11. Peter and John Imprisoned and Taken to Court for the First Time (Acts 4:1-22)
19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves, 20 for we can’t help telling the things which we saw and heard.” 21 When they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people; for everyone glorified God for that which was done. 22 For the man on whom this miracle of healing was performed was more than forty years old.
The high court decided that the two apostles and the healed man should preach no more in the name of Jesus. The two witnesses, however, answered that if they were required to choose between the will of God and the decree of men they had no choice but to obey God. They had to oppose every form of hypocritical truth or pretense. This opposition came not from a revolutionary spirit, but from obedience to the Holy Spirit, who leads believers not to armed revolution, but to witness boldly for Jesus.
The two apostles jointly answered: “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Their hearts and lives were filled with experiences with Christ, who had been raised from the dead. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. So, dear brother, how do you speak throughout the course of the day? How often do you pronounce the name of Jesus? Does the Lord’s Spirit dwell in you? Or are the spirits of money, impurity, and indifference master over you? You are what you speak of. You are not what you keep silent about. Jesus’ holy witnesses cannot help glorifying their living Lord, for they have received the Holy Spirit, and He has made them witnesses to the person of Jesus. This is their office, their ministry, and their enablement. The power of God is included in the testimony to Jesus’ works and words. So speak, and do not keep silent. Pray, however, before you speak, lest you become a clanging cymbal or a beating drum.
The leaders of the people were unable to devise any way of punishing or exterminating Christ’s witnesses without exciting a tumult among the people and endangering their own authority. So they warned them, hoping to find in their threat a method that would thereafter give them the right and ability to strangle the movement of Christ. How wonderful, for all of Jerusalem was overflowing with God’s praise, being in astonishment over this miraculous healing. The inhabitants immediately realized from this miracle that the presence of the Most High had not yet left their city, but had bent down over the poor. The power of His salvation was working through the witnesses of His Christ.
12. The Common Prayer of the Church (Acts 4:23-31)
23 Being let go, they came to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, “O Lord, you are God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; 25 who by the mouth of your servant, David, said, ‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot a vain thing? 26 The kings of the earth take a stand, and the rulers take council together, against the Lord, and against his Christ.’ 27 “For truly, in this city against your holy servant, Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen. 29 Now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
Following their release, the two apostles went back to the upper room, where some of the brothers were meeting together for continuous prayer. As long as a single one of them was in prison, they continued praying by turns, asking that the Lord might give the imprisoned one power, wisdom, courage, guidance, and protection. When Peter and John went back and told them how the Lord had helped bear witness to Jesus’ name and salvation before the rulers of their nation, they rejoiced and thanked God greatly. At the same time, they felt sorrow over the high council´s command to prevent them from preaching again in the name of Jesus, for they were all subject to this decision. They had expected that the rulers would repent. Yet now it appeared that they had become even more hardened toward Jesus. They had prayed for the salvation of the chief priests and the elders; the result was more rejection and threat.
After the two apostles were released another miracle happened. The church did not confer over the best way to get around the decision, which would have prevented them from speaking in the name of Jesus Christ. Its members suggested neither compromise, cautious speaking, nor waiting for more convenient times. Instead, they knelt down for prayer and turned their sights to the almighty God who made heaven and earth and everything there is. They turned away from people, facts, and authorities. The Most High was their Father. To Him they would ask all their questions, and before Him they laid open the threat of the high court, which had already been responsible for crucifying Jesus.
The Holy Spirit directed this family of God to pray together in one voice, reciting some verses from Psalm 2. These Psalms, the praise songs of the Jews, had been filling their hearts. They all became prophets in the spirit of prophecy. They saw in the movements of their government and the developments in the Roman Empire man´s rebellion against God and His Christ. If only we, too, had the prophetic insight to recognize our own situation amidst present political, economical, and religious developments! The world is racing towards the time when differing peoples and nations will be unified into a huge world state ruled by the antichrist, which will then do battle against God and His Christ.
This movement, led by the spirit of the devil, began at that time in Jerusalem, when the enemies of God met together to kill Jesus. The Jewish nation and the Roman authorities, in spite of their variance with each other, united against the Lord’s Christ. Pilate, the Roman governor, Herod, the king, and Caiaphas, the sly judge, failed greatly, however. Their judgment became inoperative and worthless, for the crucified Christ had not decayed away in the tomb. Instead, He rose, turning all the evil purposes of men into God’s triumph. All things work together for good to those who love God. The plans of the Most High are unperceivable, full of grace, mercy, and compassion. The enemies of God have to serve Him, for nothing in our world can happen without the will of our heavenly Father. He does not leave us in the arms of death.
With this faith, the praying company plucked up courage, and placed the rulers’ threats in the hands of God. They did not talk long about their trouble and persecution, but entrusted to God the command of the unjust to stop talking about Jesus. The Holy Spirit guided them to ask the Lord for additional power in their service of bearing witness to Jesus Christ They asked God to support them with wisdom, courage, and strength to portray before their hearers Jesus of Nazareth as the Savior of the world. This is pure testimony to the word of God itself. God directly speaks through the one who bears witness to Jesus and blesses his testimony. The Holy One calls all men to the cross in order that He may redeem, cleanse, and perfect them. Have you, dear believer, opened your mouth for God, or are you still afraid? Do you pray for boldness and for the gift of empowerment to speak under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit?
Those who gathered for prayer also asked for fruit to arise from the power of God. When they spoke the word of God they experienced its powerful working in their midst. They did not seek signs merely to confirm their faith as individuals. The whole church begged God for healing and miracles in order to glorify the Savior’s name. They wanted the doubtful and slow of faith to realize that there is no way to heaven except in Jesus, who holds in His hands the keys of paradise and of hell.
God heard the courageous prayer of faith and answered it. It was the only prayer we have record of from the early church. God stretched out His hand of blessing upon the meeting so that the chairs trembled and the place was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit as at Pentecost. Whenever we pray in harmony with the Spirit of God´s love, asking Him to manifest His truth, God answers our prayer immediately and with certainty. God strengthens Christ’s ministers, producing courage in them and establishing them in the hope of faith. He fills them with the power of love.
What was the result of this unique prayer? Though the rulers had commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, they spoke all the more boldly and publicly about their Savior. They preached His name in their houses, in back lanes and on streets, and even in the wide courtyard of the temple. The Lord had filled them anew with His Spirit, and equipped them to be His witnesses. Think carefully about the meanings of this familiar prayer of the early church. You, too, dear believer, can participate in proclaiming it prayerfully.
PRAYER: O glorious Father, You are the Creator, the Savior, and the Finisher of our days. The world is gathering its peoples against You. O Lord, look at their threats, and grant Your servants to speak Your word with all boldness. Do miracles, wonders, and signs through the name of Your holy Son, Jesus.
- Why is the proclamation of the word of God necessary and essential for the Holy Spirit to work?