Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” — for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue 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. – Acts 4:24-30 ESV
Ever since the miracle of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus had been boldly sharing the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the city of Jerusalem – much to the consternation of the Scribes and Pharisees. On one particular day, as Peter and John were speaking to the people, “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:1-2 ESV). They had Peter and John arrested and held in custody until the next day. But amazingly, in spite of this episode, more than 5,000 people came to faith in Christ as the result of the preaching of these two men.
The next morning, Peter and John were brought before Annas the high priest and a gathering of Jewish religious leaders, where they were questioned. “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7 ESV). It seems that the real issue was the miraculous healing that had taken place the day before at the Beautiful Gate. A lame man, begging for alms, had gotten the attention of Peter and John. But rather than giving him money, Peter healed him, in the name of Jesus. This astounded the people and “they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (Acts 3:10 ESV). So Annas the high priest wanted to know how they had done it. What as their secret? Peter’s Spirit-filled response was, “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well” (Acts 4:10 ESV). Peter went on to clarify that he was talking about the very same Jesus the Jewish leaders had helped crucify just days earlier. While they had rejected Him as their Messiah, Peter made it clear that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV). The religious leaders were at a loss as to what to say or do, so they simply warned Peter and John to speak no more in the name of Jesus. Of course, the disciples refused and were released. Which brings us to this prayer. It was prayed by the gathered disciples when Peter and John returned to them and shared the story of what had happened.
It is important to note that this prayer was prayed as a result of what Peter and John shared that “the chief priests and the elders had said to them” (Acts 4:23 ESV). In other words, when the disciples heard that the priestly authority had threatened them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, they took the matter to God. They had been threatened for doing exactly what Jesus had commanded them to do, so they knew nothing better than to share their circumstances with God. They address God as Sovereign Lord. The Greek word is despotēs and it refers to “an absolute ruler”. In their minds, God was the final authority in their lives, not the high priest, the Sadducees, Scribes or Pharisees. God was the creator of the universe. Everyone and everything was subject to His divine authority. Even David, under the inspiration of the Spirit, had prophesied concerning Jesus, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1 ESV). The Jews and the Romans had attempted to eliminate the impact of Jesus by taking His life. But their actions had all been part of God’s sovereign plan. Their strategy to kill Jesus and thus destroy His influence over the people had backfired, because it was actually exactly what God had wanted to happen. It had been His will all along. As in the story of Joseph, it was as if Jesus was saying to the religious leaders, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). God’s plan had included His Son’s death. It had been predetermined and the ultimate expression of God’s love for man. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).
Post-resurrection, having seen the risen Savior and having experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit, the disciples could see with perfect clarity the sovereign plan of God. Even their current circumstances were part of His plan. Jesus had warned them: “you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:18 ESV). It was all part of the plan. The threats of high priests and powerful people were nothing compared to the plans of the Absolute Ruler. On the day when Peter had confessed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), Jesus had said, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV). The church would be built on that confession of Jesus being the Christ, the Son of God, and nothing would be able overcome it. The disciples were living out the reality of that promise. But they were going to have to remind themselves of it each and every day of their lives.