The Touch of an Angel’s Hand
December 11th, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-11-77 10:50 a.m.
With infinite gladness, we welcome the throng of you who are listening to this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Touch of an Angel’s Hand. In our preaching in the Book of Acts, we have concluded with the eleventh chapter, and now we begin with chapter 12.
And as a background, I read the first eleven verses. Acts chapter 12, verses 1 through 11:
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hand to vex certain of the church.
And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the Days of the Unleavened Bread) – the week of the Passover.
And when he had apprehended him, when he arrested him, he placed him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers – to keep him – intending after Easter, after the Passover, to bring him forth unto the people.
Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains – one to each soldier – and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
And behold, the angel of the Lord came upon them and a light shined –
Isn’t that familiar to you?
The angel of the Lord came upon them and a light shined around them" – "and a light shined in the prison: and the angel smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell from his hands.
And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
Isn’t it remarkable how God is careful for little details? Put your shoes on. Put your garment on in the cool of the night.
And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
When they passed the first ward, the first wall, and the second ward, the second wall, and they came unto the third wall and the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of its own accord: they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent His angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all of the expectation of the people of the Jews.
You see, whenever I come across that word "Herod," it means trouble. You will never find a the place in the Bible that his name is mentioned, Herod – whether it be Herod the Great or Herod Antipas, or Herodias the female Herod, or Herod Agrippa I here – wherever you come across that name, it means trouble. When I see the name, it reminds me, as it does you, in those days of Herod the king and the wise men. When Herod saw he was mocked by them, he sent his soldiers to Bethlehem and massacred all of the little boy babies, beginning at two years and under [Matthew 2:16]. It’s trouble.
"Now about that time" [Acts 121] – and we know all about that time, a time of trouble. The eleventh chapter closed with a great famine that covered the earth, a great drought [Acts 11:28-30]. About that time, this is a time of hunger, a time of starvation, a time of suffering. It is a time of trouble. But troubles never come alone. You’ll find that in your life. When one of them comes, there’ll be another fast on its heels. Troubles like company. They don’t like solitary aloneness. And when you have one trouble, you’ll have another. They come in groups. And that time, a time of trouble, not only suffering and hunger and famine, but, "The king stretched forth his hands to vex" [Acts 12:1].
That’s an interesting translation. There is a Greek word kakos. It means bad. It means villainy. It means wickedness. And the verbal form of it, kakoō, is the one used here. It means to treat evilly and wickedly. You can translate it well, "oppressively" – "Herod the king stretched forth his hands to oppress, to crush the church." And then as though that were not also enough, he kills James the brother of John with the sword – murders him [Acts 12:2].
I’ve often wondered about what would have happened to James had he lived. Whenever you see those two Zebedee brothers named, always James is first. It is James and then John. How brilliant and how blessed the Christian career of the apostle John! At the age of maybe ninety-five, writing his Gospel, writing his letters. At the age of possibly one hundred, writing the Apocalypse, pastor of the church at Ephesus.
As noble and brilliant the Christian life and ministry of John, think what the ministry of James might have been. He was always named first; James, and then John. But he was cut down just at the beginning of the preaching of the gospel. This Herod killed James with the sword. And then as though that were not enough, there’s another trouble added to the group already thrust upon.
Seeing that it pleased the people, this Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, seizes Simon Peter and places him in prison to reserve him against the day when he also will be executed. Do you see this in the text? Having killed James and having stretched forth his hands to crush the church, "because he saw it pleased the Jews" [Acts 12:3].
Am I reading it correctly? "It pleased the Jews." This is the tragic side of religion. It pleased the Jews to have a monster and a murderer on the throne of David. It pleased the Jews that they bathed their hands in the blood of the saints. First, the blessed Lord Jesus [Matthew 27:32-50], and then Stephen, the first Christian martyr [Acts 7:54-60], and then James the brother of John [Acts 12:2], and now, they are happy at the prospect of dipping their hands in the blood of Simon Peter [Acts 12:3-4]. This is the sad and tragic side of religion. When you take a book of history and turn the pages, there for centuries will you find the story of the bloody Inquisition. In the name of God, and in the name of Christ, and in the name of the church: men and women saintly who are burned at the stake, or drowned in the river.
When you enter Oxford University in England, first thing you will see is a monument depicting the burning at the stake of Latimer and Ridley, God’s preachers. First time I was in Zurich, I asked to be taken to the place in the Lamont River that flows out of the Zurich Lake where the great Anabaptist scholar and preacher Felix Manx was drowned. The first time I was in Vienna, I asked to be taken to the place where Balthazsar Hubmaier, one of the great Baptist preachers of all time, was burned at the stake. And then I asked to be taken to the place on the Danube River where, three days later, his wife, refusing to recant, to repudiate the faith of her husband, was bound and drowned in the waters.
That in the name of God and in the name of religion! Do you see one other thing here that I read in the text? He apprehended, he arrested Simon Peter, "Placed him in prison to keep him, intending after Easter, after Passover" [Acts 12:4], to murder him. Very meticulous in observing the rituals and the rites of religion, but at the same time, violating the very foundation upon which it is revealed to us; careful to observe the Easter season, the Passover season, but as soon as the Passover season was done with, then murder this great preacher of Christ.
I one time read about two men who robbed a bank. And in robbing the bank, had killed the president of the bank and left him in his own blood. And as the two robbers and murderers fled away, in their escape, they came to a little cafÃ©, and they went in to eat supper. And while they were eating supper, one of the men suddenly said, "Wait, wait, do you know what this day is? This is Friday, Friday." And he took the plates on which was meat and pushed them aside.
These are men who left behind the president of the bank, murdered and lying in his own blood, but to think of eating meat on Friday – unthinkable! That is the tragic side of religion. O God, no wonder the Lord said to the Jewish nation, "Your house is left unto you desolate" [Matthew 23:38]. And in 70 AD, the judgment of God fell. And no wonder when you read the story of the nations of Europe, it is written in human blood. Wars and wars and wars, like great ceaseless waves of the sea coming over, covering, drowning Europe in human blood; the tragedy, the tragic side, the sadness, the sad side of religion. Let that be for us an eternal lesson: always in sympathy and in love, preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, but never in bitterness and in hatred or by coercion.
Well, what do you do? Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him [Acts 12:5]. We don’t realize it, because we are trained to be persuaded of the great decisions of the world are made in legislative bodies or they’re made on battlefields. But not before God! The great field of battle and decision in God’s sight is made right there, looking down on a little group in prayer [Acts 12:5]. The whole universe looks down upon that. God does. The saints do. The angels do. All heaven does. The ages do. The great decisions of destiny and eternality are made by those people on their knees. You look at that. So Herod stretches forth his hands to crush the church and to murder its leaders [Acts 12:1-3].
That’s why I had you read the twelfth chapter of the Revelation, there standing the red dragon to devour the Child that the woman, crowned with the sun and the moon and the stars, was to bring forth, to devour the Child when it was born [Revelation 12:1-4]. What do you do when Herod the king is to crush the church? And what do you do when Satan is there to devour the Child? What do you do? This is what you do. You pray. You call for the people to get on their knees and to talk to God.
Isn’t this a very unusual thing? About that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to crush the church, well, why didn’t the Lord God paralyze his hands? Do you remember the story of King Jeroboam and the golden calves, the idolatry he introduced into Israel that finally destroyed the northern ten tribes? Do you remember the story of Jeroboam?
When a prophet came to denounce the king and to denounce the idols and to denounce the idolatrous worship, when he appeared, Jeroboam the king stretched forth his hands to seize him. And when he stretched forth his hands to seize God’s prophet, his arm was paralyzed and he could not draw back his hand. God judged him [1 Kings 13:1-4]. Remember that?
Well, why doesn’t God do it here? Herod the king stretches forth his hands to crush the church [Acts 12:1]. Why doesn’t God do something? Why didn’t God do something when Jesus was crucified? [Matthew 27:32-50]. Why didn’t God do something when Stephen was stoned? [Acts 7:54-60] Why didn’t God doing something here when James is murdered with the sword? [Acts 12:1-2]. And why doesn’t God doing something when Herod the king stretches forth his hands to crush the church? [Acts 12:1]. Why doesn’t God do something?
Now, I’m not the Lord. And God’s thoughts are as high above mine as the heavens are higher than the earth. And I cannot explain the permissive will of God. There are thousands of things of sorrow that come into your heart that I can’t explain. The child sickens and dies. The home is crushed. Your life is sent into abysmal sorrow and sadness. There are a thousand things that overwhelm us in life. And we cry to God, "Why?"
I do have just one observation that comes out of this text, and that is this. There’s not anything that will send us to our knees in agonizing prayer like trouble and sorrow, distress and overwhelming evil and wickedness. How do you fight against it? Just by pleading before God! Our prayers are so often cold, and listless, and lifeless. They are without blood and without tears and without agony. Why, you could record them and then punch a button and let them be said. They become routine. We shake a sorry, empty skeleton before the Lord and call that our religious faith and our praying. But when the time of great distress and trouble comes, you’ll find yourself praying with many tears, in agony of soul, real praying, real intercession. And it was so here. The church called together to intercede, to pray for Simon Peter who was to be executed by Herod the king [Acts 12:5].
Now, we continue. The same night after the Passover was done and the next day Peter is to be executed, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers; bound, one, one with an iron chain; sound asleep. Can you imagine that? At the dawn of the morning, at the noonday time, someday after the Passover was passed, the Passover is passed and the next day he is to be executed. He’s to be murdered himself. And he is sound asleep. Like an animal in his cage, waiting at the whim and at the wish and at the will and whatever hour suited the king, waiting to be slain – and he is sound asleep! Like Daniel in the lion’s den, perfectly quiet, unperturbed in heart or mind or thought; just waiting upon God [Daniel 6:16-23]. Isn’t that something?
You see, a Christian can sleep anytime, anywhere, anyhow. He belongs to God. He’s blood-bought. He’s been redeemed [1 Peter 1:18-19]. He’s in the possession of the hands of the Almighty. And his time is fixed. He will not die, we will not die, until He says so. Herod or no Herod, a quaternion of soldiers or no soldiers, chains or no chains, prison or no prison, walls or no walls – the Christian lives under the surveillance, in the sovereignty of Almighty God, and he can be quiet in the Lord.
Oh, what an amazing gift from heaven! Did you notice what I just read? When Herod seized Simon Peter, he put him in prison and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him [Acts 12:4]. Well, that’s an astonishing thing! This man Simon Peter is behind one wall, he’s behind another wall, he’s behind a third wall. He’s behind three gates. He’s inside of a cage of a dungeon. He is chained with this hand and chained with that hand. But that’s not enough. Herod assigns sixteen soldiers, four every six hours to guard him. Did you ever think about the unconscious compliment that the devil pays to the unseen power of the saints of God and the Almightiness of Jehovah? Did you ever think about that?
Jesus Christ is dead, dead, dead. So certainly His death that a Roman soldier took his iron spear and thrust it into His heart, broke His heart, cut His heart wide open. And the crimson of His life poured out: dead [John 19:34]. And they take His dead body and put it, they placed it in a sepulcher hewn out of solid rock. And then on the aperture they roll an enormous stone [Matthew 27:59-60]. And then as though they were not enough, they seal it with a Roman seal [Matthew 27:66].
But the devil is still not done with his frightfulness. He puts a guard there – to guard a dead man [Matthew 27:62-66]. Why, the disciples have all forsaken Him and fled [Matthew 26:56]. And the Lord God, Jesus, dead in that sepulcher, and the devil with all those soldiers there, guarding Him. The unconscious compliment, Satan, the devil, pays to the saints of God and the power of the Lord! And it is exactly the thing here.
Why, this man Simon Peter is behind iron gates, he’s behind stone walls. He’s chained with chains on either hand. And yet, Herod assigns sixteen soldiers to guard him! [Acts 12:4-6]. They were too many or too few, one or the other for certain. If all those soldiers were supposed to do is to guard Simon Peter, they are too many. You don’t need sixteen soldiers to guard a man who is behind three stone walls and behind three iron gates and chained on either side. You don’t need sixteen soldiers to guard an innocent preacher like that. But if perchance, if maybe, if perhaps those sixteen soldiers are fighting against God and against the powers of heaven and the hosts of glory, if they numbered sixteen million they are too few!
Do you remember – talking about that Book of Isaiah, preaching the thirty-[seventh] chapter of Isaiah – Sennacherib held Jerusalem and good king Hezekiah in an iron vise, and that night just one angel, one, just one angel came down from glory and passed over the vast Assyrian army of Sennacherib. And the next morning they counted 185,000 dead corpses [Isaiah 37:36]. I can understand Satan’s fear. And I can understand how he trembles in the presence of God. Sixteen soldiers to guard this preacher [Acts 12:4], behind walls, behind iron bars, with chains on either hand! No wonder, sixteen!
And then behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him. And a light shined in the prison; and he smote Peter on the side [Acts 12:7]. The next time that I preach in this chapter, I am going to follow something I never had seen before. The angel of the Lord smote Simon Peter. And then in the twenty-third verse the angel of the Lord smote Herod, and he died eaten up of worms [Acts 12:23]. The same angel of the Lord, smiting Simon Peter, "Wake up Simon, get up," to the glory of the deliverance of God. And the same angel of the Lord smiting Herod, and he is consumed and eaten up of worms! Oh, oh, what a difference! A difference between heaven and hell, difference between light and day, difference between up and down, difference between life and death, how a man is in the presence of the Lord.
So this Simon Peter for whom prayer has been made by the church, sound asleep, quiet assurance, and the angel wakes him up, "Get up, Peter, get up. Get up," and carries him through. Chains fall off, iron doors open, stone walls part. And Peter follows the angel of the Lord, free, delivered [Acts 12:7-10]. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? It says here, "And the Lord smote Herod, and he was eaten up of worms. But the Word of God grew and multiplied" [Acts 12:23-24].
My time is gone. Let me make this one observation. Herod the Great, kills the babes of Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16], but, but, the glorious beauty of the life in deliverance of the Child [Matthew 2:13-15]. And Herod Agrippa I seizes James and kills him [Acts 12:2], stretches forth his hand to oppress the church [Acts 12:1], incarcerates Simon Peter to murder him also [Acts 12:3-6]. Ah, oh, the triumph of evil and its strength and energy in the world, but how dark are these days, and how hopeless is history!
What’s the matter with us is we take in too small a field. We understand and we interpret in the small circumference of our life. Our little line here, and then it is chopped off into darkness, or into viciousness, or into terror, or into death. And we are plunged into despair. Oh, this dark world! Oh, the triumph of sin! Oh, the villainy and wickedness in this earth! O God!
But we have to remember God takes in the whole circumference. You just wait, just "Wait, I say on the Lord" [Psalm 27:14]. He is not done. This last chapter has not been written. Dark and evil days, the antediluvians in the time of Noah [Genesis 6-7]; but wait, but wait, God’s not done. Dark and evil times in the days of Abraham, when the whole world was in idolatry [Genesis 13:13, 15:16]; but you wait, you wait, God’s not through. Those tragic days in the fiery furnace with Israel in the land of Egypt [Exodus 1:11-14]; but you wait, God’s not done. Those awesome days of apostasy in the days of Elijah [1 Kings 16:33, 17:1] – but wait, God’s not done. The tragedy of the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of the house of the God and the people of the Lord [2 Chronicles 36:14-21]; but wait, God is not done. And the delivery of the Prince of Peace and the Son of Glory into the hands of the Romans who crucified Him [Matthew 27:26-50]; wait, God’s not done. The failures of the church and the tragedies that you read on the pages of ecclesiastical history; wait, God is not done. Even in the awesome years of the Tribulation, in Revelation 5 through 19 [Revelation 5:1-19:21], wait, God’s not done. He has yet another and a final chapter.
He intervenes, just as He did here – sent His angel and delivered Simon Peter [Acts 12:7-10]; a picture, a harbinger, when He shall intervene from heaven. And it will be in His power He establishes a kingdom of millennial holiness and righteousness [Revelation 20:1-7]. And we have our new heaven and our new earth and our new city and our new body and our new home [Revelation 21:1-5].
"Wait, I say, upon the Lord" [Psalm 27:14]. He is able to speak to the dust of the ground [Genesis 2:7] – that represents our very ashes. The sound of the trumpet, the call of the archangel [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17] – God is able. "Wait, I say, upon the Lord." Don’t you be discouraged. And don’t sometimes be persuaded we’ve lost the war. It is His. And He never fails. And He won’t fail you. Not the least of His saints who place their trust in Jesus will God ever fail [Matthew 18:6]. Wait on the Lord.
We are going to sing our song of appeal in a moment. And while we sing that hymn of invitation, you, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you while we sing the appeal, down one of these stairways on either side, on either side, down one of these stairways, and there is time and to spare; down one of these aisles, in the press of people on this lower floor, "Here I am pastor. I have decided for God and I am on the way. May the Lord write my name down in that Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15]. I am a fellow pilgrim with you and the sweet dear people of this precious church. I want to be enrolled in the family of the Lord, and I want to join the church of God’s saints. Here I am. I am on the way. These are my children and this is my wife. We are all coming." Or just you, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming down that stairway, coming down this aisle, "Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I have given my heart to the Lord." Do it now. Make it now. The greatest decision you could ever make in your life, "I am coming in obedience to the call of the Spirit of God in my heart, and here I stand." May angels attend you while you come, while we stand and while we sing.
THE TOUCH OF AN ANGEL’S HAND
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Acts 12:1-11, 24
I. Trouble(Acts 12:1)
A. Troubles never come alone
1. Famine, drought, suffering, hunger
2. King Herod Agrippa I to crush theinfant church
3. James killed; prepares to execute Peter
B. Pleased the Jews(Acts 12:3)
1. Monster on the throne of David
2. Tragic side of religion
3. Careful to observe Passover before murdering the preacher(Acts 12:4)
II. Prayer(Acts 12:5)
A. The real battlefield of history(Revelation 12:4, 15)
B. The mystery of God’s permissive will(1 Kings 13:1-5)
1. An answer why the agony
III. Confidence and assurance(Acts 12:6)
A. Peter is sound asleep
B. Christian in God’s hands – live under surveillance and sovereignty of God
C. The four quaternions of soldiers
1. Unconscious compliment of the devil
2. Too many or too few (Isaiah 38:36)
A. Angel of the Lord smote Peter – awakened to freedom(Acts 12:7)
B. The word of God grew and multiplied(Acts 12:26)
1. We tend to see only the small, and despair
2. Last chapter has not been written