“When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:23-37 ESV)
I’m very protective of my family. To threaten one of them is to threaten me and to put this gentle grandpa into combat mode. It is usually easier for a threat to be managed by an individual or a very small group of individuals. It is also easier to face a threat or even dismiss the threat when the people you love are not included in that threat. For example, I feel much less threatened when my family is not included in any perceived threat I might feel. For the last few weeks, I’ve primarily focused on the threats made by the religious leadership towards Peter and John and their continued boldness in the face of those threats. This week, the focus shifts from Peter and John to the entire church because they recognized that the threat made by the Sanhedrin Council was aimed at the entire church. But, did they go into combat mode like this Grandpa bear would when his family is threatened? Yes, but not in the way you might expect. Let’s take a look…
When Peter and John are released they head right back to their “friends” or (literally) to “their own.” That is, in itself, a very revealing statement of how they viewed the church. These friends aren’t just a group of acquaintances, like members are in so many modern churches, but they consider them family. Because of this, I would have expected Peter and John to have been very protective of the fledgling church but, upon hearing the threats, the group immediately went into prayer “attack” mode.
The church is often criticized today for responding to crisis with promises of prayer and though I will admit that it can become an excuse for inaction, the church should ALWAYS respond to a crisis with prayer (see Isaiah 56:7). In one of Jesus’ lesser known and understood parables (Lk 18:1-8), he tells of a widow who came persistently to a judge seeking justice. The judge finally relented and granted her request. Jesus points out that if the unjust Judge granted her request because he grew tired of her persistent coming and asking, how much more will our gracious God respond to our persistent cries for justice. The Apostle James tells us, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16b) Perhaps the problem we isn’t that we resort to prayer in a crisis but that our unrighteousness has rendered our praying ineffective and weak and we give up easily. Ineffective prayer is never the result of God’s inability but might often be the result of our unrighteousness or our lack of persistence in prayer.
One item of particular note in the church’s prayer is that they declare their praise of God about three times more than they ask for help or assistance in the circumstance. A model we ought to follow. Their praise of God in their prayer is not to “remind” God of who He is, but to remind and assure themselves of who He is, and simply because He deserves praise. First, they declared the sovereignty of God as creator of all things. They needed to be reminded of that fact as they faced the threats of the Sanhedrin Council. God is sovereign and in control, even in the midst of our crises. Especially in the midst of our crises.
Next, they quoted Psalm 2 that is a declaration of God’s purpose and plan regarding the Messiah. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed…” (Psalms 2:1-2 ESV) Because God is creator of all things and absolutely sovereign, His purposes and plans cannot be thwarted. He will accomplish His perfect will and His plan of redemption will be fulfilled.
“…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18 ESV)
So, even in the midst of the cultural crisis our churches face in this generation, God is sovereign over all things and His redemption plan is still on target and will be fulfilled. The real question is not whether it will be fulfilled, but on which side of the line we will stand, for or against? Unfortunately, the church has often resorted to using human wisdom and power to try and bring God’s Kingdom to fruition. I fear that to do so is to stand on the wrong side of that line. In our efforts at succeeding, by human measures, we do more damage than good to the cause of Christ. We see “church success” like a middle-school teen sees personal popularity. Instead of being what God has made us to be, we try and make ourselves “popular.” We try and become the church that everyone likes and wants to attend. In doing so, we often strip away the very things that make us the people of God.
The Jerusalem church could have taken this approach. They could have relented to cultural pressure and abandoned the offensiveness of the gospel, and received the approval and favor of the Sanhedrin Council. But, as Peter stated in last week’s passage, “you tell us, should we listen to God or man?” Instead, they remained true to God’s Word and I want you to notice two results…
First, the result of their prayer was an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon them. Now, we’re familiar with this and saw it back in chapter two. The Holy Spirit came in a great wind and flames of fire appeared on each of the disciples and they spoke in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. Now, the Spirit comes and fills each of them and gives them boldness to speak out the truth of the gospel in the face of the Council’s threats. It is important to note, the empowering of the Spirit doesn’t always result in “tongues” but does result in what’s necessary to properly proclaim the gospel in that situation. In the previous situation, they needed the ability to speak to an ethnically and linguistically diverse crowd about the gospel, in this situation they needed boldness.
Second, the powerful presence of the Spirit made their fellowship so deep and real that there wasn’t an unmet need among them. I think it is of particular importance to note how those needs were met. God’s Spirit moved through the hearts and hands of the people and they responded by selling personal property to meet the needs of those less fortunate in the church. God had the ability to cause pennies to fall from heaven to meet the people’s needs, but He chose to use other members of the church to meet those needs. The modern church needs to hear and learn both of those lessons, today.
First, we need to realize that God’s Spirit enables us to speak in whatever manner is most appropriate for the circumstance. The same Spirit who enabled the disciples to speak in such a way that each person in the Pentecost crowd heard the gospel in his own native language also enabled the disciples to speak with boldness after hearing the threats of the Council. The same Spirit who filled them full of Himself also enabled them to speak appropriately in each situation, in languages they’d never learned and with boldness they’d never possessed. Instead of speaking what we deem appropriate and culturally relevant we need the filling of God’s Spirit to clearly and boldly speak what God KNOWS the people need to hear.
While that might sound like something totally appropriate for ministers, the church needs to be able to speak life (the gospel) onto the hearts of their neighbors and families. Yes, I intentionally said “onto the hearts” because we are only able to sow the seed of God’s Word onto the soil of their hearts. The results are dependent on the condition of that soil (see Mark 4) and is entirely in God’s hand. However, we need God’s infilling Spirit to enable us to boldly, appropriately and relevantly speak the gospel. We often speak boldly but, unfortunately, in completely inappropriate or culturally irrelevant ways. Occasionally we may speak appropriately and relevantly, but not nearly boldly enough. We truly need God’s Spirit to equip and enable us to do all three.
Finally, we must be radically transformed by God’s Spirit so that our fellowship becomes the epitome of God’s love. When that happens we will begin to see the results described in Acts where many are added daily to the church. When we follow Jesus’ command to “love others in the same way that we love ourselves” then our values and life decisions will be radically changed. When we begin to put our “desires” into perspective with their “needs” then things begin to balance in relation to God’s will. As I mentioned previously, God chose to meet the needs of the individual church members through other members. When Spirit-filled, blessed people blessed other people then God’s blessings more freely flowed and His Spirit was poured out even more.
The key to this amazing outpouring of God’s Spirit is that the Spirit-filled disciples were enabled to see people as much more important than things. That’s how they were able to give so freely. The problem with many of us who are seeking an outpouring of God’s Spirit today is that we still see things as more important than people.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20 ESV)
We often quote the passage above in an evangelistic way stressing that Jesus stands at the door of our hearts knocking, desiring to come in to save us and fellowship with us. To do so is to take the verse completely out of context and misunderstand its meaning. Jesus makes this statement to a church. Specifically, to a church that thought it was rich, blessed and had everything it needed. Instead, Jesus says they are poor, blind and naked. He wishes they were hot, or even cold but, in fact, they’re lukewarm and He’s unable to “stomach” them (literally – they make Him sick to His stomach and He’s about to “spew” them out). Pretty graphic, huh?
Strong words, bold words, appropriate and relevant words for a church that has thrust Christ out of its midst. A church rich with the world’s wealth, but pitiably poor in the things of Christ. A healthy and vibrant church from the world’s perspective, but desperately sick and dying in its soul. A church that sees how to be culturally relevant and glosses over the things it doesn’t like or understand in scripture, but is completely blind to the glorious ways, wonders and works of God. Sound familiar? Am I saying my church or your church is guilty of these horrendous actions towards Christ? When our wealth gets in the way of meeting the needs of our neighbors, yes, yes I am. When we’re completely unaware of just how far removed our actions are from those Christ expects of us, yes, yes I am. When a church or group of churches (denomination) rejects Biblical doctrine/teachings or portions of scripture to try and be or remain culturally relevant, yes, yes I am.
Are we guilty? Oh God, forgive us. Sometimes we are. We’re guilty when we spend uncontrollably on personal pleasure while ignoring the hungry and hurting around us. We’re guilty when we claim to be pro-life while ignoring or outright rejecting those struggling to survive in our own country or seeking to escape certain death in their own. And we’re guilty when we reject Biblical doctrine that condemns socially acceptable sin or we minimize the importance of entire portions of scripture because we find them difficult to understand or explain. What must we do? Open the door, let Him in. Before it’s too late.
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:18-19 ESV)