Sermon - Acts 4v23-31 – When the church prays
Sermon - Acts 4:23-31 – When the church prays – Preached @ FCC 10/19/08
Lay Reading: Psalm 61:1-5
This morning I want to ask every member or active attending non-member to join me in a season of prayer for this church. I believe that it is essential that every member be involved in the process of prayer. There is incredible power and resources available to the church that prays. Along with that thought, today I want to talk with you about what we can expect when we as a church pray. Often we look at prayer on an individual level, but there is also a corporate aspect to prayer.
The records of the early church point to prayer as its dominant feature. The early believers knew that they were responsible for each other’s well being. They were to be salt and light to their world. One way they demonstrated that responsibility was by praying for the hurts and needs around them. Just as the members of the early church prayed for the needs of the people around them, we are to pray. Prayer unlocks the storehouse of God’s infinite grace and power. All that God is and all that God has, is at the disposal of prayer.
As I have already mentioned, I want to extent to you the invitation to enter into a special season for prayer for our church and its effectiveness in this community. Paul likewise asked the church at Rome to enter into special prayer with him. “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God...” (Romans 15:30) As we work our way toward Thanksgiving and Christmas, we will hopefully see some more new faces coming by the church, kicking the tires and seeing what we are about. We need to be prayed up and ready for that.
Earlier in Acts chapter 4 we find out that Peter and John had been arrested and put in prison for preaching "in Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (Acts 4:2). As they appeared before the religious authorities and the high priest, Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks with great boldness proclaiming about Jesus that "there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) The apostles were then warned and threatened not to teach or speak the name of Jesus. Peter responds by saying, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20) Then after they were further threatened by the religious leaders they were released. That brings us to where I would like to focus today, so if you would like to follow along you can open your Bibles to Acts 4:23-32 on pages 1081 and 1697.
AC 4:23 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? AC 4:26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. '
AC 4:27 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."
AC 4:31 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. (Acts 4:23-31)
When things get rough, when we have problems, trials, or things aren’t going out way, who should we turn to? The example we see here in scripture is that they went to those who cared for them and would pray for them. Part of being a Christian means you belong to a local body of believers. Refusal to be a part of and to submit oneself to the authority of a local church opposes the plan of the Lord Jesus Christ, the builder of the church. It also causes such people to miss out because they have no local church to go to when troubles abound. Does our church serve as a place to go home to from the world of persecution, pressures, troubles, trials, and problems? Can you come here in your time of need? Peter and John did, as we read in Acts 4:23, "On their release Peter and John went back to their own people." We see the same thing in Acts 12. Herod had put Peter, in jail, but the angel of the Lord rescued him. When he realized that he was really free, Peter "went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where people had gathered and were praying" (Acts 12:12). Peter went home to his church.
We all need a place to go home to, and the church is that place. Here prayer is offered on behalf of those who are suffering and here we need to share our burdens and joys with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Being a member of a local church is a great privilege and responsibility. In fact, it is a severe punishment to be expelled from the fellowship of a local church.
Prayer is a response to God
When Peter and John were released from jail; they saw this as evidence of the grace of God at work in their lives! Is God at work in your life? What do you have as evidence? Have you stopped to praise him for what he has done for you? In the early church, every form and appearance of God’s grace was cause for prayer for the disciples. How are you doing on that? When the disciples were released and rejoined the waiting Christians they immediately had an impromptu worship service! They were thanking God for the outcome of their first significant encounter with those who didn’t like the fact that they were Christians. Apparently they just broke into prayer instinctively. Last week I mentioned the great transformation that occurred in the disciples between after the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. Here is another example. Some of these same men had fallen asleep the night Jesus was betrayed by Judas. They fell asleep when they were supposed to be praying for Jesus! Now here, just a short time later, we see them spontaneously breaking out in prayer responding to God setting them free.
It would be easy to understand why the men who were in jail were praising God for being set free, but we see that it is more than that. When members of the church heard the apostle’s report, “they raised their voices together in prayer to God.” The most powerful prayer is the prayer offered to God by people who are united in the Spirit. Let me give you a real world example. How many of you have been out to see Pastor Jack’s draft horses? For those of you who haven’t, they raise Belgian horses. A Belgian at the shoulder is often 6 feet high, and they average at least 2000lbs, and some will weigh more than your car! Now if you hook one of those horses up to a pulling sled, they can pull an incredible amount of weight behind them, they are bred to pull. They will pull a little over twice their body weight in most cases. But here is the amazing thing, if you hook two of them up to a sled, they can often pull more than four times their body weight. It works this way when we pray too. God's power through His church is greater than the sum of His power in our lives individually. When we come together, when we join forces in prayer great things can happen. I dare you to try it.
Prayer is a recognition of God
Verse 24 starts a prayer. It reads:
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?
AC 4:26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. '
AC 4:27 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.
Most of this prayer is simple recognition that God is sovereign. The word for “Sovereign Lord” here is the Greek word despota. This is the word we get the English word “despot” from and it means one who has absolute authority and here it means that God has absolute authority over His universe and his church. They were appealing to the highest authority for their protection. They presented themselves as His “servants” (v. 29) literally doulos or slaves. They were not making demands of Him.
One thing we need is to have a view of God that is large before we see how small our problems really are. We must understand that this God is the God of creation, who created all, maintains all, rules all, and owns all. The implication of course is that the creator is more powerful than those who He has created. He is greater than your problems. Greater than financial struggles, struggling to raise kids, struggling with your health, God is greater than it all. Unless we understand how great God is, we will continually sell Him short. If our view of God is too small, we will fail to seek after him in our times of pain and sorrow, and we’ll forget Him when we are blessed.
In verses 25 and 26 are a quotation from Psalm 2: 1-2 concerning the power of those who are opposed to God. The verse says that the nations “rage” which in the original Greek was used to describe the sound produced by high-fed, spirited horses. William Barclay comments, “They may trample and toss their heads; in the end they will have to accept the discipline of the reins.” The enemies of God may have great plans but they are “in vain”, which means empty. Even what seemed as the greatest defeat of Christ with His death on the Cross, God foresaw this coming and turned it in the greatest of all victories.
We see in verse 28 that the early church found great comfort in the fact that the God they prayed to was the creator of heaven and earth, the sovereign God of the universe, who was totally in control of all that happened. Should they be concerned that mere men have threatened them and are seeking to stamp out God’s kingdom? Of course not! They are on the right side, the side of God, the God of all of history. What could mere men do to them? Because of their focus on God the apostles and the early church saw the persecution they faced as an ongoing resistance to Christ and his kingdom. And in the light of what God has said, they saw this resistance as futile and foolish. The Kingdom of God cannot be stopped and because f this, they could not and would not be silenced.
Prayer is a request to God
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."
This is how sold out the early Christians were to proclaiming the good news of Christ. Their concern about the danger around them was not for their safety. It was because it might rob them of their ability to serve. They prayed for boldness. The threats from the religious leaders were intended to silence the church from speaking the name of Jesus. And so their requests were to have boldness in their speech. The prayer for boldness and confidence was an admission of their own fallibility as Christians. How easy it is to draw back and to “lighten up” when the heat is on! It would be easy to shrink back and pray for safety. They knew they couldn’t do it on their own, but they also knew that God was with them.
Verse 31 closes by saying: AC 4:31 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.
Certainly when we encounter God in a fresh way, one of the first by-products is courage. This helps us understand what Paul says in Romans 8:31 when he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It is not surprising to find verse 31 ending with the announcement that the believers “spoke the word of God boldly.” They knew God was with them, and they weren’t going to let anything, be it prison, threats or persecution, get in their way.
So the question we have to ask is; is the church in the books of Acts any different than the church today? Should it be? No. The God they prayed to is the God we pray to. The God who shook them is the God who will shake us. The God who filled them is the God who desires to fill us with His Holy Spirit. The God who empowered them to speak is the God who empowers you and I to speak so boldly about Jesus Christ.
What I want to do today is challenge you. I don’t want to be an ordinary Christian and I don’t want to be the pastor of an ordinary church. I don’t really care about the size of our church, I do care a great deal about the spirit of our church. I want to challenge you to do three things with me
1. Wherever you are spiritually, commit your heart anew to God.
2. Commit yourself to the body of Christ.
3. Commit yourself to be used of God in this church.
Now is the time to move off of dead center.
Now is the time to get involved.
We need you to pray for our church.
We need you to work, to reach this community.
We need you to commit your resources.
So today I am asking you to commit yourself to making this something other than an ordinary church. I think God has great things in store for us. Watch this video and then I will pray to close.
1) Prayer is a response to God
2) Prayer is a recognition of God
3) Prayer is a request to God
Prayer is not settling for the ordinary.
Objects: Your own hands and the hands of the children.
Scripture: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. Colossians 1: 3
Do you ever have trouble thinking of something to say when you are talking to a friend? I do. I have a friend that I walk with every day and sometimes we go for a long time without either of us saying anything. We just can't think of anything to say.
Sometimes that same thing happens when I am praying. I start to pray and then I just can't think of anything to say. Does that ever happen to you? Well, today, I want to show you something that will help you when that happens. It is called the "Five Finger Prayer."
First, I want you to put your hands together in front of you as if you are praying. Keep your eyes open so that you can see your hands. You will notice that the closest finger to you is the thumb. Since it is the closest to you, the thumb reminds you to pray for those that are closest to you. Pray for your parents and your brothers or sisters.
The next finger is called your index finger. It is used for pointing. Let this finger remind you to pray for those that point you in the right direction. Pray for your teachers at school, your Sunday School teacher, and your pastor.
The next finger is the tallest finger. This finger reminds us to pray for our leaders. Pray for the president and other leaders in our government and those who are leaders in our town.
The fourth finger is the called the ring finger. Did you know that this is the weakest of all the fingers? Just ask any one who plays the piano and they will tell you that is true. Let this finger remind you to pray for those who are sick.
The next finger is the smallest finger. The Bible says, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought." Let the little finger remind you to pray for yourself.
So the next time you are talking to God, and you can't think of anything to say, let the "Five Finger Prayer" help you.
Dear Lord, we thank you for prayer. It is good to have a friend to talk to, but even friends sometimes have trouble thinking of something to say. Help us to remember this Five Finger Prayer to remember those who need our prayers. Amen.