I. A CRISIS: A fledgling church faces a crisis (12:1-4)
- Herod arrests, persecutes and kills church leaders.
- A crisis rocks the fledgling church: James is beheaded. Peter is imprisoned.
- Why? In order to appease and curry favor of a group of powerful religious leaders.
II. THE RESPONSE: How do we tend to respond to a crisis? What could this little community of Jesus, in its powerlessness, do against the armed might of Rome? (12:5,12)
- The Church gathers to pray.
- How did they pray? Earnestly, fervently, intently – being stretched out.
- When did they pray? Through the night.
- What does this phrase imply: “The night before” (v.6)? God is seldom early, but He is never late.
- According to this passage, for what purposes does God use suffering in the lives of His children?
- Imagine you are in this prayer gathering. How do you respond to Rhoda’s news and the sight of Peter?
- Has God’s answer to prayer ever surprised you?
III. OUTCOMES: What are the outcomes? (12:6-24)
- EVERYTHING IS REVERSED. Here we have the complete reversal of the church’s fortune. At the beginning of this chapter Herod is on a rampage – arresting and persecuting church leaders; at the end he himself is struck down and dies. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing; it closes with the power of God to overthrow hostile human plans and to establish his own in their place. Tyrants may be permitted for a time to boast and bluster, oppressing the church and hindering the spread of the gospel, but they will not last. In the end, their empire will be broken and their pride abased” (Stott, The Spirit, The Church and The World, p. 213).
- ANSWERED PRAYER. Peter is freed through the divine intervention of an angel.sent from God (vv.7-11, 17). How ironic that the group who was “praying fervently and persistently for Peter’s deliverance should regard as mad the person who informed them that their prayers had been answered” (Stott, p. 211). Why was Peter spared and James was not?
- THE PROUD ARE HUMBLED: The Lord judges the tyrant Herod due to his pride (vv.19b-24).
- THE WORD SPREADS: The Word of God continued to increase and spread (v. 24). What might it cost you for the Word of God to spread through you?
IV. What are some lessons that we can learn from Acts 12?
- Is there a situation that you feel powerless to resolve? Prayer is the only power that the powerless possess.
- “Here are two communities, the world and the church, arrayed against one another, each wielding an appropriate weapon. On one side was the authority of Herod, the power of the sword and the security of prison. On the other side, the church turned to prayer, which is that only power which the powerless possess” (Stott, pp. 208-209).
- Paul sings hymns in prison. Peter sleeps like a baby. Both are equally defiant in the face of death. You can be too.
- If you have a position of leadership and something you do goes well, how do you appropriately give glory to God?