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Persecution and Prayer

Acts 12:1-5
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 met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival 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. (NIVUK)

Much historical background is available on King Herod Agrippa 1, a corrupt ruler with an equally corrupt family history. Suffice it to say that he was neither respected in Rome nor Israel and he sought whatever opportunity he could to gain popularity and cultivate his ego. It was now acceptable to persecute the church and so Herod joined in, arresting some of the church leaders including the apostle James.

Executing James increased his credibility among the Jews so he thought that he would do the same with Peter. But as it was Passover time again, Herod knew the pilgrims would riot if there was a public beheading during the festival (Matthew 26:5). So the king ensured that Peter was securely locked in the prison guarded by four soldiers on each six-hour watch. Herod's intention was to show the nation that he would not tolerate the followers of Jesus and so improve his credibility as a puppet ruler.

Two things were going on at the same time. Peter was in prison, awaiting his public execution and having no apparent way out of the situation. And, the church was praying. The text says that they prayed earnestly, with a real sense of the crisis which would occur if their leading apostle was killed. Also they loved him and desperately wanted God to save him from the executioner's sword.

Persecution and prayer go together. Often we do not pray as we ought because the situation is not sufficiently urgent or critical. When persecution is not close to home we may also ignore it as 'not my problem'. But the hatred of the world should drive the church to prayer, so that the love of God might be seen by the world. Of course we do not need persecution to pray: but believers, who have everything set against them, know that only the Lord is able to deliver them (Romans 15:31). So when our circumstances are easy, considering the needs of the persecuted church will sharpen our faith and give us real fellowship with brothers and sisters we may never see, until we meet them in the glory of Christ's presence. It is easy to say, "I'll pray for you" - but what the Lord wants to hear, is our heartfelt prayer.

Saviour God. Thank You for the many prayers You have answered, showing Your power and defying the powers of evil in this world. Forgive me for my variable prayer life, and the weakness of fellowship I feel with Your people undergoing persecution. Please strengthen me to pray for Your church with love and compassion, confident in Your almighty power. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams