How far removed are Christians today from Christians of the first century? I’ve often wondered about that question, so I went to Acts 3 and 4 to learn more. In these chapters, Peter and John call on the power of Jesus’ name and heal a crippled man. The healed man, joyous with his new mobility, walks to the temple courts with the disciples. Actually, he alternately walks and jumps—praising God the entire time. People recognize the crippled beggar, and they are stunned to see him walking and jumping.
Peter saw the surprise of the people, and he quickly and powerfully told them that they had not healed the man through their own power or goodness but through the name and power of Jesus. Peter reminded them that in ignorance, they and others had handed over Jesus to the authorities, and ultimately they had “killed the author of life.” (Acts 3:15 NIV) But Peter told them that God raised Jesus from the dead. And in the name of Jesus, Peter and John were able to heal the crippled man. Many in the crowd believed in Jesus that afternoon, but the temple guards, priests, and Saducees were quick to quell the disciples’ teachings. They took Peter and John into custody and threw them into jail for the night.
The next day, Peter and John were taken before the Sanhedrin for questioning. The 71-member Sanhedrin, presided over by the high priest, was the highest Jewish council, something like a Supreme Court for Jews. Peter and John had every reason to be concerned. After all, the Sanhedrin was the governing body that plotted to have Jesus arrested and killed. With Jesus’ persecution and crucifixion still fresh in mind, Peter and John were doubtless aware of the potential consequences of preaching the name of Jesus and answering to the Sanhedrin for it.
Yet, during the questioning by the religious leaders, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke boldly. They told the council, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” (Acts 4:10) Peter quoted Psalm 118:22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” pointing out that the stone refers to Jesus. Then Peter told them, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 3:12)
The religious council members were cornered. Standing in front of them was the healed man. Many people on the temple grounds had seen the healed man enjoying his newly found mobility and praising God. Clearly, the religious leaders were in no position to publicly discredit or punish Peter and John. So they ordered Peter and John to stop teaching in the name of Jesus.
Peter responded, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 3: 19-20)
Then the disciples went back to their group of believers and told them what had happened. Without hesitation, the new Christian congregation responded with prayer. They based their prayer on Psalm 2, a powerful Psalm prophesying of Jesus and His ultimate authority over all nations on earth. The Psalm asks why nations conspire and people plot against the Lord and His Anointed One? It says that when rulers conspire to ignore or depose God, God not only laughs, but also makes rulers the focus of His righteous anger. In this Psalm, God sets His Son over all nations, making it clear that nations are to serve Him with fear and trembling. In their prayer, the early Christians remind God how rulers conspired against Jesus to bring to pass all that God had ordained beforehand for His Son.
Rocking the World for Jesus
Theirs was a powerful prayer, to be sure. But as the prayer continues, it is important to note what the believers did not pray for, and to consider what we would pray for if we were in similar circumstances today. They, or we, could ask God:
· For protection from harsh actions from the Sanhedrin including jail,
banishment from the temple, and other sanctions
· To escape to a safer city to spread the Gospel
· For religious tolerance
· For freedom of speech
But they didn’t ask for protection or fairness. Instead they prayed to speak with the Lord’s word with “great boldness.” In effect, they did not pray to be spared, but they prayed to be placed in the thick of the battle: To speak louder, to speak more eloquently, to speak more powerfully for the Lord. They showed no fear, and they had no hesitation. They wanted even greater power to rock the world for Jesus.
The believers realized that the religious leaders showed restraint only because of the miracle of healing the crippled man. So they also prayed, “Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:29) And with the backing of irrefutable miracles and signs, they wrapped themselves with the mantel of the Lord—impervious to harassment and threats. They prayed for the power to do more in the name of Jesus.
God responded to their prayer immediately. “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 4:31) And, indeed, they spoke the word of God boldly. As Christians today, we are a living testament to their boldness and to their courage.
What a great lesson in prayer! How many times are our prayers skewed toward not having our world rocked? How often do we resist having our tidy world rocked, rearranged, threatened, or changed in any way. What would we have done if we had been in the same situation? Would we have prayed for greater boldness, or would we have wanted to avoid trouble with the authorities? The early Christians prayed to create more ‘trouble,’ regardless of the consequences. They claimed the promise of Psalm 2:12, “…Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”
The early Christians realized—far more intimately than those of us who live in a safe Christian nation—how important it was to keep spreading the Gospel at all costs. Thinking through this story in Acts, I had to take a long and hard look at my courage to speak out for Jesus. And since that long hard look, my perspective, and my prayers have changed. Today, my prayer is that God will rock my world and let me speak the Word of the Lord boldly. And like the early Christians, I pray that He will stretch out His hand to rock the entire world with His healing, and miraculous signs and wonders.