Proclaiming the sovereignty of God/Acts 4:23-31
This passage begins with Peter and John giving a report to the church of what the chief priests and elders had said to them (verse 23). They had been given an unlawful command accompanied with threats for non-compliance: “you are not to speak in the name of Jesus (verse 18).”
The church responds by proclaiming the sovereignty of God over creation and providence. God is the ruler with absolute power. He made all things; he is not the work of man’s hands, nor a god of man’s imaginations.
We find the phrase (verse 24), “Sovereign Lord, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them,” throughout the Scriptures. In Psalm 146 it is used to make a distinction between those who look to the Lord and those who put their hope in the rulers of men. In Revelation 10 it is a mandate to the church to be faithful in proclaiming God’s word in tribulation.
Facing the threats of men, the church looks to the power and majesty of the Sovereign Lord. It is an argument from the greater to the lesser. If God made all things, then he is able to do whatever he wills. He will ultimately prevail, so as his people we focus on his will and leave the temporary consequences to him.
The church moves from God’s creative power to his prophetic word. They quote Psalm 2, which depicts the foolishness of kings and rulers on earth being opposed to the Lord’s anointed Savior and King, which the church identifies as the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a lot at stake. The Psalm warns people they must “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way.” But, “blessed are those who take refuge in him.” Therefore the wisdom of the church is the wisdom the Lord Jesus taught: “Do not fear men who can only kill the body but not the soul; rather fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
There is a natural animosity in men toward the truth of Christ. It stems from the absence of love toward God, and therefore the angry resistance to being confronted with his divine word and judgments against our wickedness,
There is no negative to embracing Christ and being delivered from sin and death. But men love sin and idols. This passage instructs you to take careful inventory of your thoughts of God and of Christ whom he sent to save. He is the only way of salvation. God does not make idle threats. Neither does he fail to keep his promises. You must choose between sin and the Lord. Our lives here are short and uncertain; this world is not worth losing your soul. And the Lord is full of mercy to those who call on him.
In verses 27-28, the church applies Psalm 2 to what took place when Jesus was unjustly put to death by Herod, Pilate, and all the people. It was all written of through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit long before it happened.
The Lord didn’t just foreknow what was going to happen, but in verse 28 we see that men putting Christ to death was what God’s “hand and plan had predestined to take place.” God does not cause men to sin, but he sovereignly brings good out of it. The death of Christ is the prime example of this. We must remember, though, sin is no less evil because God brings good out of it.
The wonder of the gospel is that men who put Christ to death are offered life in his name. Murder is an awful thing; to murder the holy, only begotten Son of God, all the more. There are none who can justly say they are innocent of it. If God numbers our sin, not one of us can stand. Remarkably, if you “kiss the Son,” whom you crucified, all your sins are sponged away. Such is the grace of God.
We see the request of the church to the Lord in the face of the threats they have received. They ask for boldness to continue to proclaim Christ to the world (verse 29). What is striking is they do not ask for the threat to be removed or for their oppressors to be judged. They are walking in their Savior’s steps, who prayed on the cross for those persecuting him. Some of the rulers will come to faith (Chapter 6). Vengeance for those who remain in unbelief will come in due time. Until then, grace is offered in Christ. His church is to maintain faithfulness and diligence it proclaiming his word to the world.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is the pastor of The First Presbyterian Church of Union.