Welcome back to the reopening of Life Church. We’ve been closed for nine Sundays due to the current crisis. But it’s great to be back worshiping the Lord together.
Psalm 100:2-4 (ESV) Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!
It’s wonderful to be able to sing together and worship the Lord with one another. We give thanks to the Lord for His protection, guidance and provision for our church family. Our current message series is called “Church Without Walls.” In this season, we’ve continued to meet virtually through the internet and by phone over the past months. Now, we’re moving forward in beginning to meet together again on Sunday mornings.
We’re doing things carefully with attention to everyone’s safety. I want to say thank you to Ballwin police chief Doug Schaeffler who is overseeing our security and safety protocols. We’re going to continue our Zoom small group meetings during the week. If you haven’t been involved in these meetings, we encourage you to take part in at least one small group meeting each week. All you need is a phone or computer to participate. It’s as simple as clicking a link to get involved.
We’re also going to stream the service live on Sunday mornings for those who aren’t able to attend our service. However, we do believe there’s something important about gathering together for worship, prayer and hearing the Word. So, we’re so grateful to God for opening the door for that to happen once again.
Today, our message is entitled “Prevailing Church.” Not matter what comes against God’s church, the church will prevail and continue to impact lives for Jesus. Jesus said in …
Matthew 16:18 (ESV) … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Satan and the gates of hell meant this current crisis for evil, to harm people and the church of God. But God is and is going to use it for good. The church will continue to grow across the world and reach more and more people for Jesus. I believe that Life Church will continue to grow both spiritually and numerically as we continue to trust and seek God. God is shaking the entire world in our time, so that His church and Kingdom will prevail. The gates of hell will not prevail, they will not have the last word. God and the church that Jesus died for will come through this stronger than ever. We will prevail against the gates of hell and rescue many more people for Jesus.
Today, we’re going to be studying a fascinating story from Acts 12. We’re going to learn how the early church prevailed in a difficult season in their history. I believe that God wants to encourage us in the time that we are in as well. The first principle we need to embrace is that …
Acts 12:1-2 (ESV) 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,
You’ll recall that back in Acts 7, Stephen was the first martyr. He was stoned to death by the Jewish leaders for teaching about Jesus. Now the Roman government was getting involved in persecution of the church. To enhance his own popularity King Herod sought to please the Jews. As the Jews were upset with the growth of the church through both Gentiles and Jews being saved, Herod decided to persecute the church. Herod began to arrest and behead with the sword those the Jews most feared. James, the brother of John, was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus. He was beheaded with the sword, just as John the Baptist had been during the ministry of Jesus.
Acts 12:3-4 (ESV) 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.
Since the killing of James pleased the Jews, Herod arrested one of the most prominent apostles in Jerusalem, Peter. The Jews were holding the festival of unleavened bread followed by the Passover. So Herod, kept Peter in prison until these Jewish holidays were over to avoid upsetting them. The plan was to execute Peter after the Passover. Earlier in Acts 5, the apostles had been arrested but angels had helped them to escape.
To keep that from happening, four squads of soldiers were assigned to guard Peter. Each squad would guard him for three hours at a time. Each squad had four soldiers. Two would be in the cell chained to Peter and two at the cell door. Seemed like an impossible situation. Stephen, a great church leader had been stoned to death. James had been beheaded. Now Peter was scheduled to be executed after Passover. Things did not seem to be looking good for the church.
Acts 12:5 (ESV) So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
The only thing the church could do was pray. The church consisted of thousands of people by this time and had no buildings to meet in. So, they met in homes to pray earnestly that somehow God would do the impossible and rescue Peter from death by execution.
Acts 12:6 (ESV) 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.
The next morning would have been the day after Passover. Herod’s plan was to bring Peter out on that day for public execution. We see four soldiers charged with guarding Peter, making sure that he did not escape. Suddenly an angel appeared in the cell with Peter and hit him to wake him up. As Peter got up, the chains binding him to the guards fell off. The angel told Peter to get dressed and to follow him. This was so surreal that Peter thought he was in a vision. The guards that had been chained to him were in a deep sleep, as were the sentries. As the angel and Peter approached the iron gate of the prison, it opened by itself. As they left the prison grounds, the angel disappeared.
Acts 12:11 (ESV) 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.”
Peter realized that his escape had not been a dream or vision, but reality. The impossible had happened, he had been rescued from certain death. The united prayer of the church was powerful.
In the story so far, we see the importance of prayer meetings. We see prayer meetings throughout the book of Acts because they are essential to the growth of the church and its members. You may have the questions “Why can’t we all just pray individually at home?” We all can and should have our individual Bible study and prayer times each day. Yet, there is something powerful released as the people of God gather together to pray. God’s Spirit is present in a special way.
In the last couple of months, we’ve been having weekly Seek God meetings to pray together through Zoom video/audio conferencing on our phones or computers. We’re going to continue those and hope to have even more people participate, so that they and the entire church family can be blessed. Perhaps you’ve been apprehensive about getting involved in a prayer meeting. Maybe you feel like you couldn’t pray in front of other people. The good news is that you don’t have to pray aloud in any of our prayer meetings. You can simply listen and agree with other’s prayers. Your very presence and silent prayers are a blessing. As you listen and agree with the prayers of others, God will teach you more about prayer as well. I would like to encourage every attender to be involved in at least one of our weekly meetings outside of the Sunday morning worship service. We have small groups meeting in the evenings on Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Details are on the front page of our website, www.lifechurchstlouis.org. United prayer is powerful.
Acts 12:13-14 (ESV) 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.
Peter found his way to house of Mary where a prayer meeting was going on. This was one of the small group meetings that was engaged in praying for Peter to be rescued from prison and imminent execution. The servant girl, Rhoda, answered the door and excitedly ran to tell the others that Peter as there.
Acts 12:15-16 (ESV) 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.
The people praying for Peter’s release didn’t believe her and told her that she was crazy. When she kept on telling them that Peter was at the door, they tried to dismiss her saying she must be seeing Peter’s guardian angel. Peter kept knocking and when he finally came inside, everyone was amazed that their prayers had actually been answered. It seems that the believers were praying fervently for Peter, but really didn’t have much faith that their prayers would be answered. They certainly did not expect Peter to show up at the door of the house that they were praying in. Yet, God answered the prayers of people who were not praying with great faith. That should be an encouragement to all of us, who often feel as though we do not have great faith for the things that we are praying for.
Acts 12:17 (ESV) 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.
Peter addressed the prayer meeting and told them the story of how the angel came and miraculously brought him out of the prison. Then he left for a safer place. Great faith is not required for our prayers to be answered. Jesus said that if you have faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, great things can be accomplished through prayer.
Sometimes we tend to disqualify ourselves or our prayers. We may think that our prayers are not working or somehow we don’t have enough faith. There are many things in life that take time to grow in and master.
For example, suppose you wanted to learn to play the piano. In order to play the piano, you would need to take lessons from someone who was proficient. You would observe how they played the piano and then you would practice. Your practice would begin with simple pieces and then eventually to more complicated pieces. To become a good piano player would normally take years of lessons and practice.
God desires for every believer to be a good prayer. A good prayer is simply someone who has learned to talk to God. To listen to God and speak back to God as one would converse with another person. As you learn to pray in private, you will have more confidence to pray with others as the Lord leads you. The more you pray and see answers to your prayers, the more your faith will grow. God desires for our church to grow in prayer power as each of us grows in our prayer lives. Next we’ll see in our story that …
Remember that it was King Herod that had taken up this campaign of persecution, executing the apostle James and trying to execute Peter.
Acts 12:21-22 (ESV) 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!”
Herod was a very prideful man who lived in great luxury and decadence. As he was speaking to the people, they began to change, the voice of a god, not a man.
Acts 12:23 (ESV) 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.
Here we see another activity of angels, in which they struck down King Herod. Not only had he been persecuting and killing believers, now he was accepted worship as a divinity. The historian Josephus records that he was overcome in violent pain at his speech and died in agony a few days later. The Scripture has no record how the church was praying regarding King Herod, but I have no doubt that their prayers were instrumental in God’s judgment. Herod, who had sought to execute Peter, had in turn been judged by an angel of the Lord.
Why did God allow the apostle James to be executed and Peter rescued? We don’t know the answer to that question. Yet, we must believe that God’s purpose for James’ life was over and he went to his reward in heaven. While Peter still had much work to be done for the kingdom. The next verse gives the conclusion to our story today.
Acts 12:24 (ESV) But the word of God increased and multiplied.
The word of King Herod was silenced forever. Yet God’s Word increased and multiplied. What does that mean? God’s Word increases and multiplies as it is taught and changes people’s lives. As people are saved by believing the truth of God’s Word about Jesus, they in turn begin to speak God’s Word to others. As the chain of the truth of God’s Word increases, the Word and the number of believers increases exponentially. God’s church is unstoppable. Nothing can stop the forward movement and growth of God’s family across the world.
God is sovereign, He raises up and removes leaders over countries even today. As we pray, even with little faith, God moves mountains. I believe that God has great things ahead for our church, Life Church. Even though God is shaking the entire world, His kingdom and church will not be shaken. We are built upon the unshakable rock of Jesus Christ. The church will prevail. As the church advances, each member of the church will be blessed and continue to grow spiritually. As the church advances, more people will be saved and added to the Kingdom, including your friends and relatives that you’re praying for. I’m glad that we’re part of God’s prevailing church.