Acts 13:1-3 Prayer and Fasting

Do you have a calling? How do you know if God has called you to something specific? How do you facilitate an atmosphere to hear God speak? 

How do you know God’s will? Are you seeking God’s will? 

Do you treat God like He is the owner of the universe and the creator? A few weeks ago I was at the store with the family. Meagan said to grab some potatoes. I went to grab some potatoes. Mercedes said, “Those aren’t the right potatoes.” I said, “Yes they are.” She said, “No they are not.” I said, “Yes they are.” She said, No, “They are not the right potatoes, daddy!” I said, “Mercedes, you have been alive for three years, how do you know!” Is that how we act with God? We act like Mercedes. We act like we know it all to the supreme creator and maybe we do not seek His will, when He knows it all.   

In Acts 13:1-3 we see the church in Antioch hear God’s call to set aside Paul and Barnabas for God’s mission. They follow through with that. I want to talk about this passage for a few minutes and I want to show you that the call to missions was heard because they were worshipping and fasting. They were seeking Him. They were putting God on the throne.  

Let’s read Acts 13:1-3:

 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

This is a pivotal point in the book of Acts. Paul the apostle was just introduced in chapter 7. At that time he was a young Jewish man persecuting the church.

Then in Acts chapter 9 Saul became a Christian. Jesus confronted him. 

Now, between Acts chapter 9 and Acts chapter 13 around 12 or 13 years passed. Paul was converted in about A.D. 33 and now it is around A.D. 46 or 47. In Acts chapter 13 the focus changes from Peter to Paul. The rest of the book of Acts is predominantly about Paul. Look how it happens. 

Verse 1: they are in Antioch. Antioch would be north of Jerusalem in Syria. In Acts 11:19ff we read how they got to Antioch. 

Verse 1 tells us there are prophets and teachers in Antioch. Verse 1 lists 4 of these specific prophets and teachers. Now prophesy was a spiritual gift. The Holy Spirit would speak through a prophet in order to proclaim God’s Truth. This might be a conviction about sin or some future event.  

Barnabas and Saul (Paul) were listed amongst these prophets. There is also Simeon called Niger. Niger is Latin for black so it is likely he was from Africa. Lucius of Cyrene is also a Latin name and it is likely he is from an area in Northern Africa too.  

Then there is an interesting note about this man Manaen. He was brought up with Herod. This is the same Herod who had James killed, mistreated Jesus and others. Apparently Manaen was brought up with him. The Greek wording suggests having the same wet nurse. It is possible that Manaen was the child of one of their slaves. Herod grew up in Rome and it was common for the children of slaves to grow up with the master’s children. The children grow close and the slave is freed when he or she is an adult. Either way, Manaen is now serving the Lord with the gift of prophesy or teaching. 

Now verse 1 showed us “who” and now verses 2 and 3 where show us “what”

Verse 2 says they were worshipping the Lord and fasting. Isn’t that an interesting intro? What is about to happen, happens while they are coming into the presence of the Lord in worship and fasting. 

There are other examples of major things happening during worship. In Isaiah 6 Isaiah was called while in the temple performing a priestly duty. 

To fast means to abstain from food and possibly other pleasures in order to seek God. The people of Antioch were worshipping the Lord and fasting. They were seeking God for input. God is about to give them His guidance. 

Well, they were worshipping and fasting and the Holy Spirit spoke to them. It is likely that the Holy Spirit spoke through one of the prophets. The Lord wanted Paul and Barnabas set aside for His work. This idea of setting aside means to set apart for a special purpose.  The Lord wanted Paul and Barnabas set apart for His purposes.  Back when Paul became a Christian the Lord said that He would use Paul to reach the gentiles. That is about to happen. 

Verse 3: is about the churches response. The church obeys. You know, at this point the Lord hadn’t told Paul or Barnabas where they were going. It doesn’t matter. Paul and Barnabas made themselves available. The church gathers together and they laid hands on them. This is comparable to ordination. They were sent out. 

From Acts 13:4— 14:26 we can read about the missionary journey that resulted from this. Many people heard the Gospel because the church in Antioch was in an atmosphere to hear God. They were worshipping and fasting. Then Paul and Barnabas obeyed. By the end of Acts, Paul had taken the Gospel to all of the known world. He might have taken it as far as Spain. He definitely took the Gospel to Rome. Things happen when you intentionally create an atmosphere to hear God.  

This happened to Meagan several years ago. She was working at McDonalds at the time. She was spending some time in prayer before work when she heard the phone ring. Now usually we don’t need to interrupt our time with God by answering the phone. But in this instance she received a job offer. This happened during prayer time.  

Close: 

This Scripture passage shows us a few things. One is that foreign missions are important. This is Paul’s call and they go far away. Secondly, this text shows how to hear God’s call: by being involved in the spiritual disciplines. These are prayer, worship, fasting, Scripture reading.   

People need the Lord everywhere. You know, while Paul was going around the known world with the Gospel, James was pastoring the Jerusalem church. James the half brother of Jesus stayed home to pastor the church. Missions is important local and foreign. 

Missions is about ministering to temporary felt needs and eternal spiritual needs. 

What you need to know is that you will not hear God if you are not in the spiritual disciplines. Prayer, reading Scripture, Worship and sometimes fasting are imperative to hearing God. Maybe God will be calling you to a short term mission trip. Maybe God will be calling you to full time missions. Maybe God will be calling you to a new ministry around here. Maybe God will call to you to something else. Will you hear God’s call? 

First, Do you know Jesus yourself?

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2) 

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude) 

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5) 

Pray

 

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Stressed by Swindoll

Is Trauma Terminal?
by Charles R. Swindoll

Matthew 11:28-30

The definition reflects devastation:

Trauma: An injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent . . . a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress.

Like potatoes in a pressure cooker, we twenty-first century creatures understand the meaning of stress. A week doesn’t pass without a few skirmishes with those “extrinsic agents” that beat upon our fragile frames. They may be as mild as making lunches for our kids before 7:30 in the morning (mild?) or as severe as a collision with another car . . . or another person. Makes no difference. The result is “trauma”—a two-bit word fornervous. You know, the bottom-line reason Valium remains a top seller. Our emotional wounds are often deep. They don’t hemorrhage like a stabbing victim’s, but they are just as real and just as painful . . . sometimes more.

Years ago, a stress test carried on by Dr. Thomas Holmes and his colleagues concluded that an accumulation of two hundred or more “life change units” in any year may mean more disruption—more trauma—than an individual can stand. On their scale, death of a spouse equals one hundred units, divorce represents seventy-three units . . . and Christmas equals twelve units! That helps explain the idea behind “something snapping” inside certain people when the final straw falls on them. Our capacity for trauma has its limits.

Joseph Bayly could certainly understand. He and his wife lost three of their children—one at eighteen days (after surgery); another at five years (leukemia); a third at eighteen years (sledding accident plus hemophilia). In my wildest imagination, I cannot fathom the depth of their loss. In the backwash of such deep trauma, the Bayly couple stood sometimes strong, sometimes weak, as they watched God place a period before the end of the sentence on three of their children’s lives. And their anguish was not relieved when well-meaning people offered shallow, simple answers amidst their grief.

Eyes that read these words might very well be near tears. You are trying to cope without hope. You are stretched dangerously close to the “200-unit” limit . . . and there’s no relief on the horizon. You’re bleeding and you’ve run out of bandages. You have moved from mild tension to advanced trauma.

Be careful! You are in the danger zone, emotionally. You’re a sitting duck, and the adversary is taking aim with both barrels loaded, hoping to open fire while you are vulnerable. Bam! “Run!” Boom! “Think suicide.”

Listen carefully! Jesus Christ opens the gate, gently looks at you and says:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)

Nothing complicated. No big fanfare, no trip to Mecca, no hypnotic trance, no fee, no special password. Just come. Meaning? Unload. Unhook the pack and drop it in His lap . . . now. Allow Him to take your stress as you take His rest. Does He know what trauma is all about? Remember, He’s the One whose sweat became like drops of blood in the agony of Gethsemane. If anybody understands trauma, He does. Completely.

His provision is profound, attainable, and right. He’s a master at turning devastation into restoration.

Look again at His invitation in Matthew 11:28-30, and accept it with all your heart.

Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.

Acts 12:5-19

Maybe you had seen the 1960’s television show Hogan’s Heroes? Colonel Hogan was the leader of a group of POW’s in a German prison during word war II. The show is comic and reveals how many times the POWs are able to spy on the Germans in order to get information to the American and allied forces. As all of you know being a prisoner is never that comic. 

In reality Senator John McCain was a Vietnam prisoner for about 10 years. Also, in World War II there were many POWs in German Stalags. In my research, I read of a US Army Air Core pilot who was flying back to England and hit some flack. He crashed in Germany and was placed in a stalag. He was eventually released (probably after the war); however, he was never able to see the men he was on the bomber with again. 

In the Bible there is one comic story of Peter, the Apostle, being miraculously released from prison. Let’s read Acts 12:5-19 and then I will show you that God answers prayer and we serve and amazing God who is not limited. We will see the power of communal prayer.

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.

The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.

Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”

15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”

16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter.19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.

Let’s talk about this passage:

  1. First, God hears our prayers (verses 6-19)
    1. In verse 5 we heard the people were praying.
    2. In verse 6 we see that Peter was asleep
      1. Would you be asleep in a prison?
      2. He is asleep between two soldiers. There were more soldiers guarding the doors and he is asleep. Not to mention that the prisons were probably not that comfortable. 
      3. It was normal back then to have your right hand chained to a soldier’s left hand; however, it appears that Peter was chained on both sides to a soldier. 
        1. Peter could be content because he knew the Scriptures and followed them: Peter was content with the situation. He had faith and knew everything was going to be okay. This could be because he knew that he would die an old man, (John 21:18-19) or he was just not anxious. (Phil. 4:11) 
        2. Peter knew other principles: “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep; for Thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety” (Ps. 4:8). Or, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee. Be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” (Isa. 41:10).
        3. Peter wouldn’t be asleep for long:
    3. In verse 7 a light shines in, Peter is still asleep; however, now the guards are asleep too (ha ha ha). Note, these are Romans guards. These are the best of the best and they are asleep!
      1. An Angel comes in and knocks him to wake him. 
      2. The chains just fell off. Imagine that. How neat is that? Imagine being in a dark, dirty prison and now it is all lit up by an angel and your chains fall off?
      3. The angel tells him to put on his sandals and cloak. 
        1. One of my sources suggested that Peter may have always thought of this every time he laced his sandals and put on his cloak. 
        2. Wow! What a thought, but, think about this, this is a life altering, life changing experience. Would you forget it? An angel wakes him up.  
    4. In the next few verses we see that Peter thought this was a dream. He didn’t think it was real. They got up went through some gates including the one that went into the city. The gate opened by itself and then the angel departed. The gate simply opened by itself. Realize that garage door openers and gate openers were not sold at Lowe’s in their day. This was God’s doing and this is amazing. The angel just disappeared. Puff, gone. 
    5. In verse 11 Peter realizes this is real. Peter had been thinking this was a dream the whole time. Peter did not think that this was real. 
      1. I find that somewhat interesting. Peter witnessed the resurrection. He witnessed all the miracles of the resurrection. Remember Acts chapter 10, he witnessed that vision, but he did not think this was real. Now, he could have thought this was simply another vision of what God wanted him to do. But he did not think it was real.  
    6. In verses 12-17 Peter goes to the house of Mary the mother of John Mark. This is the house where they were praying for Peter’s release. I love this part.
      1. Peter knocks on the door
        1. A servant girl name Rhoda came to answer, she hears Peters voice and before she lets him in she goes and tells the people he is there. They don’t believe her. However, she insists. They then say it is his angel. Peter keeps knocking and eventually they let him in. 
      2. Peter tells them what happens and to tell James and the rest. 
      3. They were praying for his release and when he shows up they do not believe it is him. 
      4. Do we ever pray for something and not believe God is going to follow through?
    7. The story ends with Peter going to another place and Herod killing the guards.

 

Close:

Unfortunately, all prisoners of war do not get an escape like that. But, wait, was Peter a prisoner of war? Yes! He was. We are all in a spiritual war with the devil. They prayed and God answered that prayer. We need to always pray about all things. We need not be surprised when God answers. Pray for God’s will and expect God’s will to come through. Also, remember there are many Christians right now being martyred for their faith. Pray for them. 

 

Let’s pray

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2) 

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude) 

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5) 

Pray

 

A follow up to Swindoll’s post from yesterday

Backing Off, Part Two
by Charles R. Swindoll

John 7:1-14

As we’ve been discussing, there are certain times when it’s necessary to keep quiet, to relax, to back off. Intensity often leads to futility. Like the little boy who plants the seed and then nervously digs it up every day to see if it is growing. Waiting is as necessary as planting and fertilizing.

When the fish aren’t biting, banging on the water with an oar won’t help. You can’t get sap out of a hoe handle. Nor can a relationship be corrected by legislation and force. Remember, God says there is a “time to shun embracing” (Ecclesiastes 3:5) just as there are times to embrace. “To give up as lost” (3:6) may, on some occasions, be the wisest response, though extremely painful. Sometimes that means simply being silent and allowing God to work. In other words, back off so God can move in. This is never more essential than among family members in a home. Allowing some slack in the rope is, at the right time, a mark of real wisdom.

What a difficult pill for up-tight parents to swallow! Kept edgy by impatience, rigidity, and unbending determination, they foolishly rush in where angels loathe to tread. The result? Exasperated kids. Rooms choked with threats and irritating pressure.

Young guys can do this with girls they date. She wants room to breathe, some space to think things out for herself, but he continues to smother. We can do this with people we have offended. They need time to reason, freedom to forgive without being hurried. To push for a quick closure is like a hard-sell salesman pressing you to buy when you are trying to decide what’s best. The faster he talks and the harder he pushes, the less interested you become in buying—even something you need. The wise salesman knows when to allow you the privilege of deciding for yourself—when to back off and leave you alone.

Nobody is able to eat while they’re weeping. Serving more food isn’t the answer. The appetite will return when the agony subsides . . . and not until. That takes time.

Stop and think. Think first about your family. Then your other friends. Are you being wise or foolish? Are you using force or providing freedom? Are you being pushy or patient? Are you intimidating by your intensity . . . or backing off and relaxing? Are you allowing the ground fog to roll back, or are you launching blindly into dangerous flight?

Want to go deeper? Read John 7:1-14 and notice how Jesus “backed off” on occasion. Study closely His words throughout John 7 to find the keys for knowing when to back off and when not to.

Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.

Swindoll devotion

Kids are nutty.

Some friends of ours in Texas have two little girls. The younger child is constantly on the move, rarely winding down by bedtime. So the nightly affair has become something of a familiar routine. A story from her favorite book. A drink of water. A prayer. A song. Her doll. Another drink of water. A kiss. A hug. A third sip of water. A trip to the bathroom. A warning. Another kiss. You know, the whole bit.

One night her dad decided he’d be Mr. Nice Guy, the epitome of patience and tolerance. He did it all. Not once did he lose his cool. When Miss Busybody finally ran out of requests, her daddy slipped out of the room, heaved a sigh of relief, and slumped into his favorite chair by the fireplace. Before he could stretch out and relax, however, there was a piercing scream from the jitterbug’s room. Startled, he dashed down the hall and rushed to her bedside. Great tears were rolling down the little girl’s face.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”
“I burnt my tongue.”
Baffled, he tried again, “You what?”
“I burnt my tongue!” she yelled.
“How in the world did you do that?” he asked.
“I licked my night-light.”

That really happened. She couldn’t control her curiosity. She simply had to discover how it would feel to lick that little thing that glowed so warmly and serenely by her bed. Rude was her awakening to the fact that lights are strictly for lighting . . . not licking. And tongues are made for tasting . . . not testing. You and I realize that the best thing our little friend could have done was to stay in bed, keep her tongue to herself, and allow the light to fulfill its appointed function.

But she didn’t—and she got burned.

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Solomon, the wise, passes along to us a list of various types of “appointed times” on earth. Among them he mentions

a time to heal . . . a time to shun embracing . . . a time to give up as lost . . . a time to be silent

I see in these words of counsel one strong undercurrent of advice: BACK OFF! It is often wise to relax our intensity, refuse to force an issue, allow nature to take its course, “let sleeping dogs lie.” Backing off, says Solomon, provides opportunity for healing to occur, opportunity for perspective to break through the storm clouds of emotion and illuminate a difficult situation with a fresh understanding.

When the time is right, things flow very naturally, very freely. To rush or force creates friction-scars that take years to erase. Take it from one who has learned this difficult lesson the hard way—keep a tight bridle on your tongue, relax, and settle for a good night’s sleep. Otherwise, you’re going to get pushy, you’re going to get caught with your tongue in the wrong place . . . and you’re going to get burned.

Excerpted from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.

Acts 12.1-5 the Church is persecuted, we are persecuted

In College, I wrote a group paper titled Modern Martrydom:
Here is a quote from a source we used:
“The grounds for hostility to the Christians were not always the same, and often opposition and persecution were localized. The loyalty of Christians to “Jesus as Lord,” however, was irreconcilable with the worship of the Roman emperor as “Lord,” and those emperors, such as Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, who were the most deeply committed to unity and reform were also the ones who recognized the Christians as a threat to those goals and who therefore undertook to eliminate the threat. As in the history of other religions, especially Islam, opposition produced the exact contrary of its intended purpose, and, in the epigram of the North African church father Tertullian, the “blood of the martyrs” became the “seed of the church.”

Is it over? Is persecution over?

Pope Francis: Persecution Against Christians Is Worse Now Than in the Early Church
by Staff Writer
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“There are more Christian martyrs now than during the first centuries of the Church,” the pope said during an interview last week.
As reported by Christian Today, during an interview with the Spanish-language La Vanguardia magazine on June 13, Pope Francis declared that “persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church.” The comment came as he condemned acts of persecution against Christians and violence in the name of God.
“Today there are more Christian martyrs than in that period. And, it’s not because of fantasy, it’s because of the numbers. … The persecuted Christians are a concern that touches me very deeply as a pastor,” he said.
“Violence in the name of God does not correspond with our time,” he continued. “It’s something ancient. With historical perspective, one has to say that Christians, at times, have practiced it. When I think of the Thirty Years War, there was violence in the name of God. Today it is unimaginable, right? We arrive, sometimes, by way of religion to very serious, very grave contradictions.”
Despite his candid discussion of increasing persecution and martyrdom in the church, Pope Francis admitted that he has eliminated some of the personal security procedures taken with him when he enters the public eye.
“I know that something could happen to me, but it’s in the hands of God,” he said. “I remember that in Brazil they had prepared a closed Popemobile for me, with glass, but I couldn’t greet the people and tell them that I love them from within a sardine tin.”
“Let’s be realistic, at my age I don’t have much to lose,” he added.
According to Paul Marshall with the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, contemporary persecution of Christians is an urgent concern because it is “occurring on a massive scale, underreported and growing rapidly in many parts of the world.” Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that Christians are persecuted in more countries today than any other religious group.

The birth of a healthy baby girl is usually a joyous occasion. But when Meriam Ibrahim gave birth to her daughter, Maya, on Tuesday, May 27, it triggered a two-year countdown to her execution.
On May 15, the 27-year-old Sudanese doctor was sentenced to death for apostasy by a Sudanese court. In addition, she is to endure 100 lashes for the crime of committing adultery—with her Christian husband. The judge ruled that the lashing would be carried out after she had recovered from delivering her baby and that her death by hanging would occur when her baby reached age two, so she would have time to nurse the infant.
During her trial, the judge asked the young woman three times to recant her Christian faith, but she refused each time.

That was recent. In fact I read that over 100 million people are persecuted right now. A few weeks ago I read that the Bible is illegal in 52 countries.

But Christianity is growing in these persecuted countries. Figure that out.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Paul the apostle wrote in 2 Timothy 3: 12: In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…

So, today we come to a passage where the Jerusalem church is persecuted. We will look at that passage. I wish to teach that passage and I also want to talk about persecution today. Goals today:
1. Learn about Acts 12:1-5
2. Learn about persecution in the world
3. Be ready for your Christian faith to be challenged, maybe even violently, especially if you are young.

Let’s read Acts 12:1-5:
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 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. 4 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.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
I. Let’s look at the passage, the apostles are persecuted.
a. We have seen this before, but not so brutally.
b. Now, it says, “about that time…”
c. Take note: We are going back a few years before some of the previous events. This Herod—he died in A.D. 44. We know this.
d. Things were going on and it was pretty political. So, what is going? He wants to win points with his constituents, so he harms the apostles.
e. Verse 2: He had James, the brother of John put to death with the sword.
f. At one time they would kill people with an ax, apparently, we know by now, it was with a sword.
g. There is a church history legend that James was witnessing all the way until his death. Do you hear? He was trying to convert, actually the person who was to behead him, until his death. Though we do not know if some of those stories are factual. I like to believe they are true.
h. Now, get this, James is killed and that pleased the Jews. Can you believe it? It made the Jews feel good that someone was killed. So, Herod brings Peter in. Peter is locked up with 16 guards. Can you believe it? 16 guards.
i. Peter, he is a very dangerous man, right?
j. We will find out that 16 guards were not enough. Yes, they will have one job, just one job!
k. BUT— verse 5, there was a church praying and they were praying for him fervently or earnestly. We’ll come back to that next week. But let me make a note right now. We need holistic, communal prayer.
l. I think the church that is persecuted gets back to the reality of the reverence of a Holy God, the reverence of Scripture, the reality of salvation through faith alone in Jesus alone and the need for a relationship with Jesus through prayer.
m. Everyone pick up a Bible hold it up: (talk soft) This book does not have value because of the ink, nor the paper. This book has value because of where the Words come from. So, when the church is persecuted they get back to prayer and the Word and the Gospel.
n. Before we move on, James died. He really died. Remember that death is not the end as a Christ follower. Death is not the end. We have an eternal hope. 1 Cor. 15:50 Paul writes: Where O death is the sting? As we talk about persecution remember that Jesus saves. We have eternal life and eternal hope.
II. Now, let’s talk about persecution.
Before we talk about this subject— There is some heavy truth in this section, but in truth there is grace. Don’t you want warned before walking into an electric fence? Don’t you want warned before walking off a cliff? Don’t you want warned before playing with a Rattle snake?
a. I know that this is a very depressing subject for some. For some it is not. For some of you. You are like, “Yes, a challenge. I’ll go, send me…”
b. Sometimes, many times, we send people on a mission with the wrong expectations.
c. Jesus did not do this. But many times we glance over these verses, at least in America. We have John 15:20 in which Jesus said that we will be persecuted. If they persecuted Him they will persecute us. Now, we can look at this passage three ways.
1. We could say. Well maybe not always, or maybe we are verbally attacked or something like that. This may be true because I bet most us have not been actually persecuted.
2. Or, we could think, maybe we are not persecuted because we are not doing our job as a witness.
a. If I am being the witness of Jesus Christ, then the devil will kick back with persecution.
b. Ephesians 6:12 says that there is a real spiritual battle.
3. There is a third option: maybe you are not persecuted because you do not know Jesus.
d. What about hope for persecution: I am going to talk about some things that may give hope in a minute. But let me give a few other thoughts:
i. Let me say that I have read books about Christians persecuted through the ages and up until now and there testimonies seem to talk of Spirit filled peace with them.
ii. Rev. 6:9-11: these are saints who died as martyrs:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
The Hope:
Matthew 5:10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

III. A few weeks ago a church member asked me about being ready for persecution, here are some applications. We all need to pray that:
1. We will be a faithful witness in persecution as these disciples/apostles were.
2. We must be a man or a woman of prayer, seeking the Lord, in relationship with Him so that we are ready to be a witness in persecution. In verse 5 we see the church praying for him.
3. We must be in the Word, always being ready to give an answer with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
4. We will know that persecution will come. Jesus said that we will be persecuted: Matthew 5:10-12; John 15:20: Jesus says that they persecuted me, they will persecute you.
5. We will remember those in Acts 5:41 who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name.
6. We will remember Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:12, that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
7. We will remember Jesus’ words not to worry about what to say (Matthew 10:19).
8. We will be in prayer for our brothers and sisters in need as we see in verse 5, earnest prayer.
(Play from the Bible movie)

By the way, the church prayed and next week we will break it down, but you know what happened? Peter was released. It is a humorous story. Peter is being guarded by 16 soldiers and he is miraculously released from prison. They had 1 job to do. 16 soldiers to guard 1 person and they failed, they failed! An angels wakes Peter in the night, saying, “Wake up, wake up!!!” The angel leads him out to the prayer meeting. Here they are praying for him and they open the door and slam it in his face, not believing it is really him. They doubt their own prayers.

Last application: We serve a mighty God: Even in persecution: We serve a mighty God. You will face trials and tribulations, but God is great!

Close:
Jim Elliot wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We must be prepared to do this.

Jim Elliot wrote that and then he was martyred for Christ.

I am not going to ask you about commitment, that is implied.

I am going to ask you about prayer. Pray for the persecuted church.

Pray for the church in America, yourself, children, this church that we can be strong witnesses.

Others, do you know Jesus, why would people go through this for Jesus?

For life everlasting, that is the answer. We are always trying to live longer, but we never will, not on our own.

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)
Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)
Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)
Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)
Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)
Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)
Pray

American Christianity from Dr. Ben Witherington

I have shared Ben Witherington’s blog before. This blog is really good. His comments about being on the O’Reilly Factor and being told not to quote scripture are especially telling.

Dr. Witherington is a distinguished and well published professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, having published commentaries on every book of the New Testament.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2014/07/02/building-a-better-twenty-first-century-christian-thoughts-on-real-independence/

Building a Better Twenty-First Century Christian– Thoughts on Real Independence
July 2, 2014 By Ben Witherington 2 Comments

As it becomes increasingly clear that even in America the culture is moving increasingly away from Christian ethical and theological standards of all sorts, instead of ringing our hands and ushering cries of dismay, it would be better to think about how we can best do the same thing as first century Christians did— namely become counter culture Christians who only affirm those values of the larger culture that comport with Christianity. If there is something true, good, honorable, excellent etc. in the culture, then this can be endorsed, otherwise not. Interestingly, our world is moving closer and closer to being like the world that Paul and others had to respond to as a new minority religious movement. So, what does this actually look like?
1) A complete renunciation of fear-based approaches to life, rather than an embracing of them. By the latter I would cite the recent examples of churches that are now holding classes teaching people to carry guns, even in public places, even in church. This whole approach is based on straight up paranoia. This is not to say that there are not plenty of mentally unstable people out there, but there are also mentally unstable people in the church, and frankly if you allow guns in church, someone who is a member but is fifteen degrees shy of plumb is more likely to hurt someone than some intruder from outside. Indeed, the whole growing gun culture of America needs to be renounced by Christians, by which I do not mean that hunting rifles should be taken away from licensed hunters. What I do mean is the assumption that the ‘right to lawful assembly of a militia’ gives private citizen a right to buy and bear whatever arms or ammo they can get their hands on. This is not only a bad mis-reading of our founding documents and the freedoms the founding fathers intended for us to have, it’s an even worse witness for someone who is a Christian who is supposed to be trusting in God, not in guns. There are many other aspects of fear-based thinking that we could discuss as well, such as hoarding, escapist rapture thinking that suggests that the world is going to Hades anyway so we don’t need to fulfill the creation mandate and take care of the beautiful world God gave us and so on.
2) While I think Christians should vote and should be involved in social causes that comport with the Gospel, it is time to abandon the rhetoric of either the far right or the far left, and indeed I would suggest it’s time to stop endorsing any political party, because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans nor the Tea Party for that matter adhere closely enough to Christian principles to deserve Christian endorsement. Christians should stand for issues and causes, but not give their blessings to parties, TV networks etc.
I will not soon forget when I was appearing with Dom Crossan on the O’Reilly show and the producer had a little chat with us in advance of the show. He told us not to quote the Bible, not to engage in any theological discourse between us, but simply to answer the questions ‘Bill’ would put to us. I asked him, since this was an Easter show, ‘don’t you think you will alienate your conservative Christian audience by this approach?’ His answer was chilling– “no, he said, I’m more concerned with alienating our secular conservative audience. Conservative Christians have nowhere else to go but us, but to Fox.” This little pulling back of the curtain on the charade that goes on on that network was very revealing.
I would say to Christians– do your own research on the news. Read hard news sources but process them critically. Don’t take any network’s word for it. Some are more tendentious than others. Some try to be fairer than others. But some channels are simply ideologically driven, like some politicians who have forgotten that politics is the art of working out compromises for the greater good— doing what good that can be done, not hoping for Utopia here and now. Abandon hope that this or that political party or movement will save America. Only Jesus can save America, and frankly we are wasting our energies on retrograde retrenchments, trying to turn back the clock and praying next year will be 1954. But it won’t. Time and cultures march on, for better or for worse.
3) It’s time to embrace a generous orthodoxy and orthopraxy. By this I mean it’s time for Christians to stop shooting at each other, and eating their own young. Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians need to stand together on the essentials of the theological Gospel and on its essential ethical implications in terms of life issues, for example. To be pro-life should mean opposing all those things that destroy human life— abortion, war, capital punishment. In the last fourteen years we have wasted over 10 billion dollars on fruitless, pointless undeclared wars. Imagine how much good could have been done if that money had gone into medical research, or hunger relief, or environmental clean ups, or aid to the poor throughout the world, or education, or to job creation… and I could go on. To paraphrase that great poet Paul Simon “we have squandered our resistance on a pocket full of mumbles such as [political] promises./ All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to and disregards the rest…..”
4) It’s time to care about how we treat our bodies and how we use our resources. I was at a convention of southern ministers several years ago and while standing on the platform I looked out into the audience and what I saw appalled me— the majority, maybe even the vast majority of the audience was either obese or morbidly obese. What a horrible witness. Your body is a temple of God’s Spirit, and you are supposed to treat it with respect, treat it as a gift from God, treat it as something Jesus will raise from the dead, not as landfill, a garbage dump, a fast food haven!! No way. And in terms of conservation of resources it is more than high time Christian realized that fossil fuels are not renewal sources of energy. We need to be all about clean energy (there is no such thing as clean coal). I have just come back from Turkey where almost every home in almost every town has solar panels on the roof to heat all their hot water. Where are ours??? They are quite affordable now. The Turks are driving smaller and more energy efficient vehicles including hybrids, not gas-guzzling luxury SUVS which no one really needs, not least because gas is about $8.00 a gallon there. It’s time to simplify our lifestyles, and abandon the death styles of bad food, bad energy (solar, wind and water are all renewal sources of energy), bad judgments.
5) It’s time to do what the Bible says about orphans, namely find them, adopt them, and take care of them. Instead of a Christian family that is reasonably well off in America having eight, ten, twelve of their own children, they should think seriously about another approach— adopt one child for every one you have, and while your at it, don’t have more children than you can provide and care for. Just don’t. Be a good family planner. I have been really proud of my students who have followed this course of action, for example, adopting a child from Ethiopia and having one child naturally.
6) It’s time to actually believe what the Bible says about property, namely that it all belongs to the Lord. None of it actually belongs to us. The Bible favors neither communism nor secular capitalism as an approach to money, resources, and the economy. We are not free to do with our property what we want to do. We are called to do with it what pleases the Lord. Period. As John Wesley would put it, we are merely stewards of God’s property. We did not bring it with us into this world, and we cannot take it with us when we die. We are just stewards and not owners of this worlds material things. And we are accountable for what we do with them. As Wesley would have said, had he lived today ‘living a life of luxury and being a rich Christian in a world full of poverty is not only a bad witness, it is as much of an oxymoron as ‘Microsoft Works’. We need to de-enculturate ourselves from the rampant materialism that drives our whole culture and our whole economy.
7) We need to speak truth to power instead of just singing God bless America!! By this I mean doing exactly what the Pope recently did— he excommunicated the whole of the Mafia, while being in Mafia country in southern Italy! He said the very idea that members of the Mafia could pretend to be good Catholics and come to mass while ruthlessly pursuing the drug trade, and having gunned down and then burned up a small child and his grandfather in a car in a small city in southern Italy is anathema. It is anti-Christian behavior. The anti-Christian behavior of our rulers needs to be called to account.
8) We need to forgive our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. The whole business of cycles of reprisals, or revenge taking, of the endless cycle of violence is simply not a Christian response to problems whatever their source. Forgiveness and God’s grace is the only power in this world that breaks the cycles of violence and makes for a better world. If Jesus can even pray for those executing him while on the cross “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” how can we do less when confronted with lesser problems? Besides, the Bible is clear that justice issues should be left in the hands of the Lord— ‘vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay.’ We actually need to believe that and live into it.
Even if we were to do just these eight things as counter culture Christians, it could really make a difference in our land and in our world. I hope someone is listening…. and will heed the call.