Crying Out To God
June 18, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Acts 4:13-31, Second Kings 19:14-19
Difficulties Have Summoned [People] To Obedience To God.
1. On stage in today's passage of scripture are Peter and John. When you read verse twenty-three, the scripture says, "So, when the two were released, they went to their friends' place and spoke what the chief priests and the elders had said, not leaving any of it out," (verse twenty-three). Since the text says "when [the two] were released" they had been arrested. The reason they were arrested was they had been proclaiming Jesus Christ to the public. The Jewish authorities were irritated by that and so they had taken them into custody and jailed. The circumstances are written at the beginning of chapter four. At the first half of chapter four the situation is recorded that night had fallen and on the next day they had undergone an examination [before the Jewish authorities].
2. Two weeks ago at The Celebration Of The Descent Of The Holy Spirit [or Pentecost Sunday], I read to you from chapter two of The Acts Of The Apostles. The sequence is recorded of when the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples, then the church was born, and it had begun its mission. Today's passage hardly advances five or six pages from there. It's hardly any time after the church was born. After that right away the scriptures tell us that the situation arose of the arrest of the two leaders named Peter and John. Just like Jesus had said it would, as soon as they began to step out to witness for Christ unto the ends of the earth, they were thwarted in their path by a thick wall. What's more, that difficulty started after they had proclaimed Jesus Christ. Wasn't proclaiming the gospel something that was in accordance with the will of God? Yet, this deed of having followed God obediently gave rise at once to a great difficulty.
3. The thought sure to be within us is "Since it had been in accordance with the will of God, things are sure to go smoothly." But when we read The Acts Of The Apostles, we'll see there that such simplistic thinking is not right. There are a number of cases where activity that has started out in obedience to God has become stranded up on some rocky reef. It comes to pass that obedience to God will instead summon one to brand new difficulties and hardships.
4. We could probably also say the opposite. We cannot simply conclude that something is not in accordance with the will of God because we claim that we've come up against [some] difficulty or because we claim that things are not going well. When we're in trouble wrapped up in [some] problem, it is not always the effect of having gone against God [in some way]. When the early church received threats and persecution from the authorities, it did mean on a human level that they had run into a great problem to carry, but their newest steps would actually proceed right from there.
5. What did they do during this critical situation? Peter and John went to their friends' place when they were released. They told them all about the threats they had received from the chief priests and the elders. They did not behave as if any kind of problem had arisen [for them]. Peter and John shared the problem with their group of friends. They recognized the reality of it and they dealt with it together. They could deal with the reality of it so straightforwardly and openly because they knew one thing [they could] do. -- We can pray! And they did pray to God. They prayed with one heart. For those who can pray to God "[the impossible situation when] all doors are closed" doesn't mean hopelessness. If every single direction is closed, heaven is still open.
Turning One's Eyes To God
6. Well, what did they pray, I wonder? How did they pray? Turning to God they lifted their voices and cried out: "O Lord, you are the one who created the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything that is in them. Through the mouth of David your servant and our father, through the Holy Spirit you have made the following announcement. 'Why are the Gentiles excited and do the various nations plot vain things? The kings on the earth rise up unanimously, the leaders unite, they go against the Lord and his messiah.' In fact, in this capitol city Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the Israelites, have gone against your holy servant Jesus whom you have anointed. And they have performed everything that has been preordained by your will and your power that it might be fulfilled " (verses twenty-four through twenty-eight).
7. Thus, prayer begins from turning one's eyes onto God. We direct our focus not on the size of the problem right before our eyes, but on the greatness of God who is behind the scenes to it. Lifting their voices up they praised him, the creator of the heavens and the earth. They had received threats from those with greater power than they had. But, no matter how powerful those may be in this temporary world, they are, after all, nothing more than a part of God's creation. Whatever the situation that is afflicting us, it is no more than an event within the created order. Even though it is a small penny, if you place it in front of your eyes, it will block out the universe. The difficulties in front of your eyes often times block out everything else. We'll brood about as if that's all there is in this world. Therefore, we must turn our eyes. When we drive our thoughts onto God as the creator of this world, we'll come to see that what we used to think was all there was is actually no more than a part of the created world. That's the beginning of prayer.
8. Furthermore, they were thinking of God as being in control of the history of this world. Christ had certainly been crucified in Jerusalem where they currently are. However, even that dreadful event did not happen outside of God's powerful hand. They quoted the words from Psalm two, and affirmed its truth. They said, "And they have performed everything that has been preordained by your will and your power that it might be fulfilled. " That's right, everything was already written down in the scriptures. Christ was not murdered because God was powerless or because God's power didn't reach [him]. Everything was within God's powerful hands. It was fulfilled in accordance with God's will as it lied in God's hands. Since that is true, it couldn't have been the end. There's always more ahead. In fact, the cross of Christ was not the end.
9. As a result, they knew that even the situation of the threats from the authorities as told by Peter and John did not happen in a place where God's hand did not reach into. How ever harsh the reality, it does not ever lie outside God's hands. Since that is true, the hands of God can always be expected to guide the situation into the future ahead.
10. Therefore, with full trust they cried out to God seeking him: "O Lord, this very moment please examine their threats and let your servants be able to speak your message come what may and with boldness. Please reach out your hand through the name of Jesus your holy servant, and let sickness be healed, let signs and marvelous works be performed," (verses twenty-nine and thirty).
Please Reach Out Thy Hand
11. The words in the prayer "Please examine their threats!" remind me of King Hezekiah's prayer, which is recorded in Second Kings.
12. During the reign of Hezekiah the king of Judah, Sennacherib the king of Assyria had come to attack. Assyria occupied the towns of Judah, furthermore it had extended its mighty force even upon Jerusalem the capitol city of Judah. Then a threatening letter had been sent from Rabshakeh the messenger of Sennacherib unto Hezekiah. "Thus say to Hezekiah the king of Judah. You have been deceived by the god upon whom you depend; you must not think that Jerusalem will not be handed over to the hands of the king of Assyria. You have heard of what the kings of Assyria have done in order to destroy all the nations. Or are you claiming that you alone will be delivered? ...," (Second Kings 19:10 and following).
13. What did King Hezekiah do in reply to this? The scripture says the following words. "Hezekiah spread out the letter and prayed before the Lord. 'O Lord, [my] God who sits upon the cherubs! You alone are God over all the kingdoms on the earth, you indeed are the one who has created the heavens and the earth. O Lord, incline your ears and listen please. O Lord, open your eyes and look please. Please hear the words of Sennacherib [as] he has sent a man to speak ill of the living God. ...'," (Second Kings 19:14-16).
14. "Hezekiah spread out the letter and prayed before the Lord." I love this sentence. By looking at this image, that of a stubborn king spreading and holding up the letter at the temple without regard for appearances during a critical situation involving the state, -- it is a truly comical image. But I am very captivated by that image [of him]. That's right and I should be by it. What he did was to appeal his current state of affairs by spreading them in front of God. His appeal was that [God] "please look at [this]." We, too, should also spread everything in front of God. We should pray "please [God] look at my terrible situation" as we spread ours before God. We should not carry the load of any of our problems by ourselves. What the early church did when it used to face its crises was the very same thing. They spread the actual situation by which they were being threatened in front of God first. [They said], "Please examine their threats!"
15. On top of that, they prayed, "Let your servants be able to speak your message come what may and with boldness." They appealed to God for their current condition in which they were threatened, but they did not pray "Please let us be allowed to escape from it." They asked for neither the removal of the difficulty nor the escape from it. They asked that they might be able to stand and face it in accordance with God's will. They asked that they might stand up to it freed from fear. The will of God is that the church pass on God's word. Therefore, they asked in prayer that they might be able to stand up to the harsh reality of the world before them and to speak God's word with boldness.
16. And they also went on to pray, "Please reach out your hand through the name of Jesus your holy servant, and let sickness be healed, let signs and marvelous works be performed." They asked in prayer that God himself would reach out his hand for them. But, how would God reach out his hand? They were not picturing in their minds the great hand of God stretching down from heaven to the earth. As a matter of fact, it was they themselves who had reached out with their hands. They had prayed for the sick and they had reach out their hands and put them upon the sick. When they had prayed, "Please reach out thy powerful hands," the image that they had [in their minds] was not that of God reaching directly down from heaven with [his] hands, but that of [God] reaching with [his] hands through them, [through] their [hands]. It meant that through the bodies of human beings, through human work, God would reach with [his] hands.
17. This is the very same thing that we should ultimately be asking for in prayer. That God through us would reach [his] hands into the world of reality. That [he] would reach [his] hands into this world [so] in need of deliverance. That [he] would reach [his] hands to [our] neighbors [so] in pain, to [our] neighbors [so] in need of healing. That God would reach [his] hands to [our] neighbors [so] thirsty for true life. That [he] might reveal a sign of the kingdom of God, through me, in the places where we are sent. That's what it means when we are sent into society.
18. Then, God did answer their prayers. "When their prayer was over, the place where the group was assembled shook, and everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness," (verse thirty-one). The prayer's answer was the filling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God filled inside them, and through them God began to work powerfully. The circumstances enveloping the church still hadn't changed one bit. But God's work was starting. It was starting within them. When we pray just as they did and we earnestly ask for the will of God to be done in the world we live in, for the work of God to be revealed, God will answer us with the filling of the Holy Spirit in response to our prayer. We want to be an expectant people who will keep on asking in prayer that God will graciously use us by filling us with "the Spirit" no matter the situation we are placed in.