Acts 12


Acts 12: The Powers to Be

Now as we come to the close of chapter 11, Luke tells us the Lord’s hand is on the believers as they spread the Gospel  in Antioch and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. As a result, the church in Jerusalem sends Barnabas to Antioch.

Barnabas was a logical choice- he spoke the language; was an encourager; a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and faith.  A missionary needs those requirements- understanding of the people’s language and customs and to be an encourager. The spiritual gift of encouragement or exhorting ,which Barnabas possessed, is helpful where there are new believers who need to be encouraged.  Often today our missionaries in the field know that new believers will face opposition from family and friends who are not believers. They need encouraging.

Barnabas is further described as : a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.  A good man is one who goes about doing good. Not just talking about it but doing it. He is also likeable with a spirit of helpfulness- not a critical spirit of condemnation. We know the Spirit filled life- the Spirit controlled life is necessary to accomplish what only God can accomplish and this is linked with faith.

We see the relationship that began between Saul of Tarsus and Barnabas back in chapter 9 when Barnabas introduced and spoke on Saul’s behalf to the apostles, renewed. As Barnabas- being full of the Spirit is directed to go look for Saul and involve him in a teaching ministry in Antioch that will last for over a year. It will also be the beginning of Saul’s ministry to the Gentiles. As the apostle Paul he will become the missionary to the Gentiles and the Lord will use Paul to write much of the New Testament and give us such great works of doctrine as the Book of Romans.

Luke, ever the historian, regularly gives us time lines by recording significant events such as the severe famine which occurred during the reign of Claudius.

So like an epic movie with many main characters, the story of the early church in Acts moves quickly from one scene to the next . A scene that begins with the first martyr of the early church, the death of the apostle, James, the older brother of John.  

King Herod arrests some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.( Acts 12:1)

He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. ( Beheaded).Acts 12:2. 

When he saw this pleased the Jews, he seized Peter also. This happened during the Feast of the Unleavened Bread.  So Herod, ever the politician is pleasing the Jews who control the Temple, the High Priests and his council. Obviously, he intends to behead Peter also.

Remembering the fiasco with the empty tomb of Jesus, King Herod takes extra precaution. Peter is guarded by 16 soldiers awaiting trial after the Feast is over. Is there any doubt regarding the outcome of this trial?  The trial will be no more than a show of strength and the second beheading of an important apostle to serve as a message and a warning to this early church  movement. 

Verse 5 tells us Peter is kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying. ( KJV states: ‘prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him(Peter).  Now the night before he is to be brought to trial, Peter is sleeping between two soldiers bound with two chains.  ( this scene reminds me of Houdini who would have himself handcuffed by police, chained and locked in a trunk and thrown in the river, only to escape and baffle the audience). King Herod and the Jews believe they can make it too difficult for even God to free Peter.  But is anything too hard for God?  NO!

First let’s observe the behavior of Peter. Peter is sleeping soundly. Surely Peter possesses the peace that passes understanding that is a result of bringing his prayer and petitions with thanksgiving to God.

The angel awakens Peter, the chains fall away. The angel directs Peter to put on his clothes and his sandals and follow him. Peter follows the angel right out of the prison, doors unlocked , passing right by those 16 sentries and iron gates as if invisible.  Peter is not sure whether this is happening or he is dreaming.  The angel leaves him on the street. And Peter came to himself and realized what the Lord has done.

Peter states as much for himself as us: “ Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent an angel and rescued me from the clutches of Herod and the expectations of the Jews.” (Verse 11)

Looking around Peter realizes where he is and goes to the house of Mary the mother of John Mark. ( We believe Mary, John Mark’s mother was the sister of Barnabas.) The church, the believers, were gathered here praying for Peter. Peter knocks on the door and a young servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized  Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back into the house to tell everyone and left Peter standing outside the locked gate.  Peter is at the door she tells everyone who is inside praying.

Their response:  you are out of your mind,it must be his angel.  Peter in the meanwhile, keeps on knocking. They opened the door and they were astonished.

I do not know why James, the older brother of John was not spared and Peter is delivered in such spectacular fashion.  The only thing I can note is there is no mention of prayer for James while we are told the church prayed earnestly, without ceasing for Peter.  Perhaps, James was beheaded suddenly without the knowledge of the church, Luke does not tell us so we can only guess. However, the prayers for Peter are what this story is all about.

So let us look at how the Lord intends to empower the church, for that is the focus of this story.

God empowers the church by the following methods. And remember God has not changed, neither have his methods or ways. 

  1. Empowers His church by power of prayer.
  2. Empowers His church by the Word of God.
  3. Empowers His church by the Power of the Gospel.
  4. Empowers His church by the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to what God has to say about prayer.  “ Moreover the word of the Lord came unto Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the prison, saying, “ Thus saith the Lord the Maker thereof, the Lord that formed it, established it; the Lord is His Name: ‘ call unto Me and I will answer thee, and show thee  great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” (Jeremiah 33: 1-3)

I want us to notice three things in these verses: The first is God encourages us to pray. Second, God has promised to answer. Third- God has promised to show us great things we do not know. God promises to reveal answers to all of life’s decisions.  Isn’t this amazing?  And like the early church in this answered prayer to Peter’s release- we will be astonished.

Did you notice where Jeremiah was when God spoke to him?  In prison.  God does not allow difficulty for the sake of difficulty- there is always a higher purpose involved.

The Power of Prayer.

“Therefore since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in everyway, just as we are- yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” ( Heb. 4: 14-16)

“But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea,blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; for he is double-minded and unstable in all his ways.” ( James 1; 6-8)  James 4 tells us- ‘we have not because we ask not, or we ask amiss  that we might consume it ourselves.

These verses tell us we can enter the throne room of heaven boldly and with confidence to have an audience with none other than the Lord Jesus, our High Priest. He is the one who died in our place  and gave Himself up for us.  Paul says in Romans 8- think about it- ‘ if God did not spare His only Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will He not also along with Him(Jesus) graciously give us all things?

These verses in Hebrews tells us we can enter the throne room boldly. The verses in James tell us we must ask and not doubt. How can we ask and not doubt? That is the question we most often want to know. I John 5:14, 15 says:  “And this is the confidence we have in HIM, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us; and if we know that He hears us ,whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions we desired of Him.” There is your answer.  I know- you are saying- okay so there is a catch. The catch is your request must be in the will of God. Just as a loaded gun has a ‘safety catch’, so does the power of prayer. It is there for our safety.  Since God has all wisdom- He would not give us anything we asked of Him that was out of His will since it would harm us. No more than an earthly father would give a child something he knew would harm him.

James tells us the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man( or woman) availeth much.  To be effective our prayer must be in the will of God. His will is revealed in His word. It must be fervent- that is persistent.  It must come from a righteous person- one whose sins are confessed up to date. And when we come seeking His will in a matter- God will reveal His will. Can we always know the will of God? Yes- but not always at first. That is why prayer is a will alignment. Not my trying to persuade God to do it my way- but coming with a willingness to do it His way. It is that attitude, along with a study of His Word and specific requests that I will come to discover His will. If I am praying specifically for something – such as getting a position at work I have applied for- and do not get it- then the Lord has revealed His Will. Now this brings us to the question of praying for the lost.

The heart of God is the Great Commission. Peter says the Lord is not willing that any should perish – but all should come to repentance.  Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2: “…God, Our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” Jesus said of Jerusalem- he longed to gather them to himself as a mother hen does her chicks- but they would not.   Jesus said light has come into the world, but men preferred darkness.   So here are the facts as the Bible reveals them:

Fact#1. God wants everyone to be saved.

Fact#2. God does not want anyone to go to hell.

Fact#3. God sent Jesus to pay for our sins.

Fact#4. God has given us the responsibility to tell the world- the Great Commission.

Fact#5. God is going to hold us accountable.

I do not understand that  if the fact is God is not willing that any should perish, but all would come to repentance. Why then do some not come to repentance? I do not understand nor can I reconcile the truth that men have seen the light and chosen darkness or that Jesus desired to gather Jerusalem like a mother hen her chicks- but they would not. I only know the Bible says they ( the lost) are without excuse.

What  I do understand is I am to pray for the lost, witness to the lost and leave what I do not understand to God’s sovereignty.  The lost are in bondage, held captive by the enemy. Our responsibility as the church as believers is to combat Satan to rescue the perishing. God has equipped us for the battle. ( Ephesians 6).  He has given us power and that power is in prayer.  Like the disciples we must learn how to pray. And the Lord has given us a teacher- the Holy Spirit who will guide us in truth.

The Power of the Word of God.

We should always, if possible prepare for prayer by studying the Word of God. Let God speak to us first through His word before we speak to Him.  “ For the word of God is alive and powerful. Sharper than a two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” Hebrews 4:12-13.

The Word of God has convicting power. It is a discerner of our thoughts.  As an man thinketh in his heart- so is he.

The Word of God has cleansing power. “ You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.: (John 15:3) “Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth.: ( john 17:17)

The Word of God has abiding power. “ If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)

“So it is my word that goes forth from my mouth: It will not return void(empty) but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” ( Isaiah 55:11)

The Power of the Gospel.

The Gospel, the ‘good news’  is a truth of God with a specific message. It is through the gospel that we are saved and hearts are changed. It has the power to change the heart. Paul writes: “ For I am not ashamed of the Gospel   because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it was written: the righteous shall live by faith.” ( Romans 1)

The Apostle Paul was an intelligent man.  Much of society today in the 21st century believe those of us who believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God are not very smart. That we are an ignorant and superstitious people.  Paul was not ashamed of the gospel- intellectually, socially or morally. He stood toe-to-toe with the intelligent Greek philosophers and expounded  the truth of God’s Word. 

The Power of the Holy Spirit.

“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord Almighty.” (Zech 4: 6)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1- Jesus speaking)

“ the Spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly.” ( Proverbs 20:27)

Until the Holy Spirit of God lights the candle of man’s spiritual life, he cannot see and know God. Man is spiritually dead- an unlit candle-,until the Holy Spirit comes in at salvation and takes up residence. He or she then becomes spiritually alive.

He not only empowers us to witness; He guides us in truth and enables us to understand spiritual truths and what God has freely given us.  He also groans for us when we do not know how to pray. Do you not see how  all of this begins to fit together?  Prayer. The Word of God. The Gospel. Then the Power of the Spirit of God.

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is equal in every way with God the Father and God the Son. He vitally affects the life of the born-again believer.

Here is what Jesus said prior to his death, burial, resurrection and return to heaven:  “ it is to your advantage that I go away: for if I do not go away the Helper shall come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7)

The Holy Spirit regenerates; He indwells; He seals; He assures; He convicts of sin and righteousness; He seals; He is the earnest of our inheritance; He empowers so that we can do al thingl through Christ who strengthens us.

The word of God commands us to be filled with the Spirit- to be controlled by the Spirit. God will not command you and me to do something He does not enable us to do.

And we are to walk in the Spirit the same way we receive Him. How? By grace through faith.

The prayers that moved God to send an angel to free Peter were answered not because those who prayed had greater faith than we do today. In fact- they were astonished that Peter  had been freed.

It is not our faith or our prayers that move mountains. It is God who moves mountains- but God moves mountains because of our prayers. As far as faith goes- faith as small as a grain of mustard seed can cause God to cast mountains into seas.  It is not the amount of our faith- it is the object of our faith. Our faith is in Him- God Almighty. The all-wise, all knowing , all powerful , never changing God who spared not His only Son and who longs to give us good gifts and do great and mighty things we know not.

Will you join me in praying to our Heavenly Father? Will you be faithful to pray for one another? For the sick, the troubled and the lost? Pray for our church, our country our leaders?  How about praying for our enemy?  For we are commanded to pray for all of this.  

Do you not see that God wants us to be all that He created us and saved us to be and not only that God has given us the POWERS TO BE!

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14