Summary: God often does the unexpected when we’re earnest in prayer.
A week ago, I listened to the Voice of the Martyr’s podcast called VOM Radio and learned about Petr Jasek, a believer from the Czech Republic, who was imprisoned in Sudan for 14 months. He served as the Africa Regional Director for Voice of the Martyrs and traveled to Sudan on their behalf. BTW, Voice of the Martyrs is one of our Go Team partners.
Petr tells about sharing a prison cell surrounded by ISIS fighters who threatened to harm him. One of his cellmates was involved in the 2015 beheading of Egyptians on the Libyan shore. In this crowded cell filled with enemies of the gospel, he was able to fall asleep every night at 9pm and sleep peacefully until morning.
After Petr was released from prison, he went back to his church in the Czech Republic to thank them for praying for him. He was moved to tears when he heard them say, “You know Petr, we agreed as a church that every night at 8pm we were going to set our phones [and] watches…and we were going to pray for you in prison in Sudan.”
Here’s the amazing part, 8pm in Prague is 9pm in Sudan! This was the exact time the lights went out and Petr was able to lay down and get a restful night’s sleep.
This weekend we’re recognizing the International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians. I will lead us in prayer for the persecuted at the end of the message. If you’d like to learn more about how you can pray for persecuted believers, check out the Sermon Extras tab on our mobile app or website.
In our passage, we’re going to see how another Peter was also able to sleep when he was in prison because God’s people were praying for him. Turn in your Bibles to Acts 12:1-19. The main point of the passage is this: God often does the unexpected when we’re earnest in prayer. I see seven truths from this text.
1. God allows persecution. Verse 1 gives the setting: “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.” Last weekend we learned how God often does the extraordinary through ordinary people by celebrating how they were gathering, growing, giving and going with the gospel, all for the glory of God. It’s not surprising to see how persecution is unleashed right after this outpouring of evangelism and discipleship. Jesus actually promised persecution according to John 15:20: “If they persecuted me they will persecute you.”
There were a number of different men named Herod in Scripture, each of whom were wicked and cruel.
• Herod the Great ruled during the time of Jesus’ birth and ordered all male children under two killed.
• Herod Antipas is the guy who beheaded John the Baptist.
• Herod Agrippa I. This is the Herod we meet in Acts 12. He is the grandson of Herod the Great.
• Herod Agrippa II. Paul appears before this Herod in Acts 25-26.
Agrippa I was quite a politician and worked hard to curry favor with the Jews. We see this in verse 2: “He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.” To be killed “with the sword” means James was beheaded. James and John were known in the gospels as the “sons of thunder” who along with Peter, made up the inner circle of Jesus.
One interesting episode from the gospels is recorded in Matthew 20:20-22 when the mother of James and John requested positions of prominence for her sons in Jesus’ kingdom: “Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’” The word “cup” is a synonym for suffering. While they wanted prestige, Jesus warned of persecution. James was executed while his brother John was exiled. James was the first of the apostles to die and John was the last.
Having received praise for killing James, Herod decided to arrest Peter. His plan was to hold him in prison until feast was over and then behead him. The Jews thought it profane to put someone to death during this 8-day celebration. It would have created a riot according to Matthew 26:5: “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” On top of that, Herod wanted to wait until he had the Jews full attention.
Look at verse 4: “And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.” Herod was leery of Christians because they kept performing disappearing acts. Jesus left a sealed tomb, Paul was delivered out of Damascus in a basket, and Peter was supernaturally busted out of prison twice before. To be safe, Herod assigned four squads, made up of four soldiers each, to work 6-hour shifts. Two of these guards were handcuffed to Peter in the cell, while the other two were stationed outside.