Ever since COVID-19 began, we shifted our series at our church to best represent what was taking place. We called it ‘Uncharted’ – God leading us as we traverse through the unknown. As we battle through the coronavirus, practice social distancing, and find ways to be creative in ministry, we need the Lord more than ever in these strange, uncharted waters.
We have found solace in the Book of Acts as the Apostles are facing uncharted territory themselves. Their Master, Jesus, had appeared to them and now He is gone. He is sending another helper, the Holy Spirit, to continue advancing the Kingdom of God through the work of His disciples. It’s been incredibly reassuring and encouraging to learn lessons from the disciples and see what this means for us in what we face.
Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach on Acts 4:1-22 where the focus was primarily on Peter. Before this place in time, you might recall some of the qualities Peter was best known for…
- He’s emotionally reactive – He cut a guy’s ear off once
- He consistently has his ‘foot in the mouth’ – Remember the “away from me Satan” response?
- Quick to speak, slow to listen (the opposite of what James tells us to be!)
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has been at work in Peter! The Apostle Paul speaks about this transformative work the Holy Spirit does in each one of us:
2 Corinthians 3:18 – “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
I’m not sure if Peter realizes it yet, but there has been a significant change in Peter’s character. Now he seems to be…
- Has a spirit-led response – his preemptive discernment is how God used him to heal a man just before this passage
- He is set apart as a leader
- He speaks with a boldness & a conviction from God (3,000 people were saved!)
I’m thankful that we have the chance to look at Peter’s life before the transformative work of the Holy Spirit to see the radical shift in his life. That’s the best part about a character study is seeing how far they have come! As we look at Peter, his character, and the circumstances that he faced in the midst of chaos, let’s also with a willing heart do a character study on someone else in the story… US. Yes, I pray that Christ has been doing a transformative work in you as well!
Ask yourself these questions then:
“Since COVID-19, what has Christ been doing in me?” “Within the circumstances that I am facing, how am I reacting & do I believe that is the response the Lord would me take?” Let’s see where the Spirit takes Peter next & what this means for us.
“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, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 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; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand. The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family.” – Acts 4:1-6
We need to understand the background of what is going on in the life of Peter… just as when COVID-19 is over, we’ll have to explain that to our children & grandchildren who were not there what it was like.
Here are a few important points to mention…
- The Sadducees – this is the party where the high priest was chosen & where most of the priestly families belonged. Think religion mixed with politics. Unlike the Pharisees, they do not believe in the resurrection, which makes them ‘sad-you-see.’ (Sorry, I had to do it!)
- Annas – The Romans removed him from office but still wielded considerable power behind the scenes. His 5 sons succeeded his as high priests. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, our next figure. (Caiaphas had the position, but Annas had the influence & the power)
- Caiaphas – the high priest who was in office that year… AND was also ruling during Jesus’ time. Jesus actually came before Caiaphas for his trial!
- Jesus was brought FIRST to Annas – revealing who’s ‘in charge’ (John 18:12-14)
- Annas examined Jesus & it was unproductive, so he sent him to Caiaphas (John 18:24)
- Caiaphas charged Jesus with blasphemy (Matthew 26:63-66) & sent him to Pilate where his charge of crucifixion would be carried out (John 18:28-32)
- Caiaphas was also the one who prophesied that Jesus would die for the children of God & plotted to take his life (John 11:45-53)
- With this backdrop, we can better understand how difficult it must have been for Peter and John. I cannot begin to conceive how intimidating, fearful, and overbearing this situation would have been! Knowing that these two men were instrumental in crucifying their Master and literally had the power to do that to them – to punish them, better yet, to crucify them! I cannot imagine their thoughts as they asked this question to them:
“By what power or name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7)
Only the Spirit of God could give such a concise, clear, & convicting response in such a convoluted environment. Imagine the pressure to speak, the weight of the consequences… what if I misspoke, mislead, underestimate the gravity of the situation – “what am I to do God?”
This is the 1st fulfillment of Jesus’ words on what will happen before the end comes:
“But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. – Luke 21:12-15
This is a promise fulfilled not just to these two men, but every man, woman or child that chooses to defend themselves for the sake of the Gospel.
Here is Peter’s response:
“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 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
These five verses are the nature of the Gospel, the Good News! Look at it again – A man was healed (since the kindness of God leading to repentance –Romans 2:4) and the crucified Jesus Christ of Nazareth was raised from the dead by God (and YOU killed Him too) – it is His same resurrection power that brought healing to the lame man. This same Jesus is also the only way to be saved.
I rejoice in this because too many times we think sharing a testimony needs to be 1) an ‘I almost died when I was in the world but now I’m saved’ testimony or 2) a 30 minute + story of all the details. As we see here, the Good News is glorifying what Christ has done regardless of how long or what we went through – it’s about testifying to the working power of Christ.
All of this was simply to provide you with the background to understand where the Holy Spirit wanted me to have most of the focus. This particular focus alluded a question that I’d ask you before you read the next verse:
“What is a distinguishing characteristic of a Christ-follower?”
I’m positive that you can list several! Here are a few that came to mind…
- Correct/enough theology – I need to have my Master’s in Divinity
- A certain amount of ministry experience – working or volunteering in a church
- Exceptional qualities – spiritual gifts that everyone ‘notices’
- Right personality – not to be shy, extraverted, filled with charisma, etc.
- Training – taking speaking classes
While these points listed are valuable & will benefit you greatly in your walk with Christ, those listed are not the distinguishing characteristic that takes place in the next verse. Instead, it was something usually not thought of…
“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.” – Acts 4:13
Courage is having the strength in the face of pain or grief. Courage is not the absence of fear, but stepping through the fear into the unknown. Courage is taking a stand for what is right when there is wrong. As Christians, it takes courage for the cause of Christ to be displayed, to shine. It’s how we are a witness to Him when we are confined by our circumstances.
Maya Angelou, poet, and civil rights activists once said: “Courage is the most important of all virtues because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.”
Imagined if Peter had shied away from his accusers? Not only would his accusers and bistanders have the opportunity to know Christ through his words BUT we would not know what the Holy Spirit has been doing this inside of him. It is because of Peter’s courage that we see Christ working in him.
Hopefully, you’re feeling motivated and are responding with a desire for more courage. I know I want that! Therefore, it’s only proper to ask the question, “How do I become courageous?” “How do I get more courage?”
The answer is right in front of you… it’s in the same verse!
“They took note that these men have been with Jesus.”
Did you catch that? It was the time that Peter and John had spent with Christ that cultivated their courage. Their conviction to share the Good News was centered in the relationship with Jesus.
The more we hang out with Jesus, the more excited we are to talk about Him. The more we know who He is. The more courage we have to speak of His Name, His wonder working power, & His saving grace. We are more bold because we took time to KNOW HIM.
This happens in any arena of life as well. Take baseball for instance. Although there are only 60 games this season, you know who a fan is by what they know (and by what they wear!). Those who LOVE baseball can spout off facts, play, & hash through highlights with a degree of passion & zeal. This happens because they have dedicated their time and energy to understanding and loving the game. Can we do that with Christ?
Here’s another way to look at it with a question:
Do you know how much percentage of an iceberg is underwater?
Courage is similar to the iceberg in that you only see the 10% upfront. Courage was developed in intimacy – the secret place with Jesus where no one was looking. Much like the 90% of the iceberg that is underwater, it is unseen yet represents the greater part of that iceberg. Those moments where you pray, read the Word, and worship by yourself… that’s what’s underneath the surface. The tip of the iceberg is a small that is revealed during a crisis because the 90% has been sitting at Jesus’ feet.
We know that this is true of Peter. In fact, within these 5 verses that took less than 30 seconds to speak, Peter spend 3 years consistently with Jesus. I don’t know the math, but I guarantee you the ratio of ‘spending time with Jesus’ was higher than 90%!
It’s tempting to look at someone and assume that they have the right personality or disposition to be courageous. This Scripture with what the men saw in Peter and John disproves that. Courage is cultivated in intimacy. Don’t brush off courage for yourself because you don’t think you ‘automatically have it’ – no! Again, to get courage, get with Jesus!
My hope & prayer is that people can look at me by what I say, what I do, and how I act with the phrase ‘that man has been with Jesus.’ Do you want this too?
If you do like me, I remind you that we are in a war – a battle for your soul. All you have to do is turn on the news and you’ll see the negative headlines and the fear behind every story… I cannot watch more than 15 minutes of it!
I bring this point up because how we spend our time directly relates to the transformation I mentioned in the beginning. We only have two yokes – Jesus or the worlds. Which one daily will I follow? Which one will you follow?
Romans 12:2 reveals to us that we have a choice in whether we let the Holy Spirit transform us or the world:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The verb in this passage speaks of the Holy Spirit doing the work… we just have to be willing to receive it. In other words, we yield to transformation by choosing what is right. We submit to Christ daily and what He has for us.
Therefore, the hard question is, “What influence from the world has your attention?” More plainly speaking…what is stopping you right now from being with Christ?”
- Is it Netflix and the continuous episodes per season?
- Too much news?
- Social media?
- Prioritizing alone time with God in the schedule?
Peter’s courage comes out of a place of conviction because he’s been with Christ. If we want courage, we start with the center of it all – in His presence.
Courage comes calling at different points for all of us, but is demonstrated through the crisis. Courage is not revealed during comfort. Actually, I believe it is the comfort of the church over many years that has lost its relevance to a dying world that so badly needs Christ. Christians need to take a stand, but if Christ-followers are casual about their faith, they end up simply being a casualty. Christianity was born in conflict and demonstrated through courage.
Here are a few practical ways that you can be a courageous Christ-follower:
- You can redirect a regular conversation towards spiritual matters. If you know they are a Christian, ask them, “How is your walk with Christ doing in this time?”
- You can voice your opinion (online or in-person) about how loving & following Christ is essential.
- You can call, visit, or gift something to a stranger, church member – whoever is on your heart! This takes courage because we don’t know what they think, how they will act or even if we will ever hear from them!
- You can come to your church for service if it is offering that as an option. At my church, we are currently starting an outdoor live-stream option and will practice social distancing. Remember, the church is the Body of Christ and we are meant to be together! How else are we supposed to practice the many “one another’s” Scripture exhorts us to follow?
- “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:25
This is just a sample… I’m sure God can reveal more to you if you ask! There are a variety of ways to be courageous without compromising your health & compromising Christ – ask the Holy Spirit to help you be creative. I hope you can see why the Holy Spirit wanted me to spend substantial time with this verse because we need courage more than ever in the crisis that we are facing.
To do justice, let’s finish up our study on courage in Acts 4:1-22.
“But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.” – Acts 4:14
The evidence of Christ’ work speaks for itself. The man healed is part of Peter & John’s testimony – this is the proof that Christ is working through Peter. This is the evidence that God is doing something extraordinary & wants to change lives. This is the realization that God wants to use His people for His Kingdom purposes.
The critics have been silenced by the work of Christ through the disciples. Amazingly, they did not even deny the resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps since they were there, they know of the rumors that Jesus’ body ‘went missing’. Or there was the fact that Jesus was appearing to people after His resurrection. Either way, their critics did not deny Jesus’ life after death.
Since they could not deny what took place, they will attempt to stop the disciples in their future ministry…
- First, they want Jesus’ Name and ministry to ‘stop it from spreading’ – they warned Peter and John to no longer speak in this name (Acts 4:17)
- It escalates further to commanding them to not speak in Name of Jesus (Acts 4:18)
- Next, it intensifies to further threats if they continue to do so (Acts 4:19)
Courage has a cost. If the disciples had cowered in fear, the authorities above them would have never challenged them in this way. If Peter didn’t obey the Spirit’s leading for the man to be healed & he spoke what he said… where would the church be today? Comfort is what cripples the church – it takes courage to bring about change especially during crisis ALL for the cause of Christ.
The church has been build upon the courageous men & women who have gone before us. Think about…
- Those who stand up for injustice, even if it was unpopular?
- Those who have gone before us who said ‘no’ to evil?
- Those who say ‘I will shout my praises to the Lord, regardless of who hears?’
- Those who are willing to boldly declare the Gospel despite the consequences & the fear?
In response to all of this, Peter & John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:19-20
As a Christian in crisis, Peter & John decided to speak the truth because they KNOW the truth – these men have been with Jesus. Their obedience to the Spirit’s leading was out of the overflow of their relationship with God. They know Him, so they can speak up for Him! The cost of imprisonment, threats, & being ostracized didn’t shake them – for their courage was found in Christ.
I can’t help but think of a man who was in a similar predicament back in the 1600s named John Bunyan. After fighting a civil war in England during the time, he realized how God had saved him from danger & death. He suffered from guilt as one who lived and tried to earn his salvation through good works.
When he was about 21, came across a few ladies and a Pastor who encouraged John to trust the One who saves those who cannot save themselves. “By grace are we saved through faith,” the pastor explained. John finally understood, and from that day forward, he trusted completely in the Lord and stopped trying to earn his salvation.
Full of joy, John began to share his faith with others. In fact, within four years he was drawing crowds “from all parts”. Preaching outside an official government church was against the law and John was arrested. John could have seen this as an obstacle but rather took advantage of it as an opportunity. This was the ‘iceberg’ that went deep in his relationship with Christ. During his 12 years in prison, he wrote a number of books including a story about a Christian pilgrim who struggles, but because of God’s great grace, remains on the narrow path to heaven. That book, of course, was The Pilgrim’s Progress.
John could have walked out of prison and back home to his family by promising not to preach … but he refused. He did not cower in fear. He told local magistrates he would rather remain in prison until ‘moss grew on his eyelids,’ than to fail to do what God commanded.
In 1678, a few years after John’s release from jail, he took the Pilgrim’s Progress to a printer, with very little hope that it would be of much significance. The book was written for himself – not for the world. However, the book was instantly popular with every social class and would go on to become the bestselling book (apart from the Bible) for generations.
As a Christian in crisis, John Bunyan chose his conviction over his comfort. His 12 years in jail would allow him the chance to know Christ in a greater, joyful, & richer way so that out of that relationship, a book would be written that could help change the course of history. But he had to have courage & continue the cause for Christ.
As a Christian in crisis, you have a choice in how you can view this COVID-19 pandemic that has rocked our world, changed our schedules, & has caused chaos in your world. Let me ask you: “what courageous step is the Holy Spirit asking you to take?” If you’re not sure yet, I have an answer – spend time with Christ. As you take that precious time to be with Him, you’ll not only experience the joy, freedom, and peace that He brings – but there’s also the courage that will begin to rise up within you. Even if the fear is there, you’ll have the courage to walk past whatever it is that plagues you because He is with you!
My hope is that others will see your courage and they will say of you what they told Peter and John, that “this one has been with Jesus.” May it be so.
Have a blessed week!
 John 18:10
 Matthew 16:23
 James 1:19
 Acts 3:1-10
 Acts 2:14
 Acts 2:14-40