Tuesday, 4 October 2016

God opens seriously locked doors (all age talk)


This is one of the great stories that the early Christians loved telling.

(Tell the story with helpers)

James, the brother of John, one of Jesus’ inner three, has been arrested and executed.
Now Peter, the second of the inner three, is arrested and put in prison.

It is a maximum security prison.
It has an iron gate
Outer guard
Inner guard
Lock him not to a wall, not to 1 soldier, but to 2 soldiers
Herod is taking no risks.  He has decided, in order to please the people (Christians were not popular at the time) that Peter is also going to be executed.

Acts 12.5: 'So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him'

I wonder what they were praying?
Peace (certainly Peter has that. He is sleeping!), strength to be courageous (for Peter and for themselves), courage to stand firm.

So what happens next?
Peter is asleep in prison. An angel turns up. He jabs Peter awake, and says, ‘Get up quickly’. The chains fell off. He tells Peter to put on his shoes, belt and coat. He then leads Peter past the inner guard, past the outer guard and they come to the gate. The gate swings open. The angel leads Peter to the end of the street and then disappears.
Peter fully comes to himself. It wasn’t a dream. It was real.
He has to find safe shelter, so he goes to the house where he knows that the church meets.

Acts 12.12, ‘As soon as he realised this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying’.

He knocks on the door.
Rhoda the serving girl comes to answer the door.
‘Who is it?’
‘Peter’
She is so excited she rushes back to the people praying.
‘Peter’s at the door.’
‘What’
‘Peter’s at the door.’
‘Go away Rhoda. We’re praying for him.’
‘He’s at the door.’
‘Rhoda you are mad. It is obviously getting to you.’
‘He really is at the door.’
‘He must have died. She must be seeing his angel.’
‘Come and see.’

Finally, Peter is let in. He tells them what has happened. He asks them to tell James, Jesus brother and now the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and he leaves. He can’t stay in Jerusalem any more.

Prayer is for people who know that they are desperate
The Christians have met to pray for Peter

They don't have the money to buy Peter out.
They don't have the influential contacts – the business or media leaders who can apply pressure so that Peter is released.
They don't have the political or military power to get him out.
They need God to show up big time – or Peter is dead and they are stuffed.

One of the reasons we don’t pray is because we do not realise how helpless we are.
We think that we can sort things out in our own strength.
We assume that because we can get daily bread from Tesco’s we don’t need to pray for daily bread.
We think that the way to fight injustice or falsehood is by political lobbying and not prayer. We think that what is really important for growing the church is having better management, better publicity, better programmes, better welcoming
We think that we will become better Christians if we know more, or screw up our faith more, or try harder
And we treat prayer as an optional extra.

But people only really pray when we realise how desperate we are.
I wonder whether God used the death of James and the arrest of Peter as a way of driving a confident church onto her knees.

When you pray, God intervenes in ways you don’t expect
We see that here.
They don’t expect God to send an angel and miraculously release Peter.
If they had, then they would have believed Rhoda when she told them that Peter was knocking at the front door. They would have told her, ‘Oh by the way Rhoda. We’re expecting Peter to turn up at any minute now’.

And God does intervene – sometimes in ways we don’t expect.

(Testimony from Maaike of how her mother was dramatically healed after prayer)

God opens seriously locked doors
He literally opens prison doors.
One day we are told, when Messiah comes, he will release prisoners.
He will release prisoners from the prisons that other people put them in.
He will release prisoners from the sin and fear of death that holds us captive.

But the door that God wants to open is the door of our ears: not our outer ears, but our inner ears, so that we really do hear the good news of Jesus Christ and put our trust in him.

We might think that praying for someone to be healed is a big prayer.
We might think that praying for God to release a persecuted Christian is a big prayer.
But the really big prayer that we can pray is that someone who is spiritually dead – who is spiritually deaf – will have their ears opened, become spiritually alive, and start to begin to realise the truth of God and to live for Jesus and with Jesus.


And God does that.
By the end of this chapter, Herod – who seemed to have all the power – is dead, Peter has gone from Jerusalem and is beginning to preach to Gentiles, and we are told that ‘But the word of God continued to spread and flourish’ (Acts 12.24)

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