Several years ago, an evangelical Christian leader opened a political function in prayer and closed with “in Jesus’s name.” It caused a bit of a stir. He was, after all, making an exclusive truth claim about who this prayer was to. Some people commended him for his courage and boldness. Others pilloried him for his religious bigotry.
None of this holds a candle to the boldness with which Peter and John speak and the controversy they create in Acts 4. When they are brought before the rulers, it’s not for an ecumenical service. It’s a trial because they were preaching the resurrection of Jesus. And once they get there, they don’t back down. When asked by what power or name they healed a man, they could’ve said “in the name of Jesus” and it would have been true and courageous. Instead, they call for the repentance and belief of every leader present. Peter goes so far as to point out that this is the very governing body that killed Jesus.
In case that wasn’t bold enough, antagonistic enough, or clear enough, Peter concludes with “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Talk about an exclusive truth claim. And he says this to a collection of religious leaders who identify themselves as sons of Abraham and Moses, the patriarchs and law-givers of Israel.
Their response is telling. They recognize nothing of the truth in Peter’s short, powerful sermon. But they do recognize its power, and that makes them nervous. They have no rebuttal except to threaten them and demand that they stop talking about Jesus. Just as striking is why they didn’t punish Peter and John, though: “because the people were all giving glory to God over what had been done” (v.21).
What was the difference between the religious leaders who heard a clear declaration of the gospel and the people who glorified God? 2 Corinthians 3 tells us: “but their minds were hardened…a veil lies over their hearts” because they were still living by the law of Moses (2Corinthians 3:14–15). They could not see the reality of salvation and life in Christ because that only happens when the Holy Spirit moves in a person’s heart—“where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2Corinthians 3:17)
It was this freedom that moved Peter and John to boldly declare Christ to the religious and societal leaders. They were no longer restricted by fear, inhibition, or even inability. That’s the power of Christ in the Spirit for all who believe. We get to rethink what boldness actually means because the Spirit of God is in us. And if a couple of fishermen can declare the gospel to a ruling body, what might we be able to do in Jesus’s name?