In Acts Chapter 12 Luke provides an account of how King Herod tried to appease the Jews by executing James (v2) and by arresting Peter (v3) and plotting to have him executed also. But, King Herod’s plans were thwarted by God’s intervention (vv 7-10).
On this occasion God acted in response to the fervent prayers of His people (v5), yet when Peter went to meet his friends, they were astonished. They could scarcely believe that their prayers had been answered (vv 15-16).
But, there is more. For this story not only highlights the powerful relationship between prayer and God’s actions — but it also shows how God acts towards those who oppose His purposes and try to exalt themselves (vv 17-24).
In a world where there is so much suffering and persecution, the good news is that God’s good purposes will ultimately triumph over all those who oppose Him. What can we learn from Acts chapter 12?
- When the church prays fervently the cause of the gospel can triumph and God’s enemies can be brought to nothing.
- Although God’s purposes cannot be thwarted by His enemies, God’s servants, including every one of us, are not exempt from suffering and, even, from martyrdom.
There are two powerful lessons we can draw from this story that can have a huge impact on our understanding of God, on the power of prayer and the triumph of the gospel in a time of immense persecution and suffering. King Herod and the Jews were directly responsible for James’ death and for Peter’s imprisonment. But there is something going on behind the scenes here. Satan was the one who was orchestrating these events. Satan’s goal was to destroy the church while it was still in its infancy — and it continues to be his goal to this day.
Satan ‘knows that his time is short’ (Revelation 12:12) and so, unable to get to Christ, he is making war ‘on those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus’ (Revelation 12:17).
This is the basic truth behind the persecution of Christians today. The world and the devil continue to persecute Jesus through His people (see Acts 9:4-5) just as Jesus said they would: ‘If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also’ (John 15:20). The early Christians understood this, and that is why they knelt down and prayed fervently.
You and I today need to come to grips with this truth too and engage in fervent prayer for those who are being persecuted for their faith in faraway lands and closer to home.