Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 Celebration of Freedom
Acts 12:1-16

 

Introduction

Our study of Acts has been very exciting for me, and I hope that’s been true for you and that you have learned some new thing.I hope that you are also getting a better understanding of what it was like to be part of the Early Church.  In Chapter 9 we read about Paul’s conversion, which was a turning point in the Church, for Paul had been chosen by God to take the Gospel to the Gentiles.  But first he had to be released from the imprisonment that was the emptiness of his former relationship with God.  His former relationship didn’t solve his sin problem, because what he experienced before his conversion was a diplomatic relationship with God.  What Paul enjoyed after his conversion was a warm, loving relationship with his Father.

In chapter 10, the message of Jesus had also spread to the Gentile community.  We read about Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who brought his family into the Christian fold.  The Gospel was now spreading very rapidly.

In chapter 11, we read that the message of Jesus had spread to Antioch.  It was there that the believers were first called Christians.  They were true believers.

Now we come to chapter 12.  Here we will discover that the non-Christian world was deeply disturbed and determined to do everything possible to halt the spread of the gospel.  When things are going well in the Church-look out!  Satan will find a way to create problems. 

Let’s begin our study by reading today’s scripture, Acts 12:1-16.

1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church.
2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3 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.
4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.
5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.
6 And when Herod 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.
7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands.
8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.”
9 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.
10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”
12 So, 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.
13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer.
14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate.
15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”
16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

We are told here that Peter has been thrown into jail.  The Herod that is mentioned is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great.  He began to attack Christians, and especially their leaders.  The attack against Christians was for both religious and political motives.  Herod had been careful to observe Jewish customs, and in that way he sought to popularize himself with the Jews.  In order to gain and keep their support he beheaded the apostle James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John.  Then Herod imprisoned Peter, but postponed the execution until after the Passover Feast.  Herod made sure that Peter could not escape.  In verse 4 we read that Peter was “delivered to four squads of soldiers,” and in verse 6 we were told that “Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and there were guards before the door of the prison.”  But Herod made a mistake, because he underestimated the power of a praying church.  We read in verse 5 that “prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.”  It looks like Peter’s situation is hopeless and that the same fate awaits him as happened to James.  However, the church was praying for Peter and God responded to their prayers, and as a result Peter will be dramatically released. 

Never forget this: God is in charge and He always has the final say.  Satan cannot do what God cannot undo.  According to verse 6, Satan appeared to be totally in charge of the situation.  Peter was just where he wanted him, chained to two soldiers.  Herod had already decided to kill him, so Satan had won.  But that’s not what happened, because Satan didn’t win; instead he lost; and this is not the first time he lost the battle. 

Remember the three Hebrew young men in Daniel 3.  They were subjects of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.  The king had constructed a large statue, approximately ninety feet tall and set it up on a flat plain south of Babylon.  The king called for all the officials from through out the empire to be present for the dedication.  It was to be a grand occasion, and he made a decree that when the music was played, everyone must bow down and worship the image.  And he added that if anyone failed to worship the image that they would be thrown into a burning fiery furnace.  Everyone obeyed, because their lives were at stake; except for three Hebrews.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the image; and they were reported by those who envied their high position.  It took courage and a spiritual backbone for them not to bow with the rest.  They disobeyed the decree, because God had instructed them in His word not to worship false Gods.  They were brought before Nebuchadnezzar, who personally asked whether they had disobeyed his command.  Yes,” they said, “It is true.”  Nebuchadnezzar then offered the young men a second chance to obey and he reminded them of the fiery furnace.  But when he did this, he taunted God by exclaiming, “Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”  He thought that he, not God, was in control.  The young men answered Nebuchadnezzar by exclaiming, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us.” The king ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual.  Unfortunately, the overheated furnace had an effect on the king’s most mighty men that were in his army, for they were killed by the heat as they threw the Hebrews into the fire.  Nebuchadnezzar could watch what was going on from where he was seated, and he couldn’t believe his eyes and asked others to confirm what he saw.  He said, “I see four men walking in the midst of the fire.”  Clearly, there was a miracle in progress.  Even Nebuchadnezzar could recognize that.  Was it Christ who was with His servants during that trial?  I believe that it was.  Nebuchadnezzar then called to them and asked them to come out, but this time he referred to them as “servants of the most high God.”  What a miracle; not even a hair had been singed and the smell of smoke was missing from their clothing.  Satan had failed to put a stop to the witness of the three Hebrew boys.  Jesus won the victory.

Do you remember Daniel’s experience in the lions’ den?  Once again, Satan was out to destroy a man of God and it looks as if he will succeed.  This is what happened.  At this time, Darius was the king of Babylon.  He had appointed one hundred twenty princes over his kingdom and three overseers over them.  Daniel was made chief overseer and was capable enough to be promoted over the whole realm.  Daniel had a great testimony; in fact his enemies couldn’t find anything wrong with his conduct.  Since Daniel was obeying all the laws of the kingdom, the wicked and envious Persian princes sought to establish a new law regarding worship, one that Daniel would surely break because of his solid faith in Jehovah.  The new law made the king the one through whom all requests to any god must be made.  The law was to be in effect for thirty days, but that would be plenty of time to catch Daniel engaging God in prayer.  The king was tricked into the decree and he later regretted it.  Daniel knew that he had to obey God no matter what man might command or how much he might lose by his actions.  Just as the three Hebrew children would not disobey God in order to please a king, so Daniel purposely disobeyed a human law in order to maintain obedience to God.  Even so, Daniel was accused by his enemies before Darius regarding the law.  There was no controversy about his guilt.  He had clearly disobeyed the king’s command, and even the king could not free Daniel now.  The law couldn’t be changed and there was no pardon according to Persian law.  Even though he could do nothing to help Daniel, Darius believed Daniel’s God would save him.  Perhaps he had heard rumors of a previous deliverance from a fiery furnace.  After Daniel had been placed in the lion’s den, Darius went home, but he didn’t sleep well.  Early the next morning, he ran to the lions’ den and called hopefully to Daniel.  Daniel responded politely and announced the reason for his safety.  He said, “My God has sent His angel, and has shut the lions’ mouth.”  Satan lost another battle, for Daniel was restored to his former position, and he continued to be God’s man. 

Now let’s return to Peter and see what happened to him.  Sleeping between two soldiers, and bound with two sturdy chains, with the keepers of the prison standing guard just outside the door, “the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shinned in the prison.”  The light apparently radiated from the angel and Peter was roughly awakened when the angel struck him on the side and his chains fell from his hands.  The angel commanded him to “Gird thyself…Cast thy garments about thee, and follow me.”  Peter was still in a daze and did not fully understand what was happening to him.  He couldn’t tell whether it was a vision or an angel was really leading him from the prison.  Peter was obviously under the power of the Spirit of God, and with the angel leading they passed safely through the prison.  However, there would be no hope of them passing through the Iron Gate.  But this miraculous escape would not be prevented by a locked gate; it opened to them of its own accord.  With the gate opening unaided by anyone, the angel and Peter passed out into the street, and at that point the angel left him.  Once Peter found himself alone, he had an opportunity for the first time to appraise his situation.  He could now fully appreciate that the Lord had sent His angel to deliver him out of the hand of Herod.  Peter sized up the situation correctly: this was indeed a miracle of God in response to the prayers of His righteous saints.  Now that he had come to his senses, his first reaction was to let the other disciples know of his release.  Therefore, he made his way to a well known meeting place for believers; the home of Mary, the mother of John.  When Peter knocked on the gate, his knock was answered by a young girl.  But even though she recognized his voice, she didn’t admit him.  Instead, she ran and told the others that Peter was standing outside the gate.  Their first reaction was disbelief, and they told the girl, “Thou art mad.” “But Peter continued knocking.”  The girl was persistent and the knocking continued, so those inside decided that they had to see for themselves who was outside.  When they opened the gate and saw Peter standing there they were astonished.  They were filled with joy and celebrated Peter’s release. 

It’s experiences like these that release the Church from fear of the enemy.   God’s plan for Peter did not include prison and death, so He freed him so that he could preach the Gospel and write his letters.  Satan was defeated once again.

Its been two thousand years, but we can experience the same freedom in our hearts and lives today.  Satan says, “I have you under my control.”  God responds, “Oh know you don’t.” 

We have received great news!  The prison door of slavery to sin is open, and we don’t have to stay there!  Those of us who respond to God’s guidance have great freedom.  We may feel as Peter did in verse 9, “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.”  But we can also ultimately feel as Peter did in verse 11, “And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”

 

Conclusion

What the committed, obedient people of God enjoy seems like a dream.  But it isn’t.  This life is real.  We may not understand it, but we enjoy what God has done for us.  Paul expressed that thought when he wrote, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”(1 Cor 13:12 KJV) He is saying that we don’t understand a lot of what God is doing in the world and in our lives.  We live by faith, not by sight.  But someday, when we are made perfect, we will know and understand much, much more.  One thing that should be apparent from today’s lesson is that we have freedom in Christ.  Jesus has defeated Satan and Satan will never undo anything that God does.  If Satan has you imprisoned in a sinful life, God offers you freedom.  The choice is up to you.  “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13 KJV) 

Let’s pray and thank God that we are free from Satan’s control; that the chains of sin were removed by Jesus. 

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