Do you remember praying as a child? Do you remember the words that you prayed? Let’s try it together: “Now I lay me down to sleep I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take.” In retrospect a little creepy, but still.
Actually, the prayer that my Dad taught me was “Now I lay me down to sleep with a bag of candy at my feet, if I should die before I wake you’ll know I died of a bellyache.”
But what if when you laid down to sleep you knew that would be the last time you would ever lay down to sleep? What if when you closed your eyes you knew it would be the last time you would close your eyes to sleep?
What if you knew when you went to bed tonight that tomorrow night you would be history, that you would never again hold the ones you loved, that you would never again be held by the ones who loved you. That you would never see another sunset, never hear another bird sing, never live another day. How would you sleep?
I’ve read that often they put a suicide watch on prisoners in the states who have been sentenced to death. Probably don’t want the prisoner to cheat the state out of all their fun. I mean do they really use an alcohol swab to sterilize the site for the lethal injection?
Do you think you’d be able to sleep knowing that you only had one day left? I’m not sure if I would be able to or if my mind would be racing with regrets and what if’s. Wondering if I had said good byes and thank you to all the right people. Asking myself if I had left a mark and whether or not I’d be remembered.
That was the situation that Peter was in, King Herod had ordered the execution of James who was the brother of John, maybe you remember James as one of the sons of Thunder, or Zebedee’s boy, or one of the original group that Jesus called to be his disciples. It really doesn’t matter what does matter is that he was executed by King Herod. Now perhaps you’re thinking “I remember King Herod he was the king that ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed when Jesus was born.”
Well, you’re partially right, that was King Herod, but it wasn’t this King Herod. Then you’re thinking “Well then, it must have been the King Herod that had John the Baptist killed”, well again you are partially right, it was King Herod but not this King Herod.
This is, in fact, King Herod Agrippa and after he saw how much killing James pleased the Jewish leaders he thought, “Great, all I have to do to become popular is kill Christians.”
Think about it, Justin Trudeau and Stephen McNeil have to reduce taxes to be popular, but Herod he just had to kill preachers. And so, he figured “if killing James made me popular think how popular I would be if I killed Peter”, and so he had Peter arrested and thrown into Jail.
Now it was the Jewish celebration of Passover and Herod couldn’t very well execute Peter during the holidays, so he decides that as soon as Passover is done, then he will separate Peter’s head from the rest of his body. And so here Peter is, in prison, waiting to stand trial with execution being a very, very real possibility.
As a matter of fact, it was virtually the only probable outcome of the trial. It’s the night before the trial, the church has called a prayer meeting and they are all up praying. I don’t know if they were praying for Peter’s release or if they were praying for Peter to have the courage and strength to face his imminent demise.
We don’t know, but what we do know is that they were praying. And Peter you’d think that Peter would either be wide awake worrying or that he would be wide-awake praying.
But that was not the case, instead of being wide awake for anything Peter was sound asleep. Chained between two Roman soldiers, this boy wasn’t just napping he was out like a light, dead to the world so to speak.
And suddenly a great light filled the prison cell and standing there was an angel, and Peter didn’t even wake up. Boy you gotta hate that, this angel had this great entrance, poof, a great light fills the cell and there stands this great big strapping angel shinning in all his glory and Peter doesn’t wake up, at all. Having lost all of the impact of a dramatic entrance the angel pokes Peter and says, “Hey come on wake up we’re out of here.” Or something like that.
The thing that amazes me isn’t the great rescue with the angel, that’s a God thing, God can do those things, He’s God. What amazes me about the story is that Peter is fast asleep.
This is the same Peter who had hacked off the guys ear in the garden of Gethsemane, this is the same Peter who avowed that he would never let Jesus down and then denied he knew him three times, and this is the same Peter who saw Jesus walking on the water and jumped out of the boat and joined him.
We all know rash, impulsive Peter, we’re not so familiar with calm, cool and collected Peter.
But that is the story told in Acts 12.
Everything we knew about Peter is turned inside out and upside down when we see him sleeping between these two Roman soldiers the night before his execution. What happened? What changed in Peter’s life that had changed Peter?
This is week three of our “Pinky Swear: The Promises of Jesus” series. And through the month of June, we are focusing on some of the promises that were given to those who followed Jesus through the gospels.
And we have to believe that if Jesus made those promises to those who followed him 2000 years ago that those same promises are still valid for those who follow Jesus today. That would be you.
So, in week one we discovered Jesus promising rest to a weary world. Not a rest from physical labour or daily work, life goes on, but a spiritual rest and emotional rest. A rest from always trying to be good enough and that rest only comes from his grace that says, “You are loved, and you are special, and I’ve already paid the price for you.”
Then last week we looked at the Promise of a helper, and how Jesus promised us that we would never be alone, that we would always have the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And ultimately, we said that we don’t need more of the Holy Spirit, but instead, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to have more of us.
And that is where we come in here. In the scripture that was read earlier we discover this promise that Jesus made to those who follow him. And this is a continuation of the scripture that was read last week when Jesus promised the apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
You see this promise doesn’t stand alone it is only because we have the Holy Spirit in our lives that Jesus could make the promise that we find in John 14:27 Jesus said “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
And Peter was in the group that heard those words, the promise was for him, but we don’t immediately see peace as a characteristic of Peter’s life. It was John F. Kennedy who said: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.”
And we don’t see that inner peace in Peter’s life until he experiences the Holy Spirit in his life, and that doesn’t happen until Acts chapter 2. And it is there that we see how the Holy Spirit filled Peter and how Peter was never the same again.
The result of the Holy Spirit on Peter’s life can be summed up with the words of Galatians 5:22-23 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
And we could personalize it by saying, Galatians 5:22-23 But the Holy Spirit produced this kind of fruit in Peter’s life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
So, when Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, he became a very different Peter then he had been before. And one of those differences we see in his life was this peace that he had, a peace of mind and heart. That was evidenced by the fact that he wasn’t troubled or afraid to face the morning. Whatever the morning might bring.
So, what is this peace? Good question, peace can be defined several different ways. One wit defined it as “Peace is that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading.”
Or as Jerry Pournelle, once wrote, “Peace is the ideal we deduce from the fact that there have been interludes between wars.”
But, the New Testament concept of peace is not defined as the absence of war or even an absence of interpersonal conflict in our lives.
Peace in the New Testament is a tranquillity of heart which derives from the all-pervading knowledge that we are in the hands of God.
The Apostle Paul would write to the church in Philippi saying, Philippians 4:7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
You might be more familiar with the NKJV where it reads, Philippians 4:7 NKJV and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
It was in response to this promise that Helen Keller said: “I do not want the peace which passes understanding, I want the understanding which brings peace.”
And it would appear that Peter had discovered an understanding which brought him peace.
What was it that Peter understood that brought this peace? Well, this peace came in a part because Peter Understood That God Is There. Have you seen the bumper sticker that says, Know God, Know Peace. No God, No Peace. It’s the truth without an acknowledgement that there is a God you will not have peace.
That’s why it’s called the peace of God or God’s peace in the Bible. If there were no other certainties in Peter’s Life there was the certainty that God was real.
If we are to find peace in our life the first step is acknowledging that there is a God. The Bible says in Psalm 14:1 Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
Abraham Lincoln echoed that when he said “I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heaven and say there is no God.”
And so, Peter knew that there was a God, he knew that whatever happened tomorrow that a higher power was in control, even if he was executed he knew that was not the end. He would not share the epitaph of the Atheist which said, “Here lies the Atheist, all dressed up and no place to go.”
Not only did Peter know that God is there but Peter Understood That God Is Aware
It was not enough that Peter knew that God existed, but Peter knew that God knew that Peter Existed.
Or as Paul reminded the early church in Galatians 4:9 So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you). . . And so we need to take our belief to the next level, not only believing in God but also believing that God knows what’s going on in our lives.
Jesus made an incredible statement concerning this remarkable attribute of God’s in
Matthew 10:29 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
God didn’t create this world and then turn his back on it, he is aware what is going on, we aren’t alone.
God rejoices when he sees good and love and beauty. It breaks his heart when he sees war, and hatred and what we’ve done to this world. And he knows you, and he knows everything about you. It was that knowledge that caused David to write in Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
So, Peter knew that God existed, and Peter knew that God knew that Peter Existed, but more than that Peter Understood That God Cares
Of the three this is probably the most important thing that Peter knew. It’s not enough that there is a God out there if he’s not aware of what’s going on in my life.
And it’s not enough that there’s a God out there whose aware of what’s happening in my life if he doesn’t care about what is happening in my life. Earlier we read Matthew 10:29-31 What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
But Jesus didn’t end there, he went on to say And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
When Peter closed his eyes that night in the prison cell chained between those two guards he knew that if nobody else in the universe cared about what happened to Peter, that God cared about what happened to Peter.
Peter knew that ultimately, he mattered to God and that ultimately God was in control. Maybe it was this experience that later caused Peter to write in the Letter of 1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
Peter knew that there was absolutely nothing he could do to change his situation, nothing at all. So why worry about it?
Science fiction writer Larry Eisenberg summed it up when he said “For peace of mind, we need to resign as general manager of the universe.”
If we are going to have peace in our life it will only be when we realize that God not only knows what’s best for us but that he wants what’s best for us. And not only do we need to realize that, we need to believe it and more than simply believing it we need to act upon it.
How many of our troubles could we have avoided if we had believed that God had our best at heart all along?
Too often we try to second-guess God. We decide that even though God is God, and even though he is the creator and ruler of the universe that he’s not nearly as smart as we are. That we know what is best for us, and if that doesn’t agree with what God says then that’s because God doesn’t really want the best for us, all he wants to do is to ruin our fun.
And so, we do the things we want to do, and then when it flies all to pieces and when we have to pay the fiddler, so to speak, we wonder what went wrong. And sometimes in retrospect, we say “Wow, if only I had done what God wanted me to do.”
It’s easy to believe that God will do what is good, it’s more difficult to believe that whatever God does is good.
I’ve told this story before, A lady whose son had leukaemia was talking to another lady and the second woman said, “Maybe God will be good and heal your son.” To which the first lady responded, “God will be good whether he heals my son or not.”
Can we believe in the goodness of God even in the difficult times? Even at times that we know that’s not how we wanted things to go or things to end.
God does care, and God sees a much bigger picture then we do. God cared enough about Peter that he sent an Angel to deliver him, but did that mean that he cared less about James when he allowed him to be executed?
No, I can’t explain it, and I don’t understand it, but even though James was killed and that caused his family pain and grief, God is still good.
And Peter understood that. The book of Romans hadn’t been written at this point in history but the premise of Romans 8:28 was still real Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
Peter knew that Peter could do nothing, and God could do everything, so why worry?
Paul gives us some advice in Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
So, maybe Peter had prayed, told God what he needed, thanked him for all he had done and was experiencing the peace that is more wonderful than the human mind can understand. Or maybe Peter had discovered the truth of what Clive James would write 2000 years later “Stop worrying — nobody gets out of this world alive.”
A story is told by Bishop William Quayle, he said that one night all the worries and concerns of his parish seemed to catch up with him and as he paced back and forth that God spoke to him and said “Quayle, you go to bed; I’ll stay up the rest of the night.” Well two thousand years ago God told Peter, “Peter, you go to bed; I’ll stay up the rest of the night.”
And that’s what he’s telling you, “Go to Bed, I’ll stay up the rest of the night.” Because listen again to God’s promise for you, today June 10, 2018, John 14:27 Jesus said “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.