Text: Acts 4:23-31
Peter and John are under fire for two reasons: they have been speaking boldly for Jesus and they have been performing miracles in his name.
They’re thrown into jail, and the next day they are hauled in front of the Jerusalem authorities. Peter and John explain that the crippled man has been healed in the name of Jesus, and, since the man himself is standing there, the accusers are left speechless. Peter and John are released, but given a stern warning not to teach any more in the name of Jesus.
Peter and John return to their fellow-believers, who respond to everying that has happened by offering a remarkable prayer.
Concerning their prayer, please notice,
1. How they appeal to God, vv24-28
They appeal to the God who is in control. In control of everything that has been made. “Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” How it strengthens and encourages us in prayer, to think that the One who hears our petitions is the Maker – and therefore the Master – of all things. The words of the old children’s chorus are simple, yet profound: “He’s got the whole world in his hand.”
In control of everything that happens. Quoting the Second Psalm, the believers acknowledge that it was only to be expected that wicked people would oppose Christ and his followers. “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” – Many are the dreadful things that wicked people do. And none more dreadful than when they opposed and persecuted and ridiculed and crucified the Lord of Glory. But God is never taken by surprise. He is never caught out. Even that blackest of all deeds was foreseen by God and woven into his master-plan for the salvation of the world.
It is wonderful that the God of the Bible condescends to call us his children, and to call himself our Father. But he is still the sovereign Lord, and it will be a great encouragement to us in our prayers to remember that and to appeal to it as did those first believers when they were under fire.
2. What they ask for, vv29f
(a) They ask for boldness. “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” Their prayer is not, ‘Change what it happening to us’, but ‘Change us’. How many times do we ask God to change our circumstances, when we should be asking him to change what is happening inside us.
(b) They ask for miracles. They asked for healings, and for miraculous signs and wonders. We tend to talk very loosely about miracles: “The taxi will be here in five minutes. It’ll be a miracle if he’s ready in time.” But a miracle in the Bible is always an extraordinary event in the natural world, such that people are prompted to respond, “This is the Lord’s doing, it is wonderful in our eyes.” Anyway, they asked for miracles, not for themselves, to make their lives easier, or more exciting; but miracles to show God’s grace, and to adorn the preaching of the gospel. May we ask for such miracles today? Why ever not?
Note: they asked for the very things that had got them into all this trouble in the first place!
3. How their prayer is answered, v31
They get what they ask for, and more.
(a) They get a miracle. The place…was shaken – There is another occasion in Acts (16:26) God shakes thimgs up with a quick earthquake, when Paul and Silas are in prison. I’ve also read about it occuring in some subsequent revivals. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had to call out a structural surveyor during a prayer meeting, but you can take heart from this: that the same God who came and shook the foundations of the building as the disciples prayed, is the same God who hears and answers the prayers of his people today.
(b) They get boldness. They spoke the word of God boldly – they continued to preach the gospel despite the warnings of the counsel. God didn’t take away the persecution: in the next chapter, the apostles are thrown into jail again. But God gave them the boldness they asked for.
(c) They are filled with the Holy Spirit. They hadn’t even asked for that! It is clear that the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did not do away with the need for further ‘fillings’ on subsequent occasions. Those who have been filled with the Holy Spirit need to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Well, how do you feel about all this? Excited, or exasperated? Excited, because you can see the possibilities of God at work in your own life? Or exasperated, because you’ve never experienced this level of prayer and witness?
Let’s realise the vast potential of prayer goes largely untapped today. We have this great resource, and we use it so stingily. We are like millionnaires who have somehow been persuaded to think that we are paupers and so seldom draw upon those vast riches of grace that God has stored up for us.
Let’s be prepared to start small. All this talk about apostles and saints and martyrs who were mighty in prayer can be very discouraging for us ordinary mortals, and we may feel inclined to give up praying altogether. But the message is this: if you can’t pray as you would like to, pray as you can. If you can’t pray for the conversion of the world, pray for one soul. If you don’t have the confidence to shout the gospel from the roof-tops, pray for boldness to share Jesus in some quieter ways, in your family, amongst your friends, at school or college or work. Pray for an opportunity to speak to someone this week about Jesus.
But above all, let’s pray. Pray like the persecuted Christians of old, who shared their troubles with each other, who appealed to their Sovereign Lord, who asked for boldness for themselves and miracles for others, and who God answered, by sending an earthquake, by pouring out his Holy Spirit, and by equiping them to proclaim the good news of Jesus whatever the cost.