Pastor Edward Brouwer 11-12-17 “Praying God’s Word”
Work and Pray
Last Sunday we wrapped up our Dinner for 8 group—what a great opportunity to get to know folks in our congregation over a meal in each other’s homes. I recommend signing up in the New Year because we are all encouraged when we observe how God is at work in our lives. In Dinner for 8 everyone brings something to the table. Last week Glenda made an amazing banana pudding. We were at the Alt’s and blessed by their three young pre-school aged children. When Clara, their 5 year-old, got wind of the dessert, she came running into the dining room and asked “Where’s the pudding?” to which I calmly replied “Clara, the pudding is in the proof!” Somewhat confused she asked “where’s the proof?” The proof is in the pudding—in other words the truth of something, the litmus test for what is real, is in the tasting of it. The intrinsic value of anything is in the actual experiencing of it.
Today we are looking at an amazing story in Acts 12. Peter experiences a miraculous prison break. If this story is true then I want in! If the gospel is true then I want All in!
Big Idea: God is at work always; we join Him in His work through prayer and action.
Read Acts 12:1-17 God’s in control. He calls us to pray and act.
God is in control—in the opening of this story we see that King Herod is currying political favor with the leadership of the Jews by rounding up Christians and even executing the Apostle James the brother of John. This inspires him to go after Peter and do the same. He throws Peter in jail with the intent to get rid of him after Passover (likely March/April 43 or 44 AD). The power of the Evil One is real. Jesus said in John 12:31 that the prince of this world is Satan. This earth is the Lord’s (yes ultimately) but is also referred to as Satan’s domain and the devil is bound and determined to undermine God’s good work here. And Lucifer has his henchmen—Herod Agrippa 1 in this case. Herod Agrippa is the grandson of King Herod the great, and he acts in the family tradition. Remember Herod who was threatened by King Jesus and ordered the murder of all boys in and around Bethlehem that were 2 and under? It’s hard for the church to thrive in a political climate that is committed to crushing it. Take North Korea for example where it is a crime even to be found in possession of a Bible. Or many places in the Middle East, where converting is a crime punishable by death. The 20th Century is filled with stories of Communist nations seeking to destroy the church. But as the hymn goes “that o the wrong seems oft so strong, GOD is the ruler yet” Remember Pilate, who condemned Jesus to death said to Jesus “don’t you realize the power of life/death I have over you?” to which Jesus says “you only have authority because it has been granted from above”.
If God just snapped His proverbial fingers and everything always went the way of believers then wouldn’t everyone automatically join the faith? God is preparing everything for the consummation of history. Remember (Matthew 13:24) the parable of the wheat and the weeds? An evil man sows weeds into the good field, and they spring up, and if you’d pull up the weeds you’d also pull up the wheat—so God let’s them grow together until the harvest, and then will separate them.
So Peter was in prison, but the church was fervently praying for him. This is the hinge of the entire story. Satan has evil plans for Peter, but God is at work! And while God allows evil, God is always using everything to accomplish his will.
Saint Augustine wrote: “Pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depended on you”. At first blush that might seem like a contradiction (so is it one or the other? How can it be all up to God and all up to me at the same time?), or sounds like having your faith cake and eating it too (you’re just fooling yourself with circular logic), or maybe even a cute self-delusional formula that just means, in the end, it’s all up to you. There is true tension in this saying and both are true because…..
God calls us to the work of prayer and action–The church has gathered for an all night prayer meeting as an act of faith and obedience. And they are praying fervently. They are praying because they know the situation is desperate and only God can fix it. They are praying because as believers they are called to “pray in the Spirit at all times”. We are to pray constantly. God moved in the hearts of the believers to pray—and then he acted on those prayers!
What happens—Peter is asleep between 2 guards—shackled in chains. There are 16 guards altogether—this is a high value prisoner and extra measures are taken to ensure he does not escape. The Roman practice, which ensured that soldiers kept watchful, meant that 4 soldiers were on duty during each of the 4 “watches” at night. They were 3-hour watches starting at sunset going to sunrise. An angel comes and the cell is filled with light! The chains fall from his wrists and doors open automatically and no one sees anything! Even Peter thinks it’s a dream! (but it’s no dream and it will turn out to be a nightmare for the 16 Roman soldiers because they will all be executed for it—this is an important detail that underscores that this really truly did inexplicably happen). Peter runs to Mary’s house and knocks on the outer gate. The servant girl Rhoda, asks who is at the gate and Peter answers. Rhoda is so excited that she forgets to let Peter in and runs back to the prayer meeting and says “Peter is here”. They all think she is crazy, and upon further insistence infer that Peter is dead already and that it is “his angel”. (Many Jewish people at that time, believed that every person had a guardian angel that actually could take on the persona of their “ward”). In all the excitement Peter is left standing outside! Finally they let him in and he stands before them: the concrete evidence of their prayers!
If I was one of those people at the prayer meeting and saw all this unfold I think I would be absolutely convinced. The proof really is in the pudding! I experience the answer to a prayer that is utterly inexplicable except that God’s POWER is at work. That’s the only conclusion I could draw. And I would worship.
But wait (you say) God didn’t do that for James!! James was killed. Don’t you think the church prayed for him too? What’s up with that? And take our own situation for my friend Andrew Brunson in jail in Turkey on false charges—just because he’s a missionary! Still in jail after a year with no end in sight.
Peter was set free because God still had work for him to do. There was gospel work to do and no king or court however demonically inspired, would thwart God’s plan. Paul himself, could write (Romans 1) from prison “for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the POWER of God unto salvation”
There are many types of prisons. Real ones like the one Peter and Paul (and now Andrew B) were in. But there are also other types of prisons, in which people find themselves enchained. Prisoners to addiction, to sin, to unbelief. There are people who appear to be free but are more in chains then those actually in jail. And conversely you can be more free in jail then some who will never see jail.
The gospel saves us from our enemy: from Satan who wants to drag us down with him to hell. Jesus rescued us from that! Here’s the gospel: Jesus chose to be in chains and be killed—he could have had a dramatic prison escape—all he had to do was call down a legion of angels and they would have freed him from the Roman guards in Gethsemane. But Jesus said “shall I pray to be free from this suffering/ No for this is why I came” The gospel is that Jesus died so that WE could be set free!
And the truth of the gospel is NOT simply that we have been saved from our Enemy—but that we have been saved from ourselves. The power of the gospel to SAVE us is that through the work of the Holy Spirit everyday of our lives we have the power to break the power of sin and addiction and hate and pride in our lives. Why did God rescue Peter? Because he still had work to do IN and through him. And the same is true for us. Why doesn’t God just call us home the minute we come to faith in Christ? If the gospel is only being saved from Satan then, well, “beam me up Scotty”. BUT it is not! Because the gospel is the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives to be conformed into the image of his Son—until all this work is done.
Do you believe that God still has work to do in and through you? Pray fervently that God will complete the good work He began in you, and cooperate with the Spirit in accomplishing that. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good work. Take courage that though we do not know how long our lives will be, that God has written every day of our lives in His book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139).