Acts 04_01-22 - Persecution Prayer Power - In Jesus Name
PERSECUTION, PRAYER, AND POWER
1. The early church had none of the “advantages” that some ministries boast of and depend on today.
a. They did not have big budgets provided by wealthy donors.
b. Their pastors lacked credentials from the accepted schools, nor did they have the endorsement of the influential political leaders of that day.
c. Most of their ministers had jail records and would probably have a hard time today joining our churches, let alone leading them.
d. What really was the secret of their success? This chapter provides the answer:
The Christians of the early church knew how to pray so that God’s hand could work in mighty power.
2. When asked to explain the secret of his remarkable ministry, the noted British preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon replied, “My people pray for me.”
3. St. Augustine said, “Pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depended on you.” Prayer is not an escape from responsibility; it is our response to God’s ability. True prayer energizes us for service and battle.
4. Once again, the focus of attention is on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 4:7, 10, 12, 17–18). In this chapter, we see what three groups of people do with His name.
Acts 4:1-2 "1And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, 2Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead."
1. The priests were primarily Sadducees in their religious affiliation (5:17); so the principal accusers were Sadducees.
2. These people were distinguished by several characteristics:
a. a disbelief in a bodily resurrection and a denial of the existence of angels or spirits (23:8)
b. loyalty to the Roman government
c. a desire to maintain the status quo
d. an association with the wealthy class
e. adherence only to the Pentateuch.
3. Captain of the temple
a. Sadly they did not realize that there authority was no more.
b. The temple belonged to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.
c. The Messiah had come and God’s house in reality was the church’s.
Acts 4:3 "3And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide."
The two apostles were incarcerated overnight because it was already evening, that is, late afternoon (cf. 3 p.m. in 3:1), too late for a trial.
Acts 4:4 "4Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand."
1. Two leading apostles were bound, but the Word of God cannot be bound!
2. Philippians 1:12-14 "12But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; 13So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; 14And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."
The Apostles: Defending His Name (Acts 4:5–14)
Acts 4:5-7 "5And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, 6And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?"
1. The court (vv. 5–7). The court was essentially composed of the high priest’s family.
a. The Jewish religious system had become so corrupt that the offices were passed from one relative to another without regard for the Word of God.
When Annas was deposed from the priesthood, Caiaphas his son-in-law was appointed.
b. In fact, five of Annas’ sons held the office at one time or another.
c. Somebody has defined a “nepotist” as “a man who, being evil, knows how to give good gifts to his children.” Annas certainly qualified.
2. Men who are corrupted by nepotism/respect of persons will always pervert judgement.
a. They cared not for the truth
b. Just as they did not a few months before.
3. This was an official meeting of the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:15), the same council that a few months before had condemned Jesus to die.
a. Now, ironically, they were facing two of Jesus’ prominent—and bold—followers! In fact, these officials recognized Peter and John as the associates of Jesus (Acts 4:13).
Their question was legal, but they did everything they could to avoid admitting that a miracle had taken place (Acts 4:14). They were evasive and merely referred to the miracle as “this.” They were probably scornful as well, so that their question might be paraphrased, “Where did common people like you get the power and authority to do a thing like this?” It was once again the question of “By whose name?” After all, the Apostles might be in league with the devil! Even Satan can perform miracles!
Acts 4:8-14 "8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, 9If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; 10Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. 11This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. 12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. 13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. 14And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it."
1. The case (vv. 8–14).
a. Peter spoke in the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
b. Note that Peter was again filled with the Spirit (see Acts 2:4) and would experience another filling before the day ended (Acts 4:31).
c. There is one baptism of the Spirit, and this is at conversion (1 Cor. 12:13), but there must be many fillings of the Spirit if the believer is to be an effective witness for Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:18ff).
2. Peter respectfully began with an explanation of how the miracle occurred.
a. Certainly the members of the Sanhedrin had seen the crippled beggar many times, and perhaps they had even given alms to him and piously prayed for him.
b. How was this well-known man healed? “By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth!”
c. Those words must have pierced the hearts of the members of the council!
d. They thought they had finished with the Prophet from Nazareth, and now His followers were telling everybody that Jesus was alive!
e. Since the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, Peter’s statement was almost a declaration of war!
3. But the Spirit was telling Peter what to say (see Luke 21:12–15), and the apostle quoted Psalm 118:22 "22The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner."
4. Definitely a messianic reference
a. Matthew 21:42 "42Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?"
b. 1 Peter 2:4-8 "4To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 6Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed."
5. He made it clear that the members of the council were “the builders” and that they had rejected God’s Stone, Jesus, the Son of God.
a. The image of “the stone” was not new to these men who were experts in the Old Testament Scriptures.
b. They knew that the “rock” was a symbol of God
i. Deuteronomy 32:4 "4He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he."
ii. Deuteronomy 32:15 "15But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation."
iii. Deuteronomy 32:18 "18Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee."
iv. Deuteronomy 32:31 "31For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges."
v. 2 Samuel 22:2 "2And he said, The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;"
vi. Psalm 18:2 "2The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower."
vii. Isaiah 28:16 "16Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste."
viii. Daniel had used the rock to picture Messiah and the coming of His kingdom on earth (Dan. 2:31–45).
c. The Jews stumbled over the Rock
i. Romans 9:32 "32Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;"
ii. 1 Corinthians 1:23 "23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;"
iii. They rejected Him, just as Psalm 118:22 had foretold.
iv. However, to those who have trusted Him, Jesus Christ is the precious Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4–8) and the chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20 "20And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;").
6. Peter went on to explain that Jesus is not only the Stone, but He is also the Saviour
a. Acts 4:12 "12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
b. Peter saw in the healing of the beggar a picture of the spiritual healing that comes in salvation. For salvation means wholeness and spiritual health.
c. Jesus Christ is the Great Physician who alone can heal mankind’s greatest malady, the sickness of sin (Mark 2:14–17).
The Council: Opposing His Name (Acts 4:15–22)
Acts 4:15-22 "15But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. 17But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. 18And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. 20For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. 21So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done. 22For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed."
1. Their problem (vv. 13–14).
a. Acts 4:13-14 "13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. 14And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it."
b. They were in a dilemma; no matter which way they turned, they were “trapped.”
c. They could not deny the miracle, because the man was standing before them;
d. They could not explain how “uneducated and untrained men” could perform such a mighty deed.
e. Peter and John were ordinary fishermen, not professional scribes or authorized ministers of the Jewish religion.
f. They were disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, but—He was dead!
g. The council took notice of the courage and confidence of Peter and John, as well as the power of Peter’s words; and it all added up to perplexity.
h. The apostles were thus experiencing what Christ had promised (Matt. 10:19-20; Luke 12:11-12; 21:15)
2. The miracle and the message, in the context of all that had been going on since Pentecost, was one more evidence that Jesus Christ was alive and at work in the church by His Holy Spirit.
a. In both sermons, Peter used the Old Testament to support and explain his claims, and this is one evidence of a true prophet of God
i. Isaiah 8:20 "20To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.").
b. Miracles are not a substitute for the Word of God
i. Luke 16:27-31 "27Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.").
3. Their deliberation (vv. 15–18).
a. The council did not seek for truth, but rather sought for some way to oppress the truth!
b. Had they honestly considered the evidence and meekly listened to the message, they might have been saved, but their pride and hardness of heart stood in the way.
c. Some of the chief priests and elders had experienced a similar dilemma during Passover when they had tried to trap Jesus in the temple (Matt. 21:23–27). Some people never learn!
d. Significantly the authorities could not and did not deny the reality of the miracle.
i. They deliberately refused to mention the word “Jesus”; they referred to Him as this name
ii. Also in Acts 5:28 "28Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us."
4. Their conclusion.
a. They wanted to “let the thing die a natural death.”
b. This meant threatening the Apostles and forbidding them to teach and preach in the name of Jesus.
c. This official sentence shows how much the enemy fears the witness of the church, for Satan has been trying to silence God’s people from the very beginning.
d. Sad to say, he has succeeded with far too many Christians, the “silent witnesses” of the church.
e. Even the philosopher Albert Camus said, “What the world expects of Christians is that Christians should speak out, loud and clear... in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt, could arise in the heart of the simplest man.”
f. The council did not want the Gospel message to spread, and yet that is exactly what happened! From 120 praying men and women in Acts 1, the church increased to more than 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost; and now there were more than 5,000 disciples in the fellowship. In the days that followed, “believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14; and see 6:1, 7).
g. Satan’s attempts to silence the church only led to a stronger witness for the Lord.
5. The failure of the council (vv. 19–22).
a. This was evident when Peter refused to be intimidated by their threats.
i. All of us need to follow Peter’s example and make our decisions on the basis of “Is it right?” and not “Is it popular?” or “Is it safe?”
ii. However, we must be sure that we have the clear teaching of the Word of God on our side before we take a stand against the authority of the government. Peter knew what the Lord had commanded the believers to do (Acts 1:8), and he was going to obey Him at any cost.
iii. It is popular today to promote various causes by defying the government, disobeying the law, and defending these actions on the basis of conscience. Since even some Christians are involved in this approach to social action, it is important to understand the kind of “civil disobedience” practiced by people in the Bible. Peter and John are not the only ones who disobeyed the authorities in order to serve God.
iv. A list of “dedicated conscientious objectors” would include, among others: the Jewish midwives (Ex. 1), Moses’ parents (Heb. 11:23), Daniel (Dan. 1; 6), and the three Hebrew children (Dan. 3). When you examine the records, you discover the biblical principles by which they operated, principles that are not always followed today.
v. To begin with, each of these “objectors” had a message from God that could not be questioned. The midwives and Moses’ parents knew that it was wrong to murder the babies. Daniel and his friends, and the three Hebrew men, knew that it was wrong to eat food offered to idols or to bow down to idols in worship. Peter and John knew that they were under orders from their Master to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, and that it would be wrong to obey the Sanhedrin. All of these people were faithfully obeying a clear word from God and not just following some selfish personal whim of their own.
vi. Second, their convictions touched every area of their lives. In other words, they did everything “with conscience toward God” (1 Peter 2:19) because they belonged to God. The university student today whose conscience permits him to cheat on exams or drive while drunk, but not register for military service, does not convince me that he is really cultivating a healthy conscience. When a person’s total life is under the direction of a godly conscience, then I find it easier to have confidence in his unpopular decisions.
vii. Note also that our examples from the Bible acted with respect and courtesy, even when they defied the law. It is possible for Christians to respect authority and at the same time disobey the authorities (see Rom. 13; Titus 3:1–2; 1 Peter 2:13–25). Daniel tried to avoid getting his guard into trouble, and the Apostles used their arrests as opportunities for witness. This is quite a contrast to some of the modern “Christian objectors” who seem to major on denunciation and accusation rather than loving witness.
viii. Of course, the greatest example of unjust suffering is that of Jesus Christ, and we must imitate Him (see 1 Peter 2:13–25). Jesus teaches us that righteous protest against injustice always involves sacrifice and suffering, and must be motivated by love. God’s people must be careful not to clothe their prejudice in the garments of “righteous indignation” and pass themselves off as courageous soldiers of conscience. We must examine our own hearts honestly to make certain we are not conducting a “holy war” just to satisfy inner frustrations.
ix. Because they had no real case to offer, the council could only threaten the men and let them go. After all, when you have a living miracle before you, as well as an approving public around you, you must be careful what you do!
The Church: Calling on His Name (Acts 4:23–31)
Acts 4:23-31 "23And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. 24And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: 25Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. 27For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. 29And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, 30By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. 31And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness."
The greatest concentration of power in Jerusalem that day was in the prayer meeting that followed the trial. This is one of the truly great prayers recorded in the Bible, and it is a good example for us to follow.
To begin with,
- it was a prayer that was born out of witness and service for the Lord.
- Peter and John had just come in “from the trenches,” and the church met to pray in order to defeat the enemy.
- Too often today, believers gather for prayer as though attending a concert or a party. There is little sense of urgency and danger because most of us are comfortable in our Christian walk.
- If more of God’s people were witnessing for Christ in daily life, there would be more urgency and blessing when the church meets for prayer.
- It was a united prayer meeting as they “lifted up their voice to God with one accord” (Acts 4:24; see 1:14).
- The people were of one heart and mind, and God was pleased to answer their requests.
- Division in the church always hinders prayer and robs the church of spiritual power.
- Their praying was based solidly on the Word of God, in this case, Psalm 2.
- The Word of God and prayer must always go together (John 15:7 "7If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.").
- In His Word, God speaks to us and tells us what He wants to do.
- In prayer, we speak to Him and make ourselves available to accomplish His will.
- ***True prayer is not telling God what to do, but asking God to do His will in us and through us (1 John 5:14-15 "14And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: 15And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.").
- *It means getting God’s will done on earth, not man’s will done in heaven.
- Psalm 2 describes the revolt of the nations against the Lord and His 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.
a. The early believers applied the message of this psalm to their own situation and identified their adversaries as Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and the Jews. These enemies had “ganged up” against Jesus Christ and even crucified Him, yet God raised Him from the dead and enthroned Him in heaven. All of this was a part of God’s perfect plan (see Acts 2:23; 3:18), so there was no need to fear.
- They did not pray to have their circumstances changed or their enemies put out of office.
- Rather, they asked God to empower them to make the best use of their circumstances and to accomplish what He had already determined (Acts 4:28 "28For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.").
- This was not “fatalism” but faith in the Lord of history who has a perfect plan and is always victorious.
- They asked for divine enablement, not escape; and God gave them the power that they needed.
- “Do not pray for easy lives,” wrote 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.” That is the way the early Christians prayed, and that is the way God’s people should pray today.
- They addressed God as “Sovereign Lord,” the God who is in control of all things.
- The word: a ruler who exercises absolute power, either benevolently or abusively.
- Simeon used this same title when he prayed in the temple (Luke 2:29).
- It is good to know the Sovereign Lord when you are experiencing persecution.
- They also approached Him as the Creator, for, after all, if your Father is “Lord of heaven and earth,” what have you to fear? (see Matt. 11:25–30)
- Nehemiah approached God on this same basis (Nehemiah 9:6 "6Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.")
- So did the psalmist (see Ps. 145) and the Prophet Isaiah (Isa. 42).
- Years later, when he wrote his first epistle, Peter encouraged suffering saints to yield themselves to the faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19 "19Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.").
- They recognized their responsibility
- The early church strongly believed in God’s sovereignty and His perfect plan for His people.
- But note that they did not permit their faith in divine sovereignty to destroy human responsibility, for they were faithful to witness and pray. It is when God’s people get out of balance and overemphasize either sovereignty or responsibility that the church loses power.
- Again, we are reminded of Augustine’s wise words, “Pray as though everything depends on God, and work as though everything depended on you.”
- Faith in a sovereign Lord is a tremendous encouragement for God’s people to keep serving the Lord when the going is difficult.
- They did not ask for protection; they asked for power.
- They did not ask for fire from heaven to destroy the enemy (see Luke 9:51–56), but for power from heaven to preach the Word and heal the sick (see Matt. 5:10–12, 43–48).
- Their great desire was for boldness in the face of opposition (see Acts 4:17).
- The emphasis is on the hand of God at work in the life of the church (Acts 4:28, 30), not the hand of man at work for God.
- Believing prayer releases God’s power and enables God’s hand to move (Isa. 50:2; 64:1–8).
- Finally, note that they wanted to glorify God’s Child Jesus Christ (Acts 4:27, 30).
- It was His name that gave them power to minister the Word and to perform miracles, and His name alone deserved the glory.
- The glory of God, not the needs of men, is the highest purpose of answered prayer.
God’s answer was to shake the place where they were meeting and to fill the people once again with the Spirit of God (Acts 4:31). This gave them the boldness that they needed to continue to serve God in spite of official opposition. This was not a “second Pentecost” because there cannot be another Pentecost any more than there can be another Calvary. It was a new filling of the Spirit to equip the believers to serve the Lord and minister to the people.
We will consider Acts 4:32–37 in our next study, but it is worth noting that the new fullness of the Spirit also created a deeper unity among the people (Acts 4:34) and a greater desire to sacrifice and share with one another. They enjoyed “great power” and “great grace,” which ought to be the marks of a “great” church. This led to a great ingathering of souls for the Lord.
“Lord, Thou art God!” What a declaration of faith and what a practical application of good theology! However, if their lives had not been submitted to His control, they could not have prayed that way. Boldness in prayer is the result of faithfulness in life and service. The sovereignty of God is not an abstract doctrine that we accept and defend. It is a living truth that we act on and depend on for every need. When you are loyal to the Lord and put Him first (Acts 4:19), then you can trust Him to be faithful to you and see you through.
The name of Jesus Christ has not lost its power, but many of God’s people have lost their power because they have stopped praying to the sovereign God. “Nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer except that which lies outside the will of God.” I don’t know who first said that, but the statement is absolutely true. Dr. R.A. Torrey, the noted evangelist and educator, said, “Pray for great things, expect great things, work for great things, but above all—pray.”
The early church prayed, and God answered in mighty power.