I don’t know what comes to mind or what you feel when you hear the word church, but my hunch is that it’s a little different from what the people in the first century thought of when they experienced that initial gathering; There weren’t any bibles. There weren’t any bands. They didn’t have buildings. And they didn’t have any staff.
You see, from the very beginning the church wasn’t so much a location with a hierarchal structure focusing on attracting a crowd with programs as we have come to know it but rather, the church was a movement. A movement that was launched around an event in history; the resurrection of Jesus.
So, what we’re doing over the next few weeks is looking at what it means to be the church, using the book of Acts as our guide. My goal is for us to rethink what the church is all about so that it might once again reflect the first century movement when the church was launched.
Before we jump in to our text for today, lets recap where we’ve been up to this point.
The word that is translated “church” in your bible, is the Greek word, Ekklesia. It literally means “an assembly or gathering”.
So, when Jesus launched the church, he launched it around one simple idea; to gather.
In Matthew, chapter 16, there is an incident where Jesus gathers together with his disciples and asks them a question . . . “who do people say that I am” and then he made it more personal and asked, “who do you say that I am?”
And Peter replies, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus says to him . . . “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my . . .
Here’s our word – Ekklesia – not a building or a location with great programming . . . I will build my gathering, my congregation, my movement.
I will build my church, and death will not overcome it.
No matter what happens, even if the people who begin this gathering pass away, it will continue, because the church was birthed as a movement of people around a simple message and simple idea.
Not long after this, Jesus was crucified. He rose from the dead and spent about forty days with his followers. On one of those days, he gathered them on a hillside and gave them his final instructions and it’s here that Jesus predicts the beginning of the church.
He tells them that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit and that with this power, they will become witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
In other words, this message, this movement, this gathering, was going to be multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and it was going to be accomplished through the power of God’s Spirit.
About two weeks later . . . something amazing happens. The city of Jerusalem was jam packed with people from all over the world celebrating the Jewish holiday; Shavuot – a celebration to give thanks to God for the harvest he had provided and to celebrate the giving of God’s law to Moses.
This season speaks of God’s plan to harvest a holy people; You are my people, and I am your God.
So, when Peter sees all these people, from all over the world, he decided that now would be a good time to preach his very first sermon because this was the day Jesus had predicted when he said, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Ekklesia, my church, my gathering . . . and that that this movement, this gathering, would be for all people from all over the world.”
People from Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth had gathered together to celebrate, so it was go time . . . it was time to harvest a holy people.
This was opening day of the church and about three thousand people embraced this idea that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that had risen from the dead.
This brings us to today’s text; we’ll be looking at the very first prayer recorded in the book of Acts.
Now, if we were to take all the prayers that we prayed over the last year and mash them together, we’d probably see a consistent theme . . . the center of our prayers is us.
In fact, if God had answered all our prayers, for the most part, the only person that would be better off is you – and maybe a family member or friend who is traveling or struggling with something.
Now, I don’t think we should stop praying like that, I just want to point out that when you mash them all together, after a while they start looking self-centered.
And today, I want to challenge you to start praying a different kind of prayer; One that sounds more like this very first prayer from the very first followers of Jesus.
Here’s the context . . .
A few days after Pentecost, Peter and John went to the temple to pray because although they were followers of Jesus, they are also Jews. And for the Jewish people, the temple is where God lives. In other words, they didn’t quite understand this Holy Spirit thing and that they are the temple of God.
And as they are headed towards the temple, they stumble across a guy who hasn’t been able to walk since birth. So, he is a beggar. That’s how he survives. And so, he’s holding out his hands and asking them for money.
Peter and John say, “We don’t have any money, we have something better. We just want you to get up and walk.” And miraculously, this guy is healed. And when people see him walking around, suddenly there was a buzz, an energy that leads all the way in to the temple.
As the people are gathering and talking about this miracle, Peter just can’t help himself and he decides to preach another sermon, right there in the temple courtyard.
And just like his first sermon, he simply preaches the gospel. He stands up where people could see him, and he says this is what happened; Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and we are witnesses to it.
“And by faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong and he has been completely healed.”
And by the way, you’re responsible for the death of Jesus but it’s cool because this was all part of God’s plan as foretold in the Old Testament.
But in response to what God has done through Jesus, you need to repent and turn back to God. Two thousand more people decided on that day to follow Jesus.
Well, the religious guys aren’t so happy about this and they’re like, “Dude, you can’t be preaching the stuff in here”. I’m sure they felt particularly picked on because Peter like to point out they crucified him.
So, they arrest Peter and John and throw them in jail for the night.
Word spreads to the people closest to Peter and John – the original Jesus posse – and they’re freaking out because it was just a couple of months earlier that Jesus was arrested and crucified, so they were thinking that they may never see their friends again.
But the next morning they get out of jail and are brought back to the religious guys and they ask Peter and John, “By what power did you do this?”
And immediately, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit . . . this is important because if you remember when Jesus predicted his church, he said this movement, this gathering was going to be accomplished through the power of God’s Spirit.
So, filled with God’s spirit, Peter launches into another sermon and again he simple preaches the gospel and he concludes his sermon saying . . . “Salvation is found in no one else but Jesus”
This is bold, considering his audience and that he just got out of jail for saying this kind of stuff. But he just can’t stop talking about it because he wants everyone, who will listen, to know that God has sent his son for us.
Well, this really bugged the religious leaders, but the problem was, the guy that had just been healed came to this meeting and he’s standing there, and everyone knew it was a miracle, and they can’t exactly punish these miracle workers so instead they say to Peter and John,
“Ok, we’re going to let you go but don’t come back here teaching these ridiculous things; Don’t talk about Jesus. Don’t talk about the resurrection and quit blaming us for crucifying him.”
Peter looks right at them and essentially says, “Ok, you do what you’ve got to do but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We cannot stop talking about Jesus and what we’ve seen.”
And they take off and find their friends and when they arrive back, they all breathe a sigh of relief.
And it’s here that we find the very first prayer . . .
Now, if you were in this situation; you had been arrested, threatened, barely escaped with your life, and not exactly sure what’s going to happen next, chances are your prayer would sound a bit like this . . .
“God, protect us, cover us, put some kind of thorny hedge around us, and maybe give a little GPS tag under our skin so we can be located at all times.”
That’s how we think that’s how we pray . . . but here’s how they prayed. READ Acts 4:24-30
They begin by recognizing who God is; the creator of all things. Then they acknowledge that everything in the Old Testament pointed toward everything that was happening now.
So, they’re just spilling out to God what they know in their heart and that they believed that none of these things were spiraling out of control, that somehow, this God who created all things, oversaw the death and resurrection of their friend.
And then they got to their prayer request . . .
“enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness”.
OK, Time out. Isn’t boldness what got them into this mess in the first place? I mean, Peter stepped right out there on the street and preached about Jesus and the resurrection. Then he again preached the gospel in the temple, where he had no authority to do so and then when he got questioned by the religious dudes, he did it again.
Seems to me that they already had a lot of boldness, and yet, this is what they ask for.
God, give us more of that. Give us more boldness to speak your word and represent you in the marketplace, in our neighborhood, and with our friends and family.
Then they asked for something else even more extreme . . . “stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
They were asking that as they go out into the community with boldness, that God would do something miraculous through them, not for their benefit but for the benefit of those who were skeptical, who had reasons to be skeptical.
I want to pause here . . . did you know that all the miracles in scripture weren’t for the sake of the people that the miracles were performed on? I mean, it was a good day for them; don’t get me wrong but the point of miracles were so people would say, “That’s really cool; tell me more”.
These first Christians asking God for boldness to be able to go out in the community and demonstrate the power of God, not for their sake – not even for the sake of the person on whom the miracle is performed – but for the sake of what God was doing through the church in their community.
Can you imagine what would happen if we began to pray like these first century believers?
I’ll tell you what would happen . . . we would begin to see more opportunities to share God’s word.
When you pray, “God make me bolder, give me opportunities, and stretch out your hand”, you’re going to be able to see things you haven’t seen before. And perhaps God is going to do some things God would not have done otherwise through you.
After they prayed, God Spirit showed up and they began to speak the word of God boldly.
Here’s how it wraps us . . . “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”
Suddenly, along with this boldness, there was an outbreak of extreme generosity – not because of a sermon; not because somebody said, “the church is hurting for money, so you need to cough it up.”
It was simply because as they became concerned about their community, none of that stuff they valued before seemed to be as important as the message of Jesus and the resurrection and so, with this breakout of boldness to speak the word, and to reach out to their community, also came an outbreak of generosity.
The way you and I pray is an indication of where our hearts are. It is an indication of whether or not we are on track to pursue God’s mission and plan for our city, in our community, and in our world.
And so, we’re going to wrap up by praying this first prayer together . . .
Oh God of creation, enable me to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of Jesus. AMEN.