By Mark E. Hardgrove, Ph.D.
Text: Acts 4:8-20
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: "Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 10 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. 11 He is [Jesus]
"'the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the capstone.'
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
13 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. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 16 "What are we going to do with these men?" they asked. "Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name."
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."
INTRODUCTION: THE LEASH
I have here in my hand, a leash. In fact, it is the leash I use to walk my German Shepherd. The purpose of a leash is to hold something back. By keeping my dog on a leash I limit her movement. She can go so far, but only as far as the leash will allow. There are long leashes and short leashes, there are leashes that run out on a reel and when the owner decides the dog has gone far enough he can push a button and reel the dog back in. Some people put a stake in the yard and fasten their dog to the stake with a leash. You can see where the dog goes around and around, he will walk a hundred miles and never get anywhere. Some dogs forget where their leash ends and they will take off at an all out run to chase a cat but then when they get to the end of the leash it will jerk them back to the limits established by the leash.
Today I want to look at the apostle Peter. Some of you may have noticed that our reading from the One Year Bible last week began in John chapter 18 with Peter in the courtyard denying that he knew Jesus. So when I read the text for this Sunday (Acts 4) in the One Year Bible, I see a different Peter. I see a Peter who is unleashed.
Last week a servant girl challenged Peter and said that he was a disciple of Jesus, but Peter denied it. After swearing to Jesus that he would never deny Jesus, Peter does the very thing he said he would not do. Why? I believe Peter was held back by fear. Fear is often the leash that limits us and robs us of our liberty. He could only go so far. He went to the courtyard, he was close enough to see and hear Jesus, but the leash of fear kept him from fully identifying himself as a disciple of Christ.
I have to be honest with you. That Peter doesn’t look or sound like the Peter we see in Acts. So I ask myself, why is there such a big difference between the Peter we read about last week, and the Peter we read of this week? The answer is that Peter is unleashed. Last week Peter was leashed by fear. This week Peter is unleashed. He is loosed, he is off the hook. Fear no longer holds him back in acts. He is moving in the might and the power of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, we find that because of the power of the Holy Spirit three things are unleashed: 1) prayer, 2) praise, 3) power, and 4) personal evangelism/witness.
Acts 1:14 “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication . . . .”
Acts 4:31 “And when they had prayed , the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
In the gospels we don’t see the disciples doing much praying. Jesus had to plead with them to pray one hour. In the book of Acts we repeatedly see the church in prayer. Prayer was unleashed in the church an in the life of Peter.
Acts 2:11 “. . . we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God."
This was praise that was off the hook. The people in the streets thought they were drunk. Peter said, “These are not drunk as you suppose . . .but this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: In the last days I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh. The apostle Paul said, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be ye filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit will unleash some praise in your life if you’ll let Him. I’m talking about unrestrained, uninhibited, praise.
The event that led up to our text, was that Peter and John were on their way to the temple to pray when a crippled man asked alms from them. This was the right day for this man to talk to Peter. In the past Peter might have ignored the man and walked on past, but not today. Today Peter is unleashed. He is full of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit has unleashed some power in Peter’s life. Didn’t Jesus say in Acts 1:8, “And you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . .”?
Peter is unleashed and now power has been unleashed in Peter’s life. He looked steadfastly at this man and said, “Look on us. We don’t have silver and gold, be we will give you what we do have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And Peter took this man by the hand and lifted him and the man rose up jumping and rejoicing and praising God. What happened? This man was healed and unleashed. This crippled man’s praise was unleashed by the power of God working through an unleashed Peter.
IV) PERSONAL EVANGELISM
Not only were prayer, praise and power unleashed in Peter’s life, but remember Jesus said, “You shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses.” Personal evangelism was unleashed. In our text Peter is no longer held back by fear. He is unleashed and off the hook and he ain’t afraid of nobody now. In fact, the Sanhedrin was astonished at Peter and John’s courage, the King James calls it “boldness”.
This doesn’t sound like the same Peter in the courtyard before a little maiden denying that he knew Jesus. Something is different. What’s different is that Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and he is no longer held back by fear. In the Gospel’s Peter says, “I don’t know the man,” but after Pentecost Peter looks at the bunch that had Jesus crucified and says, “You killed, Him. You crucified Him, but God has raised Him us and there is no other name given among men whereby you must be saved.”
They threatened the apostles and told them never to teach in the name of Jesus again, but Peter and John said: “19 Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” It’s too late now. The cow is out of the barn, I’m free, I’m unleashed, I’m off the hook, because I no longer have the spirit of fear, but of love and of power and of a sound mind.
CONCLUSION: THE CHURCH UNLEASHED
Friends, if Peter could be unleashed after his failure, if he could come back and do something great in the kingdom, then so can you. There are people who come to church Sunday after Sunday, but you’re on a leash. You can only go so far and every time you try to go farther in your prayer, in your praise, in power or personal evangelism, something jerks you back. More often than not, fear is the leash that keeps you from going, doing, or being what God wants you to be.
I see some people who look like they’re staked to a spot in the yard. I see you going in circles, going back and making the same old mistakes, you’ve worn a patch in the grass and area you walk now is lifeless and barren, it is hard and it hurts but until you are willing to be unleashed, you will spend the rest of your life limited to that small circle. Sometimes the leash is longer than it is at other times, sometimes you have the illusion of freedom, but something pulls you back in and reminds you that you are not free.
It’s time to unleash the church again in the 21st century. It’s time that we refuse to let fear hold us down or hold us back. It’s time to get off the hook and full of the Holy Spirit. Church it’s time to unleash some prayer. The devil has been running roughshod over homes and marriages and finances, and it’s time to release the hounds. I’m talking about the power of prayer that will open the windows of heaven and dispatch ministers of fire, messengers from heaven, angels that God sends in response to the prayers of His people.
It’s time to unleash some praise. So many people restrain their praise and are held back in their praise because they are afraid of what someone will think if they just open their mouths and begin to speak the wonderful works of God. We are a Pentecostal church, a spirit filled church and it’s time for some praise that is off the hook.
It’s time to unleash some power. Healing power, deliverance power, some devil stomping, life changing, world rocking power. We used a sing a song that said, “We’ve got the power, in the name of Jesus, we’ve got the power, in the name of the Lord, though Satan rages, we will not be defeated, we’ve got the power, in the name of the Lord.”
And church, it’s time to release some personal evangelism. We have been empowered and released into this world to be salt and light, to be witnesses of Jesus. It’s time to break the leash of fear that holds you back. The proverb says that the righteous are as bold as lions. Be who you are. Break free, get off the hook, get unleashed and tell somebody that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father unless they come through Jesus.
Are you ready to be unleashed? It begins with salvation in Jesus’ name, but being unleashed is not full accomplished in your life until you are filled with the Holy Spirit. What’s the difference between Peter in John 18 and Peter in Acts 4? It is Acts chapter 2. Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.