P.Allan“The days of gospel persecution in the United States no longer just hang on the distant horizon; they are already here, at least for some. It’s beginning with the bakers, florists, and photographers. Before long, the consensus may be that faithful biblical exposition is ‘hate speech’ (John Piper, Desiring God Ministries, Think It Not Strange).  Fear mongering?   Hardly.  The signs are here.  And for some, the substance has started.

But Acts 12 gives us Jesus-followers confidence and informs believers and unbelievers alike that the State can never stop the church.

King Herod’s Persecution (12:1-5)

Herod Agrippa (10 B.C. – 44 A.D.) ruled Palestine for Rome.  He was said to be “a pious observer of Jewish practices and a ruthless suppressor of minorities when they became disruptive”  (William J. Larkin, Jr., A Commentary on the Book of Acts).  For reasons we’re not told he began to persecute the church.  James,

John’s brother, he had killed.  Peter he had arrested, perhaps to meet the same fate.

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.  When he 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 kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

How could the Christians withstand the king who represented the Roman Empire?  Their only weapon was prayer.  Author Luke tells us “the church was earnestly praying to God for him”.  The Greek word, ektenos, implies they were praying fervently and continually.  James’ death was a blow to the believers; they didn’t want Peter to be martyred too.

At this moment, as I wrote in “Think It Not Strange” (https://theoldpreacher.com/think-it-not-strange/), we have brothers and sisters in Christ somewhere in the world suffering persecution.  Lois and I include them in our daily prayer time together.  Although we don’t know their names or even exactly where they are, the Lord does.  I believe not only does the Lord use our prayers for them; praying like this prepares us for the time persecution hits closer to home.

Peter’s Angelic Rescue (12:6-19)

For the sake of space I’ll tell this part of the story . . . Between two soldiers, bound with two chains, on the eve of his trial, Peter was sleeping in prison.  Was it the Lord giving his beloved rest on such a night?  Suddenly a radiant angel appeared.  He poked Peter awake.  “Hurry, get up!”  As Peter did, his chains fell off.  “Get dressed! Follow me!”  Peter thought he was dreaming.  They walked past Guard Station #1, then #2.  As they approached the outside gate, it opened by itself.  One block away the angel disappeared.  Suddenly it dawned on him that this was real. 

He headed for John’s (also called Mark) mother Mary’s house where he knew a prayer meeting was being held for him.  A knock on the outer door brought a servant girl, Rhoda.  Hoping to get inside without being seen, he called out.  Rhoda recognized his voice and, instead of opening the door, was so happy she ran back inside and announced, “It’s Peter!”  They thought she was crazy.  So, with Peter standing nervously outside still knocking, the prayer meeting turned into a dispute.  “It’s Peter!”  “You”re crazy!”  “No, really; I know his voice.”  You have too much wine with dinner?”  “I’m telling you, it’s Peter!”  “You’re dreaming!”  Finally, some wise soul suggested they open the door.  Presto!  There stood Peter.  After explaining his rescue, he set off for the church safe house.

In the morning, as you can imagine, a bit of a brouhaha broke out at the city jail.  King Herod was, well let’s just say, not pleased.  Furious, he ordered a search, but no Peter anywhere.  Then he interrogated the guards who had nothing to say.  Herod had no one left to kill, so the guards suffered his wrath.

Why did the Lord rescue Peter and allow James be put to the sword?  In Acts 26:16,17 Paul explained his conversion.  The Lord appeared to him and told him I am “delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you . . . ”  Implication:  the Lord’s hand protects his servants so they can fulfill their calling.  Presumably, when they finally do, the Lord calls them home.  James had done his job.  Peter had more work to do.

From “ground level”, though, the State seems to have won.  Just ten years after Jesus’ resurrection, one of the twelve apostles has been beheaded.  Despite Peter’s escape, Herod seems obsessed with mutilating the church one member at a time.  However . . .

King Herod’s Death (12:20-23)

One day conducting ordinary kingly business . . .

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.

Church members may be persecuted and suffer real loss.  We may even be martyred.  (Only the Lord knows what awaits us in days of growing gospel persecution.)  But death is the corridor to Jesus.  And eventually, the persecutors become worm food.

The Multiplied Spread of God’s Word (12:24,25).

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.  When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.

Focus on the first sentence.  James has gone to Jesus.  The king got eaten by worms and died a drawn out, painful, humiliating death.  “But”—I love that word in these battles!  “But the word of God continued to increase and spread.”  

Be encouraged.  Be informed.  Regardless of what persecution may come, the State can’t stop the Church of Jesus Christ!

Celebrate that with the video above.  The music style may not be your kind, but the song is ours to sing because of our Lord!