Two week ago, God gave me the idea about 20 minutes before the start of the service to add a story from Acts 3-4 to the end of the message. Funny thing was God didn’t let me give that message that day anyways. That’s okay, because He did something greater! Since then, God has brought it to my attention that we are to look at this story further. But before I get into that, let’s put our minds around this.
When the Church was born, it was born as a movement. There were no buildings, no pews, no hymnals, no liturgy, no traditions. It was just a group of people that saw something supernaturally happen right in front of them, and with that witnessing came a simple mission: To go out and spread this good news letting people know that Jesus rose from the dead. And this made the Church totally outward focused.
But do you know what happened over time? The church got buildings, and there began to be some organization, which was not a bad thing, but with that came hierarchy where people realized they could leverage religion to control people. And before long, this outwardly focused movement that was about passion and love and acceptance and—we don’t care where you’re from or what you’ve done or what color your skin is, we just want you to know that Jesus is the Son of God and has risen from the dead—this outwardly focused movement began to turn inward.
You know what I’ve learned? Churches make this transition from outward focused to inward focused very, very quickly. Many times, we don’t even know we are doing it. It happens that fast. In this part of the Church body here at YSGMC, we are not immune from the subtle turn to where it’s all about us. One of the ways you know whether or not a church is still on mission, still on track with what God really intended when He launched the Church, is how a church prays. And since we are about enter into a prayer challenge on November 1st, I think God’s got good timing on this message.
Think about the prayers that you pray and the things you pray about on a regular basis. I bet I know what you pray about because we all kind of pray the same stuff. Now there are exceptions because there are highs and lows in life, and we have just witnessed a lot of that here in this church, and we have watched God’s might through those situations. But outside of those highs and lows, the average prayer for most of us is: We pray for our family, we pray for ourselves, and we pray for a sick person or two, and that’s about it. Good stuff.
But for the most part, much of what we pray for does not exercise God’s might. A lot of the stuff we pray for is already going to work out. For example, we pray to have a safe trip. I’m not saying this is a bad prayer. I pray it with my family too, but what I’m saying is God doesn’t get all worked up to give a safe trip to vacation.
Another example, we eat pizza and ask God to magically bless it to our bodies. We ask God to help me to have a good day. Well He does that every day, we just don’t.
Now, you should keep praying for all that stuff. I’m not saying you shouldn’t. But a lot of times I wonder if God isn’t going, “Ask me something important! I’m God, the Creator of the universe. You keep asking me for stuff that’s going to work out anyway, and I care about that stuff, but try me, test me, give me something BIG.”
But all too often, the thing that all of our prayers have in common is that at the center of our prayers is really us. In fact, just guessing, if God had answered all of your prayers last year, the only person that would be better off is you. Every now and then maybe a family member, but you would be married, your kids would have gotten into better schools, you would have a better paying job.
I don’t think you should quit praying any of that. But what my concern is, as your pastor and your sister in Christ, is that when you get self-centered pray-ers all together, after a while they start acting like self-centered Christians. All of a sudden, this incredible church goes from an outward thinking church to an inward thinking church. And when that happens, this just becomes a church building, and we just become church people, and we just do church things. Then we get on each other’s nerves because we become so self-centered, and we go find ourselves another building that we call a church.
But since you are here today, I believe you want to be a part of something bigger than that. I’m telling you, churches who are focused on God’s big mission, pray big prayers. So today, I want to challenge you to start praying a little differently, to start praying more like the early Church did, more about God’s mission.
So I’ll set the scene for Acts 4 where we’ll spend our time today. On day one of this movement, three thousand people joined the Church. That was a big church launch. A few days later, Peter and John are going to the temple to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. The temple is the epicenter of ancient Judaism. Peter and John are Jews, so they’re going there to pray, but now they’re Christians, followers of Jesus, so there’s a little conflict going on. And on the way, they see a grown man who hasn’t been able to walk since he was born.
Since he was crippled, the only thing for him to do is to be a beggar. Every day, friends would carry him to the temple gate where he would sit for hours and hours begging for money. That’s how he survived. So when Peter and John approach him, and he asks them for money Peter says, we don’t have any money, but I’ll give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ, get up and walk. And all of a sudden, this guy is miraculously healed.
So excited, feeling so grateful he doesn’t want to let go of Peter and John and he follows them into the temple. The temple is full of people who recognize him, whose minds are now absolutely blown. Their like, I’ve known this guy since he was a kid. Each day, I see him sitting in the same spot begging for money, and now he’s seriously walking!
And suddenly, there’s a stir in the temple. It was one thing when Peter was creating havoc out in the streets, but now he’s drawing attention in the temple. So as everyone gathers around to look at this guy walking, Peter just can’t help himself and he decides to preach a sermon right there in the temple. He didn’t have authority to that, but he did anyways and shared again who Jesus is and how He was raised from the grave.
And Luke, the author of this book tells us that by the end of the message, many of the people who heard it believed it and now the number of believers totaled about five thousand men, not counting the women and children. So, now you have this huge amount of the city of Jerusalem turning their attention toward this new religion, this new belief about Jesus rising from the dead. And the people in charge of the temple, were not happy.
So they arrest Peter and John, throw them in jail for the night. Word spreads throughout the city. The people that were close to Peter and John had to be a little nervous because it was just two months earlier this same group of people had Jesus crucified.
The next morning, the religious leaders question Peter and John about how they healed this man. And Peter says, I’m glad you asked, and he launches into another sermon about Jesus being the Son of God and about Jesus rising from the dead. And as he concludes his sermon, he says:
10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
As you can imagine, this really bugged the leaders of the temple. But the problem was, the guy that had been healed came to the meeting, and he’s standing right in front of them. They knew him to. They saw him every day as well. And like everyone else, they knew this was a miracle, so they couldn’t exactly punish the miracle workers.
13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.
This is just his second day of standing. It was just the day before that he couldn’t stand or walk. In fact, I bet he didn’t even go to bed that night. He probably just kept walking and walking. I mean come on, how would you feel if you had never been able to walk in your entire life and all of a sudden, when you were not expecting it, you’re miraculously healed?
So they say to Peter and John, “Look, we’re going to let you go. We can’t punish you for healing this guy, but don’t come in here anymore with this kind of ridiculous teaching. Don’t talk about Jesus. Don’t talk about the resurrection, and quit blaming us for crucifying him. Just keep your mouth shut and all will be fine.”
Peter looks at them, right fresh out of jail and says, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than Him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19) To keep a riot from happening since everyone was so excited about what happened to this man, they threaten them under their breathe and let them go.
So Peter and John take off through the streets. They find the group—Mary, James, Andrew, and all the other disciples and followers—and everybody breathes a sigh of relief because they didn’t know if they would ever see these guys again. And then, Luke tells us they prayed.
Now, I’m going to show you the prayer in just a moment, but how would you respond at this point? You almost lost two very important people in your group. They barely escaped with their lives. So, what would you pray for in this moment?
Likely, we would pray for protection. “God, this is serious. Keep this from us from all of this trouble and cover us with a hedge of protection.”
In fact, I think what we would have responded to the guys like, “Okay, look, here’s what we’ve got to do. First of all, Peter and John, you are not allowed to travel together anymore. You are way to valuable, so when one goes, the other stays. Secondly, we need to get you some bodyguards. Number three, we’ve got to tone down the rhetoric.
Peter, no more talk about resurrection. No more R word. Let’s just lay low and knock off the resurrection talk for a while. John, talk about love. People love love. Peter, you heard all that stuff Jesus taught. Do that thing He did about “blessed are the peace makers.” We never knew what that meant…. And then when this thing blows over, then we can kind of ramp back up with Jesus and the resurrection thing.
That’s how we think, isn’t it? Be careful. But are you ready for this? Here’s how they prayed.
24 When they heard this, (“This” being the report of Peter and John) they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.
In other words, God before we ask for anything, we just want to remind you that we know who we’re talking to: Sovereign Lord, nothing is out of your control. Nothing happens without you knowing about it. You made everything. This is how Jesus taught them to pray.
Acts 4:25 -26
25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.
They quoted an Old Testament passage that predicted that the Messiah would be persecuted. And then they bring it into their context. Remember, this was written just a couple of months after Jesus died and rose from the dead right in the city where they are.
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
They believed that none of these events were spiraling out of control, that somehow the sovereign, powerful God oversaw even the crucifixion of their friend. And then they get to their prayer request. This is where we would say, “Lord, thank you for bringing them back. Please protect us all now.” But here’s what they asked for.
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
Isn’t boldness what landed them in jail to begin with? Isn’t boldness what has created all the chaos in the temple between them and the religious leaders? Isn’t boldness the problem? Truthfully, they are already pretty bold considering Jesus was just killed, the disciples were in hiding for weeks, now they just stepped right out in the streets, let alone preached about the resurrection and five thousand people have responded. I think they’ve got boldness covered.
Have you ever in your life prayed for boldness? Have you ever asked God to give you boldness to speak His Word in the grocery store, in your neighborhood, with your friends and family? Far too often I think our prayers are like this instead: “God, help her to become a Christian. I’m not going to say anything. I just want you to make her a Christian.” But have you ever asked God to enable you to speak with boldness to assist in that process?
We’re going to talk about this more in two weeks. But for now, I want to be clear, I’m not saying you pray for weirdness—where you go up to someone and quickly say, “Jesus is risen from the dead!” Check, you did it. That would just be weird and is not what I’m talking about.
Do you know why the message of Jesus got to the twenty-first century? It’s because the first century Christians prayed for and had boldness. Then they asked for something even more extreme.
30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
Huh? Stretch out your hand and use us to heal and perform miracles. Have you ever asked for that? If that feels strange and awkward to you, it’s because you haven’t asked for it and you’ve likely never been a part of anything like that. The believers were asking to be able to go out into the community among people who didn’t believe, or who were skeptical, but would just see something and go, “Wow, that must have been an act of God.”
What if you and I began to pray, “God, would you please stretch out your hand and do something through me in my secular community, among my unbelieving friends, among my friends that have been burned by religion and have every reason to not come to church. I can’t convince them with my power. So God, would you be willing to stretch out your hand and do something unusual? Not for my benefit, but for the benefit of those who don’t believe.”
Now, it’s important to know the point of healings in the New Testament were not just for the sake of the people who were healed. Eventually, all of those people died. The point of the miracles were so people would be astonished by what God did. It should God’s power.
The early church was asking to be able to go out into the community and demonstrate the power of God, not for their sake, but for the sake of what God was doing through the Church. To show who God is.
Can you imagine what would happen in our church if we began to add to our prayers, not subtract, but add please give me boldness? “God, thank you for this day, help me have a safe trip, get married, get a better job, and also give me opportunities to be bold to share who you are and to cease those opportunities. God, would you stretch out your hand and would you do something through me that would possibly get my friends, my family, who have just written you off and written the church off, to possibly give you another look, and give you a second chance?” Can you imagine what would happen if we began to pray like the first century believers?
I’ll tell you what will happen. I know this without a doubt. You will get those opportunities to take advantage of because this is what God designed you to do. When we begin to pray for boldness and opportunities, you’re going to see things you haven’t seen before, and perhaps God is going to do some things God would not have done otherwise through you.
Here’s how the story wraps up.
31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.
Then Luke, who is writing this down, says, oh yeah, and I’ve got to tell you this part.
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.
Suddenly, along with this boldness, there was an outbreak of extreme generosity, not because of a sermon, not because somebody said if you give one, God will give ten. It was just as they became outwardly focused, they became concerned about their community.
Here’s the deal. The way we pray is an indication of where our hearts are, if we are still on track to pursue God’s mission and plan for our community, our friends and family, and our world.
So here’s what I’m asking you to do. Be a church that prays big prayers. Ask God to make you bolder. Tell Him that you are open to His mission and being a part of the movement. If we are willing to take the risk (what do we really have to lose), I full heartedly believe God is going to answer that prayer for us.
So to close today, I’d like us all stand if you are able and say a prayer with me. I know this is going to be a bit strange, but we are all going to feel a bit strange together. Now, if you’re not a Christian just yet or you’re not buying all of this, you don’t have to read it; you can mumble or don’t say anything at all. But if you are a Christian, a Jesus follower, then you have to say it. Here’s why.
You are a Christian because the first century Church prayed bold prayers. Because of those bold prayers, the news spread so much that it has got to us 2,000 years later. Now, you and I are responsible in this generation to hand the church off in good shape to the next generation.
So as you stand, would you take the risk and say this prayer with me?
Father, enable me to speak your Word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of Jesus. Amen.