Damariscotta Baptist Church
Thursday, May 24, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

06/26/16 Sermon - Believe It or Not

“Believe It or Not”

Acts 12

 

READ BY TWO VOLUNTEER READERS:

 

“Have you heard the news? Herod beheaded James!”

 

“No way! Not James! He was one of the inner circle with Jesus! Peter, James, and John. I thought for sure that God would protect James!”

“But that’s not all. The latest polls show that Herod’s approval rating went up after he killed James. So now he also has Peter in custody. Word has it that tomorrow, after the feast is over, he is going to execute him! There’s a prayer meeting tonight at Mary’s house.”

“I’ll see you there.”

 

The beginning of Acts 12 starts off with James dead, Peter in prison and the tyrant Herod taking in the popularity and power. It certainly would have seemed that evil was winning. Herod was getting away with murdering innocent people, and gaining popularity in the process. The righteous suffered terribly.

Sounds much like the news we read today. Back then and today, it’s easy at such times to wonder, “Where is God in all of this? Why does He allow such things to happen? Can any good come out of this?

We left off last week in chapter 11, with God adding to the church in Antioch and Barnabas and Saul leading the growth. A man from Jerusalem had come to Antioch and prophesied that there was to be a great famine. So the church in Antioch decided to give relief money to the church in Jerusalem and had sent Barnabas and Saul to deliver it. But when they arrive in Jerusalem, there was a new development for the Christian believers. Another Herod was trying to show how powerful he was and had beheaded James. This was particularly disturbing.

The idea of Christians being martyred had been around since the killing of Stephen. But the death of James meant that even the original 12 disciples were not Divinely protected. James, of all people, was thought to have been one of the “special” intimate friends of Jesus. He was often mentioned with his brother John and Peter.

Certainly those in the inner circle of Jesus were protected?

However, if we go back to what Jesus warned the disciples in Matthew 10 and Mark 10, we will find that the very martyrdom of the disciples was the fulfillment of what Jesus had promised. And what better person to do the killing than Herod, Agrippa I.

This Herod was born in 10 B.C. and was the grandson of Herod the Great, who was the guy who slaughtered the infants in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. Grandpa Herod also assassinated his son, Agrippa I’s father, when Agrippa I was only 3. Agrippa grew up in Rome with his mother, and was in close terms with the imperial family. He was a playboy and ended up having to flee Rome to escape from his creditors.

After spending time in prison, and having the emperor Caligula release him and assign him the kingdom of the northernmost provinces of Palestine, he was later given the same territory his grandfather had until his death in 44 A.D. Later on in Acts we will read how Paul stands trial before his son, Agrippa II.

Believe it or not, the sovereignty of God is not lost when evil people do evil things. Certainly God could prevent such evil to exist, and although it is difficult to remember when one is in the midst of the turmoil, that God has and sees the bigger picture. God did not promise a trouble free world, in fact, he promised the opposite,

John 16:33  New International Version (NIV)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When trouble and pain exist we need to remember, God does not love us less when He allows tragedy into our lives.

 

God loved James and John as much as He loved Peter, even though James was killed and John mourned the loss of his brother, and as we will read, this time Peter was delivered. We are not told why Peter’s live is saved while James’ life is taken. We do know that He loved them both.

Which is the important thing to remember,

We must always interpret our circumstances by God’s love, not God’s love by our circumstances.

When we look at this story from an eternal perspective we understand that James was immediately taken to eternal life with the Father, no more pain, no more sorrow or trials. John, his brother, however, remained another 50 years on earth, missing his brother and going through difficulties. But as soon as John entered eternity, he too realized that none of that compared to what he experienced in the eternal joy of being with Christ.

Today’s Scripture shares another “Believe It or Not” story. Peter had been placed in jail, to soon be killed, like James. However, because the Jewish people were the ones Herod wanted to impress and receive their accolades Herod had to wait to kill Peter because it was during the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Herod knew enough about the Jewish rituals that if he were to kill Peter right away, during the Passover, the Jewish people would turn on him and that would not fit into his plan. So, Herod decided to put Peter in prison until the festival was over and then kill him. Herod had heard of Peter’s earlier escape from prison, so he decided to take no chances. He assigned four squads of four soldiers, each to guard him around the clock. Two soldiers were also chained to his wrists. Two more guards stood at the door of Peter’s cell. Then there were two more guards plus an iron gate that led into the city. Definitely overkill, but Herod was taking no chances. However….. Herod underestimated God. God didn’t need to send a legion of angels, He sent just one. We read that when the angel arrived, even though there was a bright light in the cell, he still had to poke Peter in the side to wake him. The angel instructed Peter to “Get up quickly.” The chains fell off his wrists, and the angel proceeded to lead Peter out of the jail and through the iron gate, out onto the streets. Then Peter finds himself alone, on the streets of Jerusalem, and the angel figure gone. Definitely a “God thing”.           Humanly impossible.

Have you noticed that when we are most helpless and totally dependent of God, God receives the glory. What part of this escape can Peter claim was his part? Peter didn’t engineer a plan, he wasn’t even thinking about escaping, he was fast asleep! All Peter could say was, “The Lord led me out of prison.” (Verse 17)

Before God saves us, like Peter, we too are sleeping in darkness, not focused on our sin, and not able to see the light of glory.

Our sins have us chained, so we cannot escape, even if we wanted to.

We are under God’s sentence to death.

Then, grace appears, God’s light breaks through the darkness, wakes us up, causes our chains to fall off, and we willingly follow Him out of the prison of death.

Our salvation comes totally from the Lord and He deserves the glory. It is by His great mercy that we are set free. 

Let’s take a look at what the other Christians are doing while this was going on. The church had gathered together at Mary’s house and were praying for Peter’s release.

They certainly weren’t doing so with much faith, because when Peter shows up, they don’t believe it.

Why are we often surprised when God answers our prayer?

This is another incidence where the Bible demonstrates just how human these people were. Rhoda must have been a bit over excited, as she recognized Peter was on the other side of the door. The very guy they had been praying for to be freed from prison, and instead of opening the door, in her excitement, she left him outside and ran to tell everyone. They tell her she must be crazy, that she was dreaming it or it was his angel.”

It is interesting to note that Jews believed in the idea of “guardian angels” and it seems they believed that one’s guardian angel would have looked like the human to whom they were assigned.

They finally let Peter in and he told what God had done. He asked them to share the news with James and the others and then he took off, most likely to keep away from Herod.

 

Turns out Herod discovered Peter had escaped. He looked for him and couldn’t find him. The guards who were supposed to keep him in the prison were executed instead, and Herod took off to Caesarea for a beach vacation.

In the meantime, Herod developed an angry feud with the people of Tyre and Sidon, to the north and decided to cut off their food supply. They took up their blight with Blastus, the chief of staff for Herod. Herod picks a day to address the situation. Josephus, the Jewish historian, recorded the ordeal in his Antiquities of the Jews [19:8:2]. He wrote that Herod was wearing a garment made entirely of silver. When the sun’s rays hit it, it was so resplendent that the people were awestruck. Either being carried away or perhaps to flatter him, they cried out that he was a god. When he did not rebuke them, God had had enough. Herod immediately got a severe and violent pain in his belly. After five days of awful suffering, he died at age 54. Herod knew enough about God to recognize that He had been involved in freeing Peter. He would have also known the story of King Nebuchadnezzar whom God humbled for his pride from Daniel 4. But instead, Herod let the praises of the people go to his head. He did not give God the glory.

Thus, God used a lowly tapeworm to bring down this powerful and proud man.

Through this all, Luke reminds us by closing the chapter with the statement in verse 24,

“But the word of God increased and multiplied.”

 

The gospel continued.

Almighty God prevails.

Believe It or Not.

It doesn’t take one a lot of time watching the news on tv or reading the paper, to quickly relate to the Herods of this world. They have been around in every century, arrogant and boastful, seeking power. They were here before Jesus arrived, and after Jesus returned to heaven. They will be here until Jesus returns again.

And there is nothing like the eleventh hour crises to get us praying as we should be praying all of the time. When in reality, we are always on the brink of disaster and death because as Peter wrote in  

1 Peter 5:8 New International Version (NIV)

 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

There is an answer to the problems and disasters of this world, it is prayer, at all times. Unfortunately, God often delays the answers to our prayers or crises in order for us to recognize how much we really do need Him.

What if we recognized that first, then prayed?

If you haven’t already noticed, regardless of the circumstance, the gospel continues to be increased and multiplied. That is God’s plan and nothing, nothing absolutely nothing, nothing is too difficult for God.

May we learn from history, if we oppose the gospel, we may temporarily win, but we will ultimately lose and lose big.

If we stand for the gospel, we may temporarily lose, but in the end we will ultimately win, and win big.

Either way is difficult. Believe It or Not.

Let’s pray.