(Helpful to Sunday School Lesson of January 18, 1920, Acts 4)
“Then Peter, filled—” One of the marks of the fullness of the Holy Ghost is boldness. There is a vast difference between boldness and “brass;” there is a difference between courage and boldness. We speak of it as “holy boldness.” When we are clean, when sin is put away—confessed and washed in the precious blood—there comes a rich, racy, red-blooded feeling to the heart of the child of God that sensitizes every nerve and removes all feeling of shame. If there is any trust of ourselves this boldness cannot appear, for we instinctively know that our foundation is shaky. Self will give way when pride is struck down and when reputation is attacked. A soul filled with the Holy Ghost is absolutely abandoned to God. It is not asking what men think, but dares to state as an oracle of God what God thinks. It is yielding its members to whatever the Holy Ghost may wish. Can this be said of us?
Put your name in the place of Peter’s. “Then _____, filled with the Holy Ghost.” What a difference this would make in your home, in your business, in your life with your friends.
“Set at nought by you builders.” How this remark cut them to the heart. Here was an exhibit of the power of the resurrected Jesus. This man was standing on his feet by the power of the very Jesus whom they had hanged to the cross. It was an awful indictment of their unbelief.
Notice Peter’s boldness in making it a direct shaft at their hearts. He doesn’t say “by builders;” but probably pointing his finger straight at them he has said, “You builders.” This is the kind of work the Holy Ghost does. He builds a fence around us and shuts us off from the whole world, and we feel that God is dealing with no one in the universe but us. Let us trust Him in these special days of prayer for this kind of conviction upon men.
“Unlearned and ignorant men.” It was two thousand years ago that those unlearned and ignorant men were used, and yet even to this hour we will not believe that God can use unlearned and ignorant men. The sin of our century is the repudiation of the Holy Ghost in the Church. God is not the enemy of education, but He is still the God who takes “the things that are not to bring to nought the things that are.” He does this through the work of the Holy Ghost. Many are saying, “I am too little to be used by God.” The fact is, they are yet too big. Peter and John had forgotten all about themselves in the glory of the reality given them of the Holy Ghost that Jesus was the Son of God, exalted, risen and seated.
“They could say nothing.” God has His wonderful way of shutting the mouths of men. We think it is by learned argument, by marvelous, eloquent, convincing sentences, by beautifully rounded paragraphs, by show of strength; but God shuts the mouths of men by doing that which men cannot do,—by bringing before men’s eyes a living testimony of the grace of God. He shuts the mouths of men by answering prayer. When man has reached the limit of all his endeavors, God steps in and shows Himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him.
How those men must have despised this lame man. They were clever at argument, they had influence enough to talk people out of some ideas, and could have made a strong argument against some doctrinal assertion, but here was a living, breathing exhibit, a real witness. The world hates a witness. The devil is doing his best to keep men today from testifying, from witnessing to what God has done. Keep the lamp of your testimony burning bright in these dark days of clever argument.
“Whether it be right.” Peter and John had been told to shut their mouths and stop talking and teaching in the name of Jesus. Many today would ask, “Well, what shall I do? People hate me when I give my testimony.” Have the boldness of Peter and John, who did not even debate the question, but stated simply that they could only tell what they had seen and heard. You will never be called upon to suffer for Jesus unless you tell what you have seen and heard.
The climax that brought about Stephen’s death and the gnashing on him with their teeth was his testimony that he saw Jesus, this despised Jesus, standing at the right hand of God. Let us tell it out.
“Finding nothing how they might punish them.” It is interesting to think that there really was no way in the world by which they might punish these men for what they had done. They, of course, did not dare to resort to cruelty because the people all knew that a miracle had really happened, and they were hindered because of this; but on the spiritual side it is delightful to know that there is nothing the devil can do to punish a true witness. They thought they were stoning Stephen as a punishment, but they only opened up the heavens where Jesus stood to personally conduct his spirit into Glory. They have martyred men in the days gone by to punish them for their testimony and silence their voices, and the very fact of the martyr has made stronger Christians than the sermons which these same men could have preached if they had been alive. “The blood of the martyrs” has surely been “the seed of the Church.” No, there is no way to punish a witness for Christ. Their persecution only makes him richer in the fellowship of Jesus; their misunderstanding only drives him closer to the Lord.