Monday, August 28, 2006

What we have seen and heard

Earlier this year I preached for Surrey CU on Later this month I'll be returning to this part of scripture with Reading CU... not to re-preach this but to look at the events that followed it. These are my initial reflections.

What was going on - we had Peter and John and the beautiful gate calling a man to be healed in Jesus' name. Peter then preached and was hauled up before the authorities.

Think for a moment, why would this happen? How could any of God's people end up in front of the authorities for their preaching? One way is by being stupid, rude, foolish. That happens. Christians are sometimes really dumb and it gets us, quite rightly, in trouble. But that wasn't what happened here.

This was different. The Saduccees had Peter and John arrested for preaching the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. They were ordered to be silent. Everyone had heard about the man they'd healed (in Jesus' name). It was undeniable. The only hope for the authorities in stopping Peter and John was to ask them to be silent. What did they say? We're just telling people what we witnessed... its undeniable!

And they're released. What happens next? They return to their friends. What would you do? Hide? Leave town?

They prayed. What would you pray? For peace? For favour with the authorities? For protection? Its their priority in prayer that I want to consider here. Two key things. First who they prayed to, and second what they prayed for.

Why is this relevant to us today? This is about the church under persecution. We might say we don't get persecuted in the UK so why is this relevant to us?
Brother Andrew tells the story of a meeting with a Romanian pastor. The pastor asked him - "Are there any pastors in prison in Holland?", receiving an answer in the negative, he was asked why... Andrew replied: "I think it must be because we do not take advantage of the opportunities God gives us". Then the difficult question: What do you do with 2 Timothy 3:12. Andrew opened his Bible and read aloud "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted". Closing his Bible he said, "Please forgive me. We do nothing with that verse".
(Cited by John Piper in Future Grace)
Something is missing if we're not persecuted. I'm not saying "go looking for it". Nor generating opposition by being dumb. I'm saying God promises persecution if we're seeking godliness. It should be happening. And if we pursue godliness then we better know how to deal with what God has promised will follow that.

Which brings us to the way the church prayed in Acts 4:23-33
ADVANCE TO GO!

1. The Sovereign Lord.
They pray to the Sovereign Lord (v24). When your preaching is met by persecution that might not seem the obvious thing to remember about God. Wouldn't we often ask "aren't you sovereign?" rather than basing our prayer in the sovereignty of God. But they did. This is the Sovereign Lord who created the heaven, earth and sea and everything in them. The sovereign creator.

This sovereign Lord is the one who spoke ahead of time and then had his word fulfilled in the death of the Lord Jesus. The Lord who is sovereign over creation is also sovereign over the work that leads to new creation... headed by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Jesus, "anointed" by God. Killed at the hands of those (Pilate, Herod and the Gentiles and Israel) who did "whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place". Everything happened as God planned in creation, in new creation... in the life of the church.

They ask of the Lord who planned and worked the death of his Son, they appeal to the one who did this. And they ask of him to stretch out his hand (v30). They ask for his power to be exercised. But not power to protect his people, nor power to prevent persecution. Their concern is elsewhere.

Some want to undermind the Sovereignty of God. Thinking that things such as the relational aspect of prayer are lost if God is utterly sovereign. However, it is only if God is Sovereign that we can pray at all. What use is a God who is not Sovereign? What help is the Lord if all things are not in his hands - we would only be talking to ourselves. A firm commitment to the Sovereignty of God must be our foundation in faith. It is the foundation of our hope, our security, our joy.

2. The Speaking Lord.
The Sovereign Lord is the who who spoke, through the mouth of David, by the Holy Spirit. And then they quote Psalm 2. That's a helpful reminder of the doctrine of Scripture - God speaks Scripture, through men by the Holy Spirit. God spoke in Psalm 2 to prophesy the death of Jesus (v27). God said that people would oppose Jesus. And now his people are likewise opposed. The opposition of Jesus was followed by his triumphant resurrection... what will happen to his people?

What do they ask for? They ask, v29, "look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness". To continue to speak with boldness? Well they certainly have boldness, they stood off against the authorities. What help do they need to do that? And why not ask for escape from the situation.

Remember how the book starts though. Jesus, whose Acts are told throughout the book of Acts, said that the Holy Spirit would empower his people to witness about Jesus. The Holy Spirit through God's people. Any speaking they have done has been God speaking through them. And they may be opposed, as Jesus was, but God would have them continue - and they are compelled to request power to continue to be bold. They could hide away but God's word must be spoken... the word must increase.

What happened next? v31. The place was shaken, like Sinai - God speaking to his people. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (the power to witness) and continued to speak the word of God with boldness! The prayer was answered... what follows shows that the rest of their request for healings and signs and wonders was also completed in the name of Jessus. This was God's hand being stretched out.
And, v33, "with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all"
If we are to pursue a life of godliness, persecution should follow. Prayerfully let us be prepared. Let us call upon the Sovereign Lord to Speak through his people by the power of the Holy Spirit... so that we would testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

Acts 6 tells us that as the word increases, the number of disciples increases. Prayer was an essential part of the apostolic ministry, as was the preaching of God's word. And Acts 4 tells us that a key focus of their prayer was seeking power for preaching the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. What will we give ourselves to? Not to seek persecution as an end in itself. Rather, let us also devote ourselves to prayer for power to preach Christ, and then to preaching Christ by the power of God.

That means we have to prioritise prayer together. Too often prayer meetings are booked in small rooms, declaring that they're not for everyone. Let us book big rooms for prayer together. There might only be a few people coming now, but that can change!

This means that when we pray we need to pray for power to preach. That doesn't mean you can't pray about work, or for healing... but our priority should be for God's power to give us boldness to continue to speak his word. The Holy Spirit is given for this purpose... what will we be saying without his empowering?

And this means that we then need to devote ourselves to proclaiming the word of God to people. Verbally explaining the good news about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, carefully explaining the meaning of it. Take note of Voddie Baucham's words:
"“I don’t know when I adopted it, but my motto is ‘Speakers come from Radio Shack; I come to Preach!’ I believe that our unwillingness to use the term ‘preacher’ today is due to the fact that preaching has fallen out of favor."
Preaching has fallen out of favour and people invent ways to prevent it happening. It might come from Francis and Fraudulant Claims or from religious authorities who want the gospel silenced. The ways are various, but if the word is silenced there will be no new disciples... when the word increases, the number of disciples increases.

3 comments:

  1. Yes! the Preaching of the Gospel must be done...Praise God for his Holy Word and Grace that opens the hardest of hearts :-)

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  2. "Preaching has fallen out of favour and people invent ways to prevent it happening. It might come from ... religious authorities who want the gospel silenced."

    Dave, I'm curious: which religious authorities do you feel want the gospel silenced? And where do you think people are trying to prevent it?

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  3. Its not the most helpful phrasing -
    "religious authorities" were the issue in the 1st Century.

    I think it is fair that there are those today inside and outside the church who do not want the gospel preached... prefering a less weak looking, less exclusive alternative...

    I suppose that can show itself most in opposition to the Truth or Moral claims and implications of the amazing news about Jesus. All of which are really good news, unless someone doesn't want to repent and believe in Jesus.

    Evangelicalism is also somewhat infected by the spurious francis quote... though those who promote a gospel that we don't need to speak of still do a lot of talking.

    I'm not trying to claim that we currently have 1st Century style persecution in the UK but that we ought to share the early church's priorities of prayer and word ministry... even if it leads to persecution.

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