To know God more, is to make Him more known.
Athletes spend a tremendous amount of time training and conditioning so that when it comes time for their bodies to respond, their muscle memory kicks in and knows what is supposed to happen. When we see athletes perform, we are witnessing the results of a substantial amount of training. The Olympics just concluded last month. Those athletes spent countless hours in the gym, in the pool, on the field, in their areas of expertise day and night, training, doing the same things over and over and over. Repetition plays a key role into training our muscles how to respond. As I thought about that, I wondered…in our spiritual walk, are we conditioned to pray? Is prayer, a natural action in our daily life?
There are passages all throughout Scripture, that remind us of the need for persistent prayers. As you are finding your way to Acts 12, I want to set the context for our passage. Jesus has ascended back to heaven. The church has been born. After the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7, the church began to spread. Saul’s Damascus Road conversion experience took place in Acts 9. In Acts 10, the Gospel begins spreading to the Gentiles. Leading up to chapter 12, Peter has been a very prominent figure in the proclamation of the Gospel and with the growth of the church.
When we come to Acts 12, the Jews were not all that thrilled that the Gentiles were becoming Christians, because the apostles, Jesus’ closest disciples, were preaching Christ crucified was the means for salvation. It is Christ and Christ alone that is sufficient for salvation. Because of this, the apostles were not very well-liked by the Jews. With that as the backdrop, let’s start reading in Acts 12.
Acts 12:1-5 (NASB) – Now about that time Herod the king (Herod Agrippa) laid hands on some who belonged to the church, in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.
Just a brief amount of history is important here. The Herod that is mentioned here is Herod Agrippa. When Jesus was born, King Herod the Great was king. After Herod the Great came Herod Antipas, who was the king that beheaded John the Baptist. After Herod Antipas came Herod Agrippa, who was the grandson of Herod the Great, and the nephew of Herod Antipa. The one thing to keep in mind was that King Herod Agrippa was a Jew.
In order to try and gain some points with the Jewish people, Herod began to attack and persecute the Christians. The KJV uses a great word in verse 1 as it says that Herod vexed them. Things are getting harder and harder for the believers. Then comes the arrest and killing of James, the brother of John. Most translations say that James was put to death with a sword. It is thought that James was beheaded. Remember that Peter, James and John were a part of Jesus’ inner-circle.
When Herod had James killed, he noticed how it pleased the people. Just as a note, it’s a very dangerous place to be when we start making decisions in order to “please people”. When Herod saw that the execution of James gained favor in the people’s eyes, he decided to try and build off of that energy. So he arrested Peter. Now, if he had James executed, there’s very little doubt what his intentions were for Peter.
Don’t overlook the end of verse 3 though. The arrest of Peter was done during the days of Unleavened Bread. That may not mean much to us. But to provide some clarity, the Passover was a part of the days of Unleavened Bread. The Passover festival was one of those key Festivals where people were to come to Jerusalem to celebrate and offer sacrifices. Persecuting Christians gained favor for Herod. Killing James, gained favor for Herod. Imagine what would happen if he was able to pull off this with Peter, who not only was one of the apostles like James, but also one of the key leaders and founders of the early Christian church. The end of verse 4 tells us that Herod was planning on having a trial for Peter right after Passover ended. This would ensure that the people would still be in town for the Passover celebrations and it would ensure that it did not interfere with those celebrations. Let’s be clear though. The trial that Herod was planning was a more of a kangaroo court than a legitimate trial.
Herod wants to make sure that Peter doesn’t escape, so he installs his version of a maximum-security prison. He puts 4 squads of soldiers or 4 quaternions as the KJV renders it. These are 4 teams of 4 soldiers that would rotate, 2 soldiers were chained to Peter, one on each side, and 2 soldiers guarded the gate. Then, every 3 hours, the next team would come in.
All of that backstory sets the stage for some exciting events. When we come to verse 5, an incredible transition happens. It says that Peter was kept in prison, BUT……..Don’t miss the BUT. But prayer was being made for him fervently by the church. That leads me to my first point, which I know you’re excited to finally get to.
1. The reflex of unified prayer
When Peter was sent to prison, on the heels of James’ beheading, the church began to pray. How did they know that’s what they should be doing, after all the church was very young? The fact that the church started praying is a reflection of what Peter had taught them. Peter had been with Jesus during His ministry on earth. Peter was part of the inner-circle with Jesus. Peter saw Jesus pray in the Garden, before he fell asleep. Peter knew the significance of prayer and frequently demonstrated that to the early church.
But it’s not just about a bunch of people praying. They were all praying fervently, earnestly, without ceasing. The word used to describe this type of praying is the idea of a muscle being stretched to its limits. So this church was praying with everything that they had to God for Peter. I wonder if they were praying for Peter’s protection? For Peter’s life? Peace for Peter? I’m sure a combination of each of those. But I also suspect, they were praying for God to be glorified and here’s why I say that. In Acts 4, when Peter and John were before the council, the church was praying for boldness to preach His Word and God answered that prayer and they did just that.
But there’s one very important thing that I want you to notice about this prayer. We’re not told exactly how it started. We don’t know if there was a prayer coordinator that organized the prayer chain. We don’t know if somebody said “Hey, since Peter’s in prison, let’s pray for him.” Given the level of persecution that was currently taking place, I suspect that they were already in this house church and when word reached them about Peter, this unified prayer meeting organically took place. Their reflex was to pray, like muscle memory. As Peter is imprisoned, the church is praying.
Let’s continue reading with verse 6:
Acts 12:6-12 (NASB) – And on the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and roused him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 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. And when they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street; and immediately the angel departed from him. And 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.” And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying
2. God is working even when we can’t see it
And that’s my second point. As the church was continuing their prayers for Peter, God was working. Even though the church and Peter were not together physically, spiritually, they were united through Christ. Time was running out for Peter. Did you hear it? On the night Herod was getting ready to have his trial. He knew that he was going to have Peter killed. He knew that it was going to please the crowd. The “trial” was just to get them riled up. In the midst of a pretty intense time though, Peter was sound asleep, chained between two soldiers. What an answer to prayer! I can’t imagine that this was a luxurious, king-size bed with cozy-comfy pillows. with a nice papoose blanket that he was wrapped up in and sleeping on. I suspect it was more like a cold, wet, hard, stone floor. In the midst of his deep sleep, God sends an angel to deliver him. God’s timing is never late. God is always on time.
In a humorous scene, the bright light is radiating from the angel, yet it does not wake Peter. The angel has to go and smack Peter in order to wake him up and tell him to get dressed because it’s time to go. The chains are removed, Peter gets dressed and the angel says “follow me”. Now, this is certainly not the first time Peter has heard those words before. The last time he heard that, it changed his life forever. In a half-asleep stupor and according to verse 9, not realizing what exactly was happening, he followed the angel out. They walk past the guards, the gate swings open by itself and out into the street they go, without being noticed or detected.
When they get to the street, the angel leaves. His work was done. Peter has been freed and now he’s in the street by himself. Keep in mind that the church is still praying. Don’t lose sight of that. Verse 12 tells us that.
Peter, finally coming to his senses, recognizing where he is and that it was God that had delivered him, goes to the one place he knows of where his church people will be. He goes to the home of John Mark’s mom, Mary. When he gets to the house, he does what any of us would do. He knocks on the door.
Acts 12:13-17 (NASB) – And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. And 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. And they said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. And they kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.
This brings me to my last point:
3. The power of unified prayer
According to verse 12, the house church that was meeting at Mary’s house had been praying all night long and possibly for several nights. As they’re praying, there’s a knock at the gate. As the knocking continues, the servant-girl Rhoda, goes to the door to see who it is, especially at this hour. Is it Herod’s guards? Is it the guy who always shows up to church late? As Rhoda whispers through the peep hole, “who is it?”, she hears a familiar voice answer speak back and she immediately knows who it is. Beyond ecstatic, she runs back into the house and tells everybody “Peter’s at the gate! Peter’s at the gate!” Expecting them to be as joyful and excited as she is, they in turn tell her that she has lost her mind. I almost wonder if they go back to praying for Peter’s release from prison. As Rhoda continues to interrupt the prayer meeting to insist that Peter is at the gate, Peter is continuing to knock. They finally go to the door and see for themselves. When they saw that it really was him, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Peter, not known for his calmness, quietness and clear thinking, is the calm one in the crowd and tells them to settle down so that they would not draw attention. He then explains what God has done.
While they were praying, the answer to their prayer was literally right in front of them and they almost missed it. Part of our prayer should be that God would open our eyes to see and recognize what He is doing.
When this passage is read and often taught, the focus is usually on Peter and for good reason. After all, it’s a pretty amazing scene. But please don’t overlook verse 17. Peter describes how the Lord delivered him. There’s a very close relationship between verses 5, 12 and 17. While Peter was freed, in miraculous fashion, this is ultimately about God and His glory, not about Peter. If in the answer to our prayers, we do not point people to Christ, we have missed the lesson in the praying. To know God more, is to make Him more known.
Now this seems like a pretty cool story and would make for an entertaining movie. And you might be sitting there this morning and asking the question “so what?” What does this have to do with me? I’ve prayed for things and it seems like nothing has happened. Or I’ve prayed for things and I didn’t get the answer I thought I should have gotten. Or maybe you’ve prayed and you feel like God is just not there. Our prayers are not all about getting the answers we want. If we are praying, just to “get” something, then that’s not much different than the prosperity Gospel methodology of I do this and God will give me that. Instead, when we pray, while we do ask for things, our prayers should be about seeking the face of God and pressing fully into who He is, drawing closer to Him, all for the purpose of proclaiming His Name and reflecting His glory.
So who is Christ and why does that matter to us?
Each of us are born into this world as a sinner. What that means is that we have missed the mark of perfection that God has set for us. We have rebelled against a Holy God. Christ left His throne in heaven and came down to earth. He was born a baby and grew up, just like you and I. However, unlike you and I, He did not sin. He lived the perfect life. He walked and talked with people, went through trials and temptations, all the while He obeyed the commands of God the Father and lived a sinless life. He was crucified on the cross as a payment for your sin and my sin. Each of us deserves to die and go to hell, eternally separated from God because of our sin. But through Christ’s death on the cross, a way of redemption was made. Christ defeated the grave by rising, 3 days later and demonstrated His power over the death and the grave. By us admitting that we are sinner, separated from Christ by our sins, asking God to forgive us for our sins, and placing our faith and trust in who Christ is and what He did for us, and making Him Lord and Savior of our life by entering into a personal relationship with Him, our sins can be forgiven and we can enter into a personal relationship with Him. Through that relationship with Him, He gives hope, He gives peace, He gives comfort, He gives wisdom, He gives direction, He provides for our needs, He is with us always, we are with Him always and the list goes on. If you have not made that decision today, don’t put it off any longer.
If you are a believer and have placed your faith in Christ as Lord and Savior and you know that your relationship with Christ is not where it should be, have you repented? Have you sought forgiveness from Christ and repentance today? Ask Christ to forgive you of those things that are causing a wedge between your relationship with Him. Turn away from those things and turn back to Christ.
In November 1844, evangelist George Meuller, known as a devout man of prayer, began to pray for the conversion of five individuals. He prayed every day, whether sick or in health, no matter what other things competed for his time. Eighteen months elapsed before the first of the five became a Christian. Meuller thanked God and prayed on for the others. Five years elapsed, and then the second became a Christian. Meuller thanked God for the second, and prayed on for the other three. Day by day, he continued to pray. Six more years passed before the third became a Christian. He thanked God for the three, and went on praying for the other two.
Thirty-six years later he wrote that the other two, who were sons of one of his friends, were still unbelievers. He wrote, “But I hope in God, I pray on, and look for the answer.” In 1897, fifty-two years after he began to pray daily, without interruption, for these two men, they became Christians—but it was after he died! He continued praying, until his last days. (https://www.georgemuller.org/devotional/george-muller-persistent-prayer-for-5-individuals)
As a church, how well conditioned are we to pray? Our prayers may not be answered when we expect or the way we expect. But God is still Sovereign and He answers in accordance with His will. We have to look no further than the past 3 1/2 years when as a church, we prayed and prayed and prayed for God to lead us and guide us as we searched for a new pastor. While we were praying for a pastor, God also introduced us to Pastor Emmanuel in Tanzania who was praying and praying and praying for Bibles. God united both of us and as we prayed for a pastor and prayed for Pastor Emmanuel, Pastor Emmanuel began to pray for us and prayed for Bibles. God answered both of those prayers through ways that we could not have imagined and in the timing we did not anticipate. We can confidently say that God has been glorified and we have been blessed through God leading Pastor Trent, Jennifer, Larson and TJ to us and the ministry He is leading us into as we fervently sought His face in prayer, AND God is spreading His kingdom in Tanzania through the thousands that have come into a personal relationship with Him through Pastor Emmanuel and the Bibles we’ve sent.
So, which do we desire more? To see God answer the prayer or to see God glorified through the answering of the prayer? That sounds like a distinction without a difference, but it’s not. You see if we desire more to see God answer the prayer, the focus is on us. If we desire to see God glorified through the answering of the prayer, then the focus is on God. To know God more, is to make Him more known.
May we be conditioned to pray, so that our desire is to see Him glorified and to make much of His Name.