Acts 4:5-12 features a boldness characterized by the Holy Spirit, which shows up just in the time of need. The passage recalls the words of Jesus in Luke 12:11-12: “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you that very hour what you ought to say.” Both passages foresee how Jesus’ followers will respond. For example, Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 4:8 and answers in a way that Acts 4:13 calls “boldness”.
The Sanhedrin, consisting of 71 members, included the rulers, elders and scribes and was the highest legislative and judicial body in Jerusalem. The Sanhedrin thought Peter, John and the beggar were on trial, but Jesus Christ was on trial again because He was the power behind the paralyzed man’s healing. The message of the resurrection stirred the pot here. They didn’t fix their attention on one thing done by Peter. Instead, they framed an indefinite question. They hoped Peter would say something on which they might condemn him-the same hope they had every time they questioned Jesus. Their whole inquiry was rooted in the assumption that the Sanhedrin looked down at powerless idiots. The irony is that the powerless idiots had something that the members of the Sanhedrin didn’t-the name of Jesus, whom the Sanhedrin rejected, but now who has returned with power. The undeniable evidence against the Sanhedrin was a man who was once lame and was now walking.
The actions of the Sanhedrin show how power operates in the absence of truth. People in power, especially religious power, who have no concern for truth will follow a pattern when challenged:
- Intimidation. They will use their authority to strike fear in the hearts of their opponents.
- Tradition. They will invoke the long history of believing something and doing something a certain way.
- Coercion. They will manipulate the behaviour of opponents by using threats, bribes, blackmail, flattery or death.
The Sanhedrin tried to use their authority to scare Peter. It’s not unusual for the enemies of Christianity to intimidate or scare Christians. Such attempts can only fail, because Christians draw strength from their faith in Christ. This strength helped Peter defend himself and launch into a sermon. This strength changed Peter. Nothing but the conviction of the truth could have caused this change.
The Book of Acts is our window into the lives of the early Christians, who were still fresh from their encounter with the Risen Christ-the one who dared them to live as if death didn’t have power over them anymore. Peter is Exhibit A. He sets an example for us of what it looks like to imitate Jesus in our everyday lives. When he spoke, the Holy Spirit took possession of Peter’s mind, emotions, will and body. Peter surrendered his life and opened himself to be a container and a transmitter of the living Spirit of God. Peter’s need to defend himself before the Sanhedrin brought forth the power the Holy Spirit infused in him.
The Holy Spirit is both sanctifier and strengthener. He helps us remember what God did and said. He gives us the gift of faith to believe. He enables us to grow in Christlike character. He equips us to be bold and fearless in times of trial.
Peter’s first point turned the tables. When he used the term, “whom you crucified,” he became the accuser instead of the accused. Peter noted that the Sanhedrin looked for something to be the cornerstone of the foundation of their faith, while rejecting the real cornerstone-Jesus. In fact, they tried to destroy this cornerstone by crucifying Jesus, but they only made it stronger when they unknowingly because part of God’s plan of salvation.
Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are reconciled to God. The cross was the final sacrifice for our sins. When we accept what Christ did for us, we are forgiven and set free of guilt and self-condemnation.
Peter’s speech testifies to a powerful reality: the once-muted church speaks because the dead don’t stay dead. Jesus may have been crucified, but God raised Him from the dead. Jesus is the beginning of the resurrection of the dead-the beginning of the Easter Resurrection that ends the settled order based on death. The dead don’t stay dead, so the rule of power and wealth has come to an end. A new creation is at hand.
The temple authorities put Jesus in the lowest place they could. He was given an outcast’s death outside the city walls. That was the ultimate in exclusion from the community, the ultimate in silence. But God raised Jesus to the place of highest honour and authority, at the very centre of God’s new community. Peter used the words of Psalm 118 to put the temple authorities on notice that in raising Jesus from the dead, God made him the cornerstone of a new temple with the only power under heaven to heal. Those who killed Jesus were ignorant of God’s plan. If they had known, they might not have done the deed. The builders referred to in Psalm 118 were identified either as those who do not believe, or Christians had fallen away.
Peter warned the Sanhedrin that the healing of the lame man in the temple in the name of Jesus would have world-changing implications. The name of Jesus brings salvation, healing, wholeness and newness of life to those who believe. There are only two religious paths. The broad one is salvation by works, which leads to eternal death. The narrow one is based on faith in Jesus and leads to eternal life. Unfortunately for the Sanhedrin, they were on the broad path.
Peter explained the two conditions that must happen before people can be called children of God. The first is that we must receive Jesus. We must open the door of our hearts and invite Him to come in. The other is that we must believe in the name of Jesus. Salvation is only found in the perfect person and work of Jesus. When Jesus is with us, anyone who hears His Words with an open mind will find He is anything but boring. His words have not lost their passion. His actions have not lost their power.
Peter’s response in this passage from Acts expresses a bold declaration about the saving nature of Jesus. This bold declaration needs to be expressed today. Peter didn’t aim to exclude future religious movements, but his speech has been used throughout history to discriminate. Any time the name of Jesus is used to divide and not unite, to generate hatred and not love, to separate people instead of joining then together, His Name has been misused and profaned. The Spirit’s boldness empowered an emphasis that seemed to be necessary. We are no less in need of Spirit-driven boldness today so that the world will see us as companions of Jesus. This should encourage us to make other people look at us and wonder why we show hope, grace and joy.
A single route to salvation may sound strange to many people in our world today. It can provoke resistance and even scorn. Many people like to think that they are okay because they are not as bad as some others. The reality is that all of us are sinners. Arrogance plays no part in this declaration. It’s about humility, recognizing that we can do nothing to save ourselves. We depend totally on Christ for salvation. We can’t prove to an unbeliever that salvation can be found in Jesus alone, but we can show the joy and humility that only salvation in Christ brings to our lives.
Many people today buy into the false belief that all religions are the same. These people proclaim that all religions teach similar things, lead to the same God and have equally respectable founders. But did Buddha, Muhammed or Krishna rise from the dead? The answer is no. Only Jesus surprised the world when He rose from the dead, in great power and glory, so that everyone can know that He is the only one who guarantees our resurrection into eternal life. The evidence of Christ’s resurrection is overwhelming, but the devil has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the glory of Christ and the Truth of the Gospel. When Jesus returns to judge the world, they will be in for a big surprise!
Why is there so little evidence of the use of the power of the name of Jesus in modern Christianity? Why do we wring our hands at the enormity of untouched human need in churches today? To answer these questions, we must ask ourselves the following questions:
- Do we believe that Jesus was who He said He was?
- Did he do the miraculous works of God recorded in the Gospels?
- Do we accept that what He did as Jesus of Nazareth He continued to do through the apostles and the early church?
- Is He ready and willing to do the same today in the new chapter of Acts being written in our time?
- Are we open to the possibility that this can be an age of miracles if we dare to believe and pray adventuresomely in Jesus’ name?
- What is it in me, or in my church, which has blighted our boldness with the blandness of expecting little and settling for it?
The reason for the decline of institutional Christianity in the western world today is that we have lost the “Christ-only” reason for living. We need Peter’s boldness to preach and teach, and then model with our living, that there is no other way. In Peter’s statement, he brushed aside nationalism, the sacrificial system of ancient Israel, and the compulsive complex set of rules and regulations of religion. Christ is all or not at all. Only Christ can save us. How often in our own lives do we appeal to an outside authority for an excuse to explain what we are not capable of doing ourselves? While Peter and John had the name of the resurrected Christ to support them, how much do we delight in invoking the name of someone else-namely Jesus-in order to fill our own needs to be appreciated? When do we call on the power of the risen Lord to fill us with the joy and glee of the Holy Spirit? In what way is the Spirit of the Risen Christ moving across our land, our churches today that are upsetting and unsettling to those in power?
In our day God’s power seems neither obvious nor disruptive. Our eyes don’t easily see God at work in the world. We confess that we are disciples-God’s work, our hands. How is our own short-sightedness preventing us from seeing God at work in the world? What might we see if we learned to see with different eyes? What might we lose? What might we gain?
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