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June 6, 2021

Persecution, Prison, and the Powerful Providence of God

Steven Lee (North Campus) | Acts 12:1-25

Sermon notes to come.

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.

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.

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.—Acts 12:1–25

Sermon Discussion Questions

Main Point: The schemes and power of the wicked are great, but the glory and power of God is much greater.


  1. The Savage Schemes of Herod (Acts 12:1–5)
  2. The Powerful Providence of God (Acts 12:6–23)
  3. The Advance of Christ’s Kingdom (Acts 12:24–25)

Launching Question: Have you ever faced a dire situation where disaster seemed imminent in your life or more broadly in the church, culture, or our world? What lies were you tempted to believe about God?

Discussion Questions

  • With the arrest of the apostle Peter, why was the situation so dire?
  • Why is the rescue so amazing, unlikely, and unexpected?
  • Why do you think Luke records the reaction of the disciples after Peter appears at the gate of Mary’s house? Why is this significant?
  • Why is Herod struck down by an angel of God? What can we learn about God and those who oppose God and his people?
  • In verse 24, why is it significant that Luke writes, “But the word of God increased and multiplied”? What does this communicate about God, the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ, the advance of the gospel, the opposition to the gospel, and the promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8?
  • How does Acts 12 function in the broad overview of Acts?

Application Questions

  • In what dire situations is earnest prayer needed by the church? How can you pray with trust, hope, and expectation in God?
  • How should we view and respond when we see persecution, opposition, or hostility toward Christianity, the gospel, or our faith in Jesus?
  • What truths should we regularly remind ourselves of so that we do not grow weary and lose heart, but rather continue to engage with eagerness in Christ’s mission to make disciples of all peoples?
  • If we are facing opposition or enemies because of our faith, what truths from this passage can embolden us, encourage us, and even cause us to love our enemies?
  • Is there an area of your life in which you are tempted to doubt God’s love, goodness, and powerful providence? What truths from this passage can help you?

Prayer Focus
Praise God that the word of God has continued to increase and multiply for thousands of years, covering millions of miles, and taking root in millions of hearts, including your own salvation. Confess any sins of doubt, discouragement, or faithlessness when you consider difficult, dire, or terrifying circumstances. Thank God that he will judge the living and the dead, and will work all things together for good for those who love him and are called by him. Ask God for confidence in his providence, faith to trust him, joy in your salvation, eagerness to share the gospel, and an unshakeable faith in the midst of persecution, opposition, or even hostility.