Wednesday, May 21, 2014

BUT THE WORD... (Acts Chapter 12)

Acts 12:24, “But the word of God increased and multiplied.”

As I write this a 26 year old Sudanese sister in Christ, Meriam Ibrahim, is imprisoned in Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison in Sudan.  She is presently 8 months pregnant and is in prison with her 18 month old son.  Her crime?  She was accused of illegally converting to Islam and of having committed adultery when she married a Christian (illegal under Sharia law).  She’s been sentenced to receive 100 lashes (for adultery) immediately after having her baby, and to be subsequently hanged for refusing to recant of her Christian faith.  “We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam,” the judge told her, “I (therefore) sentence you to be hanged to death.”  “I was never a Muslim,” she replied.  Pray for her, and others like her, who are suffering persecution: “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3).  International pressure is being applied to the Sudanese government, but God alone knows what might come to pass in her situation.

Meriam is traveling a well-worn pathway that was first marked out for us by the Lord Jesus Himself (Cf. 1 Peter 2:21-25).  Others soon followed “in his steps” (1 Peter 1:21).  We’ve read of Stephen’s martyrdom (Cf. Acts chapter 7).  His death initiated a “great persecution against the church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:1).  People suffered persecution as a direct result of their identity in Christ (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:12).  And through the centuries ever since countless others have trod that difficult pathway on which Meriam now finds herself.

Acts chapter 12 gives the account of the persecution directed against James and Peter.  James was a disciple of Jesus and John the Apostle’s brother (Cf. Acts 12:2).  He had become a prominent leader in the Jerusalem church and was singled out for execution.  Jesus had predicted that he would drink of His Master’s cup (Cf. Mark 10:39).  So it came to pass.  Herod killed him with a sword. 

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs gives the following account of what transpired: “The next martyr we meet with, according to St. Luke, in the History of the Apostles' Acts, was James the son of Zebedee…It was not until ten years after the death of Stephen that the second martyrdom took place; for no sooner had Herod Agrippa been appointed governor of Judea, than, with a view to ingratiate himself with them, he raised a sharp persecution against the Christians, and determined to make an effectual blow, by striking at their leaders. The account given us by an eminent primitive writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, ought not to be overlooked; that, as James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle's extraordinary courage and undauntedness, and fell down at his feet to request his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone.  Hence they were both beheaded at the same time.  Thus did the first apostolic martyr cheerfully and resolutely receive that cup, which he had told our Savior he was ready to drink…These events took place A.D. 44.”

Having ingratiated himself to the Jews, Herod decided to have Peter arrested also.  “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5).  But God intervened and miraculously delivered Peter from prison (Cf. Acts 12:6-19).  Herod himself met a gruesome end.  Dressed in his royal robes and subsequently praised by the people, he “did not give God the glory” (Acts 12:21-23).  So “he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12:23).

The ESV Bible study includes this note in reference to Acts 12:24: “No power can triumph over the word (cf. 6:7; 13:49, and those who attempt to harm God’s people will in the end face judgment themselves.”  James died and was ushered into God’s presence.  Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, but would die a martyr’s death not many years hence.  Despite Herod’s murderous activities the “word of God increased and multiplied,” such that even 2000 years later a woman in a prison cell refuses to deny, under penalty of death, her Savior.  You can imprison and even martyr God’s children, but you cannot imprison or silence God’s Word (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:9).

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