After they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard it, they raised their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and everything in them, it is you who said by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant: ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers have gathered together against the Lord and against his Messiah.’ For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
I’m reminded of the testimony of a retired vicar when I read this. He and a mission team overseas were praying fervently when their building began to shake. They remembered this passage where the fledgling church in Jerusalem prayed for boldness after Peter and John were released by the Sanhedrin. The group continued their task with fresh expectation and their mission proved fruitful.
Peter and John were ordered not to preach any further about the resurrection in Jesus. They had no intention of obeying: ‘We cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard’ (Acts 4:20). Their community didn’t dwell on the threats. They didn’t keep quiet for safety’s sake.
These early believers were realistic about the opposition they would face. Their prayer for boldness shows they acknowledged their fear. But they were convinced that God’s mission would be fulfilled even if they drew back from the task before them. They focussed on God’s creative and redemptive power in Jesus.
We’re well-aware that any opposition to our expression of faith in the U.K. is minimal compared to persecution of Christians elsewhere. We value the privilege of freedom of worship too lightly, and practise our faith superficially. The early Church knew their dependence on God as they encountered opposition and persecution; many of our persecuted friends in Christ know this dependence in a way we do not. As we thank God for our freedom to worship, and pray for persecuted believers, let’s also pray for boldness to believe that God continues to act in mighty ways despite the feebleness and frailty born of comfortable complacency.
Creator God, strengthen the suffering and persecuted; Redeeming God, shake the comfortable and complacent; Sustaining God, embolden us all. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Gillian Poucher is Minister of Gainsborough URC