This is what I see in today’s prison gem. Two disciples of Christ are singled out. Everyone loves to talk about Peter and his faith, but we quickly gloss over James hard story. It’s been 12 years since Jesus died, was raised, ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit… this is a point of the story where theire is a transition of the spread of the gospel. A transition in life, always brings a test of faith. How will you respond?
The transition in Acts. Prior to this passage it is established through a vision of Peter that the gospel message is meant for gentiles. In the chapter after Acts 12 Paul goes on his first missionary journey to the gentiles. Acts 12 the transition. It is the challenge to the faith of the leaders. How will they respond in the face of adversity. Will they grow in their faith or retreat to a safer place? The crisis hits as Herod (a later Herod, not the Herod of Jesus birth) arrests Christians. READ Acts 12:1. Here’s the challenge READ Acts 12:2. If you have any romantic ideas of the gospel going forth to the gentiles with a few bumps along the way, think again. Reality hits. James dies.'
I glanced at one older sermon by a man I’ve admired over the years. He noted James died and Peter escaped from prison and asked, what’s the difference? His answer, prayer. READ Acts 12:3-5. I don’t believe Peter lived because of prayer but James died because the people weren’t praying enough. That would reduce prayer to a magic formula: if I pray right out will pop a genie and give me the answer I desire. God does not need my prayers to accomplish his purposes. We are invited to enter God’s work through prayer and we are changed, we are more available, we are more aware of God. A huge part of prayer: “Your will be done.” Faith allows God to answer our prayers in his way.
I look at James and ask if I have enough faith to die: wiliness to die if that is God’s will. It is a simple quick verse you barely notice: READ Acts 12:2. James dies and Peter gets a miracle… it is simply God’s sovereign will, not a magic formula…
How the disciples and Peter respond to the death of James is impressive. Their testimony is a gem to show us what it means to grow in our faith. Adversity and disappointment will always be a part of life on this earth, even for people of faith. How we respond determines the depth of our faith. I don’t know why James died, but it is a sobering reminder that following Christ is a risk, not a game….
when tension comes, look to Peter and the disciples as an example of keep on keeping on in faith.
The message of James’ death is that following Christ is serious business. In my world, being a pastor has a thousand joys and delights, but it is not always easy…. Don’t become a pastor if you expect nothing but accolades…anyone with responsibilities will tell you the same thing… James died. The world is harsh. As we look at how Peter & the disciples respond to the death of James, they are an example of how we can grow in our faith when facing disappointments. As we emerge from the coronavirus restrictions, I pray for people of faith to grow strong in the Lord… I love it when people accept Christ, but to see people grow in their faith in Jesus Christ is an equal delight. Amen!
The first thing the disciples do is PRAY. READ Acts 12:6. They could have chosen to disband, grumble, withdraw, but in the face of the death of James they pray “earnestly”. Praying uses energy for something positive rather than dwelling on the negative. To pray is to focus on God… Prayer is active, deliberate… as we pray we discover the heartbeat of God, leaving our lives in his hands to work out our world according to his purposes. To pray is to accept reality as it is but have high expectations because God is good. Prayer invites us to be creative, challenging God to work out the impossible in His way. To pray, believing Jesus Christ hear our prayers, is attitude changing. When you face tension, disappointments, PRAY.
The next lesson: REST. READ Acts 12:6. Herod has a ridiculous number of guards… why? It shows the importance of Peter, but I think it highlights the truth that Herod is afraid of Peter. When somebody is critical of you, hostile, angry… it says more about them than you. Keep that perspective. It’s not easy being the dog that is kicked, but it is more true than not… I don’t mean I am above criticism, I ALWAYS consider what is said and seek to correct whatever people say is wrong with me, if I feel they are right and I’m able… However, angry critical people are usually afraid of something, or trying not to face their own shortcomings… “Peter was sleeping.” Your faith deepens when you can sleep! Peter knew James had died…he must be expecting to be next. BTW, the Bible does not say the substance of the fervent prayers. We tend to assume they were praying for a miracle for Peter to escape. Why? We assume that’s the highest answer to prayer. I think they could well have been praying for Peter to remain faithful no matter what. There’s a reason the Bible doesn’t specify the prayer request…
Respond to hardship with Fervent Prayer, Deep Rest...
God takes over in Peter’s story and sends an angel. READ Acts 12:7. There is no formula for when miracles happen. I am a firm believer God wants us to use wisdom to use as a first option, but He alone decides when to perform a miracle. This I know too, when I am praying and when I am rested, I am more likely to have my eyes open to the miracle… more likely to give God credit for working out the mess of my life at the right time in the right way. God alone decides when and how miracles happen, or they wouldn’t be miracles, they’d be laws… Why James died and Peter lived is only because that’s the way God writes the story and he alone knows. It’s not about fairness, it’s not about God treating people all the same, and it’s about God’s sovereignty…. I have to be willing to die, for my plans to fail, my abilities to run out, me facing disappointment. I am also the recipient of God’s grace and his miracles…
Prayer, Rest, Open our Eyes to see God’s miracles, and OBEDIENCE. READ Acts 12:8-10. When hardship comes it is tempting to feel sorry for myself. I have been dropping in on a person with major problems struggling mightily including very harsh things out of her control…for no fault of her own she has faced hardships that I cannot fathom. As I visit her, on and on she speaks of the injustices, the unfairness, she feels the weight of what she perceives as judgmental attitudes against her, persecution, bad things… as I counsel her I try to guide her in a better path of boldness, to talk about what steps to take to turn around…it’s up to her to take the necessary steps now, I don’t know what path she will choose… there comes a time to be proactive, do that which you need to do whether you agree with it or not, whether you feel life is unfair or not.
Peter is in a fog when he’s obedient, yet he is obedient. Obedience is a risk, it’s so much more fun to complain and not change, to feel sorry for yourself, but in order to grow in your faith, you must be obedient and do that which is hard. I dare you to live again, to be joyful again, to find peace. It’s all part of being obedient. To get involved again, to believe God again, to trust God to guide you even when you don’t understand. The response to hardship is to keep on going forward by being obedient. Peter also gives God credit. READ Acts 12:11.
Responding to disappointments: Prayer// Rest// whether you die or God chooses a miracle, God is God// Obedience//. One more: the response that is the hardest yet the most satisfying: Laugh!
Acts 12:12-17 is Peter knocking on the door; the servant girl is so surprised she leaves Peter knocking at the door to tell the others and they don’t believe her. IMO, the most important reason these details are included? They are funny. As one person summarizes this story: “The answer to the disciples prayer is left knocking on the door.”
If we can’t get to the place where we find a measure of humor we are missing one of God’s greatest gifts. This week Annie Glass’s mother died, Bev Teshera. It’s not been an easy few months with the coronavirus restrictions at the Health Care Center. After it was over, Annie posted a picture of her and her brother wearing a marshmallow suit that they had to put on to see their mother one more time… Annie said they got the giggles because of how silly it was… laughter is a wonderful response of faith in the face of hardships and disappointments.
The Joy of the Lord is our strength. In a later chapter of Acts Peter is in jail once again and he sings. He sings because he’s happy. To be joyful is a sign of a deep faith. If I could appear a single time in the Bible I would love to be able to take the place of Rhoda… READ Acts 12:13-14. I would love to be the happy person in the Bible.
“Lord, let me have the courage to be an overjoyed person. Let me be so thrilled you are God and you are author of the amazing. Let me be a part of your work on earth and appreciate all of it. What a fun God you are, bringing joy and peace out of hardship and headache. In the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.”
When people first become Christians, it is so easy to romanticize what a life of faith is like. Hardship and disappointments will come. When hardship comes, how you handle it determines the depth of your faith. Some choose to run away, because it’s too hard, or they turn off their emotions. The path to deepen your faith: Genuine heartfelt persistent prayer, Rest, let God be God whether you die or he brings a miracle, obedience, and laughter. When you face hard times in your life, may you choose to take the path of growing in your faith. Amen.