THE ASSAULT ON THE APOSTOLIC
Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.
Acts 12:1-4, NKJV
As Luke records the narrative of what the Holy Spirit was doing through the apostles and the first century Church, we see that they had been multiplying at a rapid rate even as persecution increased and a great famine swept across the land (Acts 11:27-30). It was at this time that Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great), king of Judea from ~AD 41-44, harasses them, kills the apostle James and seizes the apostle Peter for the sake of popularity with the Jews. Notice that Herod’s persecution against the church begins with harassment or vexation, which means “to weigh down, frustrate or annoy.” Has anyone else experienced how the enemy does this in our lives the more we seek to work together to advance the kingdom of God around us? Much like when Pharaoh appointed task masters to double the load of the growing Hebrew families in Egypt, this seems to be a common method the enemy uses to halt the multiplication of God’s people (Ex. 1). He doesn’t start with the obvious resistance, but instead he initiates his assault with more subtle tactics to distract us with unnecessary worries and fears. Consequently, if we allow our strength to be spent trying to carry all of these excess burdens, then we will have less strength to carry out our kingdom assignments which threaten his position. This has been the case throughout Scripture and Church history, still Jesus’ declaration stands: “I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).”
I am convinced we are still seeing this assault on the apostolic today, as the enemy knows that his time is short (Rev. 12). More and more, we are seeing Christian leaders heavily pressured because they have taken stands for unpopular truth against the narrative of cultural trends. But by looking at this passage of Scripture in Acts 12, we can see a picture of how we are to respond to this kind of resistance as leaders and as a united body of believers.
Most would agree that 2020 has been full of global turbulence from the infamous pandemic, political warfare and economic struggles to the racial conflicts, riots and natural disasters. The stage is being set as evil leaders worldwide become more unified in their rage which will ultimately be revealed as rage against the Lord Himself, meanwhile, I know that the Lord is inviting us as His Church to be unified in the place of prayer and in the harvest fields across society like never before as the Spirit and the Bride begin to say come (Ps. 2; Rev. 22)!
Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us.”
Psalm 2:1-3, NKJV
A PRAYING CHURCH
5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.
Acts 12:5, NKJV
After Herod had imprisoned Peter, he had him bound with two separate chains between two soldiers while two others guarded the door. These four squads of soldiers kept him guarded all day and all night, rotating shifts every six hours. One man, sixteen soldiers. Think about how much threat that Peter had to of stirred up in Hell to warrant this much investment in taking him out. There have been very few men and women like this throughout history who have caused so much panic from the kingdom of darkness, moving Satan to fall like lighting from heaven (Luke 10:18). We desperately need more “troublers” in the Church today who boldly threaten the enemy’s plans by simply remaining faithful and obedient to the commands of Christ in the face of opposition (2 Kings 18:17). I believe the Lord is preparing these ones even now, and He’s using weak and broken people like Peter who were formerly full of fear and self-preservation, but they will rise up in boldness through the power of the Holy Spirit working in them to lay down their lives for the gospel (Acts 1:8; Rev. 12:11). He is preparing a people like Elijah, who was a man with a nature like ours, but he prayed earnestly, effectively, righteously and fervently and power was released (James 5:13-18).
The main point I want to make in this article is that their is a fundamental identity that must be reclaimed by the disciples of Christ in this hour, and it is that His Church should always be a praying Church. God has ordained that His authority be released as we come together in agreement with Him and with one another in prayer (Matt. 18:18-20). Intercession is His brilliant strategy for including the saints in His plans, renewing our faith, protecting our hearts from pride, drawing us into intimacy with Him, increasing our understanding, releasing His power, transforming us in love, leading us into unity, and preparing us for an eternal inheritance. He has forever named His house to be a house of prayer for all nations (Isa. 56:7; Matt. 21:13). That is our high calling, and we desperately need a Church who prays again.
6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.
Acts 12:6, NKJV
Sometimes it is not until prayer becomes our only weapon that we understand it is our most powerful weapon. Prayer was the early church’s first response to every crisis, and here in Acts 12, we see another seemingly impossible situation for them, yet they still chose to pray. Peter, who not long ago was terrified during a storm while on a boat with His sleeping Savior, but now he himself had learned how to “sleep in the storm” (Matt. 8:23-27; Acts 12:6). Prayer trains us to be asleep to what Jesus is asleep to and awake to what He is awake to (Matt. 26:41; 1 Pet. 1:16). There are so many things happening in the earth right now that seem like a storm we need to worry about, but we need to remember that the wind and waves still know His name. There is a much more important story line going on that He is inviting us into right here and right now that begins in the place of prayer.
PRAYER THAT AVAILS MUCH
7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.”
Acts 12:7-8, NKJV
As the Church continued to pray, an angel was dispatched, light was released, chains were broken, and the apostolic leader was rescued. Peter was awoken and called into action. What would it look like in the Church today if we turned our unrelenting criticism of our leaders into unrelenting intercession? It’s not wrong to question leadership, but it’s always right to pray for our leadership. There are so many pastors and church leaders across our nation right now who are asleep and bound, and they need the church to be constant in prayer for them — for awakening, deliverance and guidance.
Prayer is not an excuse for inaction, but rather it prepares us to move with Him. We see from this passage that it took a moment before Peter realized that what was happening was actually a reality (Acts 12:9-11). Prevailing prayer unleashes the power of Christ to pull down wicked strongholds, remove demonic principalities and open prison doors that no man can open, making the unseen seen on earth as it is in heaven (2 Cor. 10:3-6; Daniel 10:12-13; Rev. 3:7-8; Luke 11:2).
11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”
Acts 12:11, NKJV
Once Peter returned to the house where the believers had been, Luke writes that “many were gathered together praying” (Acts 12:12). Secret prayer and fasting from an individual is remarkably powerful all on it’s own, but there is something uniquely effective when many gather together to seek Him. I am so grateful for one-on-one time with my wife, but I am also very grateful for the times we spend together with our whole family. Each relational experience and persepective is special and should never replace the other.
Another very relatable fact from this story is that we see the weakness of the people praying, who didn’t immediately believe that it was actually Peter at the door (Acts 12:13-16). Now we don’t know the actual content of their prayers, but we do see how the Lord still moved in power to rescue Peter even through their short-sighted faith. It’s not the height of our reach that gets His attention, but the authenticity of our reach. Their prayer gathering wasn’t filled with perfect people praying perfect prayers with the right language and protocol. They were weak men and women surrounded by fear, but they didn’t quit praying. They had to learn to rely on the Spirit to help them in their weakness, “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26). This is prayer that avails or accomplishes much.
27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:27-28, NKJV
The scene from Acts 12 concludes with king Herod being struck down by the Lord because he did not give glory to God. I believe these prayers played a large part in this removal of ungodly authority, to work all things for good to those who love God and to make a way for as many as possible to be saved in all Judea and Samaria unto the ends of the earth.
Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Tim. 2:1-4, NKJV
FILLING THE BOWLS OF HEAVEN
8 Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Revelation 5:8, NKJV
I do realize that as believers, many of us do not need to be convinced that we ought to pray, but we do need to be infused with fresh faith for today as we see why we ought to pray (Luke 18). In his vision while on the island of Patmos, the apostle John is describing what he is seeing around the throne of God in Heaven, and he points out how the twenty-four elders are each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense. These elders, who most likely represent the humans who have been given governmental authority in Heaven, are seen bowing in worship and singing spontaneous songs with their harps while holding bowls, which are full with “the prayers of the saints” (Rev. 5:8-9). These “throne room” scenes give us great insight into the activity of the governmental center of the universe and how much He values our participation through worship and prayer. When we worship the Lord, we are agreeing with who He is. When we pray, we are agreeing with what He has promised to do. Because worship and prayer are about agreement, what better way to speak in unity from our heart with one another than through the harmonious rhymes, rhythms and tunes of a song. He desires that we all may be one as He is one (John 17:20-26).
Have you ever stopped to think that your prayers of faith are memorialized before God? He has given the human race such nobility and dignity in that our humble petitions are heard outside of space and time, appealing before the highest court in all of existence. Our persistent requests are not in vain. They have eternal impact. You may have forgotten some of the prayers you prayed five years ago, but He remembers. So I urge you Christians, keep filling the bowls! Never stop contending for His truth, His power, His love, His justice and righteousness in the place of prayer! Remember who you are talking to and ask of Him. We know that prayer in and of itself is not the solution, but we pray because we know that Jesus Christ is the only solution. Let’s pray again, Church.
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.
Acts 10:1-4, NKJV
7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
Luke 18:7-8, NKJV
6 “Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.” 7 “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
Psalm 2:6-8, NKJV
- Why does the Church need to pray again?
- How can I grow in prayer in my own life?
- How can I be a catalyst for prayer in my church? In my city?
Has your faith ever come under fire? Have you wanted to quit because of the overwhelming pressure? Are you weighed down trying to lead others when you feel like you’re all alone and on the brink of falling apart? Well, take heart weary one, for there is still reason to rejoice. In this brief article, I want to point out a few important truths related to pressure in our lives, how the Bible teaches us to respond, and what the Lord promises us through it all.
3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5, NAS
PRESSURE PRODUCES PERSEVERANCE
Everyone experiences tribulation or pressure, such as physical or emotional pain, financial lack, various fears, being mistreated, etc., but the good news is that our pain is never in vain. Pressure causes us to ask deep questions about the purpose of our life, the condition of our life and relationship to God, and why we should persevere in pursuing God without quitting. It causes us to rehearse the consequences of persevering in God as well as the consequences of giving up.
Much like resistance training that builds muscle, pressure causes us to work our “faith muscle.” A butterfly’s struggle in a cocoon is necessary to develop its wings. Pressure brings about the opportunity to trust God’s leadership and to be transformed in our character as we say yes to Him time and time again in the face of trials—persecution, temptation or difficult circumstances.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience (perseverance) have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (in faith and character).
James 1:2-4, NKJV
MAKING HARD CHOICES IN THE FIRE CHANGES US
But simply knowing that God wants to use the pressure in our lives to grow our faith and character is not enough. Transformation doesn’t happen as an automatic result of trials. Transformation happens as we consistently choose to persevere and respond rightly to God in faith in the midst of the trial. This type of perseverance speaks of our fortified resolve to continually realign our heart to love, obey, believe, and pursue Jesus instead of giving up and giving in to sin and unbelief or drawing back from pursuing Jesus with all of our heart. When we make these hard choices despite the difficulty or delay in seeing promises fulfilled, we are inviting the Holy Spirit to produce real change in our heart.
During our Sunday 10am adult class here at Venture Church, we’ve been going through a series called Studies in the Life of David, and one of the defining characteristics about David was that he was a man after God’s own heart. But what made him worthy of such a title? I believe it was very much connected with his inward ability to persevere in the fire. Even after his worst failures, when he had no encouragement from friends or family, when his life was being constantly threatened, when he was under great distress as a young leader, when the “game” was on the line, he knew how to “strengthen himself in the LORD his God” (1 Sam. 30:6). But how was he able to do this? He had dug a deep well of history with the Lord that he drew from in these seasons and moments. He had proven the Lord as One who delighted in him, who is a Merciful Father, a Righteous Judge, a Strong Deliverer, a Solid Rock, a Good Shepherd and a Faithful Refuge; therefore, he was motivated to run to Him instead of from Him (Psalm 18).
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
James 4:7-8, NKJV
We are all like a lump of clay on the potters wheel, but unless we choose to submit to the pressure of the potter’s hands, we will just keep spinning in circles, never coming to completion. The Lord allows “open book” tests, and He wants us to come to Him instead of wandering around in confusion. He wants us to lean into His Word, hear His voice, and learn from the testimonies of others (1 Cor. 10:11; Rev. 12:11). Like David, we must learn how to strengthen ourself in the Lord. We must learn to surrender to the hands that are holding us, molding us and shaping us into our Christ-like identity, working all things together for our good (Rom. 8:28-29; Gal. 4:19). We must learn how to make hard choices in the fire.
2 Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…
Hebrews 12:2, NKJV
6 Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ…
Philippians 1:6, NKJV
RECEIVING GOLD FROM JESUS
At the end of the day, Jesus wants to give us the “gold” of genuinely knowing Him (Rev. 3:18). Through the intense heat of every trial, we are promised the opportunity to obtain the riches of an authentic faith and intimacy with Him that will be fully realized when He returns in glory (1 Pet. 1:7-9). We have the unique priviledge of sharing in His sufferings during these few days of life unlike any other moment in all of eternity, so that His glory and grace would be revealed in us both now and forevermore. One day, there will be no more suffering, no more pressure, no more fire, and oh what a glorious day that will be! But when that day comes, will He find real faith in me? Will He find someone who has been proven? Did I learn to persevere? Did I learn to love? Did I learn to be meek? Did I learn to be merciful, to be pure, to love righteousness?
We must overcome the lie of the victim mentality that always wants to deceive us into believing that we are alone in the fire. With this mindset, all things are happening to us and never for us. If you are always the victim, then you may be holding the keys to your own cage. The Apostle Paul explained to Timothy that he must endure just as an athlete who competes, who won’t be crowned unless he competes by the rules (2 Tim. 2:5). There are no shortcuts to glory when it comes to following Christ, and no one is exempt from the narrow path (Matt. 7:13-14).
The victim mindset comes from false expectations and ideas that we are entitled to something from God that He never really promised us. Jesus never promised us perfect circumstances or a life without pressure, in fact, He said we should expect trouble in this world (Jn.16:31-33). But He has overcome the world, and He promises to be with us in the fire (Isa. 43:1-2; Matt. 28:20). He gives us the grace to go on, even in our weakness, that His power might rest upon us (2 Cor. 12:9-10). He invites us to get in the yoke with Him and learn from Him (Matt. 11:28-30). He promises to give us a gold that never perishes—the excellence and surpassing worth of knowing Him—which makes it all worth it (Phil. 3:7-21).
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, 8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:6-9, NKJV
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
James 1:12, NKJV
17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich…
Revelation 3:17-18, NKJV
1 But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you.
Isaiah 43:1-2, NKJV
- How is the Lord teaching you to persevere right now?
- What areas of your character has He been pressing on the most lately?
- In what practical ways can you demonstrate your submission to Him?
- What “gold” have you received from Jesus through past trials?