Even when our faith is immature and deficient, God does a work that only He can do. And through it all, God still loves us and is perfecting our faith as we focus our attention on Jesus and follow Him.
In Acts 12:1-11 we are told of how the Apostle James was killed and Peter was placed in prison awaiting his death. After Herod Agrippa I saw that beheading James pleased the people, he decided to do the same to Peter and He had him put in prison. Because Herod was now observing the Jewish law and trying to win favor with the people, he would not put Peter to death during the Passover season. He would wait until afterward and do to Peter in front of all the people what he had already done to James. In the meantime, he would hold Peter prisoner and make it impossible for him to escape or be freed by assigning four squads of soldiers to guard him. Each squad consisted of four Roman soldiers and each squad would have a six hour shift. Two soldiers would be chained to either side of him and two soldiers would guard the door. There was seemingly no way Peter would be able to escape, but God sent an angel to deliver Peter out of the prison in the middle of the night. As Peter followed the angel, he was set free. Peter was still in a daze from it all and when his mind finally cleared, he realized that he was supernaturally delivered by God and saved from death.
When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter's voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, "You are out of your mind." But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, "It is his angel!" But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, "Tell these things to James and to the brothers." Then he departed and went to another place. Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there. (Acts 12:12-19 ESV)
The church survived without a church building for three hundred years. There were no building funds. There were no campaigns to pay down building debt. There were neither maintenance invoices nor utility bills to pay. Instead, Christ followers met in houses and existing facilities. At this time in Jerusalem, the church had grown to large numbers and was meeting in many houses in the city. Upon his supernatural deliverance from prison, Peter went to John Mark’s mother’s house. Many believe that this was the house that held the upper room where Jesus had His last supper with the disciples the night before His crucifixion. This was probably the house where Peter met with other Christ followers regularly and was the people he was most familiar with as Rhoda knew his voice. In any case, Peter went to where he knew people would be meeting in the middle of the night to pray for His safe release.
Prayer has always been a quality that identifies the church. Christ followers are praying people and follow the example that Christ gave as He walked this earth ministering at the point of need. Jesus took the time to pray and the disciples, seeing that this was a priority in Jesus’ life, asked for Him to teach them how to pray.
Faith is exercised as one communicates to God and asks for his help, guidance and intervention. A person prays believing in God and believing that He can do the impossible. Those who met in this house knew that Herod had beheaded the Apostle James and was planning to do the same to Peter the next day at the conclusion of the Passover. They were praying earnestly for him day and night knowing that God could deliver and in this case, it would take God.
Peter knocked at the gate indicating that this house had a courtyard which was typical of the bigger homes of that day that could accommodate many people. Rhoda goes to see who is knocking. Upon recognizing Peter’s voice and without opening the gate and letting Peter in, she goes back inside tell the people it was Peter. The people thought she was out of her mind! Anyway you look at this it is humorous. Their prayers had been answered. Evidently they had enough faith to pray knowing that God could deliver Peter out of this seemingly hopeless situation, but their faith was deficient in realizing that God was willing to deliver Peter. Even though their faith was deficient, God moved on their behalf and supernaturally delivered Peter from the chains of bondage and certain death.
Beloved, we have been supernaturally delivered from the bondage of sin and saved from death by Jesus Christ. Some may doubt our deliverance and that doubt may come from some who have prayed for our deliverance, but nevertheless we have been delivered! We didn’t do anything to deserve it. It was all God pouring our His amazing grace upon us. We were bound in the chains of sin and held captive in its prison. But Jesus set us free. And when Jesus sets us free, we are free indeed!
Not only is God able to deliver and set the captive free from the power of sin, God is willing. All Peter had to do was follow the angel the Lord sent out of the prison he was held captive in. We have been given Jesus to follow. All of those friends and loved ones that you are praying for, God can and he will deliver as they follow Jesus out of their prison. Keep praying for them. Pray earnestly for them. God will do in an instance what no person could do in a lifetime.
If you are held captive by the power of sin today, I encourage you to follow Jesus out of that prison. As you fix your eyes on Him and follow Him, He will break every shackle that binds you. He will lead you out of darkness and despair. He will take away your hopelessness and give you a reason for living. He will truly set you free!
Beloved, as we follow Christ and keep our eyes fixed on Him, our faith will grow because He is the founder and the perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). When our faith is immature and deficient, God still loves us. He does supernatural things in our life and in our circumstances regardless of the size of our faith. And as He does, our faith grows. It is simply Jesus perfecting our faith.
It is possible for us to grow to such a point in our faith as to rest in times of trouble knowing that God is in control of our life as we follow Christ on this journey from earth to glory. He is directing our steps. He is making a way where there seems to be no way.
For the early followers of Christ there was a season after Saul became a Christ follower (Acts 9) in which they experienced a freedom from oppression and persecution brought on by the religionists of their day. It would not last long though. King Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of the King Herod of Jesus’ birth, in order to gain favor with the Jews began to observe their ways and practice their law. He had heard them complain of Christ followers spreading the message of Christ and how it threatened their religious tradition. He decided to display his hand of power against the radical Christ followers in order to win more favor with those who were merely religious.
About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly." And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, "Dress yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting."
(Acts 12:1-11 ESV)
James here is the disciple of Jesus, son of Zebedee and brother of John, not to be confused with James, brother of Jesus and author of the book of James in the New Testament. James, John and Peter made up the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples while He ministered on earth. Why James would die and Peter escape is a mystery of divine providence. Peter still had much to accomplish as he would author two epistles of the New Testament. James would complete His mission and be the first of the disciples to join the glorified Christ.
After Herod Agrippa I saw that beheading James pleased the people, he decided to do the same to Peter and He had him put in prison. Because Herod was now observing the Jewish law and trying to win favor with the people, he would not put Peter to death during the Passover season. He would wait until afterward and do to Peter in front of all the people what he had already done to James. In the meantime, he would hold Peter prisoner and make it impossible for him to escape or be freed by assigning four squads of soldiers to guard him. Each squad consisted of four Roman soldiers and each squad would have a six hour shift. Two soldiers would be chained to either side of him and two soldiers would guard the door. There was seemingly no way Peter would be able to escape.
Notice what the followers of Christ did. They prayed for Peter, but it was not a half hearted prayer mouthed through sleepy lips. It was earnest prayer. The oppressive hand of Herod was powerful, but not as powerful as earnest prayer that releases divine power that destroys strongholds and sets the captive free (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Beloved, earnestly pray for those you know that are held captive by their troubles. Prayer is our spiritual weapon. Pray earnestly.
What catches my attention the most today from these paragraphs of Scripture is what Peter was doing in the midst of his troubles. He was asleep. That is an indication that his faith had grown to a point where he was able to rest in the midst of his troubles. He could not always do that, but now his faith had grown to a point where he could. He trusted God fully and understood that God was in control of his life as he followed Christ. He was at peace. He did not fear death as he realized that to be absent from the body would mean that He would be present with our Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Beloved, I believe that is the faith God desires to develop in each of us. It’s a faith that will inspire our earnest prayers for those that are held captive by their troubling situations and seemingly hopeless circumstances. It’s a faith that allows us to rest in the middle of the greatest storm that life brings our way knowing that God is in control and He can either calm the storm or get us through it.
Supernatural deliverance came to Peter that night. It was an undeniable miracle that happened in a fashion in which no person could take the glory. It was all God. Peter rested. God delivered.
Beloved, allow your faith in God to produce that same rest in you today. God knows the difficulty that you are in. He knows what you are going through. He has lifted up others who are praying earnestly for you. He will make a way where there seems to be no way. He will make the impossible possible. Trust Him. Rest in Him. He will do the rest.
Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
Regardless of one’s political and economic convictions, there is a God given relationship expressed throughout the Bible between ability and need. God blesses people with ability and it is His expectation that those with the ability take care of those in need. This is in direct opposition to greed which is not of God.
We find the Christ followers in Antioch being blessed in Acts 11:19-26. The work of God in Antioch was authenticated by good works. It was in Antioch that Christ followers were first called Christian which means good, kind, loving benevolent, useful and generous. They showed their love in practical ways.
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30 ESV)
Claudius Caesar ruled from A.D. 41 to 54. During this period there was a series of bad harvests and serious famines in various parts of the Roman Empire. Jewish historian Josephus wrote of a great famine during the reign of Claudius that oppressed the people of Judea. Many people starved to death without the means to obtain food. Two Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, have recorded that there were several localized famines during the Claudius period. Barnabas arrived at Antioch in A.D. 41 which was the beginning of Claudius’ rule.
In this paragraph of Scripture we find that Luke, the author of Acts, was more concerned with recording the generous response of the Christ followers in Antioch than he was with the fulfillment of the prophecy of famine. We can glean much from these verses of Scripture that will help us be everything that God intends for us to be in our day.
First of all notice that the need was presented by the moving of the Holy Spirit. Prophecy is a gift of the Spirit and a verbal manifestation. Prophecy is both foretelling and forthtelling, but prophecy in the Bible is mostly forthtelling or speaking God’s message rather than foretelling the future. The important fact here is that God revealed a need to the Christ followers in Antioch by the Holy Spirit. Beloved, God identifies needs to us in our day and if we are people of the Spirit and we walk in the Spirit instead of the flesh, we will know when God is revealing a need to us that he has given us the ability to meet.
Next, notice that their faith was not dead. Their faith led to a decision and the decision led to action. Beloved, our faith will always lead to action because faith without action is dead. God’s Word says “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:14-18 ESV)
Finally, notice that they each gave according to their ability. They were not illogical in their giving and did not give beyond their means. Each one voluntarily gave what they could based on the ability that God had given them. Beloved, God blesses us so that we can bless others. The Apostle Paul wrote “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8 ESV)
Beloved, God’s requirement for us in our day is very simple. As we are sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, He will show us needs that we can meet based upon the ability that He has given us. Whether we act or not will be based upon the condition of our faith. If our faith is dead, we will do nothing. If our faith is alive, we will utilize the ability that God has given us to meet the need that He reveals to us.
I encourage you today to recognize the ability that God has given you. Your ability is a gift of God’s precious and amazing grace. Be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit as He will direct you to needs that you can meet based on the ability you have been given. Be quick to act upon your faith. Decide in your heart what you are to do and act upon it, not reluctantly or under compulsion, realizing that God loves a cheerful giver.
As Christ followers recognize God's grace at work in people, they are glad because they realize that God is doing the same work in others that He has done in them. They know that God is no respecter of people; what He does in one, He will do in another. And it’s not because one deserves it. It’s all the result of God’s grace; His unmerited favor towards us all.
In Acts 11:19-21, many Gentiles had lost their confidence in their idols and were looking for something better. Their situation looked hopeless, but God was working on their behalf. He broke down religious tradition and practices in Jewish people and sent them to Antioch to preach Jesus. Through the preaching of Christ, many non Jewish people turned from their idols, received the forgiveness of sins and became followers of Jesus Christ.
The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:22-26 ESV)
Antioch itself was significant. It was the third most important city in the Roman Empire. It was exceeded only by Rome and Alexandria. The church in Jerusalem heard of what was happening in Antioch and out of love sends to them Barnabus, their best encourager. When Barnabus arrives in Antioch, he “saw the grace of God” and “he was glad”.
The biggest thrill in ministry is seeing God’s grace on people and the changes that it brings to their lives. I was preaching the good news of Christ in Santiago Cuba on a hot and humid spring night to hundreds of people who had gathered. The small building was packed full and the crowd stretched out the open doors, into the yard outside and across the street. Later I would be told that there were over 900 people listening, mostly outside because they could not get in the building. As I spoke a sentence, I would wait and watch the people as the interpreter spoke in their language what I just said in English. As I watched, I could see God’s grace at work in them. They soaked up the message of Christ like a dry sponge absorbs water. Many became followers of Christ that night, but one lady, I will never forget. She was 90 years old and had never heard the Gospel. She decided to receive God’s grace and begin her journey with Jesus that night as she gave Him her life and made Him her Lord.
We experienced the supernatural that night. We did not speak the same language. We did not have the same color of skin. We were raised under two different types of government. We were of different economic status as they lived in extreme poverty and I live in wealthy America. They would stay, but I would go back. We had a lot of differences, but we had one thing in common. We had experienced God’s amazing grace. God loved us all equally and poured His grace out upon us.
I’ve seen God’s grace on women and on men as I’ve preached Jesus to them in Jail. I’ve seen God’s grace on the homeless as I’ve encourage them with the good news of Jesus who Himself experienced homelessness. I’ve seen God’s grace on gang members as I’ve pointed them to Jesus, the most courageous man that has walked this earth. I’ve seen God’s grace on sex offenders in transitional housing as I’ve told them that a relationship with Jesus is the answer to their sexual addictions. I’ve seen God’s grace at work and it always makes me glad.
Beloved, rejoice in God’s grace today. His hand is not only upon you, but it is upon those around you. Recognize that we are all God’s creation and created in His image and in His likeness. We all make mistakes in life, but God still picks us to follow Jesus in spite of our mistakes. He picks us just like we are and He brings changes to our heart and mind as we follow Christ. As we allow Him to change our heart and our mind, our behavior changes and others begin to experience God’s grace through our words and through our actions. As others experience God’s grace, we will see it and it will make us glad.
I encourage you today as Barnabas did those in His day to remain faithful to Jesus. Value Him and your relationship with Him above all else. Above all that you own and all that you dream to own and above all other relationships. Remain faithful to Jesus. Keep a steadfast purpose to follow Him, continuing His point of need ministry in the power and in the fullness of the Holy Spirit until He comes.
We are entering into the March madness time of year when college basketball has their conference tournaments and then the big dance – the NCAA tournament.
You will hear coaches and commentators commenting on a team’s ability to play offense and defense.
During this time of year, I’m always reminded of teamwork and how championships are won by teamwork and good coaching.
Christ followers belong to a team.
They have been selected by Christ alone.
He is their coach and He is a good coach.
He simply asks them to deny self, take up their cross and follow Him.
He showed them how.
They don’t need a popular sports drink.
Their thirst is quenched by the Holy Spirit who empowers them to continue the point of need ministry of their coach.
A lot of defense has been played, but coach showed them by example how to play offense.
It’s time rise up as a team and play offense in our day!
Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear... Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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