Praying through Acts- Chapter 12
5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.
Tonight we will continue praying through the book of Acts. We will focus on chapter 12.
By the time we get to this portion of the book of Acts, the church is moving forward, doing all God called them to do.
As we’ve looked each week, there is a connection, a marriage if we can between prayer and power. We often focus on the power of God displayed in Acts.
But everything they accomplished was built on the foundation of prayer. The communicated with God, and He answered by sending His power.
Acts 1 - promise of power
Acts 2 - received power
Acts 3- exercised power
Acts 4 - prayed for more power
Acts 5- people lied and God displayed His power
Acts 6- conflict arose and God used people of power to help the church
Acts 7- Stephen reminded them of God’s power in history
Acts 8- walked in power to spread Gospel in Samaria
Acts 9- Saul was converted through an encounter with God’s power
Acts 10- the power of God fell on the Gentiles as Peter preached
Acts 11- Peter defended Gentiles receiving power
Of all they experienced, I am struck in Acts 12, how God still surprised them by His power. After serving God for over a decade, the church continued to face problems and persecution.
However, they never wavered in their commitment to pray. Nevertheless, God chose to surprise them by His power in Acts 12.
No matter how long we’ve served the Lord, there is still SO MUCH He wants to do and will do through those who pray.
When we pray and seek Him, we should not be surprised that He comes through and helps us, but we might be surprised how He comes through to help us!
1. Power in Problems
1. Power in Problems
1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.
By this point in the New Testament, many people came to Christ and the church grew. With this numerical and spiritual growth, persecution came against God’s people.
The story begins with Herod seeking to gain political favor. Therefore, he arrested James and killed him. This was the same James who was in Jesus’s inner circle.
He was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, when Jesus raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead, and he was close to Jesus when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Now, he was one of the first of the apostles to die. This satisfied those who hated the church. Therefore, Herod arrested Peter. The timing of Peter’s arrest was political.
Many Jews were in Jerusalem for Passover. They heard of Peter’s arrest and knew that Herod would kill him after the holiday weekend was over.
Jesus promised the enemy would come to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). This promise came to pass, but Jesus was on their side. Likewise, the enemy wants to stop us, but God is with us.
Though Jesus promised that problems would await those who followed Him, I would say that the death of James came as a shock to the church.
What would cause them to persevere in their problems? God continued to give power as they prayed.
Serving Christ is not always easy, but we can have power no matter what problems arise.
2. Power in Persecution
2. Power in Persecution
5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.
Everett Harrison described, “The circumstances surrounding [Peter’s] imprisonment are sketched in simple but dramatic fashion—the power of an earthly monarch pitted against the power of prayer to the Almighty.”
Herod underestimated the church’s commitment to pray. Knowing Peter’s life lay in the balance, they called on God to help and to accomplish His will.
While the church prayed, Peter was surrounded by armed guards to make sure he did not escape. Herod was extra careful, for Peter had escaped prison twice (Acts 4:3; 5:17-23).
Peter seemed unworried. While in prison he slept until God sent an angel. The angel loosened Peter’s chains and they left. The guards did not see what happened.
Peter did not even realize what happened was real. He supposed it was a vision. Yet God answered the prayers of the church for they were in constant.
Their prayers were not half-hearted or insincere. They truly believed God was their only answer. Some versions translate “constant prayer” with “earnestly praying.”
Herod did all he could to ensure Peter would remain in jail. But the prayers of God’s people brought supernatural results.
Once again, Jesus promised that imprisonment would come to His followers. They knew this in their head, but head knowledge and heart knowledge are vastly different.
I would say Peter and the church was surprised how intense the persecution was, yet they did not stop praying.
No force, whether earthly or spiritual, can stop or overtake praying people.
Therefore, when problems or persecution arise, we must continue to pray!
3. Power in Prayer
3. Power in Prayer
11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.” 12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate.
After coming to his senses, Peter realized what happened to him. God sent an angel to release him from prison and to save his life. Peter then went to the house where the church gathered for prayer.
The owner of the house was named Mary, the mother of John Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark. She hosted many prayer meetings in her home.
It was commonplace for the church to gather together in prayer, but this time God surprised them in the way He answered their prayers.
As they prayed, Peter knocked on the door and a servant girl named Rhoda went to the door. She heard Peter’s voice and knew he had been released from prison. Instead of hoping the door, she ran to tell the others who were praying.
Their answer shows how surprised they were by the way God answered their prayers.
15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.” 16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.
They couldn’t believe it, how could Peter who was in prison stand knocking at the door. They accused Rhoda of being out of her mind. But she was insistent.
Finally, they opened the door and saw Peter. To their surprise, God sent an angel and released him from prison, all because they prayed earnestly and constantly.
But even in a state of constant prayer, the Lord challenged their faith in answering their prayers in a way they could not imagine.
As we commit to pray, we should expect God to answer us.
What else could keep a church moving forward despite problems and persecution, but prayer?
When we pray, God hears and answers. However, we must remember, God will surprise us in how He answers our prayers.
Sometimes we can get around God and His people so long, we’ve assumed we’ve seen it all. In those moments, I can almost hear the Lord looking down and remarking, just wait until you see ALL I can do for you!
God wants to surprise us by His power in response to our prayers.
I once read a book entitled, “Surpised by the Power of the Holy Spirit.”
The author was a part of a denomination that did not believe in the Holy Spirit’s work today. However, through a series of events, God revealed the Holy Spirit.
His experience with God was so great, that He was surprised by the power of the third member of the Godhead.
Bekah’s Grandpa Russell, has a book entitled “The God I Never Knew.” The author, Robert Morris, wrote in the introduction that when we left for Bible college, his pastor told him, “Be careful of anyone who talks about the Holy Spirit, they are radical.”
He too had an experience with God that surprised Him.
Finally, we went through a teaching series in Salem entitled, “The Forgotten God.” Once again the pastor tried to bring the reality of the Holy Spirit in a way that is often ignored.
I want us to pray about two areas this evening.
First— pray that God surprises us once again by His power. If we will pray, He will answer!
Second— we have people on our hearts who are backslidden or backsliding. Let’s pray God surprise them by His power.
Let’s pray for the lost that God will surprise them by His power!
God has so much for us, I never want to limit Him. But I want to pray and position myself to experience more of God’s supernatural power— in problems, persecution, and prayer!