Sermon Transcript



If culture is any indication, we are fascinated by angels.  Many, many years ago the Disney Corporation produced one of their award-winning movies.  I believe it was back in 1994.  You remember this one?  Angels in the Outfield?  Yeah, it puts a smile on all of our faces.  And it’s kind of loosely built around a Major League Baseball team in southern California called the California Angels in the city of angels, which is Los Angeles.  But it was a blockbuster, Angels in the Outfield.  Oprah used to have a network—maybe she still does—called The Angel Network, and she would use that to parade all kinds of guests, new age spiritual gurus, across her platform to talk about all kinds of spiritual things, often taking a hint of Christianity here and there and twisting it to mean something other than orthodox Christianity really means.  That’s what new age spiritualism does.  But they often have conversations about angels and encounters with angels.  Years ago the popular television program Touched by an Angel.  Remember that one?  Michael Landon and some others who were starring in that.  Think of the jewelry that we wear, the figurines some people collect.  You get the impression that our fascination with angels leads us to believe that angels are everywhere, that they really are watching over us.  Is that true?  Is that what the Bible tells us?



Back in the 1980s Amy Grant won a Grammy award with her famous song, angels watching over us, “Angels Watching Over Me.”  She personalized it.  And the lyrics from that song were directly taken from a story found in Acts 12.  In fact, today we know about the four squads of soldiers that were placed around Peter in prison largely because of how famous this song was.  It was a chart-topper.  “Angels Watching Over Me.”  Do angels really watch over us?  Billy Graham calls angels God’s secret agents.  And his book by that title has all kinds of stories of people who believed what they encountered was in fact one of those ministering spirits that the writer of Hebrews talks about, “entertaining angels unawares.”  A recent poll by the associated press tells us that 77% of Americans believe angels exist, and that believes 4 in 10 people who do not regularly attend a worship service.



But our understanding of angels, our theology of angels or what we would call angelology needs to be based, friends, on the revelation of scripture.  Not speculation, not by human speculation, not even by imagination.  When we go down the road of speculation or imagination when we’re trying to understand who God is and how He operates in this world, we get off into all kinds of tangents, even new age tangents.  No, who God is, how He operates in this world, who and what angels are is based on the revelation of God, what He has revealed to us in the pages of scripture.



And in Acts 12 we get an unusual kind of glimpse behind the scenes a little bit in the early church.  And at the center of it are people that we’ve already come to know- Peter and James and John and others, even a man named Herod.  But an angel of the Lord shows up and rescues Peter from prison.



Before we get to that story, I want us to just talk a little bit about angels.  I call it a brief theology of angels because I can’t answer all of the questions that our fascination and our curiosity arises when it comes to angels.  But let me just give you a little brief theology of angels.  Number one, Jesus is superior to the angels in heaven.  The writer of Hebrews makes that abundantly clear, friends.  Sometime in your own personal Bible study this week read Hebrews 1.  And it’s one of those chapters, 1 and 2, where the writer of Hebrews exalts the superiority of Jesus.  He is more superior than Moses, than Abraham and, yes, even than the angels.  The writer says, “To which of the angels did he says, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool at your feet’?”  The Lord didn’t say that to any angel.  He said it to His Son.  Jesus is superior to the angels.



Secondly, angels are created beings.  Now, in the Jehovah’s Witness world the angels are created beings and Jesus is, too.  Did you know that?  That’s why we call that a cult, a false gospel, because they don’t say about Jesus what the Bible says about Jesus.  Jesus is the Creator.  Angels are created.  You and I are created in the image of God.  Angels are not created in the image of God.  They’re different beings.  And by the way, when we die, we don’t become angels.  I hear people from time to time saying, you know, “My lost loved one is my angel in heaven.”  No, when we die, we don’t become angels.  Angels are angels, and humans created in the image of God are different.  But angels are created by God.



I’ve given you several references in your notes there for your own personal study.  But Psalm 148 starts off, “Praise him, all his angels.”  It goes on to talk about how all of creation should praise Him.  “Praise him, all his angels, for he commanded, and they were created.”  When were they created?  At least a nanosecond before “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” okay.  Sometime before that.  We can only speculate as to exactly when.  But Job tells us that the stars, a reference to the angels, “the stars sang out.”  The angels sang at the moment of creation, so we know that they were there before that.



Thirdly, angels are curious beings.  1 Peter tells us when, in matters of salvation—our relationship with God, salvation matters—that these are “things into which angels long to look.”  That’s what Peter says.  The angels don’t have an experience with God’s grace like you and I do.  And when salvation matters and our experience with the grace of God is discussed, the angels are leaning in.  They’re curious about these things.  These are thing into which angels long to look.  They are studying.  They’re watching.  So much so that the Bible says in Luke 15 that when one person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, you know who throws a party in heaven?  The angels do.  The angels…I want to go to an angel party sometime.  Wouldn’t that be great?  I mean, we celebrate here when somebody comes to faith in Christ and follows the Lord in believer’s baptism.  That’s a time to celebrate in the body of Christ.  There is already a party going on in heaven, and the angels are throwing that party because they’re curious about these things.



My little brief theology of angels would not be complete without talking about the fallen angels, the fallen beings.  Again, some scripture references in your notes there.  Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28, Luke 10, Revelation 12.  Read them in your own time, but they tell the story of Lucifer, one of the high-ranking, maybe even archangels, who rebelled against God.  You want to know how did the devil became the devil?  How did Satan, Beelzebub, the Father of Lies, become what he is?  He rebelled against almighty God.  And the Bible tells us that he swept one third of the angelic hosts with him.  And that’s when we…and now we’re into demonology.  Now we’re into that unseen realm, the heavenly realms, the realms that we cannot see with the naked eye where spiritual warfare takes place, friends.  And it is just as real as anything you see and I see with the naked eye.  The devil, Satan, is not all-powerful.  He’s not omnipotent, not all-powerful.  He’s not omnipresent, everywhere at all times.  He’s not omniscient.  He doesn’t know everything.  That’s because he’s not God.  But he has an intelligence network of fallen angels.  And he is highly organized.  Hell is highly organized.  The Bible says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world.”  Daniel tell us, even suggests to us, that the fallen angels have geographic responsibilities.  You see, the devil doesn’t spend time aiming at me.  He’s got bigger fish to fry.  But he has a staff that is highly organized and highly dispatched.  Even such that when Daniel was praying for 21 days and the prayer was delayed, the Bible tells us that Michael the archangel finally showed up and said, “Daniel, we heard your prayer on day one, but the Prince of Persia, we had to fight this battle against him,” indicating that there were geographic references and geographic responsibilities here.



No, the devil isn’t after you, but he has dispatched some of his staff in fallen angels to go after you and your family and your marriage.  Do you think he has this church in his crosshairs?  Absolutely.  The question is, how many have geographic responsibility for this place?  Just a little glimpse, you know, a brief theology of angelology and demonology, fallen angels.  Fallen angels.



And then finally, they are ministering spirits.  I’ve already alluded to it.  Billy Graham wrote a book about it, God’s Secret Agents.  The writer of Hebrews says that it’s possible that we might entertain angels unawares, because angels can take on human form.  You’ll never know.  You might suspect.  You might speculate, as I have a couple of times in my life, that it might have been an angel.  I’m not here to sell a book, but I’ve got two chapters in my book Mysteries of the Afterlife when I talk about angels.  And I go into detail in two personal experiences I’ve had where I just wondered, is this what the writer of Hebrews is talking about?  These ministering spirits.  Isn’t it interesting that the Bible says God created you and I in His image a little lower than the angels.  But then in this twist of irony, He sends the angels to minister to us.  And the writer of Hebrews says sometimes we’re unaware of it.  We may not know.  We may wonder.  I’ve wondered on a couple of occasions.  There’s really no explanation to what happened other than maybe, just maybe a couple of angels might have shown up in that circumstance.  I know I’ve got your attention.  I can feel it.  We’re fascinated by this stuff, aren’t we?



Just a little brief theology of angels.  I can’t answer all of the questions this morning, but that’s a great setup to Acts 12, which is just such an iconic passage of scripture.  You know, as a pastor you can’t get this one wrong.  If you fumble ball on Acts 12, it’s on me.  It’s not on the text.  It’s not on the story, because it’s such an incredible story.  And there are three things that I just want to share with you this morning that I learn this story.



Number one, God is in control.  Let’s start in verse 1.  “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.”  The persecution continues.  “He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.  This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  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.”



Now, by this time the name Herod had become a political title.  The specific Herod that is mentioned here is not the Herod that was around during the birth of Jesus.  No, this Herod in Acts 12 is Herod Agrippa I.  And all of these Herods were just nasty dictator despots.  I mean, they were just vile, vile people.  And they kept Rome happy a couple of ways.  They kept the Jews under control, and they also kept the money through taxation flowing to Rome.  And as long as they did those two things, Rome was happy and the Herods were in control.  And this particular Herod, Herod Agrippa I, had control over Judea and those spaces.  And in order to please the Jews he skewers James with a sword.  This is James of Peter, James and John- James the brother of John.  Just imagine how news came to the early church.  James.  I mean, Peter, James, and John were part of Jesus’s inner circle.  James has been executed.  Herod put a sword right through the man.  And the shock that came to the early church.  The persecution continues.  I mean, they are facing some really, really hard times, contrary times.



But Peter is thrown in prison.  And one of the ways that Herod Agrippa I pleased the Jews was he kind of acted like a Jew, and he participated in the worship customs and practices of the Jews.  This was Passover time.  And Passover time and the feast of Unleavened Bread were kind of simultaneous feasts.  And it was against Jewish law for an execution to take place during that time.  So what does Herod do?  He skewers James just before the feasts take place.  He realizes he doesn’t have enough time to do it to Peter, so he puts him in prison.  But his intention is as soon as the feasts are over, the same fate will befall Peter.



From the perspective of the early church, they’re looking at this and saying, “James is killed.  Peter’s life is spared for the moment.  God, are You still control in this place?”  I mean, have you ever had contrary experiences and contrary things come to your life, and you're having a hard time balancing the love of God with the sovereignty of God?  I mean, God, if You love us this much, couldn’t You have spared James, let alone Peter going to prison?  Couldn’t You have used Your all-powerfulness to do something here?  Have you ever…maybe you're facing contrary circumstances right now where you're facing some troubled waters.  And your theology, your understanding of who God is and how He operates…you know, you're struggling here.



It kind of reminds me of Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote the book years ago Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?  Do you know why he wrote the book?  Because he and his wife had a hard time understanding how a loving God could allow their son to be born with Progeria.  Progeria is a horrible disease that accelerates the aging process.  And his 11-year-old boy looked like a 90-year-old man.  And the good rabbi said, “God, do You love us?  Your sovereign and all powerful.  Why didn’t You do something?”  He couldn’t conclude that it’s because God doesn’t love.  No, what the rabbi concluded was that God wasn’t powerful enough to change the situation even though He wanted to.  And that’s an unsatisfactory theology conclusion.



Oh, He could have stopped the sword from going into James.  He could have gotten in the way of Peter.  But a sovereign God chose not to do that.  And we have to leave room for that in our theology.  But He loves us.  He’s all powerful.  But He lets us live in a world that is a fallen world full of brokenness and sin and pain and suffering.  And from heaven’s perspective, friends, it’s for a season.  It doesn't feel that way to us, does it?  You know, Paul refers to these momentary light afflictions that we experience in this world.  It doesn’t seem very momentary because we are time-bound creatures.  All we know is time.  And we’re trying to live with an eternal perspective.  But from heaven’s perspective it’s momentary.  It doesn’t feel light.  No, the burden on us is heavy.  The burden on the early church when they got this news was heavy.  But from heaven’s perspective this is momentary and light compared to eternity.  And what this fallen world and this season demands of us is that we live by faith.  We live by faith, trusting that the God who has revealed Himself is exactly who He says.



You know, the devil is a liar.  The devil in Genesis 3 lied, gossiped and slandered the Lord’s (0:19:00.0)reputation.  He’ll do it every time.  He’ll do it every time.  “God really doesn’t love you.  God really isn’t in control like He says He is.”  And you start hearing those little things from the devil, the Father of Lies.



One of the first lessons we learn from Acts 12 given the circumstances the early church is facing is, no, God is in control.  We’re going to see that played out later in the story here.  But God is in control.  I don’t know what contrary experiences you're facing right now where you’re just kind of on the edge of believing, “God, do You love me?  Do You really love me?  Because if You did, You wouldn’t let this happen.  Of if You were really so powerful and so sovereign, You wouldn’t have let this happen, God.”  No, He is both at the same time.  Leave enough room for God to work, to work all things together for good.  He didn’t’ say all things in this life were good.  No, some things really stink.  (0:20:00.0) We live in a fallen world.  But He says that “those who love Me, I’ll work together all things for good.  I’ll weave it together.  You have to give me some time to do this, but I’ll weave it all together for good.”  You have enough room in your theology for that?



Lesson number two, God hears our prayers.  Look in verse 5.  “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.”  Don’t you love this?  Remember when we began our study of the book of Acts, I said prayer is mentioned 29 times in the book of Acts.  There are only 28 chapters.  That means at least on average once per chapter we find the early church in prayer.  And this time they are not just in prayer.  Luke says they’re in earnest prayer.  Hey, how earnest is your prayer life?  You know, sometimes it’s not very earnest.  You know, we pray, “Lord, bless all the missionaries.  Lord, bless the pastors.  Bless our church.”  And we go on our way.  But when the contrary circumstances comes, our prayers become more desperate, don’t they.  More earnest.



James…not the James that was killed by the sword here, but James the half-brother of Jesus who wrote the book of James, says that the effectual fervent or earnest prayer of a righteous man avails much.  It accomplishes much.  God is looking for passion, earnestness in our prayers.  The earnestness that keeps you on your face and on your knees long enough to get through to heaven.  If you’re not concerned enough about the matter to spend any more than what a perfunctory statement will allow for in your time and in your prayer life, then why should heaven be concerned about it?  He’s looking for earnestness.  And the early church was so desperate at this point.  They had heard the bad news.  James is killed.  Peter is in prison.  And they got together for a prayer meeting, an all-night prayer meeting like they had never prayed before.



It says in verse 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.  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.  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.’  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.  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.  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.’”  What were the Jewish people expecting?  They were expecting Herod to do exactly to Peter what he did to James.  This would have made the religious leaders applaud Herod.  And Herod would have reigned in the good graces of the Jews.  And as long as he kept the money flowing to Rome, all was good in Herod’s life.



Verse 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.  And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer.  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.  They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind.’”  Poor Rhoda.  I mean, this sweet little girl was just answering the door and reporting back to them.  And here the church is praying, but they’re not really believing that God will answer their prayer.  I know we struggle with that too sometimes, don’t we?  “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.  Yeah, I know intellectually You can do all of this, but I really don’t believe that You will.”  And the early church was kind of in that mindset, too.  They looked at poor Rhoda and said, “You’re crazy, girl.  That isn’t Peter.”



“But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, ‘It is his angel!’”  Kind of bad theology there, but, you know, we all get a little bit off track.  “But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.  But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison.  And he said, ‘Tell these things to James.”  Now, this is James, the half-brother of Jesus, who took a significant leadership role in the early church in Jerusalem; the James who doubted that his brother was the Messiah; the James to which the risen Christ appeared in one of his post-resurrection appearances.  That James now calls his brother Lord and Christ and is a leader in the church.  “‘Tell James what has happened and tell the brothers.’  Then he departed and went to another place,” Peter did.



Isn’t that a great story?  I mean, Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script.  Amy Grant wrote a pretty good song.  And we know about the four squads of soldiers maybe from the famous lyrics to the song.  Let me tell you what Herod was doing here.  Typically, the security measures they would take with a prisoner was one squad of soldiers.  Four soldiers that would each take a three-hour shift over a twelve-hour night shift.  And that one soldier would chain himself to the prisoner.  Herod said, “Oh no, we’re going to quadruple the security measures here with Peter.”  Four squads of soldier, 16 soldiers, each three-hour shift had four of them.  One chained to this side, another one chained to the other side of Peter, and two standing at the door.  Herod wasn’t going to let this guy out of his sight.  But he underestimated the angel of the Lord, didn’t he?



And I love the scene here.  The angel of the Lord shows up.  Peter is sleeping.  The peace of God that passes all understanding has overtaken Peter.  And the angel of the Lord has to slap him in the face a little bit.  He says, “Boy, get up.  Time to wake up.”  And the chains fell off.  He says, “Put your shoes on, your sandals on.  Put your cloak on.  We’re going for a walk.”  And they walked right out of that prison without disturbing the guards.  And Peter is out in the middle of the streets of Jerusalem before he knows what’s happening.  And he is convinced the angel of the Lord came to “rescue me from Herod and from the fate that all the Jews expected.”  And he goes to the house of Mary, where the church is in a prayer meeting.  And the whole Rhoda thing happens.



Friends, God answers prayer.  Now, that’s not a complete theology on answered prayer.  There are a lot of conditions we have to meet to answered prayer.  Like, you know, the Bible says, “If I regard sin in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  If you have unconfessed sin in your life, or if I do, the Lord turns a deaf ear until you get it right with Him. Okay?  There is a whole thing that we could talk about in terms of, you know, answered prayer and how all that happens.  And part of what we have to do is leave room in our theology for a sovereign God to make sovereign decisions.  He didn’t rescue James.  The sword came in.  He chose to rescue Peter.  I don’t know why.  He chose to heal this person, but didn’t choose to heal this person.  I don’t know why.  I can’t explain that to you as a pastor.  I just know that we live in a fallen world.  We live in a world of pain and suffering.  But from heaven’s perspective, it’s momentary, light afflictions.  You’ve got to leave room in your theology for that.  But the God of the Bible is a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God.  Hallelujah for that, right?  He hears our prayers, especially if they’re earnest, fervent, passionate, desperate prayers of His people.  It’s time to ratchet up the prayer life, friends.  God hear ours prayers.



Lesson number three, God deals justly with our enemies.  Let’s read on.  Verse 18, “Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter.”  That’s the understatement of the year, right?  Can you imagine these guys?  “And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death.  Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.”  This was Roman law.  If you were a soldier and you failed in your security duties, it was on you and immediate death.  And Herod orders the death, and the goes to the beach in Caesarea.  I mean, these guys were evil.  I’ve been to Caesarea.  It’s a beautiful coastal city along the Mediterranean.  But after you’ve just executed your soldiers, all 16 of them, he runs off to Caesarea.



Verse 20, “Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food.”  These Herods kept the Jewish people just desperate for food and for sustenance.  It’s how they kept them in line.  Verse 21, “On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.  And the people were shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.”  Justice came swiftly to the house of Herod.



It doesn’t always happen that way.  You know, we live in a world where, oh my, horrible things happen.  The enemies do things to us and things befall us.  I’m thankful for a justice system in our country, but sometimes that doesn’t always deliver justice.  But God will ultimately bring justice to His enemies.  He will ultimately right the wrongs.  I’ve learned over the years that I don’t have enough capacity in my spirit to harbor anger, bitterness and revenge, to plot revenge.  I don’t have enough capacity in my spirit to carry offenses.  I’ve got to give that over to the Lord, who ultimately, in His sovereign time, will deliver justice.  Sometimes swiftly as in the case of Herod and even the soldiers.  A lot of times we have to wait for the Lord, who says, “‘Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord.”  The Lord will have His last say.  Leave room for that, friends.  Now, when we carry around offenses, when we plot revenge, when we’re bitter, that’s like drinking poison and expecting it to hurt somebody else.  It just rots the soul from the inside out.  So let it go.  Let it go.  Not in a trite way, but give it over to the Lord.  Cast your cares and your burdens on Him.  And the God who is in control, the God who hears our prayers will also right the wrongs in His time and in His way.  He hasn’t forgotten.  He keeps records.  In this case, justice came swiftly.



And I wonder if many years later when the apostle Peter was reflecting, perhaps, on this scene and he was penning his first epistle, 1 Peter 3:12, I wonder if he was thinking about this experience in Acts 12 when he wrote these words.  “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open unto their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  There is your outline of Acts 12.  God is in control.  He hears our prayers.  He deals justly with our enemies in His time.  I just wonder if Peter was remembering that, reflecting upon that all these years later when he penned that first epistle.  And let’s take those lessons with us today.  And let’s remember that maybe, maybe just maybe, you’ll entertain an angel today unawares, because they were sent to minister to us, to protect and to serve us, just like they did Jesus during His lifetime.  Fascinating stuff, isn’t it?



“Every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28 MSG