What Gospel Mission Requires
James Killed and Peter Imprisoned
 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.  He killed James the brother of John with the sword,  and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.  So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Peter Is Rescued
 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands.  And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”  And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.  When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him.  When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.  And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer.  Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate.  They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!”  But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.  But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter.  And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.
The Death of Herod
 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food.  On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.  And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
 But the word of God increased and multiplied.  And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. (ESV)
- God invites us as his disciples to join Him in His mission to advance the gospel.
- As individuals and as a church, we have a part to play! And the narrative before us underscores, it highlights two key ways we do just that: through our sacrifice and our prayers.
- We participate in the advance of the gospel in part by taking up our crosses, by laying our lives down for the cause of Christ. And we participate as well by giving ourselves to fervent prayer for the mission, even when we find ourselves in impossible situations with daunting circumstances confronting us.
- Two key aspects of faithful participation in Gospel-mission:
- The Apostle John, in the book of Revelation, spoke of those who conquer Satan “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11)”
- The example of James and the early church reminds us that Gospel-mission advances through the costly sacrifices of God’s people.
“there is a broader principle at stake—a call to Christians to die to self-interest. All Christians must die to self. We are to take up our cross and follow Christ, and this means that by conscious act of the will, strengthened by the Spirit, we choose to die to self-interest daily and promote Christ’s interest’s daily” – D.A. Carson
“To take up your cross does not mean to move forward with courage despite the fact you lost your job or your spouse. It means you are under sentence of death; you are taking up the horizontal cross-member on your way to the place of crucifixion. You have abandoned all hope of life in this world. And then, Jesus says, and only then, are we ready to follow him.” – D.A. Carson
- After James was killed, Herod proceeded vs 3 to arrest Peter.
- James had died, and it looked like Peter would be next.
- Imagine the pain and the grief, sorrow, and fear the early church must have felt.
- James was no longer with them and what would happen to them now – if Peter, their leader, their Senior Pastor if you will, also died?
- “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made by the church (verse 5).”
- When this trial, this most frightening trial engulfed the early church – one apostle was dead; the other awaited execution– how did they respond?
- Instead of languishing in doubt, fear and unbelief, they prayed. They earnestly, they fervently prayed.
- When Christians come up against trying circumstances, they can easily be cynical and negative while thinking they are just embracing God’s sovereign will.
- At one level aa cynical attitude can be understandable–especially if a person has been through some hard trials and seen God not answer prayers in ways that he or she had hoped.
- Just because a cynical attitude is understandable doesn’t mean its right. And the reason a cynical attitude is not right is because it flows from a heart of unbelief.
- God calls us to pray in faith, yet we know God is sovereign and in His sovereignty He doesn’t always give us what we hope and pray for.
- So what do we do? In Scripture God calls us to simply live within this tension. He invites us to come to him with faith-filled prayer AND to trust His sovereign wisdom in all circumstances. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.
- God invites us to pray in faith for God to move and to trust Him and in His sovereignty when answers are delayed or don’t come in the way we had hoped.
- Our passage today beckons us in the direction of faith. It serves as an invitation to pray.
- They prayed earnestly, fervently and with all faith to their God who can move mountains.
- How did God respond? God moved mightily and did beyond what they could have ever asked or imagined.
- In keeping with the example of the early church- — our part is to do at least these two things: sacrifice and pray.
- How is God calling you to afresh to sacrifice for the sake of Christ and His gospel?
- May the Lord help us to join together and pray fervently and in faith for the advance of the gospel!
Questions for Discussion/Application:
- Re-read the text, Acts 12 What initial observations and insights do you have from reading this text?
- How does the sacrifice of James, and of the church in Jerusalem affect you?
- Consider re-reading the D.A. Carson quotes under point #1. What does it mean to “take up our cross.” Practically speaking what does it mean for you to do this now, today in this season of your life? In seeking to apply this think through spheres of life. What does it mean to take up your cross in the workplace, the home, the church?
- What lessons can we learn from prayer from this passage?
- When it comes to prayer, do you think cynicism is a problem we can deal with?
- What are some of the root heart issues that can cause us to have a cynical attitude in relationship to prayer?
- What should our attitude be towards prayers that God doesn’t answer in the way that we had hoped?
- How do we strike that balance between praying in faith yet trusting God when things at times don’t go the way we had hoped? Consider taking time to pray, asking God that he would help us to be people who faithfully lay our lives down for Christ. Pray also that God would help us to pray with greater boldness and faith for him to move, while we trust fully in His sovereign will.