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Hope in Desperate Times: Peter's Rescue

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Intro

Good morning all… What a blessing it is to begin to see peoples faces today.
We know that this whole Covid-19 situation is not over, not by a long shot yet but we have the freedom to gather as the body of Christ again, and for that I am thankful.
Over the past 6 weeks I have talked to a lot of people, I have heard many conversations where people have expressed a sense of helplessness. They feel so uncertain of the future, not knowing what its going be like when all this passes. Many have said “…I don’t things will be the same as they were before.”
Honestly, I hope they are wrong.
But today is a first step in the direction of victory, of overcoming and moving forward.
Friends, I would remind you there will always be difficult times. But God is faithful in all things and during all time… We can depend on Him.
This morning I want to take you to a time where people felt helpless, where they felt scared and defeated, But God was with them and revealed His power to them as they faithfully stood in that time of difficulty.
So this morning, I want us to look at the New Testament Book of Acts, and lets find Acts 12 and verses 1-5
Acts 12:1–5 ESV
1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Now for a little back ground information, we know the setting here for this passage. Herod who was King when Jesus was born is dead, this particular King is titled Herod Agrippa I. He was raised and trained in Rome from the age of a young boy accompanied by His mother. He is given the title of King from the Emperor Caligula. He rules over a rather large area from Judea and Samaria to Galilee , the Transjordan area and the Decapolis.
Now these kings in outlying areas couldn’t always count of being in the good graces of Rome, they needed to have the favor of the subjects they ruled over as well. So When Herod discovers something that pleases the Jews, He puts His heart into it. And this brings us to the beginning of our message..

1. Persecution of the Church....

When you begin to look at the text we see another instance of persecution in the early church.
Understand that this hasn’t been a long time since the stoning of Stephen in Acts chapter 7. And steadily hardship increases, steadily the persecution advances against the church by those outside of the church.
Look back at our text and see the context of the story. Verses 1-3
Acts 12:1–3 ESV
1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.
Now we are not certain of the exact time, but during a time of difficulty we know that Herod, the king of the region began to violently pursue those who called them Christian, those who belonged to the body of Christ.
The first is James, the brother of John. James here is one of those two men who are called the sons of Zebedee, the Sons of Thunder. Herod has him killed by the sword.
What does that mean, to be killed by the sword? If he was executed according to Roman fashion, he was beheaded. If Herod put some thought into it and killed him with the Jews in mind, he would have had him “run through” with the sword. Why? Why does it matter, well the Jews considered beheading as a desecration to the body. So the law forbid it.
So we know he died one of two ways, and for the Jews, they were pleased to have this man gone, even by death.
Why would the Jews consider the killing of a Christian good? The answer is rather simple… the church stood against the legalism and works based approach to earn ones salvation. Along with this the Jews had rejected and crucified Jesus. So those of the church stood with the truth of what God was doing in this new time and new covenant.
The Jews didn’t like anyone who preached Jesus and the salvation that God offers through the Son.
And when Herod noticed it pleased them, it made him more favorable in their sight, his thinking is…this is good, lets keep it up and so he had Peter arrested.
My friends the Church always stands against darkness and the false truth of the world, and world hates it. It becomes a convenient target to those around them.
For Instance:
I am not sure if you noticed the news in New York city during this Cornavirus pandemic, Samaritans Purse, the minister of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son has faced a great deal of scrutiny in recent days… They set up an emergency field hospital in Central park outside of Mount Sinai Medical Center in NYC. And many criticized then for their religious convictions held by Samaritans Purse and many who were staffing the hospital.
They came serving, trying to help but because of their personal religious convictions they were opposed… they did not discriminate, they treated anyone who came their way regardless...... but doing good wasn’t good enough.
Persecution will always come to the church and to those who stand with Jesus at one time or another.
Yet regardless of the persecution, James and Peter stood with and for Christ.
Here is a question, in a every changing world will you stand with and for Christ in a every changing world?
That is a a question each of us might have to answer in the future, make your decision today.
And this leads me into my second thought today....

2. The Prayer of the Church....

The news must have been devastating to the church, James, an Apostle has been killed, and another leading one arrested and scheduled to be executed as soon as the passover has ended.
The passover forbid executions during this time so Herod had Peter imprisoned. He desired to keep Peter safe and secure until the Passover ended and then His time would come.
Why wait, well Herod couldn’t endanger his standing with the Jewish community and their religious leaders, even though they hated Peter, they would not have their own laws violated. So Peter is sent to prison for a short stay.
Now Peter must have been considered a dangerous man or they thought the church was dangerous. Because listen to what the text says...
verse 4
Acts 12:4 ESV
4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.
So he put Peter in prison, and set 4 squads of soldiers to guard him while they waited for the day of his execution...
So a squad, usually 4 men in a squad would watch over Peter and they would change shifts if you will every 3 hours through the 12 hours of the night. This was indeed a heavy guard for Peter. As soon as the Passover ended, Peter would be put on trial, found guilty and sentenced to execution.
Peter is suffering, as Many have already..
There would seem to be no hope.
But there is hope my friends, in desperate times there is always Hope because our God lives.
And what did the church do.. well look at verse 5
Acts 12:5 ESV
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Peter is in prison, then there is a that word… BUT..
The church was earnestly praying for Him.... I love this passage. They were praying earnestly for Him. That word earnest means serious, intense and urgent.
They were on their face before God seeking His help in this situation. The church turned to the one action they knew to do in the face of adversity, the one thing they knew to do at all times.
And they was to pray.
They were people who spent time, always praying for the work of the ministry of the church.
And here is a little secret my friends… when we pray, don’t you doubt it a bit, God is listening when we pray.
He listens
God was listening to their earnest prayers… Let em share a verse with you....Consider I Peter 3:12
1 Peter 3:12 ESV
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Peter falls back to the Word of God my friends, this verse is from Psalm 34.
Psalm 34 is a Psalm of David and in it David tells of the Lord care for those who put their trust in Him.
Peter trusted the Lord, that is why he was faithful day after day to go and stand and share the Word with those around him. The Church trusted the Lord and knew the Lord not only had his eyes upon his people, But that He would deliver them in their time of trouble that He would rescue Peter.
John the beloved disciple says
1 John 5:15 ESV
15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
The church prayed…earnestly, with conviction, with urgency...
My friends never underestimate the power of prayer.
Do you have that type of conviction as you pray...
The Lord is listening… what are you praying for, what are you asking for what are you pleading for...
I would encourage you to plead for His work to continue, for the church to grow, for your church to grow. for the lost to be saved and for strength to follow where the Lord is leading every day.
Because when you pray there is victory.
There is always persecution, the response of the church is to pray and in prayer we, the church will prevail over evil

3. Prevail over Evil...

As the church prayed, God was at work my friends....
And the night before Peter’s so called trial would begin, well know that God showed up in a powerful way, in a way that no one would forget and would be recorded for all to see.
Lets look back at our text…
Verses 6-11 my friends....
Acts 12:6–11 ESV
6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
Remember this is the night before his trial would have began and Peter is sleeping in his prison cell with that squad of guards keeping watch over him.
Remember, there was 4 men who would swap out every 4 hours through those 12 hour nights, and the security is so tight that the Bibles tells us just how precarious Peter’s situation really is...
Peter lays down at night, and is shackled, chained up and then chained to each of the guards, one laying on each side of him. the other two guards were posted and either side of the prison cell door.
That is top security my friends they didn’t want Peter going anywhere or doing anything… expect to make it to trial the next day.
But God had other plans for his servant Peter.
Verse 7 tells us that God sends His messenger, an angel to Peter in the night.
Its late in the night and the angel of the Lord appears in the cell, the Bible says in verses 7 and 8 that a light, a heavenly light shown in the cell, but none of them were aroused from their sleep. The angel struck Peter on the side, told him to arise and the chains unlocks and fell off his wrists.
And the instructions were clear… get up, Dress yourself, put your sandals on and wrap your cloak around you and follow me...
There was about be an escape from the county jail, one that no one would notice until it was all over… In fact Peter isn’t convinced that this is all happening, Peter thinks he is seeing a vision and it is not until he has pasted through two gates and had just passed through the iron gate leading into the city before he knows he is truly free.
Look with me..verses 9-11
Acts 12:9–11 ESV
9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
Friends, Peter is in trouble, the church is praying and the Lord sent His angel and rescued Peter from the hand of Herod and all that the Jews were hoping to witness....
The Lord is good, you see you cannot give up in desperate times my friends, instead when the ties are desperate, trust God all the more and meet Him in prayer. He hears and He will answer
Do you believe that?
Now Peter will make his way back to those faithful believers and He will tell them all that the Lord did for Him, How he answered prayer and worked so faithfully in Him and their lives..
No matter what situation presents itself my friends, there is always hope.
Do you believe?
What are you hoping for today?
Are you praying despreately for the will of God to be revealed and for Him to answer prayer.
Are you going to tell all that he did for you during that time..
I hope so,’
Lets pray
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