Summary: No one, not a single person in this story expects Peter to be released. Not Herod, not the guards, not the people of the church, not even Peter himself. Still, God answers the prayer.
Note to reader: I have hot-links to various subjects in this sermon. The document with the active links can be found in PDF form at this web address: http://www.firstpresanchorage.org/Sermons.htm (The sermon is titled the same: "King Herod’s Early Release Program") The links are not active in this document on sermon central. May our Lord Jesus empower you as you write your sermon for your congregation. -Peter
Here in our Scripture this morning, we have a powerful example of answered prayer.
Peter is arrested, the church prays, dramatic results occur. It is fairly simple stuff isn’t it? Peter is arrested, the church prays, dramatic results occur. Insanely straight forward, completely uncomplicated, easily comprehensible: Problem, pray about it, solution.
It can’t get any clearer than that.
So, it seems clear that this is what we do: When bad things come our way, we get the church together to pray, and God will take care of things. That’s appears to be the example we see here in Acts 12.
Hold on. Let’s look again at our Scripture.
Verse 2, “He, (that’s Herod Agrippa) had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.
The Apostle James was the number one guy in the church in Jerusalem. Without a doubt the church prayed for James’ freedom, without a doubt the word traveled across the country about James’ imprisonment, without a doubt thousands of prayers rose to the throne of God. James is a godly man, a good man, James is one of Jesus’ three closest disciples; The church needs James, James is much loved by all; James is a deeply spiritual man and James has committed no crime nor has he broken any laws.
All that said, James is not released from prison is he? Instead, he is dragged out of his cell and executed by the sword. He is given a death without honor, for execution by the sword was reserved for those who had led away many people worshiping false gods (Deut. 13:14-16). It was reserved for those the religious leaders wanted to dishonor. Execution by the sword was specifically ordered for James to shame him before the population of Jerusalem.
God intervenes for Peter, but fails to act for James. Further, God allow James, a very honorable man, to die with dishonor?
How did things come to this?
Certainly the Lord God protects the ones he loves.
Let’s see how life can quickly take a turn for the bad for us and how God can move us through difficult times by taking a closer look at our Scripture.
If you look at verse 3 you will see that Herod Agrippa has Peter arrested. Peter has not committed any crime, but that is of no consequence, Herod Agrippa can arrest anyone at will. He’s the king.
At first the Christian church was held great favor with the Jews, but over time the Christian church was literally decimating the population of the Jewish Synagogues by pulling synagogue members into the Christian church. Further, we saw last week that the church reached out to the Pagans and now the population of the church had more Christianized pagans than Christianized Jews. So many Jews, especially Jewish leaders would welcome persecution of the church.
Herod arrests Peter, not because of anything Peter has done, but because Herod saw that executing James the brother of John made him popular with the people who counted most in the region, the Jewish population. By the death of James Peter by de facto becomes the leader of the church, so he is obviously the next one Herod will go for.
Difficult times and difficult circumstances come to us, sometimes by our own sin or by our own lack of wisdom - but many times, difficult times and circumstances just fall upon us without any reason whatsoever. Whether we know the reason, or whether we don’t know the reason, difficult circumstances are remain difficult circumstances, do they not? If I know why or I don’t know why I am in difficult circumstances, that changes my situation little, difficult circumstances are difficult circumstances.
Additionally, whether it is fair or not fair for Peter to be in Jail waiting execution is really irrelevant. Fairness does not enter into the situation here. In fact, I think you will have a very difficult time finding the concept of fairness in the Bible. This situation for Peter, or James was not fair in any sense of the word...and I want you to note, there is no apology made for the lack of fairness here. Take a look at this section of Scripture, Luke just tells us it is a bad situation.
If you have difficult circumstances in your life and you feel that God has not been fair to you, well, you are placing a characteristic upon God, that cannot be placed upon God. If all things were fair in our lives, we would all be living in cardboard shack in the slums of San Palo Brazil, but instead, God has blessed us with the opportunity to live in Alaska. Of the seven billion people here on the planet earth, we get to live here in Alaska. Now how fair is that?