Acts 4: 1-31 tells what happened after the healing of the lame man in Acts 3. Peter, prompted by the Holy Spirit, used this as an occasion to preach an impromptu sermon.
Now, this happened at the temple in Jerusalem, which was not just a house of worship, but the biggest tourist attraction in the Middle East. Try to imagine it happening near the front gate of Disney World today. Thousands of people—believers and unbelievers—came to marvel at it.
The temple had its own security guards. They didn’t have the right to arrest, just detain people for a time. Since Peter was talking to a crowd of more than five thousand at the gate of the temple the guards moved in to arrest them. They put him and John in a temporary holding cell until morning.
Ordinarily the security guards would either let them go with a warning or turn them over to the Romans. But they did neither. Instead, they were held overnight and the next morning, let into a room with the High priest and his two deputies. This was intimidating, to say the least!
That was the point--they wanted to intimidate Peter and John. They couldn’t shut them up, but they might be scared into silence.
When the Spirit comes, there are people who benefit and those who don’t. Those who submit to Him benefit, those who would rather do things for themselves get nothing.
If the Holy Spirit showed Himself like He did in those days, would you benefit? If the Holy Spirit could come in to your life and fix all your problems. Would you let Him? Would you trust Him, or would you refuse to let go of control in your lives?
This story displays two different reactions to the Holy Spirit. One reaction is from the high priest and the security guards. They see the Spirit as a threat to the established order. They maintain the peace by maintaining control. When disorder comes they get nervous, and react with intimidating force.
The other reaction is that of Peter and John. They welcomed the Spirit. They recognized the move of the Spirit as a blessing from God. They did not mind that the status quo was shaken.
I remember a conversation with a church elder who said of his church. “We have a very calm church. We have had peace for years, so God must be with us.” Peace, quiet, and order are great, but they are not a sign of the Holy Spirit. There is not a more peaceful place than a graveyard. The Spirit’s presence is more often felt in the times when we are least in control. Calmness isn’t a sign of the Spirit—it’s more often associated with death.
So why would religious people not want the Holy Spirit? Think about the motivations of the priests in intimidating Peter and John.
Their most obvious was fear. They lived in an era with more fear of terrorism than our own.
There are many times and places in history of the world when the threat of terrorism has been greater than our own--- Germany before Hitler, Austria-Hungary before World War 1, America before and after the Civil War, England before the English Civil War and Palestine in Jesus’ day. In every case, these periods of terror have ended in a bloodbath.
A few years before Jesus preached, the Jews gathered in the streets to protest Roman banners being flown in Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate ordered the protesters decimated—one out of ten killed. Pilate was so cruel that he was reprimanded by Caesar. Pilate had a reputation for ruthlessly destroying anyone who stood in his way.
The Jewish leaders feared their country would be destroyed by the Romans (this actually happened thirty years later), so they cracked down on anyone they thought were troublemakers before the Romans could. The Jewish leaders feared that Jesus would be a threat to peace, so they had Him killed.
The same fear grips us today. What will others think of us? What will our families say? If we are too outspoken about Christ, will we lose prestige or promotions? We are easily intimidated into silence.
Because they feared they leaned on authority. They expected the order of the world that they had established to protect them.
When we are worried, we find solace in the order we create. Order gives us an illusion of control. Order is found in authority. When it’s hard for us to resist temptation, we pass laws against it, taking the decision to be good out of our own hands. We let worldly authority shield us from taking responsibility for our own actions.
When the High priest confronted Peter and John, he sought to use his authority to intimidate them. He said, “By whose authority do you heal this man?” He knew he was the biggest authority in the country when it came to religious matters.
Peter didn’t heal this man. He was a fisherman, not a doctor. The Holy Spirit healed him. The priests wanted to intimidate them into silence, but they were not intimidated.
God’s authority in our lives is not based on the intimidation of some worldly order. His authority comes from His love. When the Devil wants to silence us, he first intimidates. When God’s people use intimidation and threats to get others to behave, they are not imitating God, but the Devil.
God doesn’t threaten or intimidate. Instead, He demonstrates His love and invites us to follow. He abundantly demonstrated His love to us, so we can know that following Him is in our own best interest.
Peter and John answered whose authority they followed. They acted in the name of the one true authority--Jesus Christ. They did not follow their fears and worries. They didn’t act, because they were intimidated into obedience. They did it, because they loved Jesus, and knew that Jesus loved them, too.
Right now, there are two powerful forces working in all our hearts. One is fear; the other is love. At any time, one or the other motivates our actions.
When we operate out of fear, we are guarded and anxious. We hide away and lock our doors. We arm ourselves against vague dangers. No visible enemy threatens us, yet we act as if one does. King Fear keeps us prisoner. Fear dictates every action—every word we say, every move we make is dictated by King Fear. We are easily intimidated by imaginary or very remote dangers. If Peter and John didn’t have Jesus, there is no doubt that they would have been intimidated into silence by the high priest.
When we operate out of love, fear is still there. Fear is always there. Perfect love casts out fear, but imperfect love like ours must operate always in the presence of fear. Even so, fear is not our master. It need not dictate our actions. If we know that we are loved by God, we may trust that God will keep us and protect us. If we love God, we are not intimidated into silence by worldly threats. Once we have experienced the love of God displayed on the Cross, we know that God loves and keeps us. “Though we walk through the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for God is with us.”
Love and fear are always present in our hearts, but one is always stronger than the other. When we act on our fears, we feed them. When we make decisions based on fear, fear doesn’t go away, but becomes stronger and more demanding.
When we pay attention to fear mongers or get intimidated into silence by enemies, then fear makes us stronger.
I don’t say this, because I’m not afraid. On the contrary, I say it because I am afraid. But I fear my fear itself more than anything else. I’ve seen in my own life how fear can keep me from enjoying life, and I no longer desire to be ruled by such a harsh master. Instead, I throw myself on the love and mercy of God, and pray for greater trust.
In verse 12, Peter answers the high priest, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
“Salvation” is a big term—bigger than most people think. It doesn’t just mean where you go when you die, but how you can live safely in this life. Salvation is living with God in spiritual and physical wholeness. You can follow your fears if you want, and try to create a safe environment around you, but it will be in vain, unless the Lord saves you. Or you can live a life of challenge and risk in this life, following Jesus as your ruler and friend, and you will live safe. Nothing can ever separate you from Jesus, because He will not allow it. Jesus Christ is the only security you need.
Caiaphas, operating out of fear of the Romans, sought to control Peter and John. He thought his prestige and power would intimidate them into silence, so he could keep on living in safety and security. It didn’t work. Caiaphas had his day, but Jesus continues to be Lord.
A few years ago, archaeologists made an extraordinary find in a cave southwest of Jerusalem. It was a 2000-year-old ossuary. An ossuary is a box containing the bones of a whole family. The box was marked “Caiaphas.” It contained the bones of a man between fifty and sixty years of age. If it is genuine, it would be the only time the bones of one Biblical character was ever found.
Caiaphas is still in his box. Jesus isn’t. Caiaphas died. Jesus didn’t. That name intended to threaten Peter and John into silence is just a name on a tomb. Jesus’ name is above all names, in heaven and on earth.
Don’t let the world intimidate you. Pray for boldness, and the Spirit will give it to you.