Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament account of the spiritual body of the Lord Jesus which is the Church as it was written in the book of Acts by Luke. More specifically, today’s passage begins with the first verse of the twelfth chapter and continues through to the twelfth verse of the thirteenth chapter. “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands 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 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. 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: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the site, 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, a nd 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 the 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. 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 the expectation of the people of the Jews. And when he had considered the thing he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was mark; where many were gathered together praying” (Acts 12:1-12).
“And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed and went into another place. Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode” (Acts 12:13-19).
“And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country. And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, it is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. But the word of God grew and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark” (Acts 12:20-25).
“Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister. And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-Jesus: which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, and said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. Then the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the doctrine of the Lord” (Acts 13:1-12).
When you come to the twelfth chapter you will find persecution continuing in the church yet not as you had previously read in the eighth and ninth chapters. If you turn and direct your attention to the words found in the eighth chapter of this New Testament book you will find it written how after the death of the Stephen a great persecution broke out against the church. As a direct result of this great persecution which broke out against the church in the city of Jerusalem all the brethren save the apostles were scattered throughout Judaea and Samaria. What is found in the opening verses of the eighth chapter of this New Testament book is a man by the name of Saul consenting to the death of Stephen and the garments of this righteous man filled with the Holy Ghost, filled with faith and power and filled with wisdom being laid at the feet of Saul. Moreover you will read of Saul beginning to wreak havoc in the midst of the early church as he would enter into the homes of the brethren as he dragged men and women out committing them unto prison. For the rest of the eighth chapter there is very little that is written concerning the persecution of the church there in the city of Jerusalem and it isn’t until you come to the ninth chapter where the narrative of persecution begins again. In the opening verses of the ninth chapter of this New Testament book you will find Saul continuing to breathe out threatenings and slaughters against the brethren and securing letters from the chief priests to journey unto Damascus and bring back as many as he found who were of the way unto Jerusalem before casting them into prison.
It is in the eighth and ninth chapters of this New Testament book you read of the great persecution that broke out against the church in the midst of the city of Jerusalem and when you come to the eleventh chapter of this same New Testament book you will find that the catalyst and spark which lit the fuse of persecution was the death of Stephen. If you begin reading with and from the nineteenth verse of the eleventh chapter you will find that those who were scattered abroad as a result of the great persecution which broke out against the church journeyed as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch preaching the word to none but the Jews only. Moreover it is in this verse where you find Luke writing of this great persecution and how it centered upon and emerged as a direct response to the death of Stephen who was the church’s first martyr. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this for one of the major themes which is present in the New Testament book of Acts is the persecution of the brethren and saints of God. What’s more is that you see glimpses of this persecution in the fourth and fifth chapters of this book as you find the apostles being twice imprisoned in the city of Jerusalem because they preached in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Moreover you will find the apostles being threatened by the religious rulers and leaders of that day as they sought to silence their voices from preaching concerning this man named Jesus of Nazareth. As if this weren’t enough you will find their desire and intention of killing them and were it not for the intervention of Gamaliel who was a respected Pharisee among them who stood up against them and cautioned them concerning their actions the apostles might have been killed. It’s actually quite remarkable to read that which is found in the fifth and ninth chapters for within these two chapters we find at the very heart of persecution—not only fighting against God Himself but also persecuting Jesus of Nazareth.
In the fifth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find Gamaliel speaking unto the entire council of two different men who rose up among them in their midst thinking and believing themselves to be someone. These two men gathered unto themselves followers who believed in their cause and they endured among men for a season. Eventually, however, the leaders of these two groups would be killed and those who followed them would be scattered throughout the land. It would be Gamaliel who would declare unto the religious council that if what the apostles were doing was not of God it would fizzle and dwindle out just like those previous movements had. If, however, what they were doing was indeed of God then the actions the religious leaders and rulers took against them would indeed be fighting against God. I am convinced there is some tremendous truth found in this passage of Scripture for it brings us face to face with the inherent danger of fighting against God when men seek to rise up against His holy servants in the earth who preach the name of the Lord Jesus and who offer healing in His name. I find it absolutely astonishing when reading the words found in the fifth and ninth chapter for at the very heart and core of the persecution of the saints was not a struggle or contention with men but rather a struggle and contention with the living God and with His only begotten Son whom He had received unto Himself in heaven. If there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand concerning persecution and the actions of others against the church it’s that those who would lift their hand up against the saints and brethren of the Lord Jesus Christ are those who would dare fight against God Himself—and not only this but they would also persecute the Lord Jesus Himself.
WOULD YOU DARE FIGHT AGAINST GOD AND PERSECUTE JESUS? The more you read the words which are found in the New Testament book of Acts the more you will encounter the activity of the person and presence of the Holy Spirit. There is absolutely no denying or mistaking this reality within the New Testament book of Acts for one of the most prominent and dominant themes in the entire book is indeed the presence of the Holy Spirit in the earth among men which would begin on the day of Pentecost. Time and time again you will read of the Holy Ghost being released and poured out among men from those one-hundred and twenty who were in the upper room to the Samaritans who received the Holy Ghost when the apostles Peter and John came unto them to Cornelius and his entire household receiving the Holy Spirit upon hearing the word of the Lord Jesus. Throughout the entire New Testament book of Acts you will indeed and will in fact read of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and will even read of the Holy Spirit catching away Philip after he had baptized the Ethiopian eunuch in water, you will read of Stephen being full of the Holy Spirit, you will read of Philip being filled with the Holy Spirit, and you will read of Barnabas being full of the Holy Spirit. Moreover you will also read of Saul of Tarsus after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and after spending three days praying and fasting while blind receiving the Holy Ghost. There is absolutely no denying the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the New Testament book of Acts for at the very heart and center of the church was the presence of the Holy Ghost whom the Lord Jesus would send from the right hand of the Father which was in heaven.
As surely as the New Testament book of Acts demonstrates the wonderful presence and power of the person of the Holy Ghost there is another theme and narrative that runs perpendicular and side by side with His presence. The more you read this New Testament book the more you will find that with the presence and power of the Holy Ghost comes a tremendous persecution which would break out against the apostles and against the brethren. While the Lord Jesus walked upon the earth as the Word made flesh He would be the target of the envy, the rage, the anger, the malice and the persecution of the Jews and of the religious rulers and leaders. The apostles themselves would witness and behold the great persecution that would indeed break out against Jesus of Nazareth—specifically within the region of Judaea and in the city of Jerusalem. In fact the entire New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle John describes the great persecution against Jesus within the city of Jerusalem as well as in Judaea. Moreover it was even written in this New Testament gospel that Jesus would no more walk in Jewry because they sought to kill Him. It was in the fifth chapter where you find the Jews rising up against Him in persecution because He healed a man on the sabbath and it is in this same chapter you find them desiring to kill Him because He spoke of God as being His Father thus making Himself equal with God. Time and time again within this New Testament gospel—and not just this gospel but the three synoptic gospels—you will find the Lord Jesus experiencing the tremendous persecution which would break out against Him and how the religious leaders and rulers continually sought to put Him to death. Eventually the religious leaders and rulers of that day would succeed in bringing about the death of Jesus as after the betrayal of Judas you will find Jesus being delivered unto Pilate who would ultimately sentence and condemn Him to death.
What makes this concept of persecution so incredibly intriguing is when you consider the fact that so long as Jesus walked upon the earth as the Word made flesh together with His disciples and followers they would essentially be shielded from such persecution. During those three and a half years Jesus walked upon the earth as the living Word which was made flesh that God might dwell with us it would be He Himself who would draw the anger, the angst, the malice, the rage and the wrath of the Jews and their religious leaders and rulers. When, however, Jesus departed from this earth and ascended unto the right hand of the Father things would change in the midst of the earth. It is indeed true that on the day of Pentecost the Holy Ghost would be sent from the Father by the Lord Jesus and it was indeed true that the presence and power of the Holy Ghost would be sent that the apostles and followers of Jesus might be witnesses unto and for Him beginning in Jerusalem first and ultimately unto all Judaea, Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. It is true the Lord Jesus instructed His followers to tarry and abide in the midst of the city of Jerusalem until they be endued with power from on high and yet that power was about to bring more than simply speaking with other tongues as they were given utterance and more than simply preaching the word of the Lord Jesus and healing in His name. If you truly take the time to read the words which are found in this New Testament book you will find that the person, the presence and the power of the Holy Ghost would indeed bring with Him persecution of the saints and of the brethren. This isn’t to say that the Holy Ghost was the author of the persecution but that with this Comforter and companion who would come alongside the apostles and followers of Jesus would come a tremendous persecution which would break out against them.
It would be in the fourth and fifth chapters we find this persecution initially being lobbied against the apostles as they would be imprisoned, as they would be threatened and as they would be beaten before being released and commanded to no longer preach in the name of the Lord Jesus. This would entirely and altogether change when you come to the sixth chapter for within the sixth and seventh chapters you will find one from among the saints and brethren being at the very heart and center of the persecution which would break against the church there in the city of Jerusalem. Luke writes of Stephen that he was a man who was full of faith and power and performed many great wonders and miracles during those days. It would be during those days there would be those who would seek to dispute, reason and contend with him and yet could not withstand the wisdom and spirit by which he spoke. Filled with envy, jealousy, rage, bitterness and offense they would drag Stephen before the religious council where they would raise up false witnesses against him to accuse him of words and actions he had not committed. Stephen would indeed stand up in the midst of the council and would speak to them of the history of their fathers and of the nation itself beginning with Abraham whom the Lord called from Ur of the Chaldeans. Eventually Stephen would speak directly unto the religious council and accuse them of being stiffnecked and hard of heart. When the religious council and those who were gathered together heard the words which Stephen spoke they brought him out of the city where they stoned him to death thus making him the first martyr of the early church. The death of Stephen would be the match and the fuse that would light the flame and fire of persecution which would break out against the Church during those days.
It is important for us to recognize and understand this concept and how necessary it is when reading this New Testament book for although this is indeed a book about the presence and power of the Holy Ghost, preaching in the name of the Lord Jesus and healing in the name of the Lord Jesus it would also be a book about persecution which would break out against the church. In the eighth chapter of this New Testament book we find and read of a man named Saul of Tarsus who consented to the death of Stephen and who would begin wreaking havoc against the church by entering into houses and homes dragging men and women out and committing them to prison. In the ninth chapter of this same book we find Saul continuing to breathe out threats and slaughter against the church and seeking to travel unto Damascus with letters secured from the high priests that if he found any who were followers of the way he could bring them bound back unto Jerusalem and cast them into prison. Of course we know that it would be on this road to Damascus Saul would experience and encounter the Lord Jesus whom he was persecuting during those days. We know that Saul was immediately blind after his encounter with the Lord Jesus and that he had to be led by the hand into the city of Damascus where he would spend three days praying and fasting. During these three days of prayer and fasting Saul of Tarsus would see a vision of a man by the name of Ananias who would come unto him and lay hands on him that he might receive his sight as well as receiving the Holy Spirit. Upon the laying on of hands by Ananias Saul would not only receive his sight but would also receive the Holy Ghost and would be baptized. What makes this narrative of Saul so incredibly unique is that both in Damascus and in the city of Jerusalem the Jews which were present in each city sought to put him to death. Oh stop and consider how this one who once persecuted the church, this one who once wreaked havoc in the church by committing men and women to prison and this one who might have even consented to the death of certain of the saints of God would now himself be a target of those who would seek to put him to death.
What we find in this New Testament book is absolutely astounding when you consider that after the conversion of Saul there would be a period of rest among all the churches as the persecution would seemingly be squashed and brought to an end. There was a period of time and a season when persecution against the church would subside and the churches would experience a tremendous amount of rest and peace in the midst of the land. If you read the thirty-first verse of the ninth chapter you will read how after Saul departed from Jerusalem and was brought down to Caesarea before being sent off unto Tarsus the churches had rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria and were edified as they walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost. Not only this but it would be during those days when the disciples continued to multiply and the church continued to grow and increase in the regions of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria. REST! EDIFED! WALKING IN THE FEAR OF THE LORD! WALKING IN THE COMFORT OF THE HOLY GHOST! MULTIPLIED! Oh how absolutely incredible it is to read how after Saul of Tarsus departed from the city of Jerusalem and was brought down to Caesarea where he would eventually be sent forth unto Tarsus the churches throughout those three regions would indeed have and experience rest round about them. Much like the kingdom of Israel during the days of Solomon son of David and king of Israel experienced rest round about them from all the nations and peoples in the earth so also would the church and the brethren experience rest throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria.
When, however, you come to the final verses of the eleventh chapter as well as the twelfth chapter you will find that there were certain events which would take place in the midst of those days. Beginning with the nineteenth verse of the eleventh chapter you will read how those who were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch preaching the word to none by the Jews only. Some of those who went out preaching were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which when they came unto Antioch spoke unto the Grecians preaching the Lord Jesus. Luke writes and records how the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. News and report of what was taking place in Antioch reached the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem and they sent forth Barnabas that he should go as far as Antioch. Upon the arrival of Barnabas in Antioch he witnessed and beheld the grace of God and was glad and exhorted them all that with purpose of heart they should cleave unto the Lord. Moreover Luke writes of Barnabas that he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, and how much people were added to the Lord. In addition to this we find Barnabas departing from Antioch for Tarsus for to seek to Saul that he might united together with him once more. You will recall that it was Barnabas who came alongside Saul in the midst of the city of Jerusalem and not only presented him unto the apostles as one who had seen the Lord Jesus but also as one who had preached boldly the gospel and word of the Lord Jesus. It was Barnabas who was a brother unto Saul in the midst of the city of Jerusalem and presented him unto the apostles as one who had seen the Lord Jesus and had been entirely and altogether changed and transformed by the power of the Holy Ghost and the Lord Jesus Christ. Here in the eleventh chapter you will find Saul and Barnabas being united and brought together once more as when Barnabas found him in Tarsus he brought him unto Antioch. For a whole year Saul and Barnabas assembled themselves together with the church and taught many people. It would be in Antioch where the disciples would first be called Christians—a name which has been present in the earth ever since then.
As you come to the final verses of the eleventh chapter you will find that while there might very well have been rest among all the churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria there would be something else that would strike at the very heart of the earth. If you begin reading with and from the twenty-seventh verse you will find how in those days—the days of Saul and Barnabas being assembled and gathered together unto the disciples which were at Antioch—there came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. One of those prophets was a man by the name of Agabus who signified by the Spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world—a dearth that would come to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. It would in response to this dearth that the disciples—ever many according to his ability—determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea which they sent to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul. This is actually quite wonderful and beautiful when you think about it for what we find within this passage of Scripture is the church and the brethren still purposing and determining to give of themselves and of their possessions unto the distribution and well-being of the saints and brethren. In the final verses of the eleventh chapter we read of a great dearth and famine that would strike the earth and how those in Antioch determined according to their ability to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea. I am convinced that in order to truly understand this it is necessary to consider the words which are found in the second chapter of this New Testament book as well as the words which are found in the final verses of the fourth chapter:
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:41-47).
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:32-37).
It is absolutely necessary that we read and pay attention to what is found in each of these passages of Scripture for what we find here is the church and brethren viewing nothing they had as their own but having all things common with men. Within these two chapters we find men and women selling all they had and making distribution unto and among the brethren as each man had need. While we might very well say this was the grace and provision of the Lord Jesus for His church I am convinced that it might also be said that what we witness here is also the church being self-sufficient and self-sustaining as the brethren and disciples would not consider anything they had as their own. Because of and as a result of this selflessness we find the brethren selling all they had that distribution might be made unto and among the brethren that all might be cared for and looked after. In fact this concept of distribution and ministration was found at the beginning of the sixth chapter for it was this concept of ministration that was at the very heart of the murmuring which the Grecians brought against the Jews for their widows were being neglected in the daily ministration. Stephen together with Philip and five other men were chosen from among the brethren as servants of the Lord who would assist with and oversee this daily ministration that the apostles might commit themselves to prayer and the preaching of the word of the Lord Jesus. [I feel a great need to pause right here and consider the preaching which took place during the days of the early church. The more I think about the preaching of the apostles the more I am brought face to face with the fact that they didn’t develop series during those days. The apostles during those days did not read the Scripture and come up with cleverly crafted sermons which had titles and PowerPoint presentations or anything which we use during our modern generation. The only thing the apostles knew and preached was the Lord Jesus and Him crucified, buried, resurrected on the third day and ascended unto the Father].
I sit here today thinking about and considering the words which are found in the New Testament book of Acts and I can’t help but encounter and come face to face with the fact that it wasn’t merely preaching that so angered and offended the Jews and the religious leaders. If you take the time to read the words which are found in this book you will find that preaching alone wasn’t at the heart of the bitterness, the offense, the anger, the malice and the rage of the Jews and their religious rulers and leaders. As you read this New Testament book you will find that it was the preaching of the Lord Jesus that so angered and offended them. What’s more is that it wasn’t merely preaching of the Lord Jesus but preaching Him crucified and buried in the earth before being raised from death to life on the third day. The apostles preached unto and among men the one thing that made all the difference in their lives and that which was at the very heart of who they were—namely, the person of the Lord Jesus who was the eternal and only begotten Son of the living God. The apostles preached the name of the Lord Jesus and how despite the fact He was delivered unto Pilate to be crucified according to the predeterminate counsel of the living God by and through the anger and offense of men He would be raised from death to life on the third day. The apostles would preach none other than the Lord Jesus and it was the apostle Paul when writing unto the Corinthian saints who would emphatically declare that he purposed to know nothing among them save Christ and Him crucified. When the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Rome he emphatically declared that he was not ashamed of the gospel of the Lord Jesus for he knew and understood that it was the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and then unto the Gentiles.
The reason I feel a need to pause here and speak of this preaching of the Lord Jesus is because I can’t help but wonder how much of our preaching in this present generation would have offended the Jews and their religious leaders. What’s more is I can’t help but think about and consider what would happen in our churches if we focused on nothing but preaching the Lord Jesus and Him crucified, buried, raised from death to life and ascended unto the right hand of the Father. This is of course not to say that there is no purpose or relevance found in the Old Testament for even on the day of Pentecost—before the apostle Peter would preach the Lord Jesus—he would rehearse the words which the prophet Joel had spoken centuries earlier concerning the pouring out and release of the Holy Spirit. When describing the events which took place on the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter appealed to the words spoken by the prophet Joel and used his words to explain what they were witnessing and beholding. Essentially the apostle Peter emphatically declared “this was that” which the prophet Joel had spoken and how the living God was pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh. What would take place on the day of Pentecost would indeed be the beginning of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh as men and women would dream dreams, see visions and prophesy. It would be after rehearsing the words spoken by the prophet Joel the apostle Peter would then preach the Lord Jesus as being crucified, as being buried, as being raised from death to life, as being ascended unto the right hand of the Father, and sending the promise of the Holy Spirit from the right hand of the Father.
The more I think about the persecution which broke out against the church in the city of Jerusalem the more I am brought face to face with the fact that the persecution was itself a direct manifestation against the name of the Lord Jesus and preaching and healing in His name. You cannot read the words found in this New Testament book and not encounter and come face to face with the awesome and powerful truth surrounding the apostles and the brethren and how their preaching was centered upon the name and life of the Lord Jesus. There is not a doubt in my mind that the persecution which broke out in the midst of the city of Jerusalem centered upon the preaching of the Lord Jesus and healing in His name. In all reality this is precisely what the Lord Jesus Himself declared when He spoke of their being hated of all nations for His name’s sake and their being put out of the synagogues. It was Jesus who declared that the day was coming when those who killed them would believe they were somehow doing a service unto the living God. Jesus prepared and warned them in advance concerning the great persecution that would take place in the earth and prepared them to be hated for His name’s sake. Essentially that which Jesus declared unto his disciples and followers was that His name would be an offense and a stumbling block among those who would hear it and as a direct result they would be hated by many because of that name. Couple the name of the Lord Jesus with preaching in His name as well as healing in His name and you have a perfect storm of persecution which would break out against the church during those days. Oh if there is one thing we must needs recognize and understand concerning the persecution which broke out against the church during those days it’s that it was animosity and hostility toward the Lord Jesus—and not only His name but also toward and against preaching and healing in His name.
In the final verses of the eleventh chapter you read of a great dearth which came upon the earth during those days which was prophesied according to the Spirit by a prophet whose name was Agabus. The eleventh chapter of this New Testament book would end with a great dearth and famine coming upon the earth and how the disciples which were at Antioch would each man according to his ability sent relief by the hands of Barnabas and Saul unto the churches which were in Judaea. The final verses of the eleventh chapter speak of a great dearth striking the land during the days of Claudius Caesar and the brethren at Antioch sending relief unto the churches in Judaea by the hands of Saul and Barnabas. As you come to the twelfth chapter you will find Luke writing how “about that time” Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. Despite there being a certain period of rest that would come upon all the churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria Herod the king would stretch forth his hand against certain of those within the church that he might vex and oppress them. A direct manifestation of Herod’s actions against certain within the church James the brother of John who was one of the apostles of the Lord Jesus was killed and put to death with the sword. While it was true that Stephen was the first martyr of the early church we find James the brother of John one of the original disciples of Jesus, one of the apostles of Christ and one of the three who made up Jesus’ inner circle being killed and put to death with the sword. As if this weren’t enough we also find how Herod saw that putting to death James the brother of John pleased the Jews and proceeded further to take the apostle Peter as well. When Herod had apprehended and laid hold of Peter 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. Essentially what we find is Herod imprisoning the apostle Peter and keeping him bound until that time came when he could bring him forth and put him to death.
As you continue reading the words which are found in the twelfth chapter of this New Testament book you will find that despite the fact Peter had been apprehended and laid hold of and put in prison prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. Undoubtedly the church and brethren witnessed and beheld the apostle Peter being seized by Herod and knew of his being put in prison—undoubtedly being held until he might be put to death. The early church and brethren were well aware of the fact that Herod had already put to death James the brother of John with the sword and knew that it would only be a matter of time before Herod would bring Peter forth from the prison to publicly execute and put him to death. As a direct result of this we find the church earnestly and fervently praying, interceding and making petition unto the living God on behalf of the apostle Peter. What we find in this particular chapter is something that is quite unique and powerful for we find the prayers which the church and brethren prayed being answered in a manner in which they perhaps did not expect. The more you read the words found in the twelfth chapter the more you will read of the prayers of the church and of the brethren being answered by God as He would once more send one of his angels to engage in a prison break. The living God would send one of his holy angels unto the prison where the apostle Peter was being held during the night and would essentially spring him from the midst of the prison. Pause for a moment and consider the fact that this was now the second time the Lord would send one of his angels unto the prison where His servant(s) were being held. You will recall in the fifth chapter how the religious leaders and rulers of that day had imprisoned all the apostles and intended on keeping them until the next day seeking how they might put them to death. The LORD, however, would send an angel by night and would bring the apostles forth from the midst of the prison and commanded them to continue preaching the word of the Lord Jesus in the midst of the Temple. Consider if you will the following words which are found in this New Testament book as it was recorded in the fifth chapter:
“Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow. Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, saying, Did we not straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:17-28).
I feel a tremendous need to pause here and speak of the tremendous power of God—power to not only shake buildings in response to the prayers of His saints, power to not only loose and bring forth His apostles forth from prison but power to also roll away and remove the stone which was before the entrance of the tomb where Jesus had been buried. Within each of the four New Testament gospels you will find how the power of God would indeed be manifested at the tomb where Jesus’ lifeless body was laid as an earthquake would strike the ground and how an angel of the Lord would descend from heaven and roll away and remove the stone which was before the entrance of the tomb. The power of God was manifested at the tomb where Jesus’ lifeless body was laid despite the seal being upon the tomb and the guard that was placed without. In all reality the tomb of Jesus was perhaps the most secure grave in all of Judaea and Galilee during those days as the chief priests and religious rulers and leaders demanded of Pilate that he place a seal upon the tomb and place a guard outside to secure it against any who would come in the night to steal away the body of Jesus and proclaim that he had been raised from death to life. Isn’t it absolutely wonderful and amazing that the actions they committed in an attempt to prevent men from coming unto the tomb and stealing the body of Jesus away would actually make it all the more powerful for Jesus’ resurrection to take place as it wouldn’t be man who would come and roll away the stone but it would be an angel of the Lord. There would be no disciple who would enter into the tomb and steal away the body of Jesus but rather the Spirit of the Lord who would raise Jesus from death to life and bring Him forth from the midst of the tomb. Despite their best efforts to secure the tomb and prevent any man from coming and stealing away the body of the Lord Jesus the power of God would be manifested to not only roll away the stone from the entrance of the tomb, and not only cause the guards at the tomb to fall as dead men before the tomb but also to raise Jesus from death to life and bring Him forth from the tomb.
I find it absolutely necessary to at this juncture write and speak of the tremendous power of God to roll away stones from the entrances of the tombs that those who were dead might come forth. You will recall that Jesus commanded men to roll away the stone before the entrance of the tomb where Lazarus was laid and with a loud voice would command Lazarus to come forth from the midst thereof. The apostle John records how Lazarus emerged from the tomb bound hand and foot with grave clothes and how Jesus commanded those who stood by to loose him and let him go. We know that the very stone which was before the entrance of the tomb where Jesus’ lifeless body was rolled away and removed by an angel of the Lord and that the power of the living God manifested in the person of the Holy Spirit would raise Jesus from death to life again. What’s more is that at the death of Jesus the power of God would be manifested in the earth as the graves of many of the righteous dead were opened. Moreover, the apostle Matthew writes and records how it was at the death of Jesus the graves of many of the righteous were opened and it was at His resurrection when those whose graves had been opened would emerge and come forth as they entered into the holy city speaking unto men as they went. The power of God was present in the gospels to cause Lazarus to come forth from the grave. The power of God was present in the gospels to cause Jesus to come forth from His own grave. The power of God was present in the gospels to cause the graves of many of the righteous dead to be opened and those who once slept to come forth from the grave and enter into the holy city of Jerusalem. Now in the New Testament book of Acts we find that same power being manifested in the earth to open prison doors, to loose shackles and chains, and to bring forth those who were bound from the prisons they had been held and cast into.
THE GOD WHO CAUSES GRAVES TO BE OPENED! THE GOD WHO CAUSES STONES TO BE ROLLED AWAY! THE GOD WHO CAUSES DEAD MEN TO COME FORTH FROM THE GRAVES! THE GOD WHO CAUSES MEN TO COME FORTH FROM PRISONS! There are indeed narratives and accounts of resurrection from death to life taking place in the midst of the tomb and even the apostle Peter would be used in Lydda to restore a woman by the name of Tabitha from death to life. There were indeed narratives and accounts within the book of Acts of those who were dead being raised to life once more and being restored unto the land of the living. With this being said it is also incredibly powerful to read this New Testament book and see the power of God to infiltrate prisons that He might bring forth His apostles that they might come forth completely and utterly set free to boldly preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Of course we know that although James would experience an angel of the Lord bringing he and the other apostles forth from the prison by night he would ultimately be the first apostle who would be put to death. It would be Herod the king who would put James the brother of John to death with the sword before Herod would also proceed to lay hands on Peter laying hold of him and putting him in prison. The apostle Peter would be seized and laid hold of by Herod the king and would be secured in the prison delivered unto four quaternions of soldiers who would keep careful watch and guard over him. The apostle Peter would be bound with shackles and chains and would be kept in prison until that time when Herod the king could bring him forth and put him to death just as he had done James the brother of John and one of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. What Herod the king did not anticipate or expect, however, was the power of God being manifested in the earth to deliver the apostle Peter out of his hand by bringing him forth from the prison where he had been kept.
I had to admit how much I absolutely love what is found in the twelfth chapter of this New Testament book for within it—not only do we see a demonstration of the power of God to send one of His angels to deliver Peter out of the prison and from Herod but we also see the power of the Lord demonstrated and manifested in the earth in response to the prayers of the brethren. We cannot underestimate or overlook the continual prayer without ceasing which was made on behalf of Peter by the brethren as I am convinced it was their prayers and petitions which would dispatch an angel from heaven to deliver Peter—not only from the prison but also from the hand of Herod. If we wish to understand that which is found in this passage of Scripture we must needs come face to face with just how powerful and necessary the prayers of the saints and brethren were on behalf of the apostle Peter for it was their prayers which would produce this angelic and supernatural prison break. We know the angel of the Lord would deliver the apostles out of prison earlier on in this New Testament book, however there is no mention of the unending and unceasing prayers of the brethren on their behalf. The angel of the Lord descended from heaven earlier on in the book of Acts to deliver the apostles from the prison where they were being held that they might continue preaching the word of life. When, however, we come to the twelfth chapter of this New Testament book we find an angel sent from God in direct response to the prayers of the saints and brethren.
While I am absolutely and completely convinced we must needs have a discussion of the power of God as it pertains to delivering Peter from prison I am also convinced we must needs talk about the prayers of the saints. There is not a doubt in my mind that were it not for the prayers of the saints and brethren on behalf of the apostle Peter we might not have seen or beheld an angel of the Lord being dispatched from heaven to deliver him out of prison and from the hand of Herod. What’s more is that with this being said we must recognize the response to the prayers of the brethren as found in this New Testament book of Acts. If you turn and direct your attention to the second chapter you will find the one-hundred and twenty who returned from the mount called Olivet being gathered together in one accord in an upper room as they prayed without ceasing before the Lord. It would be in direct response to their prayers and according to the promise of the Father that the Holy Ghost would be sent on the day of Pentecost and fill them all with His presence. In the second chapter of this New Testament book we witness and behold the prayers of the brethren and how in response to their prayers a sound as of a mighty rushing wind filled the room where they were gathered and how cloven tongues of fire manifested upon each of their heads. It would be these cloven tongues of fire that would enable each man to speak with other tongues the wonderful works of God as the Spirit gave them utterance. In the second chapter we find the Holy Ghost being manifested in the earth in direct response to the patient waiting and faithful prayers of the saints. In the fourth chapter we find the apostles returning unto the brethren after being beaten by the religious leaders and their committing themselves to prayer. As a direct result of their prayers the building where they were gathered together was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and preached the word with all boldness. Now here we find the brethren and saints once more praying and the Lord sending one of His angels to deliver Peter out of prison and bring him forth completely and utterly free.
BUILDINGS SHAKEN! PRISONS OPENED! SHACKLES LOOSED! GATES OPENED! SPIRIT POURED OUT! Perhaps one of the greatest questions we must needs ask ourselves is what happens as a direct result of our praying and prayers. We know that we are to be anxious for nothing but in everything with prayer and supplication making our petitions and requests known to God. We know that we are to pray without ceasing and that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. With that being said and with that knowledge I have to ask what our prayers are accomplishing in the earth. Are our prayers causing all of heaven to be manifested in the earth and the Holy Spirit being poured out upon men and women? Are our prayers causing all of heaven to be manifested in the earth and the power of God present among us as the building and/or house in which we are gathered together is shaken? Do our prayers cause prison doors to be open? Do our prayers cause shackles to be loosed from those who are bound? Do our prayers cause chains to fall to the ground? Do our prayers cause those who are in prison to be loosed and brought forth? Do our prayers cause gates to be opened before those who are released and set free? Moreover do our prayers dispatch angels from heaven to deliver the word of God unto men and our deliver men from the cruel intentions of others? We know that the prayers of Cornelius together with the much alms he had given went up as a memorial before the living God and in response an angel was sent to him to deliver the word of the Lord to send for a man by the name of Simon whose surname was Peter. It would be in response to the prayers of Cornelius that not only was he and his entire household filled with the Holy Ghost upon hearing the word of the Lord Jesus but they would each be baptized.
With all of this being said I find it absolutely incredible to read the words found in the twelfth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts and how after the apostle Peter was delivered and brought forth from prison he came to the house of the mother of John whose surname was Mark. It would be in this house where certain brethren were gathered together—perhaps continuing their unceasing and unending prayers for the apostle Peter whom they believed was still in prison. Pause for a moment and consider the fact that the brethren which were gathered together in this house might very well have continued praying unto the living God for the apostle Peter not realizing that their prayers had already been answered. YOUR PRAYERS HAVE ALREADY BEEN ANSWERED! It is something worth pointing out when reading the words presented in this chapter that the brethren which were gathered together in the house of John Mark’s mother might very well have still been praying for the apostle Peter not knowing what their prayers had already accomplished. Stop and think about the fact that the brethren which were present here in the house of John Mark’s mother continued in their prayers for the apostle Peter not realizing their prayers had already been answered and that an angel of God had delivered the apostle Peter from prison and from the hand of Herod. How absolutely incredible it is to think about and consider how there can be times within our lives when we have already prayed continually and without ceasing and continue praying without ceasing not realizing our prayers have already been answered. There might very well be times within our lives when we have prayed without ceasing and might even continue to be praying yet not even realizing that the Lord is about to bring us the very answer to our prayers. I am absolutely convinced that none of the brethren who were gathered together in this house expected the apostle to be loosed from his chains, delivered from prison, brought through the gate and come knocking on the door of the house where they were gathered.
DO YOU EXPECT THE LORD TO ANSWER YOUR PRAYERS? The more I read the words found in this passage of Scripture the more I am brought face to face with the truth surrounding the brethren who were gathered together in the home of John Mark’s mother and how they continued praying not realizing their prayers had already been answered. Scripture is entirely unclear as to what the brethren prayed for concerning the apostle Peter—only that they made prayers without ceasing unto the Lord for him. PRAYING UNTIL YOU SEE THE ANSWER! I absolutely love how the brethren were still praying even when the answer to their prayers was outside the house knocking on the door. Stop and consider the fact that the saints and brethren were still praying for the apostle Peter and yet the answer to their prayers—the apostle Peter himself was standing outside of the house where they were gathered. The brethren prayed without ceasing before the living God for the apostle Peter—perhaps praying the Lord would strengthen him, perhaps praying that the Lord would give him courage, perhaps that the Lord would uphold him, and perhaps even that the Lord would visit him while in prison. The brethren would pray without ceasing offering up prayers before the Lord on behalf of the apostle Peter and the Lord would respond to their prayers by sending an angel to not only loose his chains and shackles but also open his prison door, deliver him out of the prison, lead him to the gate and bring him unto a certain place before departing from his presence.
As I prepare to bring this writing to a close I find it absolutely incredible that the brethren prayed without ceasing for the apostle Peter and even when their prayers were answered and they were told Peter was standing without the house they did not believe it to be true. There is something to be said about the brethren praying for the apostle Peter, the Lord answering their prayers by delivering Peter from the prison where he was being held, and the saints and brethren not believing their prayers had actually been answered. Luke writes how Peter knocked on the door of the gate and a young girl named Rhoda came unto it to see who it was. Upon hearing the voice of Peter she returned unto those within the house without even opening the gate being filled with gladness. Those who heard the words which Rhoda had spoken declared here to be mad—this despite the fact that she continued to profess that it was in fact Peter outside the gate. What I absolutely love about this passage is that Peter did not depart from the house but continued knocking at the gate until they opened up, realized it was him and let him in. WHEN THE ANSWER TO YOUR PRAYER COMES KNOCKING ON YOUR DOOR! WHEN THE ANSWER TO YOUR PRAYER SHOWS UP OUTSIDE THE DOOR! WHEN THE ANSWER TO YOUR PRAYER CONTINUES KNOCKING UNTIL YOU OPEN THE DOOR UNTO IT! Oh there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder how many answers to the prayers of men and women are coming unto gates, doors and houses alike and are knocking on the door that it might be opened unto it. I absolutely love how even while the brethren were praying and making prayers for the apostle Peter their prayers had already been answered and the answer to their prayer was standing outside the gate of the house. The prayers of the brethren were in fact answered and the Lord had brought that answer unto the very gate of the house thus not only presenting the apostle Peter unto them but also the answer to their prayers. What a truly awesome and powerful truth it is to read this passage of Scripture and see how the Lord Himself answered the prayers of the saints and even while they were still gathered together and possibly making prayers for Peter the Lord had already delivered him out of prison and brought him unto the very house where they were gathered. It is my prayer that we would read the words found in this passage of Scripture and encounter a God who not only answers our prayers but a God who is able to open tombs, loose shackles, open prison doors, deliver out of prisons, shake buildings, release His Spirit and move in our midst that men might hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus, be filled with the Holy Spirit and be baptized.