Summary: Falling deeper in love with Jesus (from knowledge about him, to conviction that he lives, to identification with his suffering) moves us from fear to courage to perseverance.
This passage in Acts 5 describes the third time that the apostles risked arrest because of their association with Jesus.
The first time that the apostles stood and faced arrest, they didn’t… That is, they didn’t stand, they turned and ran. And they didn’t face their opponents, they scattered leaving Jesus to face betrayal and arrest alone.
That was back in the Garden of Gethsemane, the last night that Jesus was with them before his crucifixion and resurrection.
The night that Jesus was arrested, his disciples fled. They ran into the night, and then they melted into the crowds of travelers in Jerusalem for Passover. Peter and John were among them. One thing ruled their hearts that night: fear. Fear of being arrested with Jesus. Fear of being judged by the religious authorities. Fear of being punished by the civil authorities. Fear of being ridiculed by their countrymen. Fear of the unknown. Just plain fear.
Peter and John knew who Jesus was. It was Peter himself who had declared not so long before: “You and the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” Their knowledge was not enough to conquer their fear, and fear ruled in their hearts.
Love was in their hearts that night too. Love for Jesus brought Peter close enough to the trial of his Lord to be challenged. But fear ruled in his heart. Fear caused Peter to deny his Lord three times. Love for Jesus brought John close enough to the cross to speak to his Lord. But fear ruled in his heart. Fear kept John silent and he did not speak for his Lord.
The second time the apostles stood and faced arrest because of their association with Jesus, they did… That is, they stood their ground and faced their accusers.
A few short months after their flight from the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter and John stood on the steps of the temple in Jerusalem. They offered the power of Jesus to a lame man, and he stood up and walked. They offered the grace of Jesus to the crowd, and 5000 believed. They did not run when the priests and the Sadducees began to grumble. Before nightfall, they were in prison.
Something had changed.
The powers-that-be expected to be able to bully Peter and John into submission. They expected Peter and John to cower when their authority was questioned. But they did not respond as expected. When they were questioned, Peter and John proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ. When they were ordered to speak the name of Jesus no more, Peter and John boldly declared that they could not and would not stop.
Something had changed. The something that changed was inside of Peter and John and the other followers of Jesus. The something that changed was in their hearts and in their minds.
On the night that Jesus was arrested, Peter and John had love in their hearts and they knew the truth, but still fear ruled in their hearts. The love in their hearts was merely the love of a human being for a respected and adored teacher and friend. They had knowledge, but not conviction, and so in their hearts fear mastered love and knowledge. They could not stand firm against challenges to their faith and their mission.