Immediately an angel of the Lord struck [King Herod] down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. But the word of God increased and multiplied. (Acts 12:23-24 ESV)
The pages of history are filled with attempts to eradicate the Christian faith. Bibles have been banned and burned. Christians have been imprisoned and killed. Worship and evangelism have been restricted and threatened. From Herod the Great trying to prevent the Messiah from being born to Herod Agrippa and Nero killing Apostles to the Diocletian persecution to Communist Regimes to Islamic states, rulers have tried to erase Christianity completely.
And yet, Christianity spread through the Roman Empire like wildfire and has spread throughout the world, outlasting the Roman Empire.
Christianity has outlasted kings, emperors, dictators, and everyone and everything that has exalted itself above God.
These historical facts remind us that God’s promises are true! Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” Jesus said the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church. Over and again, we are assured of the triumph of God in Christ and of the demise of the threats against God’s people.
God’s people we may be, but we are, after all, people. And thus, we fear and forget. In times of adversity, we may very well be tempted to think of God’s promises as trite expressions at best, and go about fretting about the future. Especially when rulers rise who hold to worldviews contrary to the truths of Christianity, many followers of Christ may be tempted to resort to worldliness rather than faithfulness.
The Book of Acts was written to the early church to demonstrate that God’s promises are true in real time. The earliest Chrsitians hearing the stories as documented in Acts would be suffering intense persecution, and they needed to know that God had everything under control.
In our text, Acts 12, Herod Agrippa is in power. He is the grandson of the Herod that tried to kill the baby Jesus. Luke tells us that James, the brother of John, is killed, and Peter is imprisoned. Once again, the future of the church looks bleak.
However, the story goes on to tell of how an angel rescued Peter from prison. Later, Herod would die a gruesome death. And the best part is, “the word of God increased and multiplied!”
Herod is dead. Peter is free. The gospel advances. Hallelujah!
A church that claims these promises is not going to panic when rulers rise and threaten us. We would not resort to worldly tactics that are not outlined in scripture to fight back, either. What is the church doing during these time of intense persecution? They were engaged in “earnest prayer” (v5).
Persecution is not a time for laziness or apathy, but it is a time for faith and prayer. How can we do this, if things seem so hopeless?
Stop looking only at those “hopeless things” and fix your eyes on the true King, Christ Jesus, who promised that nothing can prevail against his kingdom!