Peter and John were on the way to the temple in Jerusalem to pray one morning. It hadn’t been that long since Jesus went back to the Father in heaven, just a few weeks actually. They met a man who had been crippled from birth who was begging at the entrance to the temple. Peter, through the power of the Holy Spirit, healed the man, and together they walked into the temple. This, as you can imagine, created quite a stir, and it gave Peter the opportunity to share with those who had gathered the message of the good news of Christ. As a result, about 2,000 men that day trusted in Christ. They believed the message of the gospel.
Then the chief priests and the elders of the Jews got mad and had them arrested. The next day they brought them out for a “trial.” The long and short of it was that the priests couldn’t do anything to them except threaten them and tell them not to talk about Jesus anymore. Peter and John refused to stop talking about Jesus, so it was a stalemate. Eventually, they let Peter and John go, and this is where we pick up the story in Acts 4:23.
“23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
God is Sovereign
Sovereign is not a word that people use very much in this day and age, but back in history a sovereign was the king or ruler that was the highest authority in the Kingdom. The word of the sovereign was law. When the sovereign wanted something to happen, it did.
God is called “Sovereign” by the disciples when they address Him in prayer. God’s sovereignty is different than the sovereignty of human kings. His sovereignty supercedes all others. For one thing, His domain is the universe and beyond. In addition, as we see in this passage, nothing that kings or rulers desire to do or have the ability to do can throw God off from His plan.
In their prayer the disciples quote a question that king David asks which we find in Psalm 2 from the Old Testament. “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain?” (Acts 2:25) This seems to me to be both a rhetorical question and a real question.
It’s rhetorical because it’s foolish to plot against God. No matter how much plotting and planning is done by the most powerful kings and rulers on earth, no matter how much they pool their resources and bring their best minds together, it is all in vain.
The disciples saw this first hand. King Herod and Pontius Pilate along with the chief priests and elders were all on the same page in opposition to Jesus. They conspired together and plotted to take out Jesus. Yet they were blind to the fact that this was all a part of God’s plan. Each of these people – Herod, Pilate and the chief priests – had control in their own areas of authority. In one sense they were sovereign – they had complete authority in their own domains. Yet their power and ability was merely subservient to the power and the plan of God. Although they thought they were exercising their power, in fact, they were playing into God’s hand. God had predestined Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of humanity. He was the director, and they were all merely actors on the stage.
So then why did the people plot in vain? What is the answer to the real question? The peoples, and all of the people of the world including Christians at times, make our plans against the plans of the Sovereign Lord. We plan in this way because we believe that we have the power and ability to do so. Some do this because they are deceived into thinking that God doesn’t exist or that God is not involved in human affairs or they think that human ability is much greater in comparison to God’s ability than it is in reality. Those who set themselves up against God, like the kings and rulers that the disciples talk about in their prayer, do so because they don’t see the awesome power and majesty and Sovereignty of the one true God.
But even those of us who believe and have trusted Christ as our Lord, we can easily be deceived into making plans that don’t acknowledge the sovereignty of the Lord. In other words, we make our plans without attempting to see what the Lord has to say about them. One reason that Christ-followers do this is because they’ve never been truly disciple. The overwhelming majority of believers in Christ in America think more like the world than like the Lord. It takes time after we have trusted Christ and it takes much learning in the Word of God before our thoughts are transformed to be like God’s thoughts.
Another reason that Christ-followers make plans without consulting or recognizing God’s plans is because they fall back into old habits of thinking and acting. If we’re honest we would acknowledge that we have, at various times in our life with Christ, regressed back to the old ways we left behind. We so easily find ourselves in the crosshairs of the influence of our sinful natures.
The world around us is glad to help us in our regression. The world is not passive in this. It actively works to get us to doubt God and His Word. It’s like the tide of oceans, constantly working against us to try and wear us down and wear us out. This is why we need times of renewal and refreshing on a regular basis. The Lord called His people the Jews under the old covenant to set aside three times during the year for renewal – at Passover, at Pentecost and at the feast of Tabernacles. We should recognize that we too need time of refreshing and special focus on the Lord in order to be set free from those ways of thinking that try to pull us away from God and His plan.
The disciples faced this same kind of temptation in their confrontation with the chief priests. It would have been easier just to go along with what they were saying. It would have been safe to just lie low and fly under the radar and not make themselves a target for abuse. Yet, this was not God’s plan. This was not God’s destination for them and for the people of the world. The Lord had predestined that His message was to go out into the whole world so that everyone would be able to hear it.
In the midst of the threats from the chief priests, the disciple regrouped. They refocused their attention on what God has spoken through David. Instead of giving in to the thinking that others had ultimate power over them, they reminded themselves that the Lord is Sovereign. Regardless of what happened to them, God’s plan in and through their lives was being worked out. So they chose to recognize that God was in control and that the problems that they faced were merely opportunities to be able to speak His Word more boldly than ever before. The Lord echoed their prayers to this effect by producing an earthquake that shook the place where they were meeting.
What can we learn from the early church?
First, we need to bring the sovereignty of God into our everyday life. This is to recognize that everything that we face, whether it seems good or bad, God is working together for good. Peter and John faced a bad situation by being arrested, but the Lord worked it out for good. Some of those people that were in that Jewish council gave Luke details of their conversation behind closed doors. Who knows but Peter and John standing firm for the gospel of Christ helped to open some of their eyes so that they came to know the Lord. We need to train ourselves to look for what God is doing in the bad situations that we face.
Another thing we can do, let’s pray for God to heal and to do signs and wonders. Healing is not just something our compassionate God wants to do for people, healing also provides the opportunity to share the message of Christ. You may not have the same size audience as Peter when 2,000 trusted Christ that day. Yet, a person that is healed physically or emotionally is an opportunity to share the words of God with, and anyone that may be with them at the time, and the people that they know who hear about what God has done. So let’s pray boldly for God to stretch out his hand and heal and to do miracles, so that the message that He wants to share with people has a platform to be shared.
Sometimes we are timid instead of bold when praying for healing. We don’t want to presume that we are speaking for God. That is good, but it also misses the point. Consider this that the Holy Spirit shook the place after they prayed for signs and wonders and healings and boldness to share the gospel. So God affirmed their prayers for signs and wonders by doing a sign and wonder.
The point of a sign is not to point to the sign but to point to something else. Yet human nature’s tendency is to look to miracles and healings instead of the God who performs them. This was the problem that Jesus pointed out when he fed the 5,000. After doing this tremendous miracle which was a sign for people to see that Jesus was the bread of life, Jesus and the disciples left at night and went back to their home base at the town of Capernaum. The next day when the crowds realized that Jesus left, they went to find him and when they did here’s what the Lord had to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:26) Therefore, we understand that the point of signs and wonders and miracles and healings is not just because the Lord wants to help alleviate people’s suffering, which He does, but it is also to point people to Him. He is the ultimate thing that everyone needs.
Therefore, we should be those who, like these disciples, ask God to boldly heal and perform signs and wonders. We should also be like these disciples and not allow the problems and distractions that the world, life and the evil one try to throw in our way keep us from boldly telling people the truth of God’s word.
One of the greatest adventures in life is to trust the Lord to be able to share with the people in our lives what He is teaching us in the Bible. The things that the Spirit of God is working in us are the things that He wants us to share with whoever we share life with. It may be that once in a while the Lord leads us to a stranger that we only ever see once. It may be that on a daily basis we can talk with members of our family about what we are learning from God. But let us be bold to share the Word of God.
One of the greatest ways to open up that door to share the Word is to ask if you can pray for someone to be healed or to ask to pray for someone about a problem that they are facing. This takes boldness because it is so out of the ordinary. But why be ordinary? We follow and extraordinary God who calls us to boldly share His Word. He is going to work it all out for good anyway because He is the Sovereign Lord. Why not take a risk? Be bold for Jesus and just see what happens.