Summary: An expository message from Acts 12 on how God "shows up" in response to his people’s faith, and lack of faith.
INTRODUCTION: Arthur Burns was chair of the Federal Reserve in the 1970s, and a Jewish economist of great influence in Washington during the tenure of several Presidents. Burns was once asked to pray at a gathering of evangelical politicians. Stunning his hosts, he prayed thus: "Lord, I pray that Jews would come to know Jesus Christ. And I pray that Buddhists would come to know Jesus Christ. And I pray that Muslims would come to know Jesus Christ." And then, most stunning of all: "And Lord, I pray that Christians would come to know Jesus Christ."
One of the lids on our leadership, our relationships, and ministry effectiveness as a church is the depth of our commitment to knowing God in prayer. If we don’t have a commitment to spiritual discipline & spiritual vitality, we may put something together that God will not bless. We see the critical importance of prayer for God’s people in Acts 12 [READ 12:1-5]
Luke has been recording one marvelous conversion after another—the 3000 on Pentecost, the Samaritans, the Ethiopian, Saul of Tarsus, Cornelius—they were witnesses, and the word of God was spreading. Luke is about to describe the next great leap forward we refer to as Paul’s first missionary journey. But first, he chronicles for us a serious setback in the death of James and the imprisonment of Peter, two apostles and leaders in the Jerusalem church. Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great and nephew of Herod Antipas, was the tyrant responsible for this double assault on the work of God.
Herod put Peter in prison, intending to bring him out for public trial—what we might call today a “show trial”—after Passover. Following Peter’s trial would come his execution. At the time it must have seemed like a grave crisis. One apostle taken down, another imprisoned awaiting death. The situation looked bleak, even hopeless. There appeared to be no possibility of an escape or jailbreak. What could the powerless little community of Christ do against the armed might of Rome? [READ v.5]
In this corner, we have the world, weighing in with the authority of Herod, the power of the sword, and the security of the prison. And in this corner, we have the church, weighing in with prayer. Let’s get ready to rumble? On paper, this is a mismatch. It’s a ragtag rebellion against the Death Star of the Evil Empire. It’s two little hobbits against all the Dark Forces of Mordor. It’s Michigan hosting App State. No chance, right? But prayer is the one power the powerless possess. When those who are powerless tap the power of prayer, we can expect the unexpected.
I. GOD SHOWS UP WHEN HIS PEOPLE "STRETCH OUT" (5-11)
A. The Greek adverb "ektenos" translated “earnestly” literally means “stretched out,” and it pictures the idea of hands stretched out to God in prayer.
1. It’s the same word Luke used in describing Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gesthemane.
2. It gives the impression of wholehearted, urgent pleading to God.
3. While Peter was fast asleep in prison in the middle of the night, the church was engaged in earnest, vigilant prayer for him.
B. APP: When was the last time you “stretched out” in prayer? Been earnest, fervent—even desperate in prayer?
1. It’s like saying, “God, I’m at the end of my rope—please have a big net ready.”
2. I was in a Bible study with an exchange student who asked why not wait to pray until all options have been exhausted.
3. APP: We feel like prayer is a terribly precarious second-best. So long as we can fuss and work and rush about, so long as we can lend a hand, we have some hope; but if we have to fall back upon God—well, we don’t want to count on that.
4. APP: How many leaders in the church today could do what they’re doing solely in their own power, without the church ever noticing?
5. In the 1966 Oscar winner for Best Picture, "A Man for All Seasons," Thomas More & Cardinal Wolsey are debating what to do about Queen Catherine’s infertility. Wolsey wants to secure a divorce; More advocates prayer. Wolsey sneers, “Would you pray for a miracle?” More replies, “There ARE precedents.”
>>Yes indeed there are. Let’s see what happens: [READ 12:6-11]
C. The dramatic details Luke includes all seem to emphasize God’s intervention and Peter’s passivity.
1. Peter hadn’t planned this. He was asleep, and the angel has to nudge him awake & tell him how to dress. Peter doesn’t even think it’s real!
2. But then Peter gets it. God showed up when His people stretched out!