Main Point: Depend on the Sovereign Lord.
Our goal is fairly simple and wonderful: we want to rest in the sovereignty of God. We want to rest in the sovereignty of God such that we pray to him and he strengthens us. Church, we are summoned each day to depend on the Sovereign Lord.
Last week, from Acts 4:13-22, we learned from the example of Peter and John. We are to be men and women of boldness, sharing the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, for the healing of our neighbors. Opposition and orders must not stop us. Like Peter and John, we must continue seeking to do good so that the people around us praise God.
Today, from Acts 4:23-31, we learn from the example of the church. Just as Peter and John followed the pattern of Jesus, so also the church followed the pattern of Jesus. Their focus was on the Sovereign God who strengthens his people. Our focus must be on the Sovereign God who strengthens his people.
Let’s dig into the Word, Acts 4:23-31
Here we see the church at prayer. John and Peter are released, and they go to their own; to their own people or friends. Here again, is the growing distinction between the people of God being those who depend on Jesus and the unbelieving Jews being outsiders. Jesus defines the people of God, not Judaism. It’s important to note, before we get into their prayer, that prayer is the normal thing Christians do. They gathered up to pray. Remember Acts 2:42 and the marks of the early church, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Praying together is a normal part of the bold and fruitful Christian life. Let’s look at their prayer and follow their example.
Verse 24, check out how they started their prayer, “they lifted up their voices together to God and said, ‘Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.’”
Together, they knew that
I. God is the boss
This word translated as Lord or Sovereign Lord is not a common word for addressing God in prayer. Often, God is addressed as Father or as Lord using the Greek word kurios. Here we have the Greek word despotes. In English, we’ve made the word despot negative, but this was not the case in 1st century Greek writing. The word refers positively to the absolute ruler of a home. A helpful example is found in 2 Timothy 2:20-21, “Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house ready for every good work.”
The master of the house is the lord of the house, the absolute ruler and owner of the house. The best English translation is sovereign. So, we affirm that
- God is sovereign
Now we need to ask what God is sovereign over; what are the limits of God’s great house? Thankfully, Acts 4:24 defines the limits of God’s sovereignty, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” God is the absolute ruler of the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. God’s great house, over which he rules, is all of creation and all creatures. God rules the angels, the demons, the people, the animals, the plants, the weather, the land, the sea, and the sky. God is sovereign over everything and everyone.
Here’s more good news. The sovereign God is not silent; the sovereign God speaks. The prayer of verse 25 is the prayer of a people thankful for God’s word that makes sense of our lives. God, “who spoke through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit.” These people know the word of God and are now applying the patterns of Scripture to their lives. What God said about David applies to Jesus and therefore applies to Jesus’ people. What happened to David foreshadows what will happen to Jesus and since we follow Jesus’ example, we should expect the same to happen to us.
Before we move into the content of this prophecy, take note of the Trinity. It is God, the Sovereign Lord, who is speaking. This refers to God the Father. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who is inspiring David to write these words. It is God, the Son, who is the subject of this prophecy. Verse 26 points to the Lord’s Christ, the Lord’s anointed. God the Father speaks through God the Spirit about God the Son.
The content of David’s prophecy is the Gentiles rage against God. This, verse 27, is a reference to Jesus, Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, and the Jews. We’ll take the details in moment. For now, let’s keep with the thread of sovereignty. What did all these people do? Read verse 28, “whatever God’s hand and God’s plan had predestined to take place.” The King James gives a helpful translation, “to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” Here is a reference to God’s mind; he planned beforehand for Jesus, Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and the Jews to do these things. Here is a reference to God’s strength, it is God’s strong hand that ensures his plan is fulfilled. Plans without power are pointless.
Take note how the sovereignty of God has been Peter’s theme. Acts 2:23, “Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” In Acts 3:18, Peter affirms that God predicted the suffering of Christ and actively guided the fulfillment of that prophecy.
Here is the significance of the sovereignty of God for the early Church: God has a plan and God is working the plan. God’s plan is to redeem his people and his creation through the suffering of his Son. God’s plan will be opposed by every sort of people, but God will strengthen his own to fulfill the mission. Knowing God’s plan to strengthen his suffering people, the early church gathers together to pray for God’s help to fulfill the mission. They pray for God to give them boldness and miracles so that they can continue to tell people about the resurrection of Jesus. Affirming the sovereignty of God led them to pray for the strength of God.
There is a theological affirmation here: God is the boss. There is also a warning here:
II. Don’t fight against God
The church prays Psalm 2 because they know the pattern of history. The Gentiles rage against the Lord and against his Anointed. The people make their plans to oppose God’s plan. The kings stand up against God’s plan. The rulers make alliances to try and thwart God’s plan. Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and the Jews are gladly and willingly opposing God’s sovereign plan.
The idea that if God is sovereign this means people are puppets is an argument based on philosophy not based on the Bible. In the Bible we don’t see puppets mindlessly doing the will of God against their own will. In the Bible we see men and women willingly and ferociously doing the will of God. Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and the Jews are doing exactly what they want to do when they oppose the Lord and his anointed. Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and the Jews are doing exactly what God’s hand and plan had predestined to take place when they oppose the Lord and his anointed.
Now remember, this prayer is a prayer according to the pattern of history. So, the warning is for us
- We rage against God’s plans
Let’s think for a moment about why Ephesians 2:3 says we are by nature children of wrath. Every human is born with a heart that rages against God. We are born wanting to be sovereign. Why does the toddler refuse to eat when hungry and sleep when tired? Because that toddler would rather battle you for her sovereignty than go your way. Why does the child disobey your instructions that are for his good? He wants to be sovereign and who cares if his running away runs him into the street? Why do we reject God’s good plan for our families and finances? We are all desperate to fulfill the desire inside of us to be in control.
Herod wants to be in control. Pilate wants to be in control. The Romans wants to be in control. The Jewish leaders want to be in control. I want to be in control. You want to be in control. We all want to be God. We rage against God and every expression of God’s authority in our lives. But,
- God is sovereign
It is common and quite natural to hate the idea of God’s sovereignty because we all love the idea of our own independent self-rule. I don’t want to be ruled; I want to rule! Satan fell into sin because Satan was enamored with the idea of being God. Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was in love with the idea that he was in control. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, was in love with the idea that he was in control. I wake up every morning in love with the idea that I control the day and will shape it according to my hand and my definite plan.
Back to Ephesians 2, verse 10 this time, “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life. God’s plan is to sanctify me and bring redemption to those around me. The way God has determined to bring redemption is through Jesus Christ turning rebels into humble servants. The cost of this transfer from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son is the very life of Christ. Jesus transforms his enemies by dying for his enemies. Were it not for the sovereignty of God, this plan would be such a foolish risk. But we know, listening to God’s word and looking at history, that God is sovereignly working his plan of redemption. God is working in and through our rebellion. God is working in and through the rebellion of our children and coworkers and neighbors. This gives us strong encouragement to
III. Depend on the sovereign Lord
Don’t lose sight of the fact that Acts 4:24-30 is a communal prayer. The church has gathered together to hear from Peter and John. Their natural response was to pray because prayer is dependence upon the sovereign Lord. Here are three reasons to pray. First,
- We pray because we are rebels
These Christians in Acts 4 knew they needed help to fulfill God’s will. There is no idea here that God is going to do whatever God wants to do so my choices don’t matter. God’s sovereignty in no way removes our responsibility. God is in control and we willingly choose. Knowing their tendency to run from difficulty in order to protect their own comfort, these Christians pray for God’s help to keep preaching the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God you must stretch out your hand to heal. God you must grant that signs and wonders be done in Jesus’ name. The Gentiles are raging against the church like they raged against Jesus like they raged against David. Give us strength and give us boldness.
We pray because we are a rebellious people and we dwell among a rebellious people. God’s will is for husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. God’s will is for wives to submit to the benevolent leadership of their husbands. God’s will is for children to obey their parents, citizens to obey their leaders, and for each of us to love our neighbors. But, we don’t want to.
The reason I don’t pray is because I have bought into the lie that I am sovereign. Think about it. Why does Satan live a life of prayerlessness? Satan does not pray because he is convinced of the idea that going his own way is infinitely better than going God’s way. May God grant us the ability to see the deep-rooted rebellion that lurks in ourselves. May God grant us the strength and boldness and ability to give ourselves for the redemption of the rebels all around us.
We pray because we are rebels and
- We pray because we are dependent
The praying Christian is the dependent Christian. I can’t change myself. I can’t change my coworker. I can’t change my spouse. I can’t change my child. Sovereign God, stretch out your hand to heal because my hand has no strength. Sovereign God, grant signs and wonders that will point the rebellious to Jesus. Sovereign God, teach me your Word so that I can teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you (Ps 51:13).
I want to run and hide from suffering and sacrifice. I want my own ease and comfort. I do not want my neighbor’s redemption. I want my child to leave me alone I do not want to point her to Jesus. Feeling our rebellious tendencies and feeling our weaknesses causes us to pray. We are dependent upon God. We pray because we are insufficient and
- We pray because God is sovereign
Angela and I went to Trader Joe’s last week and bought a pumpkin. Imagine that I decided to pray to that pumpkin to accomplish that pumpkin’s will in my life. I might feel spiritual and empowered by praying to the pumpkin, but that prayer would be pointless because that pumpkin is powerless. The reason we pray to God is because he is the boss of heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them. We pray to God because, Philippians 2:13, God works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure. We pray to God because, Ephesians 1:11, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
We pray to God because he can actually do something about our situations. God is infinitely greater than my pumpkin. We pray to God because he has not created a world of robots who mindlessly obey his will. We pray to God because we have chosen a world where we are rebels. We pray to God because he has chosen a world where rebels are transformed through the righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. You will not find strength by forming an idol who has neither the power nor the desire to rescue rebels. We find strength in the sovereign God who has a plan and is working his plan regardless of our plans. May the Sovereign Lord grant us repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, that we may come to our senses and escape the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Tim 2:25-26).
God is working his plan in you. Stop fighting him and depend on Jesus. God is working his plan in your family. Stop fighting him and depend on Jesus. God is working his plan in your work. Stop fighting him and depend on Jesus. Let us pray and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill us so that we speak the word of God with boldness. Let’s rest in the sovereignty of God.