By Gregg Bing
Peter and John, after healing a lame man at the temple gate, were taken into custody by the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees (Acts 4:1). The next day, they were questioned as to how they had healed this man, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (Acts 4:7).
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly declared that “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands before you whole” (Acts 4:10). Peter gave powerful testimony to the person of Christ, the power of His name, and the prophecy about Christ that was fulfilled when these Jewish rulers rejected Jesus. Peter concluded with the purpose of Christ’s coming—to provide salvation, a salvation found only in Him, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
These religious leaders of the Jews were amazed at the “boldness of Peter and John.” They spoke confidently and freely, with no fear of Israel’s priests. How could this be? Peter and John were “uneducated and untrained men” (Acts 4:13); not that they were ignorant or unintelligent, but they had no theological or religious training. Unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, they had not sat under the teaching of respected rabbis in Israel, they had received no instruction in the Hebrew Scriptures, nor had they studied the traditions of the elders.
How did Peter and John, common fishermen, know the things they did? What led them to speak with such authority? The rulers recognized that “they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). These two men were disciples of Jesus; they had traveled with Him for the past 3 years, they saw His miracles, they heard His teaching, they experienced His love and compassion for people, they had gotten to know Him, personally. The time they spent with Jesus clearly had an impact on their lives. Nothing else could explain their power to heal, their knowledge and understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, and their forceful teaching.
The priests and Sadducees were concerned about the influence Peter and John had upon the people, but they could not speak against what these apostles of Jesus had done (Acts 4:14). It was well known that this man had been lame from birth, yet here he was standing before them. What could they say? If they denied this miracle or intimated that healing this helpless man was something other than a good deed, the people would rise up against them.
So, the priests and rulers sent away Peter, John, and the man who had been healed and conferred privately among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:15-16). The very thing that had made Jesus so popular among the people—the power to heal—seemed to be having the same effect on Peter and John’s ministry. The only option the rulers had was to try and control the damage that had been done, to make sure “that it spreads no further among the people” (Acts 4:17).
The rulers then called Peter and John back in and “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18), hoping to intimidate them and keep the Jewish people from hearing any more about Jesus and His resurrection. But, Peter and John stood firm, saying, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19). What had they seen and heard? John would later write:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3)
Jesus had taught His disciples to recognize that “the scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat,” positions of authority under God’s law (Matt. 23:2-3), however what the priests and Sadducees were doing now was contrary to the law of God. Peter and John were apostles of Jesus Christ, having been sent forth by Him to testify of and proclaim the truth, that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that God had demonstrated this by raising Him from the dead. For Peter and John, it came down to obeying men or God; they had no choice but to obey God.
The rulers further threatened Peter and John, but were forced to let them go. They could find no way of punishing these men because of the Jewish people, “since they all glorified God for what had been done.” Clearly an amazing miracle had been performed; the man who was healed had been lame for over forty years (Acts 4:21-22).
Peter and John then returned “to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them” (Acts 4:23).
What can we learn from the words and actions of Peter and John? How can we apply these lessons in our own lives?
We live in a country which, though founded on Biblical principles, now seeks to ignore, even to suppress this heritage. The idea of “separation of church and state” has been used as an excuse to remove any references to the Bible or Jesus Christ from the public arena. Bible reading and prayer have been removed from our public schools, from many areas of government, as well as from the workplace and even the media; in effect, “commanding us not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus,” just as Peter and John were commanded by their nation’s rulers (Acts 4:18).
Sadly, most Christians, have simply accepted this state of affairs. They have given up even trying to share the truth of Jesus Christ with others, assuming it is not allowed or that it will do no good. As believers, we must not buy into this lie of Satan. We need to learn the lessons provided by the testimony of Peter and John.
Bold Testimony for Jesus
They bore a bold testimony for Jesus Christ, seeking to make Him known to all men (Acts 4:8-12). They depended on the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit indwelling them to declare the truth of who Jesus is, the Christ the Son of God, and how salvation is provided only through Him. It is not a very popular message today, but people need to know that there is “no other name,” there is “no other way,” by which sinful men must be saved. Having been saved by God’s grace ourselves, we know what the unsaved world needs to hear. If we don’t tell them, who will?
They Had Been with Jesus
In the same way that Peter and John were not educated and trained in the work of the ministry, neither do we, as believers, need to have any kind of formal seminary education to bear a testimony for our Savior. What made a difference in their lives is that “they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). For over three years, they spent time with Jesus on a daily basis. They walked with Him. They talked with Him. They developed a close, personal relationship with Him. They loved Him as a Friend, but more, they worshipped Him as their Lord.
While we can’t literally walk with Jesus, as they did, we can walk in fellowship with Him every day. As we spend time in God’s Word, reading and studying the Scriptures, all of which testify of Him (John 5:39), as we spend time in fervent prayer with Him on a regular basis, we come to know our Lord and Savior in a deeper, more intimate way—and He changes our lives! He changes us in ways that can be seen, even by unbelievers.
The more we spend time with Jesus, the more we come to know Him, and the more our lives reflect the power, love, and wisdom of Christ to those around us. We become “the light of the world,” shining forth the light of Jesus Christ to a world in darkness. We become “the salt of the earth,” enhancing the message of grace and encouraging people to thirst for God (Matt. 5:13-16).
Resolve to Speak the Truth
When threatened by their nation’s authorities, and commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus, Peter and John were unafraid and refused to bow to the demands of men. They knew that it was “right, in the sight of God” (Acts 4:19), to obey Him rather than to obey men. They stood firm in their resolve, “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). We need this same courage, this same firm resolve to speak the things which we have seen and heard from God’s Word.
You might think, “What’s the use? Most people won’t listen.” Peter and John might have wondered the same thing. They were preaching to the same people who had already rejected and crucified Christ! And for the majority of the Jews, they would have been right. However, consider that on the day of Pentecost, 3000 souls were saved, and after the healing of the lame man, 2000 more were added to the Lord through the ministry of Peter and John. All because they were willing to preach the Word, knowing that “faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17).
God told the prophet Ezekiel: “Son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house (i.e. Israel). You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious” (Ezek. 2:6-7).
The majority of those we meet may not hear and believe the gospel when we proclaim it; they may remain rebellious against the Lord. God’s instructions to Ezekiel are equally appropriate for us—we need to speak His words, whether they hear or refuse. Our responsibility is not to save them; we have no power to do that. Our responsibility is to speak the truth, trusting in the power of God’s Word to lead them to faith in Christ, trusting the power of God’s Spirit to convict them of their sin and need of a Savior, and trusting the power of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection to give them eternal life.
Peter and John were compelled to speak the truth—what they had seen and heard—even in the face of the Jewish rulers’ threats and commands to them not to. They made a choice, declaring, “We cannot but speak!”
What about you? The world threatens us and, in effect, commands us not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Will you respond as Peter and John did? Will you resolve to boldly speak the truth, regardless of the consequences?
It’s time we took seriously the work God has given us as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20). God has entrusted us with a vital message, “the word of reconciliation,” and an important ministry, “the ministry of reconciliation.” As we faithfully speak God’s Word and share the gospel of His grace with the unsaved, we allow God to plead with them through us and to implore them on behalf of our Savior, “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor. 5:18-21)