As they listen to Peter, the rulers were amazed by the Spirit-given abilities of the apostles. Verse 13 is a marvellous encouragement because it reminds us that Christian success is not based on education and outstanding gifts. The impression made by Peter and John was that they were uneducated and ungifted. They are an example of the well-known saying of McCheyne: ‘It is not great talents that God blesses, but great likeness to Jesus.’
The boldness of Peter and John brought something else to the mind of the rulers. They realised that this boldness was very similar to the courage displayed by Jesus Christ when he had appeared before them. While his courage had not deterred them from their sins of injustice and malice when they found Jesus guilty, it had not disappeared from their memories. Courage leaves its mark, and here they deduce that Peter and John are like their Master. Of course, the Bible gives us the secret to the source of this courage – the Holy Spirit. The lesson for us is that it is good when our actions and attitudes remind others of Jesus Christ.
It is obvious that the rulers had a real dilemma to explain. They could not argue against the message of the apostles because they had also performed a sign in public that was common knowledge. Therefore, the rulers resorted to the regular response of the supporters of a cause that does not have a convincing argument – intimidation. It is the case that threats can be a very effective means of silencing people. Yet it is of no effect as far as silencing a Spirit-produced courage is concerned. And these rulers soon discovered the ineffectiveness of their threats.
In verses 18-20, we find a key for maintaining strong Christian convictions. Peter and John affirmed that the real issue was the approval of God. They reminded the rulers that they were responsible for their actions, just as the apostles were for their own behaviour. It was impossible for them to refrain from speaking about Jesus because of the wonderful things they had seen and heard. Intimidation is not an effective weapon against a person who has experienced the hand of God and is determined to remain devoted to God.
The response of the apostles is how we should react when the civil authorities attempt to coerce the church. We know that in such situation several responses are possible. One is to assume that the state calls the shots and must always be obeyed, whatever the demands. It is true that we are to recognise that the state has been instituted by God and should be obeyed when its requirements do not contradict divine laws. Yet when the state attempts to silence the church’s proclamation of the gospel, the church should keep on speaking.