Sermon: Praying for Boldness in the Midst God Ordained Suffering (Acts 4:23-31)

Praying for Boldness in the Midst God Ordained Suffering

Acts 4:23-31

Introduction

In this passage we have a buffet of red meat.  Paul tells us that there is the milk of the Word and then there is the meat of the Word.  Today, we are about feast on T-bone steak.

The Early Church is now looking down the barrel of a gun.  The threats are enormous and are very likely to end up coming to pass.  “You Apostles will not preach or teach anymore in the name of Jesus or else suffer the consequences.”  As I thought about this passage I had to ask God to help me should I ever be confronted with threats for preaching the Gospel?  If it ever came between my life and the Gospel what would I do?  What would you do?  One thing is certain we would all need Divine help to boldly go forth with the Gospel in the face of persecution.

Some studies have indicated that there are estimated 400,000 Christians who die every year because of the message they teach.  That’s well over 1000 a day that say, we must obey God rather than man we will preach Christ and pull the trigger if you must.

These believers in the Book of Acts are ready.  They are not willing to sit back and hide while they are threatened but are empowered for bold Gospel proclamation.  Part of their boldness comes, as was mentioned last time, the indwelling Holy Spirit.  It also seems that boldness springs forth from their understanding of God’s complete sovereignty in all things, even in their current situation.

There are a few reasons why I say this: we’ll look at a few but one I want to start with, is the Psalm they quote.  It is their handling of the OT that shows us they understood that God proclaimed through David the very events they are currently experiencing.  If God speaks of them 100’s of years before they happen then, they rightly conclude, God’s perfect plan is coming to pass…

The Early Church sees in the persecution and threats of the Jewish leaders the fulfillment of Psalm 2.  Their reasoning is inspired and goes something like this…

Psalm 2:1-2 (ESV)
1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,

This is a Psalm written by David through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  It is ultimately about Jesus, the Messiah and His followers.

The connection they make is fairly straightforward.  David wrote about God’s Messiah and His people being plotted against.  Since Jesus is God’s Messiah and since they are currently suffering persecution, then they rightly conclude that David wrote about Jesus and about them.

Here is a wonderful example of Scripture’s dual prophecy…

Immediate Context-David wrote this as a rhetorical question, why do the nations of the world and their rulers make a hopeless attack on the Lord and His anointed king.  The situation is that they are subject to the Lord and his king and are trying in vain to gain independence.  The psalmist comments that God reacts with scornful laughter to their puny efforts and with anger at their disobedience.[1]

Future Fulfillment- Ultimately, the Holy Spirit had in mind Jesus as God’s anointed Messiah.  We can see this at our Lord’s baptism…

Acts 13:32-33 (ESV)
32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers,
33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, “‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you.’

The Apostles also, inspired by the Holy Spirit interpret the Psalm to be a Messianic Psalm and since Jesus is the Messiah, they interpret it in light of Jesus and their immediate context which is future fulfillment to David.
This point is important especially in light of what they say in their prayer for boldness.

Primary Claim of the Text

The Early Church prayed for boldness while in the midst of God ordained persecution

Human Condition Met By the Text

Unless we are divinely empowered with boldness, when we face resistance we will deny our Lord, be ashamed of the Gospel, cower in fear, and/or water down the message.  We need empowered with boldness in order to be faithful.

Acts 4:23-31 (ESV)
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.”
31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

1.  We Can Be Bold Because God’s Enemies Plot In Vain

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’—
I believe this to be a divine Word for us today.  We live in a day when it seems that the endorsing of sin is growing at an alarming rate.  There are government scandals everywhere you look.  IRS, NSA, Bengazi, Listening in on phone calls, EPA, all these are merely signs of the days in which we live.

Our Government as well as other governments in the world lay their schemes and plans thinking that they will get the upper hand.  The bottom line is, when these nations plot against God and against God’s Son, He laughs from heaven…

Psalm 2:1-6 (ESV)
1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

God has always laughed as His enemy’s scheme and plot.

Notice that all of the disciples are in complete agreement theologically with the interpretation of their current events.

First, they recognize that God is truly the Creator.  God has made everything.  This carries a great deal of weight when we are suffering.  God made everything, therefore, it stands to reason that if God can speak everything into existence out of notion then there is no doubt He can control all that He creates.

Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,
They address God as Sovereign Lord.  When the Apostles address God this way, you can imagine something amazing is about to happen.

Sovereign Lord…Master over absolutely everything.  This title Sovereign Lord is rightly connected to the fact that God is the Creator of everything.  Beloved, sovereignty and Creator go together.  God is Creator and He is in charge of His creation or Master or Sovereign.  If this world is the product of evolution then we do not have a Sovereign God.  Or it works the other way also, if God is not Sovereign then He also is not the Creator.  Both sink or swim together.

The disciples see their situation, namely, the beginning of extreme persecution…remember that in a couple of chapters, Steven will be stoned and conclude that because God is sovereign all things fall under His control, even their trials.  Because of this accurate assessment, they can be bold because this current persecution is a vain attempt by the Jewish leaders to thwart God’s plan…even though it is serious and even scary from a human perspective, God laughs at the vain attempts of His enemies.

The Apostles were seeing their trouble through the lens of theological truth and relied on God’s power not through the lens of human perception and human power.

They were bold because they understood from the Bible that all the planning and plotting from God’s enemies would amount to nothing.  All these threats and persecution would not stop their evangelism and the Gospel.  God will be victorious.

2.  We Can Be Bold Because God’s Plan Always Comes to Pass

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.
The disciples could be bold because they had already experienced the best attempts of Satan, Herod, Pilate, the Jews and the Romans to defeat God.  They ended up not stopping God’s plan but actually carrying it out.

We can really see now why God laughs.  Whatever sinful men do to try and hinder God’s plan and move their agenda forward only moves God’s plan forward.  Their scheming only proved to produce a risen and exalted Savior.

We can be bold in the face of opposition because their best plotting and scheming really carries out God’s purposes.

Looking back to Psalm 2…

2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed…The Apostles connect this Psalm about Jesus being God’s Anointed and fit the pieces together.  They remember that Herod, the king and Pontius Pilate the ruler who were formerly enemies take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed.  They also remember how the people were also involved.  The Gentiles crucified Jesus and Israel plotted and schemed to bring it about.

They witnessed this firsthand.  They also saw what happened after…

28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.     

Jesus was crucified by these enemy plotters but they were in fact carrying out God’s plan.

Isaiah 53:10 (ESV)
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him

Notice how the Apostles once again acknowledge God’s sovereignty…to do whatever Your hand and plan has determined before hand to come to pass.  God has the power to carry out His plan perfectly, sometimes He does it Himself, sometimes He works through His people, and sometimes He works through His enemies.

Simply put, God always wins.  Sometimes He wins by letting His enemies have a small victory.   They were so thrilled when Jesus died.  They thought they had won.  In reality they just sacrificed the Lamb of God so that all of God’s people would be saved.

The Apostles then reason…

Since God always wins and since His enemies plot and scheme in vain, and since even in the account of the crucifixion what seemed like things were going exactly as they had planned…they were really going exactly as God had planned, then we can be bold because the same thing is happening here.

1.  We Can Be Bold Because God’s Enemies Plot In Vain

2.  We Can Be Bold Because God’s Plan Always Takes Place

Finally…
3.  We Can Be Bold Because God Answers the Prayer For Boldness

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.”
31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

To begin with, I find it a little out of place that the disciples didn’t pray for the persecution to end.  They don’t pray for that.  It says that they were all praying in one voice, literally, in complete agreement.  So, all were praying for the same thing, across the board with no exceptions.

God, in the middle of their best efforts to plot and resist and persecute us make us bolder and more determined.  Grant to us pure boldness so that we can continue to preach Jesus in the midst of these unbelievers.

Lord, the same people who opposed and killed Jesus are opposing us…make us bold.

They understood that…

-God is sovereign

Everything works according to the counsel of His will

-The present persecution is taking place

Because everything works according to God’s predestined plan, then this persecution must be included in God’s plan

-They saw how the same people before resisted God in killing His Son

And yet, it was what brought God’s plan to completion

-Because this present resistance is God’s will, because it’s happening, then we won’t       pray that it end, we’ll pray that God would make us more bold to preach Christ.

Our wrong thinking might conclude…this isn’t easy so therefore it’s not God’s will because God wants us comfortable…or God make the mean people go away or be nice because I know you want me comfortable.

Peter’s greatest fear was not those making threats but that he would deny his Lord again.

God, while You work Your miracles that prove our message, may we be bold so that our Gospel proclamation will match the power of You miracles…

The room shakes and they are again filled with the Holy Spirit and are again armed for battle and ready to fight.

Primary Claim of the Text

The Early Church prayed for boldness while in the midst of God ordained persecution

Perhaps, some of our prayers need to be prayed in light of God’s sovereignty as the Creator who governs the universe by the power of His right hand.  Perhaps, instead of praying for the bad situation to go away, we should pray that the Gospel would go forth and we would be bold in our evangelism…

Let’s examine our prayers and adjust them to be more biblical and bold.

Remember…

God’s Enemies Plot In Vain

God’s Plan Always Takes Place

God Answers the Prayer For Boldness

 


[1] Commentary on the New Testament’s Use of the Old Testament page 552

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