Peter and John are not the kind of people to let an opportunity pass. That’s something that we see throughout Acts, not only about John and Peter but about the members of the early church as a whole, they did not let opportunities to share their faith pass by. They didn’t assume that they’d have more chances, they didn’t play the slow game when it came to evangelism. When opportunities presented themselves, the early church jumped at the chance to share the source and the basis of their faith. This particular time ends with Peter and John being arrested by the temple guard at the behest of the priests and the Sadducees. According to the record in Acts the Sadducees became the main antagonist for the early church from this point on, they were the first big source of opposition the church came up against. In the Gospels the Pharisees are the ones who show up constantly to get in the way of what Jesus is trying to do, in Acts that’s the Sadducees, and there are a couple of reasons for that: first, the Pharisees were more prevalent outside of Jerusalem where Jesus spent most of his ministry, the Sadducees were more focused within the city where the church began to form. Secondly, the Sadducees didn’t believe in any kind of resurrection, so you can imagine that the disciples going around preaching that Jesus was resurrected and that that resurrection was available to others would have bothered them.
So we’re painted a picture of them using their pull in the temple to get Peter and John arrested but they don’t really have a case so they leave them in their cell overnight to figure out their next move. It may have been like we see on Law and Order or similar shows where the police need a confession so they let the criminal sweat in the cell a little bit to make him/her more likely to talk. Perhaps the Sadducees and Temple guard were bullying a little bit, they hoped that the display of force in making Peter and John spend the night in jail would put the appropriate level of fear into the disciples and make them easier to deal with. Whatever the case when Peter and John were called before the court the next day it becomes clear pretty quickly that there isn’t a real case against them, Peter even asks “are we here because a man was healed?” The elders and scribes and everyone are seemingly grasping for something and they ask “by whose name, by what authority, do you do this?” Peter tells them “it is in the name of Jesus, he was killed but rose again, he has become the cornerstone of God’s Kingdom, the one through whom salvation comes.” And Luke records that the courage or the boldness of these Peter and John intimidates the leaders, they ask them to stop and Peter responds with those famous words “which is right is God’s eyes, to listen to you or to him? As for us we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
The thing that allows Peter to speak so boldly, that allows the early church to move and work in their community in the way that they do is said to be their boldness. I remember being eight or nine years old at my grandmother’s house watching Robbie Kneivel (son of “Evil” Kneivel) follow in his father’s footsteps and attempt to jump a portion of the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle. There was of course all kinds of build up before the event, and they kept showing clips of his dad attempting the jump and crashing and talking about how brave it was to have firsthand knowledge of what could happen and being willing to go through with the jump anyway and it certainly was brave but that’s not what’s going on here, it is not the boldness we see from the early church, it is not holy boldness.
Holy boldness, comes from a place of realizing that God alone is in control of what happens next. Robbie Kneivel was brave to take on this jump that he had seen his dad attempt and fail, but he also had some advantages. Technology had advanced, his motorcycle was faster and lighter than a generation before, science had progressed so folks had an idea of what different things to do with his ramp and initial speed to maximize his chances for success, he had the firsthand knowledge of his dad to be able to figure out what had gone wrong and what he might be able to do differently so he had to be brave to make the jump but he also had reasons to be confident.
Peter and John are driven here by a knowledge that God and God alone can allow them to be successful. Holy boldness is a total reliance, it is moving forward with no back up plan and no safety net, fully realizing that God alone is the one who can make success possible. Peter and John don’t back down because they are so in awe of the power of God that they’ve seen on display in the resurrection of Jesus and in their own lives that no fear of an earthly power or of failure or of anything that could happen can match it. They realize that God alone is the only one who can steer them through and the realize that God alone is powerful enough to do it. So the question that comes to us from this text is, what does Holy Boldness for us look like? What are we doing right now, what are we as a church doing, what are we each doing in our own lives, that is only possible through God’s help? What are the ways we could show that the power of God that we’ve seen on display in our lives is enough to move us forward without fear? What would holy boldness look like in each and every one of our lives and in the life of this church?
One of the ways that the early church showed its faith and boldness was in gathering together in a community that transcended age, gender, race, social status, socio-economic level, all the self-imposed divisions of the world, and remembering the one who unified them and empowered them to preach a new reality to that world in boldness. Today is World Communion Sunday, a day set aside for all Christians, regardless of denomination or nationality, regardless of where we stand on the spectrum of what it means to be “church,” to remember together the one who unifies us and empowers us to preach a new and different reality to the world in boldness.