28/6/98 10.45 a.m. Acts 12:1-19a
On Wednesday night Victor Pearce came and talked to us about a mission he conducted in India in January this year. He was preaching to 45,000 people at a time and on one occasion over half of the people responded in faith. There were so many people wanting to be baptised afterwards that they blocked the roads to the river !
I asked Victor what caused such a terrific response. He spoke of two things. Prayer and Christians working together from all denominations.
In Acts 12 we read of the prayers of the early church being answered when Peter is supernaturally freed from prison. Pew Bibles page.
The church was earnestly praying to God for Peter, verse 5. Fervently, NEB. This involved Ďmany peopleí verse 12. This word is talking about an intense prayer with utmost concentration. The root of the word in Greek is stretching out. It is as if the early church was stretching out to God in prayer on behalf of Peter. Like the fans of a pop group at a concert. Stretching out at the foot of the stage to try and touch them.
Prayer was the key. It was and is the key to two areas. O.H.P.
Prayer is the key to mission. Victor mentioned this. The church in Korea has experienced phenomenal growth. Their Pastor Paul Y Cho wrote, ĎIt has been historically true that prayer has been the key to every revival in the history of Christianityí.
Ten years ago the Indian government was considering outlawing conversions from one religion to another. This was aimed at Christianity to stop the preaching of the gospel. The church organised silent protest processions and presented petitions to the government. The church prayed. The government fell from power. Many Christians believe that this was due to prayer. Since then the bill has b=never been discussed. Victor told us of the freedom that he had to preach the gospel in a way that would not be allowed in this country today !
It is important that we pray for missionaries. For their safety, their success, and their successors.
Victor asked that : we pray for his trip in September when he is visiting colleges in India; that we pray for the country to be open to Christian literature and Bibles; to pray against attempts to close India to the gospel; to pray for the Ďslaves of Jesusí who minister to those who have been cut off from their families due to their faith, and who have a medical mission.
Our acetate shows a picture of what many people think mission is A wimpish white Christian going abroad to tell strange foreigners about Jesus. But mission is also about telling people about Jesus at home. Peterís first evangelistic sermon was to fellow Jews.
If we are going to reach people in this Parish we will need to pray fervently with one another, and with Christians from other churches and denominations. The two things that Victor mentioned. Victor also mentioned that God is able to work more in India than here because the Indians are less skeptical than we are in the west.
So prayer is the key to mission. I am sure many of us here can testify to how someone was praying for us before we came to faith. Shortly after coming to faith I was told by a godly man called Sid how he and my Vicar had prayed that I would become a Christian. After I stood up and prayed a prayer of commitment it was Sid who met with me afterwards and counselled me.
We will now break for prayer to pray for some of the things I have just talked about. You might like to pray silently, or to pray with a person or two sitting near to you. Use sheets, feel free to take them Home with you.
Prayer is the key to mission. It is also O.H.P.
the key to freedom. We see this in three different ways.
It brings freedom from fear ;
Herod had just killed James and Peter was in prison awaiting trial because he could not be tried until after the Passover. We donít know exactly what the church was praying for but Peter obviously felt at peace because he slept, verse 6.
The apostles had been freed from the Sadducees prison in Chapter 5. Here in Chapter 12 an angel frees Peter from Herodís jail.
The Bible tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. When we know that our lives are in the hands of God we can trust and not fear.
freedom from imprisonment;
I am sure many of us can think of a time when we were woken unexpectedly in the early hours. Like the earthquake we had about three years ago. We had someone ring us in the early hours this week and it takes some time to come to and get your thoughts together when you are woken whilst in a deep sleep. Peter must have been pretty dopey and he lets himself be ordered to dress and led out by the angel. It wasnít until he was out in the street on his own that he fully woke up, verse 11f.
God sets us free through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. He frees us from the chains of opposition, of sin, of oppression.
There are some prisoners who do not want to get out of prison. To them it is a safe environment, one that they know and provides them with security. When they are released some will deliberately reoffend with the purpose of returning.
Unfortunately, there are some Christians like that. The chains are loose, the door is open but they do not move. Peter did not feel the chains fall off and see the doors open and remain seated. He got up, acted upon what had been done for him and obeyed the angel. It is no use realising that we have the potential to be free if we just remain where we are ! We have to move in the light of what God has done for us. We need to act and to trust in God.
The church were praying, but when Peter came to the door they didnít expect this and failed to let him in ! We do not know why. Perhaps the church had not been praying that Peter would be released but that he would know Godís peace in his heart whatever would happen. Or perhaps in view of what happened in Chapter 5 they were praying for Peter to be released but didnít expect God to answer their prayers so quickly ! What is most important is that their prayers were made earnestly by many of them rather than them praying the right words, or even with the right expectation. There may be times when we are uncertain how or when our prayers will be answered. Even when we donít know what exactly to pray. God will honour our earnestness and trust in his rule. As Christians we are free, but we need to act upon it. To get up and do something in the light of our freedom.
freedom from Herod;
Chapter 12 starts with Herod in control and the church in retreat with one of itís leaders having been murdered.
By the end of the Chapter Herod was dead. Read verses 21-23. The church in contrast was growing and prospering. Read verse 24.
Having God on our side does not mean that everything happens without problems. After all James had been killed. But this change shows the power of God. A power released by prayer. A power that sets us free from fear, from things and people that imprison us. So that we can be free to live and witness for God.
Let us be confident in prayer that we have a God who can and does turn things around.
Pray for missionaries :-
- For their safety, especially in countries where there is opposition to Christianity.
- Pray for Christians in areas of North Africa where conversion to Christ leads to death threats and where Bibles are banned and Christians punished for importing them.
- For Christians in Pakistan where there have been violent attacks, murder and rape of Christians and burning of their villages.
- Pray for the success of missionaries. That they may share the love of Jesus in word and deed. That people may respond in faith.
- For successors. For those who will replace missionaries. Pray for the replacement of Elspeth Cole in Africa, and as our link missionary with Mid Africa Ministry.
Pray for India :-
- Victorís trip in September when he is visiting colleges in India;
for the country to be open to Christian literature and Bibles;
- the Ďslaves of Jesusí who minister to those who have been cut off from their families due to their faith, and who have a medical mission.
- to pray against attempts to close India to the gospel;
Pray for our church :
- for an increase in unity, love, and commitment to Christ and one another;
- for our witness to the Parish as individuals and as a church;
- for Godís Spirit to bring people to trust in Jesus, and to mature our faith;