Miracle or Martyr, I Trust You
2020 has been a rough year. One of the best words to describe this entire year is the word, uncertain. Since about February, every day has had an air of uncertainty to it. For about 10 months now, it seems like we’ve been living every day, not sure what’s going to happen next. I believe that if you think about how we’ve felt for the past ten months, we are only starting to catch a glimpse of what it was like to live as first century Christians, and when I say a glimpse, I mean, just a glimpse. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, or next week, or next month, or next year. 2021 could be worse than 2020, we really don’t know, and we can’t know, but this year, if nothing else, should help us to see more clearly what it was like to be followers of Christ in the first century. Take our uncertainty and multiply it by a hundred, and that’s what it would have been like to be Peter, or James, or John, or Paul. But when we read about these men in the Scriptures, at least after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they don’t seem to be living in fear, or walking around aimlessly because they don’t know what tomorrow will hold. And that’s what I want to focus on today. How is it that they were living in far more uncertain days than we are today, yet they seem to be more confident than most of us today? They were living in uncertain days, but they weren’t living wavering lives. They spoke and acted confidently everywhere they went, as if they knew what the future held, even though there was no way for them to know what tomorrow would bring. Let’s read what it was like in the days of King Herod and the early church…
1 About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, 2 and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was praying fervently to God for him. 6 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. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, “Quick, get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 “Get dressed,” the angel told him, “and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Wrap your cloak around you,” he told him, “and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed, and he did not know that what the angel did was really happening, but he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 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. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” 12 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. 13 He knocked at the door of the outer gate, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14 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. 15 “You’re out of your mind!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true, and they said, “It’s his angel.” 16 Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. 17 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. 18 At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
Here we have the story of two of Jesus’ 12 Apostles, James and Peter. One became a Martyr, the other was rescued by a miracle. Why? The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to tell both of their stories together, and I don’t believe that was an accident. Did Peter have more faith than James? Did more people pray for Peter than for James? Let’s look at it again.
1 About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, 2 and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was praying fervently to God for him.
Peter, James and John were Jesus’ three closest Apostles. They were His inner circle. Did Jesus choose to save Peter miraculously but choose not to save James, because He didn’t like him as much? Of course not! Did Peter have more faith than James? NO! This isn’t about faith. Peter denied Jesus three times the night he was betrayed, if Jesus was upset with either of them, it should have been Peter that was killed and James rescued, and Peter wouldn’t even blame Jesus, he would have said, it’s ok Jesus, I deserve this. I deserve to be tried by the Romans and killed by them, the same as you. Or do you think Peter was saved and James wasn’t because the church was fervently praying for Peter’s release, and they weren’t praying for James’ release? I don’t believe that for a second. We are talking about Peter and James, both men were Jesus’ original Apostles, both leaders of the church, and both arrested by the same king. You are not going to convince me that the church decided they would pray for Peter and not pray for James. - I’m not buying it. And surely they prayed for themselves. And if an Apostle’s prayers aren’t effective, then why would the other church members prayers be effective. And I also don’t believe it had anything to do with the amount of faith that the church members had when they prayed either. You will hear preachers say often on TBN that if you pray with great faith and do not doubt, then God HAS to answer your prayers. That if you can muster up enough faith, and what they mean by faith is simply confidence, that if you can build up enough confidence that you will receive what you ask for, without any doubting, that God will give you what you ask for. Well, I hate to break it to you, but those are not the types of prayers that this church was praying when God did choose to answer their prayers and miraculously rescue Peter. How do I know? Look back at what they said when Peter showed up and knocked at the gate…
13 He knocked at the door of the outer gate, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14 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.
“of course he’s at the outer gate, we’ve been praying with total confidence and not doubting at all, God has to answer our prayers” they told her…
No, that’s not what they said at all
15 “You’re out of your mind!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true, and they said, “It’s his angel.” 16 Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were amazed.
Why were they amazed? Because they didn’t actually believe that Peter could miraculously escape prison surrounded by four squads of four soldiers each. And isn’t this what most of us do as well? We hear about our earthly circumstances, whatever it may be, and the more the world tells us something can’t or won’t happen, the more we believe it. They told Rhoda that she was out of her mind! Then when they believed that someone was in fact at the gate, they still wouldn’t believe it was Peter himself, so they said it’s his angel. And then when they finally saw him with their own eyes, they were amazed. That doesn’t sound anything like the types of prayers that you hear people telling you on tv that you have to pray if you want to see a miracle from God in your life. Now, does the Bible tell us to pray without doubting, and that if we doubt, then we shouldn’t expect to receive anything? Yes it does, in James chapter 1, but the context is a little different than the way most people use it
5 Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord,
Here James is talking about anyone who lacks wisdom, wisdom not being intelligence, but knowing good from evil, so if anyone is lacking in knowing right from wrong, he should ask God who will give wisdom to all generously and ungrudgingly, but let him ask in faith without doubting. To say that the one who doubts God’s existence should not expect to receive wisdom from God, is a far stretch from saying that if you can pray all your prayers in complete confidence then God will give them all to you. That’s a huge stretch. A much bigger leap than I could ever make. It doesn’t say, but let him ask in confidence without doubting, it says but let him ask in faith without doubting. Confident or confidence appears 25 times in the NT, and it’s never translated from the word pistis. Pistis appears 243 times in the NT, and it’s never translated as confidence. Faith does not mean confidence. James could have said let him ask in confidence without doubting, but he didn’t. He said, let him ask in faith without doubting. It means that you are to have faith in God and not doubt God. It does not mean you are to have confidence in getting what you asked for, the way you asked for it, when you asked for it, without doubting that you will get what you asked for. It means you have faith in a person, not confidence in receiving your requests from that person. I trust God. I trust who He is. I trust that He knows everything, past, present, and future. I trust that He can do anything past, present, and future. And I trust He loves me and cares for me, and will take care of me, in the past, present, and future. Therefore, I trust He hears my prayers, and He will answer my prayers when and how He determines is best. I have faith in a person, in Him. My faith is in Him, and therefore my prayers are spoken in faith, in Him, without doubting Him. They are not prayers of confidence that I will always receive what I ask for, when I ask for it, how I ask for it, because my faith is not in myself. If I was always fully confident that God would give me what I ask for, how I ask for it, and when I ask for it. Then my confidence would be in myself and not God. My confidence would be in my own ability to pray confident prayers. Because it means that I believe that I would always ask for the best things, in the best ways, and the best times, that would work out best for God’s ultimate plan in history. I’m not that arrogant, nor am I that naive. I have faith in God answering my prayers in the best way. I don’t have faith in my ability to pray in the best way. And there is freedom in knowing that. There is freedom in knowing that I won’t mess up the world by praying the wrong thing for the wrong reasons.
There is freedom in knowing that the one who can do anything hears my prayers and wants to answer my prayers and bring glory to His Son, but will only answer the prayers that I pray that actually further His kingdom, and accomplish His purposes. And I will venture to say that those are the types of prayers that the church was praying for both James and Peter. Their faith was in God, not in themselves. They knew that God could do anything, because history has shown repeatedly that He can and that He has. They believed that God wanted the gospel message to move forward. They believed God could physically save both James and Peter, they just didn’t know if He would, and if He did, they didn’t know how He would. God did not spare James’ physical life. God allowed him to die as a martyr, just as he allowed Stephen to die as a martyr before him. But God did perform a miracle and save Peter, and he did it in an unexpected way. They believed God could save Peter, they just didn’t know if he would. Even Peter himself didn’t know if God would save him or not. But He did. And so when Peter showed up at the gate, they were amazed. Peter himself was amazed.
God allowing James to die as a martyr, and God performing a miracle to save Peter, both served their specific roles in furthering God’s kingdom. Neither James nor Peter knew if they would be martyrs or miracles when they were locked up by Herod, but they both knew the one they were locked up for, and they knew that He was worth it. They both carefully considered the call that Jesus gave them. Jesus told them that if they followed Him, that the world would hate them and that the world would try to kill them. They both counted the cost and were willing to die a martyrs death. They both said to Jesus, miracle or martyr, my future is in your hands. Here is my life. Use it however you see fit. Whatever you decide to do with my life, I trust you, because you know everything, past, present, and future. So miracle or martyr, I trust You.
James and Peter didn’t know what tomorrow held for them, but they knew who held their tomorrow. You and I don’t know what tomorrow holds for us, but we know who holds our tomorrow. And if you and I are willing to die for Jesus to further His kingdom and to bring more people into it, then we can live confidently and boldly in uncertain days, because we are certain that God hears our prayers and will care for us as any parent cares for their children and will keep us safe, until the day He has decided to call us home. And on that day, even if it be a martyrs death, we will enter into the presence of the God of the universe, and we will be able to stand before Him with confidence and without fear, and the day of our death, will be the greatest day of our life.
Do you have that type of confidence? Are you prepared to die? Are you prepared to stand before the judge of creation, who will decide if you will be forgiven and spend eternity with Him forever in a state of perfection, or not be forgiven and spend eternity in torment in hell? Very few of us are ready for that day to get here, but even if your not ready for that day yet, are you prepared for it? I may not be ready to leave this earth yet, but I’m prepared. I’ve got my bags packed and sitting by the door, and I’ve got my paperwork filled out. I’m sealed by the blood of the lamb, and I’ve got my adoption papers notarized by the Witness known as the Holy Spirit. Are your papers signed in the red ink of Jesus’ blood? Have you admitted to God that you know you’ve sinned against Him and you know you need Him to save you because you can’t save yourself? Have you placed your faith in Him, meaning have you placed your trust in Him and Him alone to save you? And have you turned from sin to follow Him? You are saved by faith, and repentance from sin is the evidence of that faith. Neither you nor I know what tomorrow will bring. Make sure you’ve been reconciled to God today. Ask Him to forgive you right now, and commit to living in obedience to Him for the rest of your life, however long or short it may be. Ask Him to fill you with His Holy Spirit and give you the boldness and peace, and wisdom, and love that you need to be able to honestly say to Him, Miracle or Martyr, I trust You.