The Polyphonic Prayer of Monophonic Minds

Acts 4:23-31

And when they had been released, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who DID MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, did say, ‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? ‘THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD, AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’ “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You did anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You do extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

Boldness certainly seems to be a major theme in Acts chapter four. Nevertheless, Acts was not written in chapter and verse. Nor is it written completely chronologically. Luke will follow an event or character for a time and then double back on another event, character or theme. We have already seen this happen as he has spoken of the lifestyle of the very early church and how they would take their meals together and assemble, going to pray in the temple, having all things in common and taking care of each others’ needs. And yet, he has double back to the events of Peter’s second stabbing sermon and the fallout that ensued. That being Peter and John arrested, their defense in front of the council and subsequent release. In today’s text we see the prayer of the people present after their release.

It will help us immensely to use an Expository Exegesis of Examples to Enlighten what was said during this collective prayer. We know the context and the players, let’s zoom in on the prayer and see the sublime string woven throughout the Scripture. “And when they had been released, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, ‘O Lord, it is You who DID MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.”

Most likely, the people present are praising God through Psalms 146, “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul. I will praise the LORD while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the LORD his God; Who made heaven and earth, The sea and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever; Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous; The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow; But He thwarts the way of the wicked. The LORD will reign forever, Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!”

Quite apropos, would you agree? Notice the contents contained in the context; not trusting in princes or mortal men, God is the helper and most importantly,  God sets the prisoners free. In this particular case, both figuratively and literally. It is truly amazing how the word of God utilizes the word of God, interprets the word of God, explains the word of God and confirms the word of God. All it takes on our part is to read it and pay attention. But since these are two things most modern men don’t do, we are left letting the mega-church pastors telling us what the Bible says and means. Unfortunately, they get both wrong. They can’t possibly know what it means because they distort what it says. I wonder two things; do you find this passage as enthralling as I do? And, have you ever heard a mega-church pastor preach a sermon on this prayer in its entirety? The answer to the second question, I am already aware of, that’s a big, fat no. Because the mega-church pastors can’t string three verses together in context–it doesn’t leave enough time for their opining.

As for the first question, I am truly curious. Do you see the sublime string and the common connection between the psalmist and the very early church? They are grand, yet basic fundamentals of which we all should agree. The Lord God himself, created the heavens and the earth and he supports the stranger, orphaned and widowed. He is forever faithful and applies eternal justice. The Lord reigns forever. Salvation is found in the Lord and certainly not in mortal man.

This is how our prayers should begin, with reverence towards the creator and redeemer. Jesus taught us to pray in this way. Notice; “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who are in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.'” Reverence reminds us to whom we are praying and that he is worthy to be praised. Praying praise puts the prayer’s passions, problems and pleas in perspective. When we pray to the maker of the heavens, earth, seas and everything in them, we realize two things. We are very small and he is very big and that nothing we ask is impossible for him. That doesn’t mean he will always answer in the affirmative, but that we are asking the right person. By reverence and understanding who he is and what he has done, we maturely accept that the answer “no,” is for the best. That is why prayer rocks! No matter how God answers, we win. Jesus taught us this in the garden of gethsemane; “not my will but yours.” The answer was that the cup could not pass. But now, he is seated at the right hand of God, given “all authority on heaven and earth.”

Sometimes though, the answer is “Yes!” Many times the answer is “yes” but wretched people that we are, we focus on the seemingly negative answers to prayer. But notice how the people present pray:

O Lord,

it is You who DID MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM,

who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, did say,

‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS?

‘THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD, AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’

“For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You did anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.

“And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You do extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”

They give God the glory, repeating his words back to him, and only after this do they make their request known, which in summary is, “keep doing what you are doing.” They did discern that which the Lord had said and done. They recognized that which they were supposed to do, through the power of God. That is, they knew their place, in God’s hands and in God’s plan. They were neither theologians nor scholars, neither princes nor powerful people, neither prophets nor philosophers, but ordinary people plucked out from the world by God. And with one accord, the many mouths became one, rooted in the Holy Spirit, the Scripture, the apostles’ teachings and the witness of Jesus Christ.

Let’s rewind it a bit, what sparked this prayer of partnership, this collaborative, communal cry of prayer and praise? Let’s return to the context. Peter and John were jailed for speaking the truth–they silenced the elders. But the elders convened in a committee–the council, contemplating what to do about John and Peter. The council pondered; perhaps they had persuaded the people with the miracle of healing the 40 years a lame man. They couldn’t risk it, so they demanded that Peter and John no longer speak the name of Jesus, and then released them. John and Peter didn’t agree but were released anyway, “And when they had been released, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord.”

We could look at this from many different angles and vantage points. We could gaze at it through a wide-angle lens, seeing the greater picture or even through a panoramic lens, seeing every aspect but without much focus. We could stare through a telescopic lens, zooming in on the details. We could hyper-zoom in using a figurative magnifying glass or microscope to try and extract even the most daintiest of details. Nevertheless, we should ask ourselves, “is that how it was written?”

I always have to remind myself to, “keep it simple stupid. Consider the context and examples but don’t overthink things. Read, read and read again but don’t read anything into it,” hence expository exegesis and not imparting eisegesis. For example: “when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord.” Was this a like a responsive reading, (remember those; any churches out there still do responsive readings?) where Peter prayed a part and people repeated? Did they all chant these words, in a trance like stage? Were they bobbing their heads and tapping their toes? Did the men raise their Holy hands? Were their eyes closed? I need to know, was every head bowed, hand clasped and eye closed? These are dubiously and dogmatically debated details of which we have no answer. But zooming out and considering the context, we shouldn’t care. We should see what Luke wrote–nothing less, and certainly nothing more. Clearly Luke writes with the intention of showing us the great unity and the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Anything beyond this is assuming facts not in evidence. It’s another one of those things found in Scripture, over which we should not lose our joy. Yet it is something that we should certainly see, “when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord.” What that looked like exactly, we are not told but clearly Luke’s aspiration to his audience is the unity and power of the Holy Spirit.

We also take note that it is centered on Old Testament Scripture. The dogmatic dispensationalists argue that prophecy is being fulfilled in our own epoch of time. They postulate that the prophecy found in Matthew 24, or the Olivet Discourse, in which Jesus is speaking to his disciples alone, in private, is unfolding here, early in the twenty-first century. I would call that an eisegesis on the text rather than an exegesis of the text. Never one not to beat a dead horse, because the horse isn’t quite dead yet, one has to use the democratic-socialist dictionary to define words to ascribe Matthew 24 to anything other than the disciples’ generation. You know the democratic-socialist dictionary, it redefines things like “hate,” “tolerance,” “love,” and “science.” For instance: “we believe in science, unless it doesn’t match our feelings; biology is dubious and anatomy is ridiculous; how one feels dictates anatomy.” “Chemistry is absolute truth! Unless it is not, because carbon dioxide is poison to the planet even though trees need it.” “Our planet is too hot because of carbon dioxide, therefore we cut down carbon dioxide eliminating trees and install solar panels that cause the emission of carbon dioxide during their construction and no one knows how to dispose of them after their lifecycle.” And “hate,” “we hate hate, unless you don’t agree with us, then we can not only hate you but we also won’t tolerate your opinions.” “Love;” “love is conditional, people fall in and out of love everyday.”

To which, the dogmatic dispensationalist reading this is saying, “Amen!” But consider your ways, dogmatic dispensationalist, before leaping headlong into hypocrisy, read the context of Matthew 24 and explain to me how “you” and “this generation,” can mean “they” and “that generation alive in 1948.” As I always say, words are a fairly good way of communicating but not if we don’t know their definitions and some basic grammar. Jesus said to his disciples and his disciples only, “when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.”

Therefore they, who say to take the Scripture literally unless it is an obvious metaphor or allegory, make “you” and “this generation” into an allegory and metaphor, believing then that his “coming” is the literal and physical “second coming” but only the first part of his second coming, called the “rapture.” Since I am on this rabbit trail we will quickly consider an expository exegesis of examples. To the church in Pergamum, Jesus said, “Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” To the dogmatic dispensationalists this simply cannot be, it has to be an idle threat from the Lord. Because to the dogmatic dispensationalists, “coming” means the rapture. Also, to the doubly dogmatic dispensationalists, the churches in Revelation represent churches throughout epochs of history, ending with the church of Laodicea. This is the most farfetched of all their dogma, nevertheless, if true, how can Christ come to the church in Pergamum if he doesn’t come until the Laodicean church is in effect? Correct, they’re wrong on two levels.

First, the seven churches in Asia were literally seven churches in Asia. Second, Jesus coming doesn’t necessarily mean coming in a rapture but can also mean coming in judgment; it’s in the context of not only Revelation 2, but Matthew 24. But don’t lose heart, history repeats itself. The promise made to Pergamum is still valid to the churches today, as is the Laodicean promise of vomit. But there is another valid promise, which is why I write. One of the first verses I memorized, which I still quote in the King James is, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Go to my home page, scroll all the way down to the beginning and notice how my missives began–the Laodicean church.

We can say it in many ways; we’ve lost our first love, we have grown weary, we have fallen into apostasy, we have chased the almighty dollar, but the truth is that I agree with the dogmatic dispensationalists, we are neither hot nor cold, towards Jesus and his gospel. We may be hot about our songs, our programs, our teaching, our eschatology and our way of worship but we’re cold in the gospel, we’re cold in our unity.

It’s not my goal to destroy dispensational discourse, I actually enjoy listening to other opinions–that’s all we have considering the future, opinions. Other than Christ is coming again and we are closer to it today than we were yesterday, on this, we all agree. But when I am called a “mocker” and a “scoffer” because I believe that the glorious gospel of grace makes great gains–rather than a rescue, I have to defend myself so that future generations, who were not alive in 1948, won’t lose heart or grow weary, saying, “where is the promise of his coming?”

Which ends the rabbit trail bringing us back to today’s text. We want the Bible to be about us, we want prophecy to point to our times, (yes, times, plural). And the Bible is absolutely about us, but as for specific fulfillment of prophecy we need to see what the Biblical author’s saw and said. Jesus is the focus and substance of the Law and prophets. And the dispensationalists rightly argue that the Lord revealed himself differently throughout the generations. For thousands of years there was no written law of Moses. Then, as Paul wrote, “the law came in so that the transgression would increase;” it was not to eradicate sin but to expose it. Jesus came to eradicate sin and fulfill the law, and the law points to him. Therefore when Jesus came in human form, he began to set up the ultimate way, his “called out assembly,” unified by his death and resurrection, through the Holy Spirit, making reproductive followers, in unity. As the church grew, the end of the Law of Moses was coming to a close. That is man-made, selfrighteousness, which could never save, was about to be condemned forever. This is what the book of Acts is all about, the birth of the church and death of the religion of self, all of which were prophesied and promised, progressively, since the beginning.

Jesus has been crucified, raised and ascended to heaven, given his Spirit, as promised and the people, with one accord prayed. “’And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You do extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

Asked and answered. Asked in unity, with one accord, together in utter agreement, and answered. And yet, it’s in the genre of historical narrative. We don’t have every detail or insight into everything else that happened that day. Luke let’s us look into a little of what happened but quite obviously his aspiration to his audience is the unity and power of the Holy Spirit. But also, he’s painting the larger picture of the early church formation and struggles it faced, which become progressively problematic, just as Jesus said. The unity gives way to division, and that, quickly. But how does this happen and why? As we walk through the book of Acts, Lord willing, it will become self-evident, as we continue to consider the context and explore expository  exegesis of examples. Basically, because Jesus said so–birth pangs and death of the old way. It’s to weed out false faith and teachings, to confirm the New Covenant. It was to bring us the New Testament, and to confirm it’s credibility. We are only a few chapters away from Jesus telling Ananias, concerning Paul, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Jesus put Paul through the wringer so that he could be trusted by the church, to deliver the gospel of Jesus. Can we put secondary, dubious dogma aside and be unified in that which Paul actually preached?

Because, and I am sorry, nothing is more racist or antisemitic than to think that after praying for the peace of Israel for 71 years; preaching a pre-tribulational rapture where the church disappears to Jews and gentiles alike;  and then after millions of people do disappear, the Jews will enter into a covenant with a false messiah. Think about this…it’s tantamount to calling them the stupidest people to ever live. Which as a nation, quite the opposite is true. Israel leads the world in many scientific advancements. “Oh, but he will perform ‘signs and wonders.'” Like Jesus did? Like the Apostles did? “But he will let them rebuild their temple.” Let them? In 1967, Mordechai Gur, rightly declared, “Har HaBayit BeYadeinu!” That is, “the temple mount is in our hands.” Truthfully, Israel as a nation, has been extremely meek in not building the temple; meek, not weak. They could build the temple now, without anyone’s permission. However, the majority in the country don’t want to upset other nations, patiently, they are waiting for a consensus not a false Messiah. Dogmatic dispensationalist forget the following: the Messiah enters the temple, therefore, a false Messiah would not be the one who let’s them build the temple. Of course, we should already know this because when the Messiah did come, he entered the temple; turned over the money tables, and wept that Jerusalem didn’t recognize the time of visitation. Israel needs the same thing as every other nation in the world, not a temple made with human hands but a temple paid for by the blood of Christ. Lord willing, we will see this very soon.

This is why I have written too much today, I think we need a reintroduction to the book of Acts, so that as we walk in the footsteps of the early church, we will see what they saw and learn from their mistakes and their victories. Today’s text was a victory and we rejoice over it, but it was a very, very difficult road that they walked, which makes our trials and tribulations pale in comparison.

 

 

 

 

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