by Roger McCay
3 November 2019
Sermon Passage: Acts 12:1-19
Link to Audio Version
Consider these words of Tim Keller from his book called Prayer,
“Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.”
Prayer is one of the main characteristics of a Christian. It involves three elements: the living and true God who hears, the person praying who speaks, and the communication itself.
It is a privilege that is too great for us—to enter into the throne room of Almighty God and speak to him as our Father. And yet, not only do we dare do so, the Scriptures repeatedly tell us that God not only wants us to pray, but he expects us to pray. 1 Thess. 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Assuredly, our prayers are not in vain: James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” And Jesus promises: John 15:7 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” These are wonderful truths. They are truths we can utterly rely upon.
Nevertheless, we must admit that we are quite flawed in our prayers. Why are we? Well, the short answer is that we are sinners. We are finite in our wisdom, knowledge, strength, faith, and really in every area, which if you think about it are some of the major reasons we pray—finite, flawed beings communicating with an infinite, perfect, loving God.
Ironically, at times we pray fervently, but we don’t really believe God will answer our prayer. And even though our faith is weak, he is not weak, but loving, and he answers anyway. This can leave us at times discombobulated.
We see this take place in our passage today, a solemn passage filled with irony and humor. The passage starts off with a rather abrupt and startling fact. King Herod, the grandson of Herod the Great, had gotten violent with the Christians, and (v. 2) “He killed James the brother of John with the sword.” That’s the James of the “Peter, James, and John” trio. He was one of the disciples closest to the Lord. Yet, Herod, testing the waters to see if it won favor with the Jews, killed him.
You can imagine this was a blow: a blow to the apostles; a blow to the church. These were men who performed miracles and were of the Lord’s twelve. Now, this insecure King just killed an apostle like it was nothing. What were they going to do? Surely there was grief, even fear. Possibly doubt crept in. Definitely, though, they fell to their knees and prayed.
Yet, the situation continued to escalate with Peter, the chief apostle’s, arrest. Herod had seen that killing James got him favor with the Jews and figured that killing Peter would make him even more popular. Popularity through murdering Christians had become Herod’s new thing.
Now, perhaps he had heard how Peter had escaped from prison before in a miraculous way. So, just to be sure, while he waited for the Passover to be finished … and it must have been annoying for him to have to wait to murder Peter. See the irony? He waited for the Jews to finish celebrating their deliverance by the Lord from Egypt, so that he could please the Jews by killing a chief herald of the ultimate deliverance by the Lord in Jesus Christ. Well, while he waited, he went to extremes to ensure Peter didn’t just “poof” out of prison once again. Hence, the extreme lengths of constantly having four guards on him, and having him chained with two chains between two guards. No way he was escaping that.
Now, people speculate the conversations he had with the guards, perhaps sharing the Lord. If so, perhaps he said, “Look, this is not going to end well for you, you should repent and believe in Jesus now.” Who knows?
Anyway, Peter doesn’t seem too worried, as on the night before he would have been surely executed he was sound asleep. And this wasn’t just a light, fitful sleep, either. He was in deep REM sleep. I mean, the appearance of the angel and the light didn’t budge him. It took the angel striking him to get him to come half-awake. He was still discombobulated, as the chains fell off, and as he followed the angel’s instructions to put his clothes and sandals on. Peter thought the whole thing was a dream and not real. So, half out of it, he followed the angel, and the gate opened itself. Through all this, the guards somehow didn’t even notice Peter stumbling out of his cell, following a shining angel, and heading out of prison and out into the streets of Jerusalem. Then, “poof,” the angel was gone.