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A Divine Swagger

Category Articles
Date June 14, 2011

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marvelling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

We all know that Peter had been an abject coward. While Peter was standing by the fire, as Jesus was on trial before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin, a little girl challenged him on three occasions, accusing him of being one of Jesus’ men. Peter vehemently denied knowing Jesus at all. Now, just fifty days later, after the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, he stood and preached Jesus to the multitude, watching with awe and wonder as three thousand were saved that one day. Then a few days later, as he and John were on their way to prayer at the Beautiful Gate at the Temple in Jerusalem, Peter heals a man lame from birth. A crowd gathers in amazement and Peter seizes the opportunity to preach to them as well. Many are converted. Now the Sanhedrin, the religious and political leaders of Jerusalem, are incensed and have these two men arrested, placing them in prison for a night, hoping to scare some sense into them. Luke tells us that there was something about Peter and John that arrested the attention of the Jerusalem power-brokers. At first it was mystifying. After all, these were unlearned (literally the Greek word is idiots) and untrained men with a country, Galilean accent. They had no formal training, no university degrees. They had not imbibed of the Hellenistic, sophisticated culture of the day. They were, however, men with a divine swagger. They were bold, fearless, not intimidated in the least. They were undaunted by position or power. They had come to the big city – sort of like Slapout, AL meets New York City – and were flourishing.

After studying Peter and John for a while it finally dawned on the Sanhedrin where they had seen them. These men had been with Jesus. The Sanhedrin had a real problem. Indisputably, the lame man had been healed. It was a miracle and everyone knew the words of Peter and John brought the healing. So they dismissed them to figure out what to do with this problem. The Sanhedrin moved into damage control mode. It looked like the whole city would go after these two unlearned fishermen and their Galilean saviour. So, hoping that a night in jail and a stern warning to quit preaching Jesus would make them go away, the Sanhedrin summoned Peter and John and gave them the mandate not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But the divine swagger was fully in operation. Peter and John in full agreement with each other responded by appealing to the conscience of these religious power-brokers. The Sanhedrin knew that God’s law always supersedes man-made law. Peter and John would not quibble with them, but neither would they submit to them. Instead they said, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.’ Luke goes on to tell us that after threatening them further the Sanhedrin sent them on their way. They had no choice. Peter and John were innocent of wrong doing. Besides, the crowd was glorifying God for this amazing miracle.

What is it that so disturbs unbelievers about some Christians? Why are the nations in an uproar and why are people devising vain things? (Psa. 2:1-2). It happened with Jesus. Repeatedly the Pharisees were enraged at his words and actions (Mark 2:16, 3:6, 12:13; John 8:59, 10:31). It happened with Stephen as he made his defence before the Sanhedrin. They stoned him to death (Acts 7:54-60). It happened repeatedly to Paul. Everywhere he went, especially on his first missionary journey, he was beaten and jailed (Acts 13, 14). Jesus told us to expect it (John 15:19). So did Paul (2 Tim. 3:12).

Admittedly, not all Christians are despised by others, but that also raises the question – why not? After all, Jesus says, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness’ (Matt. 5:10). And if Paul says that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, then surely the absence of persecution and rejection deserves an explanation. Here it is – the Sanhedrin and all religious people, whatever their stripe, when coming face to face with Jesus or those filled up with Jesus, spew hatred. Being in the presence of holy people galls them, convicts them, makes them terribly uncomfortable. The religious and self-righteous person, when confronted with Jesus or someone consumed with Jesus sees himself weighed in the balance and knows he is lacking. And the converse is also true – self-righteous or religious people who do not see Jesus in a professing believer will not in the least bit feel intimidated or uncomfortable. As in Jesus’ day the sinner, the one who knows he is not right with God, will be drawn to Jesus; and they likewise will be drawn to one who is filled up with Jesus.

Now, back to Peter and John for a moment – instead of the Sanhedrin’s mandate intimidating and silencing Peter and John it had the opposite effect. It motivated them to preach Jesus even more. They could not stop speaking what they had seen and heard, which also begs the question – what had they seen and heard? We have not the time or space here to elaborate but consider momentarily a few examples. They saw Jesus as Creator and Sustainer. They heard hm say that before Abraham was born ‘I Am,’ (John 8:58). Paul later writes that all things have been created through him and for him, that in him all things hold together (Col. 1:16-17). They saw Jesus calm storms and direct fishermen to fish in certain places, noting that even the seas, winds, and fish obey him (Luke 5:5-10, 8:22-25). They also saw Jesus overcome the fall into sin. The disciples knew the fall was a reality. They saw it every day in death, disease, and Roman oppression. They knew that while man came from the dust, due to the fall he returned to the dust in death, his body decaying in the ground (Gen. 2:7, 3:19) They knew that the serpent, due to tempting Adam to sin, was judged and made to crawl on his belly (Gen. 3:14). John saw Jesus stretched out on the ground, his hands and feet pierced with nails, and then the cross was lifted up for all in the vicinity of Golgotha to see. They also saw Jesus as the Redeemer, the One who by his death and resurrection purchased redemption for his people (Eph. 1:7-8; Col. 2:13-14). No doubt both Peter and John then understood Jesus’ earlier words, ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (John 12:27-33, also John 3:14-15). In fact John says that they then realized Jesus was referring to his death.

So of course they had a divine swagger. They could not stop speaking what they had seen and heard. Should we be any different? Is your life characterized by a divine swagger – confidence (Acts 4:13, 29), boldness (Acts 4:31; Eph. 6:19-20), inexpressible joy (1 Pet. 1:8; Phil. 4:4-7), and power and authority to affect change in people by what you say and do (1 Cor. 2:4-5; 1 Thess. 2:1-13; 2 Tim. 2:24-26)?

How do we get there? Regardless of our education, culture, or lack thereof we gain the divine swagger by ‘being with Jesus’. There is no substitute. You must go deeply with Jesus. Your trials and tribulations may be the catalyst to drive you there, reminding you of your desperate condition without the Spirit’s sanctifying presence and power. You can have this divine swagger. There is no reason not to have it. You can have revival every day in your heart. Seek him! Seek him! Seek him! Draw near to God and he promises to draw near to you (James 4:8).


Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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