Wait, Seriously? - Acts 12
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Wait, for real? 01.30.2022
There’s an old story in the bible, with this guy Abraham and his wife Sarah – you’ve probably heard of them before. And these angels show up and come talk to Abraham. And they walk up to him, and he’s hanging out like on the front porch, just outside his house. And they tell him that his greatest wish, his lifelong dream was going to come true. Next year, your deepest longing – the thing you want most in life, is going to come to you. And behind Abraham, like over his shoulder – maybe through the kitchen window, there’s laughter. His wife Sarah was hanging out in the house, and she overhears and she laughs. Now, you might remember this story – why does she laugh? Because she’s old. Abraham’s greatest dream, Sarah’s greatest desire is to have a son. To have children and grow their family legacy. This was an ache they’ve had their entire life. And then these angels come up to Abraham and they tell him, next year your wife will be pregnant. Next year it’s coming. And Sarah says, “haha, God – very funny.” Like, it’s too good to be true! She’s like 100 years old, and she and her wrinkled old husband, they don’t have any hope, they don’t have any belief that God would actually come through for them. Sarah laughs because even though it’s the deepest desire of her heart, it’s something she has wanted her entire life and even though it’s basically a dream come true – she has no real hope. She laughs because the idea of her dream coming true is ridiculous. It’s hilarious. “Haha God, very funny.” It’s like if an angel showed up and said, “hey, you’re going to win the lottery tomorrow” or “hey, Matt Stafford’s going to take the Detroit LIONS to the NFC championship” and would say, “haha God, very funny but of course that’s not going to happen.” You see, today I want to tell you the story of Acts chapter 12, and something crazy that God did for Peter, and it was literally too good to be true, and yet we worship a God who is really good at “too good to be true.”
Now, before we get to Peter’s story, the first few verses sort of set the stage for us. [read v.1-5]. Yikes – so not a super fun time to be a Christian. Herod kills James, and then he sees how much the crowd likes it. This is like a politician who realized that the crowd really likes it when you kiss babies, and so they start lining up all the babies to kiss for photo ops because the people love it, but instead of kissing babies, or volunteering at a soup kitchen in front of camera, instead of that – it’s murdering people who love Jesus. So he finds out there’s good public relations, some good PR in hurting Christians, so he throws Peter into Jail. And that’s how we start the chapter out. Peter is in Jail, and then the craziest thing happens.
[read v.6-7]. So Peter is HEAVILY guarded. He’s got a chain on each arm, with two soldiers surrounding him, and there’s two more at the prison gate. You know, I bet I know why he was so heavily guarded – at the time Peter was hanging out in Jerusalem, there was this crazy rumor going around about a guy, who was supposed to be dead, and they stuck him in a tomb and rolled a rock over it, and there were guards – but he managed to come back to life and escape. So, yeah – I suppose it makes sense to be cautious. So Peter’s under heavy guard, and taking a nap – and an angel shows up wakes him. The scriptures say, “struck him on the side to awaken him” – because we all know, every great story starts with getting smacked by God. Oye! Wake up! And then the angel leads Peter out the door. [read 8-11]. Peter, while literally being set free from prison, physically did not believe his eyes. Following an angel out a gate that opened all by itself (and that was before that was like a thing that doors did), follows the angel out the gate and it’s too good to be true. He assumes, wow – this is a really cool dream. This is just my brain giving me some wish fulfillment psychosis or something. He thought it was a vision. Because freedom was too good to be true. He’s like Sara – “haha, very funny God.” And then he gets down the street a little bit, and the angel disappears and he has this realization – “wait a minute, what? This is real?”
And he’s not the only one to struggle with the truth. [read 12-15]. So remember, these people have been praying ardently for Peter’s release. They saw what happened to James when Herod killed him – and they know that he’s got something like that planned for Peter coming up, and so they’ve gathered to pray desperately for Peter’s freedom. And even though they have gathered in this community and it’s literally, the whole point – they’re sitting there praying “God please release Peter” – when he shows up on their door, they cannot believe it! The servant Rhoda, hears Peter’s voice – leaves him outside, and runs to tell everyone, “God did it! Peter is standing at the door!” And rather than praise God for this incredible answer to prayer – what do they do? They look at the servant and say, “girl you’re crazy. You must be out of your mind” And then when she insists, they say, “well he must be dead – it’s probably his angel.” Because a ghost angel version of Peter showing up is way more plausible than God actually hearing their prayers and giving them what they were praying for. Like Peter, like Sara, the people gathered in the home said, “haha, very funny God.”
I can’t help but wonder how much to do we do this to God in our lives? I mean, how often does God challenge us with a job to do, like he’ll say, “hey go love your neighbor. That one, right there – go show them some form of love, and we say, “haha God, very funny.” Or how often does God comfort us with a truth about who he is, right? Like, God will tell us, “I love you so much that I came and gave up my life for you. I created you, I came to save you – you are worth dying for, and I have called you my beloved child, and I want you to live into my forgiveness and grace – and we say, “haha God, very funny. We all know that can’t be right. I’m to messed up to be loved, I gotta do some volunteering to earn that love first.” I mean, we worship a God of incredible miracles, and yet because we can’t control him like a Genie in a bottle, a little bit we start to believe that he can’t actually do anything. Like, I’ll pray about it, but I don’t actually believe God will do anything. We brush it off. Peter’s not actually at the door.
Meanwhile, poor Peter is still stuck outside in the cold – still knocking, “wait, guys? Seriously, can I come in? I’d like to come inside now.” Poor guy. Forgotten in all the excitement. The story finishes up, and it’s a bit of a rough moment for the guards, [read v16-19]. And actually it’s not just the guards. Before the chapter is over, Herod himself meets a sort of grisly end. He gets all mad at the people of Tyre and Sidon, but then they send a delegation of butt kissers, I mean – delegates. Delegates to make peace with the king. And verse 21 we walk in on this gross moment where the delegates and so busy flattering Herod. [read v.21-23]. Gross. [laugh]. Instead of giving glory to God, Herod accepted the people’s worship, and so he was consumed with worms and died. It’s hard to find sympathy for the guy, because he was very terrible, but that’s a pretty nasty way to go. But it really drives home this teaching that all the glory goes to God. Sarah became pregnant at an impossible stage of her life. Peter was freed from prison in an impossible way – literally could not be done without God’s work. And Herod kept the glory for himself and got eaten by worms. All the glory goes to God.
Alright, now here’s what I see in these stories today. There is good news in our lives that we do not take seriously. There are moments when God has something incredible to say to us, something impossible to offer to us – and we say “haha God, very funny.” We do not trust that the promises of God are real. We’re pretty sure God doesn’t mean it, when he says he loves us. The greatest temptation of the Christian life is trying to earn God’s love. God set Peter free from the shackles that were holding him back, and he wants to do the same thing in your life today. The good news that I have for you today, and honestly it’s the same good news I have for you just about every single week – God sets you free from your sin. The God, up in heaven, sets you free from your sin in the power of Jesus’ name. You have brokenness in your heart – and God is inviting you to live healed. Be free. You have grief that is weighing you down, and God is inviting you to let him carry that burden. Be free! You have things in your life that are keeping you away from God, pride and lust, deceit and envy – they are holding you back. But in Jesus you have been set free. Free to follow God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. Free to live your life in Jesus’ name. To give all the glory to him. Now here’s the thing about being free. Some people think that freedom is all about being able to do what you want whenever you want to do it. We mix up freedom with indulgence. But indulgence is the first step on the path right back into slavery. For example, in my house growing up my parents had a lot of rules about junk food and video games. Mom was a dentist, Dad was a pastor – so I never got to have any fun. But then when I was 17, I went off to college. I was free. I could finally do whatever I wanted. Dinner in the dining hall was a buffet. A buffet every night. I could play as many video games as I wanted. And I could watch as much tv as late as I ever wanted. And let me tell you – I loved my new freedom: I ate whatever I wanted, and I played every video game. And I found out, if you don’t go to class – you can sit on your butt for even longer! Took me one semester to tank my GPA, lose my scholarships and gain 20 pounds. “Free.” When you mix up freedom and indulgence, you become controlled by your desires. It’s not freedom – it’s actually a slavery. When I say God sets you free from sin, I don’t just mean that God sets you free from the bad stuff you did in your past. I’m saying that God sets you free from being controlled by your desires. So that you can be in control of your life. That angel didn’t show up and whack Peter in the face, walk him out of that prison so that he could put the shackles back on. The angel walked him out of that prison so that he could get back to telling people about Jesus and giving the glory to God. Same thing is true for your life. God didn’t set you free so that you could say, “I’m free!” and then go right back to the shackles of letting your desires control you. So you could say, “I’m free” and then rebuild the prison of your sinful life all around you all over again. No, you are free to follow God out of the prison you have built for yourself, to follow him and give all the glory to him. The freedom that God gives us is a gift, but it’s also a responsibility. God sets you free from your sin, and that means if you will follow God out of the prison cell, you will be free.
So I have a couple of questions that I want you to ponder this week. First, has God been smacking you on the head? The angel shows up and whacks Peter and tells him to wake up. Like the exasperated parent of the teenager who has woken their child up for the tenth time and if they don’t get out of bed right now they’re going to be late for school – God whacked Peter. Has God been trying to wake you up? Has he been whacking you on the head with something? Is there a burden in your heart that you have been ignoring? Is there a job God is telling you to do – something you’re scared to say yes to? Something you figure other people are better at? Is there a person you are supposed to reach or an act of love that you have been procrastinating on? Is God asking you to do something, and you’re not taking him seriously? I think about Sara and the way she says, “haha, God – very funny” and I think about Peter and how literally as he was walking out of prison he thought to himself, “no way this is real.” So what about you? Where have you been laughing and telling God, “very funny, that can’t be real.”
God didn’t set you free to let you sink back into the slavery of indulgence. God didn’t set you free to let you rebuild the prison walls around yourself. So what did God set you free to do in the world? Who are you called to share Jesus Christ with? If you are a Christian, then you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and the savior of the world. And if you are a loving Christian, then you want other people to know about that good news. So who are you going to tell about Jesus this week? Who do you need to reach, who do you need to love? What dream do you have for building the kingdom of God – but you put it on the shelf because you didn’t believe that God was serious. You didn’t think God was really there? Every Christian has a ministry, every single one of us has a purpose in God’s plan of redemption for the entire world. What did God set you free to do in this world?
This past week I went to a conference down in Kansas City, and we explored the ministry of an organization called the Kansas City Underground. It was a very inspiring couple of days, and I heard a lot of dreams that made me laugh. I heard a lot of goals that made me roll my eyes and say, “yeah, sure, haha – very funny God.” But one of the things they do, none of these people are Pastors, but they ask everyone – what is your calling? Who has God called you to reach with the love of Jesus? Where you live, work, rest and play – who has God put in your life to reach with the gospel? And the stories are absolutely incredible. There was a guy – he prayed about it, and God put on his heart a passion for helping homeless people. I want to help homeless people, and all I know how to do is fix bikes. So they set up a bike ministry, where they give bikes to homeless people and teach them how to maintain them to help them climb out of poverty. There was another lady, she was like, “I’m in real estate, and I have a passion for prison ministry. I want to help women who are coming out of prison.” So she flipped some properties and created a place where women could go to get back on their feet after prison. And not all the stories were like, “you need to start a big thing.” There was one guy he literally, he prayed about it. He approached God and he said, “God who are you calling me to reach?” And after he asked God for direction, he had a friend challenge him, “hey, what’s your neighbor’s name?” I don’t know. “what about on the other side?” uh.. “across the street?” I’m not sure, I just call him – guy with loud car. And he realized that God was putting it on his heart to reach his street. To share the love of Jesus with his literal, physical neighbors. So he started having block parties. Dragged the grill to the driveway – beer in the cooler, burgers on the grill, kids playing in the grass, Saturday afternoon, hope to see you there. Took him two years, and now he runs a neighborhood house church out of his living room – and all those people know about Jesus. What have you been “set free” to do in this world? Who has God put on your heart to share the love of Jesus with?
Sara heard the promise of God from the angel, and she laughed. But a year later, she was pregnant with his son Isaac. God came through. Peter followed the angel out of the prison cell and he thought it was all just a vision – but when the angel was gone, he realized it was all true. He had been set free. God sets you free from your sin, and that’s just the beginning of your story. There’s a revival coming. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you wake up when God smacks you on the head. May you follow God out of the prison of your sin, may you be set free, and then… May you look deep into the burdens of your heart, ask God for direction and find the place where the your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. Amen.
 It’s not a direct quote, but this line is a paraphrase of Frederick Buecher, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet”