Peter is in prison. We can sense the tension mounting in Jerusalem and the opposition to the Church intensifying: Herod Agrippa turns out to be a tyrant, openly persecuting the Christians (v.1).
James and Peter, pillars of the young Church, are arrested. James is put to death with the sword (v.2) and Peter is thrown in prison. If we study this passage in Acts carefully, we can see three forms of opposition to the Church: religious, political and particularly satanic. Satan, the accuser, manipulates people, blinds their spirits, and sows doubt. His goal is to destroy, crush and bury God’s Church! Paul warns us not to let Satan outwit us “For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2Corinthians 2:11).
In spite of this dark picture of ferocious persecution, the young Church is at peace. It continues to grow, be fortified by the Holy Spirit and proclaim the Gospel with assurance (v.24).
So there is a conflict in this passage: on the one hand, the Church which prays (“prayer is weakness leaning on omnipotence” W.S. Bowden) and, on the other, the many powers, visible and invisible, of the devil which oppose the Church. This confrontation still exists today!
As we face all these obstacles, what is our reaction ? Discouragement, fear, doubt, panic? How does Peter react? He sleeps! The Church prays for him and God acts.
There are, however, several obstacles to Peter’s liberation: he is chained up and has sixteen soldiers guarding him alone (v. 4).
Here are ten miracles which occurred in response to the fervent prayers of the Church in Jerusalem:
- v.7 God sends an angel
- v.7 A light illuminates the prison
- v.7 The angel wakes Peter and gives him instructions
- v.7 His chains fall off
- v.10 Peter passes the first guard
- v.10 Peter passes the second guard
- v.10 The main gate of the prison opens by itself (automatically!)
- v.10 Peter finds himself in the street, free!
- v.23 Herod is struck dead by an angel
- v.24 The Word of God continues to spread and flourish
We should never underestimate the impact of a Church which prays earnestly and with fervour. Before his arrest on the Mount of Olives, Jesus is described as praying “earnestly”, to the extent that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Prayer is an expression of our complete trust in God and his ability to open doors, demonstrate his power, bless us, provide means and recruit missionaries.
The praying Church not only changed the course of history in this passage, it defeated the opposition, led to Paul’s liberation and, most importantly: allowed the Word of God to spread to the ends of the earth. Yes, a Church which prays is the greatest power in the world!
Why not take a break just now and pray for a missionary or a country? Why not take the firm decision today to dedicate more time to praying, attending prayer meetings at your Church and so contributing to God’s plan for the evangelisation of the world?!
- A renewed confidence in God’s ability to do great things when we pray.
- To focus our eyes on God’s promises rather than the circumstances or obstacles.
- A renewal of community prayer in your Church.