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The Scriptorium

Clamping Down, Crying Up

As the heat rises, so do the prayers. Acts 12.1-5

The Right and Only King (1)

Pray Psalm 83.1-3.
Do not keep silent, O God!
Do not hold Your peace,
And do not be still, O God!
For behold, Your enemies make a tumult;
And those who hate You have lifted up their head.
They have taken crafty counsel against Your people,
And consulted together against Your sheltered ones.

Sing Psalm 83.1-3.
(St. Chrysostom: We Have not Known Thee as We Ought)
O God, do not be quiet now; do not be silent, nor be still!
See how Your foes erupt in a row and those who hate You chafe at Your will.
Shrewdly they plan, conspiring as one, against Your daughters and Your sons.

Read and meditate on Acts 12.1-5.

Preparation
1. Whom did Herod kill? Why?

2. What happened to Peter?

Meditation
The matter-of-fact tone of this paragraph is a bit startling. James was put to the sword because it pleased some jerk king to do so; and Peter, it seemed, would be next. No hand-wringing, despairing, or cries of outrage. Just the facts. But the tone is important.

Acts 12 provides an interlude between the breakout of the Gospel and the Kingdom reported in Acts 8-11, and their rapid advance and expansion which will begin in Acts 13. Luke did not want us to be surprised by continuing persecution as though it should be considered abnormal. Jesus promised it, and even His closest companions did not escape. Moreover, death in this life is not the end of things for the believer, so we don’t regard martyrdom as a tragedy. But we need to be ready for it.

Knowing that persecution is inevitable, believers should cry up to God as opponents try to clamp down on their liberties. Perhaps if we were as constant in our prayers as those first believers were (v. 5), and if we didn’t think that political solutions were real solutions or the best solutions for such problems, we might see the kind of results the first Christians realized.

By the way, what does it suggest about Herod that he felt he needed four squads of soldiers – perhaps as many as 36 men! – to guard one fisherman-turned-preacher? Was this a matter of mere overkill? An attempt to impress? Or was Herod perhaps a little concerned that powers might be at work here which he did not understand – and it’s always best to be prepared?

We should not think that persecution, harassment, scorn, mocking, and the like are not to be part of our experience as believers. It is given to us not only to believe, but to suffer for the Lord (Phil. 1.29, 30). We must prepare ourselves to stand firm in our witness in the event of such clamping-down beginning to clamp down on us, and constant prayer is the place to begin.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
Why did Herod feel emboldened to pursue his cruel path? Because he saw that it pleased the religious folk (Acts 12.3).

And that was horrible.

Yes indeed. Religious folk hating on other religious folk. It happened then; and it still happens now.

Could it be jealousy? Or greed? Or envy? Pick one.

Whatever it is that causes us to dislike other people in the church, that dislike always has a disastrous effect.

So far, the religious have killed: Jesus, Stephen, countless women and men, and now James.

This cruelty is being perpetrated by those who believed, but had not yet turned (Acts 11.21).

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13 34, 35).

Is there any place in your heart that this kind of hatred happens? Or that Jesus’ kind of love does not happen?

Does this ever happen in your church? Is there any reason the church should allow this to happen?

Should we strive with all our hearts to love other believers? How important is it that we obey Jesus’ new commandment?

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart.”
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I AM the LORD” (Lev. 19.17, 18).

We do not ever want it said of us, that persecution happened to any brother or sister in Christ, at the hands of a wicked leader, because they saw that it pleased us (Acts 12.3).

That would be horrible!

For reflection

1. Why do people persecute Christians for their faith?

2. What can we do to support and help those believers who are persecuted for their faith?

3. How should you prepare for persecution, and why should you?

“Earnest prayer,” it says. Listen as to how they were disposed toward their teachers. They did not divide into factions or make an uproar but turned to prayer, that true alliance which is invincible. In this they sought refuge. John Chrysostom (344-407), Homilies on the Act of the Apostles 26

Pray Psalm 83.13-18.
Pray for Christians who endure persecution. Pray that God would shame those who persecute them and either lead them to a change of heart or remove them from power.

Sing Psalm 83.13-18.
(St. Chrysostom: We Have not Known Thee as We Ought)
Make them like whirling dust, O God! Scatter them like the windblown chaff!
Rage like a fire consuming a wood, like flames that burn a mountain pass!
Blow like a tempest, bring them to harm, and terrify them with Your storm!

Fill with dishonor every face that they may seek Your Name, O Lord.
Bring them to shame, dismay, and disgrace, and let them perish under Your Word,
that they may learn Your infinite worth, O God Most High of all the earth!

T. M. and Susie Moore

You can listen to a summary of last week’s Scriptorium study by going to our website, www.ailbe.org, and clicking theScriptorium tab for last Sunday. You can download any or all the studies in this series on Acts by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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