Making The Most Of What We Have Got
(by Rev Paul Graham)
Read Acts 4:23-31
We join the story today at a key moment. Peter and John have been dragged before the religious authorities to be questioned about the miraculous healing that had recently taken place (Acts 3:1-10). The questions they had to answer weren’t about the validity of the healing; that was self-evident from the previously immobile man still doing his best “Strictly” impression in the temple court. It was about power and authority: from where did Peter derive the ability to heal? Healings weren’t uncommon, they just had to be policed properly.
Finding no way to resolve the question satisfactorily, without incurring the wrath of the populace, the authorities let Peter and John go, commanding them to stop the nonsense and get back to normal life. As if…
On their return to the main gathering, the whole crowd of Christians rejoice and praise God. Their prayer is a significant one for a variety of reasons, which serve as a challenge as well as an encouragement to us today.
God is sovereign. Their opening statements give God his rightful place in the order of everything, even creation itself.
God is active. The Holy Spirit that inspires them, inspired the Psalmist (David) to write the words they quote.
God is in control. Even though life is not smooth, God remains in charge.
God is bigger. Whatever plans and schemes may be made against him or his followers, God is greater.
God is transformational. Whether in speech or action, God’s work in Jesus’ name changes lives.
God is redemptive and gracious. This is the big one and not necessarily as obvious as it seems, so it needs more than a simple statement to explain. The response of the disciples to the opposition they have encountered is to pray for more boldness in their preaching, for more healings, and for more lives to be transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ.
This may sound great, though of course it is just going to land them in yet more trouble. If the authorities have warned them against preaching, healing, and transforming, asking for more opportunities is just inviting further trouble. That’s courageous.
But it’s also gracious and redemptive. To see this, we need to look back at Psalm 2 (like we did on Wednesday). A quick look through Psalm 2 finds our Psalmist in a more combative mood:
“I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.
Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’
Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
Compare these words of vengeance and destruction with the disciples’ request. This is the same God, who is still sovereign, who is still in control, who is still worthy of our worship. This is the same God, whose Holy Spirit inspired both Psalmist and the disciples, but the message is very different.
This could be something to do with power; after all, the Psalm is talking about the King of the land, whose authority was beyond question. At one word, people lived or died. To be able to wield such power comes, as the comic books tell us, with great responsibility. It’s good that God’s on his side to back him up.
Now for the disciples. Though they have no political power, and certainly the Roman authorities would squash any thoughts that they might have of taking over, they do have a fairly decent number of people on their side. If they were to try a “people’s revolt” they could probably call on a few thousand to join them. Of course, it would almost definitely end in failure and lead to the swift and bloody demise of the early church, and therefore the Christian faith. If only they had done as Jesus had commanded and gone beyond Jerusalem (Acts 1:8), but that’s another story…
But then again, it also makes sense that the disciples pray for opportunities to witness God’s healing and transformation, as this is what Jesus was all about. If they are going to do anything in Jesus’ name, the one thing they aren’t going to do is spill a lot of blood. Jesus had shown himself to be the epitome of non-violent protest, the one who used the fullness of forgiveness, grace, and mercy to see God’s justice bear fruit in broken lives and broken societies. They are also going to do this at risk to their own lives, exactly as Jesus did.
This is the power of God at work in and through their lives – not through great shows of strength, or the might of an army or the word of a King that could bring death to anyone unfortunate to be the subject of his ire. The disciples had seen first-hand the corruption of power, how the abuses of the Pharisees had twisted God’s commands given through Moses to their own ends. They had seen how Jesus had embodied, enacted, and embraced the full power of God, to heal, to restore and to transform. Power that not even death could hold back.
But a peaceful power. The power of words to build up, to give hope, to offer life with Jesus. The power of healing to bring restoration, to give opportunities, to offer life within society. The power of community to build lives, to give meaning, to offer life together.
I am painfully aware that what this world needs now more than anything else is the prayer of the disciples, whereas we hear too much of the sentiments of the Psalm. The fact that it is the same God, whose Holy Spirit is as much at work today as he was back in those days, doesn’t change a thing. It’s who we are and how we respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the examples of Jesus that matters.
A prayer for today to take us forward:
You caused all things to be created,
By your hand we were made
And on your hand is engraved our names.
May the nail-scarred hands of the one who died for all sin
Continue to guide us in our way,
Pointing us towards those who you would have us serve,
And those who would serve us.
Give us humble hearts,
Ready to join with others on the path of grace
That leads to your eternal home.