28 October 2007

The Prayer that Brought the Holy Spirit Down, by John Piper

This was one of those "I love technology" days. I stayed home from our African church service this morning. After Ladies' Bible study yesterday afternoon, and a very tiring day for me in general... sometimes the African service, while I love it, is hard. I spend the bulk of my time walking around outside the building, trying to find shade for Elsie Mae and I, as she isn't always too inclined at her tender age of almost 14 mos to sit and listen to the sermon.

On those days when I do stay home, I try to find something interesting, something spiritually challenging, to listen to on-line. Often, I listen to sermons that have been uploaded to "SERMON AUDIO" by our church. Other times I listen to streaming Christian radio. Often, it just depends on how cooperative our internet connection is being.

Today, this sermon by John Piper caught my attention. While we don't agree lock, stock and barrel with all that he writes/preaches/advocates - he is always challenging and thought provoking, so I decided to listen. If you are interested in hearing his 31 minute sermon, you can click on the link above. If not, I've outlined his key points below. I'd be very interested to hear your comments/reactions to his message.

Acts 4:23-31

23 And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.

24 And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:

25 Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?

26 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.

27 For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,

28 For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.

29 And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,

30 By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.

31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.(KJV)

Piper contests that this passage, as the early church asks for a 2nd great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, is incredibly relevant to the church today: Why?

1) Because of the answer that came-- If you look carefully, there is a tremendous similarity between the response of the Holy Spirit in this situation and His initial coming at Pentacost?
  • they were all praying;
  • they were all filled;
  • there was shaking/a great sound - tangible evidence of God's power; and
  • the result was speaking with boldness the great things of God;

Thus, we can conclude that extraordinary enabling of believers by the Holy Spirit is not unique to Pentacost, and is necessary in even the very best, the very strongest of churches.

2) Because of who was praying-- Peter and John, just released, went to their friends and prayed with their friends. That word "friends" literally means "their own." It is the same word used when the rulers allow Paul while in prison to be ministered to by "his own," and also the same word used in John 1:11 ("He came unto his own, and his own received him not.) Thus, it was normal, everyday church believers who prayed this prayer. To pray this prayer does not require "apostalic authority"

3) Because of the occasion on which it was prayed-- Peter and John had just been threatened. (And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. So when they had further threatened them... )

These men were men just like other men. They loved their wives and children. They wanted to live. Yet continuing to speak the name of Jesus would be dangerous. It would be very tempting to give into those very real threats (James is beheaded in Acts 12, Peter shortly thereafter is in jail escaped what appeared to be sure death only by miraculous intervention).

Essentially, these men were asking God to grant them a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit and a boldness in speaking, to continue as they had started, for they would be"walking right into the face of a loaded muzzle" that the chief priests and leaders had levelled at them.

Now, in our day and age, we may not face such physical threats, but we do face some other, incredible obstacles:

  • the anonymnity of our mobile and busy lives;
  • entertainment round the clock - we live in a world saturated with entertainment that continually shouts, "Don't think of God... PLAY!";
  • we are in a God-ignoring culture; medical technology - Americans don't give much thought to God when they get sick due to medical advances. Elsewhere in the world, poor health is an issue of eternity;
  • the church exhibits great weakness in speaking boldly, so we need the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit.

4) Because of to whom this prayer was prayed-- 5/7ths of this prayer is man telling God who God is. Now, God does not need to know who God is, but we do... especially whn w are aobut to ask God to do something awesome. We need to remind ourselves who He is to give ourselves the courage - and then to know it and believe it completely in our hearts.

What do these believers say about God? In vs 24, they recognize Him as the Creator. In vs. 25-28 (my paraphrase of Piper's paraphrase) they essentially say, "You, God, control everything, even the wickedest deeds of the wickedest men and turn them to be meet for your plan and your purposes to save the world." Read vs. 27 and 28 again carefully to see this truth!

Theology matters - think of the doctrinal truths contained within this prayer: the doctrine of creation, the doctrine of the inspiration of the Word of God (part of Ps. 2 is quoted), the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, the doctrine of prophesy and its ultimate glorious fulfillment. Yes, accurate theology is important.

5) Because of what was asked for--

  1. Look upon their threats! Peter and John were told to never speak the name of Jesus again in that city, EVER! The believers are crying out to God, "Look at how they are insulting Your Son!
  2. Then first, they ask to speak with boldness, that His Word go forth in power.
  3. Next, they ask Him to heal and do mighty works in the name of Jesus- in other words, to stretch forth His hand and bear divine witness of His Word after and as it was being preached. Why? Because of THE NAME!

In conclusion, we SHOULD continue to pray such a prayer! Why? Because of a love for our God, because of a love for His Son's Holy Name, and because of a love for those around you who need to hear about Him- in the place where God has placed you to minister by the Holy Spirit's power and in His Son's name.

...Not by might,
nor by power,
but by my spirit,
saith the LORD of hosts.

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