The Power of Prayer - Acts 12:1-19
Sermon • Submitted
0 ratings· 3,491 views
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
Our main text this morning is from Acts 12, but for the sake of introducing the subject of the text I want us to spend just a bit of time considering what James says in the Scripture that we just heard.
Because what we just heard pretty well sums up what Acts 12 demonstrates
Now as a preacher, there is a very useful question that always consider as I prepare a sermon. And the question is this is this: Who am I preaching to? I ask this, because if I am speaking Students then I want to consider how they might respond to certain illustrations and even take in to account what words in the Scripture itself might need to be defined or clarified so they might better understand the text.
And as I was preparing this sermon for this morning I asked the same question. Who am I preaching to? I ask this to consider how you all might respond to the illustrations and quotes for the sermon. So to answer that question broadly… I am preaching to a reformed congregation.
And yet I gave this sermon a title that goes against my better intuition in light of who all my listeners are…
Because the title of this morning’s sermon is The Power of Prayer. Now I realize that this title might come off a bit cliche to some of us. And those of you who know my church background before coming here LWC you might even think my charismatic roots are beginning to show. But I’m quite okay with that that so long I am faithful to the truth of God’s word.
And while this morning’s sermon would likely excite my charismatic brothers and sisters this title and the subject of the miraculous probably makes some of us, if not most of us, quite uncomfortable especially when we talk about the miraculous happening today.
But I do hope and pray that this sermon would not be written off as cliche charismatic sermon, but instead may the truth that is captured even in this short title embolden our prayers, for there truly is power in praying.
But don’t take my word for it, instead take James’ word for it when he writes:
16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
My entire sermon can be summed up in this sentence
But of course this sermon is composed of more than just one sentence as ideas always need further clarification so as to not be misunderstood. So what kind of power is James talking about here? The power of prayer that James is speaks of is described in the preceeding verses:
So let’s put this sentence in it’s proper context:
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
This is the power of prayer that James is describing:
Sins are forgiven when we confess and ask for forgiveness - something that most of quite comfortable with… but James doesn’t stop there
Prayer is the means of grace by which suffering saints can find relief. But not just relief from sin, but even relief from the very effect of sin…
For James even says that those who are sick must call for thee elders so that they can be prayed for.
And why should the sick receive prayer? Does James say to pray for the sake of piety?
No, rather James tells us to pray for all these things, because there is great power in the prayer of a righteous person and he says that through prayer the sick may be healed.
Now let me try to dispel a one objection that some of us might have before we dive into Acts 12:
Some of you might be thinking: Josh, you should know how to better interpret Scripture if you are going to teach. You should know that narratives like the book of Acts are not prescriptive, rather they are descriptive.
Now this is a good way to read and interpret the Scriptures for sure…what we mean by narratives being descriptive rather than prescriptive is this:
Prescriptive Scriptures describe what should be normative for every Christian, while descriptive Scriptures describe the unique experience that happen at a particular time and place.
Descriptive texts for example would be the many times in Acts when people speak in tongues... and while speaking in tongues was a recurring experience in Acts when God began to work and save new people groups, we should not conclude therefore that speaking in tongues is is the normal experience of every Christian when they receive salvation.
But some of us may be tempted to apply the same principle when we talk about power of prayer. And while it is certainly true that Peter’s deliverance is descriptive for him and isn’t the normative experience of all who pray for deliverance from prison… We should not assume that since the experience is not normative, that the power of prayer isn’t as well.
In fact James has no problem interpreting a descriptive story from the OT as a proof text of the power of prayer.
17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
So while Elijah’s story is descriptive, James has no problem using it as a proof a prescriptive principle
So while some of us might be more comfortable with the idea of the power of prayer having ceased as the cannon of Scripture closed, anyone who really takes the Bible seriously simply cannot hold to such a view. You see, James’ words here are just as true today as they were when they were first penned. How do we know this? Because of what the Bible says about itself!
8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
If we take Isaiah seriously here, and we truly believe that the word of God stands forever, then we then we must also believe that what James wrote 2,000 years ago is still as true and relevant for us today.
So if the power of prayer today makes you a bit uneasy, then hang with me, because the power of prayer is the very subject that is set before us in the book of Acts 12 this morning.
Now that we are well into the sermon and haven’t even touched on the book of Acts yet, let’s get after it. Acts 12:1
1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
These verses are fairly straight forward…
But one thing needs clarify is the identity of this king, Herod, who killed James and imprisoned Peter. Because if you’re tracking with the narrative of Scripture up to this point and see Herod’s name here in Acts, then you might be confused…
Because Herod was also the king who tried to kill Jesus when he was born in Matthew 2… And you might also remember that Merry and Joseph returned to Nazareth only after and angel reported to them that Herod had died…
But then Herod’s name shows up again when Herod beheaded John the Baptist in Matthew 14,
and now Herod showing up again here having killed James and having imprisoned Peter.... so what is going on?
Well it’s actually quite simple… You see, kings have a way of trying to immortalize themself so they will be remembered even after they die…And they do this by naming their their sons after themselves. And so what we have here is three different Herods in these three stories…
And so we have Herod the Great in Matthew 2 killing all the babies in an attempt to kill the Messiah
And then we have his son Herod Antipas having killed John the Baptist in Matthew 14
And here in Acts 12 we have Herod Agrippa I having killed and imprisoned two of the apostles.
But there is more in common with these three men than their family tree and their repeating name. For they also share the same murdering heart that wishes to destroy the Lord’s servants for their own political advantage.
And here in Acts 12 Herod just killed James, and he intends to do the same to Peter in order to gain the people’s approval, but he must first wait for the days of unleavened bread, that is passover, to conclude before he and the Jews go about in their persecuting ways…
But while Herod has his plan, God has his own plan as well… For God’s people are described as earnestly pray for Peter. This is something that the church cannot forget:
Problems should produce prayer
Problems should produce prayer
In Acts 12, it was Peter’s imprisonment was the problem that produced prayer
but the church has had her problems from generation to generation, and the solution to those problems has always been prayer
And in this generation, we have our own set of problems. They are new in some ways, and yet all the same, there is nothing new under the sun, including the problems that we are experiencing today. And the means of grace by which we are to handle those problems is also not new either… for we are to be a people of prayer whenever we face problems.
When the Philippian church was facing their own set of problems, Paul wrote to them these words:
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Here’s my problem...
When I am anxious about something, especially work related things I have sinful tendency…
I begin to work… Now that might seem to be innocent enough, but hear me out… My first response is not to do what Paul says here… My first response is not prayer and supplication with thanksgiving. Instead my first response is to try to solve my problem.
So I get out my task management systems,
If it’s a sermon that I need to preach that I am stressed out about, I hit the commentaries, or I might begin writing
Even if it is a concern for one of you, due to who knows what… I tend to reach out and try to solve the problem that is making me anxious.
Now none of these things are wrong in and of themselves. But when these means of dealing with my anxiety become a means to an end for me to try to solve my problems so I can have peace, I am sinning! The way I must respond to my problems is by prayer for it is by prayer that I will have the peace of God. And I say this here and now about myself, because I have a suspicion that I am not the only one who deals with my problems with my sinful working...
Brothers sisters are you anxious this morning? Then pray.
Friends, does the state of our country concern you? Then pray.
Does your health, finances, family, career, or any other problem have you losing sleep? Then pray…
For prayer is the means by which we have access to the peace of God.
Let’s continue in Acts 12 picking up in v6
6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison.
Here we are given further details as to how helpless Peter’s situation was…
v3-4 tell us that all of this was taking place during passover. And according to Jewish customs, no execution was to take place during the passover.
And so Herod had to wait for the festival to pass before he could do anything with Peter.
For those of you who are familiar with each of the apostles, you know that Peter was the leader of the church in Jerusalem… he was the spokesman of the apostles. He was a very important man to the church.
And so Herod had Peter locked up tight to ensure that he would not be sprung loose by the church who loved and cared for Peter.
And so v6 describes the severity of Peter’s imprisonment
In his cell, Peter is being guarded by two soldiers, and he is bound with two chains, and sentries are outside the door of his cell for further protection.
Herod was doing everything to ensure that Peter would not get out of prison. Or at least this was Herod thought...
But hold that thought for a moment. Because though Peter is in a seemingly helpless situation here in prison, you and I are in a very similar state…
Sure we aren’t under lock and key, with 24 hour surveillance (unless you think we are but today isn’t the time for conspiracy theories)
But even if you do believe the government has us under lock and key, trust me you have far more problems than that
We have far more problems than we probably realize
We have far more problems than we probably realize
Peter has clear and obvious problems and so the church is praying. And the church is praying because problems produce prayer.
But if we aren’t praying then chances are:
We either don’t have any problems
or we simply don’t realize how many problems we really have
But the truth is, we all have problems, namely sin. And if we are not in prayer, it is likely because we don’t recognize just how big of a problem sin really is
You see, it is often the case that we don’t recognize how weak we are, and how dangerous the enemy is…
And the enemy that am speaking of is Satan:
Hear the way Paul describes this threat of Satan:
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Paul calls Satan the prince of the power of the air. It’s an interesting title:
it implies three things:
First, satan rules as as he is called a prince
Second he rules with power
And third, his dominion is wherever their is air
And for anyone in the room that is breathing, this should be a concern to us.
Satan’s power is further demonstrated when Paul says that we all were once dead in our sins, we all followed Satan, we were all living in the passions of our flesh, we were all children of wrath… That was until God delivered those of us who now love Jesus.
But if you don’t love Jesus today with all your heart soul mind and strength, then this means you are still captive to Satan’s rule and you are still a slave of sin. So you might not see your chains as Peter did, and you might not see the guards that keep watch over you, and you might not even realize it, but Satan intends to kill you, just as Herod intended to kill Peter…
But Paul doesn’t stop in Ephesians 2 speaking of our problems… he continues
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
I’m getting ahead of myself, here but let’s see what happens in Peter’s helpless situation:
6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands.
James Montgomery Boice says this of Peter’s situation:
“Peter’s case was hopeless, humanly speaking. He was in prison surrounded by guards. He was asleep. He was condemned to die. His case pictures us in our sin. We are chained by sin and are unable to escape. We are even asleep in sin, insensitive to it until God sends his Holy Spirit to break our shackles and free us … This is a good picture of what God does with us in salvation. He sends his light to illuminate the spiritual darkness of our lives and strikes off the shackles of sin so that we might be set free to follow Jesus.”
Just as God shone light into the dark prison cell of Peter to save him… so too does God shine light into the dark prison of all who are in bondage to sin.
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Our greatest problem, is sin and death… and so church, we have a great need for prayer.
But our problems don’t just go away once we are saved…
As if once we receive salvation we lose our need for prayer.
In fact, all of the Christian life is one of constant dependance on God…
For every Christian, is like an infant who is unable to do anything apart from the help a parent…
For apart from a parent, an infant cannot eat, they cannot drink, they cannot get up, nor can they change themselves… All they can do is cry out for help.
This is what prayer is… it is our cry to God in our helpless state…
And the Christian’s dependance on God does not stop once we receive salvation…
But we depend on God for sanctification… that is we kill sin in our lives only in the power that God supplies
This is why the fruit of the Spirit are not called the fruit of our labor, for they are not the result of our toil, rather they are the result of God’s abiding Spirit
This too is why Jesus teaches us to pray like this:
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For apart from God’s help, the Christian will fall into every one of Satan’s snares…
Are you bound by sin this morning? Then stop working to overcome it, but instead cry out to God for deliverance!
But it’s not just sanctification that requires our dependance on God… but also our glorification. For apart from God, we do not stand a chance of remaining faithful to the end
Hear the way Paul says it:
6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
notice it is God who not only starts the good work in us by saving us, but he finishes what he started…
This is why the psalmist cries out in desperation to God:
2 I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
The Christian is dependent on God for salvation, sanctification, and for glorification
But hear this: we also depend on God in our work of gospel proclamation
Hear how dependent Paul was in his own work:
10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
So when we pray throughout our service today, it isn’t a pious garnish to ornament the service…
Nor is prayer a smooth way to transition from one part of the service to the next when everyone’s eyes are closed.
Rather, when we pray, we are saying “God we need you”
for apart from you, my mouth will not speak, unless you give breath and words
and your people will not see or hear, unless you give them the eyes and ears to see and hear
So the Christian depends on God for salvation, sanctification, glorification and even gospel proclamation… but is that it?
No, in fact that is far from being all that we are dependent on God for.
For we are dependent for even the most simple and ordinary parts of life.
We are dependent on God for food… so we pray
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
You may have worked so that you could put food on the table. But make no mistake, God has provided you with every bite of food that you have ever put in your mouth.
and God does this not just for the church but even all the birds!
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
But even more than just food, look at how we are dependent on God even in our day to day work
1 Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
Church, recognize the sovereign hand of our God who sustains and upholds all of creation that by word of his power!
We could go on all day going through all the ways in which we ought to depend on God… but Piper sums it up beautifully:
“Prayer is the translation into a thousand different words of a single sentence: “Apart from me [Christ] you can do nothing”
5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
We cannot do anything apart from Jesus...
Church, do you recognize how dependent you are for Jesus today?
You might not be in a prison cell chained to the wall and under watch 24/7… But you are no less dependent on God that Peter was.
Let’s get back to Peter in prison and see the Power of prayer demonstrated
7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”
Look even now how helpless Peter is…
He nearly has to be dragged out of prison by the angel
I read this, and it reminds me of my dad having to wake me up for school in back when I was in high school a dozen times before I ever got out of bed…
9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.
Remember, it was only a few chapters back in Acts 10 when Peter had the vision from God about the sheet that was filled with all kinds of unclean animals in it… If you’re unfamiliar with that text don’t worry about it for now. The point is, here Peter thinks he is having another vision from God. But he is unaware that he is actually being delivered miraculously.
Keep this verse tucked away for a moment… and let’s keep reading
10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
Now, there is a temptation that I face as a preacher… and that is to explain everything in a particular Scripture. But this passage needs very little explanation. What is happening is simply a miracle that is so unbelievable that Peter himself doesn’t even think it is happening!
Peter is passing all these guards who from the text seem to be fully awake and on duty, but he does so completely unnoticed by any of them. And the door even opens on its own accord… something that is quite normal to us today, but 2,000 years ago doors didn’t open on their own. And it isn’t even until the angel departs and Peter is by himself in the streets of Jerusalem that he realizes that God has delivered him from Herod and the Jews.
12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.
Again, notice how even the church who was praying didn’t even believe that it was possible for Peter to be delivered from prison… This is very similar to the disciples own unbelief at the scene of Jesus’ resurrection
But this leads me to wonder, what was the church actually praying for if they didn’t believe that Peter could have actually been delivered from prison?
All we can do is speculate, and that wouldn’t profit us much. But we can note that
Peter didn’t believe he was being delivered, though it was happening before his very eyes
And the church didn’t believe that Peter had been delivered, even though Rhoda testified this to them during their prayer meeting.
What can we glean from all this?
Well if Peter was amazed as to what God was doing in delivering him
And the church too was amazed as to what God was doing in delivering Peter
then we too should be amazed by the power of God to answer our prayers
God is far more powerful than we realize
God is far more powerful than we realize
Am I suggesting that God still works the miraculous today?
I’m suggesting that suggesting that our God is in the heavens and he does all that he pleases.
And if he pleased to free Peter from prison, he can do that
And if it was his will to allow Peter to stay and die just like James did, he would have done that!
If God wanted to remove Paul’s thorn in the flesh he would have
But it was God’s will that Paul’s thorn would remain so that he would depend all the more on God’s power then he will do that…
It shocks me that even the New Testament church and the Apostle Peter himself didn’t recognize that God was working in wonderful ways until all was said and done.
But so too do we struggle to pray, even when we do realize all our problems that we have. And the only reason that we don’t pray about our problems, is because we lack the faith to believe that the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
But we believe that we worship the sovereign God who is in control of all things correct? And we also believe that he is very near and present to us and that he cares for us correct?
If you believe these things, then you have every reason to pray…
For we have the many testimonies from Scriptures that demonstrate the power of our God who is near to us, who hears our requests, and answers every prayer… and so may we pray to him knowing that:
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,
There are two reasons that a person does not pray…
Either they don’t believe that they have problems that need divine intervention
Or they don’t believe that God has the power or care to intervene
May that not be said of us church…
But instead may we recognize our need for God’s help, and may we recognize God’s power to help…
For here at this intersection where we recognize our problems and recognize God’s power is where prayer happens
For here at this intersection where we recognize our problems and recognize God’s power is where prayer happens
Often times when problems happen within the church we say things like…
if only we had more programs that went towards these things. Be it evangelism, kids ministry, youth camps or discipleship, or whatever problem
And when you come to the pastors with these problems, often times they or I might want to say say, if only we had more pastors we could do this and that
Or even when we see all the problems that are happening in the church because the church is filled with sinful people, we might even be tempted to go find another church with less sinful people…
But listen, getting
and better people
Are not the primary solutions to the churches problems
or to put it another way
Faithfulness in the church is not dependent on
rather, to quote Al Mohler,
“When the church is found to be faithful, it is always found praying.”
Or to take Jesus’ word:
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
This is the gracious will of our heavenly Father, that he would supply every need of ours if we would simply ask him.
Brothers, and sisters, oh that we would not simply
read of the power of prayer
speak of the power of prayer
But in instead may we
know the power of prayer
experience the power of prayer
So that we like Peter and the church might be able to testify to the presence of our God who hears and responds to every one of our requests, and the power of our God who can do all things. So then may we pray, knowing this: with God, all things are possible.