04 Oct MVMT 04: Unshakeable boldness
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
Have you ever wondered what happened to apostle Peter? If you do not know, Peter was a coward. On the night before the crucifixion, Jesus told all his disciples that they would leave him, and he told Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crow. To which Peter replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and death. All these other disciples might fail but not me. I will never disown you.” Peter had strong confidence in his love for Jesus. Despite his boasting, Peter did exactly what he vowed will never do. When Jesus was arrested, Peter ran; he turned his back on Jesus. And later that night, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times to a young slave girl. Peter made a bold promise to Jesus and he failed miserably to keep his promise. Peter was a coward. But in the book of Acts, we see a totally different person. We see Peter who is extremely bold for Jesus. In Acts 2 and 3, the same Peter who denied Jesus to a little girl spoke to the crowd, and told them, “You killed the Author of life. You crucified him. Repent therefore and turn back to God so that your sins may be forgiven.” Peter has an unshakeable boldness. What happened to Peter?
Let me tell you something true about all of us. We love stories where people overcome their fears and become bold and brave. We love stories where people do the right thing and do not compromise, no matter the cost. Right? And we want to be that kind of person. We want to stand up for what is right when everyone else is doing the wrong thing. We want to be bold for Christ. Let me speak for myself. I want to be bold for Christ. I want to have unshakeable confidence in Christ. But here is the truth: I am often not. Do you know what is one of the most awkward moments for me? It is when people ask me what I do for a living at a party. So, when you go to a party where you don’t know a lot of people, they would eventually ask, “What do you do for a living?” And some answer would liven up the party. “Oh, I work for the CIA.” And everyone would go, “That is amazing. Can you tell us some of the mission that you were involved in? Have you ever shot anyone? How many have you killed?” People would rave about it. Then they would ask me what I do for a living. “I am a pastor.” And the conversation died instantly. “Oh right, well, good for you. I guess you gotta do what you have to do. I’m going to get a drink. Enjoy the party. God bless you reverend.” Right? It is awkward to tell people that I am a pastor. I remember talking to someone on the plane many years ago. And that person asked me what I did for a living. I repeated what my dad once said, “I am involved in the travel industry.” Technically, that was not a lie. My job is to help people travel from hell to heaven. But can you relate to me? Can we be honest? We want people to like us, don’t we? We don’t want to be marginalized. We don’t want to be seen as party poopers. And there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But what is wrong is when our desire to be accepted and approved lead us to put our Christian faith aside. What is wrong is when we choose the comfort of this world over faithfulness to Christ and his works. So how can we have unshakeable boldness to play part in the gospel movement? This passage will give us the answer.
Let me give you the context first. There is a massive change in Acts chapter 4. In Acts chapter 1 to 3, all is well. The Holy Spirit is poured out. Thousands of people received Christ as their Lord and Savior. Signs and wonders were happening all the time. And last week we looked at how the lame beggar got healed. This miracle attracted the attention of the crowds and Peter preached his second sermon. And suddenly the music changes. In Acts chapter 4, the religious leaders are not happy, and they arrest Peter and John. Acts chapter 4 marks the beginning of the persecution of Christians. But persecution cannot stop the gospel movement. Look at verse 3 and 4. I love it. Acts 4:3-4 – 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. This is very weird. Peter and John are arrested but thousands of people believed. Imagine that scene. Imagine me preaching the gospel in public space and in the middle of my sermon, suddenly police officers come and handcuff me and drag me off. And while they are dragging me off the stage, I make the invitation. “If you want to give your life to Jesus and get arrested, come forward now.” And thousands of people come forward and give their lives to Jesus. It is weird but it only shows that the works of the Holy Spirit cannot be stopped. Persecution cannot stop the gospel movement.
So, the next day the religious leaders get together and put Peter and John on trial. And Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit and tell them that it is the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth that healed the lame man and there is no salvation in other name but the name of Jesus. Peter is extremely bold. But what Luke writes next really caught my attention. Acts 4:13 – Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. The religious leaders are astonished because Peter and John are uneducated common men. This means that they are not formally trained in Scripture. They did not go to Bible college. They did not have formal ministry training. But they do have something. The religious leaders recognized that they had been with Jesus. We are going to talk more about this next week. But it is important to note that God can use anyone. He does not need you to go to seminary first before he can use you. He does not need you to graduate with summa cum laude for him to use you. All God needs is common ordinary people who spend time with him. That’s it. And that’s who the apostles are. None of them had an impressive resume before they meet Jesus. They are simply uneducated common men who had been with Jesus.
The religious leaders do not know what to do with Peter and John. They cannot deny that the miracle happened. The lame man is living proof. They cannot charge Peter and John for healing a sick man. So, what they do is they command them to not speak in Jesus’s name anymore. With another word, they are saying, “You can go on and continue to heal the sick but don’t speak of the name of Jesus. Continue to do good for the people and the city but keep your faith private. Don’t try to make people become Christians. Or else, we will harm you.” And I love Peter’s and John’s answer. Acts 4:19-20 – 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” They flatly refused to obey the command of the religious leaders. And these are the same religious leaders who condemned Jesus to death just a few weeks earlier. But they have the audacity to say, “Thanks, but we rather obey God than listen to you. We can’t help but share the good news with others.” What happened to Peter the coward? And then the religious leaders threaten them some more before releasing them because they cannot punish them for healing a lame man.
So, when they are released, they go back to meet their Christian friends. By this time, there are at least 5000 Christian men. Their total number is probably close to 15,000 including women and children. This is the first church in the book of Acts. They are probably called RJI, ROCK Jerusalem International. And we will see the secret to their unshakable boldness. Three things that we can see from this passage. Declaration; Supplication; Affirmation.
Acts 4:23-28 – 23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
This is crucial. The first thing they do after they received the threat from the religious leaders is, they pray. They immediately pray. For them, prayer is not the last resort but the first response. That should convict us already. Because a lot of time we think of prayer as the last resort. When we encounter troubles in life, our natural response is to think and figure out solutions on our own. Do you know what is the first thing we do? We run to google for answers. Am I right? Whatever question you have, Google has the answer. But not for them. For the early Christians, God is not one of the many options; God is the only option. That is why they immediately pray. Do we think that way about God? Is he our only option or is he simply one of many options? Because if he is the only option, then our natural response to every situation we face is to pray.
But pay attention to the way they pray. The way they pray sounds very different from how we often pray. When we pray, we often begin by telling God what we need, correct? We begin with supplication. But not them. These disciples begin their prayer with a declaration of who God is. In fact, Jesus also teaches the same thing. When Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray, he begins with the declaration of who God is. If you remember the Lord’s prayer, recite it with me “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom comes, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That is a declaration. Only after the declaration, comes the supplication. “Give us this day our daily bread…” Why so? This is very interesting. Eugene Peterson writes that prayer is less about talking to God but more about answering God. Let me explain. Imagine you sit with me over a coffee and you pour out your heart to me. You tell me everything there is to know about you, all your struggles and accomplishments, for 5 straight hours. Welcome to pastor’s life. After 5 hours of telling me your life’s story, now you want me to respond. And I respond by ignoring everything you said about you and instead I tell you about my needs. How would you feel? You would be offended right? You would move church and find a better pastor. But isn’t that how we pray most of the time? We come to God and straight away tell him about our needs. And that is not bad. But if we do that constantly, what we do is we ignored what God has told us about himself. Because prayer is not a conversation that we initiated with God. Prayer is a conversation that God initiated with us. In the Bible, God has told us his story. He poured out his heart to us. He told us everything we need to know about him. And when we pray, we are responding to his revelation. So, the first thing that we need to do when we pray is to acknowledge who God is. And it is not because God needs to be reminded who he is. But we need to remind ourselves who God is. We often forget who it is the person we pray to.
The disciples begin by addressing God as the Sovereign Lord. I love the Greek word for it. It comes from the Greek word, “Despota.” It sounds really cool. Remember, it is “despota” and not “despacito.” That’s Bieber. The meaning of despota is someone with absolute power and authority. Someone who is sovereign. And God’s sovereignty expressed in two ways. First, God is sovereign over creation. Verse 24. God is the “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.” This invokes the image of God’s work in Genesis 1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, in the beginning, there was nothing but God. According to the law of physics, for every effect, there must be a cause. We know this law is true for everything that happens around us. Even for a girl who said “nothing,” there is always a reason behind her “nothing.” Guys, don’t be fooled. Everything must have a cause! If that’s true, there must be an uncaused cause that began the cause in the first place. And that is who God is. And this God does not need the right ingredients to create. Whenever we try to create something, we need to have the right ingredients. Without the right ingredients, we won’t be able to create what we desire. We cannot create something out of nothing. It is impossible. But that’s not how God works. The Bible tells us that the earth was formless and empty. There were no ingredients for God to create. The good news is God doesn’t need to have the right ingredients for him to accomplish what he desires. He only needs to say it and it came to be. God is not limited in his power! He has the power to create something out of nothing. He is sovereign over creation. That’s the first one.
Second, they say that God is sovereign over history. And they do that by quoting the Bible. They quote Psalm 2 and apply it to what happened in their situation. Psalm 2:1-2 – Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed. They are saying that religious leaders and Roman leaders gathered together to go against God’s Anointed. But they plotted in vain. Look at God’s response in verse 4. Psalm 2:4 – He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. So, when all the nations gathered to get rid of God and God’s people, God laughs. By the way, when God laughs, it is not funny; it is a mockery. People think that they can get rid of God. They think that they can stop the purpose of God from coming to pass. They have absolutely no idea that whatever they do is already predetermined by God. It is extremely clear. Acts 4:27-28 – 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. Get this right. The cross of Christ is not God’s plan B. It is God’s plan A. Before anything came to be, the cross was already predetermined. God is not caught off-guard. He is not surprised by the people’s rebellion. He laughs at them. His plan A is succeeding, and he uses his enemies to accomplish it. It does not matter how powerful the enemies are, they are no match for the Sovereign Lord. Nothing occurred outside God’s decree. Even in the most horrific sin of human history where the Son of God was killed at the cross, God was the Author of the cross. Calvary was not an accident. It was God’s plan from the very beginning to send his one and only Son to die for our sins so that we may receive life. God is in absolute control over everything that happens. The plan and the purpose of God are unstoppable. Nothing can hinder the gospel movement. He is sovereign over history.
Imagine if we have these perspectives in everything we go through in life? Imagine if we remind ourselves that God is sovereign over creation and history and we truly believe it. What reason do we have to be afraid? God has all the power to make everything happen out of nothing and he is in absolute control over everything that happens. Understanding the sovereignty of God is an incentive for a bold petition. After the disciples make a declaration of who God is, they make supplication to God. But you would be surprised at what they ask for.
Acts 4:29-30 – 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
What do they ask for? Do they ask for comfort? Do they ask for ease of persecution? Do they ask for God to change their circumstances? I mean, I am sure many of them have a family. They have a wife and children to think about. Do they ask God to protect their families? To protect their lives? Or do they ask God to destroy the religious leaders? No, they do not. Let me be honest. Their prayer sounds very different from my prayer oftentimes. I often pray for God to intervene in my circumstances and make my life better. One example. A couple of weeks ago, I was informed by the media department that someone commented on my Indonesian sermon on YouTube from two years ago and he did not know what to do with it. The comment was “pendeta botol.” None of us knew what it meant. I thought it was positive. When I thought of botol, what came to mind was teh botol. I love teh botol. It is nice and refreshing. I thought pendeta botol meant a refreshing pastor. That’s cool, right? But I was wrong. A dear friend told me that botol meant “bodoh dan tolol” (stupid and dumb). Indonesians are expert at making these random words. This person called my 20+ hours of gospel labour, botol. On the outside, I smiled. On the inside, I prayed that God would strike that person with lightning. That is how we often pray right? We want our circumstances to change in our favour. But not so with the disciples.
Do you know what they ask for? They ask for boldness. They ask that God enable them to continue to proclaim the gospel with boldness. They are not asking for an escape from persecution but enablement to stand under persecution. With another word, they put mission over personal comfort. For them, the advancement of the gospel is more important than life. And I love the way they do it. They bring the threats to God and ask God to consider them. With another word, they are saying to God, “Lord, here is why you should help us. Their threats are not against us. Their threats are against the reputation of your Son, Jesus. We just want you to know so that you can take care of it. As for us, what we need is for you to give us more boldness; unshakeable boldness.” Get this. The centre of their prayer is not their personal advancement but the glory of Christ.
Have we ever prayed like this? Because this is the kind of prayer that God loves to answer. I am not saying that it is wrong for us to pray for our circumstances. But the disciples understand that there is something more fundamental that they need. They ask for boldness that goes beyond their circumstances. They ask for unshakeableness even when everything is shaken. Do you know what is our problem? Our problem is we try to stop our world from shaking. We do not like to be shaken. We desire comfort and stability. We don’t mind other people’s lives are shaken as long as our lives are not shaken. But if there is anything that the year 2020 teaches us is that everything in this world that we think is unshakeable will be shaken. Covid19. Which country is not shaken by it? Which government, which kingdom? Is there anyone who is not affected directly or indirectly by Covid19? Covid19 has shaken everything. And not only that, but the law of physics also tells us that everything in this world is coming apart. Everything is shaking. Let me give you an example. Let’s say I cook a very delicious fried chicken. It smells and tastes awesome. Then, I leave it in the kitchen for a month. What happens? That delicious fried chicken turns into yuck fried chicken. It falls apart. It smells. It is awful. And here is a reality that we cannot deny. When we are looking at that chicken, we are looking at ourselves. We are that rotten chicken. We are falling apart. We are shaking. And we do not like it. We try our best to keep our lives from shaking. We want to stay forever young. But it does not matter how hard we try, we are falling apart. Everything is shaking.
Let me ask you a question. Why are we not bold in proclaiming the gospel? It could be we are afraid of what other people might think of us. Love of approval. Or it could be that we feel uncomfortable to do so. Love of comfort. There are many reasons. But ultimately, we are not bold because we are afraid of the consequences that might come with sharing the gospel. We do not want our world to be shaken. So, we choose to keep the gospel to ourselves to keep our world from shaking. Am I right? And here is the irony. The more we try to keep our world from shaking, the more shakeable we are. We are so shakeable precisely because we keep trying to stop our world from shaking. The more we try, the more we understand that there is nothing we can do to stop our world from shaking. But the good news of the gospel is that not everything is shaking. The kingdom of God is unshakeable. The Sovereign Lord is sitting on his throne and nothing can frustrate his plan. The gospel movement is unstoppable. That is why the disciples ask for unshakeable boldness for them to continue to proclaim the gospel and perform signs and wonders in Jesus’ name. And look at how God answers their prayer.
Acts 4:31 – 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
I love the way God answers their prayer. This is God’s affirmation of their supplication. One preacher who shall remain unnamed, once told me, “Yos, do you know the interesting difference between what happened when God manifested his presence in the New Testament and today? In the New Testament, when God came down, the building was shaking. But today, the people were shaking.” Charismatic joke. Some of you will get it later on your way home. But don’t miss the point. God works through prayer! Yes, God is the Sovereign Lord over creation and history. Nothing happens outside of his will and his plan and purpose cannot be thwarted. But this Sovereign Lord has decided to use our prayer to accomplish his purpose. The Sovereign Lord has decided that he will give us what we need through prayer. So, when the apostles pray, God answers. God comes down to the place where they gathered, the place is shaken, and everyone is filled with the Holy Spirit to continue to proclaim the gospel with boldness. The filling of the Holy Spirit enables the disciples to be bold witnesses of Christ. This is not a second baptism of the Holy Spirit. But this is the continuous filling of the Holy Spirit. We desperately need the fresh power of the Holy Spirit to make us bold in proclaiming the gospel. But how does the filling of the Holy Spirit make us bold to proclaim the gospel? The Holy Spirit burns the truth of the gospel within us. Let me explain.
Every time God manifested his presence on earth, there is always a dramatic effect. One of the things that often occurred when God showed up in the Old Testament was an earthquake. And the reason the earth shook when God came down is because God is far greater than anything else. Picture it like this. Imagine if Tim, who is 20 kgs + heavier than me, comes down upon me. He graces me with his full body slam. What would happen to me? I would shake. Because I am a lot lighter than him. That is why when God comes down upon man, it shakes him apart. When God revealed himself to Isaiah, Isaiah was torn apart. And yet in this story, when God comes down, the place is shaking but not the disciples. Why? Because of the two greatest earthquakes in human history. The first one happened when Jesus died. Matthew 27 recorded that when Jesus died, the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The weight of God’s justice fell upon Jesus. His body was torn at the cross. Jesus was shaken in a way that we would never be. He became sin for us. Jesus absorbed every drop of God’s wrath against sin and he died for it. That’s the first earthquake. The second earthquake happened a few days later when Jesus was resurrected. Matthew 28 recorded that there was another great earthquake and the stone of Jesus’ tomb was rolled away. This was God’s vindication of Jesus’ sacrifice. God was satisfied and pleased with what Jesus had done and he resurrected Jesus from death. In doing so, Jesus defeated death once and for all. The resurrection of Jesus proves that the kingdom of God is unshakeable. Our ultimate enemies, death, had been defeated. The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life. And we received this gift when we put our faith in Jesus. Jesus’ righteousness is our righteousness. Jesus’ victory is our victory. By our faith in Christ, we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
And this is what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit makes the person and the works of Jesus more real and beautiful to us. And that is why we are unshakeable. We are unshakeable because what can be shaken does not matter as much anymore. The Holy Spirit helps us to see that we already have the only thing that is unshakeable. Jesus was shaken to pieces so that when the Holy Spirit comes down into our lives, it makes us more unshakeable. It makes us bold. It reminds us that there is no reason for us to be afraid of losing our lives in the here and now when we are already guaranteed eternity. Our enemies could arrest and kill us, but they cannot stop the gospel movement. As we are about to see in the coming weeks, the advancement of the gospel does not happen despite persecution and suffering but through the means of persecution and suffering. The Sovereign Lord laughs in heaven whenever the enemies plot to destroy his plan. The disciples understand this and that is why they pray for unshakeable boldness for them to continue to proclaim the gospel. And because of it, we are here today. Their unshakeable boldness leads to our salvation. And our unshakeable boldness will lead to the salvation of many people around us. This is the gospel movement.
I thought of ending my sermon by telling you a story of Joyce Lin who lost her life recently because of a plane crash. She was a missionary pilot who gave her life to advance the gospel. That would be an awesome inspiration story to end the sermon. But I realized that the chance of having most of us become the next Joyce Lin is very slim. I need to be more realistic. Most of us are beginners when it comes to unshakeable boldness, including myself. So, I am going to take a different approach. Instead of telling you one dramatic story, I am going to give you something more applicable, boldness for beginners. And I am ripping some of this off from the Summit Church.
Boldness for beginners:
- Say something when saying nothing would be easier. When your co-worker asks you about your weekend, don’t be afraid to tell them about church. Invite them to church. When people ask you, what do you love most, don’t be shy to tell them that you love Jesus. And tell them why you love Jesus. When people ask you what you do for a living, don’t be afraid to tell them that you are a pastor. In fact, when they know you are a pastor, they already know what to expect next from you: a mini-sermon on why they need to believe in Christ. Also, you can use your social media to share the gospel. I am not saying that all your IG posts should be filled with gospel content, but why don’t you start using your social media more intentionally to spread the gospel. There should be no separation between the Sunday you and the Monday to Friday you. The gospel should be saturated in everything you say and do, including social media.
- Take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. So, when your friend shares their struggle with you, don’t just say, “That’s very bad. I hope things will get better soon.” Or, don’t say, “I will pray for you.” But rather, pray for them right then. They just give you an opportunity for you to share the gospel. Don’t waste it. Or you can share your story with them. How you experienced many struggles and how the gospel enables you to remain unshaken even when your world is shaken.
- Create opportunities. Don’t just wait for the opportunity to come, create opportunities. You can do this by inviting your co-worker to lunch or dinner. Get to know their life. Get to know your neighbours. And be intentional about sharing your Christian life with them. Or you can have a BBQ at your place. Invite your neighbours and your non-Christian friends but also invite your Christian friends. Create space for them to interact with each other and get to know each other. Be very gospel intentional in everything you do.
- Spend time with Jesus. You cannot be bold for Jesus if you don’t spend time with Jesus. It is only when you spend time with Jesus in prayer, meditating the Bible, that you will be able to speak of Jesus and proclaim the gospel clearly. You know this. The more time you spend watching a particular TV show, the bolder you are talking about that TV show. You have read it all, watch it all, listen to it all and you are ready to give your thought and opinion on the matter. The same with politic right? The more time you spend on reading the latest controversial political issue, the more you watch it on TV, the more you feel like a political expert. And so it is with Jesus. The more time you spend with Jesus, the bolder you will be to make him known.
- Ask God for boldness. For some of us, maybe our first step is to simply pray and ask God for boldness. And let me tell you, God loves to answer this kind of prayer. God is more excited at having you play part in the gospel movement than you are. And when you pray this prayer, God is going to answer it sooner than you think.
- Read Acts 4:13. How does this verse encourage us to play part in the gospel movement?
- Look back to your life in 2020 so far. Is there a time where you have the opportunity to share the gospel but did not? What caused it? Share your story with others.
- What do you find most striking about the prayer of the disciples?
- Why is it important for us to acknowledge who God is in our prayer?
- How do the right understanding of the gospel and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit potentially change your story in number 2.
- Look at the list of boldness for beginners. Choose 1 or 2 steps that you can apply this week and share it with your group.
- Pray for God to bolden us to share the gospel.