Speak the Word with Boldness (Acts 4:23-31)
Topic: One Mission: I am Not Ashamed Passage: Acts 4:23–31
I. Called Through the Gospel
I have no doubt that if the Apostle Peter were with us this morning, he would remember and be able to describe for us that day by the seashore when Jesus called to him, saying, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Years later, when he wrote the letter we call “1 Peter”, I would be surprised if he wasn't thinking about that day when he wrote in 2:9,
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
As was true for Peter many years earlier, his readers had also heard the call of Christ, out of darkness and into his light; and to a ministry of proclamation, as a royal priesthood. Paul would later explain how this calling takes place, even after the ascension of Jesus (his return to the Father). He wrote to the Thessalonians, “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:14) Those first disciples may have moved from a shore by the lake to a dusty road right behind Jesus, but his call ultimately meant they moved from darkness to light. From death to life. From the world and devil, to God.
As we wrap up this series on what the Scripture calls “the work of ministry”, we need to come full circle to those who still need to hear the call of Jesus. Having focused last week on disciple-making within the church, let's talk this morning about “the work of ministry” outside the church.
II. The Passage: “Grant to Your Servants... Boldness” (4:23-31)
Look with me at Acts 4, verses 23-31. A quick word about the context. In the early weeks of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, Acts 3 tells us that two of the fishermen Jesus called several years before (Peter and John, who were now apostles)[they] had, in the name of Jesus, miraculously healed a paralyzed man. As the crowd swelled in light of this miracle, Peter was able to share the gospel message we find recorded in 3:12-26. But the Jewish leaders were not pleased and arrested the men, warning them not to continue their preaching. Though Peter and John were clear that they could not comply with that warning, the Jewish authorities, recognizing the popularity of these men, felt compelled to release them. Let's pick up the story in 4:23...
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.  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,  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?  The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—  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,  to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.  And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,  while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  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.
Before we dig into this passage, let's me point something out right away. This passage begins and ends with “the work of ministry”. Just before our passage, Peter and John are arrested and threatened for carrying out “the work of ministry”. But after being released, notice who resumes “the work of ministry”? Peter and John? Yes. But along with them, everyone who greeted them upon their release is said to now be engaged in this work. This group is called “their friends” in verse 23, but literally in the original Greek it simply says, “they went to their own”. In all likeli-hood, these are the same people, and this is the same house from chapter 1, just before that first outpouring of the Holy Spirit. If this was only referring to the apostles, Luke usually has no problem making that clear. But given the parallels with chapters 1 and 2, I think we should understand this as a diverse group of believers from that original core group. Now, that being said, think with me about the progression of this passage.
First, I think it's extremely helpful to note how, in the opening verse, opposition to the gospel drives these believers to prayer. They don't run. They don't give up. They don't strategize. They don't hire an attorney. They pray. Peter and John tell these believers about how the Jewish leaders threatened them because they were sharing this Good News about Jesus, and these threats drive them to prayer. What an encouraging example! If you've ever shared Christ with someone else, you know the temptations that come when you face opposition (whether that opposition is explicit and intense, or more subtle, and even politely dismissive). But instead of giving in to those temptations, temptations to give up, or compromise our message, or become bitter or depressed, let us follow the example set by these brothers and sisters... and pray.
Second, I also want you to see how this prayer is lifted up in light of God's sovereignty. The prayer preserved for us here is dripping with the beautiful truth that God really is in charge. The “Sovereign Lord” to whom they pray is not only the Creator of all things, he has also foretold through the psalmist the very opposition Jesus endured from the same Jewish leaders, opposition that resulted in his death. But nevertheless, that opposition (according to v. 28) resulted in the fulfillment of God's “predestined” plan. Though these disciples of Jesus are now the ones in the crosshairs of the Jewish authorities, they seem extremely encouraged that they can pray to the One who truly has all authority, and will accomplish his good purposes.
Third, we can't miss the fact that when these believers pray, they pray specifically for divinely-granted boldness in light of this opposition. Please notice that they are not praying for these Jewish leaders to be taken out of the way, or even for the softening of their hearts (although that is a good prayer, and probably one they also prayed). No. In light of what Jesus taught them, they simply accept the ever-present reality of worldly, fleshly opposition to the gospel... then they pray specifically for their own hearts. They are saying, “God, in light of these threats, give us courage to speak.” They don't pretend to be courageous, because in and of themselves, they are not. They recognize that they need to pray for boldness. They are not praying about what they should do (since they understood the call of Christ). No. They simply pray for the courage to do the very thing they know they should.
Fourth, it's encouraging to note that God's answer to their prayer comes through the power of the Spirit. Just like in chapter 2, when the Holy Spirit arrives, their tongues are empowered to speak. But this time they are not speaking in foreign languages. This time they are speaking their own language, but with Spirit-empowered boldness. I'm guessing the apostles remembered two different times where Jesus spoke to them about this very thing: “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:11) We also read in the Gospel of John, chapter 15, verses 26 and 27...
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness...”
III. The Word, The Spirit, and Prayer
Why is that so encouraging, brothers and sisters? Because we've also been given the Spirit! And he wants to empower us in exactly the same way. I said at the outset that as we wrap up this series on what Scripture calls “the work of ministry”, we need to come full circle to those who still need to hear the call of Jesus. I'm guessing that when I mentioned that earlier, and began to talk about every believer speaking God's word to the unsaved... I'm guessing many of us started to get uncomfortable. And when we get uncomfortable about the idea of sharing our faith with others, we're tempted to do all sorts of things. Sometimes we suggest that evangelism is someone else's gift. Or we shift the conversation from a ministry of the word to a ministry of good works. “I'd really rather serve than speak.” But remember what we talked about last time. God's design for every disciple is to become more like Jesus. And one of the ways we become more like Jesus is loving others with the word and through the gospel. Having been made disciples of Jesus, we can now partner with Jesus in that very work of disciple-making!
Remember last week's definition of disciple-making: spiritually investing in others with an eye toward their wholeness in Christ. Did you know that can and should happen inside and outside the church? The goal is that your conversations with your neighbor, coworker, or family member are driven by the same heart that informs your conversations with your brothers and sisters in Jesus. It's a heart committed to the idea that human beings can only find real wholeness in Jesus Christ. Therefore, it's a heart that always aims to point others to that very wholeness. Of course when you do that, how you do that, to what extent you do that, depends on the person in whom you are spiritually investing. But that investing flows from the same heart.
But when we do get fearful and anxious about the idea of sharing the word in this way, let's remember what God has revealed to us this morning. First, may opposition or resistance or indifference drive us to prayer not passivity. Second, let us pray in light of God's sovereignty, trusting that he is with us and he is for us. In the struggle, that should bring us comfort. And in our success, it reminds us that he's the One working and therefore gets all the glory. Third, when opposition or resistance or indifference drives us to prayer, yes, pray for the hearts of those you're trying to reach. But pray as well for divinely-granted boldness; for courage to speak when you feel fearful, and peace to speak when you feel anxious. That's what these believers are modeling for us so beautifully in this passage. We don't need to let fear hold us back, or inspire self-condemnation. God knows our struggles. That's why his word encourages us to pray for boldness he loves to give. Fourth, as we just talked about... we know where this boldness, this peace, this wherewithal, comes from. It comes from the Spirit of God inside us. Amen?
Brother, sister, God designed you for “the work of ministry”. Yes, he wants to equip you through godly leaders, and build you up through fellows saints. But he will also empower you through his Spirit for your ministry of the word, inside and outside the church. This is the call of Jesus in the life of every disciple. This is our priesthood to others in light of His perfect priesthood to us. The Word who become like us for our redemption is the One who empowers us to become like him in bringing that word to others... for their redemption. Don't know where to start? Start where these believers started: start praying. And in your prayers, rehearse the sovereignty of God in and over the gospel. And in your prayers, pray sincerely for boldness to do what you know you can't do on your own. When you do that, as we do that, be prepared. For what? As Peter wrote one chapter later in 1 Peter 3:15, “...always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)
August 27, 2023Praying for God's People (Daniel 9:17-19)
August 20, 2023Daniel's 'Not of This World' Example (Daniel 1:8-17)
August 13, 2023The Shepherd's Rescue (Ezekiel 34:10-12)