“Fly High” – Acts part 10
On the lighter side of life: See funny slides
Illustration on the condition of the present day church:
** IS THE CHURCH ON THE ENDANGERED LIST?
Many Americans are on a spiritual quest. This should be good news
for the church. But, according to researchers, many of them are
choosing noninstitutional forms of religion. A recent poll by Gallup
shows that weekly church attendance is holding steady at about 40
percent of the population - the same rate as in the 1950s. But other
researchers - like Dave T. Olson, director of TheAmericanChurch.org
- claim only 17.7 percent of the population attends a church service
any given weekend.
Olson, who bases his numbers on annual church attendance reported by
individual U.S. congregations, says, "People who only go to church
now and again exaggerate how often they go."
Albert Winseman, religion and social trends editor for the Gallup
Organization, says people are shopping for alternatives to church
and that is one reason 3,000 local churches close their doors
"Most denominations are either declining or stagnant," says
The Assemblies of God is one of the few Christian groups to show
steady growth in recent years. The Yearbook of American and Canadian
Churches reports the Assemblies of God and Southern Baptists are the
only Protestant faith groups of the largest 25 to report an increase
in membership for 2004.
An April Gallup poll indicated 65 percent of Pentecostals attend
church weekly, second only to Church of Christ (at 68 percent) among
VANISHING PROTESTANT MAJORITY
Half a century ago, two-thirds of the population considered
themselves Protestants. Officially, for the first time last year,
self-identified Protestants dipped below half of all Americans,
according to Gallup research.
Evangelical and Pentecostal church attendance looks stable, but
membership isn’t keeping pace with population growth. Olson says
although the same number of people are attending church as 15 years
ago, there are an additional 48 million people living in the
But people are not necessarily flocking to other faiths. J. Gordon
Melton, author of the Encyclopedia of American Religions, says
tabulating all the Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and New Agers
accounts for only 7 percent of Americans. Self-professing atheists
comprise another 10 percent of the population.
"In the culture today we don’t have the churchgoing momentum we did
in the 1950s, when ’respectable people’ attended church every week,"
says Earl Creps, director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at
Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri.
"There’s no guarantee anymore that people are going to come to
Although only 17 to 40 percent of Americans attend church regularly,
about 80 percent of the population professes Christianity.
Pollster George Barna, who last year wrote the book "Revolution:
Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary," believes a
transformational shift is occurring in how Christians view church.
He claims more than 20 million committed yet disaffected
"revolutionaries" have struck out on their own to form house
churches, family faith communities and cyberchurches.
WHAT CHURCH OFFERS
Creps, author of "Off-Road Disciples," believes these
"revolutionaries" are forfeiting a great deal by not being involved
in a local church. "A great church offers relational connections,
people modeling how to live faith, accountability, the enormous
power of a group worship experience and the operation of the gifts
of the Spirit," he says.
Theologian J.I. Packer says the reality of corporate church life
pervaded first-century Christianity and should today as well.
"Individuality is not correct, according to biblical standards,"
says Packer, author of "Knowing God." "The church is central in
God’s plan. God uses the church to set up His kingdom - the
corporate relational reality where people respond to Christ as King.
We can’t dismiss the structure God has established."
Many observers believe house churches and cyberchurch movements are
short-lived trends that will never amount to more than 5 percent of
Melton says such methods don’t represent a new phenomenon. "For
decades people have been saying they can be a good Christian and
never go to church," he says.
Gallup sees a strong link between individual spiritual commitment
and church attendance by measuring factors such as prayer, Bible
study and small group involvement.
"People can say they are a spiritually committed person without
attending church, but it happens only 5 percent of the time,"
Creps says merely getting people into the sanctuary isn’t the goal.
"The issue really is the need for every person to come to God
through His Son Jesus Christ. That involves a connection with a
community of Christians - which we call church."
"The church is God’s primary vehicle for the proclamation of the
gospel," Winseman says. "The abundant life is found most abundantly
in the community of the local church."
--John W. Kennedy, Today’s Pentecostal Evangel
This article reveals the current condition of the church and some new trends in Christianity but for the church to be the Acts New Testament church we need to continue to explore and discover from acts what it looks like and what it does.
Thesis: Acts 12 is a scenario filled with murders – arrests – jail breaks – miracles –
humor – and judgment. The chapter reveals that God is in charge not kings or
presidents of nations. The text reveals that God responds to prayer and God judges sin.
Dr. Leith Anderson – Quote, “Our church has made a decision not to reward sin!”
Scripture Text: Acts 12:1-24
1It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
8Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”
12When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
15“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
16But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.
18In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. 20He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.
21On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24But the word of God continued to increase and spread.
We have been exploring the book of Acts – the book could be labeled, “The Holy Spirit’s acts on behalf of the church.” The book would actually make a great movie or play. It has a lot of drama, miracles, interesting characters, humor, tragedy, and supernatural interventions.
We have progressed to Acts 12 or act 12 if we were following the outline of a play. This act could be split into 6 scenes or 6 parts, “The Murder - The Arrest &The Great Escape – The Fugitive goes to a prayer meeting- The Morning After, The Death Sentence and the Growth of the Acts N.T. Church.” This chapter sounds like it could be one the prime time evening movies with all the action and wit that comes with movie making. But it is a real life drama which was played out many years ago in the Middle East. It affected real people- real families and cost many people their very lives. So we need to remember this not a movie but a real historical event in time.
Our main character in the book of Acts has been the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been infilling and empowering ordinary people to do extraordinary even supernatural things for the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit has been working on behalf of the Lord Jesus to assist in the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ. He has equipped and empowered imperfect men and women to be the witnesses for the Kingdom of God. He has used these imperfect – flawed – ordinary people to heal the sick, raise the dead, establish new churches, stand up to persecution, give their lives for the cause of Christ, and perform many miracles which point to Jesus as the Messiah of the world.
The Holy Spirit is proving to be a powerful force in the spread of the Gospel as people open up their hearts and allow Him to fill them to over flowing. He is leading people to the Truth, He is counseling people, He is comforting people, He is giving divine wisdom and insight, He is delivering people, He is doing miracles through ordinary people which are always done so as to point to Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is working on behalf of Jesus and God. The world is being changed one person at a time as men and women filled with the Holy Spirit are used to effect change in the Middle East. Jews are being saved, Gentiles are being saved and the Christian church has been birthed and it’s spreading like wild fire across the Middle East.
This brings us up to Acts 12 – a scenario filled with murder, arrests, miracles, prayer, great escapes, jail breaks, death sentences and even a little humor in the midst of this tragedy/drama. Our two main individual characters are King Herod and the Apostle Peter.
One man seeks to please men – King Herod
The other man seeks to please God – Peter
One thinks he is control – King Herod and discovers how wrong he was!
The other knows God is control and discovers he was right!
One receives a divine miracle and witnesses a Holy Spirit jail break while the other receives the divine judgment of God which is a death sentence and the reality of eternal damnation.
T.S. – So let’s look at Acts 12 and discover another real life scenario were the Lord intervenes into the lives of ordinary people and does extraordinary miracles.
1. Scene 1 – Murder in Jerusalem (Acts 12:1-2).
a. King Herod arrests some of the church leaders and he has James beheaded.
b. A note on James:
i. Who was James?
1. James was the son of Zebedee and the brother of John – the author of Revelation, 1, 2, 3 - John and the Gospel of John.
2. James was one of the original 12 disciples called by Jesus.
3. He was a fisherman when he was called and he left his nets along with his brother John to follow Jesus.
4. Many scholars think that James and John were Jesus’ cousins because it is believed that there mother was Salome – the sister of Mary – Jesus’ mother.
5. James was part of the inner circle of Jesus.
a. He was a witness to a few events that the other disciples outside the circle did not observe.
i. These would have been the Mount of Transfiguration, The raising of Jairus daughter from the dead, and the Garden of Gethsemane.
6. Jesus nicknamed James and John, “The sons of Thunder.”
7. James is noted as having a stormy temper which was revealed when he asked Jesus to send down fire on a certain Samaritan village because they were inhospitable.
8. He even asked Jesus for a place of prominence in His coming kingdom.
9. James was the first of the twelve to be martyred for the Kingdom of God.
10. He was put to death by King Herod Agrippa in 44A.D. by beheading with the sword.
T.S. – James is murdered and Herod discovers that the people like it so he decides to go after Peter and has him arrested. So we have a man who wants to please men rather than God and God decides to intervene in the situation.
2. Scene 2 – The Arrest and the Great Escape (Acts 12: 3-11).
a. King Herod is praised for his act of murder by many of Jews so he decides to please the people instead of God by having Peter arrested.
i. Peter is arrested and placed in jail under heavy guard.
1. He is placed under heavy guard because of his miraculous escape from jail earlier.
a. Herod is taking no chances that this guy will escape from jail again.
b. Herod does not want another miraculous escape to happen so he ups the guard 4x.
c. He has two guards assigned to him day and night. He is even chained to these two guards and they even sleep on each side of him.
2. Herod is sure he has things under control – he is the King of Jerusalem/ Israel and he is in control!
a. Well at least he thinks he is!
b. It’s the night before the trial – it’s the 11th hour and the church is on its knees in prayer. It is believed that they had been praying for about 6 days by this time. Crying out to God for the deliverance of Peter and the protection of the new church in Acts.
i. I am sure there were people who had given up because God did not respond to their prayers soon enough.
1. Some gave up after praying 1 day or 2 days.
ii. But God heard their prayers and sent an angel to deliver Peter from the jail cell filled with many soldiers.
iii. I am sure some of us may be thinking, “Why didn’t God send and angel the first night they prayed?”
1. I believe it comes back to what James says about trials and tribulations in life:
a. James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
i. Maybe God wanted them to mature in their faith?
1. So he had them pray for a long time and then he responded.
ii. Maybe to learn that it’s never too late for God to intervene?
1. He is not in a hurry and he will never be too late.
iii. Maybe to build their trust level in God and understand His ability to do the impossible?
c. The Holy Spirit’s jail break is put in motion when the angel appears on the scene dispatched by the Lord because the church is praying earnestly for Peter according to Acts 12:5.
i. Peter is awakened and the Angel tells him to get dressed and follow him.
ii. He has the plan for Peter’s great escape (We will walk right out the front door!).
1. He looks at Peter and the chains fall off.
2. Peter is looking around in a cloud asking himself, “Am I dreaming or is this really happening?”
3. They walk out of the jail as the doors open and close in front and behind them.
4. The guards are out cold and they stroll right out into freedom and onto the street.
a. They walk right past the guards.
b. Peter even gets dressed in front of the guards.
c. There are No sirens
d. There is No fighting
e. There is No ducking or hiding
f. They just go out the front door and through the gate with the guards posted at it.
5. Cheong states, “No work of man can stop the work of God. Man’s attempts or even the devil’s attempts, are all futile when it comes against the will of God. Rom 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
6. Peter knows without a shadow of doubt that the Lord rescued him. He trusts in the Lord and the Lord reveals to all that He is the one in control not King Herod!
T.S. – In this last scenario and act we have the Holy Spirit’s jail break and then the great escape. Upon freedom from the jail filled with bondage Peter sets off to a prayer meeting to let everyone know he is free.
3. Scene 3 - The Fugitive goes to a prayer meeting (Acts 12: 12-17).
a. Peter is free the angel is gone and it dawns on him that he needs to get off the streets and head to Mary’s place.
i. So he heads to Mary’s were a prayer meeting has been going on for days on his behalf.
ii. Notice the prayer meeting was in someone’s home. I wonder if we could turn our homes into places of prayer today?
1. Remember the church is praying because one of their leaders has been killed by Herod and Peter is scheduled to be executed the next day.
a. It’s crisis time and the church needs a miracle from God to keep moving forward with the Great Commission.
i. Have you ever noticed that crisis times will drive us to our knees?
ii. I believe the USA needs another crisis to drive people to their knees,
b. E.M. Bounds said this about prayer:
i. What the Church needs to-day is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use -- men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men -- men of prayer.
iii. The church is said to have been praying earnestly – other translation say “unceasingly.”
1. Ivan Casteel notes from sermon central this thought about prayer and persistence:
a. What does it mean to pray without ceasing? Does it mean to never stop praying? Does it mean that every breath is to be a prayer?
In Daniel 6 we see where Daniel prayed three times a day. Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. (KJV)
In Psa. 55:17, the Psalmist prayed evening, and morning, and at noon. Ps 55:17 Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. (KJV)
1 Thess. 5:17 instructs us to pray without ceasing.
I have been unable to determine exactly what “without ceasing” means. In 1 Th. 5:17 it means “undisrupted” – “without omission” – “without ceasing.” I don’t know if that means to always be praying, or if it means to be in an attitude of prayer all of the time. I believe that it means that we should always be in a praying attitude. I do know this it means that we should pray a lot more than most of us do pray.
1Th 5:17 Pray without ceasing. (KJV)
God is not pleased in a church that does not make prayer of most importance. We attempt to do that, but are we attempting to “pray without ceasing?” (Sermon, The Church In Prayer-Sermoncentral.com)
iv. He shows up at the house and knocks on the door – Rhoda answers the door and she recognizes Peter’s voice.
1. She is ecstatic -the prayer time has worked -God has delivered Peter and he is at the door.
a. One problem she forgets to let him inside the house to hide.
2. She runs jumping up and down into the middle of the prayer meeting screaming with excitement, “Peter’s at the door!”
v. The Saints of prayer filled with faith tell her that she has lost her mind!
1. Here is a point to note: How many times do we go to pray meetings not really expecting God to answer our prayers?
a. This group was praying for Peter and God heard and delivered him and here he is standing at the door knocking and they don’t believe he is there.
2. The girl gets adamant with the praying saints and says, “Peter is at the door I heard him.” They comfort her and say, “You most likely saw his spirit because Peter most likely has been killed like James was by now.”
a. I want you to notice that this group is not overflowing with confidence in the power of God to do a miracle.
b. Definitely not the super faith saints here – just ordinary people like us who prayed with a little measure of faith and God answered.
3. Meanwhile back at the door we have a frustrated fugitive still knocking on the door.
a. Rhoda were did you go, “Let me in before someone sees me and they put me back into jail!”
4. Finally after several eternal minutes they come to the door and they are astonished that it really is Peter alive and well.
a. They all get excited and start praising God and screaming “He’s alive - He’s delivered” Peter the fugitive tells them to quiet down because he just escaped from jail and they will find him with all their commotion.
b. He tells the story of the Great Escape and the Holy Spirit’s divine jail break.
i. Chains fall off –gates open and close on their own, guards never even see him and he leaves with the angel.
1. The truth is no one can hold a man prisoner who God does not want to be imprisoned.
2. God decides when to open the door and let people out and no man or 16 guards will stop Him.
ii. This sounds like a case for Unsolved Mysteries!
c. He gives his testimony and tells the prayer warrior’s to communicate the message to the others.
i. God is in control not Herod
ii. God is the deliverer
iii. God is to be praised
iv. God answers prayer
v. God sends His angels to assist us in the trials and tribulations of life as a Christian
d. He then slips off into the night because he is still a fugitive on the run.
i. He is an escaped prisoner for the Lord!
T.S. – The fugitive goes to the prayer meeting and we discover a scene filled with humor and even a reality check on the power of prayer. Then we get an explanation of what happens the next morning when they find Peter gone.
4. Scene 4 – The morning after the Great Escape – The search (Acts 12:18-19).
a. There is a major commotion all over the city and Herod is irate.
b. The great escape artist has done it again.
c. The soldiers are baffled – the chains are lying there and the man is gone!
d. No one saw him leave. The gates are closed and He is no where to be found. What happened?
e. Herod does a city wide search – He brings in the Marshals and they rout the city looking for the fugitive but he has disappeared.
i. Everyone is astonished and they can’t believe that he has done it again.
f. The result of the Great Escape? Peter is released and the soldiers are executed for letting Peter escape.
i. Truth is they could do nothing about his escape!
1. It was not their faults because God intervened!
2. When God decides to do something no man can stop Him from following through.
T.S. – The prayer meeting revealed the little expectation the people had but Peter shows up free and gives his testimony and heads out on the run. The soldiers pay the price and Herod departs for another city.
5. Scene 5 – The Death Sentence (Acts 12:19b-23).
a. The death sentence does not come to the fugitive but to the one in charge of putting Peter in jail and for the execution James.
i. Never forget that God is a just God and he will never reward sin but judge sin.
b. King Herod pays the price of putting himself above God and for disobeying the leading of the Lord.
i. It cost him his life and he is eternally damned.
c. He becomes so arrogant that he thinks he is god – God shows him he is not and he pays the price by receiving the divine sentence of death from the Holy Spirit.
i. Many today can become so arrogant by thinking that they are above the Word of God.
ii. They think that they are not subject to the same commands in Scripture as others.
iii. They lie to themselves and think they can do what they think is right and reject the truth spelled out in the word of God.
1. They refuse to follow God’s directives and the result is judgment from God.
2. People do this with tithing, with sin, with unrighteous actions, with un-forgiveness, and the like.
d. Herod refused to glorify God and acknowledge that the Lord worked out the troubles with these cities. So the result was the Lord stuck him down and he died a horrible death.
i. It says he was eaten by worms!
ii. This not a pleasant way to go!
iii. All because he thought he was in control and he was a great one!
iv. Result death sentence!
T.S. – Instead of Peter receiving the death sentence for his witness King Herod Agrippa receives the death sentence from God for refusal to admit that God is in control and not him. He takes the praise that is due to God and it costs him his life.
Final Scene 6: Acts 12:24 “But the word of God continued to increase and spread.” We could call this scene, “The Growth of the N.T. Acts Church continues in spite of persecution from kings.”
The main point in this whole story is that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to make sure that the Gospel goes forth in power.
He uses ordinary people like Peter to spread the word and to be parts of supernatural miracles.
It reveals that God is the one in control in this world not the worldly kings.
He also sends a warning to the leaders of the world that if you stand in opposition to God and try to make yourself a god he will pronounce a sentence of judgment upon you.
Herod learned that when he chose to please the people and not God he set himself up for the sentence of death.
• The persecution of Herod did not stop the church from growing.
• Imprisonments did not stop the preaching of the Gospel.
• Down through the centuries, no efforts of man can stop the church from growing.
• The church continued to grow because God was her Protector.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Challenge to New Life Congregation:
Prayer and fasting for 40 days from Sept. 1st through October 10th. We all need to unite together to pray for a spiritual breakthrough for New Life and Polk County.