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THE PRAYER AND LIFE OF EARLY CHRISTIANS

Acts 4:23-4:36
Key Verse: 4:31

So far we have studied Peter’s messages and have seen his great spirit and courage. In today’s passage we see the prayer and life of the first Christian community, the believers of the church in Jerusalem.

First, faith in the sovereign Lord (23-28). After spending one night in jail, Peter and John were released. On their release they went back to their own people. How comforting it must have been for them to have their own people to whom they could return after a tough time! These people were the people belonging to God (1 Pe 2:9), the very embodiment of God in this world. On returning to their own people, Peter and John reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. They had threatened and commanded the apostles not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. How did the people of God respond? Look at verse 24. “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” They were not withdrawn into themselves in fear. Their voices did not become like that of mosquitoes. Rather they raised their voices together in prayer to God. Sometimes we can pray quietly. And sometimes we should raise our voices to God, not being hard-pressed by our circumstances. Even Jesus did so. Hebrews 5:7 says, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death…”

Then what was their prayer? Look at verse 24b-26. “‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You 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? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.”’” First of all, they believed in God’s creation. They confessed saying, “You made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.” How important one’s faith in God’s creation is! No existence would have been possible without His creation. The nations and the peoples and the kings of the earth and the rulers could exist because of Him. The believers also believed in the prophets words revealed in Psalm 2. In the words of the Psalm the rulers of the world gather together against the Lord and his Anointed One, not knowing who the Lord is. The Lord sets up kings and deposes them (D 2:21). And Isaiah 40:23-24 says, “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.” This is the Lord, who is sovereign above all the rulers and kings of the world. When we read the Psalm continually, God laughs and scoffs at them (2:4). The believers had uncompromising faith in the sovereign Lord.

They had eyes to see what the rulers of the world had been doing, and presented to the Lord what Herod and Pilate did. They said, “Indeed 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.” Herod and Pilate had been enemies, but on the day of Jesus’ trial they became friends (Lk 23:12). The Gentiles and the people of Israel got together to conspire against Jesus and condemn him to death. The believers knew this terrible event and vividly remembered it. It was likely that the world was ruled by evil men and all people had to live under their dreadful ruling. But look at verse 28. “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” The believers not only saw how the rulers of the world were against the Lord, but also how God was working even in those terrible times. The rulers seemed to do whatever they wanted to do freely wielding their power and authority. But what they did turned out to be only what God’s power and will had decided beforehand. God’s will was that Jesus the Son of God had to suffer and die for the sin of mankind. Human freedom and evilness of men cannot thwart God’s plan and cannot defeat God’s sovereign power and will. Whatever they do, they are all under God’s sovereign will and power. This is one clear teaching in Acts, and a constant teaching in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. At the time of Jesus’ birth Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. He was despotic and everyone went to his own town to register. Joseph and Mary in full pregnancy also had to follow the decree, moving from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. On the surface he was wielding his seemingly unlimited power. But he was only used by God for the Son of God to be born in Bethlehem according to the prophecy in Micah (Mic 5:2; Lk 2:6). What Caesar did was what God’s power and will had decided beforehand. When we look at our political and economic situation, it is easy to despair and feel hopeless, anxious, and fearful. Yet the truth is that the sovereign God is ruling. Whatever happenings are, all are under God’s sovereign power and will. This is true also upon each individual’s life. When some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you”, he replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day” (Luke 13:31-32). God wants us to have such a life-attitude with faith in the sovereign Lord. At any life situation we must believe that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Ro 8:28).

Second, speaking the word of God boldly (29-31). Look at verse 29. “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” The believers knew the threats of the rulers, but they entrusted their threats to God asking God to consider them. Then after that, what was their request? Did they say, “Consider their threats and protect our lives and the lives of our children and strengthen us to confront them and destroy them.” We don’t know the whole contents of their prayer. Praying for the protection of the lives is natural. It seems also necessary to fight against the evil power directly. But one specific prayer topic written here is “…enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” The words “threats” and “great boldness” show that they were in a battle field. And they knew that their battle is a spiritual battle and knew how to fight in that battle. In this battle they had to speak the word of God and for this they needed great boldness. This prayer topic was a very positive one and was the counterpunch to the rulers’ command not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

Their prayer continued, “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” They highly honoured the name of God’s holy servant Jesus and wanted to see this name be honoured more and more.

Then what happened, when they prayed. Look at verse 31. “After 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.” This is a very important description in Acts: being filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking the word of God. As we studied, the rulers made every effort to shut the mouth of the apostles so that the word of God might be spread no more. This was none other than the work of Satan through the rulers and elders of the people. But after prayer all the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit. And not only the apostles but also all the believers spoke the word of God boldly.

Jesus came to this world to speak and preach the word of God. When his disciples were excited with Jesus’ popularity among the people through his mighty healing work, Jesus renewed his life direction through early morning prayer and said to them, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mk 1:38). Jesus worked day and night to teach the word of God to the people of this world (Lk 21:37, Jn 3:2; 8;2), for the word of God lifts up their souls to heaven and offers them salvation and eternal life and the kingdom of God (Jn 5:24). Paul said in Acts 20:24, “…I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Paul also had such a clear life direction, for the gospel of God’s grace saves mankind. He said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…”

However, Satan works hard to stop the spreading of God’s word. On one occasion Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue at Iconium. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable times there, speaking boldly for the Lord (Acts 14:1-3). Speaking and spreading the word of God is really a battle. So Paul asked for prayer support time and again. He said to the believers in Ephesus, ““Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should” (Eph 6:19,20). He also said to the believers in Colosse, “Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Col 4:3,4).

Last week I read one article that was posted on the UBF website. It was about William Tyndale, who was responsible for bringing the Bible into vernacular English. For a thousand years the only translation of the Greek and Hebrew Bible was the Latin Vulgate, and few people could understand it, even if they had access to it. Tyndale burned with a passion to see ordinary people have access to the bible. At that time people were burnt alive for having the Bible in English. It was none other than Satan’s work to hide words of the Bible from ordinary people. Yet Tyndale carried out the responsibility of getting the Bible into ordinary English. He ultimately paid the price when he was strangled and burnt in 1536. He died age about 45. At such a cost now we have the words of the Bible with us. The words of God must be read and spoken and spread.

Satan’s work is still going on, poisoning young people’s minds with false scientific humanistic teachings. In this trend of the world there are still many young people who are thirsty and hungry for the word of God. Amos 8:11-13 says, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the LORD, but they will not find it. In that day the lovely young women and strong young men will faint because of thirst.’” When the words of God are taught and proclaimed, many young men and women will come to quench their thirst for the word of God. When Paul spoke the word of the Lord in Pisidian Antioch, the Jews strongly rejected it, talking abusively what he was saying. But Acts 13:48 says, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” There are those who are appointed for eternal life. So God wants us to be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak the word of God boldly in our times against all the hindrances and oppositions. When we do, God will save souls one by one and Satan’s fortress will be shaken and crumble.

Third, one in heart and mind (32-36). Look at verse 32. “All the believers were one in heart and mind.” They were about 5,000 people, yet they were all one in heart and mind. Certainly, they were God-centred and all had one clear purpose of life to spread the word of God and expand God’s kingdom in the world, with the Lord’s prayer, “Your Kingdom Come.” They were the church of God that moves like a mighty army. In this way they had a strong inner circle, not for themselves but for God.

They were caring and sacrificial sharing everything they had. Their economic sharing was but one expression of the union of their hearts and minds. And verse 33 says, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” Testifying to the resurrection of the Lord Christ Jesus was unceasing and God poured much grace upon them all. What a beautiful scene!

Among the big congregation one specific person is mentioned. Look at verses 36,37. “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.” Son of Encouragement, What a name! It means he was born in Christ, not naturally, to encourage. Later on, we see that he was an encouragement to Apostle Paul. When Paul was first converted, all the disciples in Jerusalem were afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas recognized God’s work in Paul and brought him to the Jerusalem church (Acts 9:26,27). Barnabas was also an encouragement to Mark. When Mark deserted his mission, Paul could not accept him for the second journey. But Barnabas bore with his failure and accepted him with the high cost of being separated from Paul in his second mission journey (13:13; 15:39). Through Barnabas’ encouragement Mark was revived and raised a sacrificial and reliable servant of God, later recognized by Apostle Paul (2 Tim 4:11). He was one specific fruit of the first Christian community.

Thank God who is the sovereign Lord. His sovereign is over all nations and all the rulers of the world. His will and power will proceed to completion. With faith God’s sovereign ruling we may be able to speak the word of God boldly amid all the hindrances and adverse circumstances so that his word be spread in the place where we are and Christ’s kingdom expanded.

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