Summary: Peter is miraclously released from prison through the power of prayer.
A Study of the Book of Acts
Sermon # 23
“The Power of Prayer”
“but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
Acts chapter twelve is set in a context of mounting persecution, about which the people of God seem to be unable to deliver themselves. Seemingly all that they could do was pray. Sometimes we as Christians feel the same way about situations that we face, it could be someone we love with an incurable disease, insecurity about our jobs, trying to turn someone who is straying away from the Lord or the moral decline of our nation. Does anything sound more ridiculous to a lost world than a group of Christians praying for God’s help in the middle of a crisis.
I wonder if the words of 1 Peter 3:12 are a commentary on the time recorded in Acts 12, “ For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”
I. GOD SEES OUR TRIALS 12:1-4
“ For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,” 1 Peter 3:12a
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. (2) Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. (3) And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. (4) So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.”
Between A.D. 41-44 , the fifth of the Herod’s spoken of in the New Testament ruled. This Herod, is grandson of Herod the Great, who killed the babies in Bethelem and is the nephew of Herod who had beheaded John the Baptist, this is Herod Agrippa. He was more popular than any of the previous Herod’s. Herod Agrippa did everything in his power to retain the favor of the ruling Jewish party. Because he sensed the it was politically expedient he began persecuting Christian and had already had the Apostle James beheaded. This had so pleased the Jews that he had Peter arrested and he planned to put him to death as soon as the religious feast was over.
Herod was obviously very much afraid that Peter would escape as others had escaped in the past. No doubt he was aware that Peter and John had previously escaped (actually they had been released by angels as recorded in Acts chapter 5). Herod was determined that this was not going to happen again. Verse four tells us that Peter was guarded by four quarternions (squads of four soldiers each). Roman soldiers stood guard in three-hour shifts. So there were always four soldiers guarding Peter (apparently two chained to him and two standing guard outside the cell).
It must have been quite a shock that James had not be delivered as Peter and John had been. Imagine how stunned and shattered they must have been when the sad news that James had been actually been executed by beheading. James was the first of the apostles to lay down his life as a martyr. When Peter was imprisoned the church assumed nothing, they immediately began to make earnest prayer for him.
II. GOD ANSWERS OUR PRAYERS 12:5-17
“… And His ears are open to their prayers;…” 1 Peter 3:12b
A. THE CHURCH PRAYS v. 5
“Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
God had determined to save, Peter but the way in which God had determined to save Peter was in response to the prayers of the Christians who were praying.
The church prayed specifically. In Acts 12:5 we read in the Greek text that they prayed “concerning him” meaning that their prayers made specific request on behalf of Peter.
The church prayed earnestly. The word translated “constant ” prayer is a word that means “to stretch or to straining with great intensity” This praying began as much as a week earlier.
The church prayed perseveringly. When Peter reached Mary’s house, even though it was in the middle of the night, the church was still praying.
B. GOD DELIVERS vv. 6-10
“And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. (7) Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. (8) Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” (9) So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. (10) When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.”