Our Risen Savior Still Acts
Jesus Puts You to Sleep
A sermon based on Acts 12:1-19
Sunday, April 22, 2012 – Easter 3B
"Hey, Preacher," one man said as he approached his pastor after the worship service one Sunday, "I want to let you know that every week your sermons always put me to sleep."
The pastor was taken aback a bit by this man's brutal honesty. "Oh, well, I suppose I could be a little more energetic in my delivery. And I could work harder to find better illustrations, I guess. But you know, you could try a little harder to pay attention too. And maybe if you got to bed earlier on Saturday nights. It wouldn't be so hard."
"No, no, Pastor," the member replied, "You misunderstand. You see, I used to lay awake at night, losing sleep over all my problems and troubles that worried me, losing sleep over my sin and the guilt that gnawed away at me. But since I've been coming here, I've heard the Gospel. I know my sins are forgiven. I know that Jesus loves me and promises to take care of me, in spite of the problems I see. And you know, it's really helped. I pray at night, leave all my problems with Jesus, and sleep better than I ever have before. You see? Your sermons really put me to sleep."
This morning as we continue to examine how the risen Jesus took care of the early church in the book of Acts and how our risen Savior still acts in our lives, we see that Jesus puts us to sleep. He certainly doesn't bore us, but by setting us free from our chains of sin, guilt, and worry, he gives us peace that trusts in his care and lets us sleep even in the midst of difficult and trying circumstances.
Listen now to how he did that for Peter as it's recorded for us in Acts 12:1-19…
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals." And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me," the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, "Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating."
12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, "Peter is at the door!"
15 "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel."
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. "Tell James and the brothers about this," he said, and then he left for another place.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Did you get a good sleep last night? Imagine if you didn't get a bed… or a cot… or a blanket. Imagine you only had the dirt floor of a prison prison cell. Imagine you couldn't roll over from side to side or stretch out as you'd like because you were chained between two guards. Imagine the air wasn't so pleasant smelling as the dungeon was full of filth. Now, imagine you were awaiting your execution in the morning. How would you sleep? Would you sleep at all?
One year after Jesus resurrection, the church had grown. And the enemies of God's people were turning up the heat. Herod put James to death and when he saw his approval ratings rise for doing so, he set his sights on Peter. But impatient of a man as Herod was, he had to wait. It was the Passover. But as soon as the holiday was over… well, that would be the end of Peter.
And Peter had to wait. He had to wait for his execution.
Do you think you'd get a good night's sleep? Besides the guards and the chains and the cold hard ground, there were other things that might have kept Peter from getting much sleep that night. What about worry? What about fear? What about guilt? What about regret?
After all it wasn't that long ago that Peter swore, "May I be damned if I know who this Jesus is that you keep talking about! I swear to you I do NOT know the man!" Now, as he was preparing to meet the Judge of the living and the dead the very next morning, those sins may have come back to haunt him. Nagging doubt of where he'd spend eternity might have been surfacing. And if that was the case, could we blame him?
After all, don't we often lose sleep, even when our life is not on the line? Did you get a good night's sleep last night? What are the things that keep you awake? Maybe it was your poor choices in staying out too late. Maybe you were acting and behaving like Jesus wasn't with you the entire time watching your every action, hearing your every word.
Or maybe you lie awake at night because of worry. You wonder if your relationships will be okay in the morning and what you'll do if you're all alone. You wonder if your finances will be there next week, let alone in retirement? Will you be forced to beg or starve? You wonder if the kids will be okay or repeat the sins of your youth and fall away. But our worry shows our lack of faith.
Or maybe your guilt robs you of sleep as you replay your sins in your mind and wonder how God could forgive you, let alone that other person that you hurt. You wonder how you could have denied your Savior just like Peter did, when the stakes were so much lower.
And really for our sins, for our sinful worry, for our unbelief toward God's promises, we deserve to lie awake at night in sheer terror and utter dread of dying to face the Judge of the living and the dead to be condemned. And we deserve no peace forever in the restless torment of eternal hell.
Yes, these things might very well have kept Peter from getting a good night's sleep the night before his expected execution. They might have. But they didn't. Peter was ready to die. In fact, he was so comfortable with that very real possibility that while the rest of the church was up praying earnestly for his safety, Peter went to sleep.
How?! How could he possibly sleep at a time like that?! Didn't he understand the situation? Of course he did! But he remembered what Jesus had said to him after his resurrection. He remembered Jesus promising, "Peace be with you…" (Luke 24:36). He remembered Jesus telling him that "forgiveness of sins [would] be preached in his name to all nations, beginning [right there, where he was] at Jerusalem." (Luke 24:47) He remembered Jesus forgiving him and reinstating him with the command : "Feed my sheep." (John 21:17) He remembered Jesus telling them all, "When they arrest you, do not worry…" (Matthew 10:19) And remembered the promise he gave at his ascension, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)
And Peter was ready to go. Just like Paul said in Philippians 1:21, Peter could say, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me… to depart and be with Christ… is better by far…"
He might die the next day. Or he might go on living a long time. This time God would rescue him. He still had work to do. But a day would come when Peter wouldn't be rescued, but would be crucified for his faith. Jesus told him as much. He said to Peter, "When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (John 21:18) But in the meantime, Peter wouldn't lose any sleep over it.
How about you? How can you sleep in peace at night knowing that in the morning the problems will still be there? The relationships will still be strained. The finances will still be tight. The fears and doubts will still try to push their way back into your lives. How can you sleep in peace?
You know the answer. You know that what God did for Peter, he's done for you. In the same way that he freed Peter from the shackles around his wrists and led him out of the maximum security prison like he was on a stroll through the park, so too God has miraculously freed you from the chains of sin and guilt, of worry and fear, that once held you bound. He led you out of the prison of hell and rescued you for his heaven! He's proven your victory in him by his resurrection and he still preaches forgiveness of sins in his name! He says to you, "Peace be with you…" (Luke 24:36) and, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)
Will he always set you free from your problems and pains of this life? No. Not always. Let's be clear about that. But had he let Peter be executed by Herod and not set free he would not have been any less faithful to his promises. Will Jesus take away your financial worries? He might. Or he might not. Will he help you fix your marriage? He might. Or he might not. Will he make this life comfortable and easy for you all the time? I hope not. That would be bad for your faith.
But he will… he does… set you free from sin, from guilt, from shame, from hell, from worry. He sets you free to sleep at peace at night as you too echo Peter and Paul and say with them, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me… to depart and be with Christ… is better by far…" (Philippians 1:21)
If my sermons put you to sleep, that's okay. I'll take it as a compliment. I hope that in my sermons you hear the comforting promises of our Savior. And I know that's not really my sermons, but our risen Savior, Jesus, who puts you to sleep. He says you're forgiven. You're protected. You're his. Now, be at peace. Get a good night's sleep tonight, so tomorrow you'll be well rested and ready to serve him in whatever he's called you to do. In Jesus' name, dear friends, sleep in peace. Amen.