Skip Heitzig - Acts 12
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Father, we just now calm our hearts. We just push everything aside, making ourselves aware that, not only do we have open Bibles, but that all things are naked and open before the One with whom we have to do. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us that, every thought and every action is under Your clear purview. And so as we sit and we open our Bibles, we also open our hearts. Because it would seem that there is always a need, some kind of a need that we have, whether we are aware of it on the surface or not, it's there. A need to be readjusted, realigned with your will, reminded of something, encouraged with some thing or some one's example. But, Father, we are leaving that all to you. And we know that, in as much as you dispense truth through the Word of God to encourage, to build up, to challenge, at the same time, it depends on us. And it depends a bit on our hearts, for we remember the Lord Jesus said, "whoever has ears to hear, let him hear." So would you just make us sensitive to be able to hear, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Well, we've had some great times so far in the Book of Acts. We've seen some incredible individuals. In chapter 9, we saw a rabbi who fought God, and was converted. His name was Saul of Tarsus. He fought against God's plan for his life, was trying to fight against the spread of the church from Jerusalem northward into Syria, Damascus. So he fought God and he was converted. In chapter 10, we read about a soldier named Cornelius. A centurion who followed God and he was converted. He had a belief in God. He went through some of the Jewish rituals, had a basic system of belief, and Peter came, was dispatched to his house, shared with them the truth. And he received it. So we have a rabbi who fought God, and was converted. A soldier who followed God and was converted.
Now, in chapter 12, we read about a King who fought God and was killed. Interesting, Saul fought God and he was saved. Herod fights God and he is slain. And why is that? Well, easy answer, he really ticks God off. And you'll see why by the end of this chapter. There is not a modicum of repentance in his hardened heart. He exalts himself like Satan did, like the Antichrist will, and he will end his days on the earth by the end of this chapter.
Now there is a theme that we have noted throughout the Bible, and in particular in the Book of Acts. And that is the theme that we serve a sovereign God. He is large and in charge. He rules the world, and he over-rules in the kingdom of men. And there was a King who even came to that understanding himself while he was ruling on the earth, named Nebuchadnezzar, who paraded himself around the city of Babylon. And looked around and he said, is this not the great Babylon that I have built? And God didn't take kindly to that earthly King usurping authority over God's power and sovereignty. And so he let Nebuchadnezzar go insane for a period of time. And when he finally came to, Nebuchadnezzar said, I now know that God rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whoever he chooses. So a King, then, an earthly ruler, is also a steward in governmental work over a people, over a city, over a nation, and one of them is on display in chapter 12 named Herod.
Now Jesus did say that He would build His church, right? He said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against." So we are watching Jesus build his church, just like he said he would. He builds it in Jerusalem. It grows strong, even under persecution. People try to put it out, doesn't work. It grows. It grows northward toward Damascus, as we have already seen. Saul try to put out that fire. Didn't work. Philip has taken the gospel into Sumeria and shared with an Ethiopian eunuch, who takes it down into Africa. We also saw that the gospel is spread also into Syria toward Turkey in Antioch. Saul, we'll go back to Tarsus, or has been in Tarsus before Barnabas gets him, so it's spreading around.
"I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." At the same time, one of the things we wonder about or struggle with is, in the sovereign plan and purposes of God, what role does prayer play? Does it matter if I pray or not? I mean, if God is sovereign and does whatever He wants, then, who cares if He hears from me or not, or if I ask him for something? If we live in an evil world, and even bad things happen to good people, even God's people, what role does prayer play? Now, you're going to see some of all of these things, kind of, converging as we get into chapter 12.
In verse one of chapter 12 it says, "now about that time, Herod the King stretched out his hand to harass some of the church." If you know your New Testament at all, you have come into grips with the name Herod on many occasions. And sometimes you read about Herod and you'll scratch your head, because you read about Herod somewhere else, and it's like, well, he died, but then there he is again. And then he's dead, but there he is again. And he shows up in different places. So we get confused.
Now let me just say, when you see the word, Herod, it's a bit like seeing the word Caesar. Because there's more than one Herod, unfortunately. Because Herod, the Herods, the Herodian Dynasty was like a whole bunch of really bad dudes. In fact, if I were to categorize the Herod family, it's a messed up family, it's the family who fought against God. And you will see one here fighting against God. So when we read about Herod, we're not reading about the Herod that we saw at the beginning of Jesus' life when he was a baby in Bethlehem. There was a Herod then.
So let me just give you a little thumbnail about how confusing the Herodian family is. Maybe I'll clarify it, maybe I'll make it worse. But my point is, my hope is to clarify it. So let's begin with Herod the Great. That's the one we read about at the beginning of the New Testament. Herod the Great was an Idumean. That is, if you were to look at a map of Israel and go east and south on the area east of the Dead Sea and south, that's the ancient area Nabataean area of the Idumeans. So the Idumeans came from a guy named Esau. So remember Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the father, the progenitor, of the Idumean Kingdom. So he is related, Herod, then is related to the Jewish people. But he is not Jewish. But he is in that Semitic family, from way back, from Esau.
So his dad, Herod the Great's dad was called Antipater. And Antipater was Idumean. He had a conversion to Judaism, it is said. Then little Herod was born, Herod the Great. He wasn't so great till he called himself that. But he was the guy who met with the Magi when they were looking for the King of the Jews, asked the Magi to find out who it was, because he wanted to come and worship him. And it was that Herod, Herod the Great, who killed all the babies in Bethlehem.
Now Herod the Great was a great builder. He was not a great person, but he was a great builder. If you go to Israel today, you will see things that were built by Herod the Great. Even the retaining walls of the ancient temple have Herodian stones. There's things that he built like Masada, and many fortresses around. He just was this incredible builder. But he was a horrible character, a horrible person. He married 10 times. So he had 10 wives. He killed several of them. He killed several of his children, his own sons. In fact, back in Rome, there was a saying that it's safer to be Herod's pig than it is his son.
Now one of the wives that Herod the great married that he killed was a gal by the name of Mariamne. She was Jewish. She was Hasmonean. Have you heard that term, Hasmonean? She related to the Maccabees that revolted against the Syrians. And it was that Maccabean revolt that birthed the festival of Hanukkah every year, the rekindling of the temple sacrifices. Well, he married her. Now, unfortunately, he was in a bad mood and he killed her. And he felt really bad about that. But, of course, he couldn't do anything, because she was dead. But he was Herod, so it didn't matter. He was kind of above the law. And one of her sons he also killed, named Aristabulis.
Am I confusing you yet? We're just on the first one, Herod the Great. So, anyway, that's how bad he was. He killed wives, killed sons. And, by the way, when he was close to death, Herod the Great ordered all of the most notable citizens of Jerusalem to be imprisoned, and upon his death, to be executed. Because he knew that when he died, there would be no tears shed for him, but he wanted to make sure that when he died, there would be mourning in Jerusalem. That's how whacked he was.
One of Herod's sons was a guy named Herod Phillip the First. Herod Philip the First was the husband of a gal named Herodius. So it's bad that there's Herods, but there are also Herodius. Herodius was the gal responsible for the death of John the Baptist, but not while she was married to Herod Philip. After Herod Phillip was another son named Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas ruled up north in the Galilee region. Jesus will stand briefly in one of his trials before Herod Antipas. It was that Herod, Antipas, that lured Herodius away from Philip to marry him. That's why John the Baptist denounced that Herod, Herod Antipas, and her, Herodius. And it was while she was married to Antipas that she made sure that John the Baptist was killed.
Now after that, there was a guy named Herod Archelaus, who was the ruler of a few territories like Judah, Samaria, Iturea, sort of in the central-northern parts. He was a bad egg, evil king, he got deposed. And in his place, yet another Herod, named Herod Philip II. Now, he shows up in the Gospel of Luke chapter three. And it was this Herod that built a city way up north called Caesarea Phillippi. If you've ever been to Israel, and you gone to Caesarea Phillippi, it was built by Herod Philip II. He built out one.
OK, now I mentioned that Herod the Great, let's go all the way back to the really bad egg. Herod the Great killed wives and killed sons. One of his sons was a son named Aristobulus, the son of Mariamne, his favored wife. So Herod the Great kills her and kills him, Aristobulus. But, Aristobulus, before his dad kills him, has his own son, whom he names Agrippa. So now we have Herod Agrippa. And it's Herod Agrippa the First, that is the Herod of chapter 12 of the Book of Acts. Makes sense? It's like, hardly, right? So little Herod Agrippa is the son of Herod Aristobulus, who died because his dad killed him, and killed mom, Mariamne.
By the way, I said that Herod felt really bad about killing his wife, He was in a bad mood that day, and killed her. And, sort of, to make retribution, he built a tower. And you can still see remnants of the tower that Herod the Great built, the Tower of Mariamne, by the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem. The foundation stones are still there. Guides will point it out to you.
So that's part of the fascinating history. So Herod Agrippa the First is this guy now. We're not done. Because, to kind of complete the whole Herodian set dynasty, there's going to be Herod Agrippa the Second that shows up later on in Paul the Apostle's life, when he stands trial in Caesarea before Herod, Herod the King. And it says Herod Agrippa. But that's not Herod Agrippa the First, that's Herod Agrippa the Second, who is the new Herod in town by the time Paul the Apostle gets imprisoned and will stand trial. But so sorry.
Verse 1. See, this why it takes me so long to get through a chapter. "Now, about that time, Herod," Agrippa the First, "stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James, the brother of John." That's one of the chief apostles, remember there's Peter, James, and John. So this is the first martyr among the apostles, and that is James.
"He killed James, the brother of John with a sword. 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, so when he had arrested him, and put him in prison, delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover."
Herod Agrippa the First had been educated in Rome, was familiar with many of the leaders in Rome, the Roman Senate, some of them. He was friends of the Emperor Caligula, a really bad Caesar. And, at the same time, though he was friends with him and has now taken over all of the territories that his grandpa, Herod the Great, and his uncle, uncle Antipas, had. He sort of taken over all those. And that's under the rule of the Caesar in Rome, the emperor in Rome.
At the same time, he garnished favor with the Jewish people. How and why? Because, he himself, had an affinity toward Judaism. And it is said was circumcised and observed many of the rituals and Jewish observances that made the Jews like him. And he wanted to curry favor with them. And one of the ways he did it was to persecute the early church.
Because the Jews in Jerusalem saw the early Christians as a threat. So in hassling the Christians, the Jews in Jerusalem loved it. So he killed one, and they loved it. So he thought I'll kill another one. I mean, if they like it that much, and I want to garner favor with them, then I'll kill another one. That's what this is all about.
"So he saw that it pleased the Jews. He proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the days of unleavened bread. So he arrested him, put him in prison, delivered him to four squads of soldiers." 16 soldiers. You might think, well, that's a bit much. It's Peter it's unarmed Peter. Four squads, it wasn't 16 men at a time, it was four men at a time, two of them that were chained to the prisoner, two of them standing guard. And then every six hours they would have a new shift. Those are the 16 ones dispatched to him. Still it could be looked at as a bit much.
But, remember, Herod probably knows Peter had been in prison in Jerusalem once and escaped. Right? They were put in prison, then all of a sudden they're out there in the temple preaching. And it's, like, you know, I'm going to make sure. I'm going to make sure this doesn't happen again. So 16 soldiers are given to him intending to bring him before the people, that is for an execution, after the Passover.
Now that's interesting. Why after the Passover? Well, because Herod knows Jewish law. And Jewish law mandates that you cannot kill, you cannot have capital punishment. First of all, the capital punishment was taken away from the Jews during this time. They had to go through Roman channels to execute somebody. But it was against Jewish law to do that during a high festival, during Passover.
Now you're thinking, wait a minute. Jesus was killed during Passover. Exactly. And the trial of Jesus has been shown and proven on a number of occasions by books and research as being illegal on many fronts. However, it was necessary that Jesus die on Passover to fulfill the Passover. The Passover Lamb. "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Even though it was never done, and even though it was highly illegal, it fulfilled the type. It fulfilled typical prophecy. Through Jesus was killed the Passover going against all of the laws intact. Herod wanted to make sure that doesn't happen. So James is dead and Peter's in prison.
Now let me throw something out at you. Peter is going to escape out of prison. If you've read the Bible, you know that's going to happen. James was as dedicated as Peter. I think he loved Jesus as much as Peter loved Jesus. I think he was as godly as Peter was godly. On some fronts maybe more. Why is it that one gets killed, and the other doesn't? Both dedicated men of God.
Now, I bring that up because sometimes we're mystified. And I am too. When I see good and godly men or women of God suffer and die. And I see so much potential in them. And I think of great years of service, and ministry, and influence, they could have. And then it seems like they die an untimely, foreshortened, death, foreshortened life and an untimely death. And I go, oh, man. I know you're sovereign, Lord, but. And, honestly, just, I have to deal with it. It's not easy to deal with. At the same time, God said, my ways are not your ways. They're above your finding out. So I have to rest right there. I have to stop right there. You're sovereign, you're God, I'm not.
So you have one who gets killed. And one who does not. Do you remember though, when James and John came to Jesus. They had a request. And actually, they didn't have enough guts to ask it themselves, they had their mom ask. Right she said, you know, my two boys would really love it if, in the kingdom, one could sit at your right hand, the other could sit at your left hand. That'd be really cool. So Jesus said to them, the boys, James and John, "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink? And to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"
Now they didn't know what they were saying. They didn't exactly know what Jesus meant. He meant his suffering and death. And they said, "we are able." And you remember what he said to them? "Indeed you will drink the cup that I drink. And you will be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with." Now we're seeing that come to pass. I believe this. I believe as a child of God, you are invincible until God's done with you. And then when God is done with you, who wants to hang around anyway? It's over it's over. When God says, I'm done, OK. Then I'm done. Now the trouble is, I don't always know when that time is. I'd like to think I do. I wonder at God's timing sometimes.
But the Bible says in Revelation 11, there were two witnesses, or there will be two witnesses on the Earth during the tribulation period. It says this, "When they had finished their testimony, the beast rises out of the abbusso," the bottomless pit, comes against them, overcomes them, and kills them. Really? When? When they had finished their testimony, that's when. So evidently, James has finished his testimony and Peter has not. That's how God saw it. James is done. Now you go, oh, how so? That's so sad for James. Are you nuts? Are you kidding? He beat Peter to heaven. That's bragging rights right there.
You remember when Jesus rose from the dead that Peter and John, James' brother, ran to the tomb, and one outran the other, one got there first. And in heaven, it is James, the brother of John, that got there first. Peter's there now. So look at this, verse five, "Peter was, therefore, kept in prison. But constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church." How about taking that verse and applying that to your situation? Here it says, Peter was kept in prison, but constant prayer was made by the church.
Joe lost his job, but constant prayer was made by the church. Glenda has cancer. But constant prayer was made by the church. Whatever your problem is, have the other part of it too, but, constant prayer was made. Because that will change the outcome. Doesn't mean that it'll change God's mind, but God somehow loves to partner with his people to get his will done on earth. And does operate mysteriously, I don't quite get it all, according to our prayer. So Peter's in prison, but prayer is made by the church. And it will change the outcome. OK, so and when Herod, verse 6, "was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping." Bound with two chains between two soldiers, and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.
How do you sleep chained to a guard? How do you sleep chained to two guards? Goodness, how do you sleep chained to two guards when you're going to die the next day? It's interesting, you know, Peter never seems to have a problem with insomnia. That was never his issue. That boy seems to be able to sleep just about anywhere. Mount of Transfiguration, says Peter's sleeping. You know, there's a transfiguration taking place with Jesus, and Moses, and Elijah, and Peter, it says, and it does say, Peter fell asleep. And then the others did too. But he was like the guy sawing logs first. So it's, like, really? You're sleeping now, Peter? Now, he does wake up, but he's late to the party. Right? So that's the transfiguration.
Then, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is there praying, and he says, watch with me one hour. And there's Peter. He's sleeping. And so this boy does not have an insomnia issue. But this is not just Peter snoozing. This is a rest of peace. This is a sleep of confidence, and faith, and peace when it says there were the guards that were watching him in prison.
Now when I asked the question, how do you sleep the night before you're going to be executed? Here's the answer to that question. Peter went to sleep because he knew he wasn't going to be executed. You say, well, how do you know that? Herod said he's going to kill him. He killed James. He's going to kill Peter the next day.
Ah, because he remembered Jesus gave him a promise. Let me let me read it to you. I'm reading now the last chapter of the Gospel of John. Just not the whole chapter, but one little section. After the Resurrection, at the Sea of Galilee, John 21, Jesus says to Peter, "most assuredly I say to you, Peter, when you were younger you girded yourself, and you walked where you wished. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish. This he spoke signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said to him, follow me."
Now Jesus used some interesting language that Peter never forgot. It said, when you are old you are going to die this way. Well that was just a few months before Peter is now in prison. That Jesus spoke those words to him. Just been a few months. So Peter goes, good night. If I snore, just nudge me, soldier, but I'm going to sleep. Because I know I'm not going to be killed in the morning. Because Jesus said, I'm not going to die till I'm old. That was just a few months back.
So Peter goes to sleep, and he can rest because he believes in a promise Jesus gave him. How about you? How about us? Can we rest in the promises that Jesus spoke to us? Are we going to live lives that lack confidence and certainty because we won't believe the promises of the Word? When you believe them, you can go, good night. It's going to be good. God's in charge. He's on the throne. I don't know how, but I'll get out. And I'll have a long life. And I won't die till I'm an old codger. So I love that, "when you are old they will take you."
One of my favorite scriptures, and it's one that comes to my mind, and that I throw around the walls of my head a lot. In Isaiah 26, says, "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you. Because he trusts in you." And it was J. Oswald Sanders who said, "Peace is not the absence of trouble. It's the presence of God.
And Peter's living in the presence of God. It's happy hour for Peter that night. Jesus is there with him. And he's going to spring him out of jail the next day. He knows it. He's living by faith. Now the doors of that prison are shut. And it would seem impossible for any other outcome other than death to ensue. But though the doors of the prison are shut, and though the doors of justice have been closed by the King, there is one door that remains open. And that's the door of prayer. So again, I take you back to that verse. Peter was kept in prison, but constant prayer was made by the church to God. It's their secret weapon.
Now let me tell you, because some of us, over time, we believers, we know prayer, we hear that prayer is important, but we don't engage much in it with real faith, because we failed to believe it really is our secret weapon. You know, when you pray, you know, when you go through stuff, and you struggle, and you work, and you talk to people, and you get all flustered, and you try to work it out yourself, the devil loves that. When you pray, it's like bringing a gun to a knife fight. Now he is outgunned. Because you are calling on the One who spoke him into existence, made him. And I love that old poem, might have even been a song. Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Saint upon his knees. So prayer is going to change the whole outcome.
It's unfortunate that it takes prisons to bring prayers. Sometimes we don't pray till somebody is in prison. We have to pray for Peter, man. And, suddenly, we're in an extreme situation. We're up against the wall, and there's just nowhere else to go. And all we have left is prayer. And too often we live that way.
There was a sign in a principal's office that said, you know, the whole issue of prayer in school, it said, in case of nuclear attack, earthquake, or fire, the ban on prayer is temporarily lifted. And too often people live and think that way. It's only in an extreme situation like that, that I'm going to really pray. So I'm glad the church is praying, but my question is, were they praying all along? Or is it just, Peter's in prison, we'd better pray. Nonetheless, they were praying to God. Good thing, things will change because of that. It says, verse 7, "Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by Peter."
Now Peter didn't know this yet because he is, sleeping. Yeah, he's like, there's an angel standing by him. And a light shone in the prison. And now Peter's sleeping really well, because the light doesn't wake him up. If a light goes on in the room, my wife will wake up. She's just very sensitive to just a little bit of light. And angelic light shows up in his cell, Peter doesn't wake up. So the angel has to resort to, well, look what it says. "He struck Peter." That's our boy. That's Peter. That's the guy we know. Struck" Peter on the side, and raised him up."
So he's not just sleeping, he's groggy. This angel has to help this boy up. "Saying arise quickly. And his chains fell off of his hand." What a way to wake up. Wake up to a miracle happening, and an angel is an alarm clock. Not a bad night's sleep. "Then the angel said to him, gird yourself and tie on your sandals. So he did." Now it sounds funny, but I actually love that verse. Because the angel is so practical. You know God works that way. God does the impossible. But he expects you to do the possible. He does the extraordinary, but he wants you to employ the ordinary. So, yeah, an angel could have miraculously just clothed him but didn't. It's like, come on, get dressed. Do the ordinary. Let's cooperate on this thing together.
"And so he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision." You know, it's like, man, this is an awesome dream. "But when they were past the first and second guard post, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord."
Don't you love that? The first automatic gate. The angel didn't have to push the button. It just opened up. "Which opened to them of its own accord, and went out and went down one street and immediately the angel departed from him. And when Peter had come to himself." So he's now fully conscious. "He said, now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel." I'm not going to comment on this. I'm not going to, it's pretty obvious. He's like, oh really? Now, now you've figured that out. OK. "Now I know the Lord sent his angel and delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people."
So that prayer meeting worked. As Thomas Watson, the great Puritan once wrote, I think he lived in the 1600s, maybe 1700s in England. He put it this way, "The angel fetched Peter out of prison. But prayer fetched the angel." And there is that cooperation. Now you're seeing people on earth praying to God. It was God's will to deliver Peter, but God got them cooperating with His will. And it was their prayer that fetched the angel.
Now, again, let's just stop and ask this question. OK, so they prayed for Peter and God released him. Does that mean they failed to pray for James? I don't think so. I think they probably prayed as fervently for James as they did for Peter. You'll say, well then, why didn't God answer their prayer? He did. He said no. Last time I checked, that's an answer. Dad, can I have the keys to the car? No. You've got your answer. Now one day you may ask him for it, Dad, can I have the keys to the car? Sure.
So here's the point. God is still sovereign. He rules and overrules. So when you pray, you can't demand, and I have enough faith, and I claim it, and whatever I say out of my mouth is what God has to do. Because God is a slave to my faith formed words. That's nonsense. God has editing rights over your prayer life. So it's like when you turn in your term paper to the teacher, and the teacher takes it looks at it, correct it, aligns it with his or her will, changes it up, hands it back for you to resubmit it. So the answer was no, when it came to James, and it was, yes, when it came to Peter. God's ways are not our ways. He has editing rights.
OK, so, now, now watch this. The angel was able to get Peter out of prison. Peter is unable to get into a prayer meeting. It's easier to get Peter out of jail than it is to get him into a prayer meeting. And you'll see why. "So when he had considered this." It's like, man, I just got sprung out of jail by an angel. I was touched by an angel. "When he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying." Now he's going to the prayer meeting itself.
The house of John Mark, it is believed, became the headquarters of the early church in Jerusalem. And John Mark is probably the author of the gospel of Mark. And it was Peter's account that John Mark writes in the Gospel of Mark. This John Mark, we know his mother's name Mary. She was prominent in the early church. She probably had a large house. In fact, some believe that when you go, today, to Mount Zion, that area that they call the Upper Room, the Cenacle it is called. That the upper room, in the Bible, was Mary's house. The house of John Mark's mother. Can't be certain, but many feel that way. Maybe, maybe not.
So he goes to the prayer meeting. He's out of jail. They're praying. It says, "as Peter knocked on the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda", Her name means rose, "came to answer. So knock, knock, knock. Rose answers. "When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness, she did not open the gate." There's poor Peter knocking, she goes oh! It's Peter. OK, next step, open the door. But she doesn't do that. It says, "she ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate." Hey, Peter's outside. "But they said to her, you are beside yourself." Better translation in the NIV and the New Living Translation, "you are out of your mind."
"Yet she kept insisting it was so. So they said, it's his angel." Now that cracks me up. I'm not going to go into their belief system of angels, but just to say, why would an angel need to knock? If it were an angel, angels just show up. Angel didn't have to knock on the prison door. It's just, hello. It's just they're there.
But they came up with this excuse, oh you're nuts. It can't be Peter. And when she kept insisting, no that's Peter. He's out there. They said, it is his angel. Now let me say something about their prayer meeting. I'm glad they're praying. And I admire a group, a kinship group, a home fellowship group, connect group, church that gathers together for prayer. And they prayed continually.
But, can I just say, it seems like though they were praying continually, they were not praying expectantly. Because, if they were praying expectantly, and she said, it worked. Peter's outside. They would have gone, oh, we were just figuring when. We knew that would happen. Of course God would answer our prayer. But they go, you're out of your mind. It can't be him. What kind of faith is that? Not much. And so they come up with the excuse that it's his angel.
The reason I make a big deal out of this is because there is a teaching, it has been popularized for many years in a group of churches that would be put under the banner of the Faith-Movement Churches. And the theology of the Faith-Movement Churches is that the reason you aren't experiencing victory in your life, or miracles in your life, or the supernatural is because of you and your lack of faith. If you had faith enough, and you spoke the word, and prayed in faith, and claimed it in Jesus' name, it would happen. So if it doesn't happen, it's not God's fault. It's your fault for not having enough faith. OK, so did they have enough faith? No. Did God answer their prayer anyway? Uh-huh.
Now, let me give you a couple examples. Lazarus got sick. And he died. Was it because he lacked faith. You might say, well, maybe. OK. When he got raised from the dead, was it his faith? Was at Martha's faith? Do you remember what Martha said to Jesus, if you're to have been here, my brother wouldn't have died. He said, I'm the Resurrection and life, yeah, I know he'll rise in the last day, whatever. She did not expect a resurrection. She had no faith for the resurrection. Mary didn't. Martha didn't. Lazarus was dead, so he couldn't have any faith. Despite all lack of faith, Jesus rose him from the dead.
So here's the balance. Here's the balance of this whole faith thing. There was a man who came to Jesus who had a son who was demon possessed said, can you do something with my son. Jesus said, you know, if you have faith, all things are possible to him who believes. Now there's a statement of faith. And the man said to him, Lord, I believe. But help my unbelief.
Now that's an honest man. Lord, I believe. There is a part of me that is struggling with this. I have faith and unbelief at the same time. I believe, but help my unbelief. And I would dare say, when we pray to God, sometimes we have faith that God can do anything. But we're just not sure that God's going to do something now. And that's when you say, I believe, but help my unbelief. And Jesus healed him. Even with a shaky faith. I love that about Jesus. He doesn't follow faith teachers. He's God. He just does what he wants.
So Peter, verse 16, let's finish this out. "Now Peter continued knocking." So they're arguing the theology of angels. And Peter's pounding at the door. And that's our Peter. Pound, pound, pound. Just keep knocking, keep knocking, and keep knocking. They are talking about angels. Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock. They're having a theological debate, keep knocking, keep pounding.
"So when they opened the door and they saw him, they were astonished", these great people of great faith. Their prayers were answered and they were astonished. It worked! Who would have figured? "But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, go tell these things to James and the brethren."
The other James. This is now the half brother of Jesus, that James, and to the brethren. And he departed and went to another place. We don't know what place. "Then as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what happened to Peter." Now I like this about Luke. Luke is a doctor. He's a physician. He writes with medical terminology. But he also uses the diminutive form in his description. He says, and there was no small stir. Which is another way of saying there, was a big hullabaloo going on among those soldiers. And they were just shaking in their boots. Because the death penalty was on their plates. Soldiers that did not dispatch their duties were killed, in those days. That's what they were looking at, death penalty. So no small stir is Luke's diminutive way of saying, uh-oh. There's a big thing. There's a lot of shouting going on in that room.
Now he does this again. When we get to Acts chapter 15, and there's a whole debate about who is saved and who's not saved because the Judaizers say, or, excuse me, not the Judaizers that time. But the strong legalistic Jews in Jerusalem said, unless a person is circumcised and keeps a law of Moses, he can't be saved. And so they start arguing. And it says, and there was no small dissension among them. Which means, it was like a knock down, drag out fight. You know, knock out, drag down fight. You know they were just really frothing.
But I love that he uses that. "So there was no small stir among them", Of what happened to Peter. "But when Herod searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death. And they went down from Judea to Caesarea. He went down from Judea to Caesarea and he stayed there." So Peter's now in Caesarea.
Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. This is where the chapter will end. This is the same Herod, Herod Agrippa the First who killed James, was about to kill Peter, didn't do it. So now he's in Caesarea. Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, that's up the coast on Lebanon.
"But they came to him with one accord, having made Blastus, the King's personal aide their friend. And they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king's country." There was a supply of food from the area of Galilee, which Herod Agrippa also oversaw. And that went up to the people of Tyre and Sidon. And so they wanted to get on his good side. There had been a falling out, he was angry with them.
So on a set day, they're just kind of setting you up, because they're going to pour on all the praise because they want to get on his good side. "So on a set day, Herod, arrayed in royal apparel sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. And the people kept shouting, the voice of a god and not a man." They want to get on his good side, can't you tell? This dude is not a man. This is a god. Then, immediately, an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give glory to God.
In the writings of Josephus, the Jewish historian who worked for the Roman government, in his reports, he mentions this. He writes about this. In fact, what he says is that it was on the second day of a feast taking place in the town of Caesarea, a feast in honor of Claudius in Rome. That during that day, Herod Agrippa the First put on robes that were a silver foiled cloth, with actually silver on it. And the silver gleamed in the sun.
So if you looked at it, it was like this blazing, animated character in the silver flowing bespeckled, bejeweled robe. That's how Josephus describes it. So picture the scene. By the way, Josephus gives another little thing, that you have gone to Israel or will go will find interesting. Herod Agrippa the First goes into the theater in Caesarea, which is the place we always take our group on the first day of the tour. We sit them on the seats in that Roman theater. So he enters that theater in Caesarea, dressed like that. The sun is gleaming on him. And people say, it's the voice of a man and not a god.
Now it says, he was struck, "because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms, and he died." Now Josephus does say this, his editorial comments are, because he did not rebuke or reject their impious flattery he was struck by worms and died. So this is corroborated by Josephus' writings. Josephus also said he was in terrible pain, and he died, not on the same day, but five days later. He suffered in agony for five days and then he died. Now you say, well, this is an unusual way to go. Yeah, I wouldn't want to go that way. But it is not uncommon. So some scholars believe that this was the result of a bursting cyst or cysts due to a tapeworm. And one authority, Doctor Jean Sloat Morton wrote this in Moody Monthly Magazine.
And I quote, "Herod's death was almost certainly due to the rupture of a cyst formed by a tapeworm. There are several kinds of tapeworms. But one of the most common ones, found in sheep growing countries, is the dog tape. Echinococcus granulosus is its scientific name. The heaviest infections come from areas where sheep and cattle are raised. Sheep and cattle serve as intermediate hosts for the parasite. The dog eats the infected meat. The man gets the eggs from the dog, usually by fecal contamination of hair.
The disease is characterized by formation of cysts, generally on the right lobe of the liver. These may extend down to the abdominal cavity, the peritoneal cavity. The rupture of such a cyst may release as many as two million scolices. Now a scolex is a little protrusion that can hook or attach itself to the host. So two million scolices. When the cyst ruptures, the entrance of cellular debris, along with the scolices may cause sudden death." So because he did not give glory to God. That's the crime. So you see how that chapter ends very differently than it begins. It begins with Herod Agrippa flexing his powerful muscles. Peter's in prison. John is killed. But it ends with Peter freed from jail and Herod dead.
So the King, right? The King of Judea, and the King of Galilee, is upstaged by the King of Kings. Again, the sovereignty of God ruling and overruling. Chapter ends very differently. So it's like, man, the devil is getting the upper hand on this one. King Herod's killing people. Wait for it. Wait, today he is but wait for it, wait. And God put an end to it. So I'm sure reading that, that's TMI, Too Much Information. You didn't want to know about bursting cysts, scolices, and all that stuff.
As we close, I want you to consider though, we're not done yet because we have a couple of verses to go. But no matter who you are, or no matter who you think you are, God is perfectly capable of taking you on. You might have so much, and you're so smart, and so advanced beyond these measly little Christians who just believe in the Bible. And you might shake your fist at God and be hard-hearted against God.
But if not here, on this earth, eventually your knee also will bow. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. And for those who reject God's solution to their dilemma, as a fallen creature, a sinful creature in need of redemption. For those who refused the offer. It's for the same reasons as what happened with Herod the Great or Herod Agrippa. He died because he didn't give glory to God.
Romans chapter 1 talks about the judgment that is coming because they did not glorify God. God was evident to them in the creation. He put enough clues in the world for anybody with a thinking mind to go, there has to be a designer behind. There has to be a God somewhere. And if you reject the obvious evidence, and you don't give glory to God, not good. I encourage you to make a better decision. Now I know, I want to close this up, because I have a minute left. But I just want you to compare something. I want you to compare two verses. The language is the same but you're going to very different results.
Look at verse 7. "Now behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, Peter, and a light shone in prison and he struck Peter on the side." Verse 23, "immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he didn't give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and he died." Maybe the same angel. Both got struck with two different results. And the word in Greek, "patasso," means to strike gently or forcibly. And the meaning differs according to the context. So do you want God to nudge you gently? Or do you want him to strike you, like the bad kind? The context of your heart will determine the outcome of the patasso, the striking.
It's amazing how the one thing can have two different results. It's amazing how the cloud in the wilderness could be light to the Children of Israel, darkness to the Egyptians. How the Ark of the Covenant could be powerful to the Children of Israel, and devastating to the Philistines. Same thing two different results. Here's an angel strike in one, it's good. Strike on another, not so much. He died. Let's finish this up. "But the Word of God grew and multiplied, and Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry. And they also took with him John whose surname was Mark." The gates of hell will not prevail against what Jesus said he would build.
Father, we take comfort in that tonight. We take comfort in the fact that You rule in the kingdom of men, as Nebuchadnezzar was forced to say. Because he himself was struck. And You give it to whomever You wish. You raise up kings and you depose them. You allowed Herod to have his heyday, and You eliminated him. You took James to heaven, You released Peter, until he could be old enough to fulfill the promise Jesus made to him of his own death. Lord, it just gives us the kind of cushion that we need to live our lives. The cushion that you are in charge. That you rule. And that you overrule. Lord, we love the idea that you could gently strike our lives, gently nudge us and push us, and the outcome would be wonderful. And we are sober-minded when we read that there could be a different kind of striking. And there will be for those who reject, eventually, your Son. So, Father, I'm just asking as we close, if anybody is here in our midst tonight who doesn't know Jesus personally that there would just be a simple childlike, yes, in response to that call.
As our heads are bowed, our eyes are closed, I'm asking if you've never given your life to Christ, or if you need to come back to Him. If you're wandering on your own, and you find no solace, you find no rest, you find no peace. You want to know that you are forgiven, that you're receive by Him, and that you want to be a child of God. If that's your desire, if you've never done that. Or if you've walked away and you need to come home, our heads are bowed. My eyes will be open as you respond. If you want to receive Christ, would you just raise your hand up right now? Quickly raise it up. And you're saying yes to Him. I'd like to know who you are and pray for you as we close this service. Anybody at all. Just raise your hand up and say, Skip, pray for me. I need to come to Christ. God bless you, sir. And in the back, God bless you. And you in the balcony. And right over to my left, right over here. And right over here to my right, and again to my right. God bless you guys.
Father, thank you. And I pray You'd enable all of those who have raised their hands, and have said, yes, and indicating it by raising their hand. Would follow through with that commitment, Lord. Because you are so committed to them. You are so willing to take them as they are, just as they are. And make them different people. Bring life change. We pray You'd do that in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let's all stand, we're going to do this quickly. But if you raised your hand, even if you're in the balcony, we're going to give you this opportunity. We'd like to do this, because Jesus oftentimes called people publicly. He'd just walk up to people and say, follow me, in a crowd of people, and expect that person to respond right there, and follow him. He called many people that way.
So as we sing this final song, if you raised your hand, if you're in the back, in the front, in the middle, on the side, balcony, come down and find the nearest aisle and stand right up here, where I'm going to lead you, in a moment as soon as you're here, won't take long. I'm going to lead you in a prayer to receive Christ. Let's do this. Let's do it now. Let's do it together. You come as we sing this song. It won't take long. But come now. Come definitely. If you raised your hand, just come stand right here. I'm going to lead you in a prayer.
Awesome. God bless you. Come stand right here. Yeah, we're encouraging you for this. God bless you guys. Awesome. It's a good thing. Good clean break. Don't even think about putting it off. Don't even think about hesitating, and waiting for another time. If your hand went up, they're attached to your feet, bring your feet and your hands right up here.
Real quickly, those of you who are here, who have come, I'm going to lead you in a prayer. And I'm going to ask you to say this prayer. Say it out loud. Say it after me. Say these words from your heart to God as you give him your life, OK. Let's pray. Say:
Lord, I give you my life. Take all of me. I believe that Jesus died. That He shed His blood for my sin. And that He rose again from the dead. I know that I'm a sinner. And I ask your forgiveness. I'm sorry. I turn from my sin. I turn to Jesus as my Savior. I want to follow him as my Lord. It's in his name I pray. Amen.