Acts 12 God's mission will win - 2nd June 2013 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: Acts 12

Click here to listen to the sermon

This morning as we read the Bible passage I want you to listen for what is different at the beginning of the story from at the end.

Read v1-5

Let’s think about the start of the story. What has happened to the followers of Jesus here? James dead, Peter in prison.

Who is winning at the start of this story? Herod. Herod who is famously horrible and bad tempered. His dad had killed Jesus and John the Baptist. His grandad had killed the babies when Jesus was born. He’s got a bad track record and now it looks like he’s winning.

How do you think it feels to be a follower of Jesus at the start of this story? Pretty bleak. It’s really bad. Two of their three founding leaders are out of action.

So what do they do? They pray earnestly. It’s their immediate reaction. It’s knee-jerk prayer. This is the first little hint that perhaps all is not as it seems. God is involved. Things might look really bad, but God is involved.

Read v6-24

Wow! Quite a lot happened there didn’t it? We thought about how it started, so let’s think first about how it ends. At the end of the story, what has happened to Peter? He’s free. He’s been rescued.

What has happened to Herod? He’s dead. He was eaten by worms and died. Eeeew. Actually the Jewish historian Josephus confirms this account. A pretty nasty end for a pretty nasty man.

Who or what is winning now? Verse 24. God’s mission is winning. God is winning, and that means that more and more people are hearing the good news of Jesus.

Big lesson for today: God’s mission will win, however bad things seem.

Things are bad in this Bible passage. Luke the writer wants us to know this so that we will have realistic expectations. There will always be people who do not like God’s mission. If we are doing what God wants us to do, if we are sharing the message of Jesus and living Christian lives, then there will be people who really don’t like it. This has always happened and it always will happen until Jesus comes back. We need to know that. If you don’t know that you’ll be in big trouble and your faith will collapse, because sooner or later you will face trouble because you follow Jesus. Friends lost, family angry. The fact it happens doesn’t mean that God has been beaten, or that he’s abandoned you.

Because however bad things get, God’s mission will win.

Have you seen how amazing God is in this story. He’s completely the hero, isn’t he? God is amazing. Everyone else looks daft alongside God.

So when Peter was in prison and God sent an angel, can you remember what the angel had to do? He had to wake Peter up, didn’t he? And he broke open Peter’s chains which Peter couldn’t do, and he had to get Peter dressed, and he had to lead Peter out of the prison because Peter didn’t have a clue what was going on. God does it all, doesn’t he? It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? Did you notice how much security was there when Peter was in prison? Verse 6: “Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.” Guards all round. Chains. A great big locked gate. It’s a bit like when Jesus was in the tomb, isn’t it, with the big stone and the guards. But do you think God is scared of guards? Do you think God is bothered by chains? All those things are nothing to God.

(illustrate – Cat Trap)

This is meant to give us confidence, isn’t it? Not because we are brave and strong, but because God is incredibly powerful.

It’s totally amazing. God just walks Peter out of jail. The guards don’t even notice. And then God goes even further and gets rid of Herod, the one who was making all the trouble for them. God is in charge. God is more powerful than anyone and anything. God will win.

But don’t forget why God did these things. Why did God release Peter and get rid of Herod? It wasn’t because he wanted things to be easy for his people. It wasn’t to give them a trouble-free life. Remember that verse that comes at the end of the chapter, the verse that sums it all up, verse 24: “Acts 12:24  But the word of God continued to increase and spread.”

God did it all because he wants his mission to succeed. He wants the message of Jesus to reach the ends of the earth. That’s why God gets Peter out of prison. That’s why God gets rid of Herod – so that God’s mission of telling people the good news of Jesus can carry on. God wants his mission to win. So God’s mission will win. Even when things are really hard and even when people really don’t like God’s mission and do everything they can to stop it. God’s mission will win.

When God breaks down barriers, this is why. He breaks barriers so that his mission of telling the world about Jesus can succeed. That’s why. When there are barriers that stand before us, either for us as a church family or for us as individuals, if God breaks those barriers it will be so that his mission can succeed. It will be so that more people can get to know Jesus. That’s what God wants to happen. So that is what will happen. God’s mission will win. We can be sure of that. That’s good isn’t it? That helps doesn’t it? That gives us confidence. We can get on with the mission, even when things are really hard. Because God will win.

Sing: Be Bold, be strong

Well as the children complete their activity we’re going to have a think about two things from that passage, two things that we can take away with us and chew on.

1.   God’s mission will win, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will win in this world.

Peter gets rescued, doesn’t he? But not James. What about James? James gets dispatched in the space of one verse. Herod wants to kill James, so Herod does. Why? Why does God rescue Peter but not James?

It’s not because James isn’t important. This is James, one of the three disciples closest to Jesus. Jesus had spent more time on Peter, James and John than on any other of his disciples. James is important in God’s plans. But, on that day in Herod’s prison, God’s plans for James on this earth were complete. There was nothing left for James to do here before God could take him home to glory. So God took him home. It wasn’t that James didn’t have potential – James had potential – but God’s plans for him were complete. Nothing was wasted. It was a great sadness for his friends. But it wasn’t a waste.

God breaks barriers so that his mission can succeed on earth. But he doesn’t break all the barriers that stand in our way so that we succeed on earth in all the ways that we want to. That means that Christians fail. That means that Christians still get ill and go through hard times and die. Now this is really hard when it’s our loved one, or when it’s our project that we’re trying to do for God. We don’t understand why God’s plans are the way they are. Sometimes we’d plan things in a very different way to how God plans them. But God knows best.

Listen to this which was said by a man called Charles Spurgeon, who was one of the greatest and most influential Christians that London has ever known. He said this: “God’s people shall not die prematurely. They shall be immortal until their work is done. When the time comes for them to die, their death will be precious.”

Frank Houston is one of those people I talk about from time to time. He was my youth leader when I was growing up and coming to faith in Jesus. He was a wonderful man, and he knew that his whole life was to be lived for God’s mission. He understood this thing that Spurgeon said, and he’d often quote it to us – “you’re immortal until you’ve done the last thing that God has for you to do.” One night about ten years ago Frank, by now in his seventies, was helping out at a group a bit like our Gateway group, and he helped a boy there to give his life to Jesus. The next morning Frank was playing football when he dropped dead. God’s mission was winning. But Frank’s part in it here on earth was complete. So God took him home. That felt pretty sad for those left behind. But God knows best.

We can get on with the mission can’t we? We don’t have to fear the things that stand in our way, we don’t have to worry about what will happen. We’re immortal until we’ve done the last thing God has for us to do. Give your life for the mission. Trust God in it.

2.   God uses the prayers of his people to accomplish his mission.

It’s God’s mission and God makes it happen. But he uses our prayers in that. Luke really wants us to see, doesn’t he, how this early church pray, and how God uses their prayers.

They pray in response to what has happened. It’s their knee-jerk response. It’s the first thing they do. Things are hard, Peter is in danger, so they pray. It’s the natural thing for them to do, to come to their Father about it. So they pray earnestly, seriously.

Is that us? Are we like that? I’m not sure we are. I think that for many of us prayer is the last thing you do, not the first thing you do. I think that when a problem arises, our instincts are to try and fix it rather than to pray about it. For most of us that’s true.

But when you look through church history and you trace the great moves of God’s Spirit, the great revivals, you find that the one constant, the one thing that is always true, is that when God’s Spirit is at work the people pray. God uses prayer.

It’s not down to how well we pray or how complete our faith is when we pray. It wasn’t that these first Christians were just better at prayer than we are or had hugely strong faith. No. They were completely surprised when God answered their prayer weren’t they? That’s why we have that whole funny scene with Peter left hammering away at the door while nobody believes poor Rhoda that he’s actually been set free. God used their prayers even though their faith was so weak.

They just saw their need, and so they prayed. Their prayer, like all good prayer, comes out of a sense of need, real edge of the seat dependence on God. I think the big reason most of us don’t pray more is because somewhere deep down we don’t think we need to. We need to learn to be poor in Spirit, as Jesus puts it. When we know how much God is the hero of the story and how weak and dependent we are – that’s when we’ll pray. Are you being made to feel weak at the moment? Are we? What an opportunity that might be.

Let’s pray.