If all goes according to our human plans, about three months from this week this church will start shaking because this part of the church will have some kind of machine knocking down its walls and bringing down its ceiling. Now if just before this church started shaking, you were nonchalantly walking down that hallway out there because you hadn’t gotten the message that the day of destruction had arrived, wouldn’t you start praying the moment this church started shaking? Obviously – and very understandably – that would be a prayer based on your fear — and your desire to get out of there as soon as you could. And hopefully, you would walk out those doors in plenty of time and be able to stand outside in the parking lot and see what was going on.
Listen again to what the Bible tells us in the last verse of our Lesson – verse 31 — about what happened after the apostles Peter and John spoke to their fellow believers in the house in which they were worshiping about the dramatic details that had just taken place in their lives: “After they prayed, the place where were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.” What they were praying was not a prayer of fear, but a prayer of thanksgiving for something that God has just wonderfully done for them — and a prayer of confidence for what they knew God would continue to do for them every day moving forward for the rest of their lives. In these words that we share today I pray you and I can be filled with the same thanksgiving for the past and the same confidence for the future by thinking about the question, “If this church started shaking, wouldn’t you pray?”
So, what were all these believers praying about? It had been a very shaky time. Two of their leaders, Peter and John, had just gotten out of jail. They had been put into jail for healing a man who had been crippled from birth. Actually, they hadn’t been put into jail for healing a man crippled from birth, but for saying they had been given the power to heal that man crippled from birth through the name of Jesus Christ, whom those people who were putting them into jail had put on a cross – but whom God had released from the prison of the grave by raising him from the dead. And that is what really caused the problem. Earlier in this same chapter, we are told: “They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.”
The next day Annas and Caiphas themselves – the same high priests who questioned Jesus a few months earlier – further questioned Peter and John about how they had healed this man who had not walked a day in his life – and they were given the answer by these humble fishermen, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead that this man stands before you healed.” You would have thought that that earth-shattering message would have shaken the hearts of everyone who heard it and would have led them to pray with thanksgiving to the Maker of heaven and earth for sending his Son to be the Redeemer of heaven and earth, but they rejected the Holy Spirit’s wonderful words and told these disciples of Jesus to never again speak or teach in the name of Jesus about any of this resurrection business. “We cannot help,” Peter and John said in reply, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” The leaders of the people threatened them some more and then let them go, even as so many of the people who had seen these things were praising God, we are told, for what had so obviously happened.
And that’s when Peter and John went back to their fellow believers at the beginning or our Lesson for today and they all began to pray after Peter and John told them all that the chief priests and the people had to say. But, again, notice that their prayer was not, “Oh, poor miserable us and poor wretched Peter and John. You had to spend a night in jail for being a Christian.” Their prayer was not, “What pathetic people those leaders of our people are who cannot figure out that God is God and they are not.” What their prayer was a statement of thanksgiving and confidence – thanksgiving for – and confidence in – the fact that everything that the Lord had said in the Bible was true, and that no human being could ever possibly keep God’s Word from being proclaimed and taught, nor ever possibly keep many people from believing it. “Why do the nations rage,” they prayed in that indented portion as they quoted from David’s words in Psalm 2: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain. The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One” (yes, against the Christ – Jesus Christ our Lord).
Do you see the point of their prayer? Don’t get so upset and uptight about those who don’t know Jesus and who maybe even persecute those who do. There will always be people – the majority of people — who will feel sorry for those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus or who think it’s dangerous to tell people about such a thing. Just one example would be a recent quote I read in a book about Bible skeptics: “The resurrection story was likely made up between 30 AD and 70 AD. It is conceivable that stories about Jesus were being exaggerated and misinterpreted in order to convert people… Even if the Bible included several firsthand eyewitness testimonies about supernatural events, the problem is that eyewitness testimony is no longer considered to be as reliable a type of evidence as it once was. Cognitive psychologists now have an understanding of how the human brain creates false memories.” We feel bad about that, but there is no reason to be self-righteous about that, because we know it’s only by the grace of God that we don’t think the same way – and there are many ways in which our own lives don’t mirror the love of our Savior. Instead, with God’s help remember the simple fact the nations will always “rage” against the Lord’s anointed – and keep going about your life in the name of our Lord Jesus and talking about the salvation of our Lord Jesus, because that’s the only way anyone else – including we ourselves – are going to keep believing in the work of Jesus and not get overwhelmed by those who don’t believe in the work of Jesus and maybe have the chance to tell them more about the work of Jesus, which is the only way God might give them the faith to believe in the work of Jesus, just like us.
That’s why the believers that day continued their prayer in this way in verse 29: “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Especially at that time right after Jesus had returned to heaven, he gave them, as he promised he would, the ability to do miraculous signs – like healing a man crippled from birth – as a way of demonstrating to all who saw it that the message they were saying was true: There was a Savior from sin who had risen from the dead – and who promised that because he lives, we shall live also.
And then God gave an immediate miraculous sign to assure them that their thankfulness and their confidence were not a mistake or some foolish ignorance, because that’s when God made that place of worship shake, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit by the Word of God which they were studying that had so shaken their souls, and they continued to speak that Word of God boldly, just like they had prayed God would give them the ability to do.
We are told that many people who heard them speak came to believe this message that, humanly speaking, was impossible to believe, not only because people don’t just rise from the dead, but also because people need to admit that they are spiritually dead in the eyes of their Creator because of how they have continued to sin against him, just as every one of us must confess every day of our lives. But the same God who raised his Son has raised us from that spiritual death by giving us the faith to believe something that only God could give us the faith to believe. He has shaken up our hearts and led us to be able to look back at what he has done in the Bible and in our lives as the reason we can have complete confidence that he will continue to keep us going in the future. He cannot leave us or forsake us, and the Word of God which he has given us which tells us that will not stop being preached to the joy and edifying of God’s holy people – and there will always, always be people who will believe it, even if at times it seems that the love of so many may be growing cold all around us. But that message of Jesus – shared in person and through technology – continues to cause people to believe it close by and in faraway lands to faraway people, we will never meet until the day we see people from every tribe, nation, and language gathered around the throne of the Lamb, just as Jesus promised we would.
This church building likely will not shake, we pray, until the day it is asked to move aside, but in the meantime, if this church did start shaking, wouldn’t you pray? I pray you would, not because you were afraid, but because it would be such a great reminder of what happened on a day long ago that means everything for your life – and our world – today. Lord, please continue to fill every one of us with your Holy Spirit as we keep hearing your Word about how much you love us and how you have forgiven our sins — and enable all of us to speak your Word – and to keep speaking your Word — boldly to others. Amen.