Season 1 - Week 5
“The boldness of Peter and John...”
“When they saw the boldness of Peter and John...
...and realised that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed"
Just a few months ago, Peter was denying all knowledge of Jesus (Mark 14). Now he's boldly proclaiming that in Christ there is salvation. Not whispered in hushed tones in a temple courtyard, but spoken with audacity whilst under arrest.
In one sense, we know what has happened to Peter: he’s lived through the most dramatic plot reversal in all of history. Before his eyes, death became new life, and what looked like defeat was transformed into victory.
That's fine, but it doesn’t help us much with the question of how we, in our ordinary, ‘probably-not-going-to-witness-a-resurrection-today’ lives, relate to this man and his incredible courage.
The word in Acts 4.13 that is translated as ‘boldness’ is the Greek ‘parahesia,’ which literally means ‘to speak everything’ (pas = every; rhēsis = speech). The word implies both a truthfulness and fearlessness in speech. It prompts us to consider how these two qualities – courage and truth – might be related. Peter’s understanding of the identity of Jesus is such that he can’t help but speak out, whatever the consequences. Might it be a deep revelation of truth that propels us into courage?
The word ‘parahesia’ appears ten times in the Gospels, but just once outside the Book of John: in Mark 8 verse 32, during a startling encounter between Peter and Jesus. Here Jesus speaks in stark terms –with ‘parahesia’ – about his death and resurrection and Peter, unable to bear what Jesus is saying, scolds the man he has just called ‘Messiah.’ In this moment, Jesus’ bold truth about the unfathomably sacrificial, suffering, submissive love of God is too much for Peter.
Later Jesus stands before him on the sea shore by a charcoal fire and asks him three times ‘Do you love me?’ Peter, no doubt mortified by his betrayal and confounded by the grace on offer, bursts forth: ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’
If we wonder what changed for Peter, what moved him from fearful denial to bold proclamation – well it has to be something to do with this moment, doesn’t it? The profound forgiveness of God, the unimaginable reconciliation in friendship, the all-encompassing Love of a Father: these are the seeds of Peter’s ‘parahesia’…. and perhaps the seeds of our own.
Might it be a deep revelation of God’s audacious grace that propels us into courage?
They say we become like our friends. For the religious authorities, it is Peter’s ‘parahesia’ that gives him away as being a friend of Jesus. But scripture invites us to perceive that Peter’s transformation is driven by something far greater than the memory of a powerful and significant friendship. Acts tells us that what is happening is the glorious, gracious mysterious work of the Holy Spirit of God.
As followers of Christ, we read Acts 4 in light of the day of Pentecost. On that day, the presence of God brought clarity and courage, where there had been confusion and fear. The challenge to us here is to have faith that what happened to Peter can happen to us. Differently, sure. Uniquely, in fact. But it is the same God who moves amongst us, bringing courage and truth.
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. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
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.”
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. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. “What are we going to do with these men?”they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and 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.” After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.
Take a minute now just to notice: is there anywhere in your life where your sense of what is right and good and true feels like an invitation to speak out or reach out in fresh, bold ways? Perhaps there are some seeds of ‘parahesia’ taking root in your own story?
Can you identify any areas in your life that are ‘locked away’ from God’s forgiveness and love? What scary things could you face if you knew that God totally adored you?
Can you identify an area of your life where you need more truth and courage? Can you ask God for that?