A Healthy Church is Unshakable (Acts 4:14-31)
Life has a way of shaking us up. Everything seems to be falling apart. Everything is shakable. Our bodies are shakable no matter how much we jog or how much you take care of yourself or color our hair. We are shaking. We all fall apart. The new thing you bought starts depreciating in value. The new socks you got a few months ago starts getting holes in them. The honeymoon ends. The new computer will die. The sun is burning out. In fact, you start dying the moment you are born!
Who would have thought a few years ago the great Soviet Union would be no more? Alexander the Great was going to conquer the world and he dies of sickness. The Great British Empire was called the “empire on which the sun never sets.” Each of those empires thought they could never be shaken. And we are foolish to think the United States of America will never be shaken either. In one of my seminary classes we were studying Revelation and someone asked, “What role is America going to play in the end times?” The truth is we might not have any role. We might not even exist!
We saw it through Genesis. Cain builds a city and it is gone through the Flood. The Tower of Babel—gone. Sodom and Gomorrah gone. And Jesus says, “As it was in those days, so it will be now.” Everything is shakable. The things that looked strong were shaken. We even have the Harlem shake (still trying to figure out what that is exactly) and I hope that it will shake itself to death soon. But at least we don’t have to hear about gagging style or whatever that was.
Our hearts get shaken up too. You get that doctor’s note saying you have an illness. Loved ones suddenly pass away. You get the pink slip. You break up. Best friends move away. You don’t pass that exam. Is it possible to have a power of unshakableness even when everything around us is shaking? Yes! How do we get there? This is what we will explore today.
As we are studying the early church in Acts, we are starting to see that these early believers are not just having a wonderful life of preaching and growing the church. They also get persecuted. And when they get persecuted, we start to see where their allegiances truly lie.
This does not mean they weren’t scared. I think they were. Tim Keller defines courage as, “the ability to do the right thing regardless of the circumstances and the danger.” Courage is not the absence of fear, but the presence of love that overwhelms our fear and causes us to move even when we are quaking in our boots. That is why they pray in our passage today. They were shaken up, but God meets them there and transforms them into unshakable people who end up shaking the world. First of all:
I. The world will inevitably shake us (Acts 4:14-22).
Last time, we saw that they had extraordinary confidence despite an ordinary record. Their boldness did not come from themselves, but their confidence and identity built on Jesus as their cornerstone. All other ground was sinking sand. Because Jesus was someone, they were free to be no one.
Notice what happens. They are speechless in v.14. The evidence was also literally standing there (note: he never stood before and everyone knew that!). They cannot deny something happened and yet at the same time they refuse to acknowledge it (vv.15-16). Notice that a miracle right before their eyes does not cause them to believe. Why? Unbelief. It is not that these people are struggling to believe (that’s doubt), but they stubbornly refuse to believe. At our uncle’s wake a few weeks ago, I was thinking, “God, if you could just raise him up out of the casket, so many of these people can come to Christ.” But I remember Jesus feeding the five thousand miraculously in John 6 and they all walk away when He starts calling them to true discipleship.
God is shaking the religious establishment here. These leaders know that if they even start to think a little bit about considering Christ, they will have to change everything. Their entire worldview and everything they have been believing in will have to shift to a new cornerstone and that is too much to handle.
The leaders are afraid of the people, so they could not punish these apostles. So they did the next best thing. They told them “not to speak anymore to anyone in this name” (vv.17-18). Oh ok! Peter and John appeal to the higher court. John MaCarthur notes, “It is a clearly biblical principle that believers are to obey their government. Peter himself taught such obedience in 1 Peter 2:13–17 (cf. Rom. 13:1–7). The reaction of Peter and John, however, marks the limits of that obedience. They would gladly obey if they could do so without disobeying their sovereign Lord. But when God’s commands conflict with those of the government, the government must be disobeyed.” But they appeal to personal testimony: “We can’t but speak of what we have seen and heard.” You want us to stop talking about Jesus? That is like asking the river to flow in another direction. Ask the sun to stop shining or the earth to spin in reverse! This is not just about what happened to this lame man. It’s happened to us! God took us and shook us without killing us for our sin. We cannot but speak of what has happened because it happened to us! I have forgiveness of sin. I have peace that passes all understanding. I have joy that is inexpressible. I have a love for people I never had before.
And they threatened them even more in v.21. What did they say? They probably said, “We can take away your wealth! Your home and possessions. We can take away your freedom by putting you back here. We can take away your loved ones and put them in jail too. We can even take away your life.” These are real threats. God allowed the shaking to show them that it is Christ alone that can be their foundation. Everything else can be taken away from us. They’re scared! How do we know? They pray for boldness in v.29. You don’t pray for boldness if you are not scared, just like you don’t pray for strength unless you feel weak.
This world is shakable. Your life is shakable. These apostles all died, but the name of Christ continues today through their testimony because the Gospel meant more to them than earthly confidences and trusts like our wealthy, our loved ones, our careers, etc. Look at Heb. 12:25-29.
Living Hope is shaking. We will not be around here forever. Nothing is in our control. I was convicted of this during this past week. I feel fear. When we had 15 people and the entire church sat around one table downstairs, things were manageable and controllable, it seemed. Now it’s kind of chaotic and I feel paralyzed. God’s changing things. He’s shaking things up. I don’t like it, but it exposes in my heart my need for control. It shows me my foundation is on my abilities to manage what God is doing. Don’t be shocked when things start shaking in your life. Since Gen. 3, everything is shakable. God wants to make sure you are building your life and identity on the right cornerstone. Don’t ask God to make it stop shaking. It is His kindness to allow it, so we do not destroy ourselves and build up identities on the wrong thing. So what do we pray for? Secondly:
II. Pray for unshakable courage in the midst of shakable circumstances (vv.23-30).
Peter and John run back to the family of God. It is good to have the family of God to run to in the midst of life’s shaking. And they pray in vv.23-28. They acknowledge God’s sovereignty right off the bat. When the waters are above their head, they are still under His feet! He is ruler, He is King and He is ruling the world with His feet up. He is the Creator of all things: all-powerful King, the omnipotent ruler whose authority extends over all. Then they quote Psalm 2.
This is a royal psalm, probably written when David became King. This Psalm is about God promising victory over his enemies who plot against the ruler in the midst of chaos and a lot of movement and shaking. In quoting this Psalm, they remind themselves that in view of God’s sovereign and universal kingly power, scheming of earthly kings and rulers against Him is vain and extraordinarily stupid. In Psalm 2, we see that God is Sovereign and unshakable.
“They are not persecuting us,” they realize. “They are persecuting you!” But whatever they were planned to do to Jesus, it was God’s plan. They go back to the cross and the Gospel. Nothing is out of control. Listen, if the worst thing that can happen in the world by us killing God’s own Son, God turned into the greatest demonstration of grace and love the world has ever seen, what makes you think He can’t turn your mess into His message? When the cross was happening, everything seemed out of control, but now we see you were in control the whole time. And if you were in control during the worst tragedy of course you will be in control during my smaller tragedies.
They get their perspective right and then they ask God for what? What is their prayer request? Look at v.29. Boldness! What else do they pray for? Nothing! Notice what they do not pray for: “Lord, protect our wealth. Lord, protect our freedom. Lord, protect our families. Lord, do something to these people. Spare us from suffering and opposition. Spare us from persecution. Take Caiaphas out of office!” In other words, they don’t say, “Stop the shaking God!” They don’t pray out of their circumstances. Don’t get me wrong. It is not wrong to pray for our circumstances to change. Later, the church prays that Peter be released from prison. However, they saw something more fundamental that they needed. Something deeper.
Circumstances are fragile. The authorities might threaten their lives, but then they can get hit on the road and they can die or their loved ones can die. If not, they can get old and die. They pray for courage, a boldness that goes beyond circumstances. They pray for an unshakableness even they’re shaken. “Lord, we are tired of being grounded in things that when they shake, we shake. We want to be grounded in you. Though all around our soul gives way, Jesus alone is our help and stay. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness!
Pray for courage to be unshakable not for circumstances to stop shaking. We think if our career just stopped shaking or if our finances stopped shaking or if our bodies stopped shaking or if your marital status, or, whatever stopped shaking, we would be unshakable. “God, stop the shaking!” God says, “I want you to stop shaking when these things shake. I want to put the weight—the glory of the Gospel—so deep in your heart that you remain unshakable in the midst of your circumstances. And then I want you to continue to show others the weight of my love.”
We think, “My life is shaking. It’s my boss. It’s this…” It’s not. The world is shaking. It’s the nature of things. It’s not the authorities. This is the world. We keep trying to keep our world from shaking and falling apart and it won’t. God wants you to see the one thing that will not be shaken and that is His Word, His love, His promise through the Gospel. Lord, ground our hearts in that love and your redemptive purposes!
III. God’s unshakable presence in our hearts will shake the world (v.31).
They experience is an earthquake. Earthquakes are a sign of God’s presence. It is a visible manifestation of the presence of God. In Exodus 19 when God comes down on Mt. Sinai, the mountains tremble. Hebrews 12:26 says on that day the earth shook with his voice. Pastor Tim Keller says, “For example, Isaiah 64:1. Listen to this prayer. “Oh that you would rend the heavens, that you would come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.” The presence of God is so powerful, Isaiah is saying, that…the solidity of the mountains looks like liquid compared to the presence. Whenever God comes down, he shakes things. 
Whenever God shows up (when his presence descends) there is a shaking because next to God everything else that looks so strong and so solid is revealed as being shaky. Do you see? When the presence of God comes down, when his reality is clear, when we’re seeing him face to face, then things that look solid suddenly appear very shaky. Now that’s very important. Next to God’s power, all other things that impressed you as power are just popguns. Next to God’s love, all the things that look like love are very pale.
Remember Isaiah when he sees the Lord high and lifted up in Isaiah 6? There was an earthquake. Why an earthquake? We talked about this back when we looked at Isaiah 6. Keller really explained this well in a sermon. A small animal may play on a pond with ice that is one inch thick, however if I started to play on the same pond, it won’t be play for a long time. I will cause an ice quake. I have more weight or glory than the ice.
So how much does omnipotence weigh? When God comes down, things shake. Why? Because it is God saying that He is more solid and real and important than anything else. Mountains become like mosquitos, melting like ice in His presence. When the reality of who God is and what He has done falls on you like a ton of bricks, your heart gets shaken up. Conceptual things descend into the personal. Stuff you understood in your mind falls into your heart. That is why they are “filled with the Holy Spirit.” They got a heart quake. They see that He is the real deal.
They became bold. My wealth is no longer heavier in my heart than God. I will lose it anyway one day—it’s shakable–and what is that wealth compared to true treasure I have in Him and the fact that I am made His treasure? My life and my career are no longer heavier than God. What is my life anyway? It’s falling apart…and why hold on to it when I’m already shaking and dying…and what is true life anyway when I have this love that is better than life, as the Psalmist says? God is the most solid thing I have in this shakable world!
They believed the Gospel. The more the place around them shook, the more unshakable they became. They went and changed the world. What would happen to these disciples? Well, according to tradition, everything shook around them and even their lives were shaken, but they remained unshakable to death:
- Peter was crucified upside-down on an x-shaped cross in Rome in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy (John 21:18).
- Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, killed by a sword wound.
- John faced martyrdom when he was boiled in a huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos.
- James, the brother of Jesus (not officially an apostle), was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He was thrown from the southeast pinnacle of the temple (over a hundred feet down) when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, his enemies beat James to death with a club.
- Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, was a missionary to Asia. He witnessed in present-day Turkey and was martyred for his preaching in Armenia, being flayed to death by a whip.
- Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Greece. After being whipped severely by seven soldiers, they tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. He continued to preach to his tormentors for two days until he died.
- The apostle Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church there.
- Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot, was stoned and then beheaded.
- The apostle Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero in Rome in A.D. 67. There are traditions regarding the other apostles as well, but none with any reliable historical or traditional support.
How do we know that when things are shaking around us that we will not be destroyed in the process? Really isn’t that what we are worried about? That God can’t take care of us when life falls apart? I want Living Hope to shake Glendale Heights and beyond. But I am afraid what that will mean if we really did that. My comfort and control of our church is heavier in my heart than God’s presence. When it comes down to it, I am really afraid I won’t know what to do and how to do it. How will I know God will take care of us for a fact? The Bible says, He can and will take care of us! How do we know? Listen to Keller:
There are the greatest two great earthquakes in the Bible I want you to look at in Matt. 27:50-51 and Matt. 28:1-2. In Matt. 27, there was an earthquake when Jesus died. Something was coming down that was heavier than the earth. God was coming down not in blessing, but in justice. The reason why everything is falling apart is because of the justice of God on sin. Just like a team falls apart with a bad manager, our lives have fallen apart because since Genesis 3, we have been trying to manage our own lives. But on that day, at that hour, the entire justice of God, the weight of the justice of God that was making the whole world fall apart, for our sin, was fall focused and brought down on one person’s head with terrifying crushing weight, like an earthquake, on Jesus. Jesus Christ was shaken to the depths, even to death. How heavy was that? It came down on Him. No one has been shaken like no one ever has, pulled apart like no one else. Some of us feel like life is falling apart. He understands.
But there was a second earthquake. On Sunday Morning, three days later in Matt. 28:1, there is an earthquake…a heavy stone rolls away. Just as the justice of God created an earthquake because it was stronger than the earth, the righteousness of Jesus, His finished work on the cross, creates a deathquake. His righteousness was stronger than death. Because Jesus was shaken utterly, He broke death. Now he says, “I was shaken utterly so you can be utterly unshakable.” If this truth really descends into your heart, we can shake the world. Now we know He loves us. All the shaking of our lives is like the buzzing of a mosquito because we know who was truly shaken for us.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_empire_on_which_the_sun_never_sets accessed 1 March 2013.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (137). Chicago: Moody Press.
Schnabel, Eckhard J (2012). Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts (254). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Keller, T. J. (2013). “Presence of the King,” The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.