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Lesson 12: Confident Witnesses (Acts 4:1-22)

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There is a faint knock at your door. You open it to find a cowering man who timidly asks, “You wouldn’t want to buy a vacuum cleaner, would you?” Unless you either took great pity on this poor excuse for a salesman or you badly needed what he was selling, you would not respond positively to his weak presentation.

While there are many differences between salesmanship and evangelism, most notably that evangelism depends on the power of the Holy Spirit and the gospel, there are a few parallels. An obvious parallel is that if you want to communicate effectively, you must be confident about your subject. The best salesmen honestly believe that their product is something that people really need. The best evangelists are confident that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and that people desperately need to trust in Him or they will perish.

God had just used Peter and John to heal a beggar in his forties who had been lame from birth. The spectacle of this man walking, leaping, and praising God drew a crowd, and Peter proclaimed the gospel to them. Perhaps after the main message, John joined Peter in responding to the crowd, since Acts 4:1 says, “As they were speaking to the people….” Suddenly they were interrupted as the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees came upon them, extremely upset that they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. They arrested Peter and John, put them in jail over night, and the next day brought them in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Although they were on trial before this intimidating council, Peter quickly turned the tables on the Sanhedrin, showing that it was they who were on trial. He points out that it was not a crime to do a good deed to a cripple. Then he indicts the Sanhedrin because they had crucified Jesus, whom God had raised from the dead and in whose name this lame man had been healed. Furthermore, Peter let them know that “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” (4:12).

The members of the council were amazed at the confidence of Peter and John, who had not been educated in the rabbinical schools. When the council saw the man who had been healed standing there (proof positive of his healing), they had nothing to say. After a private conference (Luke may have learned of the details from Paul or Joseph of Arimathea or Nicodemus), the council commanded Peter and John not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Peter and John replied that they had to obey God, because they could not stop speaking what they had seen and heard. After further warnings, the council let them go, since the crowd was glorifying God on account of this miracle.

While Peter and John had to be commanded to stop speaking, most of us need to be reminded of the command to speak to others about Jesus Christ. Many modern Christians think that Jesus’ Great Commission was really the Great Suggestion. Or, we think that it applies to those called into missionary work, but not to the rest of us. But every believer should be able to say with Peter and John, even under threat of persecution, “I cannot stop speaking about what I have seen and heard.” If we are prone to be timid witnesses for Christ, we should pray that the Lord would give us the confident boldness that we need to speak out for Christ, even if we suffer for it.

We all should seek to be confident witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Note four characteristics of a confident witness as seen in Peter and John:

1. Confident witnesses are filled with the Holy Spirit.

To picture this scene correctly, we need to understand how threatening it was for Peter and John. The Sanhedrin was like their Supreme Court and Congress all rolled into one. They had religious and, to a great degree, civil authority in Jerusalem. The high priest was the most powerful Jew in the city and the captain of the temple guard was second behind him. Furthermore, they had just been the main force behind the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Even if they didn’t go so far as to crucify Peter and John, they certainly could make life very uncomfortable for them. They were powerful men. The fact that they arrested Peter and John, kept them over night in jail, and then threatened them with dire consequences if they continued speaking in Jesus’ name shows their use of power to intimidate.

We also need to remember that just a few weeks before Peter, in order to avoid possible arrest, had denied that he knew Jesus Christ to a lowly servant girl. But here he is before this powerful body of men, boldly reminding them that they had crucified Jesus, that God had raised Him from the dead, and that He is God’s only way of salvation. If Peter had been fearful, he would have said only what he thought was necessary to secure his release. But instead, he boldly witnesses to these murderers of Jesus. What made the difference? Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit (4:8).

Some by nature may be more daring souls than others, but we’re not talking here about natural inclination, but supernatural power. If we want to be like Peter and John, who (as we will see) were like Jesus, we must be filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus had told the disciples that they would be brought before the rulers, but not to worry in advance about what to say, because the Holy Spirit would teach them in that very hour what to say (Luke 12:11-12). Later He again told them that they would be brought before rulers for His name’s sake, and that it would lead to an opportunity for their testimony. He promised that He would give them utterance and wisdom which none of their opponents would be able to resist or refute (Luke 21:12-15). So Peter’s witness before the Sanhedrin was not due to his natural boldness or to his brilliant oratory. It was due to the filling of the Holy Spirit. What does this mean?

A. Spirit-filled witnesses are controlled by God’s Spirit.

On the Day of Pentecost, the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4). Here, again, Peter and John were filled with the Spirit. After they were released, they joined with their companions and had a prayer meeting, at the end of which they were all filled again with the Holy Spirit (4:31). While the baptism of the Spirit happens once at the moment of salvation (it is a fact, not an experience), the filling of the Spirit is repeated often. Someone has said that we need repeated fillings because we leak!

What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? We find a clue in 5:17, where we read that the high priest and his Sadducee associates were filled with jealousy. It means that jealousy so overwhelmed them that it controlled their actions. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul commands us not to be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Spirit. Just as a drunk is under the influence or control of alcohol, so a Spirit-filled man is under the control of the Holy Spirit. That is the meaning of being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Assuming that you are a believer, the main requirement for being filled with the Holy Spirit is to be cleansed from all sin and to be yielded to the Spirit. A Spirit-filled person is not self-willed, but rather is submissive to God’s will. Also, being filled with the Spirit implies a moment-by-moment dependence on the Spirit, pictured in the metaphor, “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). Since the Holy Spirit’s main ministry is to glorify Jesus Christ (John 16:14), a person who is filled with the Spirit will seek to glorify Jesus.

B. Spirit-filled witnesses obey God rather than men, even under the threat of persecution or death.

Most of us don’t know much firsthand about persecution for the sake of Christ. The threat of someone rejecting us or thinking that we’re weird is enough to make cowards of us when it comes to witnessing. We don’t know what the council said by way of threats, but 4:21 indicates that they were not vague about the fact that if Peter and John continued to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they would pay a severe price. But rather than saying, “Yes sir, we’ll be more restrained in the future,” they said, “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” (4:19). Then they went back to their friends and prayed for greater boldness than they already had (4:29)!

There are two common misconceptions that we need to keep in mind regarding opposition or persecution for our faith. The first is that if we’re faithful to the Lord, He will protect us from persecution. I’ve heard many Christians say something like, “I don’t understand what’s happening. I was faithful to the Lord, but I’m being attacked by my co-workers or friends. Why isn’t the Lord protecting me?”

I don’t know where this idea comes from, because it clearly is not in the Bible. The Old Testament prophets were bold and faithful witnesses, but many of them were persecuted and killed. John the Baptist, the twelve, the apostle Paul, and the Lord Jesus Himself all were faithful witnesses who suffered much because of their faithfulness to God. Paul promised, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

The second misconception is that persecution comes mainly from those outside the church. We expect the pagans to oppose the name of Jesus, but for some reason, we are surprised when those who profess to be Christians that attack us. But it was the religious establishment that opposed the prophets. The religious leaders opposed and crucified our Lord. Here the religious rulers lead the opposition against the apostles.

The Sadducees were mainly wealthy priests who wanted to protect the status quo in order to preserve their wealth and influence over Jewish affairs. Thus they were loyal to the Roman government and opposed any kind of uprising or disturbance among the people that might upset Rome. The chief priest and the high priests were all Sadducees, along with the captain of the temple guard. They denied the existence of angels and spirits, along with the resurrection of the dead and any future life (Acts 23:8; see D. A. Hagner, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], 5:211-216).

As then, so it has been down through church history. Opposition to those who preach the gospel and who uphold God’s Word often comes from the religious establishment, whose power and privileges are threatened. In countries where the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church are strong, they are the source of most opposition to the gospel. Their power and wealth would be threatened if they had to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ. In our country, theological liberals, who deny the resurrection, are often our main opponents. But, Spirit-filled witnesses are bold to obey God rather than the religious establishment, even if it means persecution. If we want to be confident witnesses, we must daily be filled with God’s Spirit.

2. Confident witnesses have spent much time with Jesus and learned from Him.

The council was amazed at Peter and John’s boldness, especially since they were uneducated, untrained men (4:13). But they also began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. The boldness of Peter and John reminded the council of the boldness of Jesus Christ, who also was not trained in their schools. What a wonderful compliment, for people to recognize that we are like Jesus because we have been with Him!

We often say that we want to be like Jesus, but we have misconceptions about what Jesus was like. Some years ago, a man who had served as an elder at my church in California and who was on the staff of an evangelical ministry, came to me with his wife. I had just changed my view of Christian psychology and had preached a message explaining why I thought that it was wrong. They, among others, were offended. They told me that I should get out of the pastorate because I was too much like the apostle Paul and not enough like Jesus. When I asked for clarification, they said that Paul was confrontational, but Jesus was always kind and loving!

I’m not sure which translation they were reading! In Matthew 23, Jesus confronted the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, whitewashed walls, and a brood of vipers. In Luke 11:37-52, Jesus was invited to lunch at a Pharisee’s house. He deliberately avoided the pharisaical ceremonial washing before the meal, and when His host said something, Jesus pronounced woes upon the Pharisees for their hypocrisy! Another guest, a religious lawyer, pointed out that Jesus’ words insulted them, too. So Jesus pronounced woes on the lawyers for their hypocrisy! He was not a polite dinner guest! On many other occasions, Jesus deliberately did something to provoke controversy (see Luke 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-24; etc.).

The point is, if we’re going to be like Jesus, we will be bold witnesses who confront religious hypocrisy and false doctrine. We won’t be mean or rude. We will have the fruit of the Spirit, including kindness and gentleness. But we will have spent enough time with Jesus to learn from Him the importance of speaking out when God’s truth is being compromised. We will fear God more than we fear social customs or what others think of us.

3. Confident witnesses testify of what they know for certain.

The disciples could not stop speaking of what they had seen and heard (4:20). They had seen the risen Lord Jesus. They saw Him ascend into heaven. They had heard Him explain from the Scriptures the many passages about Himself. They had seen Him heal this lame man by His power. And so they spoke confidently about these matters. Our text reveals four things that we know for certain:

A. We know for certain that Jesus is risen from the dead.

Even though the Sadducees were known for not believing in the resurrection, and Peter knew that this would be a sore spot for them, he didn’t hesitate to confront them with the truth. He tells them boldly, “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” (4:10-11). The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian faith. If it can be disproved, our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:17). F. F. Bruce states,

It is particularly striking that neither on this nor on any subsequent occasion (so far as our information goes) did the Sanhedrin take any serious action to disprove the apostles’ central affirmation—the resurrection of Jesus. Had it seemed possible to refute them on this point, how readily would the Sanhedrin have seized the opportunity! Had they succeeded, how quickly and completely the new movement would have collapsed! (The Book of the Acts [Eerdmans], p. 103).

When we bear witness about Jesus Christ, we can confidently proclaim the fact of His bodily resurrection from the dead.

B. We know for certain that Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies.

Peter here mentions one, that Jesus was the chief corner stone (or capstone) that the builders had rejected (Ps. 118:22). In all, there are some 300 Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 are especially clear and detailed in describing Jesus’ death on the cross.

C. We know for certain that Jesus performed many attested miracles through the apostles.

Hebrews 2:3-4 says concerning our salvation, “After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” The Sanhedrin could not refute the fact that this man had been crippled from birth, but now he was standing in their presence (Acts 4:14). Irrationally, they acknowledged the miracle, but they rejected the implications of it (4:16-17)! Stupendous miracles are not enough to convince those whose hearts are hardened against God. But we can still testify to the credibility of the eyewitness testimony of those who saw these miracles. If people refuse to believe the testimony, it is because they want to continue in their sin, not because evidence is lacking.

D. We know for certain that Jesus has saved us through faith in His name, and that He will save any that will call upon Him.

Peter and John knew that Jesus had changed their lives. The formerly crippled man knew that the name of Jesus had changed him. Anyone who has called upon the Lord to save him from his sins knows that He is mighty to save even the chief of sinners. So we can confidently offer the good news of God’s salvation to any and every sinner, knowing that, as Jesus said, “the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37b). Often the most powerful witness is someone, like this lame man, whose life has been dramatically changed by the power of Jesus Christ.

We’ve seen that confident witnesses are filled with the Holy Spirit. They have spent much time with Jesus and learned from Him, so that they remind others of Him. They testify of what they know for certain, especially that Jesus is risen.

4. Confident witnesses insist on Jesus as the only way of salvation.

The Sanhedrin had asked Peter, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” (4:7). So, Peter told them: We did it “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (4:10). Furthermore, His name is the only name by which anyone can be saved: “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” (4:12).

We live in an age where tolerance has become the primary virtue. People don’t object if you say, “I’ve found Jesus as my personal Savior.” They say, “That’s nice for you, but I’m into something else.” Or they say, “All that matters is that you’re a good person and believe in something. All roads lead to God.”

But Jesus Christ cuts across the “tolerance” of our culture and intolerantly proclaims, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). “There is salvation in no one else …” (Acts 4:12). But what about sincere Buddhists or Muslims or Hindus, who are kind and loving people? They are not saved unless they trust in Jesus Christ alone. What about faithful Roman Catholics, who go to Mass, who pray the Rosary, who pile up good deeds in their efforts to go to heaven? They are not saved if they are depending on any good works or ceremonies or religious devotion to get into heaven. There is no other way to God except through faith in Jesus Christ alone. And before you get angry with me, remember, I didn’t make it up. I’m just telling you what Jesus and the apostles proclaimed.

But while there is salvation in no one else, the good news is, there is salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ for all who will trust in Him alone! To trust in Christ means to abandon your trust in your own good works. It means to let go of your pride and acknowledge that you are a sinner, alienated from God. Like the lame man, there is no hope for you to heal yourself. Only Christ can heal your soul. And He will save you, if you will cast yourself upon Him.


In Ephesians 6:19-20, the apostle Paul shares a startling prayer request: “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” Twice he repeats his request, that he might speak boldly. It’s the same Greek word translated “confidence” in Acts 4:13. If Paul had on his prayer list the need for boldness as a witness, then perhaps you and I should add it to our lists! We all should seek to proclaim with confident boldness the good news that there is salvation in no one else except in Jesus Christ, whom God raised from the dead.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we know how bold to be in our witness to family members? Is it better to err on the side of caution or boldness?
  2. Can we discern a pattern in Jesus’ ministry as to when He was gentle and when He was more confrontational? What is it?
  3. Will a shy person become bold when he is filled with the Spirit? Does the Spirit change our basic personality?
  4. How do you answer the challenge, “Won’t a sincere, good person who has never heard of Jesus go to heaven?” Why must we insist on Jesus as the only way of salvation?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2000, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Evangelism, Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit)

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