THEME: The destructive power of Herod and the saving power of God are contrasted. The church is pictured as a praying group. Those who would be “god” are shown as they are: powerless creatures.
Scripture: Acts 12: 1-24.
I. Prayer from the church brings Peter’s release.
A. Herod had James the Apostle executed, saw that such an action brought favorable public opinion by his subjects (at least the Jewish religious authorities and Pharisees), and so imprisoned Peter. He did this because the Apostles were bringing the Gentiles into the church and associating with them, which was against the oral law so favored by the religious authorities and Pharisees.
1. These actions caused the dispersal of the 12 Apostles and the elevation of James the Just to a position of leadership in the church because he kept the written Law (and seemingly the oral Law, too). But James the Just was not “blinded” by the oral law’s requirements against Gentiles, as we see from his actions in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.
2. James was a visionary statesman who realized God’s plan was to evangelize the Gentiles, but he was also careful to retain the confidence of those Jews who were “zealous for the law” (Acts 21: 20).
3. James was stoned to death in 62 AD on the orders of the High Priest, which shocked and dismayed many ordinary Jews. Some even ascribed the destruction in 70 AD to the loss of James’ daily intercessory prayers for Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jewish people.
B. We note that Peter was not the least concerned by his imprisonment.
1. He was sleeping soundly when the angel came to him.
2. He knew that Christ Jesus had prophesied his death by the authorities – yet was not worried because he also knew what his life after death would be – with Jesus!
3. His trust, faith, and confidence in the Words of Jesus are a great example to us.
4. We worry about so many unimportant things, often losing sleep over things that truly are not important at all.
5. Compare the “so-called” problems you worry about to where you will spend eternity!!!
6. All of a sudden, when you take this perspective, is anything really worthy of our worry?!?!
C. The church is praying fervently, “intensely” because of Peter’s imprisonment.
1. This is the same word used to describe the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane: (Luke 22: 44) “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
2. We do not know what the church was asking God to do for Peter, only that (v. 5) “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”
3. The response of everyone involved when Peter was miraculously freed from prison is very interesting.
D. Peter himself thinks he is seeing a vision or is dreaming as the angel is leading him out of the prison.
1. It’s only when he’s left alone on the street does he come fully awake and realize the truth of what he has experienced.
2. But he understands what he needs to do – and does it.
3. After his escapade at John Mark’s mother’s house, he goes into hiding – surely out of Jerusalem and probably out of Judea totally.
4. The next time we hear of Peter is in Antioch, which is probably where he went, knowing that there was a large group of believers there. (See Galatians 2).
E. Even the people who are praying for him are shocked to see Peter at their door.
1. This is most interesting, considering they were probably praying for his release and safety.
2. Many people criticize the church because they should have expected Peter’s release.
3. But this is not right (examine your own expectations from your own prayers).
4. Remember, James had shortly before been executed, and surely they had prayed for his release.
5. The mysteries of Divine Providence which have been repeated countless times throughout history (and are still happening) are something that we simply cannot understand.
6. We simply do not have the minds to understand why God would allow James to be executed but Peter to be released.
7. God knows what His plan is and who He needs alive to carry it out. We are not privy to the workings of God’s plan, so we simply must accept His judgment as best for all concerned.
8. Just because we cannot and do not understand God does not mean He does not understand!!!
F. The main thing we need to learn from the church’s prayers and Peter’s release is that prayer works. Even though God did not release James the Apostle, that did not mean that the prayers for him were not heard. It means that God had other plans for him that we do not and cannot understand, but should accept.
1. We should follow Scripture’s teachings on prayer: (James 5: 16) “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
2. (Matthew 21: 22) “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
3. (Luke 18: 1) “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”
4. The key to our behavior and understanding about prayer is Paul’s advice for us: (Romans 8: 28, 31-32) “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . . If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
G. Prayer for God’s people by God’s people still works:
Sundar Singh, missionary to Tibet, by the order of the chief lama of the Tibetan community where Singh was serving, was thrown into a dry well and the cover securely locked. Here he was left to die, like many others before him. On the 3rd night, when he had been calling to God in prayer, he heard someone unlocking the well cover and removing it. Then a voice spoke, telling him to take hold of the rope that was being lowered to him. He did so, and was glad to find a loop at the bottom of it into which he could place his foot, for his arm had been injured before he was thrown down. He was then drawn up, the cover replaced and locked, but when Singh looked around to thank his rescuer, he could find no trace of him. The fresh air revived him, and his injured arm felt whole again. When morning came, He returned to the place where he had been arrested, and resumed preaching. This news was soon brought to the chief lama. Singh was brought before him and questioned, and told the story of his release. The lama declared that someone mush have gotten hold of the key and let him out, but when search was made for the key, it was found attached to the lama’s own belt.
Like the story of Peter, it is possible that Singh’s rescue was non-miraculous. But the great difficulties involved in a rescue in either case suggest that both were certainly and actually miraculous interventions of God.
In both cases, the story of the rescue bears witness to the delivering grace of God and to the power of believing prayer.
Then there’s the story about a small Oklahoma town that had two churches and one distillery. Members of both churches complained that the distillery was giving the community a bad image. And, to make matters worse, the owner of the distillery was an outspoken atheist. He didn’t believe in God one bit. The church people had tried unsuccessfully for years to shut down the distillery, so finally they decided to hold a joint Saturday night prayer meeting. They were going to ask God to intervene and settle the matter. The church folks gathered on Saturday night and there was a horrible thunderstorm raging outside. During the prayer meeting and to the delight of the church members, lightening hit the distillery and it burned to the ground. The next morning the sermons in both churches were on the power of prayer. Shortly thereafter, the insurance adjusters informed the distillery owner that they were not going to pay for the damages because the fire was an act of God and an exclusion to the policy. The distillery owner was furious because he had heard about the prayer meeting, and he sued both churches claiming that they had conspired with God to destroy his business. But, in their defense statement, the churches denied that they had anything to do with the cause of the fire.
The presiding judge opened the trial with these words: “I find one thing in this cause most perplexing. We have a situation here where the plaintiff, an atheist, is professing his belief in the power of prayer, and the defendants, all faithful church members are denying the very same power.”
II. We turn our attention to the person who caused all this prayer in the first place: King Herod Agrippa the First.
A. Herod (Herod Agrippa I) was king over Judea, Petrea, Galilee, and some areas of southern Syria.
He was the grandson of Herod the Great and the nephew of Herod Antipas, who imprisoned and beheaded John the Baptist. Herod Agrippa I was a favorite of the Pharisees because he kept much of the oral law of Judaism.
1. There was an economic quarrel between Herod and the old Phoenician nations of Tyre and Sidon. For centuries, Tyre and Sidon had been importing food (likely wheat, olive oil, and wine) from Galilee and Judea.
2. Now, for some reasons that we are not told (so they must not have been important) Herod is FURIOUS with them. Maybe they put a tariff on imported farm goods to protect their own poor farmers. Maybe they had recently devalued their money.
3. Most likely it was simply a dispute over the amount of the commission (read: bribe) that Herod was to receive for allowing his merchants and farmers to sell to Tyre and Sidon.
4. Note that economic feuds are nothing new among nations. They can be the bitterest ones!
B. Herod is persuaded to resume trade with Tyre and Sidon because of the intercession of Blastus, one of his advisors. As usual, this required some kind of royal pronouncement to the parties involved. So he dresses up in his official, best looking outfit and speaks to the people.
1. It sounds like a typical political rally today: No matter what is said, the important thing is to flatter the speaker. No wonder we’re is so much trouble.
C. Because Herod accepts the blasphemous flattery of his audience, he pays the ultimate price.
1. Now some may say that God is somewhat arbitrary because He only punishes Herod and not the people who actually pronounce the blasphemy.
2. The difference is that the Phoenicians are pagans, and Herod knows better than to declare himself a god.
D. The sad thing is that a tremendous number of people are proclaiming themselves to be god in today’s world. If God allowed them to receive what they deserved, the black plague would seem like a health fair. Today, we proclaim ourselves to be god in many ways – so many, in fact that most of us don’t even realize we’re doing it. Let’s see how it is done. Maybe in seeing how to proclaim one’s self as god, we’ll be able to avoid it and avoid the penalty for blasphemy.
1. You declare yourself to be god when you decide that it’s ok to lie in a particular situation to keep from embarrassment. “It doesn’t harm anyone” we say. But it does. When we lie, we are saying that only we know what truth is. This means we are setting moral standards. But who is it that really sets moral standards?? Why the one and only, true and living God, of course!!
2. Next, “Oh, it’s ok to cheat on taxes – everybody does it” is another one. But this is simply saying it’s ok to steal. Again, we are setting moral standards. But who is it that really sets moral standards?? Why the one and only, true and living God, of course!!
3. It’s all right to have this one affair with my neighbor’s wife – he’ll never find out, and she’s so lonely. This is beginning to sound like a broken record, isn’t it? Imagine how it looks to God our Father in heaven.
4. “Oh, I need to get our grass cut, our lake house winterized, a TV program that I really want to see is coming on, I didn’t sleep well last night – and so forth and so on, so we don’t come together to worship and encourage each other and fellowship with each other on Sunday. Now, think about God’s directions for the Sabbath. Why did He set those rules? Because He is the Lord of Creation, and the Creator Himself!
E. And so you see the way we try to set ourselves up as god: We make the rules of behavior and action, We set the moral standards, We change what and who is to be worshipped.
1. It seems so innocent when it happens and we all do it so much and so often that most of us don’t even realize that we’re doing it – because we’ve become so hardened!!!!
III. The two big lessons out of this passage.
A. Prayer needs to be our first option. Our first line of defense for our lives. Pray like we mean it, and that it will come to pass.
B. Remember that only God is God. We are the creatures – His handiwork. Acknowledge Him as who He really is: the Creator, the One who sets standards and rules of behavior. Obey Him by not replacing Him with ourselves.
C. Clearly, to take these lessons into our lives and make them part of our normal behavior is beyond our own capabilities. This is why the Holy Spirit comes and makes our minds, our hearts, and our bodies His home.
So when the Holy Spirit tells us what to do, or not to do something, WE MUST LISTEN – AND OBEY!!!!
If you have been setting yourself up as god, then you need to repent and ask forgiveness and change the way you’re living.
God will help you to do that – but you must ask Him sincerely.
Today is the day to change your title from “One who would be god” to “One who would be God’s Servant”.
Take the opportunity He has given you before it is too late. Next Sunday may be too late. . .