The Power of a Praying Church
Last week we looked at how Jesus taught the disciples to pray, and what has become known as the “Lord’s Prayer.” And I challenged you (and myself) to begin praying through the booklet “40 days of Prayer.” As of today we should be on day 7. If this is new to you, that’s fine, just jump in with us today. The booklets are outside the sanctuary.
Today we will look at the power of the church, prayer. Prayer has been described as the electricity to the toaster. The appliance with worthless until it is plugged into the wall socket. We can have great dreams, good plans, but unless God leads the way, changes our hearts, and guide our decisions through prayer then we are like an unplugged toaster.
Also, when you have a church family you do not have to go through hard times alone. One of the ways that we support and love one another is that we pray for and with each other. So prayer is not a program or even something we do once a month at a meeting – it is the lifeblood of the local church and believers.
Prayer – so before we jump into today’s passage, let’s pray. Jesus, we come before you today in recognition that apart from you we would be nothing, can do nothing, and will accomplish nothing. We call out to you, to show us what you would have us to do, to be, how to think, how to serve You and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We also pray that you will show us the importance and power of prayer this morning. Amen.
The Power of God Displayed in Impossible Situations (vv. 1-4)
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 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.
The Herod in these verses is Agrippa I, a nephew of Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist. Herod Agrippa through political maneuvering had managed to expand his kingdom to about the same size as his grandfather’s, Herod the Great; who killed baby boys at the time of the birth of Jesus.
Herod Agrippa had James the “son of Zebedee” beheaded and, because it delighted the Jews, he intended to kill Peter. Polling data told him the majority of the citizens approved of that action so he captured Peter.
Herod Agrippa was a politician who desired to look good before the Roman Empire – one of the ways to look good was to keep the peace. So, if it pleased the Jews to kill Peter, this would help maintain the peace. He was also careful not to break the customs of the Jews by executing a man during the Passover.
The Passover was the first of the three great festivals of the Hebrew people. It referred to the sacrifice of a lamb in Egypt when the people of Israel were slaves. The Hebrews smeared the blood of the lamb on their doorposts as a signal to God that He should “pass over” their houses when He destroyed all the firstborn of Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let His people go.
In New Testament times, Passover became a pilgrim festival. Large numbers gathered in Jerusalem to observe this annual celebration. Jesus was crucified in the city during one of these Passover celebrations.
He and His disciples ate a Passover meal together on the eve of His death. Like the blood of the lamb which saved the Hebrew people from destruction in Egypt, His blood, as the ultimate Passover sacrifice, redeems us from the power of sin and death.
There was a political tension between the Jews and the Romans – So Herod is holding Peter as an “ace up his sleeve,” if something were to happen during the Passover feast. The Jews were looking forward to his death. In v. 11 we see “from everything the Jewish people were expecting (NIV says anticipating).”
The Power of God is Dispersed By Interceding Saints (vv. 5-12)
So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. 6 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. 7 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. 8 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.” 9 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. 10 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. 11 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.” 12 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.
Knowing that Peter had allies, Agrippa took extra precautions against any attempt to free the prisoner – as Peter had already escaped from prison before. Four relays of soldiers took turns guarding him: four guards at a time, one on either side of him (to whom he was chained) and two at his cell door.
I love this picture of Peter. He has taken his sandals off and they are lying by his bunk. He has stripped down to his underclothes and is soundly sleeping – while chained to Roman guards. Did peter’s snoring keep the guards awake? What was it that gave Peter so much resolve to endure the pressure and threat of death that he was able to be sound asleep? So soundly, that the Angel had to strike him?
His Relationship With Christ
Peter was able to sleep so soundly because first, he had seen the transfigured Christ; Luke 9:28-33 “Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure,  which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said..”
Peter had seen the resurrected Lord; John 21:2-4 “Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.”
Peter spent three years with Jesus, he had been with Him constantly – He saw the miracles, he experienced the masterful teaching, Peter was amazed at Jesus’ servant heart when he washed his feet. Peter denied him, heard the rooster crow, raced to the tomb after the resurrection, he knew the heartache of doubt. He saw the resurrected Christ on the seashore, and in the upper room.
Peter slept because he had a relationship with Christ – He knew that if he were to die, he would be with Christ. If he were to live, then he could continue to live for Christ. Another apostle had such a faith while facing death.
Paul in Philippians 1:18-21 “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Sometimes we think the worst thing that can happen to us is to die – but Peter and Paul show us that is far more devastating to the believer to forget why he is here, and the all-important relationship they have with Christ.
Acts 5:18-20 “. . . they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”
Peter had already been rescued one time by an angel – if it were God’s will, He would do it again. That is the wonder of Christianity – through our relationship with Christ, and daily experiencing his power, we have hope and faith for tomorrow. If your execution was in the morning could you sleep tonight? In light of all the ways God has provided for you, and shown you that He loves you would you rest easy?
He Knows His Church Is Praying
Peter is shackled with two chains, he is chained to two guards, he is surrounded by specially trained soldiers, who knew if the prisoner were to escape it would cost them their lives. Peter is in a barred room, within the Roman prison. For an average man, escape would have been impossible.
But this man had a very special group of people on his side. His church is praying for him. The church is praying for their pastor. They knew that if God does not step in a do something Peter is going to die, just like James. The church knew that there was no hope for Peter, other than prayer.
The Church’s Prayers Are United
There prayers were united because they were “gathered together.” Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” When believers gather together there is power.
James 5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Within our unity of prayer, there must also be purity in the congregation. Then the prayers of the righteous are (NIV) “powerful and effective.”
The Church’s Prayers Are Earnest
They were “praying” – this Greek word was used to describe a muscle that has been stretched to its limit. They were straining in their prayer; they were stretched in their prayer. This was not a flippant prayer, but a prayer that pushed them to the point of strain, praying with all their might.
The same Greek word used here of the way in which the followers of Jesus were praying for Peter is used in Luke 22:44 for the way in which Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke writes, “And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”
The Church’s Prayers are Unceasing
“Unceasing” – they had prayed through the night, late into the night. They kept on praying until they heard that God had done something. Other translations have fervent. The origin of the word used here references the pleads of one being tortured on a rack that pulls them apart. The pleadings are urgent.
The church had prayed perhaps for days, and now on the eve of Peter’s execution – their prayer continues. We must not stop our prayer, even if the situation seems to already worked out before us.
Could their pleadings not only have been for his life to be spared, but also that he would not deny Christ as he had done earlier in his life? Peter had denied knowing Christ three times after Jesus’ arrest, and then the rooster crowed.
The Angel led him only the length of one street, he left him all alone in a city that wanted his head. It would only be a matter of time before they came looking for him – where would he go?
He went to a place where he knew he would be safe, a place where he would be loved, taken care of, those who knew his history and prayed all the more fervently for him, – he went to this family’s home because it was a home that was known to be a house of prayer.
It is not the craftiness of Peter that got him out of jail – Peter was asleep when the angel came. It wasn’t the sympathy of the jailers that enabled Peter to find deliverance – they would later lose their lives over Peter’s escape! There was no explanation for Peter’s escape except for the power of God!
It was the power of God that sent the angel! It was the power of God that loosed the chains! It was the power of God that opened the iron gate! It was the power of God that had changed the heart of a fisherman from coward to fearless apostle!
Once free Peter came to his senses and arrived at the same conclusion. In verse 11 we read, “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.” It was the power of God!
Also, just as an aside, In Acts 5 the popularity of Peter and the apostles is so prevalent that when the Roman soldiers are ordered to arrest them, Acts 5 says, “Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.” But by Acts 12 the Jewish people would have been delighted to see Peter executed. We don’t share the word of God based on its popularity – but because it is our mission.
The Power of God is Doubted and the Saints are Surprised (vv. 13-17)
13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 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. 15 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!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 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.
When Peter arrived at Mary’s house the followers of Jesus were still praying. They had been up all night long praying for Peter. I don’t know what they were praying about. I haven’t a clue if they were praying for Peter to be comfortable, for the living conditions to be cordial, or for Herod not to kill Peter.
I believe that they were praying for Peter to be spared, released, comfort but when he showed up at the door they didn’t believe the young lady who said, “He’s here!” They ignore the answered prayer when it’s right at their door. They try to rationalize the answered prayer, They said, “You are out of your mind!” They even try to explain awaythe answered prayer by saying, “It is his angel!”
The followers of Jesus were praying, they were even praying earnestly, but they weren’t praying with expectation. When you come to know the desires of God’s heart for your situation (and for our church), ask for Him to move in the situation, and pray as though you know He is listening – and when the answer knocks on the door, answer the door.
The purpose of prayer is to draw us close to the heart of the Father so that our wills, our deepest desires, our passions will be those of the Father and not our own. When we draw close to the heart of the Father then He will be glorified through our lives, our words, and our works done for His glory! Then when we know God’s will and pray accordingly we should expect Him to do great things.
You have been challenged with the 40 Days of Prayer, so how do you bring it about? You begin with prayer.
 Frank Stagg, The Book of Acts, The Early Struggle for an Unhindered Gospel (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1955) 128.
 Clifton J. Allen, The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1970) 76.
 (from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright (c)1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
 J. Jeremias, TDNT, III, pp. 175ff. There were other ancient stories of doors opening and fetters falling off as a story motif. Sudar Singh was thrown into a dry well for execution. FF. Bruce, 236.
 F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Eerdmans Publishing, 1988) 234.
 I. Howard Marshall, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 208.
 This is James the brother of Jesus. James the “son of Zebedee” had already been killed by Herod.
 The Jewish people believed that people had a guardian angel, and that this angel resembled the person they watched over. (Allen, 77).