Sermon for Sunday Evening, January 22nd, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Act 12:6-17 ESV] 6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” 12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 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!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
You recall from last Sunday evening in the Book of Acts we saw that Herod was going after the Christians. He killed the Apostle James and this pleased the Jews. So Herod arrested Peter and put him in prison seeking to further gain popularity among the people. But despite these setbacks, the church was not shaken but prayed in earnest for Peter.
What saved Peter from being killed immediately is that it was the Passover, and Herod didn’t want to have him killed on that day.
Now, we find that their prayers are answered. This is a powerful example of answered prayer.
And note that the text begins with Peter sleeping. Despite his imminent death at the hands of Herod, he is not worried. He is not up all night tossing and turning, but quite amazingly trusts in the Lord. This doesn’t mean that he knows he will live. It is that he trust in the Lord whether he lives OR he dies. He says, as it were, “Whatever the Lords will, be it done.”
This is like the peace of Jesus, sleeping in the boat despite the storm around him. We should pray for this sort of peace. What a great blessing sleep is, especially when one is stressed by the events of the day.
But now we find the prayers of the Christians truly answered as Peter is given a “Get out of jail free” card.
This isn’t the first time Peter gets out of jail. In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles were in prison but “during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out.”
So this time Herod is more careful. He places many guards in shifts to watch Peter. They are even sleeping on either side of him. Surely it is impossible for Peter to now escape. Even Houdini would have trouble here. But a miracle takes place and Peter escapes prison again.
It is not by Peter’s own strength or by his cunning that he escapes. It is purely the work of the Lord, carried out by one of his angels.
The angel appears and directs Peter to get up, which he does.
Then the chains fall of his hands. He didn’t break them. They merely fell off. “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth, and followed thee.”
The angel then tells Peter to dress himself and put on his sandals, which again he does.
Peter seems to have been in a daze. Whether from the angel or from being half awake. But he follows the angel as he is commanded and they pass through the guards and the gates leading to freedom.
And he summarizes the events saying “Now I am sue that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
Whereas we saw last week that martyrs are honored in the history of the church, such a death is not to be desired. Rather, Peter gives praise to God for his rescue.
The old radio Bible commentator J. Vernon McGee says something comical here. He says, “Its not a guardian angel. None of us has a guardian angel. As least I don’t think so. If I do, mine is way out of breath, way in back of me somewhere and I do hope he catches up.”
Well Peter “gets out of jail free” and then he heads “straight to home, without passing go.” Well, it wasn’t his home but the home of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark. This “John Mark” who wrote the Gospel of Mark.
You might know that Mark’s Gospel is associated with Peter. Mark and Peter seemed to have been close as evidenced by this passage. And the tradition is that Mark wrote down Peter’s sermons and these became the Gospel of Mark. We could almost call it the Gospel of Peter.
Peter comes to the door of this house, and the servant girl Rhoda tells the Christians there that Peter has arrived but they do not believe her. Finally when they see Peter they are amazed. Amazed at what God has done.
Now we have Peter saying “Tell these things (about his prison escape) to James.” And just before we had the Apostle James die, so this James is now none other than James, the brother of Jesus who wrote the Epistle of James and who was a prominent leader in the Jerusalem church.
The Christians that Peter has come upon are praying. We might say they are “still praying.” Possibly they have not ceased praying since Peter was put in prison. Now their prayer is answered.
And who answered their prayer? Who got Peter out of prison?
You could argue that Peter got himself out of prison. Indeed he walked right out.
You could argue that the angel got Peter out of prison. Indeed the miracles occurred only after the angel showed up.
You could argue that the Christians got Peter out of prison. Indeed, it was through their prayers that Peter was freed.
These are all correct, to an extent.
But let us look at Peter’s answer. Who freed Peter? The Lord did.
Peter said “Now I am sure that THE LORD has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
What then are some takeaway from this text?
1. Persecution is the norm in the Church of Jesus Christ.
Throughout the book of Acts there is persecution. I don’t think it is wrong to say that this is a book about the battle between the Christian Church and the governments. The government killed Christ. While the Jews killed Stephen, the government of Herod then killed James. They imprisoned Peter but he escaped. And by the end of the book of Romans, Paul is imprisoned by the a number of governments but ultimately is brought to the highest government official in the world, Caesar himself.
There is both religious persecution and government persecution in the Bible and in the early church. On the religious side it is the Jews (and to a lesser extent the polytheists of Rome and Greece) that persecute Christians. On the government side it is from the lowest to the highest. Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, Felix, Porcius Festus, and Caesar Nero. Really Paul found persecution in most places he went through the Roman Empire, and the persecution was usually carried out by the local official
2. Prayer is powerful.
We have such a great example of not only prayer being powerful, but of group prayer being powerful. The Lord heard the church. The Lord rescued Peter from prison and his imminent death under the injustice of Herod.
3. The Lord is sovereign.
We should clearly see who is in charge in this passage. It is the Lord. And no one else. And it is not only in this passage but in all passages and in all places. The Lord is fully, completely, totally sovereign. We pray “thy will be done,” and His will is ALWAYS done. There is none that can stand in the way of the Lord. Certainly not Herod.
Herod might be “the sovereign” in his place, but Christ is King of Kings. Sovereign of sovereigns.
And because the Lord is sovereign, the book of Acts is an optimistic book of the growth of the church and the success of God’s kingdom.
If someone had insight to all that the Lord was doing in this day in his Church, I believe it also would be an incredibly positive, optimistic account. We must face that we live in a pessimistic age. There is much nostalgia for times passed. And there is much defeatism about the state of the church. But the Lord is sovereign. His church is growing in many places and especially is there growth in the hearts of believers.