PENTECOST 2021 NR 3
Scripture: Acts 11:19 – 12:25
Theme: Dealing with obstacles
We can say what we like, but no obstacle is too great for the Lord to conquer.
In one sentence, that is what is written in Acts 12. When the Lord is busy putting into effect His will, He removes all obstacles out of His way and carries out His plan! And woe to those foolish people who placed obstacles in the Lord’s path!
Listen, Luke described for us in the first 11 chapters of Acts, how the Lord has a plan, and how He started to set it into motion.
His plan is this: Jesus is resurrected from the grave. He ascended to heaven and is sitting on the throne. The Holy Spirit is given. The Spirit testifies of Jesus. The Spirit causes some people to become Christians. The Spirit then makes them witnesses for Jesus – He makes them evangelists. And so the Lord’s church grows. First in Jerusalem, then to the next area and further and further – far outside the Jewry to the non-Jewish (gentile) nations.
Last night we saw in Acts 10 how an Italian soldier – Cornelius – became a Christian. Just now in Acts 11, we read how Jesus’s followers preached the Word to the Greeks in Antioch and how the Lord’s hand rested upon it and many came to faith and repentance (11:21). A completely new church started there and it is there where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” (11:26).
Barnabas and Paul went there, and for a year teaching the new believers in the Word, because remember, the Spirit speaks & works by thorough edification/teaching/preaching! That is how a church is established and grows. That is also how an individual Christian grows: by coming under proper teaching as much a possible.
Do you see how the Lord’s world plan works?
Of course, Satan wants to stop the world-plan. That is why he tries with all his might to create obstacles.
The obstacle standing large as life in Acts 12 is king Herod. An instrument in the hand of satan. It is not the Herod who at the time of Jesus’s birth had the boy babies killed. This was his grandson, but just as wicked as His grandfather. We see him standing like a barrier against the work of the Lord. We see from 12: 1-4 how “in control” he was.
And a terrible thing happened: Herod had James put to death. Just like that.
One can imagine what confusion thàt caused among the believers because it is unthinkable that the Lord will allow one of the apostles to be killed… and in such a senseless manner. The words of the Apostles were, after all, the foundation of the church (Eph 2:20). It just does not make any sense! Why? How will the death of the Apostle James benefit the advance of the Word? It can’t!
Do you hear the struggle? A familiar struggle, not so? “Lord, I do not understand!! Why did I not get that job? Why am sick? Why does my friend not come to faith? Why do you allow crime/corruption in SA? Why do you allow so-and-so to rule in that country and cause so much wretchedness? Why do you not remove him? Why all the inexplicable things in the world? How much longer must we still sit with Covid?”
But wait, the worst is still coming!
Herod saw that it pleased the Jews that he had James killed. So he grabbed Peter also and threw him into prison because it was during the Feast of the Unleavened bread. After Passover, he will deal with Peter.
And Peter is sitting in prison as a criminal with 16 guards around him! Peter: the rock of the Lord’s church! Imagine how the believers were without hope now! How can they carry on without Peter! Herod will undoubtedly kill him also. He is the backbone of the church. And there is no way how he can get out of prison.
Can you hear the despair of the believers about what God is doing and why He allows certain things? The overwhelming feeling of the enemy is in control.
And it’s true: the children of the Lord looked very pathetic and cast down compared to Herod.
But yet – even though they could not understand what was going on – they continued in the belief that the Lord lives, that He is on the throne, and that He hears prayers!
And that is why a group of people was gathered at the house of Mary, the mother of John-Mark, to pray! “Earnestly” (12:5). They were praying in earnest. They did not play games. And yet: compared to the mighty Herod, how pathetic the few praying people seemed!! So weak and defenseless.
Today it is still the same: prayer is regarded by some as a pathetic activity, yes, a sign of weakness and the end of your ability. “It is meaningless,” some say. “Kneeling and whispering words into the air, while nothing happens, and talking to a being who only exists in your head. No, come on! It is a waste of time!”
Well, in Acts 12 people were busy speaking words into the air – therein Mary’s lounge. And, yes, apparently nothing happened. Peter is still locked up in prison with 16 guards around him. He is sleeping peacefully, while he was fully aware that the head of his colleague James, rolled just the other day. But he is at peace in the Lord and is fast asleep.
But, while Peter is trusting in the Lord and the church is on its knees, nothing is happening.
You see, the Lord waits up until number 99. Look what is written in verse 6: the night before Herod was to bring him to trial, the angel of the Lord appears in the prison!! Not the previous night! Not when the church started to pray. Right in the nick of time, but at the precisely right time. Yes, with the Lord there is always hope.
James did not rise from the grave. Nobody understood why he had to die. But Peter is miraculously delivered! In answer to prayer! At first, he is completely disorientated when the angel leads him out, as a person is at 3 a.m. when the phone suddenly rings. Your hair is in disorder, and your left slipper is on your right foot and you knock the glass of water off the table by the bed.
Very soon, however, Peter realizes that it is a messenger from the Lord who is leading him without a problem out of prison. The chains fall off – while the sentries are asleep. The doors open by themselves. The Lord does not even do it Himself. He uses an angel.
Even though it was night, Peter knew that the believers would be praying – and also where they would be busy praying. It was therefore a usual occurrence. So he made straight for Mary’s house.
One wonders what the people were busy praying!? Certainly, they did not have much expectation that the Lord would free Peter from prison. Why would He? He did not save James from the hands of Herod! Why would He now save Peter? Perhaps they prayed that the Lord would give Peter courage for – when he dies – he will do it witnessing for the Lord. Others may have prayed that the Lord would keep Peter safe the way He kept Daniel safe in the lion’s den.
And then there is a knock at the door. “Rhoda, quickly run and see who is at the door at this time of the night.” They continue to pray: “Lord, please keep Peter from dying in prison”.
When Rhoda heard Peter’s voice she was so overjoyed that she forgot to let him in. “It is Peter at the door!” she exclaimed! “You are out of your mind, Rhoda”, they replied.
The irony! They are praying: “Lord, please save Peter!” Then Peter knocks at the door and Rhoda exclaims: “Peter is here at the door!” But they say: “You have lost your mind”.
When they realize that she is serious, they say: “It must be Peter’s spirit. Herod must have killed him and now his angel is here at the door.” Their faith-hope was very small. The Lord did not save Peter based on the quality of the people’s prayers, but only by His free grace.
What we should see is that the Lord surely deals with the obstacles in the way of His plan. The Lord does not allow that the flow of the river of His grace is blocked by the world. He soon dealt a final stroke to the mighty Herod.
Suddenly it is Herod who looks pathetic. Not only does the Lord, simply by lifting His little finger, save Peter from Herod’s mighty prison, but He gives Herod only a light tap – and there he is lying dead on the ground, still draped in his distinguished glittering royal robes, and worms are eating him.
That happened one day in Caesarea when Herod addressed the people. He was wearing his royal robes and sat on his throne and delivered a public address. Then the people shouted: “This is the voice of a god, not a man!” And Herod does not stop them! He loves that they think of him as a god! He took the honor that belongs to the true God for himself.
Then the Lord struck him down on the spot! Right there! The Lord does not allow Himself to be mocked. He can bring down the most powerful people. Under that glittering royal robe, Herod was only an ordinary man. And his insides full of worms devouring him.
And don’t overlook verse 24: ”But the Word of God continued to increase and spread.” Herod is dead on the ground, but the Lord’s Word triumphs and spreads. The tables have been turned.
If we listen carefully, we should hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to us from Acts 12. I think one can hear a few things. See if you can hear it too:
1. Perhaps we should not become so discouraged when things happen and it seems as if the Lord does not know what He is doing – and that He does not care – and that He is sleeping. Even if you do not understand why your personal “James” had to die, do not give up hope and turn your back on the Lord. Before long your Peter will be saved out of prison! Because the Lord lives and He is on the throne. Just make sure that you remain at His feet.
1. Even though it feels as if prayer is only a whisper into the wind and your mind wonders and you fall half asleep – do not doubt, it works; but not because you are so clever or pray so poorly OR because you are so spiritual, but only because the Lord is so merciful. Let us make more of prayer and of praying together in groups. Special times of prayer bring great blessing and depth to a congregation.
1. Obstacles in the Lord’s way that look like iron prison doors, can swing open effortlessly. The Lord is not put off by anything. Take courage!
1. Back to 11:21 – In Antioch “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord”. They began to believe that Jesus saved them from their sins by His death on the cross, and they have turned to the Lord. Only then you can say with conviction that you are a child of the Lord. Make very sure of that!
Translated by Marthie Wilson