First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, August 29, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“God is Still in Control!”
One of the foundations of the Christian faith is a certain belief in the sovereignty of God. We live in a world that seems in many ways to be out of control. There is a lot of frightening stuff happening in our personal lives, and all around us. Chaos, troubles, and unrest are everywhere. And yet we sing: “This is my Father’s world … Oh let me not forget … that though the wrong seems often so strong … God is the Ruler yet.” At the heart of the Christian faith is a firm belief in the sovereignty of God.
Today we continue our journey in the book of Acts and we are going to look at another great story. The story has some valuable lessons, and, Lord willing, we will be unpacking a couple today. Today’s Scripture reminds us that God is still in control in our world and that He will work out His sovereign plan and will.
Before we dig deeper into our story for this morning, I think a brief background would be helpful. In Acts 12:1, Luke tells us, “About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church.” “Herod” – was not a name; “Herod” was a title, like Pharoah. There are three Herods in the New Testament: Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, and Herod Agrippa. Herod the Great was the Herod that the magi appeared to when Jesus was born. That was the Herod who was responsible for executing all of the male infants in order to somehow eliminate the Baby born King, because he feared the competition. Herod Agrippa in Acts 12 was the grandson of Herod the Great.
Herod Agrippa did what he could do to win the favor and the approval of the Jewish people especially the rulers like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He did that by observing Jewish law and all Jewish holidays. This made him popular with the Jewish people. In order to advance his popularity, he had James arrested and killed. Acts 12:2-3 state, “He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the feast of Unleavened Bread.”
Peter is arrested and put in prison waiting for his trial after the feast of Unleavened Bread is over. This was the third time that Peter was arrested. Herod was not going to make any mistakes in safeguarding Peter since had escaped prison before. So he had 16 soldiers guarding Peter in prison. More than likely two soldiers were shackled to Peter. What do you do when you find yourself between the rock and a hard place? Two lessons we can learn from the early Church:
First: Be in Prayer When Facing TroublesIn Acts 12:5 Luke tells us, “While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.” When the church faced troubles and persecution, they turned to God. Herod had the power of the sword, but the church had the power of prayer, which is the only true power the powerless possess. When you find yourself in a crisis, how do you respond? When you are up against stuff in your life, then maybe all you can do is pray. I am sure we all have been there.
That word “fervently” or “earnestly” in Greek is the same word that is used of Jesus when He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that God might sustain Him and strengthen Him during that difficult time. It refers to the deep agony and anguish of the soul. And if you remember, as we read of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, it was so fervent that Jesus began to sweat blood. It was so intense, it was so urgent, it was so passionate, it was so involved and engaged. That’s how the people prayed. We should learn to pray more like that.
Do you see that level of urgency and intensity in the church here as they prayed for Peter? Often times I asked myself: What do our prayers normally look like? Are they casual and passive, or are they fervent? This fervency in prayer, this crying out to God, this urgent intensity, this desperation to God, is the spirit with which we should pray. May be that’s something we need to work on. May be this is one aspect of our life together that we need to pay attention to.
Second: Be Prepared for God to Answer
When we pray, it’s important to be prepared for God to answer. So the church is over here praying. Peter is miraculously and supernaturally released from captivity. The church doesn’t know this has happened yet. Peter went to the house where many had assembled and were praying. Listen to what Luke says in Acts 12:13-16, “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. “You’re out of your mind!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true, and they said, “It’s his angel.” Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were amazed.”
When we pray, we should be ready for God to answer. Even though the church had seen God work, they were still shocked when the knock came on the door. They were still amazed, like, “What?! Peter is alive?” In fact, they accused the servant girl of being out of her mind. God answers our prayers in many ways. The Church prayed for James, but God allowed his death. They prayed for Peter and God delivered him. When we pray we give it to God. We submit ourselves to His sovereign will trusting His goodness no matter what.
Friends, God sill answers prayers. Why are we surprised when He shows up? God still keeps knocking on the door to provide. When we’re fearful and anxious, God comes and knocks on the door. He is always on time. He has been faithful in the past. He will always be faithful in the future. May we learn to rest in His promises.
I like how Acts 12 concludes. Acts 12:23-24, state, “Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.” What a contrast! Herod thought he was in control, but it’s the Lord. People come and nations go, but the Word of God continues to spread and flourish. It always does and will until Jesus returns. Be comforted, God’s people. God sovereignly works His plan until the day comes when “every knee shall bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2:10-11. Amen.
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