The 21st Century Normal Church Series #8
In the first three chapters of Acts, God has been marvelously blessing the early Church. They have seen the Savior go up. The Spirit come down. The saints go out. And, the sinners come in. In chapter one, the disciples listened to the Lord. In chapter two, they liberated the lost. In chapter three, they lifted the lame. At the beginning of chapter four, they lived under the load of persecution. The Sanhedrin had threatened Peter and John not to preach and teach in the name of Jesus anymore. They were guilty of healing a lame man and heralding the name of Jesus to lost people.
Some of the most famous verses in the Book of Acts are found in Acts 4:23-31. We read:
When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported everything that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, “[a]Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,
‘Why were the [b]nations insolent,
And the peoples plotting in vain?
26 The kings of the earth [c]took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His [d]Christ.’
For truly in this city, there were gathered together against Your holy [e]servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the [f]Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and purpose predestined to occur. And [g]now, Lord, look at their threats and grant it to Your bond-servants to speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and [h]signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy [i]servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.
We have now come to the part of the story where we will learn how the Church handles its persecution through Pentecostal power. Christ took the Church from prison to power. In fact, the Sanhedrin was wakened to the power of Christ. The Church was shaken by the power of Christ. The Gospel was taken through the power of Christ.
I look around and I see militants marching for socialism and humanism. I see false cults that are spreading like wildfire. I see the communist menace circling the globe and surrounding America. I look inside of this beloved nation of ours, and I see moral corruption in the movies. I see the slaughter of unborn innocent babies. I see a drug epidemic, alcoholism, and sexual perversion. I see millions of people that do not know God, millions—God help us—billions, who’ve never even heard the name of Jesus. I am convinced that only prayer can hold back the floodtide of sin and judgment, and only powerful prayer can send revival.
Now, it is not just any prayer that we need, but it is prayer with power. It is not the rhetoric of our prayer—how eloquent our prayers are. It is not the music of our prayer— how beautiful our prayers are. It is not the logic of our prayer—how argumentative our prayers are. It is not the method of our prayer—how methodical our prayers are. But, it is the power of our prayer that counts. I read, in verse 31, that when these disciples had prayed, the place was shaken. That is, there was power there—such power that it literally shook the place. God said amen with an earthquake.
We can experience power in our prayer by practicing the precepts of the Word of God. If we are to become the normal 21st-century church, we will need our prayers answered by Almighty God.
We Have Been Released From Prison
We read, “And being let go . . .”
Peter and John are leaving the Sanhedrin determined to go on preaching the Gospel. On the one hand, they were thrilled at the glorious power of that lovely name of Jesus. On The other hand, there were threatened by an evil body of men determined to bring judgment. Peter and John left with a burden in the heart, and a dark cloud over their shoulders. They needed a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit and power in their lives.
Are you facing a trial or a test in your life? Are you being threatened because of your commitment to Christ? Are you discouraged because loved ones have rejected Jesus? Is the devil telling you that you cannot be an effective witness of Christ?
I have good news for you! God desires to release you from your prison of problems and persecution? Christ desires to release you from your jail of judgment and cell of chaos.
More than one hundred years ago, not long after a wealthy contractor had finished the building of The Tombs in New York City, he became a prisoner in it. In his prosperous years, he had done business of a half-million per year. At one time, however, he was short on cash. He forged a note of $200,000. He was convicted and spent several years in the prison he had built. When going to prison, he said, I never imagined when I built this prison, that I would be an inmate one day.”
Have you built a prison of fear all around you? Have you allowed ungodly habits to go unchecked and now imprisoned by them? Has this world pushed you back emotionally and you are in a prison of depression? Regardless of if you built the prison or someone was a catalyst in moving you into one, Christ desires to set you free! We need to look toward Him and ask Him to unlock the cell doors that have held us back!
We Need To Return To Our People
We now read, “. . . they went to their own company . . .”
Here is Christian koinonia in action. We have seen the Apostles in the council; now we see them in church. Not only do Christians need each other in the world; but they also need each other in church. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. It is important that we be faithful to the house of God. We cannot effectively witness for Christ in the world until we have effectually worshipped Christ in the church.
We are living in an era where “business as usual” will not make us successful. There must be changes in our schedules to permit the Holy Spirit to have His way in our lives. After a busy and burdensome at work, in the house, or someplace else, we need to come to church to receive refreshment and revival. Peter and John went to church. Can we afford to do anything else?
I realize that there is a lot of backslidden banter among unbelievers and Believers regarding the importance of local church attendance. It seems today that people everywhere are trying to justify why they cannot attend church, rather than finding reasons to faithfully attend the local church. I realize that there are exceptions when it comes to illness, family crises are the like. Yet, when we hermeneutically understand the mindset of the first century Church, they were not looking for ways out but for ways into the local church.
There is so much I could write or say on this subject. I will leave it with this: In Hebrews 2:4, we read, “I shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It is just a matter of time, if we neglect our salvation, we will eventually forsake the local church found in Hebrews 10:38. Neglecting leads to forsaking. Church attendance in the West is down, not because of inconvenience, but because we have neglected and neglected our salvation so long, that it is not important to us to be faithful to church.
We Need To Report Our Problems
We read, “. . . and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.”
Peter and John now related to the whole body of believers the experience of the last few hours. They told the church about the arrest, the arraignment, and the arrogance of the Sanhedrin.
In the new church, if one member rejoiced—all rejoiced, so the lame man was received with open arms; if one member suffered—all suffered, so the harassment of Peter and John became the harassment of all. They shared their burdens with one another and prayed for one another. This is another reason to faithful to the house of God. It is here that burdens are shared, believers are united, and blessings are received. It is here that loads of are lifted, sins are forgiven, and minds are renewed, bodies are healed, and Christ is exalted.
I realize there is a fine line between sharing a burden and becoming a burden. However, we are exhorted to “share our burdens with one another.” So, how do you plan to share your burden? What is the best way to share your burden? Well, you can share it over the phone, via email or facetime. Yet, I am sure you would agree that there is no substitute to sharing problems or burdens than face to face in the local church. When we are faithful to church, we are placing ourselves in the advantageous position of getting our prayers answered and obtaining victory.
We Need To Resort To Praise
Look at what happened next: “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, ‘Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is.”
We now see the powerful elements of their praise to God. First, their praise was outward. They “lifted up their voice to God.” They did not stand there silent and speechless. They vocalized their praise to God. When a church begins to praise God outwardly, the Holy Spirit can do something inwardly. Praise should come before prayer.
Notice their praise was “to God.” I have often wondered whom the atheists pray to when they are in need. You may say, “They do not pray and certainly do not pray to God.” Every person is born with a vacuum in their heart. When we worry instead of praying, it is a mild form of atheism. Our God is to be the center of our worship and Christ should be in the center of our church.
Additionally, to there being outward praise to God, there was an inward purpose of the saints. We read, “. . . in one accord . . .” This early Church was not filled with saints that love to argue but saturated with believers who longed to be in one accord. Those people were not wired together by organization, rusted together by traditions, frozen together by formalism, but were melted together by the Spirit of God.
They were in one accord on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) and in one accord when gathered together in the day of persecution. Just because we gather together in the same place does not mean that we have harmony in the house. The Lord inhabits the praises of His people; not the fighting between His people. It is amazing today what the Church fights about. Instead of fighting the good fight of faith, instead of fighting for the lostness of mankind, instead of fighting against the devilish darkness engulfing our world, the Church often fights over the color of the carpet, the temperature in the building, or fights over the kind of music for Sunday worship. Is there any wonder why we have lost our power after we pray to God?
We have seen the outward in praise and the inward of purpose, but now we will witness upward with perspective. We read, “. . . and said, Lord, thou art God, which has made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is.”
They began their praise with the word, despotes, which means sovereign Lord. This was a common title in the Greek world for rulers. It was also a term used for a slave owner and of a ruler of unchallengeable power. The Sanhedrin could pronounce warmings and prohibitions, and try to silence the Church, but their authority was subject to a higher power. The edicts of the mean cannot overturn the decrees of God.
This helps to put things in perspective. The Sanhedrin had power; God had almighty power. The Sanhedrin could threaten, but could not do anything unless God permitted them. Their God had created the suns, the stars, the seas, and the shores. Our God holds in His hand all of the forces of nature, all the factors of space, matter, and time, all the possibilities and eventualities in the universe. God has everything in control!
Astrophysicists tell us that Universe continues to expand at a rate of 46 miles per second or 1.4 billion miles per year. It estimated that there are at least 500 billion galaxies the size of the Milky Way or larger in the Universe. What is your perspective of God? Do you see Him struggling to manage the entirety of the Universe? Or do you see him as the King of the Universe? Our perspective will determine how we enter the throne room of God in prayer. When we come to our Lord, we should approach Him with the confidence that He is more than able to answer our prayers. He made heaven and the earth. Is there anything to difficult for Him? No!
We Need To Remember Our Promises
Previously, we recognized God’s omnipotence. Now, we will realize God’s omniscience. At first, we learned that God upholds all things. Now, we see that God understands all things. This is revealed to us in two different ways.
Our God understand all things. We come to comprehend this through God’s Word. We read in Acts 4:25-26, “Who by the mouth of they servant David hast said, ‘Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?’ The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.”
This is a quotation from Psalm 2, which is recognized as prophetic and Messianic Psalm. The crucifixion of the Christ did not catch God by surprise. It was predicted over 1,000 years earlier in the Psalms.
The Psalm began with a question. David asked the question, “Why?” In essence, the disciples, 1,000 years later, were asking the same question. Oftentimes, our message is not received or when problems and persecutions come our way, we ask the question, “Why?” The answer is simple. God is working in our lives through situations and circumstances to perform His divine will in order to further spread the Gospel.
David had asked, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?” The word, “heathen” could better be rendered, “nations.” David was speaking about the Gentiles and the Israelites. The kings of the earth and the rulers came against the Lord Jesus Christ.
The title nailed to the cross proclaiming Jesus of the Nazareth to be the king of the Jews summed it all up. It was written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Greek represented the world’s people at work. Latin symbolized the world’s power in wealth. Hebrew identified the world’s places of worship. It was the working people, the wealthy people and the worshipping people who nailed Jesus to the cross.
Why was Jesus persecuted and killed? Why did they persecute these apostles? Why will they persecute you? Why don’t they like us? Why doesn’t the world love the Lord Jesus? You would think the world would be glad to hear a message of forgiveness of sins and healing for the soul and body. You would think that people would love the Lord Jesus, but they don’t. Why?
The world loves the baby Jesus. Nobody has any difficulty with the baby Jesus. They don’t persecute Jesus because he was born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem. They don’t persecute Him because of His teachings. They don’t persecute Jesus because He healed the sick and fed the multitudes. As a matter of fact, the world loves that message. That message sounds good to the world. At Christmas time, the merchants who don’t even believe in Jesus, they love to put the Christmas Carols in their store so they can sale more merchandise. They certainly love “Black Friday” and the Christmas Season.
What is it that the world doesn’t like about Jesus? It’s the Jesus that came to destroy the works of the devil! That’s the Jesus they persecute. The Jesus who is against rape, violence, murder, greed, adultery, lying, stealing, idolatry, pride, abortion, sodomy and racial hatred and the like are the real reasons people hate Jesus. That’s the Jesus the world cannot stand. It is the Jesus who said, I am the way, the truth and the life and no man come unto the Father but by me.
When you stand for this Jesus as these apostles did in the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts, this world will come down on you like a hammer and all of the artillery of hell is going to be aimed at you, just like it was aimed at the Lord Jesus Christ and and His apostles. If you’re not experiencing persecution, don’t boast about it, for the Bible says all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. We must not get the idea that the world has gotten churchier if there’s no persecution. It’s only because you have gotten more worldly.
Our God understands all things because of His Word and because of His work (Acts 4:27-28). We read:
“For of a truth against they Holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
The Gentiles raged against Jesus in the person of the Romans who sentenced Him to the cross; the “peoples” who imagined vain things were His Jewish adversaries; the kings who set themselves in array were represented by Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea (Lk. 23:7ff); while the rulers were represented by Pontius Pilate. Regardless, of race, religion, and rank, they crucified Jesus.
All rulers are guilty with the words of, “both Herod, and Pontius Pilate.” Herod Antipas, who was king of the Jews, mocked Jesus; Pontius Pilate, a Gentile ruler, murdered Jesus. Herod scorned Him because he was angry; Pilate sentenced him because he was afraid. The motive was different. The result was the same.
All races are guilty with the words, “the Gentiles and the people of Israel.” The awful event was foreknown and foretold. It was done according to God’s divine plan. God’s hand and counsel determined how Christ would be crucified. And God is working in our lives today. When problems come, there are promises to claim. Get in the “book” and take a fresh look at God’s wonderful Word. There are no problems in heaven, only plans for our lives!
Here is the point: God foresaw the problems, pains, and persecutions we would face during our timeframe on earth. With these future difficulties in mind, He has given all of us precious promises to claim, before and during these times of challenge in our lives. These Apostles knew the Word of God and knew that they were living during the time of the fulfillment of God-ordained prophecies and promises. Learn the promises so you can lean on the promises.
We Need To Request God’s Power
The early Church prayed that God’s power would be released. We need God’s power for situations (v.29a). They said, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings.” They were in a dangerous situation. The Sanhedrin could massacre them like they murdered Jesus. There could be imprisonments, stonings, beatings, or crucifixion.
Are you in a sad situation? A scary situation? A satanic situation? Our God has enough power to renew you in your sad situation, rebuild you in your scary situation, and redirect you in your satanic situation.
Also, we need God’s power for sermons. We read, “and grant unto they servants, that with all boldness they may speak they word . . .” (v.29b) The real danger did not lie with the Sanhedrin, but with self. The subject of their prayer was not the force the enemy could muster, but the fear they had to mater. They simply asked God to give them the courage to carry on with the task of telling abroad the tidings of the Gospel. Most significant is the fact that these early Christians were not praying for relief from oppression or judgment on their oppressors but for enablement “to speak God’s Word with boldness” amid oppressions and for God to act in mighty power “through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
It was the expression of God’s Word and it was the preaching of God’s Word that got them into trouble to begin with. They didn’t say, “Lord, move us to more favorable circumstances.” They didn’t say, “Lord, keep us safe.” You know what they prayed? They prayed, “Lord, give us more of what got us into trouble in the first place.” Now, you think about that: “Lord, we’re in trouble for preaching your Word. Now, God, give us boldness to preach it some more.” Jesus Christ did not come to get you out of trouble. He came to get into trouble with you, and that’s exciting. These disciples—if you read the book of Acts—they just stayed in trouble. They said, “Lord, give us boldness.”
We must never forget the greatest threat to Christianity is not the devil or evil people, but Christians who try to sneak into heaven without ever getting caught. We need holy boldness; not holy obnoxiousness; to confess Christ to our world today.
We need God’s power for the sick. We read, “. . . by stretching forth thine hand to heal . . .” We need a holy revival and a healing revival. I realize that there are some Christians today who believe that divine healing ceased with the passing of the early Apostles. I would believe that but cannot find a chapter and verse to support it. Regardless of what some Christians may or may not believe, when I am in need of healing I call upon the Lord and his saints to pray for me! We need the blind to see, the lame to walk, cancers to die, and even the dead to come back to life.
Last, we need God’s power for signs. We read, “. . . and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.”
We need to pray for our members, our message and for miracles. There is a difference between healing and a miracle. Healing is the work of God in a person’s body that results in divine health. An example is the healing of cancer. Miracles require the creation of something in a person’s body to bring about divine health An example of miracles would be the creation of a retina in the eye so a person might see.
We need to pray that we would have the courage to witness and obtain confirmation of the Word. Our supplication and witness should produce signs and wonders. And, it will all done in the name of Jesus Christ!
We Will Receive Our Provisions
There were three provisions given to the early Church after they had concluded their prayer.
First, we will perceive the presence of God (v.31a). We read, “. . . place was shaken where they were assembled together . . .” This was not an ordinary prayer meeting. God said the final amen! God had been watching and listening to them pray. God sook the place to let them know that He could still shake the world and nations. Let’s never allow the devil cause us to forget the mighty power of God.
Second, we will receive the power of God (v.31b). The Scripture states, “. . .and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” This has a similar ring to Acts 2:4, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” We are not to seek the thrill of the fill. We are not to be more interested in the feeling rather than the filling. When a church touches heaven in prayer, all who are thirsty will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Why is God going to fill you with the Holy Spirit? Not to make you feel good, and not to soothe you, but to empower you. Acts 1, verse 8: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me” (Acts 1:8).
You pray, “Oh, Spirit of God, fill me. I want to be a great Bible student.” The Spirit of God says, “I’m not interested.” “Spirit of God, please fill me. I want to live victoriously over sin.” The Spirit of God says, “I’m still not interested.” “Spirit of God, fill me. I want to have peace in my heart.” He says, “I’m not interested.” “Spirit of God, I want to express God’s Word. I want to extend God’s hands. I want to exalt God’s Son.” The Spirit says, “Is that what you want? That’s what I want also. We’ll get together on that!”
Third, we will achieve the purpose of God (v.31c). Look at what the Scripture says: “. . . and they spake the Word of God with boldness.” When one studies the Scriptures carefully, he or she will apprehend that the early Christians made two specific requests to God. They prayed for courage and confirmation. The answer for courage came instantaneously. The prayer for confirmation came shortly later. In Acts 5:12, the Apostles were healing the sick, casting out devils, and being used mightily by God. The Bible says, “The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.”
Many years ago, there was a young man who led the music for Evangelist Hymen Appelman. This young man was in Belfast, Ireland, when God called him to preach the Gospel. He had no money and no meetings. But he had the assurance that God had called him to preach.
At this time, he was staying in a hotel in Belfast. This young man was on his knees praying and the telephone rang. A local pastor invited him to conduct a revival meeting that very next Sunday. This was his first revival crusade.
On Friday, he called the pastor to see how the promotion and preparations were proceeding. The pastor responded, “There has been no advertising. My people won’t know we are having revival services until I announce it on Sunday. Further, I don’t want you to get your hopes up. My people don’t like Yankee preachers. They have never seen what you Americans call an invitation. I doubt they will come forward. Also, the church in its 27-year history has never been full. In the last year, there has been on convert come to Christ.”
This young, inexperienced evangelist realized that God’s power could only bring victory to this seemingly impossible situation. So, he asked the pastor to round up some of his people to pray on Saturday night for the revival. They prayed hour after hour until the breaking of the day. Sunday morning, the evangelist could hardly get to the pulpit because of the crowd of people. The capacity of the church was 250. Yet, over 400 people were jammed in the building. The evangelist preached a 10-minute sermon. He gave the invitation with no music. Thirteen adults pushed their way forward and were saved. Sunday night, the crowd was larger. He preached 10 minutes again. Gave an invitation. Fourteen adults were saved.
Each night, so many people were coming and being saved, the meeting was extended to two weeks, then three weeks, then four weeks, and then five weeks. Finally, on the last week of the revival, they had two services each night to contain the people. People would leave their jobs early to get a seat in the church. Literally, thousands of people were saved! The young evangelist said, that it all happened because a handful of people prayed for revival.
A handful of early Christians got together, prayed together and the place was shaken. They were all filled with the person and power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Christ took his Church from prison to prayer to power. May He do it again today!