PART 6 THE FACETS OF DEATH
PART 6 THE FACETS OF DEATH
WHEN THE APOSTLE PETER WAS APPREHENDED BY HEROD, WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE BY THE CHURCH?
We are told in Scripture that those who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. 2 Timothy 3:12 There might be a particular time in a believer’s walk with God when their testimony is not well received by others, whether they be acquaintances, friends, family, or civil authorities. This reaction might even include physical harm. Hopefully, if this were to happen to any one of us, there will be fellow believers, if they were aware of our situation, who would decide to do something on our behalf. Do you have any idea as to what this could be? Let’s find out by going to the book of Acts.
Suggested Reading: Acts 12:1-24
Herod the King, otherwise known as King Agrippa 1, the grandson of Herod the Great, was appointed ruler of Samaria and Judea (all of Palestine) by Caligula, the Roman Emperor. One of his aspirations was to find favor with the Jewish populace. And so, he attempted to do this by apprehending the apostle James, the son of Zebedee, having him killed by the sword (beheading). Just like the story of Stephen, where was God? How could God just stand by and, in this instance, allow one of His apostles, who was with His Son Jesus during His three years of public ministry on the earth, be taken and executed?
3-4 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
But Herod didn’t stop here. He proceeded to apprehend the apostle Peter and put him in prison, and like James, he presumably would be put to death. Scripture tells us that during the night shift four guards would rotate every three hours during the four watches of the night. Peter would be put in chains with each hand-bound to one soldier while the other two soldiers would guard the main gate. It looks like there was no escape. Peter was done. I wonder what was going through his mind. Could it be that he was aware that James had already been killed and that he himself was in a place of no return?
However, the trial of Peter was placed on hold because the Feast of Unleavened Bread was at hand. This feast was actually two feasts combined together over a period of eight days, with the first day being used to observe the feast of the Passover. Herod decided to wait until this period of time had elapsed before undertaking this trial.
So, what was it that transpired differently involving the death of the apostle James and the impending end of the apostle Peter?
5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
What differed is that in this instance, the assembly of the church at Jerusalem met in groups continuously at different private houses and prayed (urgently with perseverance – steady persistence in [the] course of action18) for his safe release.
Did the prayers for Peter’s supernatural deliverance from prison have any effect? Did Herod wind up letting him go?
7-10 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off 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. 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 were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
What we know is that the angel of the Lord appeared before Peter in the cell, causing his chains to fall off from his hands, providing him with safe passage throughout the prison along with opening the iron gate that led into the city. It appears that the prayers of the church were answered. Peter was taken out of the jail not by the change of heart of Herod but by the angel of the Lord.
On the other hand, I’m not aware of prayer being offered for Stephen the deacon, and neither am I aware of prayer being offered for the apostle James. Am I saying that if someone in the church is in grave danger for the faith and the church prays for them that they will, beyond a shadow of the doubt, be set free or delivered? I would not draw this conclusion but what I would say is that if something of grave consequence were about to happen, the assembly of the saints, whoever and wherever they are, should immediately take upon themselves this course of action. Here is a question for us to consider.
Should the assembly of believers pray for themselves and other believers that are going through persecution that God would deliver them from impending death if it is His will?
I don’t see why not. What I would like you to read next is an article on how to pray for others who are facing persecution. I think you will find this insightful.
5 WAYS TO PRAY FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH
When we read headlines about people groups being persecuted for their faith, it may seem—at first glance—that there’s nothing we can do. After all, in many cases, we live thousands of miles [away,] and we often feel over-extended in just managing our own families and responsibilities. Nevertheless, our hearts yearn for a way to ease the hardship of Christians who are discriminated against, harassed, unjustly arrested, beaten, [imprisoned,] or even killed by regimes who oppose Jesus Christ.
In this passage and in many other places, we find the Bible offers practical insight for how to pray for those facing [persecution,] including these five compiled below.
- Pray that whatever their circumstances, God will give persecuted Christians the right words.
In Ephesians 6:19-20, Paul asks fellow believers to “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
- Pray that persecuted Christians will understand and find peace in the sufficiency of God’s grace, even in their weaknesses.
While facing physical threat, especially, Christians may be put into scenarios where they must make instantaneous choices under great pressure. For this reason, we pray for the persecuted church to understand the promises of [2 Corinthians 12:9,] which says, [“My] grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in [weakness.”] [Therefore,] I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
- Pray that Christians facing hardship will draw from a source of power larger than themselves.
Christians facing persecution often have very little control over their lives, including their own safety and health. They often battle against government accusers that do not provide them the right to a fair trial or representation. Because of this, it’s critical to pray that believers in trying circumstances are able to see, like Paul, that their hardship helps them rely on a God who is far more powerful than them.
“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1:7-9, “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
- Pray God would be present with persecuted Christians in their hardship, protecting them according to his will.
In Matthew 26:39, Jesus Himself faced an unjust trial. He prayed, “My [Father] if it is [possible,] let this cup pass from me,” which is the first part of his prayer that inspires us to ask God to deliver persecuted Christians from harm. At the same time, the second part of Jesus’ prayer goes hand-in-hand with praying this request. “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” Part of our prayer can be that God will deliver Christians from chains, as he did for Peter in Acts 12. But we also pray that if God does not see fit to supernaturally intervene in such a way, that he will intervene to strengthen these believers no matter the outcome.
- Pray their witness would inspire those who seek to harm them.
In Luke 6:27-31, the apostle said, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” When Christians are able to maintain perspective like this, their actions are often noticed by those who persecute them. In the case of Paul and Silas, in Acts 16:25, their behavior—praying and singing and praise in the face of hardship—were observed by both their jailers and other prisoners. In acting out of faith despite their circumstances, they were able to share the gospel with their captors in an opportune moment, and the jailer and his family came to believe, as well (Acts 16:34).19
I think that this article presents to us a better understanding of what to pray for when other believers or ourselves are being persecuted for our faith. Yes, pray that God would deliver them or us if it is His will, but also pray that while we or others are in the midst of persecution that we will operate according to the divine perspective, i.e., the perspective of the Word of God and the leading of the Spirit. And remember, if we know of a fellow believer who is at death’s door because of persecution, pray collectively for him/her and trust in the One who is always available to intervene according to His plan and will.
The next story we will take a look at is that of a believer who evidenced a godly testimony whom the forces of evil tried to portray as someone who followed God only because of the material blessings that abounded in his life. However, God, in turn, used him as evidence to them that whether someone who believes in Him has their riches taken away, has become the object of physical harm by evil forces, or has lost what might be what is considered most precious, i.e., his family that this wouldn’t deter him from operating in the integrity (faithfulness or confidence in God) of his heart.
19Sarah Cunningham. “5 ways to pray for the persecuted church”. 2017. OpenDoors.
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