Creating a Powerful Church (Acts 4:18-31)

  • I'd ask you to open your Bibles to Acts 4 this evening
  • I don't need to tell you that many churches are going through difficult times right now
  • somebody has estimated that only 20% of churches are functioning as living organisms and bearing substantial fruit
  • according to the same observers, between 35 and 50% of churches are dysfunctional, bearing no fruit at all
  • denominational leaders and pastors find themselves overwhelmed with problems
  • they find themselves spending much of their time putting out fires, rather than providing leadership and vision
  • a statement I read this week says this: "The average churches are operating as though their transmission were in reverse, and they have jammed on the brakes to halt any further slide in attendance"

  • no church is perfect
  • one author writes:
  • "We hear tales of glitzy, enthusiastic churches and wonder what in the world we are doing wrong that our people don't turn out that way under our preaching. On close examination, though, it turns out that there are no wonderful congregations. Hang around long enough and sure enough there are gossips who won't shut up, furnaces that malfunction, sermons that misfire, disciples who quit, choirs that go flat - and worse. Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren't bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors."

  • some people long for churches to be like the early church
  • which part of the early church would you like?
  • the false teaching? the drunkenness at the Lord's Table? the persecution? the sexual immorality? the factions and divisions in the church?
  • we're mistaken if we think the church has ever been perfect
  • it's always had problems!

  • if I had to come to church looking for a perfect pastor and a perfect people, and worship I liked and people who never upset me; if I came to church expecting perfection, I would be sorely disappointed
  • I would never find it
  • but to tell the truth, I don't come looking for those things
  • not really
  • it's nice if they're there, but there's something far more important
  • I come to church to encounter the living God
  • I don't come for the pastor or the people, or the music or even the sermon - I come because I plan to meet God
  • as we look at the early church in the book of Acts, we see a number of things that attract us
  • we see forgiven believers and powerful sermons
  • we notice the love, joy, and peace that characterized the lives of the early believers
  • we sense the excitement of the Kingdom of God advancing against the strongholds of Satan

  • but we also notice problems
  • somebody has said that the chief actor in the story of Acts 1 and 2 is the Holy Spirit, but it almost appears that the main character in Acts 3 to 6 seems to be Satan
  • his activity is obvious throughout
  • the disciples are arrested and jailed
  • two church members are caught lying to the church and are struck dead
  • persecution continues and one of their number, Stephen, is martyred
  • the early church was encountering Satan and all his forces
  • they withstood his onslaught
  • while we applaud their faithfulness, I don't think any of us wish to trade places with them as they face such persecution
  • what we do long for, however, is the real and undeniable sense of the presence of God in the early church
  • there is no doubt that they encountered the living God

  • I believe the church today is hungry for such encounters
  • we long to come to church and sense the manifest presence of the living God
  • Garrison Keillor, host of the popular radio series, "A Prairie Home Companion," grew up in an evangelical church, and he had something interesting to say about why people go to church:
  • "We don't go to church to hear lectures on ethical behavior, we go to look at the mysteries, and all the substitutes for communion with God are not worth anyone's time...If you can't go to church and, for at least a moment, be given transcendence; if you can't go to church and pass briefly from this life to the next; then I can't see why anyone should go. Just a brief moment of transcendence causes you to come out of church as a changed person."
  • we come to church seeking a supernatural encounter with God

  • please look with me at Acts 4
  • in verse 18 we read if the action of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court and administrative body of the Jews:
  • (Acts 4:18) Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
  • if the Supreme Court of Canada ordered us not to preach about Jesus any more, what would our response be?
  • Peter and John answered boldly:
  • (Acts 4:19) But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.
  • (Acts 4:20) For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

  • verse 21 tells us that the Sanhedrin didn't react very well to Peter and John's boldness
  • they issued further threats, but really didn't know what else to do
  • so Peter and John were released
  • we've read this passage so much we're prone to overlook what happened next
  • what would you do if this happened to you?
  • what would your reaction be?
  • would you resign yourself and say, "I've done everything I could do"
  • would you shake your fists at the Sanhedrin and say, "In your face! I'm going to preach anyway!"
  • or would you do something else first?
  • let's read what Peter and John did:
  • (Acts 4:23) On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.
  • (Acts 4:24) When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
  • let's stop there and learn some lessons from their response

  • the first lesson we have to learn from their response is this:
  • WE ARE INVOLVED IN A SPIRITUAL BATTLE OF COSMIC PROPORTION
  • the early disciples had no hesitancy in realizing that they were involved in something way over their head
  • they were smart enough to realize that there battle really wasn't against the Sanhedrin or even other human beings
  • to take a stand for Christ and the truth of the Gospel made them a target of the Evil One
  • they knew that they were no match for Satan and his schemes
  • they were unashamedly dependent on God at every turn
  • and they got down on their knees

  • friends, the disciples couldn't have done anything if they hadn't already been filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit
  • they started out as a bunch of misfits
  • but they ended up "turning the world upside down"
  • their boldness before the Sanhedrin was a direct result of fact that they had been with Jesus, and that they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit days earlier at Pentecost
  • when the promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled in their lives, it turned them from petty, competitive, small-minded men to strong-hearted, incredibly confident and powerful servants of God
  • and it was through the power of the Holy Spirit
  • their first response was to turn to their friends at church and pray to God who was in their midst
  • they turned to their commander-in-chief for direction and power
  • they realized that the attack was not on them personally
  • they quoted from an Old Testament passage that spoke of the attacks made by earthly rulers on the Lord and Messiah, and they saw this fulfilled in the unholy conspiracy of Herod and Pilate, of Jews and Romans against Jesus
  • they knew that when the Sanhedrin persecuted them, they were simply continuing that assault, and they prayed for boldness:
  • ( Acts 4:29) Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
  • (Acts 4:30) Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

  • Ephesians 6:12 says:
  • (Ephesians 6:12) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
  • we are involved in a spiritual warfare that requires spiritual weapons
  • the battle is real
  • the consequences are great
  • I don't want to minimize what happens in other arenas of struggle, but lets put it in perspective
  • the World Cup may seem important, but it's really only a game
  • if a business fails, it might seem the end of the world to some people, but all that's lost is some money
  • but if believers lose the fight - if they're not empowered by the Holy Spirit to do battle and stand boldly and proclaim the truth of the Gospel, lives are for stake, and for eternity
  • Satan wants us to believe that the World Series is more important or that businesses are more important, but listen:
  • we are involved in a spiritual battle of cosmic proportion
  • and that's why we need to encounter God at church
  • because in the battle we face, God's power is essential

  • many churches lose sight of the battle and therefore no longer need to be attentive to God's presence
  • we see spiritual warfare as something to be debated, not as a present-day reality
  • we have settled for a comfortable life in the suburbs, risking little for the kingdom of God
  • we don't sense God's presence because our circumstances don't require it
  • we've settled for comfort instead of victory
  • we are getting along quite well, thank you
  • someone has suggested that we ask ourselves, "What am I attempting for God that cannot be accomplished without the Holy Spirit?"
  • what is there about our lives as Christians that demands an explanation beyond the ordinary?
  • for Peter and John and the rest of the early church, the only explanation for their boldness and accomplishments was their radical dependence on God who was with them in the middle of the battle

  • another lesson I learn from these disciples is this:
  • THE BATTLE DROVE THEM TO THEIR KNEES
  • their response to the battle they faced was this: they prayed
  • we must learn to pray as if our lives and ministries depended on it, because they do
  • you notice that when they began to pray, they focused on praise rather than pity
  • their focus was not on themselves; it was on Christ
  • they worshiped God

  • but they did not hesitate to ask for God's help
  • they requested that God enable them to speak his word with boldness
  • prayer was central to their task

  • Dr. Richard Lovelace, church historian at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, concludes that the twentieth-century church is not as apt to pray first and act later
  • he wrote, "The place of prayer has become limited and almost vestigial. The proportion of horizontal communication that goes on in the church (in planning, arguing, and expounding) is overwhelmingly greater than that which is vertical (in worship, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession)"
  • he added, "Deficiency in prayer both reflects and reinforces inattention toward God"

  • Dr. Lovelace is right
  • the minimal prayer, given almost as a token, may indicate that what is undertaken is simply what we humans can accomplish by ourselves
  • we are reluctant to pray, either as individuals or as a church body

  • might I say that the most important thing we can do as a church is to get on our knees
  • our church will be nothing unless it begins with, ends with, and is supported by prayer at every stage
  • we dare not move ahead on our own strength

  • we need to recover the biblical worldview that is displayed in the disciples' prayer to God
  • if we live as they lived, and if we learn to pray as they prayed, fully dependent upon the living God, then we too will experience God's presence and power in our own day
  • in a marvelous and mysterious way, the risen Christ is released to be at work in our lives and in the world when we pray, and often, not until we pray
  • the truth is that Jesus is real to those who pray and distant to those who do not

  • listen to what happened after they prayed:
  • (Acts 4:31) After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
  • the effect of the prayer was remarkable
  • the room in which the disciples were gathered shook
  • this was a sign to them that God was present and would answer their prayer
  • we might not expect such tangible evidence that God hears our prayers, but God is always ready to fill us with his Spirit and empower us to boldly proclaim his Gospel

  • as I said earlier, the thing that matters most about this church is that it is a church where we encounter God
  • you could say many things about our church - that it's friendly, that they preaching is biblical and helpful
  • but the critical thing, really the only thing, is that God is here, working in us and empowering us
  • to remember that our enemy is Satan
  • and to remember that our victory is secure, as long as we proceed on our knees
Posted on July 12, 1998 and filed under Uncategorized.