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A Prayer for Boldness

March 14, 2021

Acts 4:23-31



Bible References

Acts 4:23-31

Sermon Notes

A Prayer for Boldness, Acts 4:23–31
To be afraid is a common experience we all have. Some of us might act like tough guys or tough gals and pretend that nothing scares us but that’s just pretend. We all have fears. It’s a part of living in this world. We all fear something. We all have fears and anxieties.
One of my fears for a long time has been the fear of deep water. This fear actually has a title: thalassophobia. I’m not terrified of deep water but it does creep me out. I don’t know why I have this fear but I do. I guess it’s related to the fact that if you’re in deep water you never really know what’s below you. There could be some massive lake or sea creature, ya know? You just never know. When I was a boy, maybe 12 or 13, I went deep sea fishing with my dad, my brother, and my dad’s friend. We went out probably a couple miles off the coast in the Gulf Coast. During our trip, me and my brother jumped in the water. Who knows how deep it is out there? Me and my brother are just treading water. And my dad’s friend’s who owned the boat turned the boat on and jetted off away from us. And I’m pretty sure me and my brother were just treading water. We might have had lifejackets but to make the story more interesting let’s just say we were treading water. And I remember seeing the boat get smaller and smaller. Now I know it was just a joke and they were going to come back but wow the impression that left in my mind has stuck with me this day. The fear of being left out at sea. Wow. What a thought.
You might not have thalassophobia but you probably have another phobia. A lot of people have arachnophobia—fear of spiders. These days I think all of us have been germaphobes—afraid of germs. I think the two unusual phobias I saw were alektorophobia—a fear of chickens. And then there’s anthophobia—a fear of flowers. We all have fears, dear friend.
Even though we all have fears, this universal recognition does not mean that this is OK. Over and over again, one of the most common statements made in the Bible, is “fear not.” That occurs a lot. If you are looking for an interesting Bible study, study all of the uses of “fear not” in Scripture. God doesn’t want us to fear.
The reason why God doesn’t want us to fear is because fear hinders our obedience. Fear hinders our obedience. The calling of the Christian life is not a calling to live a safe, comfortable life. The calling of Christianity is to step out into difficult and trying situations for the glory of God. To be a Christian is to take risk. It is to release control of your life and entrust it to God. That can be scary, but it is exactly what we need to do.
To live the Christian life properly, we have to be a people marked by boldness. We can’t be cowards. We cannot be timid, fearful, and afraid. Instead, we must be courageous. We must be bold. We must have faith.
God knows all these things. God knows everything. He knows we are fearful and he knows we need boldness. The tool that God has given us is prayer. This is the tool God has given us to obey him. To talk to him. To talk to him provides us with what we need to obey God.
The prayer that we are going to explore this morning concerns this topic of fear and boldness. I’ve entitled this sermon, “A prayer for boldness.” We are going to examine a prayer that the early church prayed in the context of persecution and fear. We are going to see how we should deal with our fears in prayer. Let’s go ahead and open up to Acts 4:23–31.
To understand this passage in relationship to us and our fears, we first need to unpack the context. The book of Acts is the story of how Christianity spread immediately after Jesus ascended into heaven. It’s the story of the apostles once they began their ministry. In these early years of Christianity, early Christians experienced persecution from the Jewish religious leaders. As the apostles preached Christ and him crucified, the Jewish leaders arrested them and threatened punishment for them. In Acts 4, a specific incident is recalled where Peter and John were arrested and threatened. The section that we cover this morning is how Peter and John and the rest of the early church responded to this incident. Their response was to pray for boldness. These threats, no doubt, produced fear in the early Christians, so they responded with a prayer for boldness. How exactly should we pray in light of the way they prayed?
Focus on the Sovereignty of God
When we are afraid and we come to God in prayer, we need to focus on the sovereignty of God. How can we combat our fear in prayer? We combat our fear by focusing our prayers on the sovereignty of God. This is what I want us to see first from this text. To combat our fears, we need to remember that God is in control. We need to remember the sovereignty of God. Looking together at the passage. Beginning in v. 23. Read along with me. The passage states,
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 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, 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? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’ 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, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
All of this concerns the early church’s focus on the sovereignty of God. Let’s break this portion of the text down. This will be our longest point.
God’s Title
What I want you to notice first is how the early Christians addressed God in this prayer. Verse 24 specifies,
Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them
Here we have a title given to God and reference to God as creator. The title, as mentioned in the ESV, is “Sovereign Lord.” What does this word indicate about God? The word is a unique word. The Greek word here is δεσπότης. What English word does that sound like? It sounds like the English word “despot.” The English word “despot” means:
a ruler or other person who holds absolute power, typically one who exercises it in a cruel or oppressive way.
Now this is not one the Greek word δεσπότης means. The Greek word does not indicate a harshness or severity. But it does emphasize rule and control. Let me say that again. The Greek word δεσπότης, the Greek word for “Sovereign Lord,” does not emphasize harshness or severity but it does emphasize rule and control. The early church is addressing God in light of his sovereign control of the universe. They are saying that God is in control of all of these difficulties they experience. Another translation of the word δεσπότης that I like is: “Master of all.” That’s how the NET translations translates this word.
What’s this mean? It means that God is “master of all.” In the good times, dear friend, and in the bad times, God is always in control. When your courageous and when your fearful, God is in control. He is always in control. All things that happen, even the persecution of the Christians in the early church, all things that happen are a part of God’s plan of redemption. The early church believed that God had a master plan, and that that plan was being fulfilled.
God’s Word
Now look with me at vv. 25 and 26. It reads,
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? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’
So what’s going on here is that the early church is praying to God and as they pray they cite Ps 2:1–2. This OT Scripture that they cite is Ps 2:1–2. The early church is telling God his word. We need to do that. We covered that last week. The purpose of this specific Psalm in this passage is that the early church is saying that God had foretold this experience—their persecution in light of the Lord Jesus Christ. This Psalm mentions that the leaders and rulers of this world will revolt against God’s Anointed, which is the Christ, which is Jesus. The early church is saying that, “Ya, this is happening right now as we pray.” Look at v. 27. This is exactly what the early church says,
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, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
The early church is identifying that their persecution was foretold by God. God has foretold this in the OT. In other words, God’s plan is playing out exactly as God had said.
God’s Plan
Verses 27 and 28, along with showing us how to understand the use of Ps 2 in this passage, also communicates some powerful doctrine about God’s will for mankind. Looking again at v. 27 and 28. I want us to see this together. Here we have some very important doctrinal discussion from the early church. What the early church is saying is that this revolt against the gospel was predestined by God. Looking again at the passage,
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, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.
To understand this passage we have to first see what the text does not say. I want you to notice what the text does not say. It does not say this,
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, to act in accordance with their free will.
Dear friends, it doesn’t say that. Often when discussion arise within the church concerning God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, the term “free will” is often used. I want you to see, dear friends, that the early church doesn’t use this term when talking about God’s control. The emphasis in this passage is not on Herod and Pilate’s personal decisions in the matter. What is the emphasis of the passage? The theological emphasis is on God’s sovereign plan. Now don’t get me wrong. Herod and Pilate did make the decision to crucify Jesus. They did. But their decision was governed by God.
Let’s look at the text and see what it does say.
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, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place
What the early church is saying with this prayer is that all that is happening is in accordance with God predetermined will. All that they see going on is in accordance with the will of God, just like how Psalm 2 said it would take place.

The sovereignty of God was a bedrock conviction for the early church. That doctrinal comfort was what got them through the difficulties they faced. It is what helped them conquer their fears. This type of conviction is seen also in Christians outside of the early church. Listen to this story of a Romanian pastor who was also threatened with persecution. Listen how he responded. He was an Romanian pastor in the communist USSR.
Romanian pastor Josef Tson recounted a time he was being interrogated by six men. He said to one of them: What is taking place here is not an encounter between you and me. This is an encounter between my God and me. . . . My God is teaching me a lesson [through you]. I do not know what it is. Maybe he wants to teach me several lessons. I only know, sirs, that you will do to me only what God wants you to do—and you will not go one inch further—because you are only an instrument of my God.
Wow! That’s that type of conviction manifested in action. What this means for you, dear friend, is that in your life, those things that you fear, they are under God’s control. God has predestined your salvation, and He has predestined everything else. God is in control of all of it. There is nothing in your life, dear Christian, that can truly harm you. Nothing. The early church ran into oppression, opposition, and persecution. That did not deter them from obedience. Why didn’t it? Because their trust was in God. They believed that God was totally in control. When you are afraid and you pray, focus on the absolute sovereignty of God.
Ask God for Courage
Now for the second takeaway from this passage. When we are afraid and we pray, we need to focus on the sovereignty of God. Amen and amen. God controls all the details, my friend. We also need to ask for courage. We need to focus on the sovereignty of God, and we need to ask God for courage.
Looking at the passage together. Verse 29 reads,
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.
I take it that there are two requests here. The first is, “look upon their threats.” What’s that mean? What this indicates is the early church’s trust in God. They say, “God, you have to take care of their threats. That’s your job. You take care of it, however you choose.” The early church here relinquishes control of the situation to God. God’s in control, not us.
The second request is “grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” Notice here that they don’t cower from the opposition. They don’t run and hid. They don’t ask for deliverance from this persecution. They ask to be found faithful. They ask for God to help them with the fears that they have. They ask for boldness because they feel the temptation towards being afraid. They ask God to make them fearless to proclaim the Word of God.
When we become fearful and scared, there is the temptation towards cowering and giving into the fear. There is a temptation to submitting to the fear. There is a temptation towards cowering and giving in. Closely related to this is also the temptation towards passivity. Passivity might be, “Well, I’m not going to think about that. I’m going to put that out of my mind.” Or we just endlessly put off responsibilities that we have because of the fear that it causes us. Take, for example, sharing the gospel with someone you know you should. It comes to mind over and over again but you just keep putting it off. That’s passivity. That’s not obeying God. That’s having fear control you. That’s disobedience.
With our fears, with our anxieties, we must take initiative with them in addressing them. Fear loves when you just submit to it. Don’t do that. Take initiative. Take those fears that you have and courageously ask God to help you with them. If you’re fearful in sharing the gospel, if your fearful to speak the truth, ask God for courage to speak the truth. Do not allow your fears to hinder your obedience.
Pray with Expectation
The last takeaway I want us to gather from this passage is this: expect God to act. When you are afraid and when you ask for courage, expect God to provide you that courage. Expect God to act. Expect God to provide you with what you need.
Looking at the passage. Verses 30 and 31 read,
while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 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.
Let’s break these verses down individually.
In verse 30, the early church expresses it’s faith that God will act on their behalf. Verse 29 is the request for boldness. And verse 30 is the explanation that they expect God to act and as he acts he will “stretch” out his hand to heal and perform many mighty wonders. Verse 30 isn’t so much a request as it is an expectation that the early church believes God will do for them as he answers their request for boldness. Verse 30 features an expectation.
And we see in v. 31 that that expectation becomes a reality. When their prayer was complete, the passage mentions a supernatural event occurred. The building physically shook, the were filled with the Spirit, and they were bold. This is an immediate answer to their prayer. God provided what they requested.

Sometimes with us in our prayer lives, we kind of just wait around until we “feel” like doing the right thing. So we will pray for something, something regarding our fears, yet we never act out what we pray because we don’t “feel” courageous enough. We are just caught in this endless hamster wheel of ineffective Christian witness.
Here’s a funny story that illustrates my point. Listen to this.
Man, 91, dies waiting for will of God. Walter Houston, described by family members as a devoted Christian, died Monday after waiting 70 years for God to give him clear direction about what to do with his life. “He hung around the house and prayed a lot, but just never got that confirmation,” his wife Ruby said. “Sometimes he thought he heard God’s voice, but then he wouldn’t be sure, and he’d start the process all over again.” Houston, she says, never really figured out what his life was about, but felt content to pray continuously about what he might do for the Lord. Whenever he was about to take action, he would pull back “because he didn’t want to disappoint God or go against him in any way,” Ruby says. “He was very sensitive to always remain in God’s will. That was primary to him.” Friends say they liked Walter though he seemed not to capitalize on his talents. To his credit, they say, Houston, who worked mostly as a handyman, was able to pay off the mortgage from Clopton Capital on the couple’s modest home in just a few years. “Walter had a number of skills he never got around to using,” says longtime friend Timothy Burns. “He worked very well with wood and had a storyteller side to him, too. I always told him, ‘Take a risk. Try something new if you’re not happy,’ but he was too afraid of letting the Lord down.”
This story isn’t actually real but it’s very believable. It illustrates the hamster wheel that some Christians are in. Some Christians are stuck in patterns of fear that lead them to not do anything. This gentleman, Walter Houston, did nothing with his life. He was too fearful to take a step of faith.
Dear friend, don’t live like that. Don’t pray like that. Expect God to answer your prayers for courage. After you pray for God to give you courage, expect him to answer. Step out in faith. Don’t wait around until you “feel” like it. You might never “feel” like it but you still have to do. God will provide what you need when you need it, dear. We have to get off the hamster wheel of disobedience and fear. We have to act. We have to be bold. We have to speak the truth in love.
For all of us this looks different. For me this involves my sin of people pleasing. I am tempted as a pastor towards caring too much about what people think. When I do this, I have anxieties and fears. For me I must regularly ask God for boldness and courage to overcome my fears of what people think. For you, dear friend, where does fear have a strong hold? What form of obedience are you not living because of your fears? Is it evangelism? Speaking the truth in love? Having a difficult but important conversation with someone? Fear of failure? Rejection? Death? Whatever it is, dear friend, pray about it. Pray about it. Take God your fears. Focus on his absolute control. Ask God for courage. And expect him to provide you what you need.

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