O Lord, Stretch Out Your Hand | Acts 4:23-31
The human body and its parts are often used figuratively throughout the Bible. In referring to the church Paul says, “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”(1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV).
There are examples in the Bible where people laid hands on others as a way to receive spiritual gifts (1 Timothy 4:14) or as a sign of commissioning for service such as Paul and Barnabas whom we are told in Acts 13:3 that, “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off”(Acts 13:3 NIV).
The Holy Spirit, in penning the Word of God, selected hands to describe the very character of God in caring for His own dear children. Literally hundreds of verses portray God's hands as His instrument of power, protection, provision, healing, guidance, and comfort.
The phrases God’s hand, God’s right hand, and the hand of God are used many times in scripture. Yet it is often the phrases “Your hand” or “Your mighty hand” that are used in prayer. And it’s when these phrases of God’s hand are use does it relate to power, might, protection and guidance.
In our reading we are privilege to read what the Early Church prayed. The Church was young and numbering only a few thousand. And yet what they were proclaiming was offensive to many. Jesus was killed because of His claims to be the promised Messiah. In the years that followed, Christ’s followers who preached that Jesus was the Messiah - the Son of God offended many. This was not only offensive but blasphemous, therefore the religious leaders tried to silence the Christians. Paul was one of the many who went about persecuting the Christians because of their teaching.
But throughout all this, the Early Church continued to preach and thousand believed that Jesus is the Messiah.
Peter and John were witnesses to Christ’s resurrection and so they couldn’t help but preach the gospel of Jesus Christ that He was God’s promised Messiah who was crucified but raised back to life, and that salvation is found in no one else. The priests, the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees were disturbed by what they were preaching and so they seized and threw them in gaol. The next day they were sent to court and were order not to preach about Jesus again and gave them further threats.
I am amazed by the response of the church to Peter and John’s report of the threats of the Sanhedrin. They had narrowly escaped imprisonment and physical punishment - even death, if the chief priest could have found a way. The church did not respond with fear, anxiety or a desire for safety. Instead they went to prayer. Their corporate prayer time is a model for us. Look at verses 23-24, “On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God”(Acts 4:23-24 NIV).
This is their prayer: “Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them”(Acts 4:24). They believed in the sovereignty of God. The Greek word for “Lord” here is different from the one used elsewhere in the New Testament to express a believer’s reverence. Here it is “despot” meaning “absolute ruler, sovereign, master”. In other words, the early church had supernatural courage because of their absolute conviction that the Lord was in charge of all things. He is creator and sustainer of all. Nothing happens without His knowledge and He can use all things for His purpose and glory. Do we believe and pray with that conviction? Such conviction leads to courage.
They believed that God had worked in the past and will continue today! Notice verses 25 and 26, “You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One’”(Acts 4:25-26 NIV). Here, in their prayer they quoted David from Psalm 2:1-2. The church took comfort that what they were going through had happened to the Lord’s people throughout the ages. God’s people who have been obedient and faithful have often faced trouble and persecution. They took courage that if God worked in the past He would work now!
The next section of the prayer dealt with what happened to Jesus. God had allowed the cross for the sins of the world and followed it up with the victory of the resurrection. Therefore, the church could pray, “Indeed 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. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen”(Acts 4:27-28 NIV). The central source of the courage of the Early Church was that if God could overrule the worst that man had done, He could use anything that happened to them. He is able to bring good out of evil! There’s a purpose to everything if we trust Him. Is that our conviction?
They believed that God would reveal His power with a continuation of signs and wonders. They expected miracles to happen. That is why they prayed for more boldness and more manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s power, for further visible proof that God had heard their prayer for courage. “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus”(Acts 4:29-30 NIV). Amazing! They prayed for the Lord to continue the healings, which caused them some much trouble in the beginning. The amazing events of the spread and growth of the church throughout the pages of The Book of Acts can all be traced back to praying like that.
It challenges us to evaluate our prayers. Do we asked for boldness and for God to stretch out His hand? The Lord is more ready to give than we are to ask.
God’s answer to their prayer was powerful. God did stretch out His mighty hand. The room where they were assembled was shaken - an outward indication of the Lord’s presence in the Holy Spirit - “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly”(Acts 4:31 NIV). Exactly what they prayed for!
It seems to me that we need to be also be praying with such conviction in who our God is and what He can do according to His Will when we pray for His hand to stretch out.
On Tuesday, while there was a sense of excitement and skepticism about the history making meeting between America and North Korea, Open Doors, the organization that encourages prayer and support for persecuted Christians around the world, asked for prayer for North Korean Christians.
You see, North Korea is the hardest place on earth to follow Jesus. This has been the most dangerous country to be a Christian for 17 years. North Koreans are forced to worship the Kim dynasty, and nothing else. Anyone with links to Christianity is arrested, tortured and even killed. Children are taught to report their own parents’ activities. Christian parents often don’t tell their own children about their faith in Jesus.
There is a North Korean saying, "Wherever two or three are gathered together, one is a spy." Some believers memorise their Bible, then destroy it. Others carefully hide their Bible and only read it when they’re truly alone.
If Christians are caught, they’re sent to labour camps. Their entire family will be arrested – found guilty by association. Many still take the risk to follow Jesus. Despite this, the underground church is growing, with an estimated 300,000 Christians in North Korea.
With the commencements of talks of peace between the two Koreas and the talks between Trump and Kim Jong Un, now is the time to really pray “Lord, stretch out your hand”.
The truth is Christians are praying and God is answering prayers.
This week, Open Doors list four answers to prayers for the church in North Korea: 1) For the first time since 1950, peace is possible. So many Korean Christians are praying for the unification of Korea. One of my leaders in my Canberra Church, Michelle Lee who is a South Korean, prays every day for the unification of her country. She herself has smuggled bibles into North Korea via China.
In April, Kim Jong-Un and President Moon signed a declaration that committed the two countries to denuclearisation and talks to bring a formal end to the 72-year-old conflict. It was the first-time leaders from the two countries had met in 10 years.
2) In May 2018, North Korea released American prisoners Kim Dong-chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim. Many Christians around the world had been praying for their freedom. Over 50,000 believers continue to remain imprisoned for their faith. We must pray that North Korean believers will walk free from labour camps, that churches will be re-opened, and Christ can be worshipped in freedom.
3) Before the Korean War (1950-53) there were a few hundred thousand Christians. A couple of years after the war there was no visible sign that there ever had been a Church in the country. However, a small portion of believers were able to hide their faith and avoid arrest. Despite the risks and challenges, they were able to share their faith with the next generations. Rarely are there stories about Christians renouncing their faith in Jesus, even when they are faced with death.
4) And the fourth answer to prayer is that the Holy Spirit is a work even in prisons. There are often reports about North Koreans making the decision to follow Jesus whilst they are in prison. Many North Koreans are imprisoned because they tried to flee to China. Behind bars, they meet Christians in prison for their faith and are deeply touched by their sense of peace.
Lord, stretch out your hand on our persecuted families.
However, if ever there is a need to pray for us Aussie Christians it is now! In Joshua chapters 1 to 2 we are told about the people of God who were on the verge on entering the Promised Land of Canaan. They had reached the mighty Jordon River, which was at flood stage. As they entered the water the mighty hand of God stops the flow of the water upstream allowing the whole nation to cross. As they were crossing twelve elders picked up a stone each from the river’s bed. When the whole nation had crossed Joshua gathered all the people and told them the significance of the twelve stones. Joshua 4:21-24 says, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them, 'Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.' For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God”(Joshua 4:21-24 NIV).
This is the thing about if ever there is a time to pray for us Aussie Christians it is now. The thing is, many of us believe that we live in the Promised Land of Australia. I do! Many of us have travelled the world and there is no place like home. We are blessed with beautiful homes, employment, welfare, medical care, and education. What a blessing. And in every town and city across our promised land are churches of all shapes and sizes and yet we are forgetting and many more not knowing that the hand of the Lord is powerful. We are losing or have lost our fear of our God.
We have placed other things, other priorities, and other idols above God. Our lifestyle tells this story. Our churches are becoming monuments, not mission posts.
O Lord, stretch out your mighty hand and cause a supernatural revival starting with us.
As we as a church go through this process of discerning God’s main values for Reedy, now is the time to pray that God will stretch out His hand. Biblical values not only guide a church into fulfilling Christ’s mission for the church, they can empower the church to return to its simple uncluttered New Testament roots which leads to kingdom growth.
O Lord, stretch out your mighty hand and guide us as a church to discern which biblical values you want us to adopt and exhibit.
The first reference to God's mighty hand is in Jacob's dying prophecy concerning Joseph. "His bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob" (Genesis 49:24 ASV).
Like those of Joseph, our hands also can be strong when they are placed in the mighty hands of God. What is confronting you now that you really need the hand of God to strength your hand? Life can throw those curve balls and sometimes they miss us and sometimes they hit us. Job in the Bible, in the middle of all his trials could cry out in confidence, “For the hand of God had touched me”(Job 19:23 NIV). He needed nothing more than the assurance that he was in God's hands, that his Redeemer lives and that He is unchangeable. The Apostle Peter writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time”(1 Peter 5:6 NIV). In humility, with dependence on God, come before him in prayer so that he may lift you up in His time.
O Lord, stretch out your hand and strengthen our hands and lift us up.
Here is one final thought for born again Christians. The nation of Israel feared God had forgotten her and so God said this back: “…I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands”(Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV). You know, the same Savior who bears the marks of Calvary in His hands, and showed the proof to doubting Thomas when He invited him to reach and see His hands, now bears a picture of each one of His redeemed ones in the palms of His hands. What love! What security! Jesus promised: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28 NIV).
Never fear - never falter - never faint! You are in God's hands!
O Lord, stretch out your hand!