- Sermon Notes
When There Seems to Be No Way
Illus. Turning point.
As we turn to Acts 12 this morning, we are given details surrounding a difficult day in the life of the early church. It was a situation where it may have been easy for the people to think, or even say “there seems to be no way.” But in response to the trial, they turn to God and pray.
- Prioritize Prayer
Acts 12:1-3, Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church, to do them harm. And he had James the brother of John executed with a sword.
- Verse 1 begins with the words “about that time.” So, I want to give some background from chapter eleven to give insight into what was happening “at that time.”
- Every text has a context, and it is important to understand what the church was experiencing going into this challenging chapter.
- Though for the previous three chapters we had seen many choosing Christ and beginning to follow the Lord personally.
- For the last two weeks we studied sections of Scripture that were focused on the expansion of the ministry to the Gentiles. At the end of chapter eleven, Barnabas and Saul head to a Gentile city, Antioch, after the Word of the Lord was preached there, and verse 24 tells us that “considerable numbers were added to the Lord.”
- The church was expanding rapidly, and now Gentiles were a part of the movement.
- At the end of chapter eleven, an announcement had come through some prophets of the Lord who indicated by the Spirit that a famine was going to come upon the entire world.
- The church in Judea found themselves in need of financial relief, and in the midst of the famine and difficulty, the Gentile church sends financial help to Jerusalem in an act of generosity.
- The church in Jerusalem seems to be hit especially hard and it was “about that time” that Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church.
- It is important to note that we see the name “Herod” in the New Testament on many occasions.
- The Herods were a part of a dynasty, a family of rulers who were appointed as rulers over Israel during the days of the Roman Empire. They were appointed to their position by the Roman emperors and senate.
- In the New Testament, they stand out as a family of rulers who were consistently in opposition to God and His people.
- “Herod the king” mentioned here in Acts 12, is actually the grandson of Herod the Great, who was in power during the days of Jesus birth (Mt. 2:1-16). He was the nephew of Herod Antipas, who played a role in the trial of Jesus (Luke 23:8-12). And his son, Herod Agrippa II will make an appearance in Acts 25 and 26 when Paul is arrested and stands trial.
- Herod Agrippa I is noted as one who had various motives for wanting to keep the peace and win the favor of the Jews.
- It seems that he had both political and personal motivations. He deeply desired acceptance and favor from the Jewish people who were placed under his rule, and the Christian movement provided an opportunity for him to find favor.
- The Gentiles were joining the church, things were growing rapidly, and so at about the time of the famine mentioned in Acts 11, Herod came and laid hands on some who belonged to the church.
- One of those he “laid hands on” was one of the apostles, James, the brother of John.
- He was put to death with sword (beheaded), and while he was not the first Christian to be murdered in faithfulness to Jesus Christ in the book of Acts, he was the first Apostle.
Acts 12:3-4, When he saw that it (the beheading of James) pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.
- The people Herod wanted to please, were pleased with the murder of James. His popularity was increasing, and so he sought to increase his approval ratings even further by arresting Peter.
- He arrested Peter at a time when more Jews would be in the city than usual, which would have maximum impact, but would wait for his execution until after Passover.
- Peter was put in prison and four squads of soldiers were assigned to him. The squads had four soldiers each, so 16 total, and each squad would watch over Peter for a quarter of the day.
- Peter would be chained to two soldiers, and the other two would watch over the doors. They wanted to guard Peter extra securely because previously, an angel had come to the apostles while in prison and opened the gates of the prison (Acts 5:19).
- Peter was placed in prison, the plan was set, that Peter was going to be put to death.
- Knowing what was happening, Peter, the church, and the authorities had every reason to believe that once the Passover was over, Peter would likely face death.
- For the church, there would seem to be no way of escape, no way out. They had many reasons to have doubts about whether Peter would ever get out. There seemed to be nothing they could do, nothing they could say, there seemed to be no way.
Acts 12:5, … but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.
- The church, at that moment and on that day, prayed.
- Their posture gives us insights and instruction for our day when we see things going the way we never wanted them to go, when there seems to be nothing we can do, or say…We can pray.
- The prayers of the church for Peter were being made fervently. It is a word that carries the definition of earnestness and intensity.
- It is translated elsewhere as “constantly.”
- It is a term that is related to a medical term describing the stretching of a muscle to its limit.
Jeremiah 29:13, You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
- There was little they could do physically, but much they could do spiritually. Peter was bound and chained to two prison guards and bound behind prison bars; but the church was free to pray.
Psalm 46:1, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
James 5:16, The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
- The prayers of the people were going to prove effective and powerful.
- But for you and me, it is important to understand that prayer that is effective and powerful, is only going to come about if we are prayerful.
Matthew 7:7-8, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
- When we pursue the Lord, when we ask, seek, and knock, we do so with several things in mind:
- He will provide, we are to seek first His kingdom and serve Him alone. (Mt. 6:24-33)
- That our requests must be in harmony with His will (Mt. 6:10, Your will be done), accepting His will above our own.
- We understand that our thoughts are not His thoughts, and our ways are not His ways (Is. 55:8).
- Prayer is how we communicate our needs and desires to God. Surely, He knows what we need even before we ask, but prayer is the way in which God has chosen to bring about answers and our opportunity to spend time in communion with God.
Psalm 121:1-2, I will raise my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Jeremiah 33:3, ‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’
Illus. What gets priority?
- Trust That God is Working While You Are Waiting
- As we look at what ended up happening, we see that the Lord sent another angel to get Peter out of prison.
- The guards were not a problem for the Lord, but what was taking place in the prison prior to the angel’s arriving is quite interesting.
- Peter is chained between two guards, and he is sleeping.
- How could this be? He is chained between two guards, he is set to be executed the next day, James had died previously…But Peter is asleep.
- How could this be? I believe it was because Peter knew God was working while he was waiting.
- In fact, Peter had been given specific insights into what the end of his life would look like.
John 21:18-19, Truly, truly I tell you, when you were younger, you used to put on your belt and walk wherever you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will put your belt on you, and bring you where you do not want to go.” Now He said this, indicating by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had said this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
- The Lord had given Peter insights into what was ahead. Peter would grow old, that was the type of death he would die, and an approximate timeline. For now, Peter just needed to follow.
- It seems to me that Peter was simply trusting in what Jesus had said, he was not worried, God had set him free previously, He could do it again!
Illus. Asleep in the storm, Mark 4:35-40.
- Peter was asleep. The picture we get is not that of worry, or anxiety, but that of heavenly peace.
- Where Peter’s faith may have faltered previously, he seems to have faith that the Lord was working while he was waiting.
Isaiah 26:3, You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.
- Peter was sleeping so soundly, the angel had to come shine a light in the cell and strike him on the side.
- The angel tells him to get up, put his cloak on, put on his belt, his sandals and follow him out of that prison he was in.
- So, Peter follows him out, they passed the first and second guard, then to an iron gate that led to the city, it opened automatically, they start down the street, and Peter, coming to himself said verse 11, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
- Peter knew something would happen, now it happened. The Lord sent an angel to rescue him again.
- While Peter had reason to believe he would make it through and not be executed that next day, it is also evident that not everyone carries that same promise through their life.
- James for example, did not have the same promise of dying at an old age and living a long earthly life.
- In Matthew 20:20-23, the mother of James and John comes to Jesus, kneels before him and asked Him to say that her sons are to sit at His right and left hand in His kingdom. Jesus asked James and John directly…
Matthew 20:22-23, But Jesus replied, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit at My right and at My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
- At that time, they did not know what Jesus meant, they did not know that He meant suffering and death.
- James and John were the first and last of the apostles to die.
- God had a different will for James and John, and He had a different will for Peter.
- The differences between what took place between James and Peter right around the same day is the type of situation and circumstance we look at and we just don’t exactly know what to say.
Romans 8:28, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (ESV)
Revelation 21:4, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
John 14:1-3, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if that were not so, I would have told you, because I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will take you to Myself, so that where I am, there you also will be.
- By no means did James miss out on God’s best in His life, in fact, he began to experience the fullness of it earlier than Peter. James’ time to go to the place God had prepared had come sooner, but it was not that time for Peter.
Illus. According to His will.
- Remain Open to What Only He Can Do
- After Peter is led out of prison, he heads to the place where the church had been praying.
Acts 12:13-16, Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. (NIV)
- Peter was able to get out of prison, but he is unable to make it into the prayer meeting!
- As Peter knocks on the door, a girl named Rhoda recognized Peter’s voice, but because of her excitement, she did not open the door, but ran back to those praying.
- “Peter is at the door!’…and the people replied, “you’re out of your mind!”
- It is a comical scene, “it couldn’t be Peter! Peter is in prison, we are praying for his release!”
- And it seems they were praying fervently, but not expectantly.
- They were praying faithfully, but they were lacking some faith…Still God heard their prayer.
- They had prayed for an open door, yet when Peter arrived, they would not open the door, but Peter kept on knocking!
- This is encouraging me in three ways: First, there are times when I am praying with a measure of faith, but not a full measure of faith, and the Lord still responds, He still hears when I pray.
- Some suggest that the reason people lack in their life is because their faith is not big enough, that your prayer will never be answered if your faith is small. But the Lord seems to answer small faith here in this story.
Illus. In Mark 9, a father brings his son to Jesus. His son is unable to speak due to an evil Spirit and experiences severe seizures…The man said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, please take pity on us, please help us.” And Jesus responded, “if you can?”
Mark 9:23-24, But Jesus said to him, “‘If you can?’ All things are possible for the one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
- Secondly, it encourages to keep praying no matter what I am seeing.
- The people were praying, and they could not see what was happening with Peter in that prison. They had no idea that the Lord has sent an angel, that the chains were falling off Peter, and that he was well on His way!
1 Peter 3:12, For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.
- Lastly, it encouragement to pray where there seems to be no way, but also that I need to remain open to what only God can do!
Isaiah 43:18-19, “Do not call to mind the former things, Or consider things of the past. Behold, I am going to do something new, now it will spring up; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.