Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. 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? Stay with us. 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. Pastor Lutzer, we're studying the life of Peter, and we've come to Acts chapter 12, where he's just been released from prison.
Now, a question about some news that seemed too good to be true. You know, Dave, this is such a remarkable story. I hope that everyone listens carefully to what I'm going to say right now. It is not necessary to pray even with great faith, and God may answer. Because when Peter shows up at the door, as we will learn, Rhoda is very confused, and she thinks it is his ghost.
God bless Rhoda. And yet at the same time, God was pleased to answer. The Bible makes it very clear that the church never gave up praying for Peter.
James was dead, but they prayed now for Peter. It's so encouraging. And if you are encouraged as a result of the ministry of Running to Win, it's because other people just like you have invested in this ministry, and we are so grateful. Perhaps you've frequently heard me say that Running to Win is not the ministry of a man, an organization, a church. It is the ministry of God and God's people.
Thank you so much for standing with us, and I want you to consider becoming an endurance partner. That's someone who stands with us regularly with their prayers and their gifts. At the end of this message, I'm going to be giving you some information that I want you to write down, because God may be calling you to help us. But now let us listen. 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. We like to tell the story of the Old Testament Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or as the Sunday School pupils said, my shack, your shack, and a bungalow. What a remarkable story that one is. You remember they were thrown into the furnace and even though it was made seven times hotter, a fourth man walked with them and they came out of that furnace and there was not even the smell of smoke on them. An amazing story, a true story. And yet we think of others like John Huss and hundreds like him who were burned at the stake and there was no man who walked with them through the flames.
The sovereign purposes of God. Now let me tell you why I think Peter was sleeping that night when he was in prison. I can't be absolutely sure but I'm quite positive.
I guess that's nine on a scale of ten. I'm quite positive that Peter knew he would not die the next day and he knew that because of the promise that Jesus had made to him. Take your New Testaments and just turn back a bit to the book of John chapter 21. John chapter 21, this is Jesus and Peter. You remember when I preached on this a few weeks ago regarding Peter's restoration? Jesus is talking to him and says in verse 18, truly, truly I say to you when you were younger you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you and bring you where you do not wish to go. Now this he said signifying by what kind of death Peter would die and how he would glorify God.
Think that through. Tradition says Peter actually was crucified. Apparently he was crucified upside down because he did not consider himself worthy to die in the same position on a cross as the Lord whom he loved. Just like Peter isn't it? But Peter knew therefore that the death that he was to die several things were very clear.
First of all he would grow old and secondly his hands would be stretched out. It was a prediction regarding the way in which he would die crucified. Peter possibly remembering that promise knew that there was no chance in the world that Herod was going to behead him the next day. Later on in the second book of Peter, Peter says it is almost time now for me to die as the Lord has spoken to me.
In other words the time is going to come for my martyrdom but he knew that he would die an old man. Peter was able to sleep because he believed the promise of Christ. You say well yes that was fine for Peter because he had a specific promise but what about me?
Jesus has never talked to me. Well I have a promise for you from Jesus today. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you. Not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.
Please remember that Jesus Christ wants us to believe his promises and rest in his sovereign will. There are some people who live long lives. There are some people that live short lives. We may say well why is it that children sometimes die?
Why is it that so many people die young? I can only think of the words of Jim Elliot who says God is peopling heaven. Why should he limit himself to old people? Let me remind you as I remind yourself that our lives are in the hands of a sovereign God and only God knows the kind of death that we are all going to die by which we are going to glorify God. You didn't miss that statement in John 21 did you?
It's a beautiful reminder of the fact that every believer who dies whether it is the death of crucifixion or whether it is the death of cancer every believer who dies glorifies God. So Peter had to learn about God's sovereignty. Secondly he had to learn about God's triumph.
The triumph of God is very clear. You begin the 12th chapter and who is the one who is winning? It's Herod.
All the cards are on his lap. He's killed James and now he's going to kill Peter. He is in control but by the time the chapter ends there's been a reversal of fortune. It seemed that Herod was in ascendancy but Herod dies a shameful excruciating death and Peter is free. Please let me remind you that Satan never wins so much as a single battle not even one.
Oh you say well that's not true. Think of all of the people that he has killed. Think of all of the people whose marriages he has destroyed.
Think of all of the evil that he has instigated. Yes I know I know I know but remember that for all the evil that he does his judgment and his humiliation and his eternal shame is going to be just that much the greater. Never once will God let Satan win a permanent eternal victory. Peter had to learn that. He had to learn that God always triumphs. And then thirdly Peter had to learn something about God's power. God's power. Because you see Peter needed to understand that there was no situation that he was in that was too much for the almighty. There is no prison that is great and strong but that God is greater still and the bottom line is that there is no chain that is greater than God.
No chain greater than God. Some of you are in prisons that are have been made for you by other people. Even tomorrow when you go to work in your mind it's almost as if you are checking into a prison because there are people there who are waiting for you and they would like to do you harm if only they could.
And you're praying that either you will get a new job or the manager will leave and God may do none of those. He may sustain you through that prison that you're experiencing. Some of you are prisoners in your own home because of relationships that have been broken and torn and there are emotional and spiritual gaping wounds within your soul. And even as you leave here you feel as if you're going back to a prison. I want you to know today that God will go back there with you. God never forsakes his people. But then there are some of you who are listening who also are in a prison but it is a prison of your own making. It is a prison because of your own sins, because of your own moral failure, because of your own wrong decisions and you say is God able to help me in that prison?
And the answer of course is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. When Jesus was on earth he went into the synagogue there at Capernaum and took down the scroll and said the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach liberty to the captives and give freedom to those that are bruised and to set those emotional and spiritual prisoners free. Jesus does things just like that. Because of his death on the cross, his death purchased redemption for those who believe. It was an affirmation of Christ's triumph so that you and I could be set free. Have you ever believed in Christ for yourself?
Are you free inside? Do you know that you belong to him? Many years ago there was a man by the name of Charles Wesley. He was of course the brother of the famous revivalist John Wesley and Charles wrote many hymns. And one day he was converted and he wrote hymns that we even sing today with great blessing. And in order to convey his own spiritual experience he decided to use the analogy of a prison.
Listen to these words. Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature's night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray. I awoke. The dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off. My heart was free.
I rose, went forth and followed thee. I want you to know today that there is no chain that is too strong. There is no dungeon that is too deep.
There is no gate that is too high. But that God can deliver. In another song we sometimes sing, he breaks the power of canceled sin.
He sets the prisoner free. His blood can make the foulest clean. You think that you've sinned too greatly for God. You think that the pushes and pulls within your heart are too strong for the Almighty.
You are wrong. His blood availed for thee. You say, well Pastor Lutzer, what is the step to my deliverance? The first step to your deliverance is to open your life to Christ and say, Lord Jesus, I'm bound.
Deliver me. Did you know that that's the hardest to say? You have all kinds of people who are totally bound, unwilling to admit it.
Living with years of denial, years of facade, years of rationalization, and they still think they are not totally bound and need the touch of Christ. Your first step is to recognize your need and the second is to open your life to somebody qualified to speak a word and set you free. Let me help you. Let's pray. Our Father, I come to you first of all on behalf of the brothers and sisters in Christ who know you as Savior but are not free. Today in the name of Jesus, we pray that we might see you as being stronger than the very chains that we ourselves have forged.
Habit patterns, decision-making processes, relationships that are destructful, hurtful. Oh Father, today I pray that no person may ever feel that he or she is destined of necessity to keep walking in defeat. You do set the prisoner free.
You come in and you nudge us and you say, get up. Then Father, we think of all those who are here today who have never believed on you personally, who even are skeptical, filled with unbelief, but wondering if indeed it could all be true. We pray that you might graciously draw them to yourself. Speak the word of light, the word of help, the word of forgiveness. And now before I close this prayer, those of you who have never trusted Christ as your Savior, why don't you pray this prayer in your heart to God.
Oh Lord, I know that I'm a sinner. I know that I'm bound in my own prison. And today as best as I know how, I look to you for my forgiveness and deliverance. Speak the word that I might be free. And help me to be willing to do anything you ask of me, that I might be free indeed.
In Jesus' name, Amen. This is Pastor Lutzer. About two years ago, I was invited to speak at a chapel service in a prison in Missouri. And one of the things that I discovered is that many of those prisoners are freer in their hearts than some people I know who go to church every single Sunday. They've come to know Jesus Christ as Savior.
Many of them also listen to running to win. And so through this camaraderie and through the prayers and through the connection that I had, what a blessing it was to discover that our ministry does indeed go into prisons. I want to thank the many of you who help us. Would you consider becoming an endurance partner? That's somebody who stands with us regularly with their prayers, with their gifts.
You become a part of all that we are doing. Here's how you can find out some information. You can go to RTWOffer.com. Now, RTWOffer is all one word, as you might suspect. RTWOffer.com, when you're there, click on the endurance partner button, or you can pick up the phone and call us right now at 1-888-218-9337.
RTWOffer.com, click on the endurance partner button. It's time once again for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life. True confessions, are there times when it's better to not confess a sin?
Listen to this question posed by an anonymous listener. He says that one of the principles of recovery is to make amends except when to do so is to cause harm to others. If a man commits adultery, then repents, confesses to God and to his pastor and to some friends, must he also confess to his wife, especially if he knows that this would cause great harm to her and the children. His wife has no idea of what happened.
If you say yes, he should, what is your scriptural basis for that opinion? Well, as I listen to this question, I'm reminded of the fact that human beings certainly do get themselves into a difficult dilemma, don't they? Sin somehow entangles us and we get into these very, very difficult situations. Now my friend, I'm not going to give you the answer that I suspect you wish I were to give you. You're probably hoping that I will say, no, the man does not have to confess this to his wife, but I can't say that. Let me give you a couple of scenarios. Number one, you say that you've confessed it. If you're the one, by the way, and the question is unclear as to whether or not the person asking the question is the man who committed adultery, but since this is anonymous, I can just simply assume that for the moment. What you are saying is that you've confessed to your pastor and some friends. What if what you did got out and got back to your wife? Oftentimes that happens.
Somehow it's so difficult to keep a lid on these things. Now you ask your wife and your children. Well, hopefully I hope that the children will be protected from knowing all about this. So for that reason, I think that it is wise for you to confess to your wife.
Secondly, you should not do it probably on your own. I've been in situations like this as a pastor and it is much better for me to be present as a pastor when two people need to be reconciled on such a very, very difficult issue. And I suggest that you go to a counselor, that you go to your pastor, and that he be present when this confession takes place so that he can give some rationality and some peace to the situation because it will be a very, very difficult experience. But at the same time, your wife needs to know that in good faith you did confess it to others, so you are serious about repentance. And even though it would hurt her greatly, God sometimes does wound us and cut us in order that he might heal us, this might be ultimately a path of real restoration. Now I speak hesitantly because I know how difficult this situation is and I know that good Christians disagree with me on this.
But you've asked for my opinion and then you say, what is your scriptural basis? Well, there is no verse in the Bible that says a man must confess to his wife, but there are plenty of verses that talk about forgiving one another and confessing to one another. And when we have hurt someone, that it is our responsibility to make restoration.
So this is my interpretation of those verses. I trust that God will give you much grace. I pray that your wife will be prepared for this, possibly by the pastor. And in this way, your conscience will be clear.
The issue will be out on the table, hopefully forgiven, cleansed so that the two of you can move on. Thank you, Dr. Lutzer, for the wisdom of Solomon in your answer. If you'd like to hear your question answered, 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. Before his death, the apostle Peter wrote two epistles that stirred up his readers toward fruitful growth in the faith. Next time on Running to Win, we'll complete our long series on the life of Peter we're calling Chiseled by the Master's Hand. We'll hear about the impact of Peter on those he knew and on all the generations to follow. Make it a point to join us as we trace the legacy of one life. Thanks for listening to our series on the life of Peter. For Dr. Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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