Monday, November 18, 2013

Acts 12- The Power of Prayer

This morning my quiet time was in Acts 12.  I am going to post the whole thing, because I see it as a beautiful snapshot of life (Don't bail on me yet. Read it with me, hear me out, and let me know what you think.):

Herod’s Violence to the Church

Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the 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, 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.

Peter Freed from Prison

Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 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. 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. 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.” 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. 17 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 to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.
18 Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 19 But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death.
And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.

Herod’s Violent Death

20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.
21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Barnabas and Saul Appointed

25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.

Did you notice this chapter begins with Herod's violence to the church, but the story ends with God's judgement on Herod?  It seems poetic, almost, in a weird sort of way.  The man who tried to position himself in the seat of God over others, to execute them and bring violence to them, comes to his own violent end when he steals God's glory.  The other thing I noticed is that God did not supernaturally intervene in the deat of the apostle James, but he does supernaturally intervene to rescue Peter.  I don't understand that, but isn't that kind of how it is in life?  Aren't there times as Christians we fellow believers suffer--maybe the loss of a child, maybe persecution, maybe sickness,  maybe financial struggles--and God atleast initially appears to be silent and unmoved?  I say "appears", because, truly, that's all it is.  I don't believe God is ever truly silent or unmoved by any true injustice; the only reason we can arrogantly assume so, is because we live within the confines of time and space, and we can't see the end from the beginning.  I do not believe any injustice will ultimately go unpunished.  I don't believe God even allows tragedy to touch the life of a believer, without knowing it will ultimately work for our good and His glory.  But isn't that how we think sometimes?  In the span of a couple of verses, God allows the martyrdom of James, then he goes on to supernaturally rescue Peter.  And sandwiched between these two events is one key scripture, verse 5:  
Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

Now, I honestly don't know how much the church prayed for James before he died.  Maybe there was little time.  Maybe it took them by surprise; often tragedies do.  They never take God by surprise though.  I am seeing that God is good, and I truly believe that if it would have been necessary for the church and better for James, God would have still stepped in to save him.  But God does let us know here that prayer is a powerful thing, because it seems to be a key thing in this situation.  So God's sovereignty, while it's clearly seen in scripture, does not negate God's call to His people to actions of service, including and ESPECIALLY prayer.  God wants to talk to us.  He wants us to talk to him, and tell him our needs and questions. Mostly, I think, for us.  So that WHEN he answers prayer, we can recognize HE is the one who did the answering.  Then, HE gets the glory, NOT us.

And it's reassuring to me to see the church's response.  Did it require great faith for God to answer their prayers?  Apparently not, based on the response of the people when Peter showed up at their door.  The poor guy had the door slammed in his face, while some of them thought he had to be a ghost!  It's pretty comical, actually. But God sobers us pretty quickly, when we realize that the cost of his answering the prayer for Peter's rescue was the lives of the soldiers guarding him.  I know to us, they are nameless, faceless people.  But those were real people, who had families, mothers, perhaps children and wives.  They may have never knew that those lives were the cost of spreading the gospel.  But they were.  Because, ultimately,  that's where this chapter leads us, doesn't it?  It sums it up in  verse 24:

 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

That verse says alot.  All of these events had a purpose, and we can know God's purposes and plans will come to pass.  Good WILL triumph over evil.  We don't have to bite our nails as we watch people hurt each other,or even just endure tragedy,  wondering if there will never be a reckoning for pain.  We can know with assurance that there will be a day when accounts are settled, and all is set right.  God gives us just a tiny snapshot of this in this passage. 

I will say I am NO theologian or teacher.  I have never been to seminary.  I am just a layperson, a saint trying to follow God.  But I know this: God uses His word to speak to His people, and He will never contradict His word.  And what I see here are both the principle of God's sovereignty in our lives, along with the call and the assurance that our ACTIONS have ETERNAL significance.   When we read the story in Acts 12, we see God's judgement of Herod as well as His deliverance of Peter.  There are no petititions or prayers for judgement noted in the text; just God sovereignly acting.  So we can also trust that we don't have to be anxious in our prayers, thinking that if we forget to pray about something, that God will forget to take care of it.  Nope.  We should pray fervently and always for all things, but not anxiously or because we are trying to take control of the fate of the universe, as if we ourselves were God. When we pray, let us pray trusting God, and anticipating the great and mighty things He will STILL do for His people, to bring HIM glory.

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