This week, we pick up where we left off last time in Acts chapter four but
first we need to provide some context for today’s text.
You may recall that Jesus has used Peter and John to heal a lame beggar at
the temple gate.
Peter then preached the resurrected
Christ to the crowds that were drawn in by the miracle. The Jewish religious
authorities hear of his preaching and arrest Peter and John.
After spending a night in jail, the apostles are called before the Jewish
high priest and the most powerful Jewish rulers of the day—the same
men who had Jesus crucified only a few months earlier.
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit,
takes complete control of the meeting and boldly rebukes these
leaders for crucifying their Messiah. He accuses them of rejecting the very cornerstone
of God’s new people and with a final thrust of the dagger, Peter says something about Jesus that makes an absolute
dead-end street of the Judaism these
leaders practiced and taught. He
says, “...there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among
men by which we must be saved.”
Luke tells us in verse 13, “Now
when they [the
leaders] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished.”
Because the apostles were at this point held in high regard by the Jews,
all the leaders could do is to charge the apostles “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” to which Peter
and John respond, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have
seen and heard.”
The meeting ends in a stalemate with the
Jewish leaders forbidding the apostles to preach, and the
apostles refusing to disobey their commission to preach.
That’s where we pick up the story
in verse 23 of chapter four. Luke
continues the account saying of Peter and John, “23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And
when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who
through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said
by the Holy Spirit, “ ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’
— 27 for truly in this city
there were gathered together against your holy servant
Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your
servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31 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.”
The apostles return from being threatened by the
Jewish leaders and they tell their
friends about it. These believers immediately go to God in prayer for their
leaders because these men are clearly on a collision course with these
men who orchestrated the death of Jesus. God’s response to this prayer is about as impressive as any prayer in the Bible. After they
prayed for God to give them boldness to preach, God literally shakes
up the place, fills them
afresh with the Holy Spirit and most importantly, “they…continued
to speak the word of God with boldness.” God dramatically answered
this prayer! If
you are like me and you are in desperate need of boldness to tell others about Jesus, certainly--to declare that
he is the only way to God--if you easily shrink back when you should
step up, or (more generally speaking) you are right now going through a time of great pressure and are feeling
paralyzed or overwhelmed by it, then be strengthened by this prayer
from which we can learn so much.
Not that we should be looking at this prayer as if were some sort of fool-proof
formula to follow. The
prayer simply reveals the hearts of these
that God would give us the same heart for him revealed in those who pray this prayer!
The over-riding characteristic of these people revealed in this prayer is that they are God-centered
people who pray God-centered prayers.
This prayer is thoroughly God-centered—it’s all about him. Ultimately, it
is a prayer for boldness in witnessing, but of the seven verses in this
prayer, only one verse is an explicit plea for boldness—verse 29.
“And now Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your
servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness…” The other
six verses of this prayer don’t ask anything from God.
The rest of the prayer consists
of three sections that declare the supremacy of God in the midst of opposition—that is the heart of this prayer.
Why is that?
Well, we know that God responds to prayers that are offered in faith. In the
gospels, Jesus does his miracles in response to faith.
Jesus says in Mark 11:24.
I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Now, we must take other
Biblical truths into consideration when applying that promise, but it’s surely true that when you are asking God
to help you obey him, as these apostles are doing and as we so often do—praying in faith is crucial. Many of our prayers
are for things that are clearly God’s will. “God, help me
not to worry.”
“God, help me to put you first.” “God, help
me to love that person.”
help me not to get angry in this situation.” “God
help me to be disciplined in my studies/job.”
All those prayers are God’s will, but we get scared or anxious or overwhelmed
by circumstances and our faith seems to disappear.
So the question becomes, how
can we increase our faith in prayer?
We meet ourselves in these apostles. Their faith is shaken
from their confrontation with these
powerful religious leaders. We
know that because Luke doesn’t report that the apostles returned and
reported to their friends how they
utterly humiliated these leaders with their air-tight arguments—which
they did. No, they came back reporting what the
“chief priests and elders had said to them.”
That was the “take-away” message for them because they were not naive. They knew this was
only the beginning of the conflict because every time they
preached about Jesus from this point forward, they would be in open
violation of the orders of the
high priest of Israel—the same high priest who planned their
Master’s crucifixion. They
were also humble enough to know that the boldness they
had just expressed did not come from them-- they would need a fresh supply of it every
time they faced them.
They come back sobered and a bit intimidated, even though they knew it was
God’s will for them to boldly proclaim Jesus.
So, before they explicitly ask
God to give them boldness, they
pray in a way to bolster their
They do that by affirming God’s supremacy in this situation in three different
don’t just come into the presence of God and scream out, “HELP—WE NEED
MORE BOLDNESS!!” No,
they prime the pump of their
faith with three reminders of God’s supremacy before they make their
having pumped the bellows of truth over the
glowing embers of their faith, they
burst into flame and confidently ask for boldness to continue to preach boldly for Christ.
How many of us do that when we pray for God to help us obey him, or to help
us remain faithful to him in times of trial and testing?
How often to do we stoke the fire
of faith in our prayer life before we petition God?
Reminding ourselves of the
truth about God before we ask for his help is a missing ingredient in many of our prayers.
This is not the only place in
the Bible we see this model.
It’s also found in places like Isaiah 37.
The powerful Assyrian king Sennacherib invades Judah
during the reign of King Hezekiah. Sennacherib arrogantly taunts Hezekiah and the
God of Judah, bragging about how he and his pagan gods will destroy Judah
as he has destroyed all the other
nations and their gods. In
response to his opposition, Hezekiah prays and listen for this same pattern.
Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17
Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see;
and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which
he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”
pattern is the same as in Acts chapter four.
The explicit request for God to rescue Judah
comes only at the very end of the
that are reminders of the supremacy of God—he is the Lord of hosts,
he is Creator—he alone is the God of all the kingdoms of the earth--he is superior to all the
other gods Sennacherib has defeated. THEN he asks for God to deliver them from his hand
for his glory. God
will be exalted more highly and we would find our prayers answered more powerfully if we will be more God-centered
people who pray God-centered, faith building prayers.
From the text, here are three examples
of these God-centered, faith-building, prayers.
First, look at verse 24.
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”
It’s surely no accident that these apostles pray to God as the
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heavens and the earth and everything in them.” This
is an unusual way to begin a prayer, but think about their context. The apostles will be
facing ongoing confrontation with the rulers and elders and Jewish leaders.
They doubtless needed to remind themselves
that the One who called them
to preach the resurrected Messiah is infinitely bigger than ones who
were telling them to shut up.
is sovereign, not the high priest.
Not the Sanhedrin, God is in control
of this situation!
The first expression of their
God-centered prayer is –They remind
God is in comparison to those who oppose
them. They unpack God’s sovereignty
by reminding themselves of his most impressive display of raw sovereign power as seen in his creation. No one but God creates. Certain scientists
to create, but they have to borrow their raw materials from God—we are
only fabricators, not creators. When you are facing opposition to what God has called you to do, or if you simply feel
overwhelmed by the daily call to live faithfully to God, bolster your
faith by meditating on God’s sovereign reign as seen in his creative power.
Think intentionally about how infinitely big God must be to have created
the universe—certainly big enough to bring you through what you are facing.
Do you do that?
Do you stoke the fire of your faith with truth about God as Creator?
When you think about God creating
the universe, its easy to lose the
wonder of it because we just can’t grasp how big the universe is. Tim Keller helps us
by putting it this way. The distance between the earth and the
sun is 92 million miles. If
that distance were reduced to the thickness of a sheet of paper, then
according to that scale, the distance between the
earth and the next nearest star would be a stack of paper 70 feet high. Using that same scale,
the diameter of this galaxy—the
Milky Way, would be a stack of paper 310 miles high—if each sheet of paper equals 92 million miles. And there
are millions of galaxies in the universe.
So many, that when you look at the entire universe, our galaxy is a mere
speck of dust. That is a VERY big
God and we need to regularly remind ourselves in the face of trials
or opposition that God is so much bigger than whatever we are facing.
We need to remind ourselves of God’s sovereignty and when we want to contemplate
his sovereignty, we can do no better than meditating on the vastness
of the universe over which he is in complete control.
The Bible says that Jesus holds it all together by the word of his power. That gives us a truth-driven
perspective of God in relation to our trials or those who oppose us.
When the apostles saw God as the Sovereign Lord, Creator of the heavens and
the earth and everything in them, that built their faith by helping them put these religious leaders who opposed
them into perspective.
A second example of this God-centered,
faith-building prayer is in verse 25 where the prayer quotes King David from Psalm two.
During David’s reign, he was at one time challenged by several vassal Gentile
kings who joined together in revolt against him.
David, writes this Psalm in response to that trial and this prayer quotes
verses one and two. “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed.” David
asks the question, “Why
would these tiny Gentiles thugs rage against God—their plots are utter vanity—doomed to fail?” God
is pictured at laughing in derision at these “kings.”
David knew by faith that these rulers weren’t just opposing a Hebrew king,
they were fighting against God and that is the definition of futility. Again, hear how that
text builds faith in these apostles because it reminds them that those
who oppose them are not fighting against a few fishermen, they
are opposing the Sovereign Lord of the universe—what a laughable endeavor!
The second expression of their
God-centered, faith-building prayer is: They
God has said in similar contexts through
First, they remind themselves
of who God is and next, what he has said through his Word.
They pray Scripture and they use
a text that very much fits the context of their
present situation. When
you meet opposition in your attempts to obey God, this text can strengthen your faith by helping you to get perspective
on just how comparatively big those are who oppose you.
The Word of God stimulates our faith.
Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes
from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Our faith is bolstered
by Scriptural truth and especially from the promises of God. Meditating on the
word of God is like adding “Miracle Grow”© to our faith.
So, if you are going through a trial and seeking to trust Christ and pray
prayers filled with faith, then go to the Word—dig deep for texts that
fit your situation—meditate on them—memorize them.
It may be an account from the
history books where you can find God at work in a situation similar to yours.
It may be in a Psalm like this one that testifies to the
supremacy of God, or it may be a particular promise that applies to your situation.
This of course assumes that you
have a working knowledge of the Word.
If you don’t, you will have to ask someone to help you and the
value the Bible has in stoking your faith should be a strong motivator
to strive to master this book—so that you will readily have many texts at your disposal to claim and draw faith
from in any trial or situation. This God-centered prayer builds the apostles’
faith to pray for boldness because it reminds them of what God has said
through his word. A
final example of God-centered, faith-building praying is seen in verse 27 where they
apply the words of Psalm two they
have just quoted to a situation they all recently experienced. After they
quote the truth from the
Psalm they say, “27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant
Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
The prayer ties the
truth of Psalm two about the cosmic foolishness of rulers like those
who opposed David, and applies it to what these apostles had just experienced with these same Jewish rulers during
the passion of Jesus. In
fact, it’s clear that the prayer sees Psalm two finding its ultimate
fulfillment in the passion of Christ.
The Lord’s anointed One whom the
rulers—Herod, Pilate and the people of Israel
foolishly opposes was Jesus—the ultimate Anointed One. So the prayer moves from the
Scriptures, to something they had just experienced that was very faith-building.
That is—the awesome display of God’s sovereignty in the passion of Christ
they had recently witnessed. The
third example of a God-centered, faith-building prayer is: They
God has done in their own experience.
Jesus was commissioned by God to preach the
truth about himself to people who were hostile to his message and there
were many who opposed him. But
the utter futility of their
opposition to him is seen in verse 28 where we read that what the rulers did in opposing Jesus was in fact, “…whatever [God’s] hand and [God’s] plan had predestined to take place.” Their
opposition to Jesus was so utterly under the sovereign control of God,
that these evil men were in fact—in the mystery of divine sovereignty,
doing precisely what God had planned and willed.
The faith-building implication to
the apostles is as simple as it is profound.
You need not fear those who oppose you
as you seek to obey God because under the sovereignty of God they are ultimately accomplices with God in accomplishing his agenda. That is—though they
opposing God—they are ultimately a tool of his just like you are a tool of his.
And he will use whatever opposition they
bring against you to accomplish his will—even to further your mission.
And in fact, if we read on in Acts, this is precisely what happened to the apostles and the church. When the
Jewish officials unleashed their first, full scale persecution on the
church with the stoning of Stephen and Saul of Tarsus going on his rampage,
what was the result? Acts
8:1 tells us, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout
the regions of Judea and Samaria,
except the apostles.” Up until this point,
the gospel had not penetrated outside Jerusalem,
but Jesus had commanded that it be taken to “…Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the end of the earth.”
So, God uses the persecution to
bring his gospel to people who he had planned and willed to hear it.
God used the opposition to Christ
to accomplish his will and plan and God used the opposition to the apostles to
accomplish his will and plan and God uses the opposition or trials we face as we seek to be faithful to God—to accomplish his will and plan for our lives. Do we believe that?
The point is simple—because God
is absolutely sovereign, we are able to look upon those who oppose us or injure us or wrong us, we are able to
look upon the trials that overwhelm us through a completely different lens that the
rest of the world.
We can see them as under God’s
sovereign control and therefore as tools that are ultimately serving
God’s good purpose in our lives. This is how Joseph saw the sin of his brothers in selling him into slavery. “As
for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept
alive, as they are today.”
This does not excuse their sin—the
rulers who crucified Jesus will suffer uniquely in eternity.
But it does mean that God’s sovereignty allows us to see trials and affliction and opposition as
part of God’s hand and good plan for our lives.
Think about that in relation to boldness.
If you look at the opposition
of the Sanhedrin, not fundamentally as potentially lethal to you, but
as part of God’s sovereign plan, then why on earth would you fear someone
who will ultimately accomplish—even in their opposition to you “whatever God’s hand and God’s plan had predestined to take place?”
prayer reminds these apostles of who
God is as the sovereign Creator
of the Universe.
It reminds them of what God has said in
his word about the folly of those who would dare to oppose God and his
anointed ones, and it reminds them of what
God has done in their own experience in showing them that in his sovereignty
he is able to take the opposition against them and use it to ultimately further
what they are doing for God. Do
you see how that gives these apostles a radically different perspective on these opposing rulers than simply those
who are mad at them and want to kill them? When your faith has been stoked by all that truth about the
supremacy of God in creation, in the truth of his Word and of your own experience of him, then you can pray with utter confidence, “Lord, look upon their threats—in all their folly and futility and grant to your servant to continue to speak your word with boldness.” When
God hears that kind of God-centered, faith-building prayer, he shakes the
foundations, he fills with his Spirit and gives grace to speak the
Word with boldness.
As we close we must ask, how are
you handling the opposition or trials or affliction in your life? Are you seeking to
build your faith by meditating on the supremacy of God as seen in his
mighty acts like creation? Our
problem is—when we are confronted with a trial or opposition, those things become huge in our sight and by implication,
God becomes very small. And
the way we know that this is happening to us is—if we are worrying or feeling overwhelmed.
When that happens, God has become very small in our minds in the face of
problems or opposition that have become far bigger than they really are.
But if we see God as the infinite
Creator and internalize even some of what that means, we can see the
opposition or trials for what they are—eentsy, weentsy things. Are you meditating on
God’s Word where it speaks to situations that are similar to what you are facing?
Be diligent to look for Biblical contexts that speak into your present need. Be zealous to search
for promises you can memorize and claim when your faith is faltering.
And finally, the apostles’ faith
was strengthened by reminding themselves
of what a sovereign God had done in their own experience.
Often, we forget about all the
times that God has demonstrated his power to us in the past. We act as if those
experiences have no relevancy to what we are facing today—how in the
past he has strengthened us, provided for us, delivered us, comforted
us, healed us. We
forget that God intends those experiences to be used like those twelve stones the
people of Israel set up in the
middle of the Jordan—as
reminder of God’s willingness and power to overcome whatever we are now facing.
Ask God to remind you of those times in your past when you were greatly afflicted
or opposed or hurt. Keep
a journal and write them down.
Those past experiences of God’s faithfulness to us are deposits God has made
in our faith accounts and in tough times, God expects us to draw from that account and be strengthened
May God grant us the grace to
be God-centered people who pray God-centered, faith-building prayers that God dramatically answers for his glory
and our joy.