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.”
Read: Acts 4
Devotion: The book of Acts begins with a hopeful trajectory. Though Christ had physically left them, he did not leave them alone. Just as Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit came in power and what starts as a small church of one hundred and twenty (Acts 1:15), quickly grew into a five-thousand-member megachurch (Acts 4:4).
At the outset of the apostles’ mission to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth, it appears that the growth of the church would be smooth sailing. By the time you get to chapter four, it seems like Christ will build His church without much opposition. But even if we were Theophilus reading this account for the first time, we would know that smooth sailing would be one of the last descriptors we would use for the growth of Christ’s church (Acts 1:1).
Actually, the fourth chapter of Acts is the introduction to the opposition that will come against Christ’s people not only throughout the rest of the book of Acts, but also throughout the rest of this age. How did the Apostles and the rest of the early church react to the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”? As we look at the example set before us in Acts 4, we’ll learn how we should view the opposition that we may face as we live for Christ and proclaim his gospel.
Acts 4 begins in the temple with all of the important people of the temple angry at Peter and John for preaching about Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. Unlike a good portion of the crowd who were convicted of their sin and believed in the risen Jesus as the Messiah, their Savior, the big-wigs of the temple remained hardened to the gospel message. They arrested Peter and John, held them overnight, and then put them on trial the next morning.
The Jews’ question to the two Apostles was simple: “How did you heal the man who was born lame?” To this question Peter responds in the same way he responded to the crowd at the temple, as well as to the crowd of onlookers at Pentecost. Though his audience changed and the context of his preaching opportunities, his message did not. “Jesus is the source of the sign that you are a witness to, the same Jesus whom you killed in your sin, who did not stay dead but who was risen by God the Father in power, and who is the only means of salvation.” It didn’t matter that these people were rich, powerful, and the very ones who successfully plotted the murder of Jesus. Peter did not back down, but, filled with the Spirit, he preached to them the good news that even they can find salvation in Jesus, despite their connection to the death of Jesus.
How did these Jewish leaders respond? Unlike the crowds, they remained unconvicted of their sin, and they desired to squelch any further utterances of the name of Jesus. However, they couldn’t deny that a miracle had occurred in the healing of the lame man (who was standing beside Peter and John the whole time and that everyone had already heard of in Jerusalem, see v. 14). So, they confer amongst themselves privately, bring Peter and John back in, and do all they can to intimidate the two and get them to never speak about Jesus again (v. 18). The two apostles aren’t intimidated though, and Peter responds with a rhetorical question, “Who should we listen to? You or God? Who has the greater authority? The high priest and the council, or God” (Acts 4:19). The answer is obvious. So the council further threatens Peter and John, but they aren’t able to do anything further at the moment, so eventually release them.
Upon being freed, Peter and John’s first instinct is to report back to the rest of the body that the smooth sailing is now over. The enemies of Christ and his church, some of whom are the most powerful earthly authorities in Jerusalem at the time, are beginning to rise up. To this frightening and terrible news, what is early church’s response? It is not to fear, nor cower, nor to say, “Well, I guess we have to stop preaching the gospel for fear of our lives.” Their reaction is to go to the Father in prayer because they know that he is the Sovereign Lord (v. 24).
Above all earthly powers that may rise against them, it is God alone who possesses absolute authority and rule. It is he who created the heavens and the earth and all that are contained within them (Ps 24:1), it is he who pronounced the kind of opposition his anointed would face a thousand years before happened (Isa 53), it is he who ordained every little detail regarding the crucifixion of Christ according to his sovereign will (Acts 2:23), and it is he who will empower his people with all boldness and gifting necessary to complete the mission that his Son entrusted them with. Do we have that same conviction? Is God reigning above? Is Christ at his right hand and were all things put in subjection under his feet (Eph 1:10, 22)? If those things are true, then should we shrink back when we face opposition and hostility when we proclaim the risen Christ to a lost and dying world? The answer is “No.” Instead, we should go to the Father in prayer that his Spirit would fill us with all boldness to continue preaching Christ and him crucified through any type of persecution.
Ponder and and Pray Together: Have there been times in your life when you’ve let your fears prevent you from sharing the gospel with someone? Have there been times when though you were fearful, you shared the gospel anyway? How does Acts 4 help us to learn from those experiences? Ask that the Father would grant to you, his servants, all boldness to continue to speak his word.