One of the most interesting demonstrations of God’s power coming with the Holy Spirit is the lack of fear in the disciples after the day of Pentecost. Think with me about this before and after comparison. How many times did Jesus say to His disciples in the gospels, “Do not be afraid”? Fear was a real challenge for the twelve.
Storms, waves, Jesus appearing as a ghost on the water, and simply astonishment at some of the things Jesus did lead to fear for the disciples. But more specific to this post is the fear that Peter and the others felt at Jesus’s arrest and execution.
On the night before Jesus was arrested, Peter denied Him three times out of fear. “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, ‘You too were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’ When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and said to those who were there, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ And again he denied it with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’ A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.’ Then he began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know the man!’ And immediately a rooster crowed” (Matthew 26:69-74). You can hear the fear in Peter’s replies.
Following Jesus’ execution, there was a continuing fear of the authorities that kept the disciples in hiding. “So when it was evening on that day [the day of Jesus’ resurrection], the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’ “ (John 20:19). The disciples were hiding in fear of the Jewish authorities.
Now compare this fear in the disciples before the coming of the Holy Spirit to what happened after the day of Pentecost. Peter and the others, filled with the Spirit, showed an incredible boldness in their interaction with the authorities. Look at this back and forth with the Jewish leaders following the arrest of Peter and John in Acts chapter 4. This interaction is in regard to the healing of the lame man in Acts chapter 3.
“When they [the Jewish leaders] had placed them [Peter and John] in the center, they began to inquire, ‘By what power, or in what name, have you done this?’ Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by this name this man stands here before you in good health. He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved’ ” (Acts 4:7-12).
The confrontation ended with this well-known response from Peter and John, “And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard’ “ (Acts 4:18-20).
Commentators often ascribe the new found boldness of the disciples to encountering the resurrected Jesus. But I think there is more to it and I think the coming of the Spirit is the key. The writer of the book of Acts made a point to preface Peter’s bold answer in Acts 4:8 to him being “filled with the Holy Spirit.” The indwelling Holy Spirit drives out fear.
It’s great to read these stories about the disciples but what about us? Are we included in this outpouring of the Spirit? We will talk about it next time.