Miracles in the Night

Bible Book: Acts  12
Subject: Depression; God, Faithfulness of; Prayer

If you've ever been downhearted, or deeply depressed, or felt alone and alienated, or if you've ever found yourself in a situation where there seemed little hope of improvement, then this message is for you. I want to speak to us on the subject, "Miracles in the Night," and we're looking at Acts 12.

First, we read of


Verse 1 says, "Now about that time [about 42 A.D.] Herod the king stretched forth his hand to vex certain of the church." The majority of Herod's subjects were Jews, and most of them had totally rejected Jesus as the promised Messiah. They looked upon the Christians as heretics, and were relentlessly trying to stop the spread of Christianity. Thus, Herod, who wanted to curry favor with his Jewish subjects, was sure that he would win their approval by persecuting the church--and he proceeded to do exactly that. Verse 2 says, "And he killed James the brother of John with the sword." James was the first of the apostles to be martyred.

Why didn't God intervene and keep James from being killed? I don't know. There is great mystery as to why God sometimes intervenes and at other times allows evil to run its course. But I can tell you this: one day when the final curtain falls and we stand before God, he is going to rectify all of life's inequities. And in the meantime we need to remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known." The old quartet song puts it like this: "Farther along, we'll know all about it; Father along, we'll understand why; So, cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine; We'll understand it all by and by."

Many people seem to be under the illusion that the persecution of God's people is a thing of the past--but the sad reality is that the persecution of believers is widespread even today in many parts of the world.

For example, Islamic fanatics who have launched a campaign of terror against Christians and other non-Muslims control the totalitarian government of Sudan. Frequently the property of Christians is confiscated, their homes burned, the men imprisoned or executed, and their women and children kidnapped and sexually abused--and sometimes the children are sent to re-education camps, or to the front lines to die in battle in Sudan's civil war.

Christians are the targets of campaigns of suppression, with many being tortured, abused, imprisoned or killed, in mainland China, North Korea, Burma (Which is now called Myanmar), Bangladesh, and the list goes tragically on. According to the organization, Christian Solidarity International, more Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than at any other time in history.

In 2 Timothy 3:12-13 we read, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived."

At this point in time, the persecution that Christians experience in America consists mostly of such things as rejection, isolation, ridicule, or being passed over for job advancement. But if we continue down the path we're currently traveling--the path of rejecting the Bible as authoritative and making a mockery of traditional morality--who can say when Christians in the United States might begin to experience outright physical persecution? Let's hope and pray that it never happens--and in the meantime let's pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in other parts of the world--and let's make our voices of protest heard by those in a position to directly intervene. The NIV translation of Hebrews 13:3 says, "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them, and those who are mistreated, since you yourselves are in the body also."

We've noted the persecution experienced by the Christians in the 12th chapter of Acts; now let's take note of the prayer offered.


Look with me at Acts 12:3-5, "And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter [NIV "the Passover"] to bring him forth to the people. Peter was therefore kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him."

Apparently Herod intended to put Peter to death after the Passover--"but," verse 5 tells us, "prayer was made...." - and beginning at that point, God intervened and the tide turned.

That's the key as to why we often make such a little impact for Christ today, as individuals and collectively we don't pray as we should. Oh, we talk a good bit about prayer, and we pray some but alas, all too few and far between are those times when we get off in the secret place and "get hold of the horns of the altar," as it were, and pray "til the fire falls." With all of our programs, know-how and resources, we 20th century Christians ought to be moving spiritual mountains--but too much of the time the impact we make is puny. Peter Marshall said that the modern church reminded him of a deep-sea diver donning his diving suit, with all of its heavy, expensive, intricately designed attachments, and then marching bravely into the bathroom to pull the stopper out of the bathtub.

Notice that verse 5 says that, "prayer was made without ceasing." Often we give up too soon, when the answer may be only one more prayer away. Jesus said, in Matthew 7:7, "Ask [literally, "keep on asking"], and it shall be given you; seek [literally, "keep on seeking"], and ye shall find; knock [literally, "keep on knocking"], and it shall be opened unto you." Some situations are not going to be changed until or unless we become desperate in prayer. To say that is not an over-dramatization. In Matthew 5:6 Jesus said, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." The inspired author of Psalm 42:1-2 said, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God...."

The songwriter asked, "Have you prayed all night, til the morning light--have you prayed til the answer came?" To our shame, most of us have to admit that regardless of how tragic may be the situation at hand, we haven't been willing to pay that kind of a price for relief.

But notice further in verse 5 that "prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him." Even one or two sincere Christians on their knees makes a huge difference, but you get a whole church praying and the way is opened for mighty things to happen. [I don't know that every single member was involved, but apparently the church as a whole was praying.]

We've looked at the persecution experienced, the prayer offered--and now let's look at the power demonstrated.


In answer to that concerted prayer effort by the church, God bared his mighty arm, and a miracle took place--in fact, a whole series of miracles occurred.

Verse 6 says, "And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison." No doubt Peter had also prayed, and apparently the Lord had impressed him that his prayer had been heard and that the answer was on its way--so with calm assurance, Peter went to sleep.

Verse 7 staes,"And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him...." That was certainly a miracle. The cell was locked and soldiers were on guard--but suddenly the angel appeared in the cell. You can't keep God out of a place, if he decides to enter. A lot of folks are trying today to keep God out of our schools, and out of the public square--but if we Christians will pray as we ought, they won't succeed in keeping God out.

Verse 7 continues by saying, "and a light shined in the prison...." That cell must have been dark and gloomy--but God turned on a light. He will do the same thing for you and me when darkness and gloom fill our lives, if we'll pray without ceasing. The song writer had it right:

"Oh, how praying rests the weary;

Prayer can change the night to day.

So when life seems dark and dreary,

Don't forget to pray."

Verse 7 continues, "...and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands." God is able to unchain you and me from attitudes and habits and situations that have imprisoned us, if only we'll yield to him and call on him for help.

All of that happened, mind you, because that group of believers prayed--and God answered their supplications, even though it's quite evident that their faith was far from perfect. Further over in Acts 12 we learn that later that night, Peter--having been miraculously freed from prison--knocked on the door of the room where they were praying. The little servant girl ran back to tell them that Peter was at the door, but they said, "Thou art mad"--in other words, they said, "You're crazy!" They had faith--yet their faith was so weak that when their prayer was answered, at first they didn't believe it.

Here's what that says to you and me: Don't sit around waiting for your faith to increase before you start praying. With what faith you have, get on your knees and start calling on the Lord. God will honor earnest faith even if it's weak--and as you continue to exercise it, to use it, it will grow stronger.

After the chains had fallen off his hands, Simon Peter followed the angel out of the jail cell--but then verse 10 says, "When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate...." It still wasn't over. Peter still wasn't completely free. It appeared that his further progress was blocked. That massive iron gate was shut tight, and human hands could not have budged it--but people were praying, God was at work, and verse 10 says that that gate "opened to them of his own accord"--that is, its opening did not result from any human action--its opening was a miracle of God in answer to fervent prayer.

God can open the iron gates in your life and mine, if only we'll meet his conditions. Sin is like an iron gate. The Bible says that all have sinned, and that the wages of sin is death--but it goes on to say that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Sin that has not been forgiven through repentance and faith in Christ is like an iron gate--it will trap you, it will imprison you, it will keep you from experiencing life's highest and best, and then it will send you to an eternal hell when this life is ended. But you don't have to remain a prisoner of sin. Jesus said, in John 8:36, "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."

"He breaks the power of cancelled sin,

He sets the prisoner free;

His blood can make the foulest clean,

His blood availed for me."

But what about the Christian? Can sin become an iron gate to him? That is, can sin enslave him? Sad to say, yes--not eternally, but it can, in this life, enslave him temporarily. I say temporarily because God won't let a Christian just go on and on in sin. Hebrews 12 teaches that if you, as a believer, get far enough off the track and stay there long enough God will chasten you--that is, out of loving concern, God will give you a whipping. He had rather not have to do that. He had rather that you, of your own accord, face your backsliding and ask for his cleansing and forgiveness.

Look at God's promise to the wayward believer in Hosea 14:1-2: "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously...." Then God says, in verse 4: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away...."

Another iron gate that all of us face from time to time is the iron gate of personal tragedy. Sometimes life takes some harsh turns. Troubles close in on us. We feel locked in, depressed, and hopeless. But the same God who opened the iron gate for Simon Peter will open your iron gates, and mine, if only we'll yield ourselves to him and pray, "Lord Jesus, not my will but thine be done--in your own time, and in your own way, please deliver me from this problem that is breaking my heart and destroying my life." If we genuinely submit ourselves to him, and pray without ceasing, as that first century church did, one way or the other the Lord will give us relief.

Psalm 34:19 declares, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all." Sometimes he allows the problem to remain, but delivers us from defeat. That is, he delivers us by pouring into our lives such an abundance of grace and spiritual strength that we have victory in spite of the situation. At other times he miraculously changes the circumstances themselves, as he did here in Acts 12.

When I was in high school, I read a book entitled Seven Came Through, written in 1943 by Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, who was born in 1890 and died in 1973. He was a U.S. Army Air Force pilot during World War I, and was a true American hero. He shot down 26 enemy aircraft, and was dubbed "America's ace of aces" by the press. He received 19 decorations for bravery, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

During World War II, about a year after Pearl Harbor, Rickenbacker was sent on a special mission to evaluate and report on the status of U.S. Army Air Force combat units. He was flying as a passenger on a B-17, accompanied by his aide. They had left Hawaii and were enroute to Canton when the pilot got off course. Far out over the Pacific they ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean. Rickenbacker, his aide, and the flight crew managed to get out of the plane into three rafts, which they tied together until near the end of their ordeal. They had only a small amount of water, and the only food they had between them was four oranges. There followed some dreadful days of suffering as they faced the stormy ocean, the burning sun, and as they experienced the torments of hunger, thirst, and depression.

One of the men had managed to salvage his Bible, and they fortified their spirits by reading it aloud. On the eighth day, when their sufferings had become intense, they prayed--to use Rickenbacker's words, "frankly and humbly." Suddenly out of the sky, a seagull lighted on Rickenbacker's shoulder. He grabbed its legs, they ate part of it, and used the rest for bait on the fishing lines found on the raft. They caught enough fish to keep them from starvation until at last, after drifing for 24 days, they were rescued.

Rickenbacker could have sold the story of their harrowing ordeal for a large sum of money, but refused to make money from what he considered an experience of God's deliverance. He wrote the book, Seven Came Through, but refused to profit from it personally. As far as I know, he gave the money to charity.

You may be dealing with some traumatic experience in your life for which there seems to be no hope of deliverance. But don't give up. Don't throw in the towel. Don't give in to despair. As long as there is life, there is hope. Be sure that you've repented of your sins and that you have, by faith, surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, accepting him as your personal Lord and Savior. That opens the lifeline to heaven's resources. Then lay your problem before him. Don't try to call the signals. Just say, "Lord, show me what you expect of me in this situation--show me what my responsibility is--and then I'm going to trust you, in your own time and way, to demonstrate your mighty power in my behalf."

Philippians 4:19 says, "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Not all your wants, but all of what he in his great wisdom knows you actually need in order to fulfill your God-ordained purpose in life. To quote the late Jerry Clower, "Ain't God good!"