PERSECUTION UNITES THE CHURCH TO PRAY TO THE SOVEREIGN GOD FOR SPIRIT-FILLED MISSIONARY POWER
Like my family, you have probably attended many missionary conferences. You have heard the reports of those who served on the foreign field in pioneering efforts, blazing a trail for the reception of the gospel of Jesus Christ. You have heard of the difficulties and opposition which they faced. You have been challenged to support the missionaries – not only financially – but even more importantly – in prayer for specific needs. You have encouraged these missionaries to continue to persevere and proclaim the Gospel with boldness and courage.
Here is the account of the very first missionary conference. But the people involved had much more than just an academic interest. They had skin in the game. Peter and John had not yet crossed cultural lines; they were still ministering in Jerusalem – preaching the fact and significance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and even being used by God to perform works of healing. Now they had encountered the initial rumblings of intimidation and persecution. Dragged before the Sanhedrin, they were commanded to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They were threatened with severe consequences if they refused to cease and desist. How would these apostolic leaders respond to this challenge? The people listening to Peter and John had feared for their safety – uncertain of how things would turn out before the Sanhedrin. Now they needed confidence and boldness to fulfill the Great Commission.
PERSECUTION UNITES THE CHURCH TO PRAY TO THE SOVEREIGN GOD FOR SPIRIT-FILLED MISSIONARY POWER
3 MISSIONARY ACTIVITIES WHEN CONFRONTED WITH PERSECUTION:
Each introduced by a short connective clause that gives the reason or occasion for that activity:
(:23) “And when they had been released,” leads to Missionary Playback
(:24) “And when they heard this,” leads to Missionary Prayer
(:31) “And when they had prayed,” leads to Missionary Power
I. (:23) MISSIONARY PLAYBACK (REPORT) UNEDITED
The Reason for the Missionary Activity (the Occasion) = After Release from Unfriendly Custody
“And when they had been released,”
A. The Reunion = The Christian Community
“they went to their own companions,”
This group probably included more than just the other apostles – not sure how many believers were gathered together – probably praying for a successful outcome for Peter and John; sense of excitement and anticipation when you are in the front lines of trying to reach people for Jesus Christ; apart from being immersed in the activity of witnessing, the church quickly loses its vitality
Look at how Jesus regarded those in the family of God as “His own”
John 13:1 “Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
Genuine believers view people as being in either the camp of the unsaved or the believing Christian community – unbelievers do not look at the world in that type of dichotomy
B. The Report = Blow by Blow Account
“and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.”
Carrying back word from a happening
We have all heard missionary reports where the details had been edited to make the situation appear as positive and encouraging as possible
Did not sugar coat things; did not put some type of spin on what was said. They were able to deal with the reality of the threats because they trusted in a higher authority.
They were in a partnership – a fellowship of gospel ministry – and everybody was interested in the details
Notice their response: not wringing their hands in anxiety; not spending time speculating what course of action they should take or how would things play out
II. (:24-30) MISSIONARY PRAYER UPLIFTED
(:24a) The Reason for the Missionary Activity = After Hearing the Intimidating Threats
“And when they heard this,”
A. (:24b) Prayer for Missionary Success Directed in Unity to the Creator of the Universe – Addressed to Sovereign God of Historic Creation
“they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, ‘O Lord, it is Thou who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them,’”
“With one accord” — With one mind, one purpose, by common consent – Acts 1:14; 2:46; 5:12
Recall Hezekiah’s prayer in Is. 37:16-20
(Exod.20:11; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 146:6; Isa. 37:16)
Kent: “despot” = absolute ruler
Stott: a term used of a slave owner and a ruler of unchallengeable power. The Sanhedrin might utter warnings, threats and prohibitions, and try to silence the church, but their authority was subject to a higher authority still, and the edicts of men cannot overturn the decrees of God.
Bock: The Greek term does not have the negative connotation of the English.
Importance of maintaining Biblical view of Origins — Creation – look at how evolution drains passages like this of this force and application
Deffinbaugh: Jeremiah chapter 32 contains a rather striking parallel to our text. Here Jeremiah is thrown into jail by Zedekiah, king of Judah, for prophesying that Jerusalem and Israel would fall to the Babylonians. The people of Israel were instructed not to resist this (32:1-6). In response to all that happened, Jeremiah prayed, beginning with these words:
“‘Ah Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee, …’” (Jeremiah 32:17).
The key phrase, based on the fact that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth is this: “Nothing is too difficult for Thee.” To Jeremiah and to the other Old Testament saints who found assurance in the fact that God is the Creator, the bottom line was simply that He who could create all things could also control them. Here he was predicting the downfall of Jerusalem, just as the apostles would do centuries later. And just as the king was persecuting Jeremiah, so the political and religious authorities were persecuting the apostles. And just as Jeremiah prayed to the Creator of the heavens and the earth, so did the early church.
B. Prayer for Missionary Success Based on Prophetic Historical Perspective and Providential Fulfillment
– Addressed to Sovereign God of Prophetic Revelation
1. (:25-26) Prophecy of Opposition to Christ – Emphasis on the Futility of the Opposition vs. the Supremacy of Christ
“who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things? The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ.’”
“rage” – literally of the actions of a high-spirited horse; snort and neigh; stomp; Breeder’s Cup races yesterday – filly Zenyatta was undefeated in 19 races – finally beaten by a nose … see all of these horses prance around before being loaded into the gate; some high-spirited, difficult to control majestic animals;
figuratively: be arrogant, be insolent; to rave; to be incensed;
“devise futile things” — Plot empty things, conspire; empty, futile, without results
The Lord laughs at their futile opposition; He was not worried by the empty words of the Sanhedrin; the rulers of this earth owe their next breath to the master of the universe; they are but dust
Why do we arrogantly think we can oppose God and His plan of salvation? Why do we try to run our lives without submitting to His rule? Why do we think that our rebellion will go unchecked? Why do we rage and waste our life in futile pursuits? The end game is no surprise – God has revealed to us what will take place in the future. We have already seen the fulfillment of the prophecies relating to the first coming of Christ.
Bock; “Messiah” points to Davidic messianic authority especially as it relates to the arrival in power of the kingdom and the defeat of evil. “Servant” points to one who, like David, obeyed God and was fully at his disposal, and it points to his suffering as well. Just as David had enemies, as Ps. 2 notes, so did Jesus. Both figures, however, were God’s chosen and anointed.
Wiersbe: Psalm 2 describes the revolt of the nations against the Lord and His Christ. The psalm originally grew out of the crowning of a new king in Israel, perhaps David, but its ultimate message points to the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. Whenever a new king was enthroned, the vassal rulers around were required to come and submit to him, but some of them refused to do this. God only laughed at their revolt, for He knew that they could never stand up against His King.
— Addressed to Sovereign God of Historical Fulfillment
2. (:27-28) Fulfillment of Opposition to Christ – Emphasis on the Sovereignty of God
“For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur.” [this is key portion]
“Thy hand” – in the sense of power and control
“predestined” – Rom. 8:29-30;
1 Corinthians 2:7 “but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory;”
Deffinbaugh: The reference to Herod harks back to the account in Luke 23:7-12, where Pilate, learning that Jesus is a Galilaean, performs a diplomatic courtesy by referring him to Herod. Luke is the only one of the four evangelists who gives Herod a role in the passion narrative.
C. Prayer for Missionary Success Seeks Specific Enablements
1. (:29a) Caring Protection — Awareness of the Dangerous Circumstances
“And now, Lord, take note of their threats,”
“take note” — fix one’s glance upon; concern oneself with
Jeremiah 48:19 “Stand by the road and keep watch, O inhabitant of Aroer; Ask him who flees and her who escapes And say, ‘What has happened?’
Identification of the sufferings of the apostles with the sufferings of Christ
Bock: The request is that God take notice of the situation, as God did of Elizabeth’s disgrace when she was childless (Luke 1:25 – only other NT usage). . . The community leaves to God the moral judgment of the opponents and their actions. It does not pray explicitly for opponents to be crushed, nor does it seek to be spared opposition. It asks to face the opposition and suffering faithfully.
2. (:29b) Confident Proclamation
“and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence,”,”
This is the task that has been left to us – boldness, openness of speech, not holding anything back, no reluctance or shame
Phillips Brooks: “Pray to be stronger men and women. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks”
3. (:30) Charismatic Performances
“while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus.”
Answered in 5:12
Stott: Certainly the thrust of the Bible is that miracles clustered round the principal organs of revelation at fresh epochs of revelation, particularly Moses the lawgiver, the new prophetic witness spearheaded by Elijah and Elisha, the Messianic ministry of Jesus, and the apostles, so that Paul referred to his miracles as “the things that mark an apostle.”
III. (:31) MISSIONARY POWER UNLEASHED
The Reason for the Missionary Activity = After Praying to the Sovereign God
“And when they had prayed,”
Not some quick shout-out; not some period of meditation without any conscious thought; this was an extended season of intelligent and audible prayer that had a beginning point and now an ending point; they have addressed the God they knew personally and had laid out very specific requests
The Results – Specific Answers
Do we expect answers from our prayers??
Shortly after Dallas Theological Seminary was founded in 1924, it almost came to the point of bankruptcy. All the creditors were going to foreclose at noon on a particular day. That morning they met in the president’s office for prayer that God would provide. In that prayer meeting was a man by the name of Harry Ironside. When it was his turn to pray, he said, “Lord, we know that the cattle on a thousand hills are Thine. Please sell some of them and send us the money.” While they were praying a tall Texan stepped up to the business office and said, “I just sold two carloads of cattle in Ft. Worth. I’ve been trying to make a business deal but it fell through and I feel compelled to give the money to the seminary. I don’t know if you need it or not, but here’s the check!” The secretary took the check and knowing how critical things were financially, went to the door of the prayer meeting and timidly tapped. When she finally got a response, the president took the check out of her hand. It was exactly the amount of the debt! When he looked at the name, he recognized the cattleman and turning to Dr. Ironside said, “Harry, God sold the cattle!”
A. Impressive Power – Lord has Power to Protect – Fear Him / Not Man
“the place where they had gathered together was shaken,”
outward indication of the Spirit’s presence; more than just a natural earthquake; supernatural phenomenon that indicated the presence of the living and all-powerful God
Bock: The shaking of the place of prayer is an unusual sign of confirmation (in the OT: Isa. 6:4; Exod. 19:18 – Sinai quakes at God’s presence).
How does God manifest His power when we pray as a church?
B. Inward Power – Charismatic Performances Rooted in Holy Spirit
“and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,”
Kent: an operation of the Spirit which enabled them to perform their ministries at full effectiveness
This sovereign, special filling that extended to the whole community of believers is similar but not identical to the command to individual believers in Ephes. 5:18 to make it their responsibility to have their lives controlled by the Holy Spirit – not identical experiences
Similar to the experience at Pentecost … a fresh filling of the Spirit accomplished by sovereign initiative of God … but not a second baptism
C. Impactful Power – Confident Proclamation
“and began to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Imperf. Tense – continued, ongoing activity of speaking
Norris Harris: Illustration:
I read that in a certain cotton factory, the management had sign posted everywhere that said, “If you get your threads tangled, Send for the Boss.” There was a new worker who got her threads tangled, so she tried to untangle the threads herself. But the more she tried to untangle them, she only made the problem worse. Then when she recognized she couldn’t handle the problem, she sent for boss. So, he came in and looked at her tangled threads and asked her why she didn’t send for him when her threads first got tangled? She said she had done her best to untangle them herself. But he told her, “No you didn’t. Because doing your best was sending for me.”
Many times we get our Threads Tangled. We can’t handle our Problems. The more we try to unknot our tangles, the knottier they get. We just can’t handle Our Problems! No matter how small the problem is, we can’t handle it; all we can do is mess it up. That’s why the Lord says “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” Whenever a problem comes up, Send For the Boss!
Are we tuned in to the Report of God’s saving activity through His servants?
Are we dedicated to praying for the spread of the gospel?
Are we speaking the Word of God with power and confidence and boldness?