At the start of the disciples’ ministry they found themselves subjected to opposition and persecution for the speaking publicly about the gospel. Chapter 4 of Acts begins with Peter and John upsetting the temple authorities by preaching and teaching about Jesus and healing a man in His name. They are thrown in to prison until they can be questioned the following day. Despite this, 5000 people come to faith. That is astonishing!
When they are brought before a council of teachers, elders and rulers the next day, a question is put to them:
“By what power or what name did you do this?”
” If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being 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. Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12)
Peter was a fisherman by trade. He had no formal education or religious pedigree, and certainly didn’t have the same social standing as the group of men he was facing. Combined with the prospect of further imprisonment or execution for blasphemy, it would have made for very intimidating and frightening situation. This makes Peter’s reply, even more remarkable.
In addition, considering that a few weeks before this event he had denied knowing Jesus, the boldness and assurance with which he speaks, shows a complete transformation in Peter’s attitude towards proclaiming Christ as his Lord and Saviour.
This transformation was not of Peter’s doing. He hadn’t read “public speaking for dummies” and decided to be more forthright when he woke up that morning. Verse 8 of chapter 4 says that before he launched into his reply to the authorities, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit”. This was the difference!
If Peter had spoken in his own strength he would probably have reverted to his “old-self” and become a bumbling wreck, tripping over his words and denying anything to do with Jesus. But, he had the power of the Holy Spirit working through him, and the courageous and articulate response he gave to the religious leaders put them completely on the back foot.
Reading further on in Acts 4, they “were astonished” and “there was nothing they could say”. They told Peter and John to leave and religious leaders called a private meeting to discuss what had just happened. They could not deny that Peter and John had performed a healing miracle, but were worried that their influence would spread among the people, because people were praising God.
The best they could do was order Peter and John to stop speaking about Jesus, but with an incisive retort Peter and John said, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s eyes to obey you rather than God”. Once again, the somewhat bewildered religious leaders had no reply and let them go. God’s purposes are fulfilled and Peter and John continue with their ministry and spreading the gospel.
This story in Acts is a huge encouragement to those who shy away from speaking about their faith. It is not an easy thing to do and we can revert to our “old selves” and our natural tendency to avoid conflict or embarrassment. It is all too easy to change the subject, become a dithering wreck, or water down the message to avoid offending people. On the night Peter denied Jesus denied he probably couldn’t have imagined standing in front of a collection of the most powerful and knowledgeable religious leaders of the land and speaking so boldly. The equivalent today would be a local builder attending the Houses of Parliament and giving an account to a group of MP’s and Lords about why he was causing such a stir!
Peter was an ordinary bloke, but he had the power of the Holy Spirit that gave him incredible courage, insight and authority. He had also spent 3 years with Jesus being trained and taught and he could draw on this. We have the Holy Spirit and we also have the teaching of Jesus contained within Scripture. If we are walking closely and obediently with Christ he will not only give us opportunities to share the gospel, he will give us the boldness and clarity of mind to speak. You may not have to speak in front of a group of politicians or an audience of five thousand, and you may not have a degree in theology but God can and will use you to witness to those around you – work colleagues, family, friends, or complete strangers. It may be difficult and uncomfortable at times but you will never be alone.
Pray this week for boldness to proclaim the truth that “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”