HEROD ON THE WARPATH
“That’s when King Herod got it into his head to go after some of the church members. He murdered James, John’s brother. When he was how much it raised his popularity with the Jews, he arrested Peter — all this during Passover Week, mind you — and had him thrown in jail, putting four squads of four soldiers each to guard him. He was planning a public lynching after Passover.
“All the time that Peter was under heavy guard in the jailhouse, the church was praying for him most strenuously.” Acts 12:1-5 (The Message),
Opposition to the church was turning ugly. Up to this point it was a religious struggle but for some reason King Herod chose to get involved. The evidence points to a man who would do anything to gain popularity, even stooping to murder to “suck up” to the Jews. This was the same Herod who tried to get some entertainment out of Jesus when He was on trial for His life.
Having disposed of James to the delight of the anti-Christian Jews, he turned on Peter, planning a public display of his sadistic power after the Passover. Was he suspecting a rescue attempt by the believers? He set a guard out of all proportion to the possibility of one man making a bid to escape!
But there was another power at work which Herod had not taken into account — the church at prayer. While Peter was asleep under guard in the prison, the church was awake and storming the gates of heaven.
One wonders why James had perished but Peter was given time. Is there a powerful lesson in this story for us? Perhaps James’ death caught the church off guard. It was a surprise attack and the church did not have time to mobilise prayer to save him. Peter’s imprisonment, however, bought them time to respond by entreating the intervention of God for him.
Herod might have had a measure of authority on earth but the church at prayer was a power to be reckoned with. Way back in Acts 4, when persecution first broke out against the apostles, Peter and John, the church was learning how to handle the conflict between the kingdom of God and the dominion of darkness.
They engaged the enemy, not flesh and blood but spiritual forces, with the spiritual weapons at their disposal. In Acts 4 we have a record of their prayer — an affirmation that they understood who was in charge, “your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed”, and who was under attack, and an entreaty that He be vindicated through them. If that was the flavour of their prayer then, it would have been the same now.
This was not so much Peter’s life in danger as Jesus being challenged by an inconsequential little human who thought he was in charge. This was the same spirit that energised David to go after Goliath. He saw the heathen giant’s challenge not as merely against the Israelites but against the God whom the Israelites represented. Because the Israelite army did not see it that way, none of them had the courage to take the Philistine champion on. David was not concerned about his own tender age or inexperience. He knew he was covered by the power of a covenant-keeping God!
The Apostle Paul’s experience was a face-to-face encounter with Jesus to answer for his own actions against Him. “‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'” Acts 9:4b (NIV), but he was persecuting the church, not Jesus, so he thought. Likewise, Herod had unwittingly taken Jesus on by attacking church leaders and history would prove that he would come off second best.
The church understood that Jesus identified with His Body so closely that any attack on them was an attack on Him. Prayer that engages God with the right motive, to promote and uphold His honour, is the most powerful force in the world. God will do whatever it takes to intervene for His own sake because His mercy is His glory on display.