Monday, September 9, 2013

Faith & Work Series: The Ministry of Vocational Work

Faith & Work Series:  The Ministry of Vocational Work

My purpose today:
ü  Remind you of our two focuses as Christ followers.
ü  Show you the value and work of vocational work in the Kingdom of God.

            What would you compare the Church of God to?  What is it like? 
Doug Spada gives us an analogy of the church that I think is pertinent for us.  Often we think of the church as a cruise ship—once we are on board life should be good—that God wants us to be relaxed, or even physically rich.  Reading Acts and other scripture, I think it is clear that is never what God intended for the church.  Rather a better analogy is seeing the Church more like an aircraft carrier.  On an aircraft carrier, they have one collective purpose.  Everyone on the ship has a purpose, or else they wouldn’t be there!  They recognize they are far from home and have a job to do. 
As God’s Church, we are far more like an aircraft carrier.  We have a collective purpose to work towards God’s kingdom.  We are not home yet, but we all have a job to do.  Everyone has a purpose that they have been called to.
We need to have a renewed view of vocational lay work in the eyes of God.  Last week we talked about how the daily work of our hands has value in the eyes of God.  Even when it is not directly kingdom building, God honors our efforts done with His glory in mind.
Eric Liddell, the man the movie “Chariots of Fire” was written about, was a British runner in the twenties, and a rather successful one.  He once said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”  In other words, He knows God loves it when Eric simply used his ability to run.  It is the idea that God smiles on us when we use our gifts, especially with his honor in mind.  And God smiles on us when we find simple joy through our gifts and abilities.
But we also need to know that our personal work HAS a part to play in this big picture kingdom work.  We often struggle integrating work and faith, as if they are something that don’t naturally integrate—as if they are opposites.  But we see that is not true when we look back at what God called us to.

Called to Two Purposes

Throughout history God has given man a task to do.  Adam was given the work in the Garden, and then the work of the ground.  Think of all the other people of the Bible—they were giving a task to do, from Abraham to the Prophets, from Jesus to the disciples.
God gave the disciples a distinct task to do.

Matthew 28:18-20
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

We are also called to grow the kingdom!  In one of the many opportunities Jesus had to speak to the crowed, he taught them a very simple and important concept. 
Matthew 6:31-33
31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Jesus puts it quite simply.  We are to seek his “kingdom” and his “righteousness.”

We are to seek His “Kingdom”
We as followers of Christ are called to seek His Kingdom, first in our acceptance of Christ.  But it means more than that.  Seeking His kingdom is not just becoming a believer, but to grow His kingdom by helping others to do the same.  God has called us to join a great team and endeavor!

We are ALSO to seek His “Righteousness
We are to focus our lives on Him and living righteously.

Psalm 25:8-14 NIV
8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. 9 He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. 10 All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant. 11 For the sake of your name, O LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great. 12 Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him. 13 He will spend his days in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. 14 The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.

Above we see a Part we play, and a part God plays.  Those who believe in the Lord and fear Him (who recognize His authority), will follow His commands.  Because God is good and upright, so also we need to follow in an upright way.
His part includes teaching us daily to trust him and live in Him!  God will make himself known and honor what we do. 

2 Peter 1:3-11 NIV
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If we are not living righteous lives, we are “near-sighted and blind.”  We are letting our past sins and sinful nature control us.  Now we need to choose to live righteously.  The by-product of living righteously is your serving effort to build His kingdom spiritually.  When we live righteously, we will love people, tell them about Christ, and inevitably build the kingdom

Again from Paul
These two concepts are reflected in 2 Timothy chapter 2. 

2 Timothy 2:15 & 20-21 NIV
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth….
20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21 If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

We are to live in a way in which we would not be ashamed–to live righteously.  And then God will give us noble purposes in His Kingdom work.

Righteous Living = Kingdom Building = Righteous Living = Kingdom Building…
Have you caught the above repeated concepts?  Our righteous living will lead to Kingdom building, and as we build God’s kingdom, we are then living righteously!  It is a never ending circle.  They work together more than we probably know. 

Now, how does this correlate to our jobs?  Well, let’s ask:

What does a righteous person look like in our Community?
This person has a right relationship ‘UP’ to God by their humility.  They have a fear and respect of God, and know all that they have is because of Him.  They have this right relationship by their kingdom perspective in their work—they see God at work in them in their daily relationships.  Thirdly, they have this right relationship by finding fulfillment in working for God.  They find fulfillment in Christ and living for Him in all they do, and not in idolizing their work.
This person also has a righteousness ‘IN’ their heart.  They have a purity of heart in mind and in action.  They are constantly “putting off the old self” in order to follow their Lord.  And they care about what God cares about and has compassion for others. 
Finally, this person has a right relationship “OUT” to those they work with, and for whom their efforts currently and eventually affect.  They honor God by building healthy relationships with others.  They make sure they are being only a righteous influence to others in their daily behavior.  And they regularly consider the physical and spiritual needs of others, and effect change to show their value. 
Do we look like this in our daily life and community?  Which part are we missing—or weakest on?

The above is also a warning that some tend to make their lives work-based and don’t see God using them elsewhere.  Some see the difficulty of the task as impossible and refuse work as a mission field for building the Kingdom.  These people are missing an extremely important part of their relationship with God and their rule in His kingdom!

So how does our Faith and Work Naturally Integrate?
David Miller suggests four pathways in which people integrate faith and work.  These four ‘quadrants’ are commonly used, so let’s talk about each.

To Experience work as itself having intrinsic value in the kingdom of God.
This is what we talked about last week.  This is similar to the “UP” relationship we have with God.  We see work as from God and being blessed by God.  It helps us to find a fulfillment from our work, and keeps us from seeing our work as an enemy or waste of time.  (See last week’s message to elaborate on this concept).

Bring Ethics to the workplace in the decisions you make
This is the “IN”—letting our faith affect the heart of who we are in all walks of life.  What behavior decisions do you have to make at your Job?  What could you choose to do right or wrong at your work place? 
            R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung give us a powerful chart in their work “Taking Your Soul to Work.”  They talk through the 9 Deadly Sins, and quite effetely relates them to our work life.  (Often the church has talked about the 7 deadly sins that are popular in catholic traditional teaching, however I agree that there are really 9 categories that sin can be divided into.) 
These are sins that we need to first recognize and then be careful to avoid in order to continue our growth in the Lord.  These essentially are the virtues that God calls us to.  They are NOT vague or “grey-areas” as some might suggest.

Pride - Being imprisoned within yourself as No. 1
Greed - Inflaming the passion to possess more than you have
Lust - Imagining how people can be used for self-interest
Gluttony - Looking for satisfaction through excessive consumption
Anger - Using passion to manipulate and control people and circumstances
Sloth - Doing minimal or the least important work and loving ease
Envy - Feeling pain because of someone else’s advancement or possessions
Restlessness - Thinking and feeling that there’s always something better somewhere else
Boredom - Having insufficient passion or interest to give yourself heartily to work and life

Often we see people get so caught up in their secular vocation, that they are drawn away from their relationship with God and living righteously.  But it is not the secular work in and of itself, but rather it is the individual succumbing to the above sins.  I want you to be warned and aware of ways the devil, and our sinful nature, keeps us nominal in kingdom work.  Then I want to give you ‘tools’ to protect yourself.
We are going to actually talk about EACH of these areas in coming messages this fall.  We want to see how these sins pop up in our lives, especially the work place.  However, ask yourself, just after reviewing the above list, which do you see as your most difficult area? 

Cultivate friendships with coworkers towards the effort to Evangelize
This is the “OUT” of our relationships with others.  How is evangelism possible in the work-place?  There are three areas that I have identified.

  • By Example
    • Righteous behavior and decisions—causes others to wonder the differences
    • Joyful spirit—causes others to desire the outcome
  • By Loving Relationships
    • Serving Them
    • Taking interest in the pains of others
    • Taking interest in the joys of others
    • Showing Mercy and Forgiveness
  • By Direct Communication
    • Tell them why you believe what you do
    • Tell them the simple gospel message
      • We will talk about this in a coming message

Gain spiritual transformation through Enrichment
David Miller gives this as the final pathway for ‘Faith and Work.’  This has implications both for the “IN” and “OUT” relationships.  This is to lean on faith to make decisions and grow more spiritually.  As we come up against conflict, we turn to our faith to make the decisions.  This is more than just avoiding sin, this is allowing God to give wisdom to our world.  Much of the ‘business wisdom’ out there that works, is actually concepts introduced in scripture thousands of years ago. 


Could you see yourself doing some of these things? I encourage you to commit to doing something.  In your small daily efforts with the help if the Spirit, you could greatly see the kingdom of God growing right in your work place!

Faith & Work Series: The Value of Vocational Work

Faith & Work Series:  The Value of Vocational Work

Today, I want to talk about work in itself. 
I want to help you to see the value and purpose in your vocational (secular) work. 
I want to help you see God’s presence in your work life, and gradually be transformed into holy people even while at work. 
I want to help you avoid inherent frustrations in the secular world, and instead to see how work can be a source of spiritual growth and even joy—how we can see and keep God in our daily work, and how we can protect us from sinful compulsions. 

In the animated movie “The Incredibles,” Mr. Incredible, Bob, has just been sued and has been given a not-so-extiting job in an insurance office.  Clearly from the look of his face, he has been reduced from a life of great purpose, to a life of utter boredom.  He once had a grand purpose, and now he sees no purpose in what he does

Many of us feel this way.  So let’s talk about “Work” and remember some
Scriptural Truths About Work:

1. God Worked when he made creation

Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning, God Made the Heaven’s and the Earth.
Genesis 2:2 - By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.

God himself worked and it was good.  David even spoke about this in the Psalms.

Psalm 102:25 - In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.

God Started the work on the Earth, and God intended for the work to continue:

Genesis 2:4 - This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens-- 5 and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground
2:15 - The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

It was not just all leisure.  In fact, God knew man’s task could be difficult—that he needed help

Genesis 2:18 - The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

Obviously work didn’t end after the Fall:

Genesis 3:23 - So the LORD God banished him (man) from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.

Man was Made to Work
Often people feel that the perfect world is ‘no work.’  They believe were created for leisure—that having to work to earn a living is a part of the fall.  It is not true.  Rather, the repercussions of sin, is that our work would be more difficult at times.  Man “working” is for what we were intended (“work” is in scripture 371 times).

We were NOT meant to be lazy

Proverbs 21:25 NIV - The sluggard's craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.

Don’t think that you are living Godly if you are not doing some “work” in your life.  This does NOT mean that if you can’t find a job, that you are sinning.  This DOES mean that God has called you and I to something right now—whether we are to paid for it or not.

Work was Meant to be a delight and Joy
God intended for us to have satisfaction even in our vocational work.

Deuteronomy 16:15 NIV - For seven days celebrate the Feast to the LORD your God at the place the LORD will choose. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

We sometimes have false ideas about work, about how our work goal should NOT be about self-fulfillment, promotion, or enrichment.  I one time asked an older co-worker if he liked the travel in his work.  His response was:  “Do you ever like your work?”  I was stunned by his response, but I wanted to say “Yes…I do believe we can enjoy our work!
Yes, as we will talk about, our life should be about honoring God and being involved in his work.  And yet honoring God includes ‘blooming’ where we are.  It includes enjoying the work of our hands.
Often we don’t enjoy our work because:
o   Our relationship with God isn’t right.
o   Our relationship with people around us isn’t right.
o   More rarely, but sometimes it is because God is calling us to something else. God sometimes gives us a Holy Discontent.

But God will always honor your current work, if you do it for Him.  Even if you hate it, He will bless it if you give it to Him….(which is our next point).

God Values and Honors the Work of our Hands
God repeatedly referred to honoring the work of his people in the OT.  This is especially true when they were living as the Lord would have them.

Deuteronomy 28:12 NIV - The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.

God was not talking about any grand work.  He was talking about simply reaping the harvest.  And this is NOT even the spiritual harvest—He is talking about physical crops.  Similarly, God honors simply your efforts to feed / provide for your family!  God will bless our work when we honor him in our thoughts and actions, both privately and publically.

God Makes our Work Valuable
It is God who makes our work valuable.

Psalm 90:17 NIV - May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us-- yes, establish the work of our hands.

Proverbs 12:14 NIV- From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.

When our work is just and honoring to God, He will bring eternal value to the work of our hands.  We will see reward in what we do, and experience the “favor” of the Lord.

The FOCUS of our work Matters:
God does not just Honor ALL work—some work is evil.

Deuteronomy 27:15 NIV - "Cursed is the man who carves an image or casts an idol--a thing detestable to the LORD, the work of the craftsman's hands--and sets it up in secret." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"
Micah 5:13 NIV - I will destroy your carved images and your sacred stones from among you; you will no longer bow down to the work of your hands.

It is possible for us to do “great things” and yet be doing something detestable to God.  We may directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, build “idols” today in our work.  Probably few of us really have to worry that the work we do is morally detestable to God, though there are those who have left work, such as in abortion clinics or even as simple as management of companies, that realize that the work they do is against the moral principles God gives us in scripture.  What are some “idols” that we could build in our work?

Finally, (though it seems obvious, it is good for some to remember),
God does NOT Call all people to Vocational Ministry

1 Thessalonians 4:11 NIV - Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you.

Often people are made to feel like non-ministry work is a lower existence, or has lower kingdom value.  But What we do to earn a living, less to do with building God’s Kingdom, as much as the way we live it. 

Remember that though not everyone is called to “paid vocational ministry, all people are ministers of God, called to ministry—called to build His kingdom!

Faith & Work Series - Introduction

Faith & Work Series

Introduction to Series
During my first job right out of college, I had a large yucca plant (small tree) in my office. I was told that it was a hearty plant, and that I should have no fear of killing it.  And for a while that seemed the case.  However, after months went by, it was clear that even this plant was no match for my reverse-green thumb.  If you have ever planted plants, you know there are different kinds of plants.  Some plants need direct sun, and will perish or flourish, depending on the amount of sun it receives.  Another plant requiring shade, will have its potential destroyed if put in direct sunlight.  We need to know what a plant needs to grow and flourish.  Second, we need to find an appropriate environment for it. 
It is an unfortunate truth that many people feel like mis-planted plants.  We feel we are not in a place or ministry where we could flourish. 

Do these describe you?
ð       I feel I am missing something in my life and service to God.
ð       I feel that I am capable of accomplishing more than I currently am achieving.
ð       I feel there is something wrong with me because I am still not able to figure out what my specific purpose is.
ð       I know that God wants to use me in a meaningful way, but I don’t know how.
ð       I want to be more fruitful and make a difference with my life.
ð       When I do try to serve, I often do so in areas that are not using my gifts and abilities. 

If any of these describe you, you are by far not alone.
We have a feeling that we are almost missing our calling.  Many of us want to serve God—and we know we SHOULD serve—but it is difficult to know where.  We make excuses that we don’t have time.  Often it is a tool of Satan to make us think we are too busy, but when we find something that God has gifted us in and we are passionate about, then we make time for it. 
Or perhaps we have served at one point, but not anymore.  At previous (unnamed) churches, I often heard, “I have done my time and served; now it’s someone else’s turn.”  Please don’t ever say that.  God has called us all to a life of serve.  You NEVER retire from serving the Lord until you are dead (and actually then you will continue to serve throughout eternity).

Balance of Two Ideas
We want to balance two big ideas in this series:
·         Seeing inherent value in the work we do
·         Seeing value in the call to a specific ministry working towards the kingdom of God
Today we focus on the first, and we slowly then go into the next over the next few weeks

Our Calling in the Kingdom of God
Unfortunately, many don’t see themselves as a part of God’s kingdom yet.  We are a part of the kingdom now—as soon as we accepted the sacrifice of Christ.  We were sealed with the Holy Spirit, and called to join the body of believers  Our goal as believers, as well as our goal at The Source, is to work towards the kingdom of God.  Believers who do nothing for the kingdom of God, are the same as those who sit around and refuse to work when everyone else is. 

Two Barriers to our Goal in the Kingdom
There are basic reasons why people are pulled away from being an active part of God’s kingdom.  The first is because they are pulled more into another (earthly) world, than they are the kingdom.  Secondly, it is because they don’t know HOW they can effectively be a part of the kingdom work here.  This series will help us more aware of how we can actively be a part of the kingdom in the lives we already live today (with minimal added to our schedules).

Righteous Prospering

Proverbs 11:10
When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.

In this passage is a parallel thought:
o   The righteous prospering
o   The wicked perishing. 
When the righteous prosper the community changes.  There is a ‘justice’ that can happen when the righteous are doing what there were called to in the kingdom of God.  Often Christians strive towards social Justice as a goal unto itself, but they forget, or just don’t realize, that when the righteous live righteously, social justice becomes a by-product.  We see that when the Righteous prosper, the poor are judged fairly and the land will be ruled wisely. 

Hostility Towards our Message

Hostility Towards our Message  (Acts 13:13-14:7)

            Recently I was watching an episode of “Sherlock.”  Sherlock was talking about his “arch-enemy.”  Watson asked if people in real life had “arch-enemies.”  I really found the question intriguing. 
Hopefully we have people in our lives that cheer us on.  We need “cheerleaders” that really encourage us, and want to see us succeed.  On the other side of the spectrum, we have people, perhaps known as “enemies of the gospel”—those who know we are believers and want to see us fail. 
In Acts, we see several crowds that wanted to see Paul and Barnabas fail.  They wanted to see the gospel fail. 

Read Acts 13:13-15
13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak."

A Few things to Note from the Previous Passage
Last week we followed Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, where in the city of Paphos on the island of Cyprus they witnessed and helped the local governor to believe and accept Christ.  Secondly, if you remember, John joined them while they were on Cyprus, but here, already, we find he leaves them and returns to Jerusalem.  We are not told why here.  However later we learn that he in some sense “deserted” them.  It can be assumed that either something called his attention back home, or ministry got too hard on him—we really don’t know, nor is it clearly all that important.
Thirdly, in the previous passage, “Barnabus and Paul” were listed in that order.  From here forward, it is “Paul” listed before “Barnabas.”  What this suggests is that Paul was now leading the team, and probably the primary speaker.  Last week we saw how Barnabas was most likely the eldest over Paul, and thus they were typically listed in that order.

Active Discipleship
In that period of time I think Barnabas had encouraged Paul in his work, and most likely, even discipled him further.  Barnabas made sure he was ready to lead, and then he humbly stepped out of the way to let the Spirit shine through Paul.  This was an exciting realization to me, because growing up I had always understood that Barnabas was Paul’s disciple.  (I love it when learning a little background opens up new concepts in scripture!)  It is a perfect example of believers can disciple others to take on the ministry!

Observing their time of Worship
Paul and Barnabus now had traveled from Phaphos to Perga, and then to Pisidian Antioch.  Shortly after they arrived they joined the Jews for the weekly Sabbath celebration.  Though the believers saw Sunday as the new Sabbath day, Paul and Barnabus knew that in order to have good opportunities with the Jews they needed to attend the Saturday Sabbath celebration.  And so they did!
They observed their time of worship, at that location, and probably even dressed appropriately, all to have the best opportunity to share the gospel.  This can be hard to know how to apply this concept today.  Some say this suggests attending other worship services of people we want to witness to, can be a good idea.  But we need to be careful that we are doing constructive evangelism, and not being influenced the other way around. 

Given an Opportunity
The Jewish leaders at the Synagogue somehow found out the reason Paul and Barnabus were present in their town was to preaching a new message.  The leadership hosted a normal service in the synagogue; which was reading from the Law and the Prophets—normally a portion of each.  Then after scripture was read, the leadership asked if there was something with which Paul and Barnabus wanted to “encourage” the people present?  Do you have “A word of exhortation.” I.e. Edify us from God’s word in some way.  We are edified primary with scripture itself, but clearly good conversation and explanation of the scripture is helpful by those who have higher understanding of God’s Word.  The idea was to expand on the message,  similar to our sermons today.

Read Acts 13:16-41
16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: "Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, 18 he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, 19 he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years. "After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: 'I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.' 23 "From this man's descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: 'Who do you think I am? I am not that one. No, but he is coming after me, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' 26 "Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. 32 "We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: " 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father. ' 34 The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: " 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.' 35 So it is stated elsewhere: " 'You will not let your Holy One see decay.' 36 "For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. 38 "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41 " 'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.' "

Paul’s Message
A key thing to notice right away, is that Paul embraces that opportunity given to him!  He is ready for it and accepts it cheerfully.  Note also that what is recorded here would be an abbreviation of his full speech.  It is logical to assume his words went longer.
It says “He motions to them”, not to silence them but to express compassion and enthusiasm to share with them.  For the author to point it out, suggests this was not normal.  Perhaps most who speaked at the temple might have been too pompus and self-important to come across warmly to the crowed.  But not Paul.  He had something important to say

One of Paul’s goals was to include both (all) people groups.  Paul explained that in order to show that the Jews were important to Jesus—Paul preached first to the Jews, using the law and their history.  But this message is also for the gentiles who believe in God.
Paul starts off retelling how God helped his people to prosper and grow, both in Egypt and out of it.  God overthrew nations to give them land to call their own.  But then the people needed correction.  God gave them judges and kings to try to guide them.  King Saul was unworthy, but David was given the promise that from his lineage would come the promised Messiah.  Paul was bringing this up to suggest that the people have needed correction before—this might be another one of those times.

Unfortunately, the people didn’t recognize who Jesus was (vs 27), even though scripture and John the Baptist told them about Him.  Their condemnation of him proved even more who He was, because it agreed with the very specific predictions in scripture.  God raised Jesus from the dead (vs 31)—this fulfilled God’s promise to us.  This proved that Jesus was God!  Through Jesus, everyone who believes is justified from everything in the law (vs. 39).  All sins are forgiven!  There is nothing that God still holds against us!
Are we enthusiastic about that, or are we so consumed by the world that it does not show?  No Jew or gentile.  The gospel does not divide, but is offered to all and gives peace.  In erse 40, he points out that some will never believe this truth about Jesus. Paul is saying: ‘Make sure this is not you.’

Read Acts 13:42-52
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: " 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.' " 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. 49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Another Opportunity
As they finished teaching the first Sabbath, the teachers there told them to come back next Saturday to teach more.  They had earned themselves another opportunity to preach the truth because of their knowledge and wisdom.
Then as Paul and Barnabas left the synagogue, people followed them and asked them more questions, and so they continued to teach them.  I can think of several times a professor stimulated our minds, students would follow them to their next class to have a few more moments to ask more questions. 
Again, Paul and Barnabus did not pass up an opportunity to talk about their faith.  In fact, it was more than just a few more minutes or hours.  It is clear they talked with people throughout the week. They probably met with people in small groups and continued to preach the good news of the Gospel.  God’s word from our lips should not end when we leave church!

Living in God’s Grace
Paul and Barnabas urged these people to “continue in the grace of God.”  Essentially, he is saying to keep seeking after God—keep looking for the truth, and the Grace of God will be there.  God gives ALL man grace, but when we follow His word, and walk in Righteousness, then we walk “in his grace” in a unique way.  It is not even that his Grace is a reward, rather, God gives us a way to live that naturally is better for us.
Quite simply, God has given Grace of salvation and the freedom from sin.  We need to walk regularly in that grace of freedom from sin.  It is a choice—to take for granted His grace, or to walk on that path, every moment of every day. 

The Next Sabbath

(44) “On the next Sabbath, almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.”

Almost the whole city (some say around 12,000 people) had heard  about Paul and Barnabus through the ‘grapevine,’ about the many who believed, and the message they were preaching.  So they told more and more people until the whole down was buzzing about it.  Sharing the gospel is exponential in its power to reproduce itself
Many of the Jews saw their popularity and became jealous.  All their years of practicing the Jewish faith never earned them that large of an audience—so they got jealous all for the wrong reasons.  They spoke “abusively” towards them (hostile; mocking them)
In verse 46, Paul and Barnabas boldly answered them:
“We purposefully talked first to you the Jews, but you did not consider yourself worthy of it.”  In other words, you and the other Jews rejected the forgiveness of your sins, and thus proved they were not worthy.  In a sense they passed the judgment on themselves

But the Gentiles accepted it gladly, as Jesus said they would: “48…and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”  God gives free will, but ALSO appoints believers, by helping them to see the truth, through the Holy Spirit.  If they were appointed, this was it—they heard and believed.  Nothing more was needed that the simple hearing of the gospel.

The Heart Test
In every group, there is the true-to-heart, and the posers.  Especially for the Jews who came to the temple, this was the test:  If they knew the Word and were open to God, they accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as the answer to the prophesies.  But the posers were furious, namely because of their own jealousy
Think about how this concept transfers to different scenarios.  How would you suppose most groups know them?  (Think of a bicycle group, or book club, etc.)  How do you know whether they do it for the right reasons, or are just posers?
·         Test of time—Do they stick around it?  “The doers do…the posers pose.”
·         True enthusiasm—They are not ashamed to talk of it publically.
·         Knowledge of the subject—Do they want to learn what they can, and then remember it?
·         They are excited for anyone to join!

Can you see how this translates to the church today?

Coming back to our account here, surly the difference between believers and posers now was more obvious!  It created a huge rift in the society.  It is sad but still reality, and certainly nothing to be afraid of.  Not telling someone about the gospel because it will put a tension on your relationship is NOT a good reason.
The word of God spread, but the Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas.  Paul and Barnabas were driven out of the area.  But that is okay, because God was leading them:

52    “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Those that had accepted Jesus were joyous!  And now, with the Holy Spirit, they would grow in their faith.  No doubt God would send other teachers to pick up where they left off.

14:1-7 NIV
1 At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. 2 But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. 4 The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. 5 There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. 6 But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, 7 where they continued to preach the good news.

This account is similar to the last one; so much so that it is abbreviated.  We are only give a few details of the event (no speech details or specifics).  They traveled to Iconium.  It says they spend considerable time there.  The previous town was probably less than two weeks; it suggest this time it was a little longer before
God confirmed what P&B were saying, with miraculous signs and wonders!  Again they spoke there and both Jews and Gentiles believed! But some Jews allowed bitterness to grow in their hearts, again probably because of jealously, as well as unbelief.  They poisoned people’s minds against Paul and Barnabas—and the words they spoke. 
And once again they stirred up trouble and plotted against them, this time to stone them dead.  But by the providence of God, word about the plot got out and P&B left for the Lycaonian cities. 

Truths to Note
ü  The believers took the gospel to where the non-believes were at.  This is obvious here, but so important to point out.  Going where they go; finding places people talk about these things.
ü  The gospel is for all people groups (obvious and said before, but important).
ü  Opposition often accompanies the growth of the Church.  It is a part of working for the kingdom of God.
ü  Some people embrace the word of God when they hear it, while others reject it.
ü  The Holy Spirit is the one working in their life.  You just tell them the truth and live a life by example.
ü  Discipleship can happen while actively doing ministry

ü  We have Freedom from the daily power of sin. It is a bondage that we no longer have to be entangled in.  

Using Evil for Good

Using Evil for Good (Acts 13:1-12)

Does God create evil?
“No, some say.”  Well didn’t God create everything?
What about the age-old question “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Why do bad things still happen to Christians?  In Acts 13, we get a great example of God using evil for good.

Last week we remembered how Barnabus and Paul went to Antioch to see how God’s people were growing.  While that was going on, the scriptures took a chapter to note the capture and miraculous release of Peter, and how God responded to their prayers!
Today we return to the church at Antioch.  Until this time, most of the book of Acts has talked about the spread of the gospel to the nearby regions around Jerusalem.  This is the first noted missionary journey outside of that area.
o   *Map

Let’s read Acts 13:1-3 (NIV)
1 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Ma-naen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Right away, in the church of Antioch, we are introduced to some of the believers there that had taken up God’s call to serve Him in amazing ways.  Ephesians 4:11 tells us how God gave “gifts” to the church of prophets, teachers, etc.  God had honored their faith and certainly blessed this church with these five men.
The order of these five men listed might be by age, Barnabus being the eldest, and interestingly Saul is last—probably the youngest.  Some think that Lucious, is actually Luke who wrote this book.  Manaen apparently grew up in the same upper class groups as Herod Antipas (one of three sons of the previous ruler Herod the Great).  Perhaps Manaen was in the same education as Herod Antipas. (Note that Herod was a Tetrarch – a governor or subordinate ruler under the Roman Emperor. 

Vs. 2 “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting…”
The word there, and used commonly elsewhere, is “ministering to the Lord.”  “Worshipping” is an appropriate translation, as that what it was.  However from the text we see the leaders clearly serving the Lord by teaching about Him, helping others, praying, etc.  This is what God’s people, especially leaders, should be doing.
This seemed like it was a normal practice for them.  They were Fasting – this is avoiding something distracting from God for a while to show your devotion to him and focus on Him.  It was a sign of humility as well as self-discipline.  Often when we are forced to go without something, we gain better perspective about it.  Fasting is scripture is almost always food.  The pangs of hunger is definitely an effective and constant reminder to focus on God during that time.
Would you consider fasting from time to time?  Gluttony defines our culture—thus fasting is very rare.  In our culture, fasting is thought of like holding our breath—we think “why would we do it?”  We can do it for a short while, but then we “put in our time.”
The early Church often fasted corporately.  Perhaps they were invited to skip dinner every once in a while and worship as a body of believers.  I think they wanted to know God so badly, that they were ready to fast.

God honored their praise and, through the Holy Spirit, spoke to them.  We don’t know if this was by strong impulse, or by an actual voice from heaven, but it was plain to them.
The Holy Spirit asked them to set apart Barnabas and Saul specifically for a task. The “work” or “task” was not given in detail, but they knew they needed to leave that place to minister to people elsewhere.

Why Barnabus and Saul?  Well, Saul already knew that he would be sent “to the Gentiles”  the day his sight was restored in Damascus.  Paul even refers to this calling later when he wrote:
Galatians 2:7-9 - 7 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. 8 For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.

Note, this is the first time Saul will be called Paul in Acts.  Paul is his Greek name.  It makes sense that he is referred to his Hebrew name up to this point in Acts, and from here on out, usually by his Roman name.
Barnabus was native of Cyprus, so clearly that played some benefit to the mission.

Also concerning sending Barnabus and Saul, some think it is good and natural to send your most highly trained people to the mission field.  This also forces other believers to step up and take on other roles in ministry.  When positions open up in the church, God calls people to take their place.

Later, the believers there ‘placed their hands on them’ and sent them off.  They did this after they had eaten together and prepared the men for trip.  Note they were sent as a team—commissioned together.  Today, this can be a friend or even our spouse, but clearly someone else with the same heart and calling by God.

Let’s finish reading our passage with Acts 13:4-12 (NIV).
4 The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper. 6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith.
9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun." Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord.

In vs. 4, it notes they “went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus.”
o   *Map

The scriptures note they were led by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit guided where they were to go, protected them, strengthen them, told them what to say, whom to talk to, etc.  He is the one who granted them success, not necessarily told in number of converts, but in opportunities to share the gospel.
They publically “proclaimed” the word of God.  At that time, it was not uncommon to hear people proclaim things in the streets.  That was the way to get out news and announcements.

How do we “proclaim” things today?”  How do we “proclaim the Word of God”?

The text notes that “John was their helper.”  Somewhere along the line, John started working with them, ministering to the people, preaching the word.  He didn’t actually end up staying there for long, for reasons we won’t get into.

Then Barnabas and Saul came to the city of Paphos.  They met a Jewish Sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus.  His name means “Elymas the sorcerer.”  Elymas was the attendant of the Proconsul, thus pretty important himself. 
The text suggested they met Elymas first, probably in the public.  Elymas, being the assistant, would be making his business whatever went on in the area.  Most likely he reported back to Sergius generally what Barnabus and Saul were preaching. 
The scripture is clear to note the proconsul by name: Sergius Paulus. A proconsul was a governor of the country under the Roman Emperor.  Sergius was an intelligent man; he was educated and considered wise.  And a wise person wants to hear and understand even more.  When he heard about what Barnabas and Saul were preaching, and sent for them to, so he too could “hear the Word of God.”
But Elymas the sorcerer opposed them.  Of course, not only did he have a heart that was turned towards evil, but his abilities, and most likely position, would be rejected if the proconsul accepted this God—this Jesus Christ
The Holy Spirit then moved in Saul as a response to ElymasSaul did not respond from personal resentment or frustrationRather the Spirit guided his words as a Prophet:
10    "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!...”

Anyone that keeps people from Jesus is like a “child of the devil” (not that we need to go around saying that to people.)  Similar to the Devil, Elymas was being crafty, as well as an adversary to Jesus.  “…You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery…” (just like the devil).  In other words ‘your powers and what you proclaim are not real, but just deceit and trickery—they are fake.’  Elymas deceived people away from the Word of God in opposing the message of Christ.

This situation with Paul was definitely extreme, but we probably work with people who oppose the gospel.  Whether direct or indirect, they deceive people from what is real
What do we do with people like that?

Then Saul asked an important question: 
“…Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?...”

(Some translations note this as a statement, and others a question).  Through the Holy Spirit, Saul was able to see his heart, and he saw the very obvious evil.  The Holy Spirit led him to proclaim judgment against him:
“…11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun."

Just like he was spiritually blinded, now he would be physically blinded.
Paul note this in 2 Cor. 4:4 - The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Instantly Elymas went blind.  The judgment was immediate.  Right away this would have destroyed his ability to do his trickery and deceive people, especially as he would be considered condemned by GodHe started “groping about”—desperately feeling for his way.  I picture him calling out “Please…someone help me!”  Probably people stood back, as if thinking his punishment might be contagious.

It is Interesting to note that the punishment was not permanent.  This is one of the reasons I feel vs. 10 was a question.  Why was the punishment just not made permanent?  This was a case of grace of God!  It suggests that it was at least giving Elymas another chance to turn to Christ.

·         12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord
o   God used this temporary judgment on Elymas to convince the Proconsul of the truth they preached about the Lord!
·         Church historical tradition has it that Sergius Paulus became the bishop of Narbon in France, after Paul’s journey to Spain years later
o   It really shows that much more happened that is recorded in scripture
o   Paul and Barnabus would have preached to many more people and done many more amazing things through the power of the Holy Spirit!

Does God use bad people to accomplish good things?  Look at the Examples in Scripture:
·         God was glorified through the sufferings and response of faith from Job
·         Because of the evil intentions of Jacobs other 11 sons, the younger brother Joseph was carried off to Egypt—who they saved the entire people of God by giving them a home and food, and save them from the drought of the land.  Incredibly wise is Joseph’s response to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”
·         The OT book of Habakkuk shows that God raised up Babylon to achieve His purpose.  They punished God’s people because they had become so evil, corrupt, prostituting themselves to the pagan Gods and rituals.
·         Even the evil of those who put Jesus on the cross, was used for good

There is a distinction to be had about God controlling evil and God creating Evil.  God is good, and from Him comes only good.  Bad could NOT exist without good, because bad is just a perversion of good, a perversion of what God has madeGod is perfect and Just (Deut. 32:4)God cannot be tempted and does not temp others (James 1:13)

But God USES evil.
Romans 8:28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

“All things” includes the good and bad.  God uses our struggles, disappointments, heartbreaks, accidents, even tragedies ending in death, to bring about good.  Bad things happen due his permissive will, but God’s perfect will is what he WANTS us to do.  He allows bad to happen because he wants us to have free will.  But the free will of even evil people cannot stop His plan and good from happening

Knowing this, we can respond as Paul does:
2 Corinthians 4:8-10 - 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

What About Evil in Our Lives?
Paul understood bad things (happening to good people):
2 Corinthians 11:24-27 - 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

Nevertheless Paul persevered through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And he even responds by saying:
Romans 8:18 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Think about the struggles in your life (or apparent evil) right now.  List them.  (And more specifics than “busyness” and “lack of time.”)
Often we see them as something that God is ignoring, vs. something God is actively using.  Sometimes it is the little things:
·         The lack of a job that is giving us more opportunities with our family or to serve Him
·         A frustration with a coworker that gives us the opportunity not only to learn patience, but also to show God’s love and compassion.

Often we will not understand it. Pray and ask God for perspective on the difficult situation

How do we respond to these people we work with?
Romans 12:16-21 - 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Pray:  “Lord, I pray you use this evil for good in my life!”

Expectant Dependence

Expectant Dependence  (Acts 12:1-18)

What do we depend on in our lives?  A car, house, people, computer, etc?

If you recall in Acts 11, due to the efforts of just average everyday people, the Church at Antioch was growing.  When Jerusalem heard about it, they sent Barnabus to take a look.  Seeing the growing body of believers there, he traveled to Tarsus to get Paul.  Then the two of them worked with the church there for some time.

King Herod
King Herod enters into the picture again, but for the last time.  King Herod we know from both the birth and death of Jesus.  If you recall, Jesus was sent to King Herod, and mocked by him, but King Herod really didn’t care about him, so Jesus was sent back to Pilate.King Herod was definitely a typical worldly politician.  He did what he could to be popular with the people in the big ways, but he really didn’t care, and in fact was brutal at times to them.
We see from historians of that time and scripture that King Herod had, at least on the outside, accepted Judaism, and supported the work of the priests. He most likely did it just to be in favor with the people that the Romans put him king over.  Thus, as the Jewish leaders saw the Christ followers as problematic, eventually they convinced Herod to use his power to do something about it.  It can be seen that the activity from the High priests in attacking the Christians directly really subsides around this time and Acts.
From here-on-out the struggle for the believers comes mostly from the government leaders.  We will see that Herod starts with inconsequential believers and then moves to the apostles himself.

Acts 12:1-18 NIV
1 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 cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

Wow!  What a story.  I would love to see a movie made about Acts, and for them to have fun with this scene.  So let’s take a look…

Herod put James, the brother of John, to death.  He received such a positive response from the non-believing Jews, that he did not want to stop there.  Catering to popularity is similar to most sins—it’s downhill.  One leads to another.  Often with sin, we convince ourselves of “just this once.”  But then one evil deed is followed or covered with another, so that there is no passage through them. We cannot fix a problem using evil, hoping it will be the last time we will need it.  Those that allow one sin, gives Satan the advantage to tempt them to take another, and provoke God to leave them to them-selves, to go from bad to worse. It is therefore our wisdom to take heed of the beginnings of sin.
So Herod seized Peter as well, but the plan was different.  It seems that James was not killed in public, and executed without much ado.  But word still got around.  But this time the plan with Peter was to wait until after the Passover, and then kill him publically in front of the Jews.  All of this was to cater to the popular crowd.
Thus Peter was put in prison with four squads of soldiers (each squad was 4 guards).  Herod knew there were believers around who might try to break him out.  After all, this was the first of equals…apparent leader of the church.

How did the Church respond?
James, a very important leader in the church, was killed.  It was clear that God was not just going to automatically preserve the life of every believer.  Thus in their mind, it was quiet possible Peter would be the next martyr.  So the believers began “earnestly”, or passionately, to pray for his release.  While everyone was sleeping, they stayed up and prayed.  Why?  Well, they knew from the example of the apostles that prayer mattered—especially prayer “without ceasing.”
Our Christian culture as a whole does not spend much time in prayer.  We can blame it just on “busy-ness” but it is more than that.  We don’t spend time doing anything if we don’t think it will not do us any good.  Those who spend real time praying, are those that truly believe that God hears and answers the prayers of those who fervently and earnestly pray!  Did they believe their prayers would be answered?  Well…IDK

Peter’s Release
He was arrested on Friday and jailed.  The plan was to wait until Sunday to kill him, after the Passover celebration.  BTW, the Christians would have celebrated the Resurrection of Christ the following day (what we call today Easter).  This was the year A.D. 44;  Jesus died and resurrected A.D. 33.  So it was 11 years later.
Saturday night, while Peter was chained to guards, an Angel from God came to Peter.  He shown bright with light.  The angle struck him to wake him up.  The chains just fell off his wrists.  The angel told him to get dressed; as if to say, “get ready to move.”  He didn’t force Peter, but told Peter to follow him outside.  The whole time Peter thought this was just a dream, and in a dream you don’t question it, you just go with it.
Many pictures and commentators imagine all the guards to be asleep, but with 16 guards, it would have been highly unlikely.  Plus the passage says that sentries STOOD guard at the entrance.  It is hard to stand when you are sleeping (with the exception of new moms, I am told).
Everything that happened would have grabbed people’s attention.  The angel was shining brightly in the room, and then on the street.  Peter was abruptly woken up.  Chains clattered to the floor.  Heavy wood and metal doors opened and closed. 
But somehow no one saw it!  I see this like when Frodo had the ring on, and no one could see him. He just walked out!  The gates opened themselves.  This would be awesome to do the special effects of this

Then the angel just disappeared, and Peter was left in the middle of the night standing in the street…but he was free!  When Peter mentally woke up, and fully understood that he really was out, He praised God.

11 … he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting."

God himself rescued him.  Peter then went to Mary's house—clearly this was a person and place he could trust.  He most likely came here because everyone, including the servants, would have been believers, and not told the authorities about his release.
Not surprisingly, that is where this group of believers were staying awake praying.   And while they are praying, God answers their prayers.  I think of Isaiah 65:24 in which the Lord says: "It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear.”
Just as an angel was sent when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den.  The angel was sent with an answer of peace to Daniel’s prayer, while he was praying.  At a different time, Daniel refers to God answering his prayers in

Daniel 9:20-21 - 20 Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, 21 while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering.

Whether we know it or not, God has answer to our prayer as we pray it; we just need to be patient to receive it. 

Homes at that time had yards that were surrounded by mud or rock walls.  Often they were higher than can be climbed, so you can’t see over them.  When Peter knocked at the gate, Rhoda, a servant girl, answered the door.  She heard his voice and realized it was Peter—the very person they were praying for!  She left Peter outside the gate and went to tell the group of believers gathered there.  But they didn’t even believe her!
Someone volunteered that it could be ‘Peter’s Angel.’  Some bible versions translate that as ‘Peter’s spirit’, suggesting that the person was guessing that Peter was already dead and this was his ghost.  More likely, other Commentators tell us that the word “angel” was often used as “messenger”, which of course makes sense—Angels were messengers from God.  The Greek word is used of John’s messengers in Lu. 7:24 & 27; and of Christ’s messengers in Luke 9:52.
Thus to say maybe it was Peter’s angel, was to say maybe it was a messenger from Peter, making use of Peter’s name at the gate.  They didn’t believe that God had actually answered their prayers?

What did they expect to happen because of their prayers?
Do we pray but doubt that God will answer us?  Maybe we pray for something, but then just expect that if anything is to be done, we have to do it ourselves.  Often God has told us what we need to do, and we need to act after we pray.  BUT we also need to realize that prayer needs to happen for everything; and more often than not, only God can truly answer it, and we need to rest on His strength—really as we always should.  The passage suggested that instead of getting up instantly to go to Peter, the group actually talked about it for a few moments—who knows how long.
FINALLY, the group came out and saw Peter for themselves!  And they saw it was true!  Peter motioned for them to stay quiet, as his freedom was not legal.  And he quietly explained what had happened with the angel.  Peter then left them, probably knowing that That location was the first place the soldiers would look in the morning.  He then went somewhere else to hide in the city.

The Next Morning
I love how the continuing of the story is worded:  In the morning there was 'no small disturbance' among the soldiers. They were 'freaking out' not only because they were baffled, but because it usually meant their life, but that was a big deal with that many soldiers.  King Herod put out a 'city-wide APB' on Peter.  I am sure they checked all the homes of known believers, but couldn’t find him.  Herod examined the sentries, and probably due to apparent incompetence, he had them put to death
Then apparently the search ended, Peter came out of hiding, and went to stay in Ceasarea.  Up until this point the apostles, other than Paul, have pretty much stayed in Jerusalem (perhaps expecting the end to come soon).  Perhaps this was God encouraging them to move on.  (2 Timothy 2:12 says 'if we suffer [and endure] with him, we will reign with Him’)
And what happened to King Herod?  Let’s take a quick look.

Read 12:20-25
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king's country for their food supply. 21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." 23 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. 24 But the word of God continued to increase and spread. 25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.

Throughout history people tend to hero-ize political giants that bring about supposed peace.  Herod’s chamberlain helped him make a decision to gain favor with people, probably convincing Herod how popular with the people he would be.  Perhaps Herod was a good speaker, or maybe the people were just plain suck-ups.  When he finished his speech, they cheered loudly and said that [This was] “The voice of a god and not of a man!"

There have been times in many of our lives in which we are praised for what we do.  Often it is simply praise for our efforts, but sometimes it is actually because of a superior performance.  For most of us we have this feeling that we need to humbly downplay the complements, putting our own humanity into perspective
But there are times when public figures actually start to believe in their own superiority, even over God.  At that moment Herod made the choice in his head to say, 'yeah, I am pretty special…I am like God'
God righteously burned with anger.  Herod dropped dead instantly and became 'food for worms.’  Whether he just died, or actually rotted right there in front of everyone, which I would not give you a picture for, because it would be horrific!

Finally in verse 24, it is noted that once again, despite the opposition to the believers, the gospel continued to spread.

Lesson of Dependence
Clearly the message this account gives to the Church, is that we are not to take for granted events of our day, as if either we can do nothing about them, or that God won’t do something about them.  Rather we are to Depend on God in payer! 
Often we look at a situation like this and say, well, it was Peter—God planned all along to save him and would have done so even if they would not have prayed.  Afterall, the church ‘needs’ Peter around…right?  It is interesting to note that there is only one more time Peter is even referred to in the book of Acts, and that is when the still surviving elders get together to make a theological decision for the Church.  Perhaps on one plane of thinking, Peter was intended to die there.  But God responded graciously to the cries of his people.

We are wrong if we think that prayer matters little.  We see events in scripture so flatly.  Such as the healing of the man at the pool of Siloam.  Did it matter that they cry out to Jesus?  Note that Jesus heals that man, but what about all the others?  Did God not want them to be healed?  Did others ask to be healed, but then Jesus said, “no, I already healed one.”  There is no formula for why and when God answers prayer, but the fact that we pray DOES matter.
Most awkwardly perhaps is the instruction on prayer given to us by Jesus in Luke 11, that relates prayer to a man pounding on a door in the middle of the night, asking his neighbor for food to feed his guests; the neighbor does it because of the insistence of the man.  Jesus says this is similar to prayer at times.  Our fervent prayers are heard by our father, and he WANTS to answer them.
And yet true prayer also must have the understanding that “thy will be done.”  His will done—not ours.  Is there a balance to be had?
Let me ask this: Does prayer ONLY work when I pray in faith?  Some say I don’t pray, because I don’t really know if God will answer.  I don’t have enough faith, so God won’t answer.  God instructs us to have faith, but never are we to pray ONLY when we have faith.  Did the group at Mary’s house pray in faith?  I don’t think so!  They didn’t believe, or at least expect, that God would answer their prayers quite in the literal way.  But they were faithful in that they actually prayed.  We need to pray because God asks us to pray.  And leave the result up to Him.  It should be a comfort that God’s response to my prayer is not dependent on my faith.  But as we truly pray, and see Him answer it, our faith will grow!

Prayer is mighty testimony of relying on the strength of our God.  Prayer is the most natural response from a heart that knows it is dependent upon a Holy God.  If you are really counting upon God to do something, then you will pray about it. You will trust him; you will communicate with him.
If you are not counting on him, you will not pray.  “We don’t pray when we are really counting on something else, or on someone else.  Or if you think that by your own clever maneuvering you can get out of a situation, or if you are trusting other human beings to come through.  That is why we don’t pray.  Or if you do, your prayer is but a ritual, an empty form, a perfunctory utterance that means nothing.  The act of Prayer is to believe that he loves us, and listens to our cries!

Quite simply, our motive for prayer is our felt dependence on Him.  How much do you really depend on God daily?  All of us should daily feel the need to turn to Him. I encourage silent short prayers throughout the day. But I feel true reliance is shown when we take time out in our day to spend time with Him.  Keep in mind that God answers all of our prayers, but may not do so in the way we desire.  But as a father WANTS to answer the cries of his child, so our heavenly Father wants to answer ours when we earnestly seek Him out

Prayer can postpone events
James was killed, but Peter’s death was post-poned for a later date.  Often in the OT people prayed, and God spared their lives.  We tend to look at history, and just see it as stagnant, instead of seeing how many times things in history happened because of the prayers of His people!
Sometimes sense we know that things in this world will get worse, we just ‘content’ ourselves, and not fight it.  But we can call for daily revival in our group and in the community around us!

Prayer can bring people to Christ
It is true that God already knows and has pre-chosen those who will come to Him.  But from our perspective, our efforts here matter.  Time and time again I have heard people who seemed completely and forever opposed to God, turn to Him, very much because of the prayers of His people
Don’t give up praying for the most negative people around you! Pray for your family!  Pray for your Co-workers!

Prayer can Change our Hearts
If you realize how hard your heart is, a great place to start is prayer.  God can use that time and the Holy Spirit to change your heart on a matter. 

Fight the awkwardness
Satan wants prayer to feel awkward, and it is if our relationship with god is shotty at best.  Sometimes we don’t know what to say.  When you think of him as your only soul mate, and your supreme confidante, then it gets easier.

Small Group Time in Prayer
I don’t just want to talk about prayer and not do it.  Some avoid prayer in our churches because of the fear of scaring people away.  But if we are afraid to pray publically and corporately, then we can never expect to be a true spiritual change agent in our community. 

We started the Source, now, a year ago with time of prayer. This fall we will be making some decisions that will greatly affect our desired goals.  We need to pray fervently for it!  Please do so!