James Killed and Peter Imprisoned
 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.  He killed James the brother of John with the sword,  and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.  So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Peter Is Rescued
 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands.  And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”  And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.  When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him.  When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.  And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer.  Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate.  They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!”  But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.  But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter.  And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.
The Death of Herod
 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food.  On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.  And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
 But the word of God increased and multiplied.
 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. (ESV)
- Angels and Peter’s great escape
Once again in our text, we find angels doing God’s work and providing aid and rescue to God’s people. Christians often don’t know what to do when it comes to angels. Some obsess over angels while others try to avoid the topic altogether. What’s clear throughout the Bible is that angels do exist and God does use them to help his people in times of great need. Angels should not be worshipped, for only God deserves our worship. On the other hand, angels should not be avoided or feared. They are God’s servants and our helpers. The author of Hebrews goes as far as to say that some of us have encountered angels without even knowing it (Hebrews 13:2)!
- Our enemies fall into their own pit
In the imprecatory Psalms, David prays that his enemies would fall into the pit they have dug for him (Psalm 35:8). This text in Acts is a perfect example of God doing just that. The leaders that killed James and imprisoned Peter, presumably with plans to kill him also, had their evil turned back on them. The guards were put to death and King Herod died in the most public and humiliating way. God will not be mocked and his enemies will not escape his justice and judgment.
- The gates of hell shall not prevail
This text ends with the most incredible contrast. Those who seek to destroy the Church will themselves be destroyed by God. Meanwhile, the Church, which is hated by the world, continues to grow and multiply, especially in the face of opposition. Psalm 2 speaks plainly of this reality. When the world conspires against Jesus, God laughs and mocks them. Jesus promised us that the gates of hell will not prevail (Matthew 16:18). We ought to expect nothing else.
- What do you think about angels? Do you tend to ignore or obsess over them? What does this text teach us about angels?
- Opposition and suffering were ordinary experiences in the early Church, and yet the Church was not discouraged. How do you think the Church was able to endure these experiences without losing heart?
- How can this text encourage you when you face opposition or endure suffering because of your faith in Jesus?
Call to Worship
Restore Our Fortunes, O LORD
A Song of Ascents.
 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
 The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.
 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him. (ESV)
Prayer of Confession
Gracious Father, you sent your son to die and rise to new life in order that death might be brought to an end and that we might live a new life in Him. Yet we confess that we too often have chosen to remain captive to doubt and fear and ways that lead to death. By our thoughts, words, and actions, we have scorned your love, diminished the lives of others, and defaced your image in us. Father, forgive us for Jesus’ sake, and enable us by His resurrection power to live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died and rose again for us. Amen.
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