“Stretch out your hand to heal, and grant that wonders and miracles may be performed through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.” Acts 4:30 GNB (Good News Bible)
This is the 15th memory verses that I will use as a guide/focal point to writing these articles. The Table of Contents is available in the series introductory article; the last article being written a month ago.
Immediate Literary Context
This memory verse is towards the end of a passage framed as verses 23 to 31 and titled The Believers Pray for Boldness:
23 As soon as Peter and John were set free, they returned to their group and told them what the chief priests and the elders had said. 24 When the believers heard it, they all joined together in prayer to God: “Master and Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them! 25 By means of the Holy Spirit you spoke through our ancestor David, your servant, when he said,
‘Why were the Gentiles furious;
why did people make their useless plots?
26 The kings of the earth prepared themselves,
and the rulers met together
against the Lord and his Messiah.’
27 For indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together in this city with the Gentiles and the people of Israel against Jesus, your holy Servant, whom you made Messiah. 28 They gathered to do everything that you by your power and will had already decided would happen. 29 And now, Lord, take notice of the threats they have made, and allow us, your servants, to speak your message with all boldness. 30 Reach out your hand to heal, and grant that wonders and miracles may be performed through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”
31 When they finished praying, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim God’s message with boldness.
Since the last article in this series, I had mentioned in this post that I had learnt that in the US a new television series is currently broadcasting by the title AD: The Bible Continues. This passage of Acts is best aligned and depicted in the fourth episode of the series, although the prayer/message given by Peter does not really align with the prayer documented in verses 24 to 30.
The events earlier in chapter four focuses on Peter and John before the Sanhedrin. Having been arrested, they then appear before the council, address the members and then witness the council’s reaction in forbidding the name of Jesus. This in turn led to the reaction of the believers who made their prayer for boldness. The first point of observation here is that the first reaction to the persecution (verse 24) is that the believers turned to God in prayer. Acts 4 was actually the first persecution against the believers – Stephen would die the first martyr later, but the arrest and forbidding of the name of Jesus was the first overt action the Jews took against the Nazarene Jews/Christian believers.
The opening line of the prayer in verse 24 addressing God, translates from its original Koine Greek demonstrates not just the sovereignty of God but also the believers’ clear recognition of His role as creator, in control of all human destiny. You God are the sovereign Lord. Your rule is universal, and Your power unlimited; for you have the heaven and its glories, the earth and the sea, and their endlessly varied and numerous inhabitants, under Your direction and control. The way that the believers prayed was modelled on the way Hezekiah prayed. Isaiah 37:16-20 is a good example:
16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. 18 Truly, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands—wood and stone. Therefore they destroyed them. 20 Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord, You alone.”
The content of Acts, as recorded by Luke, is similar to Isaiah except that we see later, the believers do not seek God’s deliverance and instead pray that God fill them with boldness to proclaim the Gospel.
The reference to David’s prayer in verse 25 & 26 points us passages like Psalms 2:1-2:
1 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,
Verses 27 and 28 recap the earlier incidents of Acts. It should be noted that the Herod mentioned here is Herod Antipas, who reigned from 4BC to 39AD and he represented the kings. In contrast, Pontius Pilate was in office from 26AD to 36AD and the reference to him in the prayer was in representation of the rulers. Thus the kings and rulers of Jerusalem combined to form a solid threat and opposition to the fledging church – those who had conspired in the crucifixion of Jesus.
Verses 29 and 30, as pointed out earlier could have played out differently – except the believers sought boldness and not deliverance. Just as Peter and John had demonstrated in the conviction and strength of character in boldly proclaiming their truths before the council, so too did the body of believers now follow the same conviction. It was not against the believers, but against God, that the rulers and kings conspire: it was not to prevent the success of the believers’ preaching, but to bring God’s counsel to nothing: the whole of their enmity was against God. In focusing on God as Creator at the start of the prayer, the believers demonstrated their total dependence on God and recognised they could do nothing without Him to sustain their courage, that they would proclaim His truth with boldness and irresistible power.
So, in our focal memory verse, the apostles not only desired boldness to speak, but they asked that God would continue to work miracles, and thus prove to them, and to the people, evidence of the truth of what they delivered. They did not even ask that he would preserve their lives, or keep them from danger. They were intent on continuing their work, and they confidently committed their way to God, making it their great objective to promote the knowledge of the truth, and seeking that God would glorify himself by establishing his kingdom among people. The signs of miracles were necessary, as being the seal of their commission from God; the believers’ desire to have this patent with them, to show as often as the occasion served.
Wider Literary Context
Since this memory verse is also from the book of Acts, the same commentary and article content from Memory Verse #14: Acts 1:4b applies.
When we pray to God, do we first acknowledge His power and glory? Do we worship Him for who He is? The passage as a prayer offers us a good model for how to pray. Just as the early church did, we have the choice in how we focus our prayers – seeking deliverance (like the Psalms/David) or for boldness in Spirit. As observed in the final verse 31, the result of the prayer was an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The sincerity and focus of the believers led to God pouring out His Spirit on the group. At the time, and in the prayer, it should be observed that they were not explicitly or directly seeking God to fill them with the Holy Spirit – their focus was on the outcomes. In seeking boldness, it is the Holy Spirit filling us that provides us that boldness.
Boldness is not reckless impulsiveness. Boldness requires courage to press on through our fears and do what we know is right. How can we be more bold? Like the disciples, we need to pray with others for that courage. To gain boldness, we can:
- Pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to give us courage
- Look for opportunities in our families and friends to talk about Jesus (after having first formed a solid relationship)
- Realise that rejection, social discomfort and embarrassment are not necessarily persecution, and
- Start where you are by being bolder in small ways.
In a lot of ways, this memory verse and article can only be God’s timing, since my church began a series on Going Public: Making the Gospel Public. Tapping into the two messages, the following discussion and application notes summarise the current and same topic here on boldness in sharing the Gospel:
We are all people of influence, not because of what we do, but because of the message we carry. Liken to a message in the bottle, do we understand the message that is contained within? Do we understand the message and power of the Gospel? The journey begins first with ourselves in understanding the Gospel, living it out and being faithful to God’s call. A good example of how we demonstrate and live out the influence of the Gospel can be seen when the people around us are sensitive to our identity as believers and adjust their behaviour according to our Christ-like presence. The Gospel message is heart transforming – the pray in Acts 4 and their direction towards boldness was evidence of the transformation in the hearts of the believers who would have otherwise simply sought deliverance.
The second message had a strong focus on growing ourselves as believers in depending on Christ. This theme is again evident in Acts 4 in the way the believers turned and relied on God as their source of truth. God’s grace to us as imperfect Saints is a message of grace and love to others. Over time, our identity in Christ is amplified by Christ’s nature being absorbed into our being. This also ties in quite nicely with a discussion I had earlier tonight on us – humanity – being created in the image of God. The Gospel restores our Godlike image such that we shine God’s love as the salt and light to a world that needs Him.