Acts 4:23–31 . . .
We learned in last week's passage (Acts 4:1–22) that, after Peter and John's arrest, they spoke boldly to the Sanhedrin, defending their healing the lame man lovingly in Jesus Name. Moreover, Peter proclaimed that salvation was through Christ alone. He and John also blamed the religious leaders for crucifying Jesus who'd been prophesied to be the Messiah. The elders and rulers met privately (4:13–22) but didn't know what to do. They decided to warn Peter and John to speak no more in the name of Jesus, threatening them additionally but letting them go. Today's passage begins with their release and return to their own people to report what the chief priest and elders had said.
When Peter and John returned to the company of believers, probably in the same upper room where the apostles had met before (1:13), they reported how the rulers treated them. Assembled brethren then prayed, addressing the Lord as Creator of all. They acknowledged that their persecutors were only fulfilling God's plan from long ago. They were encouraging themselves with the reminder that a loving God was in control, and that no enemy of Christ could abuse his followers more than God allowed. Because the religious leaders had ordered Peter and John not to teach or preach again in the name of Jesus, all of the saints prayed boldly. We'll see in vv. 23–28 that three specific adoration prayers were prayed collectively: 1. that God is the Creator; 2. that God is omnicient; and 3. that God is sovereign.
The Saints’ Three Bold Prayers of Adoration (4:23–28)
The early church body prayed for boldness. They began by acknowledging who and what their God was.
God Is Creator (v. 24) All were in one accord. Imagine Peter and John saying, They let us tell them about Jesus! They realized we were like him! They told us not to tell others about Jesus! . . . All raised their voices in complete unity as they prayed to God who'd made the heavens, earth, sea, and all that is in them. It isn't that they all prayed, speaking at the same time; instead, one person prayed and all agreed; then another would pray (as depicted in the video linked below this summary); they were collectively praying with one voice ("voice" in the singular). They began by reminding themselves to whom they were praying. The word "Lord" here isn't the usual New Testament "Lord"; it's the Greek word despotes, translated as "Sovereign Lord," a word describing a slave owner or ruler who had power that couldn't be questioned. They prayed with power and confidence because they knew God was in control.
They were praying to the Lord of all creation, the God of all power. The believers might have prayed a prayer such as this: Sovereign Lord, you are God, hear our prayers. Most surely, because you are the Creator of these rulers, you can do with them as you please.
God Is Omniscient (vv. 25–27) The believers prayed in light of the Scriptures. God knows the future. He gave David a word of prophecy in Psalm 2:1–2. Here in v.27, we see the fulfillment of the Jews' and Gentiles' conspiracy against the anointed servant Jesus. God predicted what would happen to Jesus hundreds of years before it took place! Peter, speaking on behalf of all the disciples (remember they were praying with one accord), recognized that the words of the Old Testament were in fact the words of God. God was speaking by the mouth of his servant David. From Psalm 2, they understood that they should expect this sort of opposition and not be troubled because of it.
Lord: Because you know all things, this persecution upon us hasn't taken you by surprise. You knew it would happen, and you have a good purpose for it. We can’t know the future, but we do know that you have planned everything in our future. And that’s fine with us, Father God. Amen.
God Is Sovereign (v. 28) The horrible things they did to Jesus were what God's hand and purpose had predestined to occur. The evil that happens in the world doesn't blindside God. The truth is that God has ordained it for his own wise and good ends. Regarding "what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen," God hadn't compelled them to act as they did, but he willed to use them and their freely chosen acts to accomplish his saving purpose. Because they saw their circumstances in light of God's Word, they could recognize that the wrath of man never operated outside the sphere of God's control; these enemies of Jesus could only do whatever his hand and his purpose determined beforehand to be done. This brings real peace for us, knowing that whatever comes our way has passed through God's hand first, and he won't allow even the most wicked acts of men to result in permanent damage.
Heavenly Father: Your glory, your purpose, and your plans are to be your highest end. We pray, Lord God, that through our persecution and suffering as followers of your Son Jesus, that your aims and objectives will be achieved, amen and amen.
The company of believers quoted David's words in Psalm 2:1–2: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’" Because the Hebrew word "anointed" is the same as the title Messiah, the believers understood that this psalm spoke of Jesus. Indeed, as David prophesied, a strong coalition of political forces rose up to do away with God's anointed. It included all the Jewish and Gentile rulers with authority over the land of Israel. Now the Jewish rulers were setting themselves against the church also. The believers asked the Lord to give them the power to continue doing his work despite powerful opposition.
Two Specific Prayer Requests (vv. 29–30)
The believers desired two things in particular: boldness in speech and ability to perform signs and wonders. Instead of keeping quiet, as the Jewish leaders had told them to do, they wanted to speak out even more boldly. They wanted Jerusalem to ring with Jesus' name. To show that they weren't mere fanatics promoting a foolish cause, they wanted God to back up their testimony with miracles. The Sanhedrin's attempt to intimidate them had failed altogether. The brothers were more determined than ever to witness for Christ. They were so undaunted by official opposition that they didn't even ask for God’s protection from it.
God Had Indeed Heard Their Prayers (v. 31)
The believing brethren asked for more boldness, more power, and (essentially) more trouble! Their request to be granted requisite boldness to be able to effectively speak God's Word was consumed with God's cause and glory, not the comfort and advancement of the disciples. They asked for things that would lead to more confrontation, not less.
When their collective prayer asked the Lord to "Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus," they weren't asking him to permit them to perform miracles themselves. They understood that Jesus was the One who healed by his hand only; he heals from heaven by his people, in the power of the Spirit of Jesus.
The place where they were meeting "was shaken" after they prayed. This timely earthquake was a unique emblem of God's acceptance and pleasure. We don't know the extent of the shaking; it may have been confined to the safe-house's upper room itself. Nevertheless, God's answer was immediate and dramatic, convicting the believers that their prayers had been heard. [Luke writes of a similar shaking event that we'll cover in detail later: "Paul and Silas in Prison, 16:16–34.] The Lord responded by giving them another outpouring of the Spirit, which was already indwelling them, but now he gave them power for the specific task of witnessing without fear as they "spoke the Word of God boldly." Afterward they also proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus with great boldness.
Indeed, their prayers were heard and answered by God! And they were filled with the Holy Spirit, again. We must remember that we hearty believers are continually filled with the Holy Spirit; we ought to make our "immersion" in him, and our collaboration with him, a constant experience.
In closing, let's look more closely at two words that Luke highlights herein: "boldness" and "boldly." Peter, John, and their saintly collective received the boldness that they requested in their prayers. The English word "boldness" means "willingness to take risks and act innovatively; confidence or courage." The Greek paresis is used when describing a "telling it all" situation, which is what we need to do always. When we conceal evidence of God's work in our lives from others, we aren't exhibiting the boldness in which Jesus would have us talk and walk. May we boldly proclaim his name to those who don't yet have a relationship with Lord Jesus.
Why We Too Should Pray Boldly
There are at least four reasons why we should pray boldly to our Lord. First, the disciples prayed to God who is all-powerful. We have the same privilege in prayer. Today, we who believe in Christ pray to the same Sovereign Lord. When we're confronted with opposition, and events seem to be out of control, we must prayerfully turn to our Sovereign Lord. He'll walk with us through our trials.
Second, we see in today's passage that both the Jews and the Gentiles were implicated in the death of Jesus. Even though they were guilty, what they did was part of God's plan. We know that God sets the stage and sends his Spirit to encourage people to do his will. Many will yield to his will while many won't. No matter their decision, God will weave all things together for his good and ours, so pray confidently for all people to know and respect God.
Third, the disciples prayed that they'd speak the Word of God with confidence. We can pray similarly. Let's ask God to help us speak the Word of God to one another and to many others with a confident "telling it all" boldness. It's the Word that penetrates the hearts of people everywhere. May we pray that we'll deliver the Word to many, using the power of the Holy Spirit that's alive within us.
Finally, God filled the disciples with his Spirit, and he fills us with the Spirit to be bold in our witnessing to all people. When the believers prayed, their safe-house was shaken in a direct answer to prayer. When we pray, let's be sure to ask the Spirit to enliven us so we can effectively and boldly tell others about how our lives have benefited through our having a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus.
Peter's, John's, and the disciples' boldness was a gift from God, enabled by Jesus' Spirit in them and received as a result of dedicated prayer. It wasn't something that they tried to accomplish or achieve by themselves. So it should be with us: Pray, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and speak the Word of God boldly in Jesus' Name. Then expect your safe-house to shake in answer to your prayer, amen.
- Q. 1 How do the Sanhedrin (4:15–17) and the disciples (4:27–30) each view themselves and God?
- Q. 2 What are a few of the many purposes of the Holy Spirit that you find in Acts? (See 2:4; 4:8, 31)
New International Version (NIV)
[View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 4.]
† Watch this video clip of Acts 4:1–5:25, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
The Believers Pray
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
26The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.’
27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
31After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.