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Freedom In Prison Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer
The Truth Network Radio
August 17, 2022 1:00 am

Freedom In Prison Part 1

Running to Win / Erwin Lutzer

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August 17, 2022 1:00 am

God wants us to watch for Him even in the darkest times of our life. Sometimes, like in Peter’s circumstances, God walks us through prisons. In this message from Acts 12, we notice three unbreakable links in the chain of God’s providence. Through this miraculous story, we discover that we are not abandoned—even in prison. 

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Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

God goes before us to make sure the road ahead is just the way He wants it. That's what happened for the apostle Peter. Today we'll track the story of a time when Peter went to prison. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line.

The master artist is nearly finished remaking Peter, a man chiseled by the master's hand. Pastor Lutzer, a few more touches remain, and today we'll see Peter go to jail, the prelude to a miracle when the apostle finds freedom in prison. It's a remarkable story, Dave.

It's so remarkable, as a matter of fact. I wonder if I knew that I was to be executed the next day. I wonder if I'd be sleeping. I'd probably be wide awake.

But as I have frequently heard it said, Peter was sleeping the night before he was to be brought out and executed probably because, and of course there's a little bit of humor here, probably because he wanted to arrive in heaven rested. But there he is in jail, suddenly the doors open. What a marvelous example of answered prayer, and even surprise that the prayer was answered. I hope that everyone listens intently today. And I want to thank the many of you who support the ministry of Running to Win, because at the end of this broadcast I'm going to be telling you how you can become an endurance partner. That's someone who stands with us regularly with their prayers and their gifts, because you have been blessed through this ministry, and you want to continue to see many others blessed.

Thank you for those who help us, and we trust that there will be many more of you who join us in our endeavor. You know, God expects us to see him, even in some of the darkest times of our life. He expects us to see his footprint during times of difficulty, when we least expect to see his loving hand, because he's with us. Now, if you have been joining us for the last couple of months, you know that this happens to be number 12 in a series of messages on the life of Peter. Peter, as we have already noticed, was a great man of faith.

He was impulsive. In the Gospels we have many stories that bear that out. He also loved Christ fervently, and even though he loved a lot, he also failed a lot. But God worked mightily in his life to bring him to the point where he would be a great spiritual leader, because after all, Jesus did say, Peter, you're the one to whom I give the keys of the kingdom. And we know that Peter was the one that God used to open the Gospel up to the Samaritans and to the Gentiles, and he became a great leader in the Christian church. Today we're going to look at a rather remarkable story found in the 12th chapter of the book of Acts. Acts happens to be the fifth book in the New Testament, and if you have your Bibles, you may turn to that passage, Acts chapter 12, a story that involves a miracle, a story that involves the real commitment of Christ to his people. What I'd like to do is to have you notice three links in a chain, a chain really of providential circumstances that take place here in the 12th chapter of Acts. And the first link is that Peter is arrested. Peter is arrested.

Let's read the story. Now it came about at that time that Herod the king, by the way, this is Herod Agrippa I. There are six Harrods in the New Testament, and it's sometimes a little difficult to keep them all straight.

Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great, the man who killed the babies, the infants, during the time of Christ. Remember that about 14 years have passed since Jesus ascended into heaven. Sometimes when we read the book of Acts, we forget that.

A poll had already been converted. There had been a lot of activity going on that the apostles were involved in, and so many years have passed now, and this Herod took some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James, the brother of John, put to death with a sword.

That is, of course, one of the apostles. And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Verse 4, and when he had seized him, he put him into prison, delivering him to four squadrons of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. Peter arrested.

Put yourself in his sandals. Here was a man who was arrested not because he did anything wrong and he had no political or legal recourse. It was an unjust arrest, for sure, but in addition to being unjust, it was also very cruel. The intention was to mercilessly kill him because, after all, Peter was a leader in the church, and furthermore, many people recognized him to be a leader among the Gentiles.

So to please the Jews, Herod said, I want to behead him just like I did to the apostle James. No recourse politically, legally. You know, it's one thing to be accused of Ivan the Terrible, to be Ivan the Terrible, but at least you may have an American court or an Israeli court that might listen to you.

Whether they believe you or not is another story. But you always hope that in civilized countries there is some kind of legal redress of the situation. My friend, in those days, as in many countries today, there is no such thing as justice, a court of justice to which people can appeal. But I want you to see this injustice as being part of God's will for Peter's life. Because God did not abandon him in prison, God went with him behind the gate into the prison. God always does that with his people.

It's not like when you're at an airport, you've had the experiences I have, that you go along and your friends accompany you, like David Goldman did when I was in Morocco last fall, but then he gets to the sign there in Morocco that says passengers only, and we have to say goodbye. No, God goes behind those signs. God goes everywhere.

He even crosses borders from one country to another because he is always with his people. I remember when I was 18 years old attending a Bible college in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Now that's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there. I had come from the province of Saskatchewan, and that is the end of the world. I remember in my first year being so lonely during those first few weeks, because I was always a very shy person.

When I was five or six years old and we had company, my sisters and brothers would have to drag me out from under the bed. But I remember, even at the age of 18, thinking to myself, I wonder if God is here in Winnipeg. Does he come this far? Well, yes, God comes that far and a lot farther. God never abandons his people. He is with them because he has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you. Notice how Peter was guarded. The text says that he was brought into the prison, verse 4, and there were four squads of soldiers. Four times four, 16, were assigned to take care of him. Perhaps they were on some kind of a rotation basis. Every six hours they were rotating, and so you had some men come in. Two were chained to Peter.

That's what the text says later. And then there was another one that was guarding the dungeon, and then another that was guarding the gate to the prison itself. What chance did Peter have? Here you had all of the Roman authorities against him. There was a dungeon, and there were soldiers that were assigned to guard him, and there was no way out.

No way out. But there is a little phrase that we read. It says, but prayer was made by the church to God on his behalf. Peter was arrested. Let's look at the second link in the chain, and that is Peter was rescued.

He was rescued, and what an amazing story this is. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly peered, verse 7, and a light shone in his cell, and he struck Peter's side and roused him, saying, get up quickly. And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, gird yourself and put on your sandals.

In other words, take time to get dressed when you go out. And he did so, and he said to him, wrap your cloak around you and follow me. And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but he thought he was seeing a vision.

And when he had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened before them by itself was as if they were walking out of a jewel store. And they went out and went along, and they came to a street, and immediately the angel departed from him. Peter has now had some good breaths of fresh air, and when he came to himself, 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.

Here is delivered. I want you to grasp something of the power of God in this experience. First of all, God's power over people. Here were guards who had to sleep through this experience. So the Lord gave them some kind of a cosmic sleeping pill, so that they wouldn't wake up when the angel came in. You can see God's power also over matter. The Bible says that the chains fell off. They just broke apart.

And then that gate that opened up of itself. The Lord just miraculously intervened, and he did this amazing miracle, and Peter walked out of that prison without being seen. Last week my secretary told me that there was a report out in the East Coast from someone who contacted someone within this church, within Moody Church, because they had heard we are going liberal. I don't know where those rumors came from.

We are liberal, hopefully, in our generosity, but we are not theologically liberal. So just in case you're visiting and you wonder where we stand, I want you to know that we here at Moody Church actually believe this stuff. We actually believe this stuff. It happened. And what a miracle it was.

Now you know the rest of the story, which involves actually some humor. Peter goes to where the prayer meeting is being held. It says in verse 13, and when he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant girl, I tend to think that she was a teenager, Mark. Servant girls oftentimes were very young, and they were used as servants, and her name was Rhoda, and she came to the door to answer. And when she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy, she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. And they, with one accord, shouted, Amen. We've been praying for this, and we knew he would be there. Not.

My children keep me up to date, you understand. Verse 15, they said to her, you are out of your mind. You're crazy, Rhoda. She keeps insisting, no, he is there.

So these seasoned saints who have an explanation for everything, they come up with another idea. They say, it is his angel. And Peter continues to knock.

Do you see the irony? I mean, Peter is able to get out of the gate of the prison. He can't get into the gate of the prayer meeting. And so eventually they come and they are absolutely amazed and they say, it is Peter. And he continued to knock until they opened. Now isn't it interesting that God answered their prayer even though apparently it was not prayed in a whole lot of faith?

But because of God's will and because of God's purposes, the Lord was gracious in granting this miracle to preserve Peter's life. That's the second link in the chain. First of all, he is arrested. Secondly, he is delivered. Thirdly, and very briefly, he is vindicated.

What do I mean by that? Eventually, God got Herod. God got Herod. This wicked king who was unscrupulous and who is known in history as being cruel, you'll notice he took all of the people who were responsible to guard Peter and had them executed the text says. But one day Herod was going down to Caesarea and there in Caesarea there is a big amphitheater and people were gathered together. If you ever go to Israel, you can actually go to that amphitheater and you can be there where Herod was and where he put on a show. And according to Josephus, this Herod dressed himself in a shimmering silver robe and as the sun shone on him, everybody shouted, he is a god. Verse 22. This is the voice of a god and not a man.

And you know that Herod didn't correct them. He should have said, hey you guys, you're all wrong. I'm just a man. Really, I'm not into the New Age movement. Take me seriously. I'm not God.

He should have said that, but he didn't. He took the credit and notice what it says, verse 23, immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory and according to Josephus it took seven days but it says he was eaten by worms and died. What an awful way to go. Interestingly, verse seven in your Bibles, notice it says an angel of the Lord appeared and struck Peter. Here we are, verse 23, an angel of the Lord appeared and struck Herod. I tend to think it was the same angel.

I can't prove that, but it may have been. The first one strikes Peter to awaken him so that he can be delivered and the other time the angel comes, he strikes Herod to kill him because of his pride and because of his ruthlessness. And Peter is vindicated and Herod is the one who dies rather than Peter. Now let me ask you a question. Why is it that God allows this story to be in the Bible? Is it just so that Peter would have a fantastic story to tell so that he could stand up and give his testimony and say, folks, I've got something to tell you that you folks have never experienced.

Listen to what I have to say. That's not why the experience was given. It may have been all right to repeat it.

I'm not arguing that. I'm just simply saying that God doesn't do things just for the sake of doing them. Behind the workings of God, there are always his footprints to teach lessons to us that we might not learn in any other way. Let me give you three lessons that Peter learned as a result of this prison experience. First of all, he learned something about the sovereignty of God, the absolute sovereignty and control of God over his people.

You did catch it at the beginning of the chapter, didn't you? Notice what it says, that Herod took James and killed James with a sword. Was it because James wasn't as spiritual as Peter?

No, of course not. But God allows James to die, and it's not because the church wasn't praying for James, and God could have delivered James without the prayer of the church. He could have delivered Peter without the prayer of the church. God can do as he wills. His purpose was that James would die and Peter would go on and live because there was still work for Peter to do. But how can we pry into God's secret counsels and figure out why, figure out why he would allow James to die and Peter to live? We don't have an answer to those kinds of questions on this side of glory.

Those are the kinds of questions we will ask God someday. We like to tell the story of Daniel, how that he was there in the lion's den and the Lord came and sent an angel and closed the mouths of those lions so Daniel was there and the hungry lions did not eat him. And it's a true story and we believe it. But my wife and I have been to Rome and we've walked through the Circus Maximus and we've been to the Colosseum and we have seen areas of the city there where Christians died by the hundreds and they were thrown to wild beasts and there was no angel that came to close the mouths of those lions.

Let me have a word with you. Are you puzzled by the providence of God? I certainly am. As a matter of fact, the older I get, the more I realize that God is oftentimes so mysterious.

We do not know why he does some things and not others, but this much we know we come to know him through Jesus Christ our Lord. And I want to encourage you today and I want to thank the many of you who support this ministry. You know, perhaps you've heard me already say in a previous broadcast, running to witness in 20 different countries in four different languages. Why? Because people just like you have stood with us. Would you consider becoming an endurance partner, someone who stands with us regularly with their prayers and their gifts?

Of course, the amount that you give is entirely up to you. But here's what you do for info. You go to rtwoffer.com. That's rtwoffer.com and when you're there, click on the endurance partner button, or you can call us at 1-888-218-9337.

If you're at your computer or you have your cell phone handy right now, go to rtwoffer.com, click on the endurance partner button, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Time now for another chance for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life. Dr. Lutzer, a listener named Amy, has been hearing your series on the armor of God from the book of Ephesians.

She's having some trouble, though, putting what you said into practice. Here's what she wrote, I've heard and been told to put on the full armor of God each day, but I have not heard an explanation of what this really means. I've been a Christian for four years now and have never been given a full understanding of this by anyone I have asked. I understand what each piece is for and that it is a representation of spiritual armor because we are in a spiritual battle. But what does it mean to put it on? I have heard, say it like a prayer each day, or imagine in your mind putting each piece of armor on your physical body and say to yourself what each piece represents. I even asked my pastor and he couldn't give me a solid answer.

The answers I'm getting don't make complete sense to me. How can your words alone or your imagination protect you? Amy, I think that you've asked an excellent question and I'm very sorry that in my series on the seven pieces of armor, I probably might not have answered it as well as I should have. I really do believe that putting on the armor isn't simply saying a prayer, though God knows that that may be very necessary. I think that putting on the armor of God is really a lifestyle. For example, when it talks about the belt of truth, what it means is that we live lives of integrity and truth. Righteousness, the breastplate of righteousness.

We receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ most assuredly. But I think that also what this involves is living a life of righteousness so that righteousness becomes characteristic of your conduct and your daily relationships. You know, faith, the shield of faith. Well, of course, it's not simply getting up in the morning and saying, well, I've prayed and so I have my shield on now. What it means is that you live a whole life of faith. As you go through your day, you're totally dependent upon God.

You are saying that your dependence is complete as you have situations come up. So think of these more as characteristics of a person whose lifestyle is really reflecting these pieces of armor. And I think that when you do that, and by the way, when they are all on, it says also praying, praying, and that is part of it.

Then I think we're really equipped to stand against the wiles of the devil. I pray for you, Amy, and I pray for myself that God will grant us the grace to be able to put on these pieces of armor by our lifestyle that we might be successful in our walk with God. Thank you, Amy, for your obvious concern to live a life pleasing to the Lord. Thank you, Dr. Lutzer, for your answer to her questions. If you'd like to hear your question answered, you can go to our website at rtwoffer.com and click on Ask Pastor Lutzer, or call us at 1-888-218-9337.

That's 1-888-218-9337. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you understand God's roadmap for your race of life. Peter knew that his life would not end by execution in a jail cell. But when an angel opened the prison doors, the young church could not believe he was free.

Then again, would we have thought any differently? Next time on Running to Win, we'll turn again to Acts chapter 12. Erwin Lutzer will ask a question about some news that seemed too good to be true. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-09 22:01:22 / 2023-03-09 22:10:19 / 9

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