ACTS CHAPTER TWELVE
The Power of Prayer in Troublous Times
Suggested Teaching Objectives:
1. To show the sinfulness of pleasing the enemies of God's people.
2. To teach the importance of prayer.
3. To teach the characteristics of effectual prayer.
4. To illustrate through Peter the value of a complete trust in God.
5. To teach that when we pray we should expect God to answer and not be surprised at His answer.
6. To show the importance of serving God even in a humble position.
7. To show that no power can stand before God and that sin will surely be punished.
INTRODUCTION: While the Gospel was being given to the Gentiles, famine and persecution came upon the people in the church at Jerusalem. The Antioch church sent an offering to the Jerusalem church and it was delivered by Barnabas and Saul. This was about 44 A.D. At this time, a great persecution broke out upon the believers at Jerusalem. This is the story of the early years of Christianity. The Christians would preach the Gospel and God would bless and then Satan's forces would step in and cause persecution and suffering. But, when they would turn to God for help, He would deliver them. The same thing is true today. CF. II Timothy 3:12. The faithful servant of Christ will find the world against him. We find an example in our lesson of the power of prayer for Christians in troublous times.
I. THE SUFFERERS -- VS. 1-4
Vs. 1 -- Herod was the nephew of Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist and the grandson of Herod the Great who murdered all the male children following the Birth of Christ. That he was blood-thirsty and corrupt is unquestioned.
Vs. 2 -- This James is the brother of John. So goes the first of a great trio, Peter, James and John.
Vs. 3-4 -- Herod liked to please the Jews. Many today would rather please the enemies of God than to defend and help God's people. Peter was put in prison and Herod intended after the Passover season (not Easter) to put him to death. God could have delivered James too, as He would later do Peter, but the sovereign wisdom of God chose otherwise. Romans 8:28.
II. THE SUPPLICANTS -- VS. 5
Here is the power of an empire against the power of prayer. Four things characterize this prayer. These things teach us a greatly needed and important lesson.
We notice that God did not answer these prayers immediately. The days slipped by and the Passover season neared its end. After that time Herod intended to bring Peter forth and kill him. The faith of these Christians was being tested but they stood the test and kept on praying. cf. Luke 18:1-8a.
III. THE SLEEPER -- VS. 6
Peter was sleeping, unafraid, undisturbed. My, what trust in the Sovereign wisdom of God he exemplifies to us. He had left everything in the hands of God and he had peace. Isaiah 26:3.
IV. THE SUPERNATURAL -- VS. 7-10
Notice how well kept Peter was. Bound with two chains, between two soldiers. He was well inside the prison for in vs. 10 there was the first and second ward and then the iron gate and there were keepers before the door. When God performs a miracle, the Holy Spirit is careful to use language that will make it unquestionably a miracle. God is still able to work miraculous things on our behalf. Ephesians 3:20. He will B when we need them done. I Peter 5:7; Psalm 121.
V. THE SURPRISE -- VS. 11-19
Vs. 11 -- Peter gave God the Glory for his deliverance. Many are delivered from trouble and never thank God or praise Him or testify to what He did.
Vs. 12 -- The church or a part of them were praying in John Mark's mother's home and Peter knew he could find some Christians there. Does your home have such a reputation.
Vs. 13-16 -- Here were Christians praying and certainly having some faith but who were greatly astonished when their prayers were answered and in the way they were answered. We should never underestimate God.
This girl, Rhoda, seemingly only did a small thing for God's service but God recorded it. There's a lesson here for us. Our place of service may be a small one, but we must be faithful and God will reward us, for all our deeds are being recorded. Job 16:19
Vs. 17 -- James refers to the Lord's half-brother who was now the leader of the church at Jerusalem.
Vs. 18-19 -- The church was surprised in the way God answered their prayer. The soldiers, Herod, and all the rest were surprised, also. "What was to become of Peter?" The head of one apostle had been cut off. Now other heads began to fly. Romans 8:31. The power of prayer had baffled the power of the World's greatest Empire. Mark 11:24; Matthew 7:7,8.
Then Herod left Jerusalem and went to Caesarea and abode, but God wasn't through with this one who had raised his hand against His people. Galatians 6:7,8.
VI. THE SMITING -- VS. 20-23
Vs. 20 -- Tyre and Sidon were important port cities on the Mediterranean coast to the north. We are not told why Herod was displeased with these cities (the rulers and leaders) but they wanted to gain the king's favor so they came desiring peace and to regain his favor.
Vs. 21-23 -- Herod set himself up as a god, acted as a god, spoke as a god, and the people gave him the honor due only to God. Since he did not rebuke the people for this false acclaim, God smote him and he died. Sometimes, the wicked prosper for a time but there will come a day when they shall get their just reward. Deuteronomy 32:35.
The angel of the Lord that meant deliverance in his smiting to the apostle meant death to the enemy. The angel that delivered one, doomed the other. So it is with the Gospel and peoples' acceptance of it. It means deliverance to some and doom to others.
Vs. 24 -- In spite of Satan's opposition, the Word of God grew and thus it will ever be. The Gospel will be declared and true churches will remain until Jesus comes. Matthew 16:18.
Vs. 25 -- Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem during this persecution and Peter's imprisonment. Now after delivering the offerings to the apostles, they returned to Antioch. But they took John Mark with them. He will have some ups and downs as all true witnesses of God, but before it's over he will write a Gospel.
CONCLUSION: In this chapter we have seen God work on behalf of His people when they were persecuted and as a result of prayer, He brought miraculous deliverance to them. Not only was deliverance brought about but also an unmistakable denunciation of the persecution was manifested and the enemies of God's people were greatly defeated. As a result, the Gospel was spread and souls were saved. This will ever be the result if we will look to God and ask for His aid when troublous times come upon us.