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Miraculous Midnight Escape

April 28, 2024

Miraculous Midnight Escape

Passage: Acts 12:1-19
Service Type:


The Power of God

Rodney Gehman – April 28, 2024


[ 001 ] Good morning! My name is Rodney and I’m happy to be here with you all today! If you’re a first time guest with us today, we just want to say welcome! We’re glad you are here! It’s been our prayer already this morning that you would sense the presence of the Holy Spirit here today, and that Jesus would be honored and glorified in all things. 

Open Bibles to Acts 12. If you remember where we left off last week, we saw the church really growing in Antioch because of the courageous witness of people who were sharing the good news of Jesus, which was followed up by a year of Bible study and large group teaching by Saul and Barnabas. [ 004 ] And chapter 12 begins in verse 1 About that time. So you’d have to reread chapter 11 to remember all of this, but about the time men and women from Jerusalem and Cypress are in Antioch talking about Jesus in ordinary moments of life. About the time Barnabas and Saul are formally teaching and explaining the good news of Jesus to large groups. About the time Christianity is growing so much that people are recognizing them as a people group. About the time that Christianity is growing in a city which is a cultural melting pot. About the time people are turning from their sins and their idols and the worship of other gods. About the time the famine happened and the church of Antioch loaded Barnabas and Saul down with money and groceries for the church in Judea – [ 005 ] about that time, King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, 2 and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 

That kind of hits hard doesn’t it. One of the apostles is just attacked and executed? Luke seems so nonchalant about it as he’s writing, as if to say, “about that time, Herod killed James” and we’re all going, wait a second – we didn’t even know there was trouble brewing. All of a sudden, the King violently attacks the church and kills James.  

He is described as “John’s brother” because there were two James’ in Jerusalem. This one, who is brother to John, the disciple who wrote the Gospel of John, and then the other James is the brother of Jesus who wrote the book of James. We’ll hear about him in a second. 

If you jump outside of the Bible and grab some other historical writings from this time period, you learn that Herod was partially Jewish and partially Roman. So he acted as a very good mediator between the Jews and the Romans. He offered sacrifices every day, and was committed to the customs of orthodox Judaism…which included hatred for the upstart group known as The Way or as they were called in Antioch, the Christians. So his violent attack on the church is basically Saul part 2. Herod, just like Saul, feels like he is defending the true and pure worship of Yahweh by doing away with this new group of people who continue to follow Jesus. 

Interesting side note – Herod Agrippa’s grandpa was Herod the Great that killed all the little boys in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus, the newborn King of the Jews, and Agrippa’s uncle was Herod Antipas who sent Jesus back to Pilate after finding no fault with him. So Agrippa here in Acts 12 knows all about Jesus. He’s no stranger to this man who claimed to be the Messiah, and he is no stranger to murdering innocent people. His grandfather killed his dad because he didn’t trust him, so it runs in the family. And now, Agrippa is trying to make sure he stays on the good side of the Jews. That explains why, [ 006-1 ] verse 3, When he saw that [killing James] pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 

If killing one apostle fired up the Jews, go for the most wanted of them all! What a catch?! The leader. Cut the head off the snake, right? He would cut the head off of Peter right then and there, too, except that he arrested him during a week-long Jewish holiday which would have been considered holy and should not have been desecrated by killing someone. So, instead of [ 006-2 ] instant execution, 4 After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. Obviously the plan is to kill him at that point. 

This is a big question, but what’s the most desperate you’ve ever been? Go back in your mind to that time when you had nothing you could do but cry out to God morning, afternoon, evening in prayer, begging him for relief. You got a diagnosis from the doctor that wasn’t good. You got the news that your loved one probably isn’t going to make it. Maybe it was financial. Maybe it was an accident. 

My wife and I had a few of these moments in our lives. One moment of desperation was when our youngest daughter was about a year old. Something happened where she got hurt or whatever, and she started to cry one of those huge, rear back and yell at the top of your lungs kind of cries. Jodi picked her up to comfort her, but Scarlett took such a big breath for that cry that she passed out. Eyes rolled back, body limp, absolutely quiet in Jodi’s arms. That will add tears and volume to a momma’s prayers. You’re not worried about praying the right theology in that moment – It’s just Lord Jesus, help us! 

Another moment was when our business was at a low point and we were down to a combined $.43 in our checking and savings accounts, and the mechanic told us we had a cracked head in our minivan. That was another moment when tears accompany your prayers. You feel desperate. Hopeless. Wondering if God sees you at all, or if he’s forgotten you exist. 

If we went back in our Bibles all the way to the book of Exodus, that was the posture of the Israelites there in Egypt at the first Passover meal. [ 007-1 ] Here’s how Exodus 2:23 describes it: The Israelites groaned because of their difficult labor; and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their difficult labor ascended to God. When Biblical authors say the same thing two different ways back to back like that, it’s because they are emphasizing the labor and the cries. 

But the [ 007-2 ] next verse says God heard their groaning; and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob; and God saw the Israelites; and God knew. 

So God called Moses to come back to Egypt and lead the people out. And in order to show the Egyptians who the one true God is, and to show the Israelites who the God who rescued them is, God inflicted 10 plagues on Egypt – the last of which was the death of every firstborn son. But it’s on their last night in Egypt, right before that 10th plague that God introduces the Passover meal to the Israelites as an escape to the coming death. He instructed them to kill a lamb, paint its blood on the doorposts of their houses, and the angel of death would “pass over” that house when it saw the blood. 

As you read the story in Exodus, God was faithful to his word, and only the houses without the blood were the ones who had death visit their home that night. Any home with blood on the door got a midnight escape, compliments of Yahweh himself. God heard their cries of desperation, and he answered them with rescue! 

Back to Acts 12, it’s during the same exact meal, the same exact routine celebrating and commemorating that glorious release from Egypt that was happening as Peter sits in a dark prison cell, awaiting the arrival of his death. It’s about as hopeless as the church could have been. Even when persecution struck, they still had the apostles to fall back on – but now one is dead, and the leader is in prison with a death sentence. Desperation. Hopelessness. Worry. Sleepless nights. 

[ 008-1 ] Verse 5, the church was praying fervently to God for him. This is the kind of prayer that has tears and volume with it. I would assume they prayed for James as well, but they’ve seen the apostles be imprisoned before and they were always released. But not this time. James is gone. So they start praying like crazy, and God answered their prayers in a miraculous way. 

[ 008-2 ] 6 When Herod was about to bring him out for trial, that very night Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison. 

Two things to notice here: Peter has been in prison possibly for the better part of a week, knowing his execution is coming in the morning, and this brother is sound asleep. Apparently, he doesn’t have a shred of anxiety. That’s the kind of peace Jesus offers us. Jesus looked at all of his disciples, on the night of his last supper with them, and said “my peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” The kind of peace we usually look for is “just let me do whatever I want to do without being put in prison in the first place” kind of peace. No conflicts with family, no health issues, no deaths in my family, no conflict at church, nothing out of sorts at work or school – just smooth sailing until I die in my sleep one night with a big smile on my face. That’s usually what we think of as peace. 

But Jesus offers us something better. He offers us the kind of peace that can go to sleep knowing tomorrow I die. Bound with not one, but two chains; sleeping with a soldier on either side of him – presumably awake; with two more guards in front of the door. Execution in a few hours, and he’s out like a light. That’s the peace Jesus offers. 

Secondly Luke gives us all of these details about chains and guards because he wants you to know that there is absolutely no possible way that Peter pulled a Shawshank Redemption kind of Prison Break. He wants you to know that this was God and only God who could have set Peter free. 

[ 008-3 ] 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, “Quick, get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. [ 008-4 ] 8 “Get dressed,” the angel told him, “and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Wrap your cloak around you,” he told him, “and follow me.” [ 008-5 ] 9 So he went out and followed, and he did not know that what the angel did was really happening, but he thought he was seeing a vision. Notice what Peter had to do in verse 9. Follow. Peter was in a maximum security prison with hallways and tunnels and passages. Notice he didn’t run past the angel because he knew the way out. He followed. We’ll come back to that. 

[ 008-6 ] 10 After they passed the first and second guards, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. [ 008-7 ] They went outside and passed one street, and suddenly the angel left him. [ 008-8 ]  11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” 

Which, obviously, the Jewish people expected him to be killed like James. Peter also expected that to happen! It wasn’t until he found himself all alone in the middle of the street that he realized what’s happening. He’s like, Oh, this is real! I’m actually free! It’s not a dream – I’m rescued!  

[ 008-9 ] 12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was called Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. [ 008-10 ] 13 He knocked at the door of the outer gate, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 

And this is one of the more comical moments in scripture where you’re allowed to laugh a little bit as you imagine the scene. [ 008-11 ] 14 She (Rhoda) recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the outer gate. [ 008-12 ] 15 “You’re out of your mind! ” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true, and they said, “It’s his angel.” 

Thank you, Rhoda, we know – Peter is here with us in spirit. He wishes he could be here, you’re emotional like all of us, you’re imagining him speaking to you… Come, let’s get back to prayer – you’re interrupting. 

[ 008-13 ] 16 Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. Their amazement must have involved volume, because [ 008-14 ] verse 17 Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. [ 008-15 ] “Tell these things to James, that’s the one who is still alive, Jesus’ brother, and the brothers,” he said, and he left and went to another place. 

And that’s the last we hear of Peter until chapter 15 when he’s at a meeting that requires a major decision to be made for the church. But wondering what happened to Peter is sort of where Luke leaves us. It’s probable that Peter went to Antioch where he would have found a group of believers ready to welcome him into the body many miles away from Herod’s search parties. But scripture doesn’t say where he went. 

[ 008-16 ] Meanwhile back at the prison, 18 At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 

You don’t say! So Herod does what any king would do – get a search party going. But, verse 19, when he couldn’t find Peter, he brought the guards back in for further questioning. When they didn’t have any answers for Herod, he ordered them to be executed. 

There’s so much in this chapter of Acts that should be encouraging for us as a church where we’re at right now, so we’ll end with these three: 

[ 009-1 ] First, this story is an awesome snapshot of the power of God, both in his ability to save and deliver, and in his rule and authority over even the best and most powerful human authorities. Roman soldiers were world class. This prison was maximum security. And yet even the gates of the fortress opened by themselves at the command of Yahweh. As the last song we sang says, all thrones and dominions, all powers and positions, Your Name stands above them all. Church, be encouraged. It’s easy to complain about everything you think is wrong with the world. Conspiracy theories abound as to everything that happens behind closed doors from the powers that be. And this text tells us God is able to get behind closed doors and interrupt those powers, and, even if he doesn’t do that in our lifetime, as we’ll see next week God will take care of those powers in his own time, in his own way.

[ 009-2 ]Secondly, it’s a call to faith-full prayer. The power and authority of God should inspire all kinds of confidence in us as we press into fervent prayer for all kinds of things. If it’s true that no throne or dominion, no power and position stands above the Name of Jesus, then there’s no cancer or disease, no state or national authority, no global superpower, no principality or power of darkness that can stand against the King of kings and Lord of lords. We should not be afraid of praying the most bold and gusty prayers imaginable. Prayers for all kinds of healing, deliverance and hope.

It doesn’t matter if the last time you prayed for healing, God didn’t heal them. He might this time! It doesn’t matter if the last time you prayed for that person to come out of their spiritual laziness and apathy, that person didn’t budge. Pray for it again! We don’t know when God may answer and when he won’t. But what we do know is that we are instructed to pray without ceasing, 1 Thess 5:12, and we are instructed in James 1 to pray in faith, without doubting, like Oh, I mean God could heal them, but I doubt he will, so I’m not really going to pray all that seriously. Sure I’ll pray, but good luck with that. NO! James says that’s double minded, and you shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord if that’s the level of confidence you have in God. Pray like God can do anything! Pray like you really believe he is able to answer every prayer you pray, and pray with faith that says, like Shadrach Meshach and Abednego said in Daniel 3:18 – Even if he chooses to not answer my prayer in the way I want him to, it doesn’t change my worship one single bit; I’m going to keep coming back to him again and again, because God’s word tells me that the prayer of a person who has been saved by grace and washed clean in the blood of Jesus is very powerful, and it accomplishes something…even if it’s not the outcome we hope for.

[ 009-3 ]And third, this text is a picture of salvation through Christ! There are people in this city – possibly even listening to my voice this morning either here in the room or online – who are spiritually dead, or like Peter they are passed out cold in a deep dark prison – but their prison is one of their own pride, their own spiritual laziness, addiction, or shame. 

If Peter doesn’t get up and follow that angel, he loses his head in the morning. Death is certain. The same is true for people who do not answer the call to wake up and surrender to Christ. Not that they will lose their head to a sword, but far worse than that – they will lose their entire body, soul and spirit in eternal punishment. That’s what’s at stake if you refuse to wake up. 

The good news of Jesus is that he came to earth for people who were far away from him. He came in POWER to walk people out of the dungeons that sin and fear had kept us in, where the chains fall off and the gate opens by itself and you are more alive than you’ve ever been in your life, but that doesn’t happen if you refuse to surrender to him, pick up your own cross, and follow him. Peter didn’t just wake up and find himself transported into freedom automatically. You cannot be spiritually lazy, and just expect that God is going to give you a pass on all of what Jesus commanded us to do, and suddenly one day you will have a deep and overflowing desire for the things of God. Peter had to obey and follow the angel one step at a time, and so do we. He didn’t know the way out of his prison, but the angel did. You may not know the way out of your prison, but Jesus does. You do not have the strength or the ability to get past the gates, but he does.  

The good news of Jesus is that although every one of us was born in sin, chained between the two guards called death and grave – Jesus came to this earth as John 1 says, shining the light of life into the middle of our darkness, breaking the chains of sin, breaking the power of death and the grave, and allowing himself to be struck so that the gates of heaven would open to anyone who surrenders to his lordship and joins their lives to his by faith. 

And when we surrender to his leading, we are immediately entered into the kingdom of heaven even while we’re here on earth, where we can walk in the kind of peace Jesus offers, the hope, the purpose, the future, the presence, the power, the same joy that Jesus himself had until the day he welcomes us home into his fully realized, glorious and eternal kingdom where, 2 Timothy 2 says, everyone who endures to the end will reign with him. 

So, that brings us to the table of the Lord’s Supper. Another meal centered around the Passover that Jesus people continue to take part in. [ 010-1 ] Matthew 26:26 - There are three pieces of this meal: 

  1. Jesus holds up a loaf of bread and says “This is my body, broken for you,” he is pointing to himself as a necessity of life; the spiritual food that we can feed on every single day; the food we must feed on every day in order to live. When this bread is literally broken between our teeth and swallowed, it enters into us and becomes part of us, and it gives us life. Jesus is the true life-giver, and by his Holy Spirit, he takes up residence in us, those who have called out to him by faith. 
  1. [ 010-2 ] Secondly, Jesus holds up the cup and says this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out – spilled out – for the many for the forgiveness of sins. Notice Jesus does not say all are forgiven. He says many. Many will be saved, but not all. How can you be sure that you are one of those who are forgiven? It starts by believing that Jesus was cut and broken, and that he bled for you. For your sin. For you to be reconciled to the God who formed you. 
    1. So if you have not put your faith and trust in the real historical, lived, died, rose again Jesus, we are glad you are here and invite you to keep coming back, but until you have personally responded to Jesus by faith, we ask that you would just pass the bread and cup when it comes to you. I know this meal may not look like much, but it is to help us who believe celebrate that we belong to Christ. That we are his, and he is ours. We want that for you. We want you to be added to the Lord, and know the peace and hope and purpose that life with Christ brings, and you can do that today with a simple prayer of repentance and faith even right now. 
    2. Even for young children that might be in the room, if they have not made a credible profession of faith, we would encourage you to pass the bread and cup past them as well, and use this as a time to explain to them what’s happening here. If your child has trusted Christ, though, and you’re seeing evidence of the Holy Spirit in them, they are welcome to participate.
    3. But the cup points to Christ’s blood, poured out for the forgiveness of our sin. 
  2. [ 010-3 ]And the third piece of this meal is that Jesus said “I will not drink from this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Jesus is saying there’s a day coming when there will be another corporate meal. Another supper. But not a last supper – this time it’ll be a first supper. It’ll be our first supper together in the kingdom of heaven, around the marriage supper of the Lamb. So this tiny, almost insignificant meal points us to the feast of heaven that is yet to come. [ 011 ]



  1. Reflecting on Peter's miraculous escape from prison, how does this story illustrate the power of God? What implications does this have for our understanding of God's sovereignty and intervention in our lives today?
  2. In the face of adversity and persecution, the early church responded with fervent prayer. How does this response challenge us to approach prayer in our own lives, particularly in times of desperation or uncertainty? What can we learn from the church's persistence in prayer despite the grim circumstances they faced?
  3. The story of Peter's deliverance also serves as a picture of salvation through Christ. How does Peter's journey from imprisonment to freedom look like the process of salvation and transformation in the life of a believer? How can we apply the principles of surrender, obedience, and faithfulness exemplified by Peter to our own walk with Christ?