The Rescue Prayer - Acts 12

I have a simple message for you for this Sunday.
I intend to talk on the prayer of a church at Jerusalem narrated in Acts 12.
I call it ‘a prayer without a motivation’.
Why I call it like that? Because the church was praying though fervently without any expectation of a miraculous answer.
Still that was a great prayer that destroyed the might of the enemy.

We read the narration of this prayer and other related events in Acts 12.

The incident took place 10 years after resurrection of Jesus.
King Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, was ruling the area of Judea.
Herod the Great, the grandfather, ruled in the days of Jesus' birth.
Herod Agrippa I was also the nephew of Herod Antipas, who had a role in the trial of Jesus.
King Herod I was a proselyte, a gentile converted to Judaism.
He respected and followed the Mosaic Laws.

Ever since the conversion of Paul, persecution of saints came down.
The church was growing and spreading rapidly.
The church has been experiencing many exciting conversions, one after another.
Then happened the heavy blow on them.

Influenced by Pharisees and Sadducees among the Jewish leadership, Herod decides to arrest some of the apostolic leaders.
We are not told explicitly why Herod intends to persecute them.
Herod Agrippa I was not as cruel as some of his family members were.
But popularity was his ruling passion.
So he arrested and killed James by sword.
As he found that this pleased the Jewish religious leaders and people, he arrested Peter and kept him in prison with the intention of murdering him.

This is a new development in the history of the church.

James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, is the first of the twelve who followed Jesus to be martyred.

James is certainly not the first Christian to die in faithfulness to Jesus.
Stephen (Acts 7:58-60) was martyred before this, and certainly others were also.

The martyrdom of James was a heavy blow to the church.
Ten years after Jesus' resurrection, one of the twelve apostles has been removed from the scene.
This was a grievous loss to the Church.
The Church looked up to him with a reverence and affection which, even their enemies would come to hear of.
He was one of the three whom the Lord admitted to His closest intimacy.
The death of James shattered the illusion that somehow, the twelve enjoyed a unique Divine protection.
James in particular, might have thought to have been "protected."
He was one of the special intimates of Jesus, often mentioned with his brother John and with Peter.

But let us remember that Jesus promised no special protection for even His closest followers.
He warned them to be ready for persecution. (Matthew 10:16-26).

All Luke tells us about the incident is that the beheading of James pleased the Jewish leaders and people.
 In Jewish law death by the sword was the penalty for murder or apostasy.
It was an ignominious mode of punishment, according to the Jews.
To make matters worse Herod seems bent on a systematic dismemberment of the movement.
And flushed with his first success, he next arrested Peter.
He placed Peter in prison under a secure guard.
It was the time of the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread, which immediately followed Passover.
Herod was a strict observer of the Law and festivals.
He wanted to avoid the possible uproar of people against murder during the festival time.
So Herod kept Peter in prison.

Peter was chained while he was in the prison.
And at night he was sleeping.
What gave him sleep in such a situation is not stated in the Bible.
Here Luke skillfully juxtaposes the power of the state and the power of the church.
The power of the state imprisoned Peter and intended to kill him; the power of the church went to action by earnestly praying to God for him.
In continuous, fervent, united prayer, the church intercedes for Peter.
Prayer is the only weapon the church had, and it is more than enough.
Luke presents prayer as "the natural atmosphere of God's people and the normal context for divine activity"

Peter in the prison was expecting a stingless death soon.
We are not sure whether he was expecting a miraculous escape.
Since his co worker James was executed the other day, Peter also would have been expecting a same fate.
Still he gave his life unto the hand of his Lord and slept peacefully.
By his sleep Peter models a deep trust in God's sovereignty.
We have no evidence to argue that Peter was full of hope for a miraculous escape.
After some time we see an angel from the Lord coming into the prison and asking Peter to wake up and walk out of the prison.
But Peter did not take it as real; he thought he was dreaming.

Luke relates Peter's evaluation of his experience.
Though awake enough to obey the orders of the angel, he does not think what he is experiencing is real.
He thinks he is seeing a vision.

A street away from the prison and alone, the angel having withdrawn, Peter comes to himself - that is, to a correct interpretation of what has just happened.
He affirms the reality, the source, the result and, by inference, the purpose of the rescue (12:11).
Peter knows that the escape has happened "in truth".
The Lord has the same power to rescue now as he did when he delivered Israel from Egypt.
That means, Peter in the prison was not hopeful of an escape.
He might not have been desperate but peaceful.
He expected death; he was sleeping by trusting his soul into the hands of his Lord.
Still God rescued him. That is important.

No motivation from the part of Peter, no faith in a miracle, no hope of escape did work for him.
It is God’s grace and power that rescued Peter.
It is simple because in the plan of God, Peter had a longer duty to perform.
We can surmise no other reason.

Any martyrdom is still a mark of God's sovereignty, not a sign of his weakness.
Martyrdom is His gracious purpose for us; not that he does not love us.
Any rescue is a sign of the triumphant advance and a mark that nothing can thwart the accomplishment of his purposes.
Since the arrest of Peter, may be for the seven days of Unleavened Feast, the church had been praying.
Thus long were the disciples kept waiting; their prayers apparently unavailing.
Their faith, as would seem from the sequel, waxing feeble.

They too lost all hope in a miraculous escape.

This is not the first time the church prayed for the rescue of a saint.
They were a faithful church; that is why they came together to pray for seven days even in the face of persecution.
They came together to pray for Peter, aware of the situation that the soldiers of the King may arrest and kill them.
Still they came together and fervently prayed for such a long time, even during the night for the imprisoned saint.

That means they were praying for James also.
They prayed for James as he was arrested and put in the prison.
They prayed with hope, expectation and faith, since they believed in a miraculous protection over the intimate disciple of Jesus.
But their prayer was not answered; James was killed.
Their faith shattered; their hope gone.
They had no words to explain God’s mysterious ways.

They felt defeated and abandoned.
They lost all motivation to pray.
They could not expecte an escape for Peter.
Still they prayed for Peter.
They prayed without any motivation.

Why I say that they prayed without any motivation?
The motivation they should have possessed is the rescue of Peter from death.
But they hoped no such miracle.

After the angel left Peter, he preceded to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark.
It was probably the gathering place of the house church to which Peter belonged.
At the moment fervent prayer for Peter was going on.
They were praying even during the night.

Peter went to the house and knocked at the closed door.
A maidservant named Rhoda was supposed to answer any knock on the door during the night.
When she came to answer the door, she understood that it was Peter.
So overcome with joy at the voice of Peter that she left him standing there and rushed without opening the door to announce his arrival to the praying church.
But the church did not accept her report.
They could not believe that Peter is rescued and had come to their house.
They were not expecting the miracle.
They were praying with no motivation, no hope of a rescue.

While the church members argue over the truthfulness of her report, Peter is left knocking and calling at the door.
The very answer to their prayers is knocking, and they do not believe it!
They declare Rhoda crazy.

When she sticks to her story, they conclude that it was Peter's guardian angel.
According to their Jewish tradition the guardian angel of a person would take on his attributes.
They were telling that the guardian angel in the shape of Peter has arrived either to announce Peter's death.
Even while they are praying for Peter, they find it hard to believe God actually answered their prayer.
Their prayer was earnest, but their faith was not overwhelming.
Their prayer had no motivation.


What shall we surmise?

I do not want to come to a conclusion that God will answer your hopeless prayers.
Faith and hope are two important elements of a successful Christian life.
But a formula of any kind is not a final way to release a miracle in your life.

This church was praying even when there was no motivation to pray.
They were distressed and hopeless.
They did not expect any miracle.
Still they knew one thing – they should pray.
Prayer is their duty and responsibility.

Prayer is not presenting a shipping list to our God.
Prayer is a communion with God.

Remember, God came every evening to visit Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, not to accept a list of demands from them.
God came to them for a sweet communion with them.
Prayer is a communion with God where we pour out our heart, not only its joy but also its despair and hopelessness.

Prayer is life breath to a believer.
As long as he lives in this world, he cannot but pray.
The church at Jerusalem knew it and so even without any hope for a miracle, they went to their Lord and poured out their heart.

God received it and acted accordingly.
The rescue was completed, God’s Word spread around and the church grew.




No comments:

Post a Comment