Acts chapter 12 is full of some great highs and lows. From the martyrdom of James to the miraculous deliverance of Peter out of prison with the help of an angel, God’s justice over King Herod Agrippa, and the return of Paul and Silas to Antioch from Jerusalem. This chapter reads almost like an iconic movie of today - taking you on a journey filled with tears of sorrow one moment and immense joy and celebration the next. Serving as the linchpin, if you will, between the Gospels, which tell us the story of Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection, and the Epistles, which are the letters written to various first-century churches and individuals. As we read through Acts we will get a front row seat to discovering how God’s plan of salvation would play itself out in the world as the church is birthed and begins to take shape.
I wish we could say that the first 30-35 years after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension were like the Garden of Eden take two. After all, surely there was no way to continue to deny Jesus was who He said He was at this point, which could only lead to a world fully surrendered to Him! However, that is definitely not what we see unfold. Why? Because. One word - PEOPLE.
Albert Einstein was quoted as saying “Two things are infinite - the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
I have no doubt we have all shared that sentiment at some point in our lives. Why is it so easy to feel this way about our fellow co-workers, neighbors, or even family members? Because without the Holy Spirit and the redemptive work of Jesus working in our hearts and lives daily, we are all just flawed and broken people out here formulating our own flawed, broken, and quite frankly selfish and self-serving agendas and plans.
We see this play out clearly here in Acts 12 verses 1-5 when we read that Herod not only violently killed James with the sword, which, as verse 3 tells us, “pleased the Jews”, but as a way to continue to pump up his ego and popularity, Herod rides that wave of praise on home by having Peter arrested!
Oh, how fickle we can be. How easily we are swayed by the opinions and actions of others when left to our own devices. And God knew this about His people. He knew that on our own we were going to mess up ALL the things. So what did He do? He sent the Holy Spirit.
If we continue on in Acts 12 we see in verses 6-19 the account of Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison, which stands in stark contrast in many ways when we look at the actions and attitudes of those involved.
As we discussed before, in verses 1-5 we see the arrogance and greed of Herod as his actions point to and look out for one person and one person only - HIMSELF. Here is Herod, a man not only free to do as he wishes but with the power to do so. I can’t even begin to imagine the powerful impact he could have had on the spread of the gospel and the building of the church had he been one of the many who had recently come into a relationship with Christ and had been filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
And then, in verses 6-19 we have Peter. A man with the DESIRE to help bring about change but who is quite literally not free to do so as he sits in a jail cell - faithfully waiting and praying. Unlike Herod, Peter didn’t take matters into his own hands by screaming injustice and shaming his accusers. He didn’t sit in his cell and sulk while he awaited his trial. Nope. Peter got busy doing the only thing he knew, and quite honestly the only thing he COULD do in this situation where his hands seemed both literally AND figuratively tied..He Prayed! And when he prayed God showed up in a powerful way - delivering him from his jail cell and reuniting him with other believers who were standing in faith and prayer with him, believing for his deliverance.
How many times in life have we been in a place like Peter? No, we may not have been in an actual prison, but we were bound up by insecurity, fear, bitterness, desperation, sorrow, or uncertainty and our thought was “Well, the only thing we can do is pray.” Even as long-time Christians - those who KNOW prayer is our greatest weapon! Those who have seen firsthand the ways God has worked the miraculous, making a way where there seems to be no way time and time again. We are often guilty of thinking or even speaking that very phrase. Why is that? We KNOW God is able. We KNOW His ways are higher. We KNOW…We KNOW…We KNOW!
Because there is a bit of Herod hiding in each of us. For some of us - it’s buried down deeper than in others, but it’s there. That sinful nature that has trust issues and says “Yes God come and do what only you can do but while you do that I’m going to be over here doing this other thing just to help things along.” Or that prideful part of you that struggles to, as that old saying goes, “Let go and let God” because surely you need to play a larger role in this whole thing!
Newsflash, friends - GOD DOESN’T NEED ANY OF US! He can do ALL the things without you and without me! And that is honestly the best and most humbling part of this journey through life with Jesus because that means he CHOOSES us! He CHOOSES to bring us along for the journey. He CHOOSES to allow us to be a part of the process! But in order for Him to do that, we have to surrender our desires, our dreams, and our goals for His, Herod used his freedom to elevate himself and imprison others. A temporary and menial reward at best. But Paul, imprisoned but filled with and working through the power of the Holy Spirit, was able to play such a powerful role in the story of countless others being set free and equipping them to do the same for those around them. A reward that will literally last for eternity. And it was all made possible because Peter lived a life that said, “The only thing we NEED to do is pray.”
Let that be our prayer today. That we would be a people of humility and trust. A people of faith and surrender. A people of steadfast faith and unceasing prayer that, like Jesus, declares “God, not my will but yours be done.”