After They Prayed The Place Was Shaken
By Pastor Teddy
Key Verse 4:29-30
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
There are simply too many stories in chapters 3 and 4 that have been repeated and reflected on for the last millennia. There’s the healing of the crippled beggar sitting at the temple gates begging for scraps. Peter and John (the apostles of the Lord) offer him something he never expected— something far greater than money. They offered healing in the name of Jesus! Then there’s the story of the crowds, so baffled by what they witnessed that they crowded the apostles who preached a gospel sermon that brought them to faith in Christ the Savior. Then there’s the apostles’ story who, after healing the cripple, were assaulted and imprisoned for speaking out against people’s sin and for proclaiming in Jesus the new life through repentance and faith in the Resurrected Christ. Then there’s the story of these same apostles who interrogated before the religious authorities for the crime of healing the crippled beggar in Jesus’ name. They were severely rebuked and threatened not to speak ever again the name of Jesus. That story itself is most remarkable! It’s a story of Peter who once, in great fear for his life, denied the name of Jesus, but who now stood before their accusers and proclaimed the name of Jesus boldly and without fear. So many stories! But if you ask saint Luke who recorded these events what the stories are all about, he’d tell you this! He’d tell you that they’re all one story and only one story— the story of Jesus and the name he bears as Lord and Christ. He’d tell you that through Jesus’ name, God was offering salvation from sin to anyone who wants to escape God’s judgment. There’s no other story of salvation in the history of this world. The story of our salvation is all about Jesus and the name of Jesus. And this story will be forever told till Jesus returns and this world is finally reshaped into Jesus’ Kingdom!
And the story goes on! I’m surprised at a couple of things regarding this religious council which interrogated and finally threatened Peter and John not to speak again in the name of our Lord. First of all, they weren’t fazed at all by the gospel message they heard from Peter. Not that we expect religious men who disdained Jesus to now suddenly listen to a low born and uneducated man like Peter. The message Peter delivered to them wasn’t a scholarly message that might woo them, but a very simple gospel message. It was the same simple message that’s been preached throughout all generations. The message tells of man’s sinfulness, and of God’s love and mercy towards sinful man. It goes on to tell of just how God showed his unconditional love to fallen man. He sent his Son to pay the penalty for every man’s sins and to open for him the door to salvation and eternal life previously shut to all sinners. His Son died and rose from the dead to the witness of countless people, and then ascended to heaven to take his rightful place as the Lord and Christ of all men. That’s the message. And people either believe it or they don’t. They’re either moved to repentance by this message and turn to Christ in faith or they aren’t.
It doesn’t really matter who delivers the gospel message, or how the message is delivered. That’s not important in salvation history. The message itself is what’s important! And the message itself is what people take to heart or reject. But why is the message itself more important? Because the message itself has God’s life in it, and the Holy Spirit works to hearten every human heart to believe. And so, to their loss, these religious men chose not to believe the message. They remain among the hordes who don’t believe and will be judged by Christ for their unbelief at his Return. But that they chose not to believe doesn’t surprise us. What’s actually surprising is their response to what Peter asked them at last: “Judge for yourselves” he said, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (4:19-20) He wasn’t challenging them to believe the gospel here. He was simply appealing to their conscience as to whether he should follow their command and threat not to speak in Jesus’ name or listen rather to God whose command was that they should. It was a question of conscience! They may not have taken to heart the gospel message, but shouldn’t they concede to their own conscience when it comes to what’s right and what’s wrong? But usually those who refuse the gospel of God’s grace often also have a corrupt conscience. And the world is full of people like that, including some believers.
Just because they were religious authorities, (that is, they were well versed in the Bible as well as had the authority to exercise and enforce Bible law), doesn’t mean that they were God fearing and had a good and living conscience that submits to God and heeds his word! These men believed themselves to be God fearing. But their pride and self righteousness corrupted their consciences, so they didn’t fear God. Like wise, just because a person claims to be a believer doesn’t mean that he or she is God fearing and has a good conscience. We have to be careful about this! Suppose a person is by all counts a believer. Suppose he thinks that he fears God and lives to please him. But then suppose he is too proud to receive church counsel and chooses to rely on his own counsel instead. Suppose he does that to satisfy some personal desires that are considered inappropriate by the church. How long before his conscience is corrupted and he no longer fears God! A believer is God fearing if their conscience submits to God to be molded and shaped by his word. That’s why we ought to be careful how we think and feel and act as beleivers lest our conscience fails God and his word.
Listen to Paul’s own struggle with his thoughts and feelings and actions in order to keep himself free from corruption. [Of course, the blood of Christ washed him clean, from day to day he needed the washing of his feet. (John 13:10)] “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” Paul says, “And we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) This is true of his mentorship towards the churches. But it is also true for himself as well. Being a God fearing believer with a good conscience isn’t trivial. It’s a battle Paul fought every day to mold and captivate his conscience to the word of God and to God’s will. Paul struggled to demolish arguments in his own heart— arguments that tried to justify whatever wasn’t in sync with the gospel truth— arguments his sinful nature took up to serve his own will rather than God’s will. He also demolished every pretention in his own heart that tried to set itself above God’s will and word. He described his own struggle to keep his good living conscience from the corruption of his own thoughts and desires to make them obedient to Christ’s will and his word. He took every thought, and every feeling he had which conflicted with God’s will and Word and made them obedient to Christ. Are you doing that? Are you doing that on a regular basis? It’s a worthy struggle every day to do the same, rather than trust our own wisdom and way. It baffles us how these religious authorities never truly feared God and betrayed their own conscience!
The other thing that surprised me about these religious authorities who threatened the apostles never again to speak in Jesus’ name is that they let them go free with only a stern threat. They were dead-set against Christ and the name he bears as Lord and Christ. They were determined to extinguish the name of Jesus and the gospel his followers proclaimed in his name. You might imagine that they’d have these apostles crucified, or at least beaten and jailed for life. But surprisingly the apostles were released with only a stern threat to cease and desist. So why did they let them go? It’s not as if they needed enough incriminating evidence to put them away. But what surprises us at first in letting them go becomes no surprise as to why they did so in the next passage. Look at verse 23-24a. “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” The religious authorities were a formidable power to reckon with. But in reality, the greatest power in those days weren’t those with religious or political influence and supremacy. The greatest power was in the few men and women who regularly met to pray. No sooner than Peter and John were imprisoned, we can be sure that the whole church gathered to pray. Because of their prayers, the religious authorities were helpless to do anything to Peter and John than to release them. These people feared only God and they prayed. It’s as simple as that! And when Peter and John returned safely to tell their story, the church prayed again.
And this time, what a prayer it was! Let’s read it together, verses 24-30. “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.” Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’” This is one of the greatest recorded prayers in the Bible, and an example for us to follow. Let’s think about what makes it such a powerful prayer.
In the first place, what do you think this prayer was the result of? Or in other words, how did such a prayer come to be the powerful prayer that it is? Or, how is it that such a deep and meaningful prayer was on the hearts of all the church members? Well, we can clearly say that this prayer was born out of these believers’ obedience to Jesus’ command to witness to his name. In other words, they were obeying Christ’s who told them to witness to the gospel of his salvation. They were serving their God-given mission when the apostles were imprisoned and harassed by the enemies of Christ and of the gospel. And so the church was praying for them. When they were released, the church again prayed and gave glory to God, and all because they were obeying Christ and preaching the gospel and witnessing to Jesus in the first place. This prayer was born out of this very truth— the truth that powerful prayers are associated with how a church prays and what it prays for. A powerful prayer is deeply associated with hos we obey the word of God in serving his will and in witnessing to his name. Let me explain.
When a church is deeply involved in obeying God’s imperative commands that are on God’s heart and involved in serving his will and purpose, that church’s prayer is remarkable and powerful and effective. But when a church is deeply involved in its own personal and the day to day worldly affairs, that church hasn’t much concern or reason to pray together, since prayer is mostly relegated to personal needs and wants and to whatever else seems important to each individual. Such prayers don’t go unnoticed. But they aren’t remarkable and certainly not powerful either. They’re mundane and ineffectual. To a church like that, getting together to pray isn’t important or urgent. And when they do pray together it’s a medley of unrelated requests without a sense of urgency or danger, because for the most part the congregation is comfortable in many ways. But on the other hand, if God’s people were actively engaged in witnessing to the gospel of Christ, there would certainly be troubles, for “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) And as a result of this, remarkable and powerful prayers would be born. There would be urgency to pray! And their prayers are born out of their obedience to Christ— out of their witness to him and his gospel.
What then were the contents of their prayer? Look a t verse 24 again. They raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord, they said, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.” They were united in their prayers, meaning that they had a common prayer topic and a common faith by which they raised their voices to God in prayer. It’s hard to see such excitement these days about the great work of God has done in and through one member of the community. Mostly people are reserved and uninformed about what God is doing in others’ lives. Sometimes people choose not to tell, and at other times, people choose not to know. That’s not a healthy sign for a church community. This early church joined together in praying for Peter and John and in celebrating their release because they knew this wasn’t either a personal concern nor a personal problem and certainly not a personal victory either. It was God’s victory. And so they celebrated together in raising their voices as one to God to give thanks to him. We need to come together like this too and be involved in what God is doing in our coworkers’ lives and in the missions they’re involved in. For example such things as campus mission aren’t personal issues but community issues; they are not personal defeats or personal discouragements nor even personal victories, but they are all done in Christ and for his name. There are always those who care less what’s happening on the mission field. But as a church, we must all be united, and our prayers need be united as well.
Their prayers went to the sovereign God, creator of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them. In other words, they feared God more than they feared the authorities. They believed that it is the Sovereign God who is in charge, and not the political nor religious authorities. This is not small faith. It is the very faith that made them the powerful evangelists and prayer servants of the century. When a church believes in the sovereignty of God, they believe that God is King and Ruler of all things, that whatever happens in this world, and in life, cannot happen without the knowledge of God who alone determines life and the course of life for all things, especially for our lives and the life of our church. That’s why they feared God more than fearing the authorities. And that is why they believed in prayer more than believing that they needed to do something about this persecution. They were like Daniel who prayed and trusted God even when his life was threatened by godless people who hated him and wanted him put away. There’s Daniel, one man against an empire. He’s down on his knees because he fears the Sovereign God, and not the countless enemies ready to destroy him. And here’s Daniel again victorious because the Sovereign God is indeed sovereign and ruler of all things in our personal lives and in the world affairs— if only he trusted him and put his life and all things into his hands. There are so many Christians who say they trust the Sovereign God, but in their lives they only trust themselves, and their own decisions and plans more than they trust God. This is not fear of God at all. This is not faith in the Sovereign God at all. This is fear of losing control, and fear of putting your life and future in God’s hands. It’s terrifying to them because they cannot trust God to do right by them.
These people prayed powerfully. They didn’t pray to improve their situation nor did they pray that God make their circumstances better. They didn’t pray like this because they held no grudge in their hearts for those who hated and antagonized them. How is it that their prayer had no hint of hate or disappointment or frustration in it? In truth, they trusted God and his word believing that everything that happens in the world and in their lives is under God’s Sovereignty. They prayed based on his words. Look at verses 25-28. In these verses, the church looked to the word of God for everything related to life and the world and events in the world. They looked to the word of God for wisdom and for answers to everything happening to them and around them under God’s Sovereignty. And when they studied the Bible, they also submitted their hearts to God’s Sovereign will. From the word of God, they understood perfectly well that all that happened to Christ and all that’s happening in the world and to them is never a mistake nor an accident. It was all happening under the sovereign guidance of the Lord who is King and Lord in heaven. It was the Lord in his Sovereignty who foretold the Messiah’s work, and who foretold the world’s rejection of him and his message, as well as the persecution of his people. And when they understood this deeply in their hearts from the word of God, something marvelous happened to them. They weren’t afraid. They weren’t offended. They weren’t critical. And their prayers weren’t mundane and based on personal wants and desires. They prayed in the will of God, powerfully according to his will. And what was his will?
Look at their remarkable and powerful prayer topic in verses 29-30. “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” It doesn’t surprise us that they didn’t pray for relief, nor for God to destroy their enemies, nor for things to get better. Instead they simply prayed in accordance with the will of God. And what was the will of God when the world was going from bad to worse and evil seemed to be winning? What was the will of the Lord when the church was being harassed and persecuted and there seems to be no relief on the horizon? These people were clear about what they really desired the most. When they gave themselves to the Sovereignty of God, they wanted to do what was no God’s heart. So they asked him to enable them to continue preaching the gospel with boldness. They realized that to do so wasn’t going to be easy. They would need boldness and the power of God to do so. But they weren’t afraid nor did they let fear paralyze them. They prayed. And they prayed together. And they prayed with one heart with the same prayer topic. They also prayed that God’s hand of compassion would continue to be given out to those who need it. These people were really shepherds who cared more for the healing of people’s hearts and souls than for their own personal comfort and well being. No wonder their prayers were remarkable and powerful and God heard them and answered swiftly. (31)
I think that when faith in God’s sovereign rule isn’t deeply rooted in our hearts, there is much cause for fear to enter in and to paralyze us. Fear is the number one cause of God’s people living apart from God’s will and not serving God’s purpose. When you’re afraid, it’s either you’re not rooted in the word of God so as to understand things from God’s perspective; or you don’t trust God’s sovereignty enough; or you’re probably only paying selfishly or not praying together with others according God’s will. Because if you were, you wouldn’t be so afraid of the unknown and certainly not afraid to do what God would have you do which is to live as a witness to Christ and an influence on others. But so many Christians live in fear. That’s why there’s not much persecution and hardship upon us. When no one is bothering us it doesn’t mean that God is favoring us and it doesn’t mean that the world has finally accepted us. When no one is bothering or persecuting us it means we’re not doing our job well as witnesses to his gospel. Witnessing isn’t a pastime we do when we have nothing else to do. Serving Christ is our mandate from the sovereign God. And it’s our job to do it without fear, knowing we’ll be harassed for doing it.
God didn’t save you just to save you or to leave you lying there in fear. He saved you so that you might no longer live a life according to your own plan, but according to his. He saved you so that you might no longer live in the fear of what other people think of you, or in the fear of what might happen to you if you seek first his kingdom first rather than money or comfort or security, just because you’re too afraid to trust him to care for you properly! He saved you and me so that we might no longer be afraid of an enemy that’s already defeated, and who’s no longer in control. Only the Sovereign Lord is in control. This is what the early church deeply believed. They believed he saved them so that they might no longer be afraid to do the one thing the sovereign Creator put them on this earth to do— to serve Christ and to honor his name. He saved us for that purpose as well. We must learn to trust God and his sovereignty. We must also study the word of God continuously and be rooted in it, finding all that we need from it’s oceans of wisdom and grace. And we must also not be afraid to be witnesses of Christ nor afraid to be persecuted for it either. But most of all, we must pray and pray together according to God’s will for us in this generation. We must pray for boldness to preach the gospel to a generation deeply hostile to Christ and the gospel. And we must pray that God’s compassion heal the many hurting souls of our generation. Amen.