The Cry To God
August 4, 1996
日本キリスト教団 大阪のぞみ教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Osaka Nozomi Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA. Translated October 17, 2009
1. "Well, when the two [men] were released, they went to their companions and told them everything that the chief priests and the elders had said," (verse twenty-three). Today I read to you from there.
2. "The two [men]" are Peter and John. Where the text says, they "were released" means they had been arrested. Please recall the sequence of events in this story so far. They were arrested for having proclaimed Jesus Christ to the public. The Jewish authorities were irritated by this, and without going through the proper channels, they arrested and incarcerated them. In the first half of chapter four the text gives the situation of their being interrogated in the high court.
3. This was a critical situation for the young church, recently born, which it started to encounter right away. For, at an important time after this, the church's principal leaders, Peter and James were to be arrested, and it would receive threats against it. Then, of all the things that could have caused it to start, the persecutions did begin after Peter had proclaimed Jesus Christ to the public. Wasn't Peter's public preaching of Christ obviously an act that was in accordance with the will of God? Yet, it gave rise to great difficulties. At a major moment during the infancy of the church it gave invitation to an external pressure, oppression. As seen from the human perspective, one could say the most undesirable of things had happened.
4. We need to remember this truth very much so. Being obedient to God does not necessarily mean that everything will go along just fine and that things will be smooth sailing. Just because we are following the will of God doesn't necessarily mean that all obstacles will be removed and things will proceed along on an even keel. Instead, there may be times we will experience coming face to face with a brand new difficulty. For example, when we earnestly pray for the salvation of those around us and then try to tell them the gospel, we may find ourselves experiencing a hard time that we had never had before then. We may find ourselves having to bear some suffering and a heavy load that we had not experienced when we were indifferent towards the salvation of other persons and we practiced the faith life in pursuit of only our own peace. Likewise, there will be times when we will come up against unforeseen walls when we earnestly seek in prayer for the church [to be] what God wills [it to be]. When we begin to pray for a wonderful home life, the one which God wills it to be, there will be times when we must face all sorts of problems. When we begin to pray in earnest that God's will be done in our own lives, we may experience all kinds of suffering, struggles, and stresses that were never there before. Believing and obeying God is not necessarily a promise of tranquil living.
5. On the other hand, the case for the opposite can also be made. When we carry around and worry over problems, it does not necessarily mean that God has abandoned us. When there is a great obstacle in our path, it doesn't always mean that God has withdrawn his hand from us. When we experience conflict and pain, it does not necessarily mean that God has left us. When the early church experienced threats from the authorities, on the human level, they did have experiences in which they carried around great problems, but a new level of walking had begun out of it. The fact itself that they had problems was not the problem. The point is what do we do when we come up against a problem. How a person is in the midst of a problem is indeed the big issue.
6. So then, what did they do? When the two men get released they went to their companions and told them everything the chief priests and the elders had said. Peter and all did not do anything to cover up the truth in order to keep the people from worrying. They shared the problem. Therefore, that an undesirable situation had broken out was clear to everyone. So, what did they do? They prayed to God. They prayed with one accord.
7. For people in the world when all doors are blocked and they are cornered, it signifies desperation. But for believers, when all the doors are shut, it means heaven will open. Heaven will open [them] up. We must not ever forget that. We can pray.
8. Now, what did they pray? How did they pray? I would like for us to listen closely to the words of their prayer. They lifted their voices to God and cried out. "Lord, you are the one who created the heavens, the earth, the seas, and everything that is in them. Through the mouth of David, your servant and our father, you announced through the Holy Spirit as follows. 'Why do the Gentiles get in an uproar, / the peoples of the nations plot futility? The kings of the earth rise up together in one accord, / the leaders unite, / they go against the Lord and his messiah.' In fact, in this capitol city, at one with the Gentiles and the Israelites, Herod and Pontius Pilate went against Jesus the holy servant whom you have anointed. And they have done everything that has been foreordained by your will and your power to fulfill it," (verses twenty-four through twenty-eight).
9. We can see in this their prayerful posture. Prayer starts by turning one's eyes to God. One directs one's eyes not onto the size of the problem that one is facing, but on the greatness of God. They lift up their voices and confess out loud their faith in the one who is the creator of the universe. "Lord, you are the one who created the heavens, the earth, the seas, and everything that is in them." Even though the ones threatening them had so much power, they were, after all, no more than a part of God's creation. Even the situation that engulfed them was no more than something that took place in the created world.
10. During prayer, we too need to hold fast to that fact. The world is temporary but God is not. People have not always been, but God has. God is always there, but the world is temporary and humankind is transitory. What we experience are all things that happen in the created world. After all, they are events in the created order. But just as a little penny, small though it be, when placed over one's eyes, can hide the whole world and make it look gone, our heads can become full by all that happens even though they are no more than little things that happen in a created world, because in the storms we only look at what's happening. That is a condition into which we fall from time to time. We must turn our eyes. When we direct our eyes to the greatness of the creator, our way of seeing the things that happen in this world changes. That is the beginning of prayer.
11. Furthermore, they prayed looking up to God as the one who is in control over history. Jesus was crucified in this same Jerusalem. "In fact, in this capitol city, at one with the Gentiles and the Israelites, Herod and Pontius Pilate went against Jesus the holy servant whom you have anointed." But even in that dreadful event, [things] did not happen outside the powerful hands of God. Quoting the words of Psalm two, they affirmed that truth. That's right. It all had already been pre-declared in the scriptures. It was not an event that happened in a place where God's power did not reach and because God was powerless. All of it was within God's powerful hands. Therefore, even though they had heard threats from the authorities, they did not get disheartened, nor become depressed nor afraid as if they needed to. For, no matter how severe the situation might get, it was never outside God's power. We must not forget this. No suffering, pain, or sorrows which would swallow us up, and no obstacles and difficulties that would stand in our way ever fall outside of God's field of vision or in a place where God's power does not reach.
12. As a result, they cry out to God with the utmost trust. "O Lord, take notice of their threats now, and please let your servants be able to speak your word boldly and with resolve. Please, yes please, extend your powerful hand and in the name of the holy servant Jesus let sicknesses be healed and your signs and marvelous works be performed!," (verses twenty-nine through thirty).
13. "Please take notice of their threats!" The words of this prayer may remind us of King Hezekiah who is found in the Old Testament. During the reign of Hezekiah the King of Judah, Sennacherib the King of Assyria came marching against [him at the capitol]. The event is recorded in Second Kings beginning in chapter eighteen. Assyria had occupied the towns and the villages of Judah and had expanded its power more and more even to Jerusalem the capitol city of Judah. Then a threatening letter was sent from Rabshakeh the messenger of Sennacherib to Hezekiah. "Say the following to Hezekiah the King of Judah. You have been deceived by the god in whom you are trusting, you should not think that Jerusalem will not be handed over to the power of the king of Assyria. You have heard what the Assyrian kings have done to destroy all the nations. And yet, do you claim you alone will be saved? ...," (Second Kings 19:10ff). What did King Hezekiah do? It is written as follows. "Hezekiah spread the letter out and prayed before the Lord. 'O Lord, the God of Israel who sits upon the cherubim! You alone are the God of all the kingdoms on earth, you are the one who has made the heavens and the earth. O Lord, please incline your ears and hear me! O Lord, please open your eyes and look! Please hear the words of Sennacherib who has sent this man to speak ill of the living God! ...," (Second Kings 19:14-16).
14. From time to time I think of these words, "Hezekiah spread the letter out." What he did was to spread the current situation out before God and make his appeal to [God]. He made his appeal, saying, "Please look!" We too should spread everything out before God. We should pray, "Please look!," as we spread [our] severe and existing situations before God. It is the same thing that the early church did, when it had begun to experience persecution. First of all, they spread out before God the situation which was threatening them at the time. "Please take notice of these threats from them!" In the same way, we too should spread out [our situations] before Him. We should not carry around by ourselves any problem.
15. In addition, they pray. "Please let your servants be able to speak your word boldly and with resolve." They appealed to God over the impending threatening situation, but they did not pray, "Please let us escape from it!" Nor did they pray, "Make the threats go away!" What they sought for was not that he would take away the difficulties or that they might escape the difficulties. They asked that they be able stand up to [them] in accordance with the will of God. They asked that they be completely set free from fear and be able to stand up to [the situation]. The will of God is for the church to pass on His word. [The will of God] is for believers to get to where they speak forth the gospel. Therefore, regardless of how severe the situation might have gotten, they sought in prayer that they might be set completely free from fear, stand up to the severe reality before them, and boldly speak the message which God had willed [for them to speak].
16. And they also pray, "Please, yes please, extend your powerful hand and in the name of the holy servant Jesus let sicknesses be healed and your signs and marvelous works be performed!" "Please extend your powerful hand!" That was their request. They asked in prayer that God himself extend his hand for them. They sought for God to be at work as he [surely] lives. The healings and the miracles done in the name of the Lord Jesus are signs of the kingdom of God. That itself is not salvation, but they are signs that point to the soon to be completed kingdom of God and its arrival with the Christ. They did not seek for miracles in order to escape from difficulties. Rather than that, in the midst of the hard reality before them, they had sought for God himself to reveal the splendor of the kingdom of God. Along with [being able] to speak the gospel to others, they sought in prayer for Christ's authority and power to be revealed plainly to everyone's eyes.
17. We ought to seek in prayer for God to extend his powerful hands on our behalf. We ought to seek in prayer for God's marvelous deeds to be done in us as well as through us. It is not so that we will escape from trials. It is not so that we will evade hard situations. Nor are we to seek for easy resolutions to problems. Rather than that, no matter what situation we may be in, it is so that the gospel will be proclaimed [through us]. It is so that the kingdom of God will be pointed to [by us]. It is so that the reality of God's rule will be revealed [through us]. It is so that Christ's authority and power will be revealed and that Christ will be given a witness. It is so that every [part] of God's plan for salvation is pushed forward, and the glory of God is revealed. These [actions] were done during the early church when it had experienced threats. [These things] must be done even among us as well.
18. God answered their prayer. "When they finished the prayer, the place in which the group was assembled shook, everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit, and they boldly spoke forth the word of God," (verse thirty-one). The answer to their prayer was the filling of the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit was filling them to the brim, and God began to work mightily through them. The situation surrounding the church still had not changed one bit. But, the marvelous deeds of God were already beginning. It began in them. When we too pray like they did, surrender ourselves and earnestly seek for God's will to be done and God's deeds to be revealed, God will surely answer our prayers with the filling of the Holy Spirit. No matter what situation we may be in, we want to be persons who keep seeking in prayer and are expectant that God will fill us with "the Spirit" and graciously use us, and that we not run away from the difficulties [presented to us as opportunities].