Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Real Power

One of my all time favorite passages of scripture is the fourth chapter of the Book of Acts. In the previous chapter a tremendous miracle (is there any other kind?) had taken place. Two former fishermen, turned preachers had been on their way to the Temple to offer up prayer to God. At the gate of the temple, which was called "The Beautiful Gate" sat a most pathetic figure. A man, lame from birth, who sat, begging for spare change from the worshippers going to and from the prayer services.

The lame man rattled his tin cup in the direction of the two former fishermen. The more talkative of the two (a man called Simon Peter) urged the beggar to look upon him. Those who are begging rarely look into the eyes of those whom they beseech. When he did look up, expecting to receive a handout, instead he heard a most unusual statement. The first part of Peter's reply, the beggar had no doubt heard before. "I have no silver or gold to give you...". But it was the second half of the sentence that gave the crippled beggar hope. "But what I DO have", the preacher said, "I will freely give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!" The big ex-fisherman took the beggar by the hand and immediately the life long paralysis left his lower extremities. His legs were strengthened and he immediately stood to his feet. The Bible says he walked, ran, leaped and entered the Temple shouting praises to God.

To say that this caused an uproar would be an understatement. The hundreds of people who were milling about the Temple complex heard the ruckus, saw the leaping beggar, and recognized him immediately. Realizing that a miracle had taken place the people flocked to the spot of the uproar. No doubt, Andrew, Simon Peter's former fishing partner and now fellow evangelist, helped restore order to the multitude, as Peter explained to all of the curious onlookers, the source of this marvelous healing.

Peter said that he and Andrew could take no credit for the miracle themselves. It was through none other than the name of Jesus of Nazareth, and faith in his name that this man had been made whole. Now this Jesus was a man who had claimed to have been the Son of God, and the only way of salvation. He had been sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin and he had suffered and died horribly at the hand of the Roman soldiers who occupied the city. Yet Peter announced that God had raised this Jesus from the dead, and it was through the power of the living Christ that the former lame man was made whole. Peter told them that he and John were eyewitnesses of the power of this man, Jesus.

Everyone was amazed.

The story continues into chapter four. The power of Peter's impromptu sermon at the scene of the miracle resulted in hundreds, even thousands of the people coming to believe upon Jesus. This was "marketplace evangelism" in it's purest and most powerful form. The event was not lost, however, on certain Saducees who were in the crowd. The Saducees were a liberal sect of the Jewish religion, who made up the majority of the council of the 70 ruling elders known as the Sanhedrin. The Saducees did not believe in spirits, or angels, or in the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead. Naturally the message by Peter, with the accompanying miracle, attributed to Jesus, would not sit well with this group. They ordered the Temple Guards to arrest Peter and John (I suppose on a charge of disturbing the peace) and the two preachers spent the night in the calaboose.

The powerful stuff really begins the next morning, when they are brought before the Sanhedrin. The chief priests and elders were the same Council that had condemned Jesus to death in an illegal night time meeting, just a couple of months earlier. This group was loaded for bear and were not about to put up with this sort of stuff on their watch. This was just the kind of thing that could incite civil unrest, and they knew that the Roman rulers would not allow any such shenanigans. They came right to the point. The two preachers were brought into the intimidating environment which included the High Priest and the other elders. There was no interest in the results of the miraculous healing, the only questions on their minds were, ""By what power or by what name have you done this?"

I have always been thrilled at the response of Peter. These men were human. They had just spent the night in jail. They were certainly outnumbered and were in dire circumstances. After all, this was the same crowd that had sent their Lord to His death. What might it hold in store for them? They must have been nervous and apprehensive, but it doesn't come across in the Apostle's response. Here it is direct from the New King James Version:

"Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: "If we this day are judged for a good deed done to
a helpless man, by what means he has been made
well, "let it be known to
you all, and to all the people of Israel,
that by the name of Jesus Christ of
Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God
raised from the dead, by Him this man
stands here before you whole. "This is
the 'stone which was rejected by you
builders, which has become the chief
cornerstone.' "Nor is there salvation in
any other, for there is no other
name under heaven given among men by which we
must be saved."

Wow! How do you suppose that tasted? No words wasted. No backwater taken. No words minced.

The narrative says that the Council closely examined these two men and noted that they were common and uneducated, but they marveled at the boldness of Peter and John. There was much that the Council didn't understand about them, and their faith, but one thing was for certain - these men had been with Jesus - and it showed! The Council was outraged, and understandably so. The main problem was the former lame beggar who had been made whole, stood there as "Defense Exhibit A" and there was nothing they could do to deny that a miracle had taken place. The bold smack was that it had been performed in the name of, and by the power of this one whom they had recently crucified and was now said to be risen.

Knowing that the former beggar was living proof, and that everyone in town knew about the miracle by now, the Council could not deny it. So they decided on what they determined to be the best course of action. Peter and John were threatened with severe punishment, should they ever preach or teach again in the name of Jesus. Again, the preachers' response was bold and firm:

"But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

Knowing that there was noting they could do to explain away the miracle, and fearing the public outcry if they tried to punish these preachers, the Council could only warn them again. The threats were very real, and were taken seriously by the two disciples. Upon being released from custody, Peter and John made a bee line for the inner circle of the church in Jerusalem. Verse 23 tells that the two men shared all of the threats with the rest of the church.

This was the first major crisis faced by the church in Jerusalem. This was the beginning of what would become very heavy persecution against Christ Followers. What would they do?

I think it is most important to first note what they DID NOT do.

  • They did not go into an emergency strategy session to plan their response.

  • They did not seek out the "Judean Center for Law and Justice" to handle their case.

  • They did not seek reparations for defamation of their character

  • They did not demand their rights

  • They did not picket the temple

  • They did not form a Political Action Committee to help get their own folks on the Sanhedrin.

  • They did not do most of the things that evangelical Christians do today when persecution arises.

What they DID DO is explained in verse 24:

"So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God ..."

They prayed. That's it. When persecution and threats came, They just prayed. But notice that this was not a lame little "now I lay me down to sleep" prayerette. These folks got hold of the throne of God. Notice a few important aspects of their prayer:

  • They raised their voice to God.

  • They prayed in a spirit of unity

  • They gave glory and honor to the Father

  • They prayed the scripture

  • They recognized the fulfilment of prophecy

  • They acknowledged that God knew of their plight

  • They prayed for boldness that they may proclaim His message

  • They prayed for the power of the Holy Spirit

  • And they asked it all in the name of Jesus!

Now here is the best part of the entire narrative to me. Did God hear that prayer?

"And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness."

What do you think?

Now in closing, consider this. They did not pray for retribution. They did not pray for the persecution to go away. They did not pray for victory over their enemies (that was already accomplished by Jesus). Christ had long before warned them that the world system hated Him and it would hate them also.

So they simply prayed for boldness in the face of persecution.

Perhaps we are missing the mark in 2009. There is a power failure among Christians today. It results from our own feeble efforts to combat evil in the public square, when what we NEED is a renewed filling of the Holy Spirit and a boldness to proclaim the Gospel of Grace in the face of the Enemy. Government won't do it. Charitable organizations can't do it. The Gospel of Christ will change lives - for time and eternity.

I don't know about you, but I am praying for a renewed Spirit Filled Boldness to proclaim Christ, and the anointed power to do so on every possible occasion.

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