About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. – Acts 12:1-5
I am a fan of “and they lived happily ever after” stories. I like happy endings. The key to any really good story with a powerful happy ending is conflict that seemingly cannot be resolved until the hero comes riding in. In fact, one professor of homiletics (the study of preaching) taught his students that the preacher should try to get Jesus into as much trouble as possible until the end of the message, and then help people see how he was able to escape.
In the story of the spread of the Word of the Lord, we have one example after another of opposition, trouble, and persecution. The only difference between this and a well-written novel is that this is an account of actual events. Note also, that this comes after the greatest reversal of all time: Jesus’ resurrection from the grave after his horrific death by crucifixion.
You would think that in the face of such a decisive victory on Jesus’ part, his enemies would give up. It should be obvious that his mission will succeed: even death cannot put a stop to him or his people. But Satan – true to his serpentine nature – will not stop writhing and seeking to steal, kill, and destroy until the very end. Thus James is put to death by the sword. And Peter is put into prison.
But there is the hint of a second denouement: Prayers were being offered for Peter. To God. By the church. Having positive thoughts may help one’s inner peace, but those thoughts are not the same as prayers. Prayers to God – the God of heaven and earth, of salvation and victory over the grave, and of mercy, truth, and grace – are powerful tools in service of the mission of God. When the church is together in such a prayer effort, they align themselves with God’s blessing and his great power.
In the darkness of trouble, conflict, distress, and persecution, those who look to God, call on him, and seek his help place themselves in the path of God’s powerful deliverance. Watch this unfold in an almost comical manner in the next paragraphs of Luke’s account.
Perhaps you are in a place where the deliverance of God is not only all you have to hope for, but for which you are earnestly praying. What joys may lay ahead for you in such a situation – especially if the whole church joins in praying for your deliverance!