Peter and John were ‘uneducated, common men’ — yet they were bold (Acts 4:13). They were brought before the great council of Israel, a distinguished body that included Annas the high priest and Caiaphas. The two young disciples of Jesus were going to have to answer for the incredible healing of a man who had been lame from birth.
The miracle had occurred at the temple and many witnessed the event, which eventually attracted the religious authorities. Peter had the boldness to preach Christ before these most respected leaders, to proclaim that ‘there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).
And Peter was talking about a man whose death by crucifixion these very leaders had, only a short time before, arranged!
Luke tells us that ‘when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognised that they had been with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13).
The word rendered ‘boldness’ is parrhesia and has the sense of outspoken, frank, plain, open, courageous, confident, fearless as well as bold.
Was Jesus himself bold? Or, was he meek and mild? Did Peter and John get their boldness because they had seen Jesus being bold? Peter and John had certainly been with Jesus, as their opponents recognised. I believe the disciples’ boldness flowed from that association.
Jesus was bold. Consider the ‘I am’ sayings in John’s Gospel. With each ‘I am’, Jesus proclaimed himself to be God. The peculiar construction — of a personal pronoun coupled with the present tense of the verb ‘to be’ — is how the covenant name of God may be stated.
In Exodus 3:14 God reveals himself to Moses as YHWH —the covenant name of God.‘I am who I am’ is one translation. So when the Jewish leaders heard Jesus say, ‘before Abraham was, I am’, they knew exactly what he meant — and sought to kill him for blasphemy (John 8:58).
That was bold — as also was his claim, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25). Or how about this: ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). Breathtaking claims!
Then there are the seven ‘woes’ of Matthew 23, spoken fearlessly to the scribes and Pharisees, the religious authorities. Hypocrites, he called them. Blind guides, fools, whitewashed tombs, lawless, and more.
My favourite is: ‘You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?’ (Matthew 23:33). Peter and John were right there to see and hear it.
Yet following the seven woes, Jesus weeps over the plight of the people of Jerusalem. He would have ‘gathered your children together’ (Matthew 23:37).
In other words, the boldness of Jesus was compassionate, not arrogant or angry. He was emotional because he loved his countrymen and could see they were in the process of committing eternal spiritual suicide.
Jesus’ love for those who both misunderstood and opposed him comes out most clearly on the cross when he said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34).
Jesus was bold and loving all at once. Likewise, if Peter and John had not been bold they would not have been loving either — they would have disobeyed the second great commandment to love their neighbour as themselves.
Why? Because if they had failed to preach the truth they would have left their hearers ignorant of the only way of salvation from eternal darkness. We must follow their example. We are too often timid in the face of opposition, ridicule and threats. But we cannot serve God faithfully unless we are bold about Jesus Christ and our faith in him.
Praying for boldness
But how may we, who are often fearful by nature, become bold? Acts 4:23ff provides the answer. Peter and John were released and reported to their friends what had happened to them. The church then went to prayer to their Sovereign Lord.
In the face of hostility from entrenched and powerful enemies, they prayed, ‘Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness’ (Acts 4:29).
That prayer was answered. ‘The place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness’ (Acts 4:31).
The church prayed for boldness; they received boldness. As a result, the gospel was proclaimed fearlessly. The Holy Spirit did it. It was exactly as Jesus had taught them not long before: ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to make us bold to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Boldness sees the condition of those who are lost and cares enough to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Saviour of sinners — that the lost might find shelter beneath his wings. This Spirit-given boldness is not arrogant. It is compassionate, frank, courageous, plain, fearless and confident.
We who know Christ (whether preachers or ordinary Christians) must depend on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If we ask for the Holy Spirit to make us bold in our work and witness he will do so!