As Acts 11 ended with Barnabas and Saul leaving Antioch with financial aid for the church in Judea, the narrative now shifts to Jerusalem. We see Herod the king, grandson of Herod the Great (Matthew 2.1-6) and nephew of Herod Antipas (Luke 23.7-12), continuing the family disdain for the things and people of God. Herod first laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church then killed James the brother of John with the sword. The first of the twelve disciples to die a martyr (but certainly not the last), James’ death was to try and make Herod politically popular (v.3). A man firm and fervent in his faith was beheaded so that another could score approval points (vv.2-3). There is story from church history about James’ martyrdom:
“Eusebius relates a story from Clement of Alexandria, who said the soldier guarding James before the judge was so affected by his witness that he declared himself a Christian also and was also willingly executed for Jesus alongside of James (Eusebius, Church History2.9.2-3)”.
Peter is also arrested and placed under a large guard due to his previous interactions with prison (v.4, cf. Acts 5.17-21), and as Herod is ramping up the persecution the church is ramping up the prayer:
“So Peter was kept in prison, but those in the church were earnestly praying to God for him”.
(Acts 12.5, NET)
We see this word earnestly in the prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22.44). It carries the meaning of being stretched and pulled to the limit, of being at breaking point, of working as hard as possible. The prayers of the church were as full and as fervent as they could possibly have been.
There is much for us to ponder in the first five verses of this chapter. Two main points stand out for us to take into today;
First, are we living a life of faith in Jesus so strong that we would be on anybody’s radar, so to speak? If Herod were looking for Christians to persecute in your town would your name be up there as one living out your faith publicly and powerfully? No, we don’t go looking for trouble, this is descriptive, not prescriptive, but if trouble were looking for committed Christians would it find you?
Second, are we praying earnestly? Often times prayer can be something we tag on; a meal, a meeting, maybe the end of the day…Prayer that moves mountains is rooted and secured in the will and Word of God (John 15.7).