Sovereign Lord!

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.  – Acts 4:23-31 ESV

After their stern warning from the Sanhedrin “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18 ESV), Peter and John returned to the rest of their friends and reported all that had happened. What happened next provides us with a significant insight into the spiritual transformation that had taken in the lives of the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Rather than responding in fear at the possible ramifications of the Sanhedrin’s warnings. the disciples seem to take the news quite calmly. And instead of breaking into a heated discussion about how they should respond to the threats of the council, they prayed. And what they prayed is significant and illuminating.

First, Luke is very specific in recording that they addressed God as “Sovereign Lord.” The Greek word is despotēs and it means “master, lord or sovereign ruler.” This was a title reserved for those who held positions of ultimate and unwavering power and authority. And the disciples recognized that the God to whom they were praying was the supreme Master, the sovereign, all-powerful Lord of the universe. They did not address God as Father, although in the model prayer Jesus had given them, He had taught them to do so. No, at this moment in time, facing the demands of the Sanhedrin to cease and desist, and under threats of possible retaliation if they did not, the disciples turned their attention to the sovereign nature of God Almighty. They address Him as the Creator of “the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 4:24 ESV). And then they quote from an Old Testament passage penned by King David.

“‘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’ – Acts 4:25-26 ESV

Notice that they attribute this passage to David, but clearly state that it had been given to the former king through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Psalm 2 had been written by David, but what he had written had been inspired by the Spirit of God. And the disciples recognized that it had been a prophetic reference to Jesus, the Messiah. The Holy Spirit had given the disciples new insight into the Scriptures, allowing them to see things they had never seen before. Immediately after His resurrection, Jesus had opened the eyes of a couple of disciples walking along the road to Emmaus and “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV). Now, the Holy Spirit was doing the same thing for the rest of the disciples. They are able to see that what David had written hundreds of years earlier had special application to them. The “rulers were gathered together against the Lord and his Anointed”. The Sanhedrin were raging and plotting, but because God is sovereign, the disciples realized they had nothing to fear. The Gentiles or Romans had played a part in Jesus’ death. The “kings of the earth” is a clear reference to King Herod, who had authorized the death of Jesus. And the reference to rulers covers Pontius Pilate, the high priest and all the religious authorities who had subjected Jesus to humiliating trials and physical beatings before His death. But all that they had done had been in vain. It had proved futile and had failed to stop the sovereign will of God. 

The disciples had seen the risen Lord. They had talked and ate with Him. They had received their commission from Him. They they heard Him promise to one day return for them. And finally, they had watched Him ascend into the sky in order to return to His rightful place at His Father’s side. So, they knew that all the Gentiles and the Jews had done had been for naught. Which meant that they had no reason to fear what the threats of the Sanhedrin.

The disciples were able to look back on all the events that had happened in Jerusalem surrounding the death of Jesus and recognize that it had all been the pre-planned work of God. They confess, “everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will” (Acts 4:28 NLT). It had been predestined and predetermined by God. All that the disciples had seen as an unmitigated disaster and as a heartbreaking end to their hopes of Jesus being the Messiah, had actually been the will of God. It had been part of His divine plan.

With all this in mind, it’s important to notice how their thoughts of God’s sovereignty influence what they ask of God. Notice that they don’t ask God to place a hedge of protection around them. They don’t request that He remove the threat that hovers over them. They don’t demand that He strike down the Sanhedrin. No, they pray for boldness. They realize He is in complete control of the circumstances, so they simply ask that He give them the strength to continue to do what He has called them to do.

29 “And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” – Acts 4:29-30 NLT

They fully recognized that their strength came from God. They realized that any power they had to heal or perform signs and wonders came from God. They were simply instruments in the Redeemer’s all-powerful hands. So, they asked Him for boldness or parrēsia, a Greek word that means “free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance” (Outline of Biblical Usage). They weren’t asking for relief from their problems, but for the resources they needed to continue doing His will. Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem, willingly facing not only the threat of death, but its inevitable reality. Now, they were asking for the same bold determination to keep on keeping on, regardless of what the Gentiles, kings and rulers may say.

And Luke records, “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” (Acts 4:31 ESV). It is important that we note that what happened here was not another baptism of the Holy Spirit. They had received the Spirit in full at Pentecost. This “filling” is a reference to the Spirit’s control over them. This has less to do with the specific moment in time than with the ongoing control of the Spirit over them. Luke says, “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” They walked out of the room under the control of the Spirit, able to speak boldly and confidently, in direct answer to their prayer request. What they were able to do was the direct result of the Spirit of God. It was His control over them that allowed them to speak the words of God with boldness. Their efforts were not the result of human strength. They were sovereignly, spiritually equipped by God for the task He had given them.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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