Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1404
July 7, 2019 Acts 4.23-31
Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“Lifting Their Voices”
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 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, 25 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? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 27 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, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Testimony and Response
Last Sunday we looked over the story of Acts 4.1-22 and the annoyance that Peter and John had become for the religious leaders. Peter and John were arrested because they had healed a man and preached God’s message all in the name of Jesus. All the leaders could do was warn Peter and John and tell them not to preach or heal anyone in Jesus’ name any more. But that did not stop them as they preached to the leadership and went on their way telling them that they could do nothing less than tell others of what they had seen and heard.
As we pick up the story today, Acts 4.23-31, Peter and John go to their friends and tell them what happened. I imagine them telling of the healing first, reminding them of the lame man who was walking and leaping and praising God after he was healed. And then Peter preached to the crowd who had gathered and about 5000 people came to believe in Jesus. They recounted the story of the arrest and the questioning and that they were held over night in the jail until the next day when they gave their witness to Jesus. But the rulers could do nothing but give a “slap on the wrist” and let them go.
This is what Christians do. They give testimony to the things God has done. This is certainly an amazing testimony, one that we would also want to tell if something like this had happened to us. But testimonies are not required to be spectacular and dramatic and jaw dropping awesome. Testimonies are simply what God has done in your life. Testimonies are what God has done in our midst. Testimonies are just telling someone your story and our story.
The response is also recorded here. They lifted their voices to God in prayer. This too is the proper response to the testimony of God. We turn to God with thanks and praise and prayer and worship. We tell others to look and see what God has done and we look to God to thank Him for what He has done. The disciples are showing us that when faced with opposition, we are to turn to God. God does a mighty work and the disciples give a mighty word, this is God’s action and the church’s speech, all empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is the disciples giving witness to their friends and turning to God in response. It is here, right here, in action and testimony, in witness and worship, that the church finds life and energy and boldness to continue living and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this case they responded to the testimony with a prayer that reflected the event.
Prayer for Boldness
Let’s take a closer look at their prayer.
It begins, “Sovereign Lord” – the address itself acknowledges that God was the One orchestrating the events of healing and preaching and release from arrest. God is the One over all that was and is happening and will happen. God is ruler over all. God is the authority and the One who authorizes the life of the church.
This is followed by the acknowledgment that God is the Creator of all things. Why lift that up in this prayer? God is the One who made heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them. Lift it because it reminds us of the sovereignty of God. He made it all and we owe our very existence to Him.
Not only has God made all things, but He has spoken. I think back to the first words of creation and the light and plants and humanity, but the prayer in Acts 4 quotes from Psalm 2,
Remember this Psalm from last Sunday. I took it a bit further where God laughs at those who oppose Him and His people. Here the disciples recognize that they have experienced this scenario in there brush with the authorities who have plotted against God. The have done so with the crucifixion of Jesus and now with the arrest of Peter and John. But the prayer affirms the futility of plotting against God.
The prayer concludes with the request that God give them boldness to preach. 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.” Instead of concern over being arrested and warned by the authorities, they pray for boldness to preach even more! They are in essence seeking to defy the leaders and authorities with more bold, “in your face”, preaching. Again I think this reflects the tone of Psalm 2 when it speaks of God laughing at those who oppose Him. The disciples have been warned not to preach anymore, and how do they respond, with a prayer to preach more boldly!
The prayer speaks of God stretching out His hand to heal and to perform signs and wonders and in the midst of all this, the disciples will preach His word. Imagine this as our prayer today. “Lord, give us boldness to share the gospel while you do marvelous things in Jesus’ name.” We would be praying for God’s action and our own testimony. We would be praying to defy the authorities who would have us silenced about sexuality and abortion and justice and truth and Jesus. Would God answer such a prayer? Yes. Would we be willing to pray such a prayer in earnest? I would hope so, in fact, I think this is the kind of prayer the church must embrace all the more in our times as we face more and more opposition from the principalities and powers of the world. We might be too cautious to pray in this way, too comfortable with ourselves to pray this way, too fearful to pray this way, but this is the kind of praying we need in the church and in the world, just as they did then, so do we today.
A “Pentecost” Reaction
The prayer is heard and a reaction occurs. It is similar if not exactly like that of Pentecost Sunday.
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
An earthquake type event occurred. A Pentecostal event occurred. The building shook. It does not say a wind did it, but I like to imagine it was the wind of God again, just like in Acts 2. It does say the exact same thing about the Spirit, that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter is said to be filled with the Holy Spirit when he preached. Later in Acts 9 Paul will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Here in Acts 4 they are filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the promise of God for all who believe in Him. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. It is the presence of God in our being. It is known in the joy and thanksgiving of our hearts. The presence in known in the assurance of salvation and the worship and prayers and love of God and one another. It is known in opening our mouths to sing and praise and fellowship and encourage. It is in all that we are and do as the church.
The last part of this passage is the answer to the prayer. They prayed for boldness to speak and they did indeed speak with boldness! What is the boldness? Is it the defiance of the warning from the leaders? Is it something else? I think it is the ability and courage to speak when called on to speak. It may be in defiance of opposition. It may be in giving testimony. It may be in explaining a portion of Scripture. It may be in moving outside our comfort zone to speak the gospel. It may be in response to the Spirit’s leading. It may be continuing to stand against the groups and voices that do everything in opposition to God’s Holy Word.
Lifting Their Voices
The disciples are bold to lift their voices. As I see it they do this is two ways; they lift their voices to God and they lift their voices to proclaim the gospel, to proclaim the word of God. There is something important in this movement of lifting voice to God and to the world, of the movement between worship and sharing the gospel in our lives. There is something to the need of that rhythm between work and rest, action and inaction. We conduct our lives in the spiritual realms that require our rhythmic movement given as a command by God. Our boldness is not just in the preaching of the gospel, but also in our worship of the Lord of the gospel. Our boldness is not just in our activities in the world, but in our study to make sure we are not of the world. Our boldness is in lifting our voices to God in worship, adoration, and praise, while also seeking to proclaim repentance and forgiveness to the lost. It is in the rhythm that we find strength to go on when all hope seems weak. It is in this movement of work and rest that we find the life giving Holy Spirit filling us with renewed hope. It is in this very Word of God that we see the ways of God and the church and believers and non-believers and we find the ways to reach out with voice and actions to express God’s love. May we trust in this Holy Spirit presence as we go forth to lift our voices in praise and proclamation. Amen.