A Dependent Church – Acts 4:23-35 (pt. 3)

II. A Dependent Church Finds Comfort in the Sovereignty of God (vv. 24b-28)

We have seen that the first reaction of the early church was to turn to God in prayer.  This is the first trait of a dependent church.  Now, as we look at the content of the church’s prayer we are going to see that the second trait of a dependent church is that a dependent church finds comfort in the Sovereignty of God.  As John Stott put it, “before the people came to any petition, they filled their minds with thoughts of the divine sovereignty.”[1] We see this in vv. 24b-28.  Here we see that these believers began their prayer by turning their attention to the sovereign nature of God.  Kistemaker has pointed out that “The prayer that Luke records is typically Jewish and is molded after the petition Hezekiah uttered when the Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem (Isa 37:16-20).”[2]

The very name that they chose to refer to God in this prayer highlights His sovereignty.  They did not use any of the usual titles for God that are found in the NT.  Instead they used a unique title for God that is found only 6 times in the NT.  The title is δεσπότης, and it can be translated as Sovereign Lord, or Master.  It probably sounds familiar to you since this is where the English word despot come from.  However, the Greek word does not imply a despotic, tyrannical ruler.  It simply highlights God’s control, and authority.  By using this title they made it clear that God was in control of their specific situation.  Furthermore, they recognized that ultimately they would have to answer to their Sovereign Lord, not to the Sanhedrin.

In addition to being the Sovereign Lord, the church also recognized that God is “the One who made the heavens, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them.”  The wording here is very similar to the wording found in Psalm 146:6.  And if we look at Psalm 146:6-9 we will see why the church chose to bring up God’s work in creation:

Who made heaven and earth, The sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever; Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises up those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous; The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked.

The point being made by the psalmist is that the same God who created the world is the one who control what happens within it.  This is why he is able to set prisoners free, and thwart the plan of the wicked.  And this is why the church brought up this passage in their prayer.  As they prayed they found comfort in the fact that God is in control of all things.  As one commentator put it, “Confessing the truth about God’s relationship to our circumstances always brings encouragement, especially when we are aware of danger and feel out of control.”[3] When we feel out of control we should find comfort in the fact that God is in control.  This is certainly where this group of believers was at, and in the midst of that out of control feeling they found comfort in the Sovereignty of God.  Or to put it another way, they depended upon His sovereignty.

This emphasis on God’s sovereignty does not end in v. 24.  In v. 25 the people turn their attention to a specific prophecy found in Psalm 2 to recall God’s control of their situation.  As the passage tells us this was a psalm written by David through the inspiration of the Holy Sprit.  Specifically, this quotation come from Psalm 2 which is a Messianic Psalm.  In this passage David prophesied saying,

“Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things? ‘The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the Lord and against His Christ.”

In this Psalm David prophecies of the day when the people of the world will rise up against the Christ (literally the anointed one).  Revelation 17:9-14 teaches that this prophecy will be ultimately fulfilled in the end times, however the believers in Acts 4 because they had seen its initial fulfillment in the life of Jesus.  Verse 27 explains,

For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.

Here we see that the events of Jesus’ crucifixion happened just as David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, prophesied.  The Gentiles represented the Romans and ironically the peoples were the peoples of Israel who both worked to have Jesus killed.  Furthermore, the Kings and Rulers were represented in Herod and Pontius Pilate.  Both of whom, by the providence of God, were in the city of Jerusalem on the day that Jesus was killed.  Luke 23:6-12 tells recalls the account:

When Pilate heard it, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who himself also was in Jerusalem at that time. Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus; for he had wanted to see Him for a long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him. And he questioned Him at some length; but He answered him nothing. And the chief priests and the scribes were standing there, accusing Him vehemently. And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate. Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.

Isn’t it amazing to see how God worked together all the details exactly according to the prophecy?  Evil men devised a plan to rid themselves of the Messiah, but it was all in vain.  In fact, God used their evil actions to accomplish His own plan.  This prophecy is a reminder that sinful men have always worked against Gods kingdom, and so it was no surprise that this continued in the early church.  Nor is it a surprise that it continues today.  However, as Calvin reminds us, “we may persuade ourselves, that however all men, both high and low, do wickedly conspire together against this kingdom, yet shall they not prevail, for what is all the whole world compared with God?”[4] This perfectly captures the attitude of the church on that day.  In fact, in v. 28 they go on to say the people conspiring against Jesus where only able “to do whatever you hand and your purpose predestined to occur.”  In this verse we find the point of the quotation from Psalm 2.  The church found comfort in the fact that even though evil men were plotting against the them, nothing could happen to them that was not predestined to happen by God.

Verse 28 says that God’s hand as well as His purpose.  His hand refers to His power.  This is the might by which He is able to accomplish whatever He desires.  His purpose is what He uses His power to accomplish.  This is the plan He has for the world, and this plan has been in place since before the foundation of the world.  This is why it says that nothing can happen that has not been “predestined to occur.”

The word predestined (προορίζω) is an important word for us to understand.  It occurs 6 times in the NT (Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29, 30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Eph 1:5, 11).  Each time that it is used it has the meaning to predetermine, or decide beforehand.  It is not just seeing what will happen in advance; it is actually ordaining the events of the future.  Thus nothing can happen that has not been predestined by the hand of God, and in every situation God accomplishes his purpose.  No matter how bleak things may seem from our perspective God, by the strength of His hand, is accomplishing the plan that He laid out before the world began.  This is what comforted the believers in Acts 4.  They knew that the plotting of the Sanhedrin against them was in vain, just like the plotting against Jesus was in vain.  The early church saw the opposition that they were facing simply as a continuation of the opposition that Jesus faced.  Thus, they could be confident that no matter what happen to them God’s purpose would be accomplished.  This is what comforted them.

When we find ourselves in difficult situations we would do well to remind ourselves that the only thing that can happen to us is what God has predestined to happen.  And as we remember this we should be comforted by the sovereignty of God.  Not because everything is going to turn out like a Disney movie in the end, where the princess finds the prince, the hero learns his lesson, and the bad guy ends up with egg on his face.  Most of the time it doesn’t end up like this.  God’s predestined outcome may not always be the outcome that we would desire. Remember, God accomplished His plan, but Jesus was still killed.  So as the early church found comfort in the sovereignty of God they still knew that they could, and probably would be killed for their faith.  Yet, even this was an acceptable outcome because it would be used by God to accomplish His purpose.  Everything that the Sanhedrin did to oppose God would be in vain, but nothing that God did would be in vain.

Finding this kind of comfort in the sovereignty of God can only happen if you are truly depending upon Him, and His predetermined plan.  This means that we must not only recognize His control, but that His plan is a wise and good plan. (Romans 12:2)  There are times when this can be difficult.  Usually our problem with God’s sovereignty is not that we do not believe that God is in control, usually the problem is that we do not like the way that God is working out His plan.  This is when we must decide if we are going to depend upon God and how He is working out His plan, or if we are going to depend upon something else.  If we choose to depend upon God we will find comfort in the fact that His is in control.


[1] John Stott, The Message of Acts, 99

[2] Simon Kistemaker, Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, 166

[3] William Larkin Jr., Acts, 79

[4] John Calvin, The Acts of the Apostles, 184.

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A Dependent Church – Acts 4:23-35 (pt. 2)

I. A Dependent Church Prays (v. 23-24a)

The first trait of a dependent church that we see in this passage is that a dependent church prays.  We see this in vv. 23-24.  Here Luke tells us that “when they had been released, they went to their own companions….”  Before we go any further we need to understand what is going on here.  In Acts 3 Peter and John healed a man in the Temple area and then began to preach.  In response to this 4:1-3 tells us that the religious leaders came and arrested them.  After an extraordinary exchange between the two apostles and the Sanhedrin, which included Peter and John refusing to obey their command to stop preaching about the resurrection of Jesus, 4:21-22 tells us about their release from jail.

To really understand what is going on here we need to understand just how serious the threats of the Sanhedrin were.  First of all, let us not forget that these were the same religious leaders who orchestrated the crucifixion of Jesus.  Secondly, by disobeying the religious leaders the apostle were essentially alienating themselves from the Jewish community.  As we will see later in our passage, this would have a severe economic impact upon the newly formed Christian community.  So the threats that the apostles, and consequently the church, received were no laughing matter.  Their lives were literally at stake.

I don’t know about you, but after being released from jail I am not sure what I would have done first.  They didn’t have Starbucks back then so Peter and John couldn’t meet over coffee to discuss the matter.  And after they had fled when Jesus was arrested they were not about to go back into hiding.  So what did they do?  They went to church.  Luke literally tells us that they went “to their own.”  Many English translations help us out by supplying “companions” or “friends” or “fellowship”, but the phrase literally means “their own.”  As John Stott put it, “went straight to their own people, their relatives in Christ.”[1]

Some commentators say that this is referring simply to the other apostles, and not to the entire Christian community.  However, I think that the follow context reveals that Luke is talking here about the entire Christian community.  In other words, they went to the church to report all that happen.  This would have only been fare since the outcome of the proceedings would have had an impact on the entire church.  In essence the threats made against Peter and John were certainly intended to be for the entire church.  Anyone amongst this new community of Jesus followers would have to deal with the outcome of the Sanhedrin’s ruling.  Thus, Peter and John came to report all that “the chief priests and the elders had said to them.”

One can only imagine the anticipation of the church to hear from Peter and John upon their return.  As I mentioned, this would have a direct impact on their lives.  This would be the moment when they would either be an accepted religious community, or they would face the continued persecution of the religious elite.  There is little doubt that a large number of the 3,000 new converts would have been close by to hear the report.  Additionally, everyone loves a good courtroom drama (just look how long Law & Order has stayed on TV).  So you can picture in your mind a large group of people present to hear what would end up being a horrible report.  The Sanhedrin did not recognize the power of Christ that healed the man in chapter 3, nor did they recognize the saving power of the Gospel that Peter and John were preaching.  Instead they made heavy-handed threats against anyone who continued to proclaim the message of Jesus.

As you process the weight of this situation I want you to notice what the first reaction of the early church was.  Their first response was prayer!  Luke tells us that “when they heard this they lifted their voices to God with one accord….”  This phrase “with one accord” translates one word in the original Greek (ὁμοθυμαδόν).  This word is often translated “one mind” or “one purpose.”  This is a word that occurs frequently in the book of Acts, where it is used to describe the commonality of the early church (cf. 1:14, 2:46, 5:12, 7:57).  Here this word is used to speak of the unanimity of the people to turn to God in prayer.  We are not sure exactly what this looked like.  However, it is very unlikely that all the people recited this prayer at the same time.  For one, this prayer is not well-fit for a responsive reading.  Additionally, responsive reading were not used in the church at this early a time.  So more than likely all the people realized that they needed to pray, and so one of the leaders of the church led the group in prayer.  One person prayed while the others listened and affirmed.  Amongst this church there was no question what the first response should be, everyone knew that they needed to turn to God in prayer.  One translation even says that “they raised their voices to God unanimously.” (HCSB)  They recognized that God was the ultimate source of help, and they turned to him in prayer.

As we look at how the church responded to their circumstances in Acts 4 it is clear that a dependent church prays.  In fact, prayer is a key trait of dependence.  When we pray we are recognizing that God is the one that we are depending upon, and as we pray that dependence will grow even more.  As E.M. Bounds put it,

Trust grows nowhere so readily and richly as in the prayer-chamber. Its unfolding and development are rapid and wholesome when they are regularly and well kept. When these engagements are hearty and full and free, trust flourishes exceedingly. The eye and presence of God give vigorous life to trust, just as the eye and the presence of the sun make fruit and flower to grow, and all things glad and bright with fuller life.[2]

Prayer is a good litmus test for your own attitude of dependency upon God.  As Calvin described it, prayer is simply a Christian casting his “worries bit by bit on God.”     We often struggle with prayer because we are depending upon something other than God to resolve whatever situation we might be in.  But when we are depending upon God we will look to Him in prayer before we look anywhere else.


[1]John Stott, The Message of Acts, 99

[2] Edward M. Bounds, The Necessity of Prayer (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999).

A Dependent Church – Acts 4:23-35 (pt. 1)

Introduction:

In our society we hear a lot about independence.  Whether it is political or individual our culture highly values independence.  And for good reason.  There are a lot of good things to be said about independence.  In fact, right now we are in an independent bible church, which simply means that we are not officially tied to any denomination.  However, despite all the area of our life where we are independent there are times in our lives when we realize just how dependent we actually are.  Medical struggles, financial woes, and spiritual trials all work, sometimes in unison, to remind what dependence means.

We have all felt that feeling of utter dependence upon someone else.  It is a state that one dictionary defines as “the state of relying on or needing someone or something for aid support, or the like….”  Despite all the talk about independence our society is filled with examples of what it means to be dependent:

  • For example, many of you will be claiming several dependants on your taxes in the near future. I am sure when Uncle Sam comes knocking you will have no trouble with the definition of dependence.
  • Another more extreme example of dependence is seen in the life of a junkie.  Without the chemicals found in his drug of choice he is literally incapacitated.  He cannot function, his body has become completely dependent upon drugs.

These are two radically different examples, and they both reveal what it means to be dependent.  But, as we turn our attention to God’s word, what does it mean to be dependent upon God?  Are we supposed to show up to church once a year to declare our dependence upon God like we declare a dependant on our taxes?  Or, should we absolutely incapacitated unless we are sitting in a low lit room getting our Jesus fix with our bibles opened and Third Day (or for some of our older saints Petra, or for some of our even more seasoned saints Bill Gaither) playing in the background?  I would submit to you that it is probably somewhere in between these two extremes.

I would define dependence upon God as a heart attitude that trusts God more than self. Or to put it another way, you look to God as a source of help in all circumstances.  If it helps, a close synonym to dependence upon God is trust in God.  The Bible makes it clear that this kind of dependence upon God is a good thing.  In fact, Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength,  A very present help in trouble.”  In fact, not only is it a good thing to depend upon God, it is wrong not to depend upon God.  Several times in Isaiah 22 God’s people are condemned for not depending upon God.

So it is clear that as God’s people we must depend upon God, but what does this look like practically?  This morning we are going to explore this very question as we look at Acts 4:23-35.  This passage provides us with a glimpse at what dependence upon God looks like practically.

Acts 4:23–35 (NASB95)
23 When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said, ‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? 26 ‘THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’ 27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. 32 And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.

Acts 4:23-35 gives us a glimpse at what dependence looks like by showing us an example of a dependent church.  In this passage Luke records for us how the early church dealt with persecution from the religious establishment; they depended upon God.  Thus, in this passage we see the need for the church to depend upon God no matter what the situation might be.  Specifically, we see 6 traits of a dependent church:

  1. A Dependent Church God prays. (v. 24)
  2. A Dependent Church finds comfort in God’s sovereignty (vv. 25-28)
  3. A Dependent Church boldly proclaims His word. (vv. 29-30)
  4. A Dependent Church is unified. (v. 32a)
  5. A Dependent Church gives generously (vv. 32b, & 34-35)
  6. A Dependent Church trusts God with the results.  (vv. 31, & 33)

As we look at each one of these traits over the next week it is important to note that each one of these principles should exemplify our church as well as our own personal lives as we seek to depend upon God in ever situation.

Haiti Relief Efforts

As news and images of the devastation in Haiti continue to come out many of us are left wondering what we can do.   First, as the church we need to be praying.  Praying for the physical needs, but more importantly the spiritual needs of those affected by the Earthquake.  Second, we need to do whatever we can to help meet the spiritual needs that we are praying for.  Third, we need to do whatever we can to help meet the physical needs that we are praying for.

One way that you can accomplish both #2 & #3 is through Agape Flights.  Agape Flights is an organization that works with missionaries in Haiti by flying in supplies.  For readers in the Tampa area they are local, flying out of Venice, FL.  The great thing about Agape Flights, with respect to the current situation, is that the they have been flying in supplies to Haiti for years.  This is nothing new for them, and thus they are in a great position to help.  Additionally, any of the goods or money donated will  go directly to missionaries on the ground and thus directly to the relief efforts.  You will not have to worry about money changing hands 15 times before it gets to Haiti 3 yrs from now.  If you send them food they are going to put it on a plane and fly down within a couple of days.  In fact, they only thing holding up flights back and forth is lack of supplies and money for fuel.  This is where we can help.

For more info on Agape Flights go to http://www.agapeflights.com.  You can also see specific needs HERE.

2009 Reading List

I thought that it might be helpful to some of you if I posted my 2009 reading list. I try and keep a log of what I am reading for reference, and accountability. Sometimes I forget to log some of the book I have read (there are several I forgot to add to this list), but this is a pretty good look at what I have been reading:

1. The Bible.

2. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.  Owen, John.  Great defense of limited atonement.  The first half of the book is the best part b/c in it Owen lays out a positive articulation of definite atonement.  The second half of the book is Owen interacting with the arguments of universal atonement.  Packer’s introductory essay is one of the best articulations of definite atonement.

3. Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney.  Cockerell, Lee .  A very interesting read on buisness leadership skills.  Worth reading the entire book if ever given the chance.  Some secular baggage that needs ignoring.

4. Holman Bible Atlas. Good background material & maps,  Will not read again, but will reference for background material.

5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Some interesting observation of modern culture.  Good at identifying problems, but provides the wrong answers.  Not worth 2nd read.

6.  The Holy Land Satellite Atlas 1.: Terrain Recognition.          Helpful maps, no useful background info.

7.  The Holy Land Satellite Atlas 2.: The Regions. Helpful maps, limited background info, some helpful cross-references.

8.  The Cross of Christ. Stott, John.  One of the best books that I have ever read on the cross.  This is one that needs to be revisited periodically.  The first three sections are superior to the final section that deals with the community of the cross.  Watch out for a few ancillary points.

9.  Truth Endures. MacArthur, John.  A collection of John MacArthur’s most memorable sermons at Grace Community.  It is introduced by a great mini-bio on MacArthur by Ian Murray.

10.  A Guide to Hebrew Syntax.       Arnold, Bill & Choi, Richard. A helpful resource for Hebrew Exegesis.  The binding on the book, however, is horrible.  A section of pages has already fallen out after only one semester.

11.  Apocalypse Later. Murray, Abdu H.  A book written on the middle east conflict from the perspective of an Arab.  The first three chapters are interesting, and serve as a helpful reminder that there are two sides to every story.  After that it is pretty much just a repacking of the gospel message as the answer to the problem–which is a bit of a no brainer.  A little dissapointed by the way that he does not really complete what it started in the first three chapters.

12.  The Word of God in the Child of God. Zemek, George.  Not for the layman; Hebrew knowledge required.

13.  Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. Tripp, Paul David        .  A great book that covers some of the broad principles of informal counseling a must read, and re-read.  Keep for reference (see appendices).

14.  Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture.  Powlison, David.       Some good stuff.  Bad hermeneutic.  Review on file.

15.  Kingdom of Priest: a history of Old Testament Israel. Merrill, Eugene.  A great book on OT introduction.  Do not own it, but need to purchase it.

16.  Upright Downtime: making wise choices about entertainment.         Hand, Brian.  Made me think about the entertainment that I partake in, and a personal philosophy.   Did not provide a very comprehensive suggestion for a philosophy of enterntainment.

17.  Living a Life of Hope: stay focused on what really matters. Nathan Busenitz.  Very good book on the topic of hope.  Used as a primary resource on a counseling paper on hope.  The book is laid out in 31 chapters and could be used as a month long devotional book.  Great resource for counseling.

18.  A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.        Gleason Archer. A good survey of the basic intro material for the OT in general, as well as each book in the OT.

19.  The Church in God’s Program. Saucy, Robert L.         Great book on ecclisoology as well as dicontinuity continuity issues.

20.  Dispensationalism, Israel, and the Church: The Search for Definition.  ed. Blaising and Bock. A series of articles defending new dispensationalsim.

21.  Baptism: Three Views. ed. David Wright. A good overview of three positions on baptism.  Really eye-opening how strange the paedo view really is.

22.  Jonathan Edwards and the ministry of the Word: a model of faith and thought.  Sweeney, Douglas A.   This is a really good little read on JE.  It is an interprative bio. sketch on some of the high points of Edwards’ life.  It primarily focuses on Edwards’ contributions to theology in America.

23.  The Word of God in English. Ryken, Leland. Book Review on file

24.  The Text of the New Testament (2 ed.).  Metzger, Bruce Manning. Book Review on file

25.  The Survivor’s Guide to Theology. Sawyer, M. James. Decent survey of theological systems.  Author’s bias comes out a little too much.

26.  Continuity and Discontinuity. ed. John S. Feindberg.  Very important book on these issues.

27.  The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. Piper, John.       Bio Sketches of Augustin, Luther, and Calvin.  Not a lot of detail.  Provides overviews of each man’s general emphasis in ministry.

28.  The Divorce Dilema: God’s Lasting Word on Lasting Commitment. MacArthur, John.       Only grounds for divorce patterned adultery.  Remarriage only after legitimate divorce, or spouse dies.

29.  The Exemplary Husband. Scott, Stuart.

30.  Across the Spectrum. Boyd, Gregory A. & Eddy, Paul R.        Contemporary Theological Issues.

31.  Institutes of the Christian Religion (vol. 1 &2). Calvin, John.

32.  John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion Doctrine and Doxology. Ed. Parsons, Buck. A brief bio on Calvin, and an overview of his majory theological contributions.