IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT





The King of Kings, Full of Grace

Date: Mar. 16, 2014

Author: Michael Mark

Acts 12:1-24

Key Verse: Acts 12:11

“Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.’”

When you think about a king, what kind of things come to mind? A king has absolute authority. A king can pretty much do what he pleases. A king has many servants, and lives in a palace, the White House, or a castle. He doesn’t eat White Castle, but dines on the finest food. A king also must protect his people – he is the commander in chief of the armed forces. A king should look out for the best interests of his people by building the economy and maintaining justice. A king may have great privileges, but they also have great responsibility.

Thoughout history, and even to this day, the majority of kings, or rulers, fall short of this ideal. Often rulers abuse their privileges and neglect their responsibilities. The ruler of North Korea lives in luxury, owns several very expensive automobiles, dines on the finest food while his country is impoverished and many are dying of starvation every day. The former dictator of Iraq had built 75 richly appointed palaces while many lives were lost in the wars that he started. These two are not rare cases of injustice and corruption, but they reveal of the sad fact of the evil within humanity, which become magnified when given power and money. But there is a good king, a righteous and perfect king, who is king over all the world’s kings. He is the Lord our God, and sits in heaven: but will some day come and make all things right. He is building his kingdom now, as we speak – and though the kings of the world oppose him, they cannot stop him.

In this passage we meet one of these typical kings, who ruled in Judea only three years from 41 AD – 44 AD. Look at verse 1: “It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.” The church had experienced about 7 years of peace after the conversion of Saul, their first persecutor. From that time the Jewish leaders had lost their power to persecute Christians, and the church continued to grow and enlarge steadily, now even including Gentiles. It wasn’t until King Herod arrived on the scene that the persecution machine began to run again. These events happened during the last year of his reign, in 44 AD, and he was 54 years old. He was a new king over Judea, and he found that persecuting Christians increased his approval ratings among the Jews.

Then he found out that killing them made his approval ratings jump even higher. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword (verse 2). Seeing that this met with approval among the Jews, he became bloodthirsty and seized Peter too. It was not enough to kill one of the leaders of the church, but he was systematically going down the line. For the sake of his own popularity and personal gain, Herod was willing to shed innocent blood. James was an apostle of Jesus, and part of Jesus’ inner circle. He was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, and the role of being an apostle was only given to twelve, and they were given a special ministry to teach the church the doctrines of Jesus. James was the first of the apostles to be killed. In the book, the 48 Laws of Power, Law #42 says, “strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.” Well, this is actually taken from the Bible (in Zech 13:7). King Herod and the Jews thought that if they wipe out the leaders who were spreading the word of God, then Christianity will stop and eventually fade away. However, they were not fighting against men, but against God, but still this did not stop them.

When they put Peter into prison, they handed him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each (verse 3). Peter was no ordinary prisoner, he was public enemy number 1. His crime: preaching the gospel and bringing the good news to the people, helping the poor and widows. He was also an apostle. If the Jews can remember, a little over 7 years ago they put all 12 apostles in jail. Over night an angel of the Lord came and set them free, and the next morning they were back outside preaching in the temple courts (Acts 5:17-26). So Herod wanted to make sure Peter wasn’t going to get away this time. He had 16 guards keep watch over him, rotating in sets of 4 every 3 hours to make sure they stay awake and keep an eye on Peter over night. In each set of 4, 2 guards were inside the prison chamber chained directly to Peter, one on each arm, and 2 guards were standing in front of the prison door. All this for one man.

Verse 5 says, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” The Lord’s people were praying to God for Peter. James’ death may have caused them to be more earnest in their prayer. Seeing that King Herod meant business when he threw people into prison, they prayed all the more fervently for Peter. Not only was he an apostle and shepherd for the church, but he was a fellow brother in Christ. When we see that our family members or friends are suffering, our hearts are with them and we rush to help them. There was unity in Christ here: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Cor 12:26)” Note also that they went to prayer during this time. It was a time of persecution, yet they prayed. They did not shrink back, but looked to the God, the king of kings. They did not take up arms – they did not take up their pitchforks, broomsticks and torches to try to free Peter out of prison, but they took up their prayers, and trusted the Lord.

God’s people should pray. God’s people ought to pray. Why? Because it is God’s will for you. And it is God’s privilege to you. 1 Thes 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Jesus told parables in Luke 18 to show his disciples “that they should always pray and not give up. (Luke 18:1)” God wants us to come to him in prayer. Prayer is also a privilege and a blessing. God will not hear everyone’s prayer. He does not hear the prayer of the wicked, Psalm 66:18 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” But by the blood of Jesus, a new and living way is opened, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place where God sits, and we are encouraged in Hebrews 10:22, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart.” Christians have access to the Most Holy Place, and are invited to draw near to God, to enter the room with the king of kings. It’s hard enough to get access to worldly kings. If you walked in to the Oval Office uninvited to see the President, you would be tackled by the Secret Service. President Obama will not even return you calls. But through Christ Jesus, you can go to the King of Kings, and he will hear your prayer.

Having access to God is one blessing the Lord gives to us in prayer. I will share 3 more. One, prayer is given to us to worship God. When we pray, we are acknowledging God, because, who else are we talking to? When we pray, we present our requests to him, or ask him for forgiveness. We also give thanks to God in prayer. These are all ways to worship God – because we are acknowledging who he is and trusting him as our provider. Two, prayer is given to us to dialogue with God. Psalm 19:14 says, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Prayer is simply talking to God. You can speak to God audibly, with your mouth, or you can speak to God silently, with your heart: but God will hear you. Your prayers don’t have to follow a formula, or set times during the day. You don’t have to pray in certain positions. If you simply want to say a simple “Thank you Jesus” in your heart, that’s a prayer. Not praying is like not talking to your friend, spouse or parent. This past week one of my friends told me he hasn’t called him mom in a couple of weeks, so he better call this week or she’ll be mad at him. That’s kind of what prayer is like with God – it’s a way we communicate with him. And it’s not hard, but we should do it, because through Jesus God has made us all into his beloved sons and daughters.

Three, prayer is given to us to glorify God. Prayer is not for God, prayer was given for us. Matt 6:5-14 teach us a lot about prayer, and v.7-8 says, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Babbling doesn’t just mean talking nonsense when you pray, although I think it could, but it also means praying without your heart – like reciting a prayer, even the Lord’s prayer, but you’re just reciting it, and not praying it. Or if you’ve memorized who you pray for every day, and just go through the motions, without thinking about what you’re praying. Or like if you chant “Give me a car” 10,000 times, it doesn’t mean you will be heard.

But pray honestly, and be conscious of what you are saying. Jesus also teaches us: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” So why pray? Because it’s for us. Prayer helps us to acknowledge our dependence on God, because we should ask. Imagine you have a child, and he’s going on a field trip tomorrow. You know he needs money before he asks, but he also asks because he knows you’re the provider, and you want to take good care of him. Prayer also helps us to see God work, because should look for the answer to prayer (whether it’s Yes, No, or Not Now). When we pray for something, and see the answer to prayer, we can see God work, and glorify him. What would happen if the church did not pray earnestly for Peter? Maybe God would still deliver him, but would they respond with as much amazement, praise and glory to God? Probably not, because it was not on their mind as much, or not really what they were thinking about. But by their earnest prayer to the Lord, they will praise God all the more for what he’s done. Prayer is a gift and a blessing given to us, and God wants us to pray to him. As the hymn goes:

What a Friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer!

Now let’s see how God answered the church’s prayer. Look at v.6, “The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.” What was Peter doing? He was sleeping?! This was the day before he would die, and he was sleeping! Like, “tomorrows another day.” He was about to be executed, but we see here there was no fear in his heart, no anxiety, but peace enough to sleep. He didn’t try to flee, or give the guards a hard time. Now, why wasn’t he praying, while the church was praying for him? Good ol’ Peter, loves to sleep. Like me. Maybe the prayers of the church had given him strength to trust in the Lord. Maybe he had resigned to his fate, and knew that he would meet the Lord tomorrow. Perhaps the Lord helped him to sleep, as in Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”

See what happens next in v.7, “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. ‘Quick, get up!’ he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.” Uh oh, it’s an angel again, maybe the same one that caused trouble by freeing the apostles 7 years ago. He just appeared in the prison cell. And Peter got a rude awakening. He didn’t gently shake Peter, and whisper “Peter, Peter…” He struck Peter on the side and said ‘Quick, get up!’ And the chains – they just fell off his wrists. The angel didn’t have to use any keys, what kind of power is this? And here we are getting an inside look into what happened in that prison cell.

It was all happening too fast for Peter. The angel told him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him (v.8).” Peter simply obeyed the angel’s commands. Perhaps he was half asleep, or maybe just amazed at what was happening. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision (v.9). I’m not sure if that’s the same as saying Peter thought he was dreaming. It was all probably very unreal to him. They went passed the first and second guards, and came to the iron gate leading in to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it.

What about the soldiers – why didn’t they do anything? What just happened here? Were they blinded by the light? Were they put into a deep sleep? Did they become frightened by the sight of the angel? Maybe the angel had one of those pens from Men in Black, so when they shine the light the guards will forget everything. This was definitely a miracle done by God. Peter was miraculously saved from prison. Again v.9 says Peter thought he was seeing a vision. I’m thinking it probably doesn’t say he thought he was dreaming here, maybe because he knew he was awake, but he just could not comprehend what was going on. His body was moving, but his mind was not really there. Have you ever had those moments? Maybe like locking the door of your house before you leave. You become so accustomed to doing it, that you do it automatically, and then after you drive away, you second ask yourself, “Did I lock the door?” Most of the time, you did, but you didn’t know you were doing it.

The angel led Peter safely away from the prison, and after they walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. I don’t know how long one street is, so maybe imagine that they walked one block. Finally, Peter was able to slow down, and process all that just happened. Can we all please read v.11, “Then Peter came to himself and said, ‘Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.’” When Peter finally came to his senses, he gave praise and thanks to God. At first he wasn’t sure if he was seeing a vision, and he would come to his senses and find himself in the prison cell, but now, he says, without a doubt, the Lord has sent his angel and rescued him.

Peter acknowledges the Lord, the King of kings, defied King Herod and the Jewish people, and used a power that nothing on earth could resist. Locked prison doors could not keep the angel out, and chains and guards could not keep Peter bound. The Lord had sent his angel. The Lord is the commander of the whole army of angels, and they are more powerful than we can imagine. In 2 Sam 24:15, a single angel killed 70,000 people in the land of Israel as judgment for David’s sin. In 2 Kings 6:17, when the king of Aram laid siege on the city of Dotham, surrounding it with armies, Elisha prayed that the servants eyes would be open, and his servant saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire, more than the army of Aram. Angels are spirits, and they are invisible to us, unless God opens our eyes to see. God has tasked his angels with protecting us. Heb 1:14 says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” We have a great and powerful king, even commanding his angels to serve us. The angels do not serve everyone, but only those who will inherit salvation, only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. But for those who believe, what a gracious, caring and benevolent king is the Lord our God! Truly, who can stand against us if the Lord is on our side?

After being rescued, Peter wants to go and share the good news. Now let’s pause here for a second and think about why James did not get rescued. How come Peter was delivered from prison, but James was executed? The answer – is that God is sovereign, and it was his will the allow James to be executed, and send his angel to rescue Peter. James has finished the race, and he has proven his faith even at the cost of his life, but now he has been taken up to glory with God. Some might say James is lucky, because he was the first apostle to meet Jesus. But also, his martyrdom served also to spur the church to prayer, and further increase the kingdom of God. Peter still had work to do, so God preserved his life for now. Eventually we know that he too becomes a martyr for Christ.

Now notice here in v.12 that Peter did not immediately flee when he was freed from prison, though technically he could still be in danger. First, he wanted to make sure he told someone what had happened. He went to John Mark’s house, perhaps it was a familiar place – and notice what they were doing: they were praying. Peter was asleep at this hour, and by now it is almost morning, and here you see the church gathered together still, engaged in an all-night prayer meeting. They truly were earnestly praying to God for Peter.

Peter knocked at the door of the outer entrance, and Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was overjoyed and ran back to tell her brothers and sisters, Peter’s at the door! She only forgot one thing – to open the door! But you can see the excitement and joy when she simply heard the voice of Peter. She really knew who Peter was, and prayed with all the others for him. The people in Mary’s house would not believe what Rhoda was saying. “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. It was one of those things where it was too good to be true. Like if you hear something great happen, and almost because of being overjoyed you can’t believe it. Like if someone got a job, and they say, “Guess what, I got a job.” And you say, “No!” and they say, “Yes,” and you say, “No!” and they say “Yes,” then you believe them and congratulate them. The people could not believe Rhoda, and said, “It must be his angel.” It could be anyone, anything, but Peter.

But Peter kept on knocking – time was running short, but he needed to tell them. When they opened the door they were astonished. God had answered their prayer – they might have been praying for him to have strength, they might have been praying that he could boldly testify upon his death, but God gave them more than they asked for, and delivered Peter to them. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet, and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place. The James referred to here is James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was a prominent member of the church, and surely was very worried about Peter. He asks them to tell James, to calm down his worries about Peter, and also that he may praise God for his grace. After telling witnesses, Peter hides, until he is safe from Herod. This is the last we see of Peter, except for a small appearance in Acts 15, but from here he bows out, and the spotlight will be passed to the Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.

“In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. (verse 18)” Their lives were on the line now, as they discovered that Peter had escaped. Angel-led escapes don’t happen every day, so this caused quite a stir at the prison. Herod ordered a thorough search for him, but he could not find him. He interrogated the guards, but he would not be able to find any answer for what happened, except that it must have been done by God. How could anyone escape the watch of 4 men, with 2 being chained to the prisoner, or possibly having to escape 16 men total? However, because the guards failed to guard the prisoner, his sentence became theirs, and they were all sentenced to death.

King Herod went from Judea north to Caesarea and stayed there. He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon. He was very angry with them for some reason. The people of Tyre and Sidon wanted to make peace with Herod, because they depended on Judea for food. In the past, Tyre and Sidon provided cedar trees to Judea, while Judea traded food, drink and oil to them. Tyre and Sidon were wealthy cities, because they were important port cities near northern Judea.   Wealthy as they were, it seems that Herod took the opportunity to humble them by withholding regular exports of food from them. This made them submit to Herod, and they asked for peace

On the appointed day, King Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on this throne and delivered a public address to the people. He was at the outdoor theater in Caesarea, and he was sitting on a platform where everyone could see and hear him. According to Jospehus, he wore a silver robe that shined so brightly in the sun, that it awed the people who were watching him. They were so struck by his image and his speech that they shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not a man.” But Herod did not deny it or deflect the comments, but in his pride he accepted them. He took the glory that belonged to God alone. So verse 23 says, “Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Josephus again reports that immediately a severe pain arose in his stomach and was very violent. He suffered this agony for five days, until he was worn out and died. King Herod, who violently persecuted the church, and thought himself immortal like a god, was brought to the lowest of low, became like a mortal man, and became food for worms.

Verse 24 says the word of God continued to spread and flourish. Now we see who the true king is. Now we see who the King of Kings is, king over the kings of the earth. This king delivered Peter from Herod’s clutches, and the intention of the Jewish people to kill him. He delivered the church from persecution. Herod and the Jews tried to stop the word of God from spreading, but they could not. No one can stop the word of God from spreading, because it is the word of God, the good news to all people.

God is unlike any other king in history. He is a perfect king, and righteous and just. Thank God that the king of kings is a righteous king. He will protect his people. He will provide for his people what they need with the wisdom of a Father. He will see that justice will be done. We see that the human race is cursed, and afflicted with sin. That is why we do not have any good kings. Money and power magnify our sins, that is why we see the worst of humanity in the highest of ranks and the most popular celebrities. But if you think they are bad, and if you thought King Herod was bad, take a look at your heart. If you were given such power, money and privilege, if you were given those same temptations, how would you behave? All of us by nature are sinners. All of us by nature are proud. All of us were born with a hatred for God, we were born with a hidden, but unlimited capacity for evil. That’s the sin in us.   Like Herod, and from the time of Adam and Eve, we all want to be like god. We are in competition with God. Romans 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness, as it was with King Herod.

And like Peter, we are bound. We are chained, deep in a prison cell, with chains attached to both arms, and guards at every door. We are slaves to sin, and slaves to this sinful nature. You are bound: your fate is the same as King Herod. One day you will die, and become worm food. But worse than that, for our sins against God we will be thrown into hell, where the worms that eat us do not die, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48). But we have a gracious king. A king who loves his people so much, that he wants to save them from his wrath, and save them from their sins. Who has ever heard of a king who would die for his people? But God is a king who would. He has legions of angels at his disposal, but he did not even send angels in order to save you. Instead, he did better. He gave you the best. He sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to die in your place and save you from your sins. Jesus died for our sins, and rose from the dead. Through Christ’s blood, the angel of death will pass over us, and we will receive life. Through Christ’s blood, we are delivered from the bondage of sin, and are invited to come in to the Most Holy Place and come into the presence of God, the great King of Kings, to receive cleansing and healing from our sins, and grace to live day by day until he comes again and restores all things – and establishes his perfect kingdom, of which all believers are a part. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

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