In the first half of Acts 4 Peter and John are arrested by the temple guard and thrown in jail overnight. The next day they are brought before the council, interrogated, and threatened. After the Jewish leaders reluctantly release them, Peter and John return to the fledgling church. It’s their response at this point that should catch our attention.
Think for a moment about their situation. They had seen the hostility of the Jewish leaders. They knew about the sham trials Jesus’ had been rushed through. They had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion. Now they themselves had tasted the same hatred and knew there was more to come.
It is not hard to imagine them shrinking back in fear. Or questioning God’s ways. Or desperately seeking some way to ensure their physical safety. Or wondering whether God was actually in charge. What we hear in their prayer though is very different from any of these responses. Notice three parts to the way they respond to suffering and opposition:
For one, they respond not by turning away from God, but by turning to him in prayer. There are times when our instinctual response to suffering is to turn away from God. Perhaps we’re angry at him. Or maybe we decide we’re going to try to find some other way to relieve our suffering. The consistent biblical pattern, and what we see here, is the opposite. It is a movement towards God in suffering.
Second, they respond not by questioning God’s sovereignty, but by affirming, celebrating and trusting it. A common religious response to suffering is to attempt to absolve God of any blame for it. Instead, these believers recognize that suffering is part of God’s sovereign plan. It was for Jesus. It is for them. And they are prepared to trust him through it.
Third, they respond not by asking for safety, but by pleading for boldness. They don’t ask God to use his sovereignty to defeat their enemies (although we do have examples of this elsewhere in Scripture). They don’t ask God to use his sovereignty to keep them from harm (although we do have examples of this elsewhere in Scripture). Instead, they pray for boldness to keep speaking the word with boldness. Its clear that this text is not meant to tell us we can’t pray for God’s enemies to be defeated or for safety. Instead, this text is a lesson in priorities. Even in the face of suffering these believers adopted God’s kingdom priorities.
We might not arrive at this place easily or quickly, but as we fix our eyes on Christ in the face of suffering, we want these same responses to characterize us.
- To turn to God instead of away from him.
- To affirm, celebrate, and trust in his sovereignty instead of questioning it.
- To plead for God’s kingdom priorities over and above our own relief and comfort.
If this feels impossible, you’re right. On our own, we don’t have the resources to respond to suffering like this. As this passage so powerfully demonstrates, we need the Spirit of God to sovereignly enable us for this radical response to suffering.