Sunday, September 21, 2014

Prayerful Deliverance


Recount the account of Acts 12:1-19


Acts 12 NKJV
1 ¶ Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church.
2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread.
4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.

King Herod Agrippa had a plan for Peter however God had a different plan. Late that night an angel appeared and delivered Peter from the prison. Peter imagined it was only a vision until, as verse 11 says, he came to himself and realized he was free. Free and alone that is in the middle of the street in the city of Jerusalem for the angel of the Lord had departed once he had accomplished what only he could do and left Peter to decide his next step and pursue on his own.

Peter thinks it fit to find his way to the home of a church member and friend. It so happened that there was a prayer meeting being held at Mary’s house and he only interrupted the meeting by continually knocking at the gate being once believed a spirit by those praying for his very deliverance. My how we can pray and even move the hand of God and at the same time be unaware and unaffected that our prayers have been answered. Verse 16 says that when they finally opened the door they were astonished that it was really Peter.

He, wishing not to draw too much attention to himself or his whereabouts in the middle of the night, Peter beckoned them to be silent and upon entering into the house explained what had happened to him and how he was delivered. With this his good sense prevailed and as he sent them to tell the recognized pastor of the Church in Jerusalem and those others of importance within his group, Peter left for a better and more secure hiding place.

Thank God for uncommon miracles but thank God also for common sense.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is hide!

When morning came there was no small stir among the guards as to what had happened to the prisoner Peter who had been chained between two of the soldiers. When Herod found out that he had been robbed of his post Passover grandstand execution of the Christian rabble-rouser, he simply put the guards to death in Peter’s place and took a vacation beginning, and ending with, a trip to the picturesque Mediterranean port city of Caesarea. This however would be his last grandstand. I encourage you to read the rest of the 12th chapter of Acts for the rest of the story. Or better yet, go with me on our next trip to Israel and I’ll take you and show you the very seat in which Herod was sitting when he made his pride-filled fatal mistake of not giving proper glory to God and was subsequently eaten up of worms and died.

But for now, back to the main points for this morning: Peter’s deliverance from prison and certain death.

Acts 12
5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands.

  1. God will never leave us or forsake us.
    1. Now behold” – in other words, “Now listen to this!”
    2. Even in our darkest hour, the angel of the Lord is with us.
    3. Hebrews 1:14 Ministering spirits …
  2. No matter the depth of the darkness, our Light is greater.
    1. It may have been a light which only Peter could see
    2. How thoughtful for God to provide light so Peter could see his next step in his miracle.
  3. He wakes us up to raise us up.
    1. no doubt a gentle blow meant to stir, not sting
  4. Some things can’t wait.
    1. Move without delay
  5. What may seem impossible is possible with God.
    1. Whom the Son of God sets free is free indeed
    2. Everything loses its force when God suspends or withdraws His allowance.
    3. God must sometimes separate us from others who would hold us back.

Background Thoughts & Considerations

AD 44 or thereabouts – with the famine and its toll on the people - and the initial persecution of the Church under King Herod Agrippa to please the Jews who had first crucified the Lord of Glory.

King Agrippa had once more united the lands which his grandfather, Herod the Great, had once governed. This certain broad power gives a false confidence to those who are moved to imagine divine mandate and/or manifest destiny had approved and perhaps even confirmed all their thought. Some are destined to fulfill an evil purpose to which they are fit.

Throughout history political revival has spelled trouble for the Jews and for the Church alike in the sense that many who ascend with power or position feel unbridled in their achievement and prideful in their accomplishments as though they can now do life on their own. Notwithstanding, eternal life is still reserved for those who hold a true revelation and an undeniable relationship with the God of all life through the blood of His slain and risen Son, Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Successes in this life speak only of false and fleeting recognition of human achievement applauded by other humans wishing themselves to achieve some social status so as to be thought well of by the vanishing population of planet earth.

The understandable reading of Acts 12:1 reflects a certainty that James was not the first in the church to be arrested, persecuted and vexed as it were by Herod. Some no doubt of lesser importance and lesser impact were at first considered in the persecution before waxing more bold with a stretching out of the governing hand to arrest, persecute and even execute one of the chief leaders of the church – none less than James, one of the three closest friends and companions of Jesus and one of the primary faces in this new way.

Note, Blood to the blood-thirsty does but make them more sober, and the way of persecution, as of other sins, is down-hill; when men are in it, they cannot easily stop themselves; when they are in they find they must on. Male facta male factis tegere ne Perpluant — one evil deed is covered with another, so that there is no passage through them. Those that take one bold step in a sinful way give Satan advantage against them to tempt them to take another, and provoke God to leave them to themselves, to go from bad to worse. It is therefore our wisdom to take heed of the beginnings of sin.
Herod did this because he saw it pleased the Jews. Observe, The Jews made themselves guilty of the blood of James by showing themselves well pleased with it afterwards, though they had not excited Herod to it. There are accessaries ex post facto — after the fact; and those will be reckoned with as persecutors who take pleasure in others’ persecuting, who delight to see good men ill used, and cry, Aha, so would we have it, or at least secretly approve of it. For bloody persecutors, when they perceive themselves applauded for that which every one ought to cry shame upon them for, are encouraged to go on, and have their hands strengthened and their hearts hardened, and the checks of their own consciences smothered; nay, it is as strong a temptation to them to do the like as it was here to Herod, because he saw it pleased the Jews. Though he had no reason to fear displeasing them if he did not, as Pilate condemned Christ, yet he hoped to please them by doing it, and so to make an interest among them, and make amends for displeasing them in something else. Note, Those make themselves an easy prey to Satan who make it their business to please men. {MHC Acts 12:1}
Having perhaps executed James on private order now decided to take full advantage of the political boost and with all the annual festival visitors in town thought to wait until after the most holy days and to then set himself up on high by bringing Peter out in the forefront and to make a more public spectacle of him and put him to death in public fashion so to leave the Jews with great lasting impression as they began their journey back home.
The Question: Why was James beheaded and Peter saved by an angel? Perhaps it is due to the church awakening from its apathetic repose at the beheading of James. It is not mentioned and therefore assumed that the believers in the Jerusalem congregation made no spiritual fuss, did not lift the wing or even make a peep at the arrest of one of their spiritual leaders by King Herod Agrippa.

Once bitten by this local and personally threatening serpent those sitting in imminent danger themselves made more to do over martyrdom’s next candidate, the Apostle Peter, upon his similar arrest.

The killing of James, one of the great Apostles, at this time in his life err he was able to fulfill his Lord’s great commission or had even left Jerusalem to carry forth the Gospel, was to kill many future potential apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, let alone congregations and mission works which had yet been touched, birthed, cultivated and enjoyed of this earth. It seems so worthless that one such as James would be lost at such a prime time in the need and infancy of the church. How could this be of any benefit and yet the Lord allowed it, or did the church allow it?

It seems to be done with the knowledge of the church and some others surrounding the moment. Certainly Paul and Baranabas were in Jerusalem at this time as were the remaining 12 along with many of the deacons and thousands who had been born again at Pentecost. This was perhaps 15 or so years since the great outpouring, along about the time of the famine relief which had been collected by the churches in Macedonia, Asia, Syria and elsewhere, and sent by the hands of Paul and company to alleviate the hardships of those suffering brothers still in the Holy City near AD44. (based upon Herod’s death at that time)

Now a little less than a decade since Phillip the deacon had been stoned for his exuberant display of faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Son of God and Messiah, this three year reign over Judea by the grandson of Herod the Great brought renewed hopes that the Romans, the Greeks and also now the Jews could enjoy and benefit from the power which only a local high and well favored crown can bring.

It is evident by the later verses that detail his demise that this King Herod not only enjoyed but overtly sought the praise of the people. How better to gain the praise and court the attention of one’s subjects than to please them, play to their wants and grant them their lusts. A blood thirsty people with an accommodating powerful leader can seldom go any direction but down … and soon they would all be at their lowest. Perhaps we should all take heed to ourselves when we think we stand and we believe we are at our strongest lest we follow the pattern of Herod and the citizens of Jerusalem and fall to never recover again. This is the plight of those who fight against the will and the ways and the mission and the ministers of the Lord God Almighty.

All is not well with those who seek popularity and fame, agreement and support simply because they find themselves gaining their court and sitting at the top. It is not who gets their first but rather he who is there when it is over that counts. The last one standing in favor is the favored one. The last one standing is the winner – to Him goes the victory to Him belongs the spoil.

Continued …