Acts 12:1-19 [Easter 3—CWS B]
Pastor Ron Koehler
April 15, 2018
Dear friends in Christ and witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, Have you ever had something happen in your life that changed you? Changed your outlook on life…changed your behavior…changed you for the better? That may be the way you view having your spouse come into your life. Having a baby for the first time tends to do that for some. But it’s not always good things that bring about a good change. Perhaps you are one of those who had to hit rock-bottom to wake you up and bring about necessary life changes. Someone told me this week that a terrible accident changed them, made them a better person, even though it left them with some difficulties they’ll deal with for the rest of their earthly lives. The Apostle Peter is a great example of a changed man. The Bible allows us enough of a look into Peter’s life, his words and actions, to see the kind of change the resurrection of Jesus made in him. When he witnessed the risen Savior, his life changed in such a good way! As we hear about a dramatic instance in his life, we’ll appreciate the changed man he became and consider how Jesus’ resurrection has changed—or can change—us as well. THE RESURRECTION CHANGES A PERSON 1. IT REMOVES FEARS 2. IT CREATES BOLD MESSENGERS You may remember some dramatic moments involving Peter. As one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, he was around the table with Jesus in the Upper Room, celebrating the Passover just prior to Jesus’ death. There he promised Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus broke the news to him that he would, in fact, deny his Savior three times. Most of you here today know how that happened. Peter had gained access to the courtyard of the high priest as they held Jesus for questioning. Peter was trying to go unnoticed there, but he was recognized as a disciple of Jesus. He denied it. He denied it again. Then, cursing and swearing, he denied it again. He was paralyzed with fear and that fear, coupled with the realization that he had done what Jesus warned him about, caused him to break down, sobbing. And though he ran to look into the empty tomb of Jesus on that following Easter morning, he didn’t understand what he was looking at and what it meant. Then that evening, he and the other disciples were huddling in fear behind locked doors. The very real possibility that those Jewish leaders who put Jesus to death would now come after them, had them gripped with fear and in hiding. The life-altering thing that changed their lives was Jesus appearing in that locked room and showing them that he had risen from death and the grave. He was no ghost as they supposed and he certainly was no longer dead! This meant that Jesus truly was who he said he was and who they hoped he would be and he really did what he said he was going to do! The proof stood there in front of their very eyes as the resurrected Lord brought peace and joy to their hearts!
Shortly after all of that, Jesus met his disciples up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Do you recall the exchange between Jesus and Peter there? Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter said he did (and he felt a little hurt that he had to say it three times!) After each time, Jesus told him to “feed his sheep” or lambs. Jesus was restoring Peter’s confidence to serve him and entrusting him with the work of sharing the gospel with people. Three times Peter denied Jesus out of fear and three times Jesus speaks words that would remove guilt and fear and put him back to work in God’s kingdom. Shortly after that, Peter was the bold preacher on the day of Pentecost! In no uncertain terms, he accused those listening of being guilty of putting the Son of God to death— fearless preaching! After cutting them with the law, he said this: But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. The resurrection of Jesus seemed to completely remove Peter’s fear! From those first days after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter continued to fearlessly share the gospel. And that brings us—finally—to this imprisonment of Peter. So here we are a dozen years or so down the road. The apostles and others have been sharing the news that Jesus is the long-promised Savior who lived and died and rose from death with the promise of eternal life for those who trust in him. But opposition to Christians and the apostles themselves continued. And now King Herod Agrippa was having Christians arrested and persecuted. This was the grandson of the Herod that killed the Bethlehem babies after Jesus was born. This guy’s uncle beheaded John the Baptist. The Herod’s were cruel rulers. And this Herod had just shown that cruelty by capturing and killing a high-value target: the apostle James. You remember him as the “James and John” James. He was the first disciple to be killed for his faith. Some of you may remember back in 2003 during the Gulf War, that the military put out a deck of playing cards depicting the 50 most-wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. These were to help troops identify these men but they soon became a collector’s item for many Americans. Saddam Hussein himself was the Ace of Spades—the most wanted. Herod’s forces had no such cards depicting the most wanted Christians, but if they had, every apostle, including James, would have been on them, but Peter would have been the Ace of Spades. He was the leader of the Twelve, outspoken and out in front, proclaiming life through faith in the resurrected Jesus. Herod’s killing of James so pleased the Jewish people that he was ruling over, that he intended to do more of this kind of thing. It was much easier to rule over the people if he could gain their favor. So he sent out his brute squad and captured the Ace of Spades—the Apostle Peter. And did you notice the timing? This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That festival included the annual Passover Meal. At the end came the Passover Sabbath, Saturday. You remember that it was during the celebration of that Passover Meal that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. He was killed on the Friday following and
in the grave on that Passover Sabbath. So now 12 years or so later, Herod’s plan with Peter was a mock trial and putting him to death right after this Passover Sabbath— which would fall right on the anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection! Easter Sunday morning is when he would kill the leader of the Christian people. If that doesn’t give you chills…! This is what awaits Peter. Let me ask you something. Do you ever lose sleep because there is a lot weighing on your mind? Most of us have had that experience. I’ll tell you what makes me lose sleep: When the workload is high…when I’d like God to just squeeze one more day into the week so I can get the sermon done well or the Bible study prepped and ready to go…when I’m concerned for our congregation…when I’m stressing out for a member of the church. These are particular pastor’s pressure points. Maybe you have different stressors. It’s the kids…or financial debt that just seems to keep accumulating …or the job (or lack thereof). It’s the upcoming marriage and merging of your lives and all that it involves. It’s parents and everything they expect from you…and things and people at school. We all know these stressors and sometimes they become so enormous in our minds that they crowd out sleep. The comfortable bed and cushy pillow don’t matter at all because behind these things are fears. We’re afraid of what’s going to happen; we’re afraid of how we’re going to handle it. Did you catch what Peter was doing after they killed the apostle James and after he himself was thrown in the slammer, placed between soldiers, chained up, and guards posted at the door? He was sleeping! How in the world…?! Here’s what I suspect: he prayed—probably a lot—and trusted Jesus, the Lord of the Church, who powerfully defeated sin and Satan and death. What is clear is that the resurrection of Jesus changed Peter. Because he knew that Christ had conquered death, that he had forgiveness for his sins, and that his own resurrection to eternal life was guaranteed by his Savior’s resurrection, Peter was a changed man! He was no longer afraid to confess Jesus publicly and point people to faith in him. And maybe this is why he could still sleep (and sleep deeply, if you noticed!) in such a horrific situation and with a terrible fate awaiting him. The fear that gripped him back before Jesus’ death was not the problem it was, knowing that Jesus is the all-powerful Savior who defeated death and has all things in his control. There is an example here for us in Peter. His fearless faith can inspire us as we’re reminded that Jesus Christ died to pay for our sins, but he rose from death to assure us that we are forgiven and have eternal life—beyond the brief time of discomfort and trouble we spend in this world. Check your sinful fears, your lack of trust, your trying to do it all by yourself, at the empty tomb of Jesus! The Lord who died and rose for you loves you and cares for you even while you are in this world. Debt management? Difficult people? Church work? Your job? The kids? When your worries are turned over to your Savior and you compare the struggles to an eternity with God, you can sleep. Even when everything in your world seems threatened, trust in your resurrected Lord and his love can remove your fear.
2. IT CREATES BOLD MESSENGERS
And with fear removed, you can boldly serve your Savior! Just think about what the resurrection of Jesus did for Peter and the others—it created bold messengers! History tells that all but John were killed for their faith and their continuing to proclaim the risen Christ. Just think about that—all were willing to die rather than stop talking about Jesus as the one true God and Savior of all people! Now that does not mean that they weren’t smart about it. They weren’t looking to become martyrs. And there’s an example of that here with Peter. The Lord sent an angel to free Peter from prison. You heard the incredibly detailed account of the rescue. He was SO sound asleep that he didn’t know what was going on or if it was happening at all, but eventually…Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.” The Lord had more work for Peter to do and Peter realized it. He wouldn’t stop his preaching and teaching after this, but he was going to be smart about it. The safe thing to do at that point was to go a Christian home where believers were gathered. Concerned because of what Herod was doing to their church leaders and the constant opposition from the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, they were there praying. When Peter is eventually let into the house, he motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place. The best thing for the church was that, A) James, the brother of Jesus, who became the leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem, needed to know, along with the others. Peter wanted the news that he was freed and that the Lord’s angel had rescued him known, and then, B) he left the city. That was better and safer for everyone. And that wasn’t Peter being afraid; that was Peter being smart. He would continue to be a bold witness for Jesus. Just a few chapters after this, we do hear that he is back in the city, dealing with a doctrinal question as a church council meeting. He continued to boldly witness and he later left two written witnesses—by the power of the Holy Spirit—in the two letters we have in the Bible bearing his name. THE RESURRECTION CHANGES A PERSON! You can clearly see it in Peter’s life. Knowing that Jesus lives as God and Savior REMOVES FEARS and CREATES BOLD MESSENGERS. This can be the case for us still today. We ask Jesus to forgive our timidity, our shyness, our unwillingness to boldly share him with people we know, people who need to know him. And we know that he does forgive us. We have no reason to be afraid or timid. Jesus is the Savior without a doubt. His power over all things, including death, is obvious in his resurrection. And he has called his disciples today—you and me—to boldly proclaim him to be the one who forgives sin and offers eternal life through faith in him. THE RESURRECTION CHANGES A PERSON—it changed Peter and it has changed you! So drop your fears and be bold! Amen.
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. 6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.” 12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!” 15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” 16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place. 18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he crossexamined the guards and ordered that they be executed.