Trust and Pray (Acts 12)

Steve Behlke   -  

Have you ever felt like the whole world was stacked against you like the system was so rigged that you could never win? Our gut reaction is to gain some sense of control, but what about when we haven’t any control over it?

In Acts 12, the early church chose was in a dangerous, scary, and hopeless circumstance. James, the brother of John, one of Jesus’ apostles is arrested and killed. Then the church’s most outspoken leader is arrested and his death is imminent. Who knows whose next or when it stops?

That was the political and cultural climate against the early church.

When we’re in an unfair situation at school or at work, legally or relationally, we can’t catch a break, we can’t just make things go our way, and we see no hope in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel—what are we left to do? And how, by faith, is this potentially a really exciting and fruitful opportunity?

Acts 12:1 Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2 And He had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering Peter to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.

A single squad is comprised of four guards. Herod assigns sixteen armed soldiers to guard Peter. Why did Herod beef up his security so much to watch Peter? The last time Peter was in prison, an angel broke him out and told Peter and the disciples to preach the gospel all the more in the temple courts…

Our God specializes in miraculous jailbreaks! This time, Herod took no chances by doubling or even quadrupling Peter’s security detail.

Acts 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.  

If you sense something is going to change, that’s part of having a Christian worldview. Knowing God’s heart and power.

The situation is ominous. A corrupt government, a power-hungry leader, a vocal majority bent on destroying the church. Peter doesn’t stand a chance. But the church is fervently praying to God and you know God’s going to act.

We need to foster a biblical worldview to have hope in this life, we need to think like Jesus thinks and to see & interpret things from God’s perspective.

The world has its worldview, it’s narratives. Those in power flex their muscles and scold us. “We set the rules, we’re in charge, this is the way, get in line.” But before you get in line, or play by their rules, or even fight by their rules, consider Jesus, what He believed, and interpret everything from God’s POV.

The early church is under assault. But they weren’t signing petitions, marching in protest. They didn’t stage a revolt or strategize with a high-priced law firm. They took their appeal over the governor’s head, over Congress’s head, over the president’s head.

They made a fervent appeal directly to God!!

Today, we witness so many things shifting. A lost generation snubs its nose and shakes its fists at God and His design on the most elemental levels. This is true, we’re told. “This is the way.” And they sure make it seem so. So anyone who stands with God looks extreme. And we feel we’re the bad guys. If we don’t think like Jesus it can seem overwhelming and we can lose hope.

Do not lose hope. God is sovereign! Jesus is Lord. Our Lord cares and He can do great things. And before you do anything else, turn to Him in prayer.

As we gather together and pray, WE go over the heads of government, the school board, your boss, and the powers and principalities of evil, and the devil himself—we go directly to God and nothing is too big or too hard for Him.

So, the church is fervently praying to God on behalf of Peter,

Acts 12:6 On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward [after a week in prison], Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains [not comfortable], and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. 7 And behold [check this out], an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell [There’s a lot of action taking place but it wasn’t enough to wake up Peter]; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. [God is awesome!] 8 And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself [get ready to go] and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And [the angel] said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real but thought he was seeing a vision. [Maybe Peter was just so exhausted he couldn’t wake up or maybe God kept Him in this state. But] 10 When they had passed the first and second guard, [despite the light, the noise, and the consequences of letting the prisoners escape, God kept the guards from waking. Then] they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which [miraculously] opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 [Then Peter awoke! This was not a daring escape hatched by Peter or by the early church! This was all God!] When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

God rescued Peter while the church was doing what? Praying for him! Last week, God spoke to Cornelius about Peter when Cornelius was doing what? Praying. God gave Peter his vision while Peter was doing what? Praying.

We want to be a vital, growing church for this community. We have great theological comprehension, gifted speakers, an awesome message of grace, and the commitment to preach the whole word of God. We have a great band and godly, loving, generous people. Covid and the shutdown affected us. Yet we want to regain vitality and growth and we know we need to do things differently. We will bring a number of us together over this, but last week the elders committed to pray before we form a plan. After this, the elders will lead us in prayer. Mainly related to this passage but also our church, God’s directions, and our impact.

Back to Acts, did you notice something else about God’s timing? Luke says God waited until “the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward” to try and execute him. God waited until the last moment to rescue Peter.

Why does God often wait til the 11th hour before intervening?

God gives us time to acknowledge and admit our limitations. It’s scary to acknowledge that, and it’s so hard even after admitting it, not to rely on ourselves or our solutions. It’s even harder when God doesn’t help right away.

So He gives us time to worry, suffer, panic, bail on His help, bail on this relationship or this activity or this responsibility, and make another bad choice.

He also gives us time to decide and make the choice to trust Him. And to find peace in Him. He gives us time to draw closer to Him in prayer and worship. There’s no time like a desperate time to put our emotional weight, hope, and trust in Jesus. To say, “You’re my only hope in Him no matter what.”

Acts 12:12 And when he realized this [that God broke him out of prison], he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” [Catch the irony: they are praying for Peter to be released. Meanwhile, God answered their prayers but they don’t believe it could be true. Pray, believing! But even if you pray something so big you’re not sure God would answer, pray anyway!] But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” 16 But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.

Why was it so hard to believe that Peter was really at the front door? Why is it so hard for us to believe God, at times?

One reason is that it seemed impossible. Plus, God doesn’t promise to deliver Christians from every injustice or prison. So He’s not obligated to do this.

Another reason may be what just happened to John’s brother, James. They probably prayed for James too, right, but God allowed Herod to kill him. But we still pray with hope, even if He didn’t deliver us last time doesn’t mean He won’t this time. And don’t think for a second that God didn’t have his plan for James. Think biblically, James will be wonderfully rewarded for this!

James 1:12 Happy is the one who endures testing because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him.

Rewards. God doesn’t promise to rescue us from every injustice. But He promises to reward our faith at His return. This is just what we see in Jesus’ own example,

Hebrews 12:1 … Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and [as a reward] has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

So we are encouraged to pray to God believing He can do anything—and He often does. And like the church with Peter, even if we pray for something that we’re not convinced God will answer, pray anyway…

And even if He doesn’t answer, keep praying. Not just saying the words but seeing the One you pray to. Trusting His love. And if it comes and goes and He doesn’t answer, keep trusting Him. He rewards those who trust in Him.