This is a sermon I preached at Chase Cross Baptist Church in Romford on 25th October 2009. You can find about about the church here: http://www.cxbc.org.uk/
The reading comes from Acts 4: 23 –31.
“23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 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? 26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ 27 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. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 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. “
What do you do when the going gets tough?
You may be facing: unemployment, ill health, relationship breakdown, bereavement etc.
What you hold dear has been taken from you, or perhaps what you built your life around has come crashing down.
Or maybe you are persecuted for your faith. That can happen inside the church as well as out in the world.
Just look in the gospels at how the priests, the really religious leaders treated Jesus and later the early church. They should have welcomed him and worshipped him as their Messiah. But they whipped him and crucified him as a troublemaker .
Throughout church history believers have been persecuted: For example Protestants by Catholics and Wesley by the Church of England. In Rainham men from the parish church set fire to the meeting hall where Wesley was preaching!
Did you know that up to Victorian times you couldn’t work in the Civil Service or hold an officer’s rank in the armed forces if you weren’t in the Church of England? Also you couldn’t build a church or chapel within three miles of an Anglican church!
So what do you do when the going gets tough?
Some people follow the fine example of Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army, and rush around like headless chickens. Or do you hold onto Jesus and get praying?
Whilst it maybe the natural response to run away, it’s not the scriptural way. Ephesians 6:13 tells us “Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
Lets look at an incident of persecution to see how the disciples and the early church dealt with the situation.
We are in Acts 4 and Peter and John have just stepped out in faith , in the power of the Holy Spirit and healed a man crippled from birth. You would have thought that the religious leaders would have been delighted that God was at work healing people. But see their reaction: Acts 4:2 & 3 “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.” and Acts 4:16 & 17 “”What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”
When I was in the Church of England we had an elderly lady who said she had been told off by a vicar for praising God for answered prayers. Apparently she was told that it might upset people who felt their prayers had not been answered!
Perhaps the Jewish religious leaders complained because God wasn’t working to their rules! But then God is sovereign and you can’t tell him what to do!
So Peter and John don’t give into the threats and bullying as we read in Acts 4:18 – 20 “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
Peter and John return to the believers and tell them what has happened. At this point they could have decided to give up telling people about Jesus and kept quiet. You know , anything for a quiet life, we don’t want to upset people or challenge their beliefs.
But instead they bring the whole situation to God in prayer. Our reading shows five distinct points:
1 Praise. In v24 “Then they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.”
By praising God we remind ourselves who he is and that he is in control even if we feel out of control and we feel that life is like white water rafting!
2 Tell it how it is. V25 – 28 “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.’ 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. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”
Whilst God knows it all and really doesn’t need us to remind him of our circumstances, it does help us to put things into perspective and say what we need God to do. The disciples have discerned how their situation has lined up with scripture. Just look at Psalm 2 which is partly quoted in Acts 4. As you probably know there are many prophecies about the Messiah or Anointed one in the Bible and Jesus is the only person to fulfil all of them.
3 Request. V29 – 30 “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
We need to be specific in our requests to God and not the “please bless him” type of prayer. We should also pray in accordance with God’s will. Can we discern what God wants in a particular situation? Often Scripture is our guide. For the disciples it wasn’t “Get us out of here Lord!” or “Please make those nasty people leave us alone”. No they asked God for boldness and power to preach the good news. Whether we are in some form of ministry or working in the world in work or at home, our priority should be that of the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:18 – 20 “ Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
4 Receive. V31 “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit”.
When we pray do we pray in anticipation that God is going to act? Do we actually believe that our prayers are going to be answered?
Some Christians just don’t pray because they think there’s no point as he won’t answer me. Or some say that they are not worthy enough to pray directly to God and need an intermediary or a “go between”. Hence the requests that ministers, prayer teams and so on get. Or when you say to someone I’ll pray with you there is a look of panic and a hurried “oh no just pray for me”.
Whilst it can help to have others praying with you, we already have an intermediary who will pray for us to God, his name is Jesus as we find in 1 Timothy 2:5.
We should pray with whatever faith we have in the anticipation that God will answer our prayers.
5 Act. V31 “and spoke the word of God boldly.”
No hanging around. No church meetings to discuss strategy. They just got on with it. To quote Winston Churchill in one of his wartime speeches “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”
As a result of the believers’ prayer the early church grew and grew and many people came to faith.
So I think the message from Acts 4 for us today is that when we face trouble and persecution we should pray expecting God to answer us and give us the tools we need to do the work he has given us to do.