Pray for persecuted Christians
Persecution is a reality for followers of Jesus. St. Luke records the persecution of James and Peter.
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 pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast 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. 6 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. 7 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. 8 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. 9 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 sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating." 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 girl 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 brothers 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. Then Herod went from
Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. (Act 12:1-19)
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus told James and John, “You will indeed drink from my cup” (Matthew ). Acts 12:2 reveals how James drank the cup of suffering to the bitter dregs. Herod put James to death by the sword. The Savior tells his believers that connected to following him is “taking up our cross.” The Bible makes it clear that there are many “hardships” (Acts ) for his believers before they get to heaven.
However, we are not helpless in the face of hardships and persecution that come to us as Christians. Note Acts 12:5: “The church was earnestly praying to God for [Peter].” When things get tough for us as Christians, we are inclined to think of how we must muster our own might to confront the onslaught. We think about rallying people and forces to defend ourselves against the evil ones that oppose us. But it is not by human might and power that we withstand persecution and are able to carry our cross. The church of believers in this chapter teaches us what’s important to remember: they “earnestly prayed” for Peter. Prayer is a ‘weapon’ that God has given us to confront opposition to our faith in Christ. This is our first option, not a last resort.
Persecution is prevalent in our times. In other parts of our world today, Christians are imprisoned and put to death for their faith. And Christians are being harassed and marginalized by a world of people that is growing more and more ignorant and indifferent and hostile to the unchanging, absolute and eternal truth of God’s Word. But no matter what chaos and calamity the devil incites against the church, the Lord will not allow the power of hell to overcome it.
He will answer the prayers of his church for help and deliverance. In fact, he will answer in ways that are even beyond our imagination. Note in Acts 12:15-16 how astonished and even incredulous the believers were that the Lord rescued Peter from prison and death! Again and again the Scriptures reveal that nothing is impossible with God…He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians ).
So pray earnestly for the church militant, and trust in the almighty power of God to help and deliver us. Pray regularly and trust in the loving will of God for help and rescue. And in the final deliverance, when God takes each and every believer to be with him in heaven, then indeed they will “have come out of the great tribulation” (Revelation ).