And as they spoke to the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came on them,…
Courage is of various sorts. Brazen courage is simply an outside affair, born of impudence. Many a timid soul will cower before it, but itself will always cower when rightly met. Physical courage is an affair of the body, born of mere brute force. There is a courage of love, conscience, conviction, action, repose. What is Christian courage? Let us to-day look back to the time when Christ's disciples were first under the fire of persecution and see —
I. ITS OCCASION. Peter and John had healed a lame man, and to the wondering crowd preached Jesus and His resurrection. Out of patience with this continued talk about Jesus — the priests, because Jesus had denounced their hypocrisy and formalism; the Sadducees, because in Jesus was set forth the resurrection, which they scouted and denied — had got the apostles arraigned before the Sanhedrim. In the presence of this august body they proved what stuff they were made of. They had no friends at this court. Wealth, learning, fashion, pride, numbers, and even piety and the national faith, and. the very oracles of God, were arrayed against these poor disciples. Peter stood in view of them all, calm and confident, a splendid illustration of the truth that "the righteous are bold as a lion" (Proverbs 28:1), and made his reply.
II. ITS SECRET. "Filled with the Holy Ghost." This made the difference between Peter before the ascension and Peter after it. It was not natural courage, "to the manner born." Peter's impetuous ardour often got him into trouble, but his courage failed him when put to the test. He could use his sword under sudden impulse, but his temporary boldness is followed by blank cowardice. He could leap from the ship in impulsive obedience, but he scarcely touches the waters before he cries out for fear. This is Peter by nature. But after Pentecost what granite-like firmness he exhibits! what courage of conviction! what unflinching loyalty to truth! what boldness in the rebuke of wrong! This is Peter by grace. The bank of sand is transformed into a rock of firmness. Impulse has given way to principle. Fear of man is exchanged for fear of God.
III. ITS CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Courtesy. Peter gives the men of the court their appropriate titles, recognises their office and authority, and addresses them with deference and respect. Bravery does not consist in brusqueness and bravado and bluster. To speak the truth boldly one need not be a boor or a bear. There is a so-called maintaining one's self-respect which is simply a manifesting one's impudence. But the courtesy had no weakness in it. Where grace salts courage, the courage is not noisy or dogged or defiant, but marked by a quiet courtesy in the very repose of conscious power.
2. Prudence. The deed was "good," and Peter reminds them of it. It is well-doing they are to be examined about, not evil-doing. Peter first turns attention from the method to the thing. The work itself could challenge only gratitude and joy. Of itself it could provoke no opposition. One would think the healing of a lifelong cripple to be a matter about which there could be no two opinions. How can a corrupt tree bring forth such good fruit? He made the most of his circumstances. So will the highest courage always. While scorning compromise of principle, it presses into service every alleviating circumstance. It does not court a tilt or invite a conflict.
3. Frankness. The council demanded by what authority or name they had done this. They got for instant answer, "By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth." Here Peter might have stopped. This was the truth, and nothing but the truth. But this was not the truth that put Peter in bonds. He knew he was a prisoner because of some other word that he had been bold enough to speak in the presence of the people, and in the frankness of righteous boldness that word must be spoken now in the presence of the court. "Whom ye crucified," for this had stirred the priests against him; and, "whom God raised from the dead"; for this had stirred the Sadducees against him (vers. 1, 2). This is simply another Daniel (see Daniel 6:10). It was not necessary to pray with "his windows open"; but, having been open when he prayed in security, they must not be shut when the king's decree threatens with a den of lions any man that prays. Christian courage will wear no masks. The temptation to be compromisingly politic at the point of real danger is most plausibly insidious and subtle, and a brave spirit gets here its sorest test. The man of real Christian courage will die rather than be sheltered behind a truth withheld.
4. Fidelity. Peter had fully stated the facts. But here was a rare opportunity to bring out also the meaning of the facts. Peter might never get such a hearing again. So he makes the rejected Christ the glorious and chief corner-stone in Zion (Psalm 118:22; Ephesians 2:20). These trusters in Abraham and good works are thus told that there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby they must be saved. This was the top and crown of Christian courage. It was transforming the prisoner's bar into a pulpit. This is another John the Baptist ready to lose his head rather than fail to testify that his hearers are wrong. A brave soul will preach the gospel as fearlessly to the Sanhedrim as to a mass-meeting. Opportunity is obligation.
IV. ITS EFFECTS. "They marvelled." The first effect was profound surprise. Then they came to recognise them as men they had seen before in the company of Jesus. And beholding the cripple, a healed and living witness to the truth, "they had nothing to speak against." They were silenced completely, just as Jesus had said they would be (Luke 21:15). So now —
1. Men wonder first at the boldness. They see nothing behind it, nothing to support it — no arms, government, material resource — and they are astounded. The world knows not its secret. The natural man has not entered into its hiding-place.
2. Then they have nothing to speak against. Christian courage has a wonderful way of disarming opposition. Opposition may still rage, as it did here, but it has no case, as it had not here.Conclusion:
1. The Spirit of God can make the weakest saint bold.
2. We can afford to trust Christ.
3. Truth will sometimes smite to silence when it does not smite to heal.
(Herrick Johnson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them,