- Sermon Notes
As we come to chapters 11 and 12 in the book of Acts, the church has seen many successes. Their greatest enemy and persecutor, Saul, was himself converted to faith in Christ Jesus to the amazement of everyone. Great numbers of people were responding to the gospel. The Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles just as He was poured out on the Jews on the day of Pentecost. The church was blessed with many great successes.
But the church was about to encounter many troubles. How should they respond? What do you do when troubles come your way? Many people can certainly relate when it comes to troubles. Difficulties and troubles come to every life; sometimes devastating things happen.
What do you do when finances blowup and you can’t pay the bills, or your health tragically takes a turn for the worse, or a relationship is in shambles and you don’t know what to do, or you’re going through a dark, lonely time and you can’t fill the emptiness? God gives us an answer in His word.
We need to turn to God in prayer and trust God in faith. That’s the answer we see in chapter 12 as the church responds to the troubles that come. Here we have insight into effective prayer and if you’re going through difficulties and troubles, these are insights you need take hold of as well.
In other words, the answer is spiritual. Staying up all night worrying certainly isn’t helpful. Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Picking up our story in the book of Acts, Peter was invited to the house of a Gentile, a Roman centurion named Cornelius; a man with a good heart that was sincerely seeking after the truth. When Peter arrived at his house, he shared the good news of Jesus Christ to all his family and friends he had invited. As he was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did on the Jews at Pentecost and they began speaking in tongues and glorifying God.
Now the other apostles and Jewish believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had received the word of God, so when Peter came up to Jerusalem, the church leaders took issue with him.
Peter recounted the story of what happened at the house of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, and then said, “Who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” That’s a great question, I don’t want to stand in God’s way; I want to be in complete agreement with what God is doing.
This is an important part of understanding prayer. When you pray with the right heart, with adoration and thanksgiving, you get your life in alignment with God’s will. The goal of prayer is not to get God to get His will in alignment with yours, it’s to get your will and your life in agreement with Him.
After this, a large number were turning to the Lord at Antioch so the church leaders at Jerusalem sent Barnabas off to Antioch. When he had come and saw the grace of God, he began encouraging them all with resolute hard to remain true to the Lord. Barnabas then went to Tarsus and brought Saul, also known as Paul, back to Antioch to teach them the word of God for an entire year.
That’s a good word for all of us. Remain steadfast and true with a resolute heart in your faith. Keep hearing the word and growing in your faith. Many people become despondent because they have lost hope, but steadfast faith is the key when you encounter troubles.
At this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine in all the world. This took place in the reign of Claudius. In other words, they are being warned to be ready because the whole world is about to suffer.
This would be similar to the stock market crashing today and a worldwide financial meltdown affecting everyone. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine the difficulties and troubles.
That famine was terrible and they all worked together to endure it. And in a great act of love and unity, the Gentile believers sent financial help to the Jewish believers in Judea.
That brings us to chapter 12, there are yet more troubles in these verses. If it wasn’t bad enough that there was a terrible famine, Herod Agrippa decided to lay hands on the church to mistreat them and James, one of the three closest disciples to Jesus, was put to death with a sword.
When Herod saw that this pleased the Jews, who were of course against the believers, he arrested Peter also and planned to put him to death as well.
How does the church respond? How should we respond to difficulties and troubles? The answer is spiritual. We need to understand what it means to pray and to pray effectively.
I. Pray Fervently
- There is a lot of insight in just these few verses. The most important and most obvious is that the church responds to these troubles by praying.
- Sometimes it takes a crisis to understand how much we need God. In the aftermath of 9/11, people gathered for prayer all over this country.
- Sometimes it takes a personal crisis for us to understand our need for God. Unfortunately, when the crisis is over, there is often no longer an urgency to pray.
- In our country, things are going downhill fast and the solution is not political; the problem is rooted in the moral and spiritual decline of our country and no politician could solve that.
- The answer is spiritual, but it begins with personal revival. There have been several spiritual awakenings in our country, including the Jesus Movement of the 60s, but in every revival it’s one person at a time getting their heart right with God.
- Herod favored the Jews and since they were against these believers, he decided to mistreat them.
- We should clarify, by the way, that this is Herod Agrippa. His grandfather, Herod the Great was in power when Jesus was born. His uncle, Herod Antipas, was in power when Jesus was arrested; Jesus called him “that fox” and would not speak to him.
- Caesar Claudius attempted to set up a statue of himself in the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem, but Herod Agrippa persuaded him to rescind his order.
- To please the Jews, he had James, the brother of John, put to death and then had Peter arrested.
- Peter is held in prison for several days, perhaps a week, and the church is praying constantly for him. But it also says that they were praying fervently. The same word was used of Jesus when He prayed to His Father the night He was arrested.
- Fervent prayer is prayer with passion and persistence. In other words, the heart is engaged.
James 5:16-17, The effective prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.
- That word ‘effective’ is the same word which describes the power of God working within us.
- Having said that, God certainly doesn’t expect every prayer to shake the pillars of heaven.
Illus - If you’re praying over dinner, a simple, sincere prayer is certainly sufficient. Although when our granddaughter was first learning to pray, we heard some pretty awesome prayers before dinner.
- Fervent prayer happens when we care passionately about the things God cares about.
Isaiah 29:13, The Lord said, “This people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.”
Illus - Imagine writing a love letter without engaging the heart or bringing flowers to your wife with a flippant attitude. Isn’t the whole point to engage your heart?
- They persisted in prayer while Peter was held in prison.
- Why didn’t God answer immediately? I don’t know. Perhaps it was to teach them to pray with persistence.
Luke 18:1, Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not lose heart…
- When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray He responded, “This, then, is how you should pray; ‘Our Father…’”
- “Our Father” was new to Jewish understanding, but it gives a picture of the heart of a child looking to his father knowing the father’s heart would be toward him.
Illus - Our babies used to cry and cry persistently because they wanted to be with us in our bed. I think it was James Dobson who said you should let babies cry for at least 20 minutes and then they’ll settle down. The problem is that most babies have never read James Dobson’s books. As soon as they said, “Dada” that was all it took.
II. Pray with Confidence in God
- In the next verses there is an interesting contrast between Peter who was kept in prison and the church that was praying for him.
- Peter is a different man than the Peter who denied the Lord three times in the middle of the night. There is now strength of faith and confidence in God even in the face of death.
A. Confident faith brings peace
- Something that jumps out at us from these verses is that Peter was sleeping. It’s the night before his scheduled execution and he’s just sleeping.
Psalm 4:8, In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
- In fact, the angel has to strike Peter’s side to rouse him. I think what’s happening in Peter is this; he ate and drank with Jesus after He rose from the dead and had every confidence that he would soon join Him.
- His friend, James, had just died and that would have made heaven the nearer. In other words, in his faith there was peace. We also need confident faith.
John 14:1, 3, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.… If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
- Peter is ready if that is God’s will, but he also knew the church would be praying. It’s a powerful thing when you know people are praying for you.
Illus - When our daughter, Nicole, was nine and had an emergency medical condition, what an amazing blessing knowing that people were praying.
Philippians 4:6-7, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- We learn from something in this story that’s not exactly commendable, but it’s true.… They prayed with doubt, but God still heard their prayer.
- When Peter was freed from prison by the angel, he went to the house where they were praying and knocked on the door, but they couldn’t believe it when Rhoda told them that Peter was there.
- It’s actually quite humorous when you imagine the scene; starting with the fact that Rhoda left Peter standing there and didn’t open the door.
- There are many who suggests that if you have smaller faith God will never answer your prayer, but he does in this story. Another time a man said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief.” That’s an honest prayer and Jesus answers.
- But God wants us to have stronger faith believing that our God is able. Maybe you’re in the prison part of this story. Pray; and pray knowing God is able.
2 Timothy 1:12, I know in whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have entrusted to Him until that day.
Acts 12:1-25 NASB