus truly did resurrect from the dead and continues to be now present through His followers.

       It must be remembered that after the resurrection the Jewish leadership told the people that the body of Jesus had been stolen. It is recorded that at the time of Matthew writing His account of the resurrection, he wrote that “this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”  This being the case, it was necessary to continue to demonstrate that Jesus was alive and the power behind the miracles being performed.  These miracles were signs that Jesus truly was resurrected from the dead and was the promised Messiah to Israel. 

       The first such sign was the tongues event associated with the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  It is apparent many signs followed which gave witness to the Messiahship and Lordship of Jesus.

       Acts 2:42: Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

       This brings us back to the healing of the cripple at the temple. Peter performed this miracle in full view of a number of people.  It is recorded that all the people were astonished and came running to where Peter and John were.  What did Peter do?

       Acts 3:12-16: When Peter saw this, he said to them: "Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus' name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.

       The tongues event on Pentecost was a sign that got the attention of the people allowing Peter to proclaim Christ which resulted in some 3000 converts to Christianity.  Now we have the healing of the cripple being a sign that gets the attention of another group of people to which Peter can preach Christ.

       Peter goes on to explain how the crucifixion of Jesus was foretold by the prophets. He tells them to repent just as he had told the group on Pentecost to repent.  He speaks of the return of Christ and the restoration of all things.  He tells them that Moses had prophesied that God would raise up a prophet like Moses from among your own people and tells them that through that prophet all peoples on earth will be blessed.  In other words Peter is teaching them that forgiveness of sin has been established because of the death of Christ and His resurrection from the dead.  So what happened next?

       Acts 4:1-2: The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.

       I bet they were greatly disturbed. They had Jesus crucified believing He was a false Messiah and a threat to their positions of power and the stability of Jewish society. Even though Jesus had performed many miracles which the religious leaders were aware off, they had concluded He did these things through sorcery and not because He was the Son of God.  At one point during his ministry they had accused Jesus of casting out demons through the power of the Devil.  

       Now they have these two disciples of Jesus healing a cripple and attributing this healing to the man Jesus who Peter and John claim was resurrected from the dead.  As we know from other of the Scriptures, the Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead.

        While it is unclear what the Sadducees believed about the after life, they seemed to have embraced the belief of the pagan world on the issue of bodily resurrection. The Greeks and Romans did not believe in resurrection of a biological body from the dead.  The Greeks and Romans pretty much embraced the philosopher Plato’s concept of the immortality of the soul and that upon death of the physical body, the soul went off into the afterlife as a disembodied entity. Bodily resurrection was thought to be impossible and pure nonsense.  

       So now the Sadducees are not only being confronted with the claim that this Jesus whom they had helped put to death was resurrected from the dead but that he in some manner or another has facilitated the healing of this cripple.  They were not happy about this. Here they thought they had eliminated the threat to their power over the people and now that threat has resurfaced.

       The Scriptures go on to record that the religious leaders seized Peter and John and put them in jail.  But the damage had been done.  The healing of the cripple and Peter’s message accomplished its purpose.

       Acts 4:3-4: They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

       So now the religious leaders had a problem.  The next day the religious leadership met and had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them as to by what power and name they healed the cripple.  Now the religious leaders had tremendous power over the people. To be called before them was a rather frightening experience.  Yet Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, minced no words in responding to their questioning. Here is what he said:

       Acts 4:8-12: Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed,  then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is "`the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.' Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

       The healing of the cripple was paying huge dividends. Not only did it apparently lead to the conversion of several thousand people as indicated in Acts 4:4, it now resulted in the Gospel being preached to the religious leadership, a leadership who didn’t quite know how to handle this situation. Scripture shows the healed man, who was over 40 years old, was standing there with them so they couldn’t deny what had happened.  They were also keenly aware that as Acts 4:16 reports, "Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.”  Acts also records that “all the people were praising God for what had happened.”  They knew they had to be careful in how they responded to this situation.  If they came down hard on the apostles, it could produce undesirable repercussions.  They were somewhere between the rock and the hard place. They apparently were impressed with the courage of Peter and John.

       Acts 4:13: When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

       I want to close today by once again addressing the issue of Peter and John being looked at as being illiterate, an issue I addressed in Part One of this series. Some NT scholars, such as Bart Ehrman, believe the Apostles were illiterate. Ehrman, in his book, "How Jesus Became God," writes that the followers of Jesus were "uneducated lower class Aramaic-speaking Jews from Palestine."  Ehrman alludes to Acts 4:13 to back up his claim.  Ehrman claims that only 10% of the population during the time of Christ could read or write. Is this true?      

       According to the Arndt Gingrich Greek Lexicon, The Greek word rendered unschooled/uneducated does mean being illiterate and unable to write. On the other hand, the Greek word rendered “ordinary” is defined in the Arndt Gingrich Lexicon as being a layman in contrast to an expert.  In a footnote to Acts 4:13, the NET Bible says this:

       Uneducated does not mean “illiterate,” that is, unable to read or write. Among Jews in NT times there was almost universal literacy, especially as the result of widespread synagogue schools. The term refers to the fact that Peter and John had no formal rabbinic training and thus, in the view of their accusers, were not qualified to expound the law or teach publicly. 

       This statement reflects well the meaning of the Greek word rendered “ordinary” which means a layman in contrast to an expert. Compared to the religious leaders, Peter and John would be considered uneducated.  However, It must also be pointed out Peter and John presented themselves in such manner that the religious leaders recognized these men had been with Jesus.  This was somewhat of an inadvertent admission that these men had become religiously educated because of their association with Jesus.

       So what is the evidence for literacy in first century Israel?  While formal literacy statistics do not exist, there are some indicators. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which date to the first century, reveal a high level of literacy within the Qumran community. Many inscriptions on tombstones have been found dating to the first century. These inscriptions appear to be the work of commoners.  Potsherds (pieces of broken pottery) were used by commoners to write messages on. Many potsherds, with writing in both Hebrew and Greek, were discovered at Masada and found to be associated with the Jews who had fled there during the war with Rome (A.D.67-A.D.73). We know from Luke 4:17 that Jesus was able to read as He is seen reading from an Isaiah scroll.   

       Ehrman's assessment that the literacy rate among first century Jews was very low appears suspect. It should be noted that Matthew, being a tax collector, may well have needed to be literate to do his job. Luke is seen as being a physician (Colossians 4:14). If this is the same Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts, as a physician, it is very likely he was literate. We don't know much about Mark. We know John was a fisherman and apparently was in the fishing business with his brother James. We know Peter was a fisherman. What level of literacy may have been required to run a fishing business is unknown. 

       Since Ehrman believes the disciples of Jesus were illiterate Aramaic speaking peasants, he believes they would not have known the Greek language much less write with it.  Since the Gospels and letters of the NT were written in Greek, Ehrman believes it to be highly improbable that the authors of record, with the exception of Paul,  are the actual authors of these documents.  However, Greek was commonly spoken in first century Palestine as it was throughout the Roman Empire. Therefore, it is presumptuous to conclude that Peter, John and other of the Apostles could not speak or write Greek.  Furthermore, there is good evidence that Matthew was originally written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek. 

       It is more likely than not the Peter and John were literate.

PART ELEVEN