The Answer Kept Knocking
At offering time introduce Highlights hidden picture
What is the point? Sometimes the thing we are looking for is right in front of our faces.
That was certainly the case in Acts 12.
Back in Acts 7 we saw the first Christian martyr, Stephen. And then in Acts 8 & 9 we saw that a great persecution arose and Saul (who later became the apostle Paul) led the way in bringing Christians to trial & execution.
At the beginning of ch. 12, the persecution now touches the 12 apostles. James, the brother of John is put to death at the order of King Herod. This is Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great.
When he saw that this pleased the Jewish leaders, he arrested the apostle Peter and had him put in prison, intending to execute this key Christian leader as well. Because it was the Jewish holiday of Unleavened Bread (after Passover) Herod was going to wait until the holiday was over to execute Peter.
READ Acts 12:1-17
I love it. Even Peter, the one who is released, doesn’t believe it is true. He thinks he is dreaming. It is only when the angel left him that he shook his head and realized this wasn’t a dream.
Peter goes to the door of Mary, the sister of Barnabas and the mother of John Mark. He knocks and a servant girl comes to the door. Upon hearing Peter’s voice, she runs in and insists it is Peter.
Can you think of another similar instance in Peter’s life?
Luke 22:54-57- Then seizing Jesus, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.
The word παιδίσκη [paidiskee] (servant girl) is used in both instances written by Luke.
The first time the servant girl announces you are Peter, he tries to deny it.
This time that a servant girl announces it is Peter, he wants desperately for her to let him in, but no one will believe her.
Instead, the church declare that it is “his angel”
I first thought that they meant that he has died and his soul has appeared to let them know. But that wasn’t the understanding of the soul at that time.
The Jews believed it was his guardian angel. There was at that time the belief that every person had a guardian angel who looked after them, and sometimes took on the form of the person himself/herself.
Now the humorous question that arises is: either way, if it were an angel…why did he need to knock? Why not just appear in the room?
In spite of the church’s slowness in recognizing that God had answered their prayer, they prayed.
We miss the entire point of the narrative if we miss the connection that Luke clearly intends us to make between v. 5 and v. 7a! True enough, we see the mysterious side of the life of prayer here; no doubt the church had prayed for James as well and with equal fervor. But Luke wants to show us that the church moved forward to the sound of prayer and corporate prayer in particular.
The church could have been praying for steadfastness on the part of Peter or for perseverance in the face of certain death. If so, that might explain their slowness in seeing what God had done, but none-the-less, they believed in the power of corporate prayer.
But whether they were actually praying for his release or not, they didn’t believe Rhoda when she came in to report that Peter was at the door.
As funny as this account may be to us, what lessons can we learn from this story:
1. Expectation is the gift we offer the Lord in response to His gift of prayer.
They prayed, but they did not really expect God to free Peter. Expectation is what we bring as an offering for our communication with Him. Expectation is a blend of confident trust and sanctified imagination. It gives us the capacity to ask the Lord for what He wants to give.
Jas 1:6-8: But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; 8they are double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Now the reality is many of us struggle with doubts. I believe the important question is, “What do you do with your doubts?” Do they paralyze you?
I believe the church in Acts 12 had doubts, but it did not stop them from praying…and praying earnestly.
That encourages me. When I pray, even if my prayers and my faith are not perfect, God still hears and will answer.
2. The Lord answers all prayer.
We talk of unanswered prayer. There is really no such thing. God answers. But knowing so much more than we do, He grants some, refuses others, and delays still others. A delay is an answer! To have what He wants for us without His timing would be disastrous.
Look at the Bible and you will find many times when God said yes to prayer. We remember these stories so well.
- Of course we have here, where the church is praying for Peter’s release & he comes knocking at the door.
- Abraham’s servant prayed for God’s direction in finding a wife for Isaac, and God led him to Rebekah.
- Moses, standing before the Red Sea, prayed for Israel to cross over on dry land.
- David prayed for strength, and was able to defeat Goliath.
We tend to forget, however, that there are many times in the Bible that God’s answer was “No.”
- Moses begged God to let him lead his people into the Promised Land. Moses died on Mt. Nebo, his prayer refused.
- David prayed day and night for his newborn child to live, but the baby died anyway.
- Paul prayed three times for the removal of that "thorn in the flesh." He never tells us exactly what that meant, but whatever it was, he prayed earnestly that it would be removed from his life. But it wasn’t. Instead, he was compelled to make the best of it for the rest of his life.
- Even Jesus prayed a prayer that to which God said no: Jesus cried out in the garden, “take this cup of suffering from me.” He prayed that he would not have to suffer death on the cross. Instead he had to suffer the pain of it.
Why does God say no to our prayers?
That is a complex question and it is not a one size fits all sort of question. There are different reasons for different situations.
Sometimes, our prayers are not answered because our hearts are not right with God.
- James, in his New Testament book, says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16). He may be pointing us to an area of sin in our lives.
- In Proverbs 15:29, we read, “The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”
- In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warned us that if we go to the altar and in the middle of our worship remember that we are in conflict with another person, we should interrupt our worship in order to repair the broken relationship. (Matthew 5:22-24)
Sometimes God says no because we don’t have the big picture. God’s ways are not our ways.
Quote from “The Shack” p. 126
Sometimes we misunderstand prayer.
We pray out of selfish motives.
- True prayer is God-centered. But we often turn prayer into a self-centered activity.
- In the New Testament book of James, we are told (James 4:3), “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
- The object of prayer is that God might be glorified.
- At times we think of prayer as an Aladdin’s lamp which we use to glorify self. We often think of God as a genie who is at our bidding and command.
- “The doctrine of the material efficacy of prayer reduces the Creator to a cosmic bellhop of a not very bright or reliable kind.”--Herbert J. Muller
- Can we not pray for ourselves? Of course, but we should pray for ourselves unselfishly. Unselfish prayer for self is prayer which seeks not self-centered comfort but Christ-centered conformity to the will of God. Prayer is not an end in itself but a means to a greater end which is to glorify God.
Sometimes, the problem with unanswered prayer is that our time is not God’s time. And what we often interpret as unanswered prayer is simply a matter of an answer that is delayed.
- In Jeremiah, chapter 42, the people ask the prophet to speak to God and to provide them with direction for their lives. The people tell Jeremiah, “Please hear our petition and pray to the LORD your God for this entire remnant. For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left. Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.”
- The prophet prays, and it is not until ten days later than an answer comes.
- Sometimes the answer comes far longer than simply ten days later. It might be years later.
§ In the 40th Psalm, verse one, we read these comforting words, “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.”
When we get a no answer, or a wait answer, we like to put the blame on God and say, “God did not answer my prayer.”
Truthfully we should say, “God did not give me what I wanted.”
The Bible is full of prayers answered differently from what the pray-er wanted.
And our lives are full of the same.
So much so, that we begin to live in expectation of prayer being left unanswered.
And like Rhoda and the church in our New Testament lesson, we reach the point where we are shocked and unbelieving when God answers prayers.
The Bible promises that God will hear our prayers. It never says that God will obey our orders – and sometimes that is the way we treat prayer. So of course, God may not answer such self-centered prayers.
3. Often the answer we’ve been praying for is staring us in the face.
Sometimes the Lord responds with a portion of the answer which requires joyous acceptance and implementation before we can appropriate the whole. We cannot receive the rest until we act on the first step.
ILL: A Sunday School teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet. She had been told the combination, but couldn’t quite remember it. Exasperated, she went to the pastor’s study and asked for help.
The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers he paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally he said, “You know, I can’t remember the combination either.”
Then he folded his hands and looked serenely heavenward and his lips moved silently. Then he looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock.
The teacher was amazed. "Pastor, I can’t believe you prayed and God gave you the combination," she said.
"It’s really nothing," he answered. "The combination is written on a piece of paper taped to the ceiling."
Often if we are looking for the answer and are open to God answering it in different ways than we anticipated, the answer can be right in front of us.
4. There are times when we are so intent on praying that the prayer is all talking and no listening.
We as Americans are talkers. When you go overseas, you can always pick out the Americans. They talk all the time and they talk loudly.
But in all the noise of our talking to God, asking things, we too often miss what he is wanting to tell us.
The answer is knocking!
· Be still (Ps. 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”)
· Not with the TV on.
· Not running through all the things you have to do today.
· Ecclesiastes 5:2 “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart, to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”
· Know that I am God (…and know that I am God.”)
· What does the Bible tell us about God? What do I know about God? Possibly run though the NAMES of God in the Bible.
· 46:11 “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
· A.W. Tozer once said that the most important thing about a person is what they think about God.
· Do not harden your heart.
Psalm 95:6-8,11: Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; 7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”
Don’t simply listen, but come with a heart ready to obey what God says.
“Be still…know that I am God…don’t harden your heart.”
Karen was expecting another child and so she worked to prepare little three year old Michael for the birth of his baby sister. Every night Michael sang to his sister in his mother’s tummy.
During the delivery of the baby serious complications developed. After many hours of struggle, Michael’s little sister was born. But she was in very serious condition. She was rushed to a neonatal intensive care unit in another hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Instead of getting better, the little girl continued to decline. The pediatric specialist told Karen and her husband, “There is very little hope. Be prepared for the worst.”
The parents contacted a local cemetery about a burial plot.
Meanwhile Michael continued to beg his parents to let him see his sister. “I want to sing to her,” he said. But kids were never allowed in intensive care.
The second week of his sister’s intensive care stay, Michael’s sister looked like she wouldn’t make it through the week. So Karen made up her mind that she would take Michael to see his sister whether and the hospital liked it or not. If Michael didn’t see her right away, he might never get to see her in all.
Karen dressed him in over sized scrub suit and marched him into ICU. The head nurse demanded that they leave. The mother instinct rose up strong in Karen and she looked at the head nurse with steel-eyed determination: “He’s not leaving until he sees his sister!”
Karen took Michael to his sister’s bedside. After a few moments of looking at his sister all connected to tunes, three year old Michael began to sing. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
Instantly the baby seemed to respond. Her pulse slowed and became steady. “Sing it again, Michael!” said Karen. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
The strained breathing of his sister became a smooth as a kitten’s purr.
The head nurse now stood transfixed with tears in her eyes. Michael sang that chorus again and again.
And the next day - the very next day - Michael’s little sister was well enough to go home. Women’s Day Magazine called it “The miracle of the Brothers Song”. The medical staff just called in a miracle. Karen called it a miracle of God’s love.
God sends his answers to prayer in unusual ways. Are you looking for them?
1. It was specific. They prayed for Peter. v. 5: "for him."
2. It was corporate. It was not enough that all Christians were praying; they came together for prayer (v. 12). As I said we find this often in Acts. It comes from the emphasis placed on corporate prayer in the teaching of the Bible and of the Lord himself. He teaches us to pray alone, to be sure; but he also teaches us to pray together.
3. It was earnest. v. 5 (It was no formality, but "earnest and familiar talking with God.")