Key Passage: Ezra 8:21-23
It is good to feel safe and secure. In fact, there are numerous companies who offer you that feeling. You have no doubt seen the ads for security systems to keep your home safe and protected. We are all aware of the importance of keeping our data protected. We see and hear commercials that promote their product to guard us from identity theft. It seems like “protection” is big business.
In Acts 12, we discover the protective and delivering power of prayer. God is certainly able to care for and protect His own. Perhaps we fail to see His protection because we place our trust in every other program and service available to us and only turn to Him when all else seems to fail. The early church encountered opposition from the religious leaders of the day (Acts 4). Then they encountered greater opposition and even persecution from the political leaders (Acts 12). In each case they responded in prayer.
When “Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church” (Acts 12:1) the church gathered to pray (Acts 12:5)! No doubt members of the early church were familiar with another prayer for protection that is recorded in Ezra 8:21-23. In fact, Ezra was leading the way when it comes to prayer and fasting.
Ezra 8:21-23 (MSG)
I proclaimed a fast there beside the Ahava Canal, a fast to humble ourselves before our God and pray for wise guidance for our journey—all our people and possessions. I was embarrassed to ask the king for a cavalry bodyguard to protect us from bandits on the road. We had just told the king, "Our God lovingly looks after all those who seek him, but turns away in disgust from those who leave him." So we fasted and prayed about these concerns. And he listened.
You know He still listens! He hears our prayers and He can keep us safe, just like He did for Ezra and the exiles returning to Jerusalem..
Ezra 8:31 (MSG)
We left the Ahava Canal on the twelfth day of the first month to travel to Jerusalem. God was with us all the way and kept us safe from bandits and highwaymen.
I believe we too can experience God’s divine protection on our lives when we ask for it. We are instructed to pray for those in authority so “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim. 2:2).
Let’s wrap up our time together today and begin the week with these words in our heart and soul: “May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!” (Ps. 20:1)
When Troubles Come, Where Do You Go?
Key Passage: Acts 12:5
Here is a verse we may not like to hear, but we need to hear it.
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).
You’re “welcome” for that heart-warming start to your work week. Actually it would be far worse if that verse was not in the Bible. We would encounter trials, difficulties, and persecution and then wonder “Why is this happening to me? I didn’t think this was part of being a Christian.” Without 2 Timothy 3:12 we would be confused and confounded when hardship comes our way.
The Apostle Paul alludes to some of the trials he encountered when he writes about “my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.” (2 Tim. 3:12). Wait, don’t read over that last phrase too quickly or you will miss a great truth! Paul said “from them all the Lord rescued me.” Now THAT is some great news to receive as you begin your work week.
Herod the King had James the brother of John killed with a sword (Acts 12:1-2). His poll numbers went up with the Jews so he thought he would take out another leader in the early church. He had Peter arrested and planned to kill him after the Passover. I think the death of James came swiftly and suddenly. He was probably arrested and killed with very little time between those two events. When Peter was arrested the early church knew it had to do something. They did not call a press conference to demand their rights; they called a prayer meeting to plead for Peter’s life. When trouble came, they turned to God in prayer. We should do the same!
Their prayers brought about a truly amazing “escape.” An angel appeared in Peter’s cell to bring about his rescue. Somehow Peter and the angel were able to get by “four squads of soldiers” (Acts 12:4) without being seen. Peters chains “fell off his hands” (Acts 12:7). They “passed the first and the second guard” without being noticed and the “iron gate leading into the city … opened for them of its own accord” (Acts 12:10). Now that is an AMAZING breakout! Why did this happen? Because “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” (Acts 12:5)
So what’s the trouble or trial you are going through? What has you “chained” and shackled? What are the iron gates that appear to keep you locked in or locked out of the destiny God has for you? Have you prayed about it? Do you have friends praying about it? Wouldn’t it be wise to have “earnest prayer” offered to God for your difficult and trying situation?
Prayer can open the prison doors! Freedom may simply be a prayer away.
Displaying the Power of God
Key Passage: Acts 12:6-19
In commenting on Acts 12:6-19 the Life Application New Testament Commentary states: “James was already dead. Peter was in prison. From a human perspective, the situation appeared terribly grim, but from a heavenly perspective, this was just another opportunity to display the infinite power of God.” As you may recall from yesterday, it was an unbelievable deliverance from prison that Peter experienced as a result of the prayers of the church.
Wouldn’t you agree that it would be awesome to see God doing the same thing today? Then shouldn’t we be doing the same thing too? Shouldn’t we be praying for persecuted believers around the world? There certainly is a need to pray for them.
Franklin Graham has written: “We see the reports every few days on the news. … Reports show that some 215 million Christians experience ‘high, very high or extreme persecution.’ We can’t sit idly by while these atrocities continue.”
No we can’t “sit idly by” but we can pray! In the same article referenced above there are five practical ways given that we can pray for persecuted Christians. It is time to see some prison doors open and God’s power displayed for all to see.
So let’s ….
1. Pray for those in the midst of persecution (Heb. 13:3).Gordon-Conwell’s Center on the Study of Global Christianity reports that one Christian is martyred every six minutes based on their research for 2016.
2. Pray for those who are doing the persecuting (Matt. 5:44).Pray for God to change their hearts and bring them to saving faith in Christ.
3. Pray for the families and loved ones of those being persecuted (Heb. 4:16).
4. Pray that churches would rise up (Acts 4:23-35).
5. Pray that world leaders will do all they can to fight this persecution (Psa. 2:10-11, 1 Tim 2:1-4).
“You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” – John Bunyan
(For specific ways to pray for persecuted believers go to: https://www.icommittopray.com)
Andgels Watching Over Me, My Lord
Key Passage: Hebrews 1:14
The old children’s song says…
All night, all day,
angels watching over me, my Lord.
All night, all day,
angels watching over me.
Now I lay me down to sleep.
Angels watching over me, my Lord.
Pray the Lord my soul to keep.
Angels watching over me.
We could assemble a choir from the book of Acts to sing this song!
The Apostles would have sung it because “during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out” (Acts 5:19).
Philip would have joined in because “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza’” (Acts 8:26).
Cornelius would gladly take a solo part with exuberance because an angel gave him directions as to where to find Peter, who then brought the Gospel to his family (Acts 10:3).
Peter knew very well what it was like to have an angel watching over him (Acts 12:3), and his voice would be loud and strong while singing about his angelic protection and deliverance.
Herod knew of the power of angels, but he had no voice to sing after an angel struck him and he died (Acts 12:23).The Apostle Paul was grateful to have an angel give him words of assurance and comfort while in the midst of a terrible storm at sea (Acts 27:23-25).
Hebrews 1:14 gives us great insight into the awesome ministry of angels. Here we read, “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” The angel’s purpose is to serve and do the will of God on behalf of “those who are to inherit salvation.”
John the revelator encountered an angel and “fell down to worship at the feet of the angel.” The angel told him “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Rev. 22:8-9).
Maybe if we PRAYED like the early church prayed more people would SAY what Peter said: “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me…” (Acts 12:11)
Struck by an Angel
Key Passage: Acts 12:20-24
At the beginning of Acts 12, Herod was all that. He was the man, in his own eyes and in the eyes of others, and no doubt riding a wave of popularity. He had James put to death, Peter was imprisoned awaiting execution and the record shows that his actions had “pleased the Jews,” (Acts 12:3). For a politician, both then and now, keeping the crowds happy is always a priority.
What Herod did not know is that he wasn’t simply acting in opposition to some little group of Christian converts; some up and coming sect of religious fanatics. He may have thought that, but he was wrong and soon he would be DEAD wrong!
Herod was opposing and hindering the spread of the Gospel. Jesus had said “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Herod was a roadblock in the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, but not for long. His power began to crumble. Peter was missing from prison and Herod was mad! Four squads of soldiers, chains, and iron gates were no match for the King of Kings! Peter was free and there was great joy for those who had prayed for him.
Herod left town in a huff and went to Judea of Caesarea to spend time there (Acts 12:19). While there he thought he would give a rousing speech to the assemble crowd. This would be his “moment.” Surely others would recognize his greatness! Josephus the historian captures the event, writing:
“After the completion of the third year of his reign over the whole of Judea, Agrippa came to the city of Caesarea.... Here he celebrated spectacles in honor of Caesar.... On the second day of the spectacles, clad in a garment woven completely of silver so that its texture was indeed wondrous, he entered the theater at daybreak. There the silver, illumined by the touch of the first rays of the sun, was wondrously radiant and by its glitter inspired fear and awe in those who gazed intently upon it.”
The people who saw and heard him shouted: “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” (Acts 12:22). And then it happened. He was struck by an angel because “he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten of worms and breathed his last (Acts 12:23).
So why is this story recorded for us? Just so we could get to verse 24. Herod died, the road block to the spread of the Gospel is removed and “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24).
This event clearly shows us that God’s Word and his message will not be bound. We can share the message with confidence. We can pray with expectancy. We will support missions abundantly. No king, no authority, no nation, and no one will effectively and finally stop the spread of the Gospel. Praise God!
The Father Who Sees You Will Reward You
Key Passage: Matthew 6:16-18
You are almost there. The finish line is in sight. You are in the final hours of 21 days of prayer and fasting. It has been an incredible journey. Like others you have had some good days and some days that were a bit more of a struggle. Your hunger for food has served as a reminder that it is better to have a strong hunger for God.
Hopefully you have remembered the words of Christ who said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). It is our desire that you have experienced and you will yet experience the blessed promise of Matthew 6:16-18.
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:16-18).
What you have done in obedience and in secret, God will reward openly. The testimony of Scripture and the testimony of many is that God does some incredible things when we humble ourselves and come to Him in prayer and fasting.
Take some time today to look back over the past three weeks. Remember and rejoice over what you have heard and learned, as you have sought the Lord. Thank Him for all He has done in your life. What? He hasn’t done all you thought He would do? Wait. Let me say it again – WAIT.
While we may be at the end of 21 days of prayer and fasting the Lord is not at the end of anything. He is still working. He is still directing. He is still bringing about His plan for our good and His Glory. So we can wait upon the Lord. His plan will not be frustrated. Your prayers will not be ignored. You have been heard.
As he finished up the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matt 7:24-25).
You have heard and done what the Lord has said, and now we live in anticipation of what He will do! Now we can simply wait and trust “your Father who sees in secret WILL reward you”.
Finishing the Fast
Key Passage: Acts 1:14
Wow! What an amazing 21 days this has been. Take a few minutes today and praise the Lord for all that He has shown you and taught you during this fast. It would be great today to take a few minutes and just write down in a journal some of the great things God has taught you.
We started our fast focused on Acts 1:14, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” We have been praying for 21 days to see our community come together in prayer like never before. We are asking God to redeem the city of Rome for His original purpose. And we have learned over the years that we are not going to see Him pour out His glory on our city until we come together as Believers. As we move forward from the fast, we must commit to stay focused on being United in Prayer.
In week two we talked about how we are to be directed by prayer. One of the most critical pieces of this puzzle is us learning how we hear clearly from God. I believe our ability to hear from our Creator is one of the most amazing parts of the miracle of our salvation. Jesus placed Holy Spirit inside of us at salvation so that we could communicate with our Heavenly Father. Fasting is the process of us removing things in our lives so that we can hear God without distraction. How can you continue to clearly hear from God even after the fast is over? You need to make a plan for this before you finish the fast tomorrow. You don’t want to lose the ground you’ve gained in these 21 days.
In week three we talked about how the Lord protects us through prayer as we step out in obedience to Him. Is there something He’s been asking you to do that fear has kept you from doing? What did He reveal to you during the fast that you need to make happen? Remember what He did in Acts 12 when the Angel led Peter out of that prison? He did this in response to intense prayer of the Believers that were seeking Him for Peter’s life. Don’t you know that He’ll do the same thing for you when you pray and seek Him with all your heart?
Tomorrow night we will meet together for a joint worship service including all of the churches that have been a part of the fast. During that service you will be commissioned in prayer to go out and spread the light of Jesus to the community around you. Let’s move forward together after the fast in the same unity we’ve had for these 21 days. And, let’s continue to seek Him to hear from Him and follow Him with all our hearts.
Keep praying, keep seeking, and we’ll see the redemption of our city!!