Summary: No time for sleeping.
The year was approximately AD 47. Apart from the stoning of Stephen thirteen years before, the infant church had enjoyed almost a decade and a half of relative peace in which to grow.
When many believers had scattered to their homelands following Stephen’s stoning, the gospel had gone with them, spreading to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch and other regions around the Mediterranean.
The gospel had begun to reach even the gentiles as a result, and in Antioch, only four years before, believers had first been called “Christians”.
But real persecution was about to begin against the young church in Judea. King Herod, for his own political reasons wanting to please the Jewish elite, laid hands on James the son of Zebedee and had him put to death.
Standing back a bit and gauging the reaction of the Jews, he found that it pleased them.
They who were so thirsty for the blood of their Messiah, now yearned for the blood of His saints.
Seeing that this pleased the Jews, Herod had Peter arrested and determined to kill him also, as soon as the Feast of Unleavened Bread was done.
One indication of a soldier’s might is the care his enemy takes to arm themselves against him. Peter, one lonely Galilean, was put in prison and guarded by no less than four soldiers at a time. Sixteen were assigned solely to him, and in their shift rotation there were always two chained to his person (one on either side) and two at the prison doors.
For a full picture I want to read verses 1-8 of Acts chapter 12 and then continue.
Now there is much rich history for us in this chapter; our own history as believers, and for that reason infinitely more important to us even than the history of our own nation, for these early believers wrote our spiritual legacy. They are our examples to follow.
But in verses 7 and 8 of this chapter I found an interesting allegory of the steps of saving faith. Intertwined with the historical account itself is a beautiful picture of the state of mankind apart from God, and the efforts of our God through His Holy Spirit to awaken men to their need and provide for their release from slavery to sin.
Let’s spend our time this morning looking only at these two verses, and glean some nuggets from there.
(Read verses 7,8)
I’d like for us to look at the circumstances here as an analogy of a man’s life outside of Christ. It is not perfect because we know that Peter was imprisoned for the service of his Lord, but all of the elements of the road to faith are pictured here, nonetheless.
Peter is asleep. He is in a peaceful, undisturbed slumber, yet he is scheduled to die in the morning.
This is the state of unsaved men. They often do not enjoy peaceful sleep because the cares of the world and this life lay heavy on their minds. But when it comes to spiritual matters they are ignorant of the grave danger they are in, and in that sense they rest, undisturbed and peaceful in their ignorance.
Jesus said that unless a man receives spiritual birth from above he cannot understand spiritual things. Paul tells us in Romans 3 that no one understands, no one seeks for God.
Then in his letter to the Ephesians he paraphrases several verses from Isaiah, to say “AWAKE, SLEEPER, AND ARISE FROM THE DEAD, AND CHRIST WILL SHINE ON YOU”
This is consistent with what we see in Acts 12. This is not the Lord Himself appearing in Peter’s cell; it is an angel of the Lord. But when God sends one of His messengers, it is as though He is there Himself. They go in His authority and in His power. They are in the truest sense, His ambassadors.
This holds true not only for angels, as it says in Hebrews, “are they not all ministering spirits, sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation?” but it also holds true for us, believer, when in obedience to Him we reach out with the Gospel message. See the words of Paul in II Corinthians 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, AS THOUGH GOD WERE ENTREATING THROUGH US, we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”
No man comes to the Father except the Son draws him, and when He does, it is by His Holy Spirit; convicting of sin, granting repentance and calling a man to Christ. The light goes on in a man’s heart and dispels all shadows, as it did that night in Peter’s cell, and the Spirit of God will do what is necessary to waken that man from his deathly slumber in order to point him to the Savior.