Acts 4:23-31 – Why Not Us?

Hear My Plea by Rochelle Blumenfeld

The apostles Peter and John were arrested for preaching the good news about Jesus. After warning and threatening them to stop doing this, the ruling council of the Jews released them. This was the apostles’ response….

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens 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 rise up
    and the rulers band 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. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

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. (NIV)

The early believers in Jesus turned to God in a time of persecution. They found comfort in how God had worked in the past. The ancient church claimed the strength to carry on with speaking about Christ in their everyday lives. When they heard about threats against the apostles, the believers did not get angry or upset about how terrible things were. Instead:

The church decided to concentrate on corporate prayer together.

God is going to do what God is going to do. No government, nation, institution, group of people, or individual person can thwart God’s agenda for the church and world. God is sovereign over everything. We are not. Our place is to participate in God’s agenda through the ministry of prayer and speaking the word of God.

God acted in the past, on behalf of those first believers who came to Jesus and worshiped him with all their hearts. God is still transforming lives. It happened in ancient Jerusalem, throughout the history of the church, and in places today around the world. It can also happen with us.

Prayer is like breathing – inhaling more of God and exhaling less of me. Prayer takes the form of first remembering what God did in the past. Then, we pray specifically for our current situation which connects to the larger purposes of what God is doing. All the while we anticipate God will hear and act, just as has been done throughout history.

Remembrance is an important dimension to biblical prayer. Memory is necessary because we have a tendency toward forgetfulness. The older we get the more we tend to forget (probably because we have so much to remember!). So, continually rehearsing what God has done keeps us grounded in Scripture and tethered to what God can do now.

Remembering God’s saving actions and finding our own personal stories in the grand story of redemption helps us to pray in biblical ways.

The prayer of the early believers was a rehearsal of God’s mighty reputation, from creation to King David, to the redemptive events of Jesus. They reminded God of when, in the past, there was divine intervention. The church collectively quoted Psalm 2 about the Messiah. That psalm declares how the nations of the earth plot in vain because the Lord is the One who shall prevail over every hard circumstance. 

God bends each malevolent action toward the redemption and transformation of humanity. God will work out benevolent plans and purposes, even using people who have no acknowledgment of God. God is not surprised by our troubles and our tough situations.

God is never frustrated by people acting badly, because divine providence and guidance is in control, even if we cannot always perceive it or see it in the moment.

Remembering and rehearsing what God has done in the past helps us realize that, during any trouble, God is in control and will accomplish good plans on this earth. The prayer of the believers in Acts made the connection between what God has done and what they needed.

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Interestingly, the believers did not pray for relief from oppression or for God to judge their persecutors. Instead, they prayed for boldness to speak the word of God in the middle of their trouble. They rightly discerned that they needed to pray for courage to speak about Jesus. So, the church prayed for God to act in power, for God’s Word to go forth, and for Christ’s Name to be glorified.

God’s response to the prayer was immediate. The place where the church was praying shook. God did exactly what they asked for – filling them up with the Spirit, so that they spoke boldly about Jesus. Just as God empowered people for service in the past, so it was done in the present. What’s more, God will empower us with the same courage.

It is completely normal to simultaneously yearn for bravery while being afraid of getting a prayer for boldness answered. This is more than trying to overcome feelings of awkwardness or shyness. For the early believers, a very real and immediate danger to speaking up about Jesus was present.

It seems to me we need more people who know how to ask good questions and have the patience and attention to listen well and respond thoughtfully. It does no good to simply dispense answers to questions people aren’t asking. Speaking about Jesus does not mean making spiritual cold calls on strangers. And it certainly doesn’t involve being obnoxious or acting like a spiritual pester pup.

Discussing Jesus mostly means speaking casually, one-on-one, with a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member you already know. Too often we might try to fly under the radar and avoid people because we think talking about Jesus is going to be too hard, or out of our league.

Confidence and courage are not telling people what they ought to believe. It is rather like sharing a precious gift with someone. It begins in relationships with people we care about and extends to a relationship with God. It is about discovering God together, and not arm-twisting others to personal ethics or churchgoing.

Yet, it may still all sound too scary. So, maybe we start with this: “Tell me what’s going on.” Then listen. After listening, say, “I’ll pray for you.”  The next time you encounter the person, ask how that situation went.  Express that you’ll pray again. Keep doing it and watch what God will do through you.

When we pray for boldness, and courageously make ourselves available to God, then we are living sacrifices. This is our spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1-2) Who knows? Why not here? Why not now? Why not us? After praying, we might find our meeting places shaken, lives transformed, and everyone filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

God almighty, as you sent the Son, send us into the world with your compelling love. Help us by means of your Spirit, to share your good news of love, forgiveness, justice, peace, compassion, and care. Revive your Church, o Christ. Gracious God, work everywhere reconciling, loving, and healing your people and your creation. Open our eyes to your mission in the world. Send us to serve with Christ, taking risks to give life and hope to all people and all your creation. Amen.

Acts 5:33-42

            People talk about things which are important to them.  Even quiet and introverted individuals will speak at length, barely taking a breath, if you get them on a topic they are passionate about.
            Today’s New Testament lesson has the Apostles speaking incessantly about someone they love to talk about.  In fact, the Apostles (the original disciples of Jesus) talked so much about what they loved that the Jewish ruling council of the time (the Sanhedrin) wanted to shut them up by killing them.  But a wise member of the council saw the foolishness of this and persuaded them against it.  Instead, the council gave the Apostles a thorough whipping, warned them to stop talking all the time, and let them go.
            There is a time to listen, and there is a time to speak.  The Apostles could not keep silent.  They considered their beating an act of solidarity with their Lord Jesus and went right on talking.  The text says: “Every day they spent time in the temple and in one home after another.  They never stopped teaching and telling the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”
            The joy of knowing Jesus – crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again – is such a full experience that one cannot help but talk and speak about him incessantly.  Even in the face of persecution, the ecstasy of knowing Christ transcends physical pain and suffering.
            Consider the Apostles, and think about the church today.  There are places throughout the world where the scenario of constant chatter about Jesus is taking place with joy, despite the presence of persecution.  There are also places, mainly in America, where talking about Jesus does not even take place in the church building where believers gather to worship, let alone out in the public square.
            The great tragedy of the contemporary Western church is that you can talk about only the weather, the latest sports, political happenings, and get away with never speaking about Jesus.
            Today, allow two different emotions to sway your prayers and speech.  First, allow the joy of the Lord Jesus to fill you and give you freedom to speak his Name and the grace he gives to others.  Second, allow a sorrowful lament to rise from your heart and speak it out loudly before God concerning the great silence of the church in the West.

 

Loving Lord Jesus, you save completely those who come to you by faith.  Thank you for the work of forgiveness and healing that takes place in your Name everyday in the world.  Yet, I also lament the many confessing believers in your Name who never speak of the good news in their everyday conversations, even at church.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy, and grant us peace.  Amen.

Romans 15:14-21

            Paul was an apostle, that is, a person commissioned by God and sent to the Gentiles – people other than the Jews.  Through Peter, and then Paul, the good news of Jesus spread to persons that were beforehand considered unreachable.  Paul saw himself as having no limits as to who could hear and respond to the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  He understood himself as standing between heaven and hell, interceding and pleading on behalf of people who need their lives changed through Christ.
 
            It is quite possible that there are persons in our sphere of influence in which we think that they would never respond to the message of Christ’s redemption.  In this holiday season of the year, in which we remember God’s loving gift in the humility of God becoming man, it is far too easy to lose sight that at that Christmas party, family gathering, and interaction with that person in the long shopping line, there are those who need Jesus – and we will never know if God is wooing them to himself unless we share life with them.
 
            Perhaps we need to see ourselves as Paul did – standing in the gap and always trying to find ways to proclaim the gospel to people who require deliverance from empty ways of life.  That cousin or uncle, that co-worker or friend, and that neighbor or new acquaintance, can be forgotten by us as to their ultimate and most real need to discover faith.  We, my friends, are the conduit that God has ordained to bring his life-giving message to people all around us – people for whom we might have already written off as unreachable.
 

 

            We praise you, O God, for the ministry and success of your servant, the Apostle Paul, through whom we who are Gentiles owe our own faith and calling.  Grant us a vision like his, the conviction and commitment to pursue it, and the grace which confirms and prospers it.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23

19 I am not anyone’s slave. But I have become a slave to everyone, so that I can win as many people as possible. 20 When I am with the Jews, I live like a Jew to win Jews. They are ruled by the Law of Moses, and I am not. But I live by the Law to win them. 21 And when I am with people who are not ruled by the Law, I forget about the Law to win them. Of course, I never really forget about the law of God. In fact, I am ruled by the law of Christ. 22 When I am with people whose faith is weak, I live as they do to win them. I do everything I can to win everyone I possibly can. 23 I do all this for the good news, because I want to share in its blessings.
 
            What will it take?  What will it take to win the world for Jesus Christ?  What will it take to win your neighbor?  What will it take to win your relative, co-worker, or friend?  It will take becoming a slave.  That is, winning others to see the glorious and incredible good news of forgiveness and new life in Jesus takes giving up our rights and our freedoms in order to have a ministry of presence.  We have to be around other people in order to win them.  That’s why winning the party-crowd takes going to the bar.  It’s why winning young moms takes sitting with them at the park while the kids play.  It is why it takes being present among people in the community in order to reach them, instead of wishing that people will magically show up at church in order to experience our friendliness.
 
            The turn of thought that we need is this:  Other people do not need to show up on our turf and become like us.  Instead, we need to show up on their turf and become like them.  If it weren’t in the Bible we would think it blasphemous to say such a thing.  But there it is, and we must wrestle with its implications for our lives.  So, what needs to change?
 

 

            Merciful God, you want to cut me into the action of what you are doing in the world.  Help me live wisely among those who don’t yet know you, so that they can see the light of Christ in me, hear the words of Christ from me, and experience the salvation of Christ.  Amen.