We have seen the forceful methods arrayed against these early preachers of the Gospel. Now we are going to see the force of God and the methods the people of God use. The force on the side of God’s people is the Holy Spirit. It says that when Peter began to speak he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 8). When we were looking at the account of Pentecost, I pointed out that in Acts, on every occasion, what follows a specific mention of a person being filled with the Holy Spirit is strong verbal testimony to Jesus Christ. When people are filled with the Holy Spirit they always speak about Jesus. That is how you can know whether you are filled with the Holy Spirit. Are you speaking about Jesus? Are you speaking about Jesus effectively?
Peter gave a formal reply. He had been arrested because of events growing out of the miracle of the healing of the lame man. So he began by speaking to that issue. “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and everyone else in Israel: It is by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you completely healed” (vv. 8-10). This was a wise reply. Peter was saying, “The only thing you can possibly have arrested us for is this miracle for doing good to that poor cripple. Doing good is no crime. But if you also want to know by what power or in what name we did it” (that is the question they had asked in v. 7) “then you need to know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
In your Bible you will find a comma at that point. It is a significant comma because, so far as the accusation and the question that had been put to them were concerned, Peter had by that point given a perfectly good answer. There could be a period. He did not need to go further. They had said, “By what power or what name did you do this?” and Peter had replied, “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.” Question! Answer! End of the defense!
Yet Peter was not merely trying to defend himself. He did what Paul says he did when writing to Timothy (2 Tim. 4:17). He used the opportunity to witness to Jesus Christ. He went on. This is why I think Peter may have had in mind the prophecy with which I began, the prophecy in which Jesus said, “On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them.” Peter may have remembered those words and thought to himself, “Here is a great opportunity to witness to governors about Jesus.”
If he had been intimidated—if they had managed to scare him by their opposition—he would have been trying to save his skin. He would have been trying to say as little as he could have gotten away with. He would have “taken the fifth,” as we say, and have refused to incriminate himself. He would have said, “I don’t have to answer that question.” But he wasn’t intimidated. He was a servant of the living God, and he had the greatest message in the world. So he thought to himself, “In all my life I have never had a chance like this; I may never have a chance like this again. I mean, just look at this. Look at this audience: the priests, the captain of the temple guard, the Sadducees, rulers, elders, teachers of the law, Annas, Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and all the other members of the high priest’s family. I will never do better than this again. Why, if we had put on a great advertising campaign, we could never have gotten all these important people to come. But here they are. So let’s get on with it. Let’s preach Jesus.”
And that is what Peter did. There were four points to his sermon.
1. Their guilt in crucifying Jesus: “Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified” (v. 10). This is not just any Jesus, not the Jesus of somebody’s pious imagination, not just a Jesus of Nazareth who lived 2,000 years ago. The Jesus about whom Peter was speaking was the Jesus they had put to death: “the one whom you crucified.” And it would not have done any good for them to have said, “Well, you know, we didn’t actually do it. The Romans did it.” It did not do Pilate any good to have washed his hands of the matter either. The washing did not excuse Pilate, and these words would not have excused the Jewish rulers. They were guilty, along with others. The first thing Peter did was remind them of that. What courage! No wonder it says in verse 13, “When they saw the courage of Peter and John…” They needed courage to remind this august body of leaders of the crime they had committed.
2. The fact of Jesus’ resurrection: “Jesus of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead” (v. 10). How marvelous to have a message like that! This message proves that Jesus is God, that he is the Savior, that death is not the end for anyone, that there is a resurrection. The message of Jesus’ resurrection proves everything that is essential about Christianity. Furthermore, Peter says, “God is the One who has done this, the very God you claim to worship. You killed His Son. You put His Son to death. But God vindicated Jesus by raising Him from the dead.” Later on Paul would also summarize the Gospel in this fashion, saying, as he does in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Peter preached this at the beginning.