To Boldly Go (Acts 4:23-31; Matthew 28:18-20)
Sharing Problems with People of Faith (Acts 4:23-24)
23 And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them,
Immediately upon their release the apostles Peter and John go to their own. [The word companions (NKJV) or friends (ESV) has been added for readability. However the text only says they went to their own.] In the company of their fellow Jesus followers they begin to share their experience. The threats of the chief priests and elders were reported to their fellowship.
Jesus followers should be intentional and inclined to keep close company with committed Jesus followers... especially when they are being persecuted for Jesus following. (Psalm 1:1-2; Acts 4:23-24)
The companions of Peter and John are said to have raised their voice to God with one accord. What does this mean? Were they were all saying the exact same thing at the exact same time? The word rendered with one accord (NKJV) or together (ESV) is an adverb that literally means with one mind (ὁμοθυμαδὸν). It is likely that as one in the group was praying the others were sounding in their agreement and support for the words they both heard and understood. We do this by saying "amen" as a person speaks to God on behalf of the group (1 Corinthians 14:16). One accord praying happens when the Lord's people convene in His name to make requests (Matthew 18:19-20). Where the prayers of a single righteous person are effective (James 5:16) there is a special presence and power associated with the gathering of God's people to pray:
Based on the promise of Jesus the unity of this group in purpose and prayer will get results. As we consider the prayer we should note that it is very Jewish. It sounds like the worship literature of their Scriptures (Exodus 20:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 146:6); it begins with an acknowledgement of God's power and role in the universe - Sovereign Creator.
By starting prayer with a recognition of God's role in Creation the person praying declares the Lord's right to rule and their own obligation to obey.
Seeing Life Through the Lens of Scripture (Acts 4:24-30)
24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: ‘Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? 26 The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.’ 27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.
The followers of Jesus are not confused by recent events. They are not tossed about by adversity and left to wonder about what is happening. There are two reasons for their sound understanding of their circumstances. First, Jesus told them these things would happen (Matthew 5:11-13; 10:23; 23:34; Luke 21:12; John 15:20) . Second, they have learned to see life through the lens of Scripture; they have a biblical world view. As they review the recent persecution of their Rabbi they realize, owing to the Spirit's leading, that it was all according to plan. Here is what they see in Psalm 2 and recent events:
This part of their prayer comes from God by the mouth of [His] servant David. They not only see through the lens of Scripture (Acts 4:27-28) they pray using the words of God Himself.
Persecution of the early church drove it not to programs, petitions, or powerful politicians but to prayer. In the wake of threats they threw themselves before the throne of grace pleading for help with the words of God Himself. Our prayers will have more weight when we follow their example and pray to God Himself with the words of God Himself.
Seeking Support to Boldly Go (Acts 4:29-30)
29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
In the latter part of their prayer the apostles and their companions call the Lord's attention to the threats issued by the priests and the elders: look on their threats. The charge of the risen Lord was fresh in their minds. They were to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. His commissioning was not to be subverted by cowardice or the desire to avoid conflict. Remembering their own innate frailties and tendencies toward fretting, they called upon God to make them able:
For your own glory give us the disposition to boldly go where no one has gone before with a message that no one has heard before validated by works that no one has done before.
We must be especially aware of the reason for their prayer. They did not ask for a way out but for the strength to press in.
The prayers of the early church look very different from our own. We beseech God to give us better stuff where they asked to be made better; they asked for boldness for the one thing: witnessing. We want healing in order to be comforted in our affliction apart from our calling but they asked for healing as a help for the one thing: witnessing. We seek signs and wonders as a means of creating buzz about ourselves. They asked for the same thing but for an entirely different reason: witnessing. Their praying was for the resources needed to accomplish the mission of making Him known - for witnessing. (Isaiah 43:10; 44:8; 49:6; Acts 1:8)
Supernatural Confirmation (Acts 4:31; Matthew 28:18-20)
31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
The answer from Heaven was immediate. As if to say "Let's shake things up" the place where they were assembled together was perturbed. It says that they were then filled with the Holy Spirit and began to operate in the boldness that they had requested. But one might ask, why was the building shaken and why is that not happening today when we ask for boldness.
There are times in Scripture where a sign is used to indicate that something spiritual has taken place without seeking to make it normative. That is, there are instances of God performing a work in a special way so as to reveal how He will work in the future - even without the sign.
God is listening now for prayers to answer. Prayers for boldness in the face of persecution. Prayers for validation when confronting vicious opponents of the gospel. Let the church convene, call out to God for help, in order that we might succeed in our commission - witnessing.
There are three things that we can do with the expectation that God is going to hear. There are three things that should come into our prayer life and we can do them with the expectation that God is going to help.
Real Talk with That Guy
Stay on Target (Acts 5:17-21)
The Reaction of the Religious (Acts 5:17-18; John 12:42-43)
17 Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, 18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.
This is now the second time the Sadducees have been goaded into action by the preaching and teaching ministries of the apostles. In the first instance the marvelous healing and subsequent rejoicing of a well-known temple beggar occasioned an inquiring audience. Peter and John ascribed the miracle to the power of the risen Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 3:12-16). In the preaching that followed the captain of the temple seized upon them and put apostles in custody until the next day (Acts 4:1-3). When brought out for a trial Peter did some seizing of his own; he seized the moment for the glory of God. In his response to the question of how the man was healed he (i) indicts Israel's leadership for the murder of the Lord (Acts 4:10), (ii) declares the resurrection of Jesus and His position of prophesied importance (Acts 4:11) , and (iii) promotes forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Himself (Acts 4:12).
In that first case the Sanhedrin did not repent. Instead they commanded the cult leaders to stop witnessing for Jesus. Peter made it clear that he was not going to keep that command (Acts 4:19-20) and so... they threatened him and then let he and John go (Acts 4:21).
Acts 5:17 Here we are again. But it is worse this time. The same group that does not believe in the coming of a messiah, angels, spirits, or resurrection has been watching as their command went unheeded. Teaching and preaching just kept right on going. And now more people than ever know the truth:
It was too much for people who were preoccupied with the self-promotion and protection of their own vain glory (John 12:42-43). Upon hearing the truth about their villainy they are filled with indignation (ζήλου). They cannot bear the assertions about the ousted Rabbi and are wholly unprepared for the brazen disregard for their authority, the bold disrespect of teaching a forbidden doctrine in their house, and the lambasting declaration that they are murderers.
Notice that in the company of people coming into Solomon's colonnade is the high priest himself. He is not delegating this one to the temple captain and his law-enforcing cohort. His anger is so hot that he has personally come to help make the arrest and make sure that they get all of the apostles - not just Peter and John.
Acts 5:18 Having apprehended the rebellion leadership they put them into the common prison (τηρήσει δημοσίᾳ). It could be that the prior place of imprisonment was full or not large enough for the twelve. However, I believe that likely it was an attempt to make a public example of the apostle's defiance. This will prove to be a monumental mistake.
The Relevance in the Rescue (Acts 5:19-20)
19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”
An angel of the Lord briefly enters the narrative. The coordinating conjunction of Acts 5:19 tells the reader that his actions are to be seen as a response to the imprisonment. Who is he? Luke is especially frugal in describing their visitor. There is no mention made of his name, no intimation of a shining face (Matthew 28:3), and no hint of amazing apparel (Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Luke 24:4; Acts 1:10). But what he does say goes beyond the mere relating of historical events to challenge and encourage us today. The angel was relevant.
It is not enough to tell people that we are praying for them. It is not enough to wish that people get well, or to want them to be encouraged during their incarceration. It is not enough to send money. There comes a time for those who name the name of Christ to get up from the pews and go to the place where their brethren are being held to just be there with them. To remind them that they are loved on earth as well as in Heaven.
The Righteous Rebellion and the Clueless Council (Acts 5:21)
21 And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
The visitation was not in vain. They heard the words and heeded them. There would be no retreating to recuperate. Instead there would be a relentless charge against the gates of hell through the gospel. The lesson of Lazarus was with the Lord's men. And they are now living in the fulness of a righteous rebellion. And what about the hard-nosed high priest and his council?
1 Then the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, 3 and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ 4 Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. 5 And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him. 6 But God spoke in this way: that his descendants would dwell in a foreign land, and that they would bring them into bondage and oppress them four hundred years. 7 ‘And the nation to whom they will be in bondage I will judge,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and serve Me in this place.’ 8 Then He gave him the covenant of circumcision; and so Abraham begot Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot the twelve patriarchs. 9 “And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him 10 and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house. 11 Now a famine and great trouble came over all the land of Egypt and Canaan, and our fathers found no sustenance. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers first. 13 And the second time Joseph was made known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to the Pharaoh. 14 Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people. 15 So Jacob went down to Egypt; and he died, he and our fathers. 16 And they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham bought for a sum of money from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. 17 “But when the time of the promise drew near which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt 18 till another king arose who did not know Joseph. 19 This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies, so that they might not live. 20 At this time Moses was born, and was well pleasing to God; and he was brought up in his father’s house for three months. 21 But when he was set out, Pharaoh’s daughter took him away and brought him up as her own son. 22 And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds. 23 “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel. 24 And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. 25 For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. 26 And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another?’ 27 But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? 28 Do you want to kill me as you did the Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became a dweller in the land of Midian, where he had two sons. 30 “And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. 31 When Moses saw it, he marveled at the sight; and as he drew near to observe, the voice of the Lord came to him, 32 saying, ‘I am the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses trembled and dared not look. 33 ‘Then the Lord said to him, “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. 34 I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt; I have heard their groaning and have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt.” ’ 35 “This Moses whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ is the one God sent to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the Angel who appeared to him in the bush. 36 He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years. 37 “This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ 38 “This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, 39 whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, 40 saying to Aaron, ‘Make us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 41 And they made a calf in those days, offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. 42 Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? 43 You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.’ 44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make it according to the pattern that he had seen, 45 which our fathers, having received it in turn, also brought with Joshua into the land possessed by the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers until the days of David, 46 who found favor before God and asked to find a dwelling for the God of Jacob. 47 But Solomon built Him a house. 48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says: 49 ‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the Lord, Or what is the place of My rest? 50 Has My hand not made all these things?’ 51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.” 54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.