Speak the Word with Boldness
Rev C Vermeulen - 30 October 2010
Acts 4:29-31: "Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus." 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."
Today is Reformation Day, an opportunity for God's Church to reflect on God's mighty deeds in Church History. Repeatedly it has happened that when His people go astray, God has raised up faithful shepherds to lead them back into the green pastures of His word. They normally face stiff opposition, for they are preaching the truth in a time when God's people want to tune out the truth. That is why they need boldness, boldness to state the truth as it is, no matter the consequences. They need boldness so that the gospel is not intimidated into silence by such opposition. This meditation will focus on that boldness.
The text quoted above is the prayer of the disciples after Peter and John had been threatened by the Sanhedrin to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. This Sanhedrin was the leading body amongst the people of God, the Church. It should have been pointing out to the people that the prophecies of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in the person of Christ. Instead they had turned the people against their Messiah and together they had crucified Him. The members of the Sanhedrin had continued to harden their hearts as they took offense at those who preached Christ. When Peter and John, after healing a lame man, had preached the gospel to the crowds in the temple, the Sanhedrin had arrested them and asked them to explain by whose power they had healed the lame man.
Ultimately it wasn't so much the healing of a lame man that bothered the Sanhedrin. They hated the preaching that went with it. They thought that they had finished with Christ when He had been crucified. Instead the number of Christ's followers was continuously growing as His disciples preached about Him. Peter, aware of the real reason for their hostility, answered their question but went further and boldly proclaimed salvation in Christ alone as well as exposing the sin of the Sanhedrin in rejecting Him. The fact that the apostles could speak with such boldness was because the Holy Spirit was giving them the words. Peter and John experienced the fulfillment of the promise of the Lord in Luke 12:11-12: "Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry how or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
The Sanhedrin did not respond in faith to this preaching. Though they marveled at the boldness of the apostles and could say nothing against the miracle, yet they rejected the truth of the gospel and threaten the apostles that they no more preach in Christ's name. These were no idle threats. Stephen's death in Acts 7 shows how far the Sanhedrin would go in rejecting the Christ and His gospel. Thus the "church" showed itself to be false by persecuting the faithful preachers who reproved it for its sins.
The response of Peter and John was again characterized by boldness. They confessed that their obedience to God was more important than their obedience to man. They simply had to proclaim the gospel. The gospel could not be stopped by hostile Church leaders. Again the Sanhedrin threatened Peter and John but they could do nothing further. The apostles were released and they rejoined their companions.
The believers recognized Satan's work for what it was. Satan hates the true gospel and will do anything to see its proclamation stopped. The apostles realized that Satan was trying to intimidate them by the threats of the Sanhedrin so that they would be too scared to preach the gospel. They also recognized their own weakness, that of themselves they could not stand. They would be intimidated and keep silent because of the threats. Therefore they humbly asked the Lord to grant them the boldness they need. This was a prayer in faith. Their first priority was not their own security but the pure preaching of the Word for the sake of the kingdom of God.
The words of verse 31 are very encouraging. In faith, the disciples had asked for boldness in preaching, and that is what they received. Indicating his presence in a "rare and extraordinary"  way, God filled them with the Holy Spirit, and they did speak the Word with boldness. This boldness, this open confession and proclamation of the full gospel, characterized the preaching of the apostles amongst the Jewish communities throughout the Roman Empire. Wherever they preached, they were met with faith, and unbelief. It is the unbelief which makes the boldness so necessary, for the unbelief normally led to fierce and hostile opposition (Think of Paul's preaching to the Jews in Damascus, Antioch, Iconium and Lystra – Acts 9:23; 13:50; 14:5; 14:19).
This boldness has been necessary in every Reformation since. Those who are used by God to bring His people back to His word normally find themselves faced with fierce opposition from within the Church. Luther needed boldness to publish his 95 theses and continue to preach God's Word even after he was excommunicated from the Church. Calvin too needed this boldness to present to the Roman church the truth of the Gospel, thereby exposing the church's false doctrine. De Cock boldly defended the flock of Christ from the wolves who were attacking it, wolves who were unfaithful ministers in the Church. Schilder needed boldness to continue on, as the reforming of his own thoughts and preaching brought about a vicious reaction from many of his brothers and sisters in the Church. God was pleased to use each of these men to bring His people back to His word. Each in turn received boldness to proclaim God's word in the face of hostility from within the Church. They received this boldness from the same God who had answered the prayer of the apostles and their companions in such a vivid way.
The ministers in the Church today continue to need this boldness. They need to be carried by the prayers of their congregations – Lord, grant that your servants may continue to proclaim Your word with boldness. The Church always has to be on guard against going astray. Paul writes to Timothy that a "time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables" (II Tim 4 : 3,4). Paul is referring to members of the Church, not the heathen outside. With the presence of such people in the Church, Timothy had to keep preaching the Word in season and out of season. If he did not do so, the Church would become false. Timothy's calling echoes down the centuries to the servants of the word today. 2000 years of Church history have again and again demonstrated the truth of Paul's warning to Timothy. Of themselves, God's people always show themselves far more ready to listen to fables than to the true doctrine. They want their ears tickled and their hearts left in one piece. Today too, the ministers must preach with boldness, even when it clashes with what their hearers want to hear.
As heirs of the Reformation, let us pray that God may continue to equip His servants with boldness. Let us also take heart from God's response to the apostles' prayer. He does and will grant this boldness when we, believing, seek it from Him. God wants the truth to be proclaimed to His people. The preaching of the gospel cannot be stopped and will not be. Not until the close of this age.
John Calvin, Commentary Upon The Acts of the Apostles, trans. Henry Beveridge, Calvin's Commentaries, vol. 18 (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1993), 189.