Summary: I preach expository messages, and this is the ninth in my series on the Book of Acts.
Acts 4:23-37 6.24.07
When we left Peter and John last week, they had just emerged from a face-to-face showdown with the religious authorities, having spent a night in prison and, upon their release, having been threatened never again to speak in the name of Jesus. But in an unmistakable challenge to civil and religious authorities alike that should remain until this day, these men made clear their primary allegiance, and ours, and it is to God. Above country, above denomination, above civil authorities, above all: our first allegiance is to God. I was listening to C.J. Mahaney this week, and he pointed out a neglected truth, and that is that the thing that the Bible warns us against most frequently—bet you won’t get it! Idolatry. Placing something or someone else in the position that only God can occupy in the mind, the heart, the affections and the priorities of the believer. For Peter and John, the answer was clear: we can’t stop talking about Jesus! Let’s read this morning’s text, Acts 4:23-37. A Spirit-filled church is
I. A Praying Church - :23-30
Toward God: Dependence
And one of our 7 Pillars, our Core Values, is that we will be a Prayer-Powered church. Prayer Team will be leading us in a special time of prayer in a couple of weeks.
First response of the apostles was to go back to the church and give a report on what had happened. This wasn’t particularly unusual; it’s human nature to resort to friends, and to tell the story of “what happened”, in such a situation as this. But it’s not human nature to respond with prayer; this is “Christian nature”, or should be. There is a place, of course, for private prayer; Jesus, in warning His followers against showy, performance-oriented “worship”, had instructed His followers to go to a solitary place, into the closet, to pray to God. But there is also a place for joint public praying, and that’s what takes place here. John Piper said, “This prayer is relevant to us because it is prayed not by someone with special rights and privileges, but by Christians. It is the church gathered, not just the apostles, that pray for God to give boldness and to heal and to do signs and wonders.” Sometimes I get requests to pray for people, and that’s perfectly fine, of course, but I do think that there are people who believe that somehow, pastors have a special line to Heaven in ways that laypeople do not. Peter and John went to their friends, the church, their own, and together, the church prayed.
I don’t know exactly how this happened, that they “raised their voices together and said”. We can imagine something like a Hollywood musical where all the performers spontaneously burst into song, complete with choreography and the like—but I seriously doubt that that’s what took place here, right? Rather, what we have is Luke’s encapsulation of many such prayers which were made to God publicly upon the news that Peter and John reported to the assembled church.
Lloyd John Ogilvie said, “Much can be discerned about people in the way they address God in their prayers.” There is truth in this; while we can and should come to God with the intimacy of a child speaking to a Father, so much so that Paul uses a term equivalent to “Daddy” in encouraging us to this kind of familiarity, it is nonetheless true that there must be a profound respect and a thoughtfulness in our approach to God our Father.
“Sovereign Lord” – Despotes is the Greek word here, a term used of a slave owner (not a pretty thought!) or of some ruler with unchallengeable power; we get our word “despot” from this word, and in our parlance, again that’s not a particularly pretty word. But it signifies a ruler whose authority is utterly absolute.
And it’s perfectly fitting here, and indeed everywhere. Here were some little quasi-authorities, the Sanhedrin, who threatened the apostles not to speak any more in the Name of Jesus—but Peter and John, and all of the early church there in Jerusalem, rightly recognized their authority to be dwarfed by the supreme authority of a holy God.
Now, the people did get around to asking God for some things—but prior to this, they spent time praising God for Who He was. Further, they spent time reciting His Word to Him, grounding their own situation in the grand plan of God’s outworking of history. In Psalm 2, David had foretold the response that the Messiah would receive from so many, with the powers of the world plotting against the Lord’s anointed (:25-26).
But notice: God’s sovereign power is seen in the fact that He caused the enemies of the gospel to do exactly what was necessary for the accomplishment of His plan of redemption. The cowardice of Pilate, the whimsy of Herod, the opposition of the Gentiles and the people of Israel who cried out “crucify Him”—all of these things worked together to produce the exact result that God had determined in advance would happen.