Acts chapter 4 records the first persecution of the fledgling church. In the previous chapter, Peter and John had gone up to the temple for public prayer. When they got there, they saw a man whom the Bible says was “lame from his mother’s womb” (Acts 3:1). Today we would probably refer to the man as a paraplegic. Typical for the day, because the man could not work, he made his living begging. He was a regular there (Acts 3:2) and received alms from the temple goers all the time.
When Peter and John happened upon the man, they offered him something better. They showed him Jesus Christ and they healed the man (Acts 3:6-11). That the man was healed was irrefutable because he did more than thank Peter and John, he leapt about praising God! It was the equivalent of an end zone celebration after a touchdown.
When the crowd gathered to see what the commotion was all about, Peter used it as a springboard (no pun intended) for the second recorded sermon in the Book of Acts. People got saved and the establishment religion of Jerusalem was not pleased, because Peter was speaking of the Christ they had crucified and declared that He was risen. To make matters worse, Peter and John had a live testimonial as to the power of this risen Savior: the man that had just been healed in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth (Acts 3:6).
For their preaching, Peter and John were arrested and then interrogated by the highest officials Jewry could muster (Acts 4:6). When they were ordered to stop, Peter firmly but graciously told them, “No” (Acts 4:19-20). While that might have garnered them severe punishment otherwise, they were spared a beating because the Jewish leaders could not deny the obvious miracle that had taken place.
Act 4:21 “So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.”
When Peter and John returned to their own company and reported what had happened, the other believers had the best reaction they could have had: Rather than panicking, they prayed:
First, they were unified in their prayer (See Matthew 18:20).
Acts 4:24a “And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord…”
Second, they recognized and trusted in the deity of the Savior:
“Lord, Thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is….”
When persecution comes, it can seem a lot bigger and more powerful than it really is because it’s right there in our face and can block other things from view. To keep it in right perspective, we have to remind ourselves who our God is, and that’s exactly what these believers did.
Third, they quoted Scripture back to God. What better way to pray according to God’s will? It’s interesting that they quoted Psalm 2, because that is a Psalm about the persecution of God’s people and God’s response to it. Not only does that Psalm make it clear that God is not threatened by His accusers, it also issues them a warning:
Psalm 2:12a “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little…”
But also ends with a plea for reconciliation: “…Blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Psalm 2:12b).
God does not want to destroy His enemies, He would much rather win them. As believers, we need to remember that as well. Our job, even in the midst of persecution, is not to call down fire from heaven (Luke 9:51-56), but to owe no man anything but to love them (Romans 13:8).
(27) For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,
(28) For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.
But in that same breath they acknowledge that whatever Christ suffered was according to God’s plan. It’s important for us to understand what these disciples understood. As believers we are not exempt from persecution. Just like our Lord, we are targets for it. That doesn’t mean that we run around with a martyr’s complex, but it also should not come as any surprise to us if we suffer alongside our Lord (1 Peter 4:12-14). Having this understanding makes you more prone to pray rather than panic when persecution comes.
Fifth, they did not ask for deliverance. They asked for audacity:
(29) And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,
(30) By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.
They did call to attention the stress they were under: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings…,” but what they wanted was the grace to bear up under them and the power to witness for the Lord in spite of them. Again, this goes back to their understanding that Jesus suffered too. They weren’t seeking an exemption. They were asking for the grace to identify with the Lord in His sufferings.
Finally, they saw God move! This is what happens when God’s people get together and pray for God’s purposes to be fulfilled in the earth.
Acts 4:31 “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”
So, the question I have to ask myself is: “Am I praying and seeing God shake the place, or am I panicking and just shaking in my place?”