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The Limits of God

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The Limits of God

Acts 12:1-25

I.       Introduction

A.    Secular

1.      Charissa singing song, “My God is so big…”

2.      Us moving from these type of faith songs to questioning whether God can make a rock so big that even He can’t move it or not.

B.     Personal

1.      Have you ever assumed God has limits?

2.      Have you asked God to heal someone with cancer, reconcile a marriage or another relationship, give you a better job, have a school accept your application.

3.      Yet, in the back of your mind, or even in your heart, you don’t believe that God will answer in that way.

C.     Biblical

1.      Several characters in the Bible have put limits on God, even without saying as much.

2.      God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and told him to deliver Israel out of Egypt, and Moses said, “I don’t speak so well, can you send someone else?”  Moses put a limit on God.

3.      God also appeared to Gideon in Judges 6 and told him to deliver Israel from the oppressive hand of the Midianites, but Gideon said, “Are you sure you want me?  I’m in this pit hiding from them right now.”  Gideon put a limit on God.

4.      Peter had asked Jesus if he could come out and walk on water and then began to do so.  However, once he realized that he was walking on water, Peter, the Rock, began to sink like a stone.

5.      Does God have limits?  Are there things that He cannot do?

D.    Textual

1.      Background to text

a.       Luke has recorded for us in the previous chapters one marvelous conversion after another.

1.)    The 3000 on the day of Pentecost

2.)    The Samaritans

3.)    The Ethiopian eunuch

4.)    Saul of Tarsus

5.)    The Gentile centurion Cornelius

6.)    And the mixed crowd of Jews and Gentiles in Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians.

b.      In concentric circles starting from Jerusalem, the Word of God has been spreading.

c.       In Chapter 13, Luke describes a great leap forward we call Paul’s first missionary journey, to begin to complete Jesus’ prophecy of the gospel reaching the ends of the earth.

d.      But before Chapter 13 comes Chapter 12, and in it we have a serious setback and threat to the church.

II.    Exposition

A.    The Threat (Acts 12:1-5)

1.      Let’s meet two of the people in this text.

a.       The first person mentioned is Herod (Acts 12:1)

1.)    This is Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, who was the king when Jesus was born who slaughtered the innocent children of Bethlehem when he heard that a potential rival to his throne was born.

2.)    He was also the nephew of Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist and participated in the trial of Jesus.

3.)    This Herod was personal friend of the Emperor Caligula, and who received his position and territories because of their friendship.

b.      The second person mentioned in James, the brother of John.

1.)    He, along with his brother, were disciples of Christ, and lived and traveled with Him during Christ’s time on earth.

2.)    He witnessed Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter, he was Jesus transformed, along with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, and he saw Jesus sweat blood and be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.

2.      Luke tells us that while these wonderful things were happening to the Gentiles and in Antioch, there was something sinister going on in Jerusalem.

a.       Herod, as political ruler and pawn of the Roman Empire, was persecuting (“lying violent hands”) on the church.

1.)    When Saul persecuted the church in Chapter 9, it as because he was trying to preserve and protect his religion and traditions.

2.)    Herod is going after the church now, in order to eliminate the potential threat to the peace and stability of the region.

3.)    This threat to peace came not from the Christians in the city, but from the Jewish people who didn’t want this (in their eyes) evil sect to exist.

4.)    Herod, as most politicians are want to do, tries to please his boss, the Emperor, and the vocal majority, the Jews, and in this case he tries to do so by helping eliminate the powerless minority; the Christians.

b.      So Herod beheads one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem and one of the disciples closest to Jesus, James.

1.)    This action provoked a very strong and very favorable reaction from the populace.

2.)    Herod had a reputation of always ingratiating himself to Jews in order to curry favor with them, but this time he hit the jackpot.  The Jews were thrilled.

c.       When Herod saw that the Jews were pleased, he went after another leader of the church, Peter, and arrested him with the intent of executing him.

1.)    The Jews didn’t mind that this was happening during their Feast of Unleavened Bread – the seven day festival that followed the Passover – even though Jewish law did not permit either trials or sentencing.

2.)    After all, they saw Jesus undergo several illegal trials around this time roughly 15 years ago.

3.)    Besides, they had Peter, their undisputed leader locked safely away in a prison.

d.      The church’s only reaction, the only thing they could do was to pray.

1.)    They prayed continuously and fervently.

2.)    Luke 22:44 says it was his type of prayer that caused Jesus to sweat drops of blood.

B.     The Deliverance (Acts 12:6-19)

1.      The Prisoner’s Situation - Read Acts 12:6-11

a.       Luke makes sure we understand clearly the situation Peter was in.

1.)    He was guarded by four squads of highly trained Roman soldiers.

2.)    Each squad had four soldiers in it for a total of 16 soldiers watching this one man.

a.)    What they most likely did was work in 6-hour shifts with a guard manacled to each of his wrists and two more keeping watch outside the cell.

b.)    At the end of each shift, a fresh squad of soldiers would come in relieve the former squad to make sure everyone was fresh.

b.      What was Peter doing? Sleeping!

1.)    The night before he was about to be brought out, put on mock trial and executed, he is sleeping!  How in the world could he sleep at a time like this?

a.)    For one, he had been in prison twice before, so he was not intimidated by it.  Certainly, there was never a sentence of death hanging over his head, yet Peter was still able to sleep.

b.)    Also, each time he was in prison, he was freed.  So we can see why Peter would feel confident at this time.

c.)    However, most importantly, he saw his Lord and Savior Jesus put to death but then rise again in defiance of death.

i.)      Ultimately, I think he was calm because he knew that even if he died, he would one day rise from the dead and live eternally, just as his Savior promised he would.

2.)    In fact, Peter was sleeping so soundly, that when the angel appeared to rescue him, he had to strike him on the side to wake him up.

a.)    This was no love tap.

b.)    This is the same word that describes how Peter struck the servant of the high priest with a sword and cut off his ear in Matt. 26:51.

3.)    We know that this was a supernatural being and not an ordinary human messenger as some translations have it.

a.)    One reason is the light that accompanies this being.

i.)      It fills the whole cell, yet the guards do not wake up.

ii.)    He is also able to talk without the guards hearing him.

iii.)  Reminiscent of Jesus’ appearance to Saul on the road to Damascus.

b.)    Also we see notice some of the verbs that describe what happen next:

i.)      Acts 12:7b, “The chains fell off his hands”, he did not take them off.

ii.)    Acts 12:10, the iron gate leading into the city “opened for them of its own accord”.

iii.)  These are supernatural actions that cannot be described other than from the hand of God.

c.       Even though Peter thought this was just a dream, he obeyed the angel and followed him into the city and to freedom.

1.)    It wasn’t until he finally “woke up” and saw where he was that he realized that God had showed up in a mighty way and saved him from dying at the hands of Herod.

2.      The Prisoner Set Free - Read Acts 12:12-17

a.       Peter’s first reaction was to go and tell the church what was going on.

1.)    He wanted to celebrate the fact that God had delivered him.

2.)    But he also wanted to warn them that now Herod would be extremely angry and perhaps would come after them with greater vengeance.

b.      Peter went straight to where he knew everyone would be, to the house of Mary, the mother of Barnabas’ cousin John-Mark.

1.)    It is impossible to know with any certainty, but many scholars believe that this is the same house where Jesus and His 12 disciples celebrated the Last Supper together, and where the disciples gathered together in Acts 1 to pray after Jesus ascended into heaven.

2.)    Regardless, this is a very large house, because there were a large number of people there, and because the house had a courtyard and was surrounded by an outer vestibule, or gateway.

c.       This is where the story turns comical.

1.)    Peter stands at the door and knocks.

2.)    Rhoda, the servant girl, hears the knocking and leaves the prayer meeting to see who it is.

3.)    When she get close to the door, she hears the voice of Peter calling out to her and in her joy, she runs in to tell the others the good news.

a.)    She doesn’t let Peter in!

4.)    Not only that, when the others hear that Peter is just outside the house, they don’t believe her!

a.)    They have been praying fervently and continuously for the past few days that God would deliver Peter from prison and from Herod.

b.)    And when he shows up, they don’t believe it’s him!

5.)    Rhoda is finally able to convince them to go out and see for themselves, and when they do they find that it actually is Peter.

a.)    To cut them some slack, they may have been worried that it was Roman guards or members of the Sanhedrin that were trying to trick them.

d.      Peter then encouraged them with the good news of his deliverance.

1.)    He didn’t want any extra attention; he was an escaped prisoner on the run.

a.)    He shushed them

b.)    He hid

2.)    He wanted the message to go to James

a.)    Different James than in verse 1.

b.)    This was Jesus’ half-brother, and leader in the Christian church.

c.)    Would be prominent in Acts 15.

3.      The Executor’s Response - Read Acts 12:18-19

a.       Soldier deserved the punishment of the prisoner who escaped.

b.      Caesarea

1.)    On shore of Mediterranean Sea.

2.)    Beautiful area of retreat for Herod.

C.     The Punishment (Acts 12:20-25)

1.      We don’t know why Herod was angry with Tyre and Sidon, but given hs personality and history, they were rig to be worried.

a.       They bribed Blastus, the keeper of the king’s bed chamber.

b.      He was the closest man to Herod, so he arranged for a meeting.

2.      Herod began to speak, and the people began to flatter him and proclaim that he was a god.

a.       He didn’t rebuke them, but probably encouraged them.

b.      God struck him down for this.

3.      Luke gives us plenty of detail, but Josephus gives us some extra detail

a.       Josephus was a Jewish historian in the first century and would have been familiar with these details

b.      Appointed time = festival honoring Claudius Caesar.

c.       Royal robes = silver

1.)    They would have brilliantly reflected the sunlight on the coast and given him the aura of deity.

4.      Word of God continues to increase and multiply.

D.    Contrasts

1.      This is not a story about Peter or Herod, but about God.

2.      So at the beginning of the chapter we have Herod striking down the church, but at the end God strikes Herod down.

3.      In the end we see the politically powerless defeat the politically powerful through prayer.

4.      In fact, this chapter opens with: James dead, Peter in prison and Herod triumphing and closes with: Herod dead, Peter free and the word of God triumphing.

III. Implications

A.    God is sovereign and triumphs over evil

1.      James’ death was not an accident or an unfortunate occurrence.

a.       In Mark 10:35-40, James and John approached Jesus and asked to sit with Jesus when He entered heaven.

b.      Jesus told them that to do this required that they “drink the cup that I drink”, which means that they would suffer as Jesus would suffer.

c.       James’ suffering and death was prophesied by Jesus and was under the watchful eye of the sovereign Father.

2.      James’ executor could not hide from the sovereign hand of God.

a.       Paul, who was in Jerusalem at this time later wrote in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived:  God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

b.      Herod attempted to mock God by going after the body of Christ, and then later accepting worship as if he was a god.

3.      God triumphed over this evil and promises, in His Son Jesus, to triumph over the ultimate evils of sin and death.

4.      Because God is sovereign, He can allow one to die and one to live.

a.       We don’t understand the why, but we trust in the Who.

b.      Floral arrangements.  Funeral this morning. Comfort in God’s sovereignty.

5.      Dr. Wiersbe summed up God’s sovereignty from Acts 12 in this way:

a.       He sees our trials

b.      He hears our prayers

c.       He deals with our enemies

B.     We are to pray fervently and expectantly, and then go and open the door

1.      Because God hears our prayers, we are to pray.

2.      Because Jesus has provided a way for us to have access to God’s throne, we are to come before Him boldly, and offer our prayers and supplications with thanksgiving (Php. 4:6).

a.       It is Peter, who years later cites Psalm 34 in his first epistle, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer” (1 Pet. 3:12).

b.      And then also writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7).

c.       Each verse begins with God’s sovereignty, and then our response of prayer.

3.      The Christians had gathered together to pray specifically, and when their answer showed up, they failed to go answer the door.

a.       This is not a guarantee that God will grant us every one of our requests, and it is certainly no guarantee that if He does grant us our request it will be on our timing.

b.      But this is an encouragement to have faith that He is able to do these things, and we need to be constantly listening to see if He is knocking at the door.

4.      How many times do we offer up a prayer for someone to be healed, a job interview to go well, or even for someone to be saved?  Yet we pray it half-heartedly, and unexpectantly, thinking that God would never answer that prayer.

a.       We need to grow in faith, and expect that God will answer us when we pray.

C.     We are to give glory to God in all things

1.      Herod received the admiration and accolades of the people who called him a god and failed to acknowledge the true God of heaven.

2.      Herod allowed them to play to his ego and he loved every minute of it.

3.      However, in Isa. 42:8 God said, “I am the Lord; that is my Name, my glory I give to no other.”

a.       When we fail to praise God and give Him glory for everything that happens in our life, good or bad, we set ourselves up as an idol, competing with God for His glory.

b.      It is clear that God does not share His glory.

4.      To glorify God means to assign to Him the position and authority that He rightly deserves.

a.       It means to magnify Him, as we learned in Malachi 1:5, “The Lord be magnified” simply is another way of saying “We exist to glorify God”

b.      The Mission of the church

IV. Conclusion

A.    We have a wonderful and glorious Father in heaven.

B.     However, there are times in our own personal lives and in the life of the church universal, where He allows setbacks and difficulties to happen.

C.     This doesn’t change God in any way – His goodness, His kindness and His grace are not altered simply because we are in the midst of a hard time.

D.    Because God is sovereign our prayers don’t change Him, they do change us. 

1.      They change us to be more like Him, to concern ourselves with the things that concern Him, and to do the things that He would want us to do.

2.      We grow in our faith and maturity when we realize and understand that there is nothing and no one who can stand in the way of God’s purpose and plan when it comes to our lives and to the growth of the church.

3.      We should be able to sing “There is nothing my God cannot do” with any two year old, and have that be our confession of faith.  There are no limits with God.

a.       Jesus in Matthew 16 said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18)

b.      Jesus promises that evil will be defeated, and we magnify His Name because of it.

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