The Rescue of Peter and James (Acts 12:1-25)

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. 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. 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. 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.” 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. 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. 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.” 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. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 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. 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 opened, they saw him and were amazed. 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. Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there. Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. But the word of God increased and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. (Acts 12:1-25 ESV)

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The first five verses of this passage, we begin to see the Jerusalem church under persecution. King Herod has a chip on his shoulder and will do anything to make his name great and gain applause. He realized that the execution of James, the first apostle to be murdered, pleased the Jews, so he requested the execution of Peter as well. By the grace of God, the timing was not right for a death to occur, it happened to be during the days of the unleavened bread. These celebrations occurred 7 days after the Passover. They were considered holy, so an execution would desecrate the holiness of the week. Instead, they cast him into jail with plans of execution after the Passover, and locked him down in “high security.” All the while, the church was earnestly crying out to God on his behalf. They already lost James, should they lose Peter as well? Their prayers were continual and never ceasing. The night that Herod was going bring Peter out to begin the execution process, Peter was sound asleep between two soldiers, bound by chains and extra sentries guarding the prison. Seems pretty hopeless doesn’t it? No way out! Peter knew the timelines and traditions of the festivals, so he knew his death was approaching, yet he was at peace enough to sleep. Ok ladies, let’s keep in mind that Peter is asleep when suddenly he was awakened by the Angel. How many of you know that men don’t just “wake up”? I learned the realities of this with two newborn Deeter babies. I woke up at any sound coming from my newborn child, my precious hubby only would wake when my hand motioned, abruptly to wake. Even then it would take him several minutes to come into his full senses. Now back to our buddy Peter, he is abruptly awakened by an Angel, and judging by commentaries we know that Peter was in a trance, still half asleep! He threw on Clothes as per the angel’s request and the chains fell off and he had no idea what is happening. Could this be a dream? Surely this is not a reality? I can’t escape my death that easily that my chains fall off and doors open freely and no one is around to watch me WALK out. That would be crazy. After, Peter walks through all the guards unharmed the angel leads him to the iron gate that leads into the city. It opens, he exits and finally comes to his full senses and realizes that it was the Lord who sent His angel to rescue him. Immediately, he runs to his friends house. Mary the mother of Mark. Many were gathered together praying. Peter knocks at the door of the gate, probably eager to get off of the streets when their servant girl Rhoda came to answer, (bless her heart) she recognized peter’s voice and took of running in pure excitement. How funny is that ladies? She was so giddy that she left Peter, whom they have been praying for relentlessly, who had a death warrant over his life…. on the streets, exposed! He just broke out of prison but couldn’t manage his way into his friend’s home. Well, the people in the house thought she was crazy, and wouldn’t you? Peter was in high security lock down facing his death at any moment. Surely its not him at the gate. They were bantering back and forth as to if it were actually Peter or maybe his guardian angel that looked like him… ya’ll Peter kept knocking. Like Hello friends, it’s really me! And I am going to die if you keep me out on these streets. Finally, they opened the gate. You can imagine he was probably a little peeved and motioned for their silence while he went into details on how he broke out of prison. He asked that word of this would spread to James and the brothers and he left and went into hiding.

There are a few points I want to expose from this passage. 1. Both James & Peter were Rescued: Often times when this passage is taught, the instructor tends to spend the large majority of time exclaiming of Peter’s rescue. But friends, let us not forget that James was rescued as well. Many times in our life, our prayers do not always happen the way we ask or hope. Although Peter was physically rescued from the pangs of death by Herod, James was rescued from the pangs of eternal death by the hand of the Evil One. Both achieved rescuing from the Lord just in two very different ways. Whatever the outcome of our trials or circumstances that we need rescuing from, lets us remain faithful and obedient to God. May we Praise Him and bring glory to God whatever the end result is. He is sovereign and so is His will, trust Him. Rescuing comes in many forms.

2. The diligent prayer life of a believer: While Peter was in jail, what were the members of the church doing? Praying! Do you think they occasionally tossed up prayers whenever they remembered? By no means. These people, earnestly poured themselves out into prayer for him. It was continuously, they didn’t cease. They powerfully prayed together as a body of believers on behalf of Peter. Can we say the same about ourselves individually and as a church? Why is it hard to sit through prayer meetings and zone out whenever someone prays? Have we lost our passion? One commentary says this about passion and prayer, “When we recover the biblical vision of God and His truth, we will recover biblical passion. If God is who the Bible claims he is and if what the bible says about life is true, then we must face up to the implications of those truths.” Pastor Justin preached a two-part sermon series at the beginning of this month on Happiness. When we daily commune with God our passions will be ignited. Here’s some practical ways he suggested to cultivate our passions in communing with Him

  1. Commune with God through the Spiritual Disciplines: Begin reading your bible daily and spend dedicated amounts of time to pray. Ask God to give you a hunger and to fuel your passions for him.
  2. Commune with God through personal holiness: repent often and die to yourselves daily. Become less in your life as Christ is made greater.
  3. Commune with God through the enjoyments of His creation. Enjoy the life the Lord has given you. Slow down, soak it all in. All of his creation is meant to point to him. Worship Him in your thankfulness and Awe of what He has done for you.
  4. Commune with God through the ministry to others. Live sacrificially for others. Find out your gifting’s and use them. Do not sit on them. Serving others will greatly increase your joy and passions for the Lord. It will also increase your passion while praying.
  5. Commune with God through the local church. Do not be a passive church member. Come, and come often. Get plugged in. Don’t just come to bible studies and skip church. There is so much joy in being plugged into a local church. Let the fellowship with one another, stir your affections and passions for Christ.

Let us begin to be in complete awe of our God, that our passions and affections for Him become unquenchable, that your prayer life and “regular” life become one in the same.

Before we jump into the reflection questions, lets really quick take a look at the Death of Herod. Let’s read verses 20-25. What Was Herod’s main issue in this small passage? He sought the praise wherever he could find it.  Even down to his clothing. Josephus a Jewish Historian of the time, wrote that Herod’s robes were made of silver that sparkled in the sun. Ya’ll, he thought he was fancy! And not Reba Fancy! He wore these stunning robes to catch the crowd’s attention. He sought praise. Ultimately, his pride got in the way as his ego was built up by the crowds. And the Lord humbled him. He struck him down with serious abdominal pains. Josephus writes that it was an infection of intestinal roundworms. The Lord had enough of Herod stealing God’s glory that He caused Herod’s beautiful fancy body to betray him, exposing who he really was, a worm infested evil man who was already dead inside. So friends, do you elevate yourselves above God? Do you dress in a way to capture your audience’s attention? Do you find yourself engulfed with jealousy or rage when affections are not bent towards you? If so, you have a problem and that problem is you! Repent! Because you are not a god, you are a woman worthy of no praise whatsoever. Anything good in our life is from God. Any praises thrown your way is a direct reflection of the grace covering you from God Himself. We are nothing, He is everything! Keep yourself in check and do it often.

Reflection Questions

  1. How do you need to revamp your prayer life? Do you need to be in the word more? Study theology more to grasp more of who God is and what the bible says?
  2. How can you surrender yourselves over to prayer more in our church? Maybe its actively listening to prayer during service, starting a prayer walk each week in our church, praying in the prayer room throughout the entirety of the service begging the spirit to move in the life of our church and in the awakening of individuals cold hard hearts.
  3. In what areas can you most relate to King Herod that you need to repent of?

Spirit Led Change (Acts 11:1-18)

Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”” (Acts 11:1–18, ESV)

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The early church members were furious that Peter, a circumcised jew, visited with uncircumcised men and ate with them. Peter wants so desperately for his people to understand why he did this so he goes through his vison and the vision of Cornelius and what the Spirit did to pave the way for the Gospel to reach the Gentile’s heart. Lets pick up at vs. 15 and read until 18.

You cannot argue with the work of the Holy Spirit, so why do we? Why are we content grumbling over changes in our churches? Let’s embrace the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our church. Beg that the Holy Spirit will fall down on our church. Invite him in.

I’ll warn you, when you do get ready to embrace uncomfortable change. The spirit will not, I repeat, will not let our lives or our church stay comfortable. He will not be confined to time lines, human experience or any other stipulations we place on Him. He will however cause change and we must humble ourselves and embrace the spirit in our church.

After all, church is not about us. So why do we make it about us? Why are our preferences elevated above the movement of the Spirit. Let our focus shift to living in a state of total discomfort. Let us put the needs of others above our own for the sake of the Gospel and allow us to stop suppressing the work of the Holy Spirit so that dead hearts my come alive to Christ.

When we do that, we will see the Lord bring the “unclean” peoples in. The people who look and act differently than us and he will even redeem them, set them apart and adopt them into the same family as ours, God’s family. The Holy Spirit can save even those whom we fear and those who look differently than us. Friends, let this be our prayer and our mindset before we walk into church each week. Step out and invite the spirit in!

The Spirit Falls on the Gentiles (Acts 10:34-38)

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Acts 10:34-48 ESV)

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In Acts 10:34-48 we see the Gospel reaches the “unclean” peoples & The spirit falls down through Peter’s gospel soaked sermon, we are going to see the “unclean” gentiles embrace the gospel and the Spirit fall on them before baptism. The Good News was simply proclaimed that day by Peter to this group of Gentiles. Although this account was more than likely an abridged version of the sermon we know a few things:

  1. Peter humbly confesses again of his failure to grasp that God shows no partiality and that He looks for individuals who fear Him and does what is right and acceptable to Him.
  2. Peter’s sermon gets interrupted by the Holy Spirit (v.44) The Gospel was preached and before the alter call time approached the Spirit fell down on the gentiles. Which happens to be the only time in Acts where the Spirit falls on individuals before baptism.
  3. Their conversion was evident by their praises to God and speaking in tongues
  4. Peter baptized soon after their conversion.

Imagine with me, sitting in church one Sunday Morning. Everything seems as if it will be the same hour and a 15 min service and you are satisfied with that. Routine is important to our Baptist comfort zones. We pull out our bag of peppermints and leave our bulletin cracked open so we know the EXACT order of service. Nothing, is going to surprise us. Our pastor preaches the Gospel when suddenly people start praising God, LOUDLY! the Holy Spirit is evident and their conversions are genuine. How upset would we be that the spirit did not move in our programmatic timeline laid out so intentionally before us? Would it inconvenience us that the service went longer because dead hearts became alive to Christ? Friends, we have to surrender our flesh and allow the spirit to move when he wants. Exactly like Peter did here during his sermon. I am sure it threw him that he hadn’t even offered a time for repentance before the spirit moved and people came to know Christ, but he vulnerably put his timeline aside, he prejudices behind him and embraced the uncomfortable movement of the Holy Spirit. Friends, when was the last time we embraced the Spirit in our church? Do we wait eagerly for it?

Application Questions

  1. How would we as a Church look during the service if we put our agendas and time table aside and waited with eager anticipation for the spirit to fall down on us?
  2. How often do we pray that the Spirit moves in our church?