TRA Wordtalks

"Sunday, 17th August, 1997 - Pray with Faith."

A FRIEND of mine, Dr Kefa Sampangi, a minister in the Government of Uganda, experienced an unexpected rescue by God. In 1977 as an Anglican clergyman he spoke out against Idi Amin and his repressive reign, as did his Archbishop Janani Luwum. Archbishop Luwum was murdered by Amin's Secret Police. Kefa was warned to leave the country, but he could not leave. He and his wife were caring for 2000 orphaned children. 2000 orphans says much about the wanton killings by Amin's secret police.

Then one Sunday morning as he was at prayer before entering his church for a service, the door was kicked open and two men in black uniform, wearing the helmets of the dreaded Secret Police, entered with Sten guns at the ready. They forced Kefa against the wall and said, "We have orders to shoot you." Kefa replied, "I am ready to die. But before you shoot me, do you mind if I have a prayer, my last prayer." They said, "You can pray." Kefa said, "Well, shut your eyes." They lowered their guns. Kefa prayed "I thank you, Lord, that I can now come to you and find life, and life eternal. Receive my spirit into your care. I pray for these two men. Do not hold this charge against them. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Father, into Thy hands I commit my spirit. Amen."

As he looked up, Kefa Sempangi noted that one of the guards had taken off his mirrored glasses and was wiping tears from his eyes. He said, "Tell me, how can you Christians face death like that?" Kefa told him of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the two guards knelt down on the floor of the vestry and received Christ as Saviour.

Then they said, "We have to go back and report. We will report that we cannot find you, but we will not report for two hours. Take the children and go." Kefa and his wife gathered the children and in an amazing escape story got them to safety across the border. After the war Kefa returned, invited to become part of the new Government. Dr Kefa Sampangi was Minister of Reconstruction. He went to speak at the Anglican Seminary to new students who had come to train as ministers of the gospel. As he stood up to speak, there in the front was one of the hit men who had once come to kill him! Converted, he was now training to be a priest! When you pray with faith, God answers remarkably.

Look at a story of the early church in Acts 12. Luke has written of the church among the Gentiles. Now he tells of the church in Jerusalem among the Jews, which also has the signs of God's answers. It was ten years after the resurrection of Jesus and the believers have suffered many persecutions. One was started by Saul of Tarsus when the disciples had been scattered.

Another persecution began under King Herod Agrippa 1. His name lives in infamy in Jewish history. James and John, were in the inner circle of the disciples. Their mother once asked Jesus for her sons to have privileged positions in the Kingdom of Heaven. They did, but not in the way their mother thought. James was the first apostle to die for his Lord. "It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword." How simply it reads, "He had James..put to death." Stephen was the first Christian martyr, James the first apostle to be martyred.

"When Herod saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 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." So Peter was jailed.

Dictators love public trials. They use them to make others fear. The Red Guards of Mao Tse-Tung had public trials of believers who showed great courage and commitment. Peter was shut away, "to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each." Sixteen soldiers: two for the outer gate, two for the inner gate, two at the cell door, and one chained to each of Peter's wrists. Eight others kept watch. This was a double guard. Herod Agrippa wanted a show trial of the leader of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth! There was to be no escape.

1. GOD HEARS

But Peter was not forgotten. "So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him." They were "earnestly praying to God." That is how we should pray. Such prayer makes weak Christians strong, and gives strength to powerless churches. As a young man I heard Dr. Martin Niemoller telling how Hitler kept him as a personal prisoner for seven years in solitary confinement. Niemoller said, "Hitler thought that he would break me. But I had messages that all over Germany Christians were meeting together and praying for me. Their prayers kept me strong. What did Hitler do? By their prayers He made me stronger and He called the church to prayer." Niemoller said Hitler caused the evangelical church to earnestly pray, and as a result the Christians grew strong.

2. GOD PROTECTS

As a result of prayer for Peter, there was an unreal rescuer. "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." Peter had been in jail for seven days, and in the morning Herod intended to execute him. Yet Peter sleeps! Here is a mind at peace and a heart right with God. "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. 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." Peter, suddenly awakened, doesn't know this angel. Who is his unreal rescuer? Real? Unreal? Is it a dream, a vision?

Whatever it is, it goes on and Peter goes with it. "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." You may not believe in angels, but that day Herod certainly did. There was great confusion in the morning. Whatever could have happened to Peter? He had been so well guarded that escape was impossible. Yet the unthinkable happened.

3. GOD ANSWERS

Peter did not know whether it was real or a dream. But he knew his chains were loosened, the guards were passed. Ahead was the massive iron gates. "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."

I noted this phrase "the gate opened for them by itself". The Greek word is "automate!" No hand needed. It was an automatic opening gate! Then Peter realised what was happening! "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.'"

Geoffrey Bull, valiant missionary in China was miraculously rescued in a similar situation from prison. He called his book: "When Iron Gates Yield." There will come times when you face iron gates. Maybe gates of grief, of fear, or impossibilities. Such gates never open until you march up to them with faith and courage. Then they open! The gates of Peter's prison did not open until Peter "came to the iron gate". Then it opened. God does not open the way until you step forward in faith. Death is like an iron gate many fear. When we march up to it in faith, there is no fear and the gate of death swings open and it becomes the doorway to life. "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."

This is a humorous scene, told many times in the early church, although those who were there were not laughing. The people inside were praying that Peter would be released, and Peter was outside knocking to get in! "Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda (the English word is `Rose') came to answer the door. When she recognised Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, `Peter is at the door!'"

Rhoda recognised Peter's Galilean accent. It gave him away on the night Jesus was betrayed when Peter tried to persuade a servant girl he was someone else. Now he was trying to persuade a servant girl he was himself. She ran back to the group without unlocking the door, and announced Peter was outside. "You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." They were saying, "Don't interrupt! This is a prayer meeting for the Apostle Peter. This is very serious." Rhoda kept saying Peter was knocking outside.

Meanwhile, Peter kept knocking. Maybe he remembered Jesus said, "Knock, and it shall be opened to you." He kept knocking and they kept praying. Many Christians do that. They spend time praying for answers that God has already given. We should pray and trust and then obey, and let God's answer come. "But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished." At last! "Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. `Tell James (our Lord's brother) and the brothers about this,' he said, and then he left for another place.; Why? Peter knew the soldiers of Herod would look among Peter's friends for him and they were at risk. He left them with a lesson: when you pray with faith, keep one ear open, because God is already answering the prayers and He may be knocking.

4. GOD JUDGES

Herod ordered a massive search for Peter and when he could find neither Peter nor the angel he blamed the guards and decided that they ought to pay. They did, with their lives!

King Herod died soon after. The persecutor had received his just reward. "In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 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. Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. He had been quarrelling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him.
Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king's country for their food supply. On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, `This is the voice of a god, not of a man.' Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died."

The Jewish historian Josephus, says Herod claimed to be a god before his visitors and was struck down with acute pain in the abdomen which lasted five days until he died, aged 54, in the year AD44. Luke was a doctor, and his word "worms" refers to round worms which grow up to half a metre long which feed in the intestines causing blockage, severe pain and death. Luke knows best! But both historians regard his death as a judgement of God, and Luke declares it was of benefit to the church. "But the word of God continued to increase and spread. When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark." You grow in faith when you pray with faith!

Gordon Moyes

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