Acts 4:23-31 : An Incredible Prayer

When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O [p]Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,
Why did the [q]Gentiles rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
26 The kings of the earth [r]took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His [s]Christ.’
27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy [t]servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the [u]Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 And [v]now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and [w]signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy [x]servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

***

It's incredible, isn't it? So early on in their ministry and Peter and John are already experiencing threats from the leaders of the day. But what is more incredible is the peoples' response.

Imagining being amongst these people, I could hear our voices 'with one accord', as we read in verse 24, but I hear us praying a different prayer. I can almost hear the echo of us, with one voice, crying out, 'O LORD, take it away...make these awful experiences flee from us! We can no longer take this opposition. Please take it away!' But that is not what we read, is it? And because that is not what we read, I think we would all do well to listen very closely for the lesson of this incredible prayer.

Note that Peter and John, after being released, made their way back to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them (vs. 23). I think this is significant on a number of levels, but the most important, in my mind, is that they desired to be with 'their own' for companionship. I think far too often in ministry, we see it as a 'lone soldier' work-place, but I have not read that model in Scripture. In fact, I have seen far too many places where we have been called to go out together (esp. Jesus' calling out the 72 - see Luke 10:1ff). And so, it is because of this, I believe Peter and John had returned to their own for comfort - and what comfort they received!

Read through this prayer again of the people and you will notice that they knew every detail of what Peter and John experienced. Not at any time could Peter and John say they didn't understand. These people clearly knew what was happening, yet notice the theme of their prayer. In verse 29, they called on the LORD to take note of their threats but, as I eluded before, they did not ask the LORD to take the threats away, as we are so prone to do; they actually prayed for a perspective shift. These Godly people prayed that in the circumstances that Peter and John found themselves in, not in spite of, but because of these threats, they asked that they would speak with more confidence! I cannot help but stop and reflect on this. They went on to pray that they believed that the LORD could continue to extend His hand to heal (the very thing that got the Apostles in trouble in the first place) in the Name of Jesus. Incredible! What was the outcome? The place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (vs. 31).

If that isn't a confirmation of the LORD's pleasure, I don't know what is.

May we dare to pray these kinds of prayers - not asking the LORD to take the difficulty away, but through them, become even more bold for the purposes of many knowing the Saviour.

Acts 4:5-22 : Filled with the Spirit (again)

On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” Then Peter, [c]filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “[d]Rulers and elders of the people, if we are [e]on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, [f]as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that [g]by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—[h]by [i]this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 [j]He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them [k]as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the [l]Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy [m]miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all [n]in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this [o]miracle of healing had been performed.
23 When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O [p]Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,
Why did the [q]Gentiles rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
26 The kings of the earth [r]took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His [s]Christ.’
27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy [t]servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the [u]Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 And [v]now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and [w]signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy [x]servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.


***

Sometimes there is nothing further to say. Note that the way Luke describes the leaders' response was, in a word, they were baffled.They couldn't refute the man standing before them. Most likely, many of them had known this man personally. He had been put in front of the temple gate Beautiful (see Acts 3:2) every day. They may have even given him alms at some point. And yet, here he is, standing - standing in front of them, in perfect health. What were they to do?

What made their problem even worse was that Peter filled with the Holy Spirit proclaimed that this man was healed in the Name of Jesus (vs. 11). Leadership is always uncomfortable when it seems like there is a movement afoot that has nothing to do with them. It is clear that this Jesus of Nazareth has begun to have quite a following. It is clear to them that these people standing before them believe Jesus, the same Jesus who was crucified and buried, has risen to life again and has now given power to heal. What are they do to?

Note that they observed both the confidence and 'uneducated-ness' of Peter and John. Peter and John were not glorifying themselves (more on that in a minute). And, adding to this, this Council could not refute the man standing before them, no longer lame but proclaiming himself that in Jesus' Name, he had been made well. It's clear that they were confused. So much so that they first ordered them to leave because they didn't now what to do (vs. 15) but then called them back with their 'decision' (vs. 18). 

Note, two, that Peter's defense was always pointing to Christ. His words, quoting Psalm 118, clearly put Jesus in the 'lime-light' and these leaders as those that have rejected the very One they were supposed to welcome (according to their Law that they diligently read). These words of Peter's remind me of his regarding Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus' response that on this Rock He would build His Church (see Matt. 16:13-20). Peter had understood that Jesus was not lifting him up, but the truth of his words. We will see more and more of this same theme as we continue through the Book of Acts. Jesus clearly saw potential in Peter to build His Church on the truth of the Risen Son of God.

So, through the council discussion, the men decided that it would be best to order them not to speak in the Name of Jesus (see vs. 18) but, wisely, Perer and John answered them with these words: Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (vss. 19, 20). Gotcha. Peter and John, knowing what they are on trial for, simply said they could not help their tongues from speaking of the Name of Jesus - it was up to them whether they thought they could stop it or not. And the rest of Acts is the proof of it. And we are beneficiaries of their obedience. 

It's one thing to be put on trial, but a completely other thing when you know that what you are on trial for cannot be stopped. These men were convinced that the movement of the Holy Spirit in their midst was something that could not be stopped - ever. Reflecting on this, they desired to fan the flame of the Spirit for more to know the truth of Jesus' resurrection. 

I simply ask us today in response to this - are we fanning the Spirit in our lives or quenching Him?

Acts 4:1-4 : But many...believed

As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming [a]in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the [b]message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

***

Wiersbe writes,
'We would expect the Sadducees to oppose the message because they did not believe in the resurrection of the human body (Acts 23:6–8). Peter’s fearless declaration that Jesus Christ had been raised from the dead ran contrary to their religious beliefs. If the common people questioned the theology of their spiritual leaders, it could undermine the authority of the whole Jewish council. Instead of honestly examining the evidence, the leaders arrested the apostles and kept them in custody overnight, intending to try them the next day. However, the arrival of the temple guards could not prevent two thousand men from trusting Jesus Christ and identifying themselves with the believers in Jerusalem.'

As mentioned earlier, Luke provides for us 'sum up' statements like this one all the way through his letter to Theophilus. His desire was to keep his reader understanding all that had transpired after the resurrection of Jesus. This concluding statement of Luke's acts as a spring-board to the rest of Peter's ministry; we will see this reaction again from the leaders and crowd in the chapters to come. 

As Wiersbe explains, the Apostles' message could easily be seen as undermining the leadership of the day. What we might forget (but is very important to remember) is that the Apostles clearly understood what they were doing and knew the ramifications of their actions. Yet they chose to respond anyway. Why? We have one answer - to save many.

Note that in Luke's concluding paragraph for our study today, he clearly explains that the Apostles were apprehended by the leaders, in fact his words were laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand (vss. 3, 4; underline mine). Luke begs the question - is it worth it?

Five thousand. Prison overnight. Apprehended. But five thousand. That number is staggering. It's almost unbelievable. Yet true. Because of the Apostles' desire for people to know the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, their object-lesson was sure, their case without flaw. And five thousand believed. Incredible. 

Dare I ask this question not knowing what the LORD would call you and I to - what will it take for us to know the truth of this in our lives? How many experiences will the LORD have to bring us before we come to the reality that He is and everything else pales in comparison? His resurrection is life. Can something as awful as a prison (or worse), that only brings death and despair, be tolerable because of the reception of so many being brought from death to life?

Are we willing for the sake of His Name?

Acts 3:17-26 : Seeing the Teachable Moment

And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. 18 But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His [h]Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the [i]Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the [j]period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet [k]like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed to everything He says to you. 23 And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24 And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. 25 It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God [l]made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 For you first, God raised up His [m]Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”

***

We long for it, as teachers. We find ourselves praying for it when we are talking to people about Christ. The 'teachable moment'. It is where the people whom we are talking to are ready to hear a spiritual truth. Sometimes it's obvious and we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, bring someone into His presence and revel something about His character that they didn't know before. It is a privilege to do this. Peter, in his sermon to the people here, saw a teachable moment and jumped on it. Yet, the way he chose to seize this moment is interesting.

Note that in these very few words that we find Peter using here, he becomes, in Wiersbe's words, the 'prosecuting attorney to become the defense attorney and the pardoning judge'. Each of these roles is clearly laid out in Peter's presentation. Why? Because he wants to revel the risen Christ to these people. He prosecutes these people by saying that it was by their own hand that they crucified their Saviour, he defends them by saying that they did it out of ignorance but in doing so, fulfilled prophetic Scripture and third, he became their pardoning judge because Christ's grace is being offered to them through His resurrection. Incredible. Rather than filling the peoples' minds with remorse (which could easily happen being a 'prosecuting attorney') or entitlement (which could easily happen when feeling defended), he completes the emotional circle with pardon. He points back to the healed man and says, 'This could be you!' But what is required? Repentance.

This is one of those words that we, in our Christian walk, I believe, know very little about. There are three ways we can respond to our own sin: regret, remorse or repent. Regret is feeling sorry we got caught. Remorse brings a measure of guilt and loss. Repentance, has with it these two emotions, but with one very different reaction. We can feel regret without changing; we can feel a sense of remorse but our lives aren't any different. Repentence, as Wiersbe puts it, is 'admitting that what God says is true, and because it is true, to change our mind about our sins and about the Savior'. This is what Peter had called the people to. And he called them to this by, again, reminding them of their well-known Old Testament prophets.

It's as if Peter is saying, 'You were meant to come to this point. The prophets of old saw this coming far before you did. It is time for you to acknowledge your part in the story that they have written'. So, what about you and I? If we were in the company of these people, I would hazard a guess that some of us just might be on the doubting side, disbelieving what we are seeing right in front of us. 

I believe with all my heart that repentance is a step we all must take in order to truly understand the majesty of Who and What God can be for us, here and now, in our lives living free from sin. If you are not confident that you have repented, believing that you can be free and acting on that repentance by changing your mind about your sins and presenting them to your Heavenly Father, today is your day - today can be the difference. Repent and believe today. Repent in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (vs. 19). 

Your life depends on it.

Acts 3:11-16 : Turning the Shoulder

While he was clinging to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them at the so-called [d]portico of Solomon, full of amazement. 12 But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, “Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His [e]servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. 14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the [f]Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. 16 And on the basis of faith in His name, it is [g]the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

***

It's an interesting gesture but I think each follower of Jesus needs to learn how to do it. It's this turning the shoulder. We see this same action done by Paul and Barnabas (see Acts 14:8-18) and John the Baptist (see John 1). These men clearly understood that their role was not to magnify themselves, but to magnify their Saviour. 

We read in the Gospel of John that both priests and Levites came to John asking if he was the Christ. He denied it, but promptly told what his role was, quoting Isaiah the Prophet: I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ (see John 1:23). Later on in the same chapter, we see John willingly pointing out Jesus, while he is with his own disciples, and two of his disciples left him to follow Jesus! (see John 1:35-37). This passage in Acts for our focus today is no different. I believe Peter and John have learned the valuable lesson of what it means to follow the LORD. They both have clearly learned to 'make straight the way of the Lord'. And yet, there is also something else very intriguing that is interwoven in this text. Note what the Apostles do with their 'turning the shoulder'...they correct the crowd.

We might, given the chance, argue that this isn't the right time to correct the crowd, but there is no time like the present with these men. We will see a continual theme in Acts that each event has two parts - intentionality and a lesson to be learned. If there isn't intentionality, lessons often fall by the way side. If people are eager to learn but those teaching are not intentionally trusting the Spirit's Voice, there is danger of false-teaching. In this text we see both intentionality and a lesson-learned.

This lesson may not have been easy to hear, but the truth was ringing in their ears as soon as Peter spoke. They knew what they had done. They had killed their own Messiah. Yet note too that this title of Messiah did not need to be unpacked for the ears of the hearers, as they knew very well what Peter is referring to, as remember, this is a predominantly Jewish audience who know all too well the focus of the Old Testament Scriptures of a Messiah to come. Peter was very quick to use names that these people not only knew, but trusted in (see vs. 13). So with all of their training in 'Jewish School' in their minds, they knew what Peter said was true. This is an interesting text for sure. Both components are present - focusing the attention on Jesus and teaching so hearers can understand more fully. Yet their is a third aspect that is present here that we will see over and over again in Peter's ministry that is developing before his very eyes. 

Peter, in his revealing Jesus to the crowd, is revealing Him for them to make a decision. It is clear that he is speaking boldly because he understands well the Name that is behind his boldness, yet more than this, he knows the Messiah he knows is worth it. He is bold in his approach because he wants his hearers to make a decision to follow Jesus themselves. Peter clearly is pointing to Christ. On the basis of faith in His name, Peter says, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all (vs. 16). Can you hear the plea? Can you hear Peter's desire for the people to understand and believe? Faith equals this, Peter cries, as the man that they have just healed is still clinging to them! Can you make an argument to refute this!?

Peter and John are stretching out, as far as humanly possible, the Name of Jesus for the crowds to reach out and receive for their very own. It is by faith in His Name and in this faith, their lives will never be the same again. As a clear and obvious object-lesson, and as the man that has just been healed clings to them (see vs. 11) Peter and John extend the best offer these people will have ever received - faith in Jesus.

Acts 3:1-10 : The First Miracle

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the [a]ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg [b]alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. [c]With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God; 10 and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

***
And so their ministry begins...

Jesus clearly commanded the disciples to wait until they would be filled with the Spirit (see Acts 1:4ff). Once this filling occurred, their ministry was to begin. And what an amazing start!

What is clear, as we look at this book with a birds-eye view, is that the focus of 'Jews-only' converts would dissipate and all that would remain is the beautiful truth that we all live, work and believe under One Name - the Name of Jesus Christ. Neither the culture or family heritage that you come from would matter any more. Yet, we are at the very beginning stages of this new movement that Jesus has willingly given to these disciples, which is why we read that they were going to the temple at the ninth hour. This was their Jewish tradition to pray at the ninth hour and so, as converted Jews to Christianity, that is what they did. But it is clear, by looking at this text, that something is very, very different about them. They now have the Spirit of Jesus Christ within them. And because they do, their lives and those around them, would never be the same.

I believe it is a good practice to look at this story in parallel to our discovering Jesus and walking with him. Often we are carried by loved-ones before we come to the Saviour and His healing touch. There is much to say about those who carry us in prayer and hope that one day we would be touched by Him. Once we are healed and renewed (the Bible calls this 'born again'; see John 3), we can leap for joy as we have been set free from sin and death. But please note that the healed cannot help but rejoice and sing and, by effect, others are changed by their testimony. This is a great example for us today. Yet note the most important part of this text. The healing was clearly done by none other than by the Name of Jesus Christ.

This is incredibly significant. We will see this continued echo through the remaining chapters of the Book of Acts. Jesus Christ's Name has power. It is not a dim reflection of the power that once was, however. Why the healings occur is simply because Jesus is still present - in a different form, yes - but He is still present in these disciples, in the form of the Holy Spirit. When they acknowledge this and act out on the promises of this filling, people are changed, healed and renewed.

This first miracle is an incredible example of what can occur if someone, completely filled with the Holy Spirit, trusts that indwelling and acts on it.

How are you and I changing and healing the world around us with this same Spirit-filling?

Acts 2:43-47 : Daily Communion

Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and [aq]signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed [ar]were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread [as]from house to house, they were taking their [at]meals together with gladness and [au]sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding [av]to their number day by day those who were being saved.

*** 

I am very struck by the text that we have before us today. We will read many more 'sum-ups' that Luke provides for us through the Book of Acts yet this one is particularly interesting to me, simply because it really is the first conclusion of all that has transpired of the first bonefide Church. So, if this was the first church-conclusion, we could learn much from what Luke described.

First note the continual-nature phrases that Luke uses: kept feeling, were taking place, were sharing, continuing, breaking bread, taking meals together, praising God and the Lord was adding to their number...An incredible picture of the Church. Constant, every day, sharing, living, loving, accepting, living out the Truths of the Word of God. 

Wiersbe writes, 
'The Christians you meet in the book of Acts were not content to meet once a week for “services as usual.” They met daily (Acts 2:46), cared daily (Acts 6:1), won souls daily (Acts 2:47), searched the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11), and increased in number daily (Acts 16:5). Their Christian faith was a day-to-day reality, not a once-a-week routine. Why? Because the risen Christ was a living reality to them, and His resurrection power was at work in their lives through the Spirit.'

Is the Risen Christ still a reality to us today? Is His resurrection power still at work in our lives? Are we welcoming the Spirit's touch in our daily lives?

I often wonder, as good a habit as it is to go to church every Sunday, how it would look if we had more. I know, I know, we all have jobs, homes to care for, children to care for, husbands and wives to care for...but, honestly, I don't see that hindering the 'First Church of the Apostles' here. What is clear to me is that they met in both the temple and in people's homes. I am not one to think that 'home fellowships' are all that is needed. I see the value of both - large, church gatherings and small fellowships. I think we need both. But what frightens me is that I don't see the cultivation enough of meeting in each others' homes.

I truly see the value of this and, frankly, think this is the missing piece in our fellowships. Get together with each other. Dare to be vulnerable. Invite people into your home and share a meal together. Be intentional about hearing each others' stories of how you came to faith and how we can pray for each other. I sincerely believe this is what's lacking in our church communities today! 

Daily wasn't a burden then and it shouldn't be now. Meeting daily was because the LORD clearly orchestrated us to be a part of His Body - and to be a part, you need to be a part, not apart. Sometimes this means intentionality on our parts, sometimes it means on others, but we can't just sit at home and wait for the other person to do their job...it's time for us to do ours.

Dare to meet people for the first time. Dare to invite people into your home. The first New Testament people clearly didn't have it all together, so neither do you...

Let's be the Church! Today!