We are going to spend the next three weeks on our Sunday mornings looking at how we can have an unstoppable faith like we see the apostles and the first century Christians having. We are in Acts 4 which is a continuation of the events in Acts 3. In Acts 3 Jesus has given perfect health to this lame man through the hands of the apostles, Peter and John. This has been the opportunity for Peter and John to preach in the temple courts that Jesus has risen from the dead and is given to the people so that he can bless them by turning from their wickedness (3:26).
Only Jesus (4:1-12)
While Peter and John are speaking to the people, the priests and the Sadducees come and arrest them because they were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. So they are arrested and held over until the next day. But notice that this does not stop the word of God. The word of God is shown to be unstoppable as many who heard the message believed and their number grew to about 5000.
Now we are presented a frightening scene as the rulers, elders, and teachers of the law convene for an interrogation of Peter and John. Not only are the leaders at this meeting, but the family of the high priest, including Annas and Caiaphas, were there. Remember that it is these very people who held a trial against Jesus, convicted him, and turned him over to death by the hands of the Romans. So I want us to see that this arrest is not a small thing. Jesus was killed by this very council and by these high priests. The question they ask Peter and John is important. “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (4:7). The question is one of authority. Who gave you the ability to do this miracle? By what authority have you done this?
Peter responds that if they are on trial because of a good deed done to a crippled man and how it happened, then everyone needs to know that it is through Jesus, who God raised from the dead, that this man stands here in good health. He is the fulfillment of Psalm 118:22-23. You rejected him as the stone but God made him the cornerstone for God’s kingdom. Not only this, but salvation is in no one else. There is no other name given to people why which we can be saved. Salvation cannot be found anywhere else.
Command To Silence (4:13-22)
Now the leaders do not know what to do. They saw the boldness of Peter and John. They knew that Peter and John were nothing special. They were unschooled, ordinary men. They knew that these two men had been with Jesus. They saw the man who was healed standing beside them. So they have nothing to say in opposition. Peter and John have stunned the council into silence. So they send the men out so that they can have a conference.
Here is the discussion: What are we going to do with these men (4:16)? A notable sign has been performed which is evident to everyone in Jerusalem and they cannot deny it. I want you to see that they have all the evidence that they need for faith. They know that Peter and John are nothing and yet they did a miracle. No one is able to deny the miracle. They also know that these men had been with Jesus. But they do not care and want this teaching to stop. This is an important point to see. There will be many people who will not be convinced, even if given sufficient evidence. Even if they were to see a miracle, they would not believe. Sometimes we think that if we could just find Noah’s ark, the ark of the covenant, or some piece of evidence that it would change the world and everyone would believe. Friends, a lame man was healed and that fact was undeniable. Yet these men on this council will not believe even while admitting a miracle. Evidence is not the reason for the lack of faith that people have. I want this to be a place of boldness and courage for you. Sometimes we think that we cannot share Jesus with others because we do not know enough, do not know the evidences, and do not know enough apologetics. These things are not the basis for faith. The issue is people are going to resist the truth. We tell people about Jesus and see who wants to learn and who does not care to know the truth. It is not about having debates to convince people because you could perform a miracle and people would not believe. That is what just happened. If someone wants to say that there is no God, then you cannot change that. If someone wants to stay in their doubts, then you cannot change that. But those who are seeking truth will listen. This is what Acts 4 shows. Thousands believe while the religious leaders do not, even though they have the same information.
So the religious leaders command Peter and John to not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. No more talking about Jesus to people. Now stop and think about this. Would we do that? Would we stop talking about Jesus to people? Would we stop worshiping if we were told to? Peter and John ask them to consider who they should listen to: God or you leaders. We have to speak about what we have seen and heard. We cannot keep quiet. The council threatens them even further. Remember that these are real threats. They can do something about it. But they cannot do anything about it right now because the people are praising God for what has happened (4:21). Now what are the disciples going to do? They have been commanded to stop speaking about Jesus. They have been threatened by the law that they will be punished if they do.
Responding To Fear (4:23-31)
So what will the disciples do? Will they go back to the Christians and tell them that they can no longer worship or proclaim Jesus because the government said not to? Will they tell them that they have to wait to worship Jesus until the government says it is okay to do so again? Do they complain? Do they revolt? Do they riot? Do they ask for these leaders to die horrible deaths? Look at what they do. They tell the disciples everything that happened and then they prayed. You will notice that their prayer contains the components needed for courage.
First, look at how they address the Lord. It is not the normal word used for “Lord” in the New Testament, kyrios. It is the word that means sovereign or master. The prayer begins by acknowledging that God is sovereign over the events that happen on the earth. “You made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them.” You are the Lord who is over everything! You are in charge. You are in control. We can have courageous faith when we see that the Lord has not abandoned us nor has he gone to sleep. He is sovereign over all the earth. He made the world and his master over the world.
Second, the prayer moves to quoting the scriptures. They quote the beginning of Psalm 2. Why do they quote this scripture? The reason seems to be that of encouragement. This psalm notes that the world is always resists the will of the Lord. Peoples, nations, kings, and rulers are always looking to band together and rise up against the Lord and his anointed. Do you see why this would be encouraging? What the disciples are experiencing, with the threats of punishment and death, is not new. This is the way things always go for the people of God. In verse 27 they show this. This is what Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel did. They gathered against Jesus, the anointed one. The world will always resist God and we should not be surprised. We can have courageous faith when we see that resistance is to be expected.
Third, look at verse 28. Do we see how these disciples found hope and courage amid these threats? These leaders and these peoples gathered against the Lord and his anointed “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” What happened was not outside of the knowledge or plan of God. We need to look at the world through this lens. If we look at the world and look at the resistance against God and his purpose as something unusual, then we will panic and be anxious about world affairs and about the power and strength of evil. But if we look at the world through the lens that God is using what these evil people and powers are doing to accomplish God’s will, we will have faith and courage. They are carrying out God’s plan. Is this not amazing! I have made this point before cause we can struggle with the idea: God always uses wicked people to carry out his plans because there is no one else to carry out his plans. The disciples are praying in hope and faith because they know that the things that are happening are part of how God is going to carry out his purpose.
Finally, the disciples come to their request. Look at the threats of these leaders and give us the boldness to speak your word. Courageous faith comes when we ask for boldness. I think it is important to consider what they do not pray for. They do not pray for the leaders to stop threatening them. Why not? They answered that earlier in the prayer. God has told us that the world leaders and nations will always be resisting God and his people. So we are not going to pray for that to stop because that will always happen. We are going to pray for boldness to speak even though we are threatened. They ask God to handle their threats and give us the boldness to go forward with the work given to them. We then see their prayer for boldness answered.
Boldness is not fearlessness. Why did these disciples pray for boldness? They prayed for boldness because they were afraid. You do not need to pray for boldness if you are already bold. You pray for boldness when you are afraid. God wants us to do this. Pray for the boldness we need when we are afraid to do what is right and stand for what is right. Pray for boldness to show Jesus to the world.
Further, if our government tells us that we cannot worship Jesus or speak about Jesus, then we need to pray for boldness to obey God rather than people. We have talked about many times that we submit to the government and submit to authorities in all circumstances unless they tell us to disobey God. So we are going to need boldness in those times because it is difficult to do it. It is hard to think about being fined, arrested, or worse for worshiping Jesus or talking to people about Jesus. But this is what we must be ready to do. But we will never be ready to do it if we are not praying to God to give us boldness.
In conclusion, having boldness like we see the disciples having means praying for boldness and not depending on our own inner strength. The foundations for this boldness come when we see that our God is sovereign, that God declared that the world will always resist him and his people, and that God is accomplishing his purposes through these evildoers. We can be bold when we see our God in this light and pray that God will grant us great boldness to help us overcome our fears.