The Prayer for Boldness Part 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
This is the first recorded prayer in the book of Acts, and it is founded on the Word of God—that is, verses 25 and 26 are direct quotations from Psalm 2 (a prophetic Psalm but not, as yet, completely fulfilled). The Word of God and prayer must always go together—“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15.7). In His Word God speaks to us and tells us what He wants to do. In prayer, we speak to Him and make ourselves available to accomplish His will. True prayer is not telling God what to do, but asking God to do His will in us and through us—“And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5.14, 15). It means getting God’s will done on earth, not man’s will done in Heaven.
As the apostles prayed, the Holy Spirit brought the Word to mind, and with the Word in their hearts, they made their petitions known to God. This is the right way for believers to pray. A careful study of the prayers of Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets in the Old Testament will reveal that they prayed after this manner, and God heard and answered their prayers. And notice that they did not pray to have their circumstances changed or their enemies put out of commission. Rather they asked God to empower them to make the best use of their circumstances and to accomplish what He had already determined to do (v. 28). This was not “fatalism” but faith in the Lord of history who has a perfect plan and is always victorious. They asked for divine enablement, not escape; and God gave them the power that they needed.
The second Psalm, from which these quotations were taken, is of prophetic importance throughout the New Testament. There is a great collection of inspired prayers and songs of praise in the book of Psalms, but we must not minimize the importance of the Psalms of prophecy. This particular Psalm is not titled, nor does it tell us the person through whom it was given. In the prayer of these believers, it is ascribed to David, but his name is not given in the Psalm itself. The point is these men attributed the psalm to David, to the Spirit, to the foreknowledge of God; and consequently, their conviction concerning God was not that of His sovereignty only, but also that of His wisdom. They believed that when David sang that psalm, he sang better than he knew, and fuller than he thought; and behind the singer was the inspiration of God. This psalm, as well as many other passages, points up the divine inspiration of Scripture through human agents. God speaking through David’s mouth refers to his writings.
Take time to read Psalm 2; it describes the revolt of the nations against the Lord and His Christ. The psalm originally grew out of the crowning of a new king in Israel, perhaps David; but its ultimate message points to the King of kings, Jesus Christ. Whenever a new king was enthroned, the vassal rulers under his reign were required to come and submit to him; but some of them refused to do this. God only laughed at their revolt, because He knew they could never stand up against his King.
“Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?” This great prophetic psalm begins by foretelling that the Gentiles would oppose God and His Anointed (the Lord Jesus Christ), and here in Acts we find recorded the partial fulfillment of this prophecy. It has not been fulfilled in its entirety, nor will complete fulfillment come until the Great Tribulation period.
27Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.
28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
The alliance between Herod and Pontius Pilate is clarified in Luke 23.1-12. If you will read those verses you will find that the common bond between them was the trial of Jesus. The Jews had brought Him before Pilate, but when Pilate learned that the prisoner was a Galilean, he sent him to Herod into whose jurisdiction the Galileans belonged. When Herod found out that Jesus would not perform a miracle in His presence—or even answer the questions the king put to Him—he and his court mocked Him, put a royal robe on Him, and sent Him back to Pilate. “And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves” (Luke 23.12).
We must pause here to recognize how these men described what happened in their city. Mark carefully the forces who were massed “against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.”
“The Gentiles” here refers to the Romans to whom Jesus was delivered and crucified, and to all the nations outside the Covenant. “The people of Israel” were, of course, the Jews, those of the Covenant, who, under the pressure and influence of their leaders, had demanded the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27.20). Pontius Pilate is the representative of Roman authority. These were the enemies of Christ and they were all gathered together to destroy Him. They ganged up against Him and even crucified Him, yet God raised Him up and enthroned Him in Heaven. That is quite true; but that is not what these men said in their prayer. They said: They were gathered together to do “what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” That is the last phase of their conviction concerning God. It was the conviction, not merely of His sovereignty, not merely of His wisdom, but of His actual definite government and overruling, in the affairs of men. Peter said pretty much the same thing in the Pentecostal sermon when he put two things in close connection, saying “Him”—that is, Jesus—“being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay.” God has written all of history according to His eternal plan. The crucifixion of Jesus was no exception—“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Rom. 8.29, 30). All this was part of God’s perfect plan, so there was no reason to fear. In this prayer, there was only the recognition of the Divine overruling. These were the things in which they believed: the sovereignty of God; the wisdom of God; the active government of God; and those convictions concerning God inspired their prayer.
The anti-Semitic feelings which agitators initiate today have their origin in what the Jews did to Jesus. Rather than be classified with people of this sort we become extremely cautious and gloss over Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ death and seek to place all the responsibility on the Romans. Must we reject history in order to be fair in our present situation?
Paul was a Jew, but he did not hesitate at all to accuse his own people of the killing of the Lord Jesus—“For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess. 2.14-16). Naturally, he did not mean all the Jews. The religious of that time were responsible for putting pressure on the Romans to crucify Jesus. The guilt for the horrible act was not transferable to the Jews of succeeding generations, though some Christians have attempted to do this. We might add that if we should place ourselves in the same position of the religious leaders of that day, in all probability we would have done exactly what they did.
The early church strongly believed in God’s sovereignty and his perfect plan for His people. But notice that they did not permit their faith in divine sovereignty to destroy human responsibility, for they were faithful to witness and pray. It is when God’s people get out of balance and overemphasize either sovereignty or responsibility that the church loses power. I am reminded of the wise words of Augustine, “Pray as though everything depends on God, and work as though everything depended on you.” Faith in a sovereign God is a tremendous encouragement for God’s people to keep serving the Lord when the going is difficult.
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
The apostles were not disheartened, they were not willing to turn their backs on the message Jesus had given them to deliver. They only drew nearer to God for help and strength, for fear that they might become in danger of growing indifferent or becoming fearful in the face of the opposition they were encountering; because they recognized in the threatenings of the Sanhedrin a declaration of war by the combined powers of the world against their infant cause.