Sermon Series- The Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years
From Acts 4:23-31
Now I ask you, “What is the emotion most likely to be felt by us if we receive threats from people who have the power to carry them out?” Fear. Fear would rise in our hearts. The temptation now among the disciples is to begin to be afraid and to consider shrinking back. The great temptation when the Church comes under fire is to start equivocating and using the language of wisdom to devise a strategy of avoidance. We begin to tweak our language and alter the mission of the Church to make them more palatable to the broader culture. I think you can see this is the fear the Church is experiencing at this point. Peter and John’s return is a wonderful blessing to the Church. But we cannot overlook the fact that Peter and John have other news too. The Sanhedrin “charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18). Also, it was only after “they had further threatened them,” that “they let them go.” (Acts 4:21). Listen to the Church’s prayer closely with this information in mind, “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” (Acts 4:29)
We often read passages like this as scenes without actual human beings in them. We read them and think, “wow, 5-25,000 followers of Christ are ready to take on the world.” But if that were the case, a prayer asking God to grant them the courage “to continue to speak” God’s “word with all boldness” wouldn’t make any sense, would it? The gut reaction of some of the disciples was probably to say, “Well, we better cool it off for a little while. We should be glad to have Peter and John back. Next time we might lose them for good. Let’s be sensible.” That would sound wise and strategic, wouldn’t it? It is for the weaker disciples that the assembly prays this prayer. Some need grace to continue to stand. Some just became followers of Christ and may not be on steady feet yet. This prayer is for them all, especially the weaker brothers and sisters.
They do not just want courage and boldness, but they also want the Presence of God to continue to be with them. “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while YOU stretch out YOUR hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of YOUR holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29-30) The miraculous works of the apostles are affirming signs that the Word that they are boldly preaching is true, as they are evidence of God’s presence with His people. Peter and John end up before the Sanhedrin because of a miracle worked on a lame man in Jesus’ name. The powerful testimony of this miracle itself is most responsible for their release. The Sanhedrin asks, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.” (Acts 4:16)
It is the miracle that affirms Peter and John as agents of God and makes their message concerning the resurrection of God’s “holy servant Jesus” legitimate. The prophetic office always worked this way. Miracles were always there to confirm the man and the message. And the Church knows they will continue to need God’s affirming presence with them to open the eyes of the blind, both literally and figuratively. Their first task is to preach Christ to the Jews, to move them from Moses to the one who is greater than Moses. The ramifications of their message are huge. Jesus’ coming will end Temple worship and Judaism as the Jews understand it. The task they have been given will take more than their bold preaching. It will take miracles. It will take the presence and power of God Himself.
Finally, we see the disciples praying according to God’s will. The will of God was not to shrink back and strategize; no, it was to press forward in grace and courage, trusting in Him to carry them and the message of the Gospel forward. “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31). The presence of God, symbolized in the shaking of the building and materialized in the filling of the disciples with the Holy Spirit emboldens the disciples which is, in fact, the answer to their prayer. God answers the prayers of His people.
We’ll start to make our applications tomorrow.
Look for “What & How To Pray In The Face Of Fear Part 5” tomorrow where we will start to suggest some applications to encourage our faith and help us grow in our life with Christ!