Script for the July 3rd episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast.

Introduction

Welcome to the July 3rd episode of the “Enjoying the Bible” podcast. I’m Matt Ellis, and I’m the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida.

Today’s reading is Job 25-27 and Acts 12, but we will focus only on the New Testament in this podcast.

If you have questions about anything in the Old Testament or New Testament reading assignment, please email me at mattellis1997@gmail.com. I may answer it on the next podcast.

Acts 12

In contrast to the love that the believers in Antioch had for the Jerusalem Christians, we read of the hatred that Herod Agrippa the First and the Jews had for the Jerusalem Christians.

Acts 12:1-2 (CSB): “About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword.” 

James was one of the inner three apostles that learned from Jesus (Peter, James, and John). He was the first Apostle to be killed under the rule of an unfriendly government. Apparently, he was alleged to be guilty of leading Israel away to serve another (false) god. Herod Agrippa I, a Jew, would have seen the merits of eradicating an infidel from among their midst.

Herod Agrippa may have thought that killing James was the right thing to do but was also a political risk. James was a high-profile Christian figure in Jerusalem, and the number of Christians in that city was not known. Would there be a massive uprising after James’ death?

Herod noticed that the response to James’ murder was overwhelmingly positive. The Jews loved that he had killed one of the Christian church’s main leaders. So Herod grew bolder. He arrested Peter and put him under the careful watch of 16 soldiers. Peter was to remain in prison until after the observance of the Passover, when he would stand before Herod and be tried.

It would seem that the 16 soldiers were on a rotation. Four of them would have been on duty at one time, with two chained to Peter and the other two watching at the entrance. Peter wasn’t going anywhere! At least that was their plan.

Acts 12:5 (CSB): “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was praying fervently to God for him.”

Herod exercised his power by locking Peter up and putting soldiers in place to watch over him. However, the church exercised its power by dropping to its knees and praying to the God of Heaven for Peter.

Acts 12:6 (CSB): “When Herod was about to bring him out for trial, that very night Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison.”

The night before Peter’s trial, he was sound asleep. His dear friend, James, had been executed, and he might also be sentenced to death the next day. But he was sound asleep with seemingly no cares in the world. Why? Listen to something he wrote a few years later.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (CSB): “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.”

An angel of the Lord appeared and woke Peter out of a deep sleep. The angel had to hit Peter on the side to awaken him. Peter’s chains fell off his wrists. The angel told Peter to get dressed, put his sandals on, and follow him.

As with anyone who has been awakened from a deep sleep, we know what it’s like to not have all of our senses fully awake. On top of this, Peter was also experiencing incredibly unusual circumstances. So it’s not hard to believe that Peter was wondering if he was experiencing a remarkably vivid vision or if the events were really occurring.

Acts 12:10 (CSB): “After they passed the first and second guards, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went outside and passed one street, and suddenly the angel left him.”

Peter was now breathing the air of freedom. The prison was behind him, and the angel left. So he needed a destination. He couldn’t stay out in the street all night.

Acts 12:12 (CSB): “As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was called Mark, where many had assembled and were praying.”

Before going to the place where he would spend the rest of the night, he stopped by Mary’s house. “Mary” was a reasonably popular name at that time. This Mary was the mother of John Mark, a man who would join the Apostle Paul on his first missionary journey – before quitting and heading back home.

We are told that there was a prayer gathering at Mary’s house, maybe unknown to Peter. Maybe they were praying for Peter to have the courage to stand up for Jesus. Maybe they were praying for clarity of mind so that Peter could proclaim the Gospel simply and powerfully. Maybe they were praying that God would have mercy on Peter and spare his life. But, whatever they were praying for, God had something better in mind. God had supernaturally released Peter from prison.

Friend, this is a good time to acknowledge that we often don’t have a clue what God is up to when we are praying. We pray, offering up our requests, and plead with the Lord to answer our prayers. Yet, if we knew what God knew, we might be much less prone to demand that God answer our requests. Instead, we would offer up our requests but genuinely pray that God’s will would be done. I, for one, am glad that the Lord overlooked many of my prayer requests.

Acts 12:13-14 (CSB): “He knocked at the door of the outer gate, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the outer gate.”

In her excitement, Rhoda left Peter on the street. She ran inside, interrupted the prayer meeting, and said that Peter was outside.

How did those folks in that prayer meeting respond? Did they say, “Wow! God is so good!” Or “God certainly answered our prayers beyond what we could imagine or think!” Did they immediately break into a praise service because God had answered their prayers? Just listen to what they told the servant.

Acts 12:15 (CSB): “‘You’re out of your mind!’ they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true, and they said, ‘It’s his angel.’”

They had apparently been praying for God to do something big on Peter’s behalf. But when God did that big thing, they didn’t believe it.

This is a time when we need to reflect on whether or not we are praying big prayers and whether or not we truly believe that God can and will answer those prayers if they are in accordance with His will. Do we REALLY believe that God is big and can answer our prayers, or do we often pray … while doubting?

There’s one thing they said that demands our attention. “It’s his angel” may point to a Jewish superstition at that time that said that every believer had a guardian angel. While some contemporary Christians still hold to this view, they are hard-pressed to prove it from Scripture. It’s just not there. Angels watch over us, but nothing in Scripture says that God assigns one angel to each believer during their life on earth.

Well, let’s get back to Peter. He continued to knock until someone came to the gate to let him in. They were amazed. Some of the ladies may have squealed with excitement. The guys may have given each other high-fives. But the more reflective among them may have started to ask questions: “Why aren’t you still in jail?” “Did Herod release you?” “Did you jump out the restroom window?” “Are they coming after you?” “Will they take all of us prisoners if they see you with us?”

Acts 12:17 (CSB): “Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. “Tell these things to James and the brothers,” he said, and he left and went to another place.”

Peter quickly told them how the angel had freed him from prison. Then, he told them to share the news with James, Jesus’ half-brother, who was apparently now leading the Jerusalem church. Then, Peter went to an undisclosed location to get some rest.

At sunrise the next morning, there was a major commotion among the soldiers who were assigned with watching over Peter. The soldiers responsible for watching over him, and maybe other soldiers, were beside themselves and knew that some of them would be dead by sundown. They had no answer as to what had happened to Peter.

Herod interrogated them, and, in his anger, he had them executed. Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea Maritima.

In verse 20, we are told that Herod had become very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. We don’t know why he was angry. We just realize that the people of Tyre and Sidon knew that they depended upon Herod for some of their food, so they did their best to appease him.

It is speculated that the folks of Tyre and Sidon may have been those in the crowd that did their best to inflate Herod’s ego to gain his favor. Listen to the account of what happened in Scripture.

Acts 12:21-23 (CSB): “On an appointed day, dressed in royal robes and seated on the throne, Herod delivered a speech to them. The assembled people began to shout, ‘It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!’ At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he was eaten by worms and died.”

One thing we had better beware of is when people flatter us. So when someone goes overboard and says some really positive things about you, your first response should be to prayerfully attempt to figure out their motives because most flattery comes from people who want something.

Proverbs 29:5 (CSB): “A person who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.”

The Lord brought judgment upon Herod so that he was eaten by worms and died. This event happened in A.D. 44. It is recounted in the writings of a 1st-century Jewish historian named Josephus, who was not a Christian. This event is recorded in Antiquities of the Jews, Book 19, Section 8, verse 2 if you want to read it online.

The important thing is that while powerful men rose and fell, the church of the living God marched on!

Acts 12:24 (CSB): “But the word of God spread and multiplied.”

Death itself, or even the threat of death and persecution, couldn’t stop the church of Jesus from growing. Honestly, when we look at the church’s history over the last 2,000 years, it seems that it has often grown during times of persecution. And when times got easy, it often went to sleep.

So, while praying for God to wake His church up might mean that bad things will come our way, it is so much better than sleeping while the world is going to Hell.

The chapter ends with the three men who would eventually go on an ambitious missionary journey, spreading the Gospel all along the way.

Acts 12:25 (CSB): “After they had completed their relief mission, Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem, taking along John who was called Mark.”

Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank You for allowing most of us, or maybe all of us, to live in a country where we can worship You freely. We realize that Christians have experienced persecution throughout the last 2,000 years and that so many of our brothers and sisters are experiencing persecution right now. Give strength and courage to those who need it, Lord. Graciously enable them to stand up for You even if it would mean that doing so would cost them dearly. We pray that the church around the world is strong and will help those who are persecuted and stand up for them.

And help us, Lord, who live in free countries to not take our freedom for granted. Help us live boldly for you and share the Gospel with those who need it. We pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Closing

I hope today’s episode has helped you to understand and enjoy God’s Word so that you can apply it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

If looking over the script for this podcast would be beneficial to you, hop on over to my website at mattsmusings.net. I will provide a link in this episode’s show notes.

The “Enjoying the Bible” podcast is a ministry of the First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida. Check us out at fbcpolkcity.com. See you next time!