Acts 4:23-31 God the Despot?

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 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?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers were gathered together,
    against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

27 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, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

God the Despot?

A despot is someone who has a lot of power over another person or exercises absolute authority.  It is very similar to a dictator.  When you think of a dictator who comes to mind?  Mussolini?  Hitler? Pol Pot?  In times of trouble the population of a country often turns to an individual who seems to have good ideas but then grasps power as a result.  In Germany after World War I there were harsh conditions because of the sanctions from The Treaty of Versailles.  The economy tanked and it was shameful to be part of a weak Germany.  Then a national leader came who promised strength and unity.  He advocated national pride and saved the economy.  Of course, that person was Hitler.  He looked like he was bringing good but in the shadows of the halls of power he was actually perpetrating profound evil.

In the past many kings have ruled with absolute power.  Some of them have acted benevolently toward their people and sacrificed themselves in selfless rule.  Many of the kings have taken resources from their own people, lived in the lap of luxury and engaged in unlimited vice.

The word sovereign at the beginning of the prayer above comes from the Greek word that is the root of our word despot.  God has no rival and rules as an absolute dictator.  To the early apostles they sought his will above all else and submitted to it as a slave submits to his master.  In their prayers they align themselves with a God who dictates.  In seeking God, they harmonize their story with God’s story – they receive power and boldness.  This is in contrast with the disciples of God today.

Who is the despot that we submit to?  Some may be in abusive relationship with a spouse or a parent where their will is crushed.  That is not most of us.  Most of us are chained to a much more subtle tyranny.  We are slaves to ourselves.  Our first thought in the day is to get what we want.  We seek to arrange our lives around the ideals of our own dreams.  We share power with a spouse only as long as they meet our needs and work toward the same goals.  However, the false self that we serve is a cruel master.  We even become Christians without deposing the self.  We take on a false version of God who is not sovereign, he is not almighty, he is not Lord.  We expect God to facilitate our own dreams and we pray in order to align his will with ours, not the other way around.

The apostles are afraid of the power and authority of the Sanhedrin.  However, they know the absolute power and authority of the God they serve.  Their own authority has been trumped by the historical power structure of Ancient Israel.  They appeal to the highest authority that exists.  They align themselves with God’s desire that the gospel be preached.  This does not make them super-human or invulnerable.  They still become instruments in the hands of a dictator.  However, they are aligned with the side of right.  They are going to stand up for the one who is good.

Today we see people changing their allegiance away from God and his church.  Some people call The West post-Christian.  Those who are progressive think that we have moved away from hierarchical tyranny and embraced a new freedom.  However, the West is weakening its ability to survive.  We have seen this change before.  As each member of an empire becomes too self-important, they begin to do more and more of what they believe is right in their own eyes.  We have become our own gods.  We ignore the facts that our minds are too small and our wills are corrupt.  We do not know that we are blind because we have redefined the darkness as light.

We will bend the knee to someone.  We will obey other humans, some god or other, or our own desires.  Let’s bow the knee to the life-giver who will lead us into the way the world was designed to be.  Like the early apostles, let’s align ourselves with God and walk in his power.

Prayer

God, to relinquish our own power is scary.  We are told so often to be true to our own hearts, but our hearts are corrupted.  We do not choose what is ultimately good and selfless.  Let us submit our own will to your will.  Let us align our own self with you.  May you speak with absolute authority to your church and may she obey.  For your glory.

Questions

  1. What drives the apostles to prayer?
  2. How do the apostles view God?
  3. What does God do for the apostles?
  4. What drives us to prayer in the church today?
  5. Do we serve God or does God serve us?
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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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