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Study Notes:

Acts 4:23-37

Trusting God For Strength

Summary: After facing a crisis, the disciples share their situation with others, pray to God, and then receive exactly what they requested and get back to work.

We’re not even a full week into the New Year and some of us are already exhausted.  The holidays were full of challenges for some of us.  We saw hospitalizations and trips to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care.  We saw heart attacks and battles with cancer; we saw stitches and flashing lights in the driveway.  It’s been a challenging and draining couple of weeks for some people – not necessarily what you would call a vacation.

Well, this morning we’ll see how the early church responded to emergencies, crises, and threats of harm as we jump back into Acts. If you’re taking notes, we’ll see that they:

  shared their situation with others,

– prayed to God,

– received from God, and

– kept pressing on.

If you’ve been with us, you remember what’s happening.  One day Peter and John, two disciples of Jesus, were on their way to the Temple to pray when God used them to heal a man born with a disability – he had never been able to walk.  This miracle was unexpected, and it caused a scene as a crowd gathered to ask what happened.  Peter seized the opportunity, explaining to the crowd that God had just worked a miracle in Jesus’ name and then explaining who Jesus was and calling people to follow Jesus.  People responded favorably to the message, but then the authorities came over and took Peter and John into custody for causing a scene.

The next day, they brought the disciples in for questioning and Peter explained once again that God had done a miracle through them in Jesus’ name.  Only this didn’t go over so well, because this was the same group that had arrested Jesus a few months back and then worked to have Him executed.  Now Peter and John stood in front of them, along with a man everyone knew had been born crippled but who was now able to walk on his own, and Peter insisted Jesus made it all happen.

Since there was no denying that a miracle occurred, the authorities threatened Peter and John not to speak of Jesus’ name, hold any rallies, or gather any crowds, ‘or else’ and then let them go.  And that’s where we pick things up this morning.

Acts 4:23 And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. 24 So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, 25 who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:

‘​Why did the nations rage,

​​And the people plot vain things?

26 ​​The kings of the earth took their stand,

​​And the rulers were gathered together

​​Against the LORD and against His Christ.’

27 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. 29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

So we see that after Peter and John were released, they shared their situation with others and they all, together, prayed to God.

Let’s talk about that.

They shared their situation with others. 

Acts 4:23 And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.

Your Bible might say they went to their friends, or to their own people – all ways to express the idea that they went back to the group of people they belonged to and shared what they had just been through.

One the key features we have seen in our study of Acts and of the Church we see developing there in Acts is community.

When God saves you, He adopts you into a family. Once you were on the outside, now you are on the inside.  You become a sister or a brother and you receive sisters and brothers.  You have a tribe, a community, a family – you have people to share life with, whether it’s ups or downs.

We were made, by God, to do life together – to be connected to other men and women, other teens and kids.  We’re meant to have cousins and brothers and sisters and friends who support us spiritually – no one is meant to walk through life alone.  And by connection, I mean real connection – not just surface level stuff – I mean someone who will pray for you and with you.  Do you have anyone like that in your life?  Do you?

Because, here’s what happens with Peter and John: they went to the Temple one day to pray, didn’t know it was going to happen, but they wound up performing a miracle, drawing a crowd, preaching the gospel to hundreds of people, and then spent the night in jail for it all. They were brought in for formal questioning by some of the most powerful men in their nation, and then threatened to keep quiet – it’s been a pretty exciting and unnerving 24 hours.  And so, they return home and tell the church what has happened – what they’ve been through, and what’s on their mind, what they’re worried about, what might happen next – and then, they pray.

Acts 4:24 … they raised their voice to God with one accord

Here’s that phrase again “with one accord.”  Your Bible may say they raised their voices together, but the point is: this is a trend we’ve seen since the beginning of Acts.  This group of men and women were united in their outlook and efforts, they lived in harmony, they were on the same team, pushing together in the same direction.

We saw that they were:

– together with one accord in prayer in Chapter One

– together with one accord on Pentecost in Chapter Two and

– They continued together with one accord in the summary of the early church in 2:46-47.

And now we see this unity expressed in prayer for and with each other.

So, what about us?  Is this a mirror we can hold up to our own lives?  Spouses, are you praying for one another?  Families are you praying for and with one another?  Friends, roommates – people in the same home groups and Bible Studies, are you praying for and with one another? 

I’m not asking if you pray by yourself.  You should.  That’s good.  It’s important.  But Scripture shows us prayer should be part of our lives together – not just something we do on our own.  If we’re doing life well, other Christians will be praying for us, specifically, not just generally, because they know the things we’re going through, and they care.

We pray every time we gather as a church, often several times in the same gathering.  But we should also consider some special times of prayer – nights or seasons of corporate prayer, where we all, as a church, as hundreds of voices join in prayer for the same things.

One thing we already do, is we pray for each other, spontaneously.  But, we need to keep doing it!  Don’t take it for granted.  When you’re here and someone shares what’s going on with their life, what they’re concerned about – one of you, be the weird one and say, “hey, let’s pray about that right now.” 

And when you do remember: there are no magic spells for prayer.  You can even pray: God I don’t know what to say, I just know that this situation needs help.  Would you please comfort those involved, or give them wisdom, God would you please show us the way, show us what to pray.  Just give Him what you’ve got.  Pray honestly.

And when you need it, be the one who asks for prayer.  It’s OK.  It’s healthy.  Who else are you going to ask?  If you need milk, go to the store.  If you need stitches, go to the hospital.  If you need an oil change, go to your mechanic.  If you need prayer, turn to another Christian at church, or anywhere else for that matter, and ask for it.  It’s OK. We should share our burdens with each other.

Since we’re here, let’s take a look at what they prayed in Acts and see what we can learn about praying for the challenges we face.  If you’re taking notes, I want to make three points about their prayer:

– They saw the world opposing God, but

– They saw God in absolute control, so

– They asked God to empower them as they followed Him.

The disciples saw that people and power structures around them opposed God, but they also saw that this was nothing new.  They felt like Psalm Two, which they quote, was being fulfilled in their own lives.  The nations were raging, and people were plotting, kings were taking a stand and gathering against Christ.  After all, the Sanhedrin, the High Counsel of Israel, had just told them never to speak of Jesus again.

The Empire of Rome represented by Pontius Pilate and the Roman Army had put Jesus to death just a few weeks back because the aristocracy of Israel, including Herod and the Sanhedrin had lobbied for it.  It seemed like everyone in power was against God, and especially against Jesus and His followers. 

But, they also saw that God was still in absolute control.  They said, “God, none of this surprised You.  In fact, You used it all to accomplish Your ultimate plan.”  They saw God as the Creator of the world – the one who made everything. And if you can make heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them I want to argue there’s no reason to get all worked up by what a few men who hold temporary positions of power over a small section of this one planet have to say.

But, the disciples see God not only as the Creator of the world, but also the One directing its path.  The Sanhedrin, and Herod, and Pilate collaborated to do something horrible – they murdered Jesus because it was politically expedient, but it wasn’t a surprise to God, the disciples saw it as part of His plan, whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

Now, you might be asking: how’s that work? How do their choices and actions fit together with God’s pre-determined purposes?  Did these men do it, or did God make them do it? Was God pulling the strings and if so, are these men really guilty if they were just used by God?  Or, was God just waiting and watching to see what would happen as these men made whatever free-will choice they wanted to make?  How do our human freedom of choice and God’s sovereignty and pre-determined purposes fit together?

Well, there are different opinions on that and good men and women hold different viewpoints.   We don’t have the time to dissect all the philosophy here, but the bottom line is – human responsibility and divine predestination are compatible, but there are various thoughts on exactly how you make them fit.  It’s kind of like pizza, some people say you make it with a thick crust, some say it’s got to be thin; some say you make it a rectangle, some say you make it round; some say you use a red sauce, others say white – but it’s all pizza, it’s all got crust and toppings – people just differ on how you put it all together.

At the end of the day, we experience the truth in our own lives and observe it in the world –people plot and plan and God still accomplishes His purposes.  How it all works together isn’t completely clear, but live long enough and you’ll see plenty of evidence of both the choices and decisions of men and the sovereignty of God and times when God’s plans and purposes come together despite everything seeming to be against it. 

The hard part for us is, trusting that even what we’re facing right now is something He’s aware of and that He has taken into consideration.  That’s easier to believe when things turn out our way, when we get the results we hoped for – the deliverance, or healing, or rescue, but in the example we see here Jesus first hung from a cross – which is what these men wanted, and then God resurrected Him from the dead. He had to go through the pain to get to the promise.

But here’s the deal, if the most powerful people in your life – in this case people like the Sanhedrin, and rulers like Herod and Pilate in the lives of Peter and John – if the most powerful people in your life make a decision – to crucify Jesus, and then God steps in and reverses that decision – by raising Him from the dead – what kind of confidence does that give you in facing these powerful people and trusting God?

How does it change the way you see the world?  The disciples started to believe that God really could do anything.  So, they began to trust Him more and more – to see themselves as servants of God’s plan.  So they prayed, ‘God you know what’s going on – now please grant to us whatever we need to press on.’  In their case this meant boldness in preaching and the ability to do more miracles to validate their claims.  They asked:

29 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, 30 by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

Note that they didn’t ask to be kept from conflict or trials – now, that is a reasonable request at times, but look: life is hard, people hate goodness and God, there is evil and active opposition to God in the world, and sometimes it even spills over into churches – so last week you had another active shooter event during a worship service in Texas – there’s no escaping the evil of this world.  But these men didn’t ask for an easy life, they asked for strength, skills, and spiritual gifts to meet the challenges they faced.

I have no doubt that you face some challenges in life.  No doubt you face some things and some people that are making your life difficult.  So, what do you need God to grant you so that you can endure?  Are you sharing the situation with others, like the disciples, and are you praying to God, like the disciples?

Because, God loves to answer our prayers for help and strength:

Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

This is important, and I need you to see it: they asked for boldness from God and they received boldness from God.  There was a physical sign – the room shook, but more importantly, there was a spiritual work – they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. 

And, I want to point out something here – this is talking about Peter and John and some of the other early Christians – some of them, if not all of them, were together on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit there.  And then, back in Acts 4, verse 8, when the Sanhedrin questions Peter we’re told he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  And here, in verse 31, we’re told they were all filled with the Holy Spirit again.

Do you see a trend, a pattern?  Do you see something important?

Now, some of you might be a little uncomfortable with this, you’ve got a little charismatic warning light blinking right now, but I’m just asking you to look at the text – what does it say?  They were filled with the Holy Spirit.  That has to mean something significant.  Now, we all know that when you are saved, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside you, and that He will never leave you, He gives you the assurance that you are saved.  But that’s not what we’re talking about at Pentecost, is it?  Those people were already saved.  That’s not the focus when Peter is standing before the Sanhedrin. Peter was already saved.  And that’s not the focus here.  Because, again, Peter was already saved, He already had the Holy Spirit inside of Him.

Instead, we see this filling with the Holy Spirit, we see the Holy Spirit coming upon men and women and empowering them in a special way – we see a supernatural experience in their normal lives as they are enabled to do what God wants done by this special experience of the Holy Spirit in their lives. 

And this is something the church needs to experience more of today.  Our church needs to experience more filling with the Holy Spirit.  We, individually, need to experience more filling with the Holy Spirit so that we are strengthened, enabled, and equipped with spiritual gifts to face the challenges of life – because more challenges are coming.  This is going to be a crazy year – we’re on the brink of war with Iran, we’re facing an impeachment trial, and a contentious election and all the shenanigans and rhetoric and panic that go with it, on top of all the rest of the problems of daily life. 

But listen, God doesn’t expect you to make it through everything on your own.  He wants you to lean on Him, to be filled and equipped by Him just like the disciples here in Acts.

Think of it like this: if you go to work for the fire department – you say, I’m willing to help, this is what I want to do.  They will train you, teach you, but they will also equip you – they will give you the trucks, the hoses, the turnout gear – everything you need to do the work. You have to show up, you have to use the equipment, but you’ll be told where to go, and when, and you’ll be given whatever you need to do the work.

If you say I want to fight the challenges in my life, I want to resist, I want to push back against the forces of darkness in this world, in my life, and in the lives of the people I love – God will use you, He will train you, He will teach you, and He will equip you.  He will fill you with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him.  Share your situation with others, pray to God, receive from God, and then get to work.

Look at what happens next:

Acts 4:32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

36 And Joses (or, Joseph), who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

They had been arrested, questioned, and threatened – don’t speak about Jesus, or else. So, they shared their situation with others, prayed to God, received power from God, and got back to what they were doing – they preached with great power and great grace was upon them all.

And, the unity and community they experienced was tangible.  They took care of each other, ministered to one another.  They fulfilled the Great Commandment to love God and love their neighbors.

Now, we have said before, they faced a unique situation – they had all these visitors in town that they needed to provide for, people who learned about Jesus for the first time while visiting Jerusalem and wanted to know everything they could about Him before returning home wherever that might be.  So, the locals took these visitors in, and provided for them so they could hear disciples like Peter and John share about Jesus first-hand.  And in order to fund it all, some people sold their property and gave up their stuff.

They took care of physical needs like a place to stay and food to eat so that spiritual needs could be met and people could learn about Jesus.

One great example of that is this man Joseph – who they nickname Barnabas, which means, Son of Encouragement – sounds like the kind of guy you want to have around, doesn’t he?

He’s one of my favorite people in the Bible – we’ll see more of him throughout the book of Acts.  He sells off this piece of land that he had and makes the funds, as well as himself, available for ministry, which highlights a trend we see happening in the early church – people making themselves increasingly available to God and even making sacrifices of their time, talents, energies, and paycheck in order to serve God and help others – and all of this, even in the face of difficulties, resistance, and threats.

So, what do we learn from all of this?  Well, I think the important thing to see is that life is going to be filled with challenges, even if you’re serving God – difficulties come to us all.  But when they do, how do we respond?  And the answer is: we should share our burdens and challenges with people who love us, pray to the God who sees and knows all, ask for what we need and expect to receive it, and then keep pressing on.  God’s kingdom will advance.  His will, will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven and He’s offering us a chance to be involved. 

We’re going to celebrate communion now and it’s a great chance for us to remember all that God has already done for us.  The price He has already paid.  It’s a good time for us to remember that He has power, even over death.  That if the most powerful men in the world, do the worst thing they could do – put Jesus to death – God is still in control and easily undoes it all by raising Him from the dead.

If that’s true, and it is, what kind of confidence could God give you to face the challenges and trials in your life as you share your situation with others, pray to God, receive the filling of the Holy Spirit, and press into the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead? And, who’s Barnabas could you be?  Who could you bring encouragement to if God has done all of this for you?  Great things to think about as we celebrate communion today.

Let’s pray.

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