The Transforming Power of the Holy Spirit that Gives Courage to Testify about Christ
The period between Easter and Pentecost offers us an opportunity to reflect on the change that occurred in the lives of the disciples of Jesus Christ from the time of Jesus' arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection up to the moment when the Holy Spirit came down on the believers - and beyond. One of the most remarkable transformations is evident in Peter who often stood out as the first among the disciples because of his passion and zeal.
As the darkest moments of Jesus' life came closer and he knew what suffering he was about to go through, he warned his disciples that they would all fall away. But Peter responded confidently that he would never be afraid and go with him even unto death!
Matthew 26:31-35 describes the scene:
Then Jesus told them, "This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: " 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." Peter replied, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." "Truly I tell you," Jesus answered, "this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." But Peter declared, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the other disciples said the same.
Their boldness, however, was founded on mere human strength and when time came to testify, they all ran away. In brutal honesty, the Bible describes how Peter did have the courage to follow the soldiers who arrested Jesus and he went up to the palace of the high priest. But when he was identified as one of Jesus' disciples, he was gripped by fear and denied just as Jesus predicted.
Verses 69-75 describe the scene in detail:
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. "You also were with Jesus of Galilee," she said. But he denied it before them all. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, "This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth." He denied it again, with an oath: "I don't know the man!" After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away." Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: "Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly.
But after Jesus died, resurrected, appeared to the disciples and ultimately ascended to Heaven, the disciples waited in Jerusalem just like Jesus instructed them. And on Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, the Holy Spirit came down and filled all of them, so they went out and testified and many people came to faith.
Acts 3 then records the first miracle that happened through Peter and John who healed a beggar who was paralyzed from birth. Concerned about the increasing crowds that began to listen and believe the followers of Jesus, the High Priest and elders of the people arrested them and brought them in for questioning. The scene mirrors the events where Jesus was arrested and questioned by the very same people, but the image of Peter changed.
A few weeks earlier, Peter boasted that he would follow Jesus even if he would die but he ended up denying Jesus in fear and going out to weep bitterly. Now, however, facing the same threat again, he boldly testified. How did this transformation happen? They key verse is Acts 4:8 where it says "Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them [...]"
It was the Holy Spirit who transformed Peter and gave him the courage that was not based on his own strength but a courage that was founded on the faith of the resurrection. Peter was filled with the confidence that even if he dies, it will not end as a failure. Just like Jesus died but overcame death with love and faith and resurrected on the third day, so Peter now had the confidence to testify in the face of the threat of suffering the same fate like Jesus.
Reading the whole passage in Acts 4:1-22 clearly reveals the change that the Holy Spirit brought about:
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.
May the Holy Spirit who transformed Peter also work in our lives, so that whatever fear we may face will be overcome by the faith in the resurrection. May we testify boldly about the name of Jesus Christ as the only name that saves. And may many thirsty souls come to find rest in God because they hear the Good News of a new life in Jesus Christ through us who have experienced the transformation of the Holy Spirit.