Acts 12.1-5 the Church is persecuted, we are persecuted

In College, I wrote a group paper titled Modern Martrydom:
Here is a quote from a source we used:
“The grounds for hostility to the Christians were not always the same, and often opposition and persecution were localized. The loyalty of Christians to “Jesus as Lord,” however, was irreconcilable with the worship of the Roman emperor as “Lord,” and those emperors, such as Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, who were the most deeply committed to unity and reform were also the ones who recognized the Christians as a threat to those goals and who therefore undertook to eliminate the threat. As in the history of other religions, especially Islam, opposition produced the exact contrary of its intended purpose, and, in the epigram of the North African church father Tertullian, the “blood of the martyrs” became the “seed of the church.”

Is it over? Is persecution over?

Pope Francis: Persecution Against Christians Is Worse Now Than in the Early Church
by Staff Writer
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“There are more Christian martyrs now than during the first centuries of the Church,” the pope said during an interview last week.
As reported by Christian Today, during an interview with the Spanish-language La Vanguardia magazine on June 13, Pope Francis declared that “persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church.” The comment came as he condemned acts of persecution against Christians and violence in the name of God.
“Today there are more Christian martyrs than in that period. And, it’s not because of fantasy, it’s because of the numbers. … The persecuted Christians are a concern that touches me very deeply as a pastor,” he said.
“Violence in the name of God does not correspond with our time,” he continued. “It’s something ancient. With historical perspective, one has to say that Christians, at times, have practiced it. When I think of the Thirty Years War, there was violence in the name of God. Today it is unimaginable, right? We arrive, sometimes, by way of religion to very serious, very grave contradictions.”
Despite his candid discussion of increasing persecution and martyrdom in the church, Pope Francis admitted that he has eliminated some of the personal security procedures taken with him when he enters the public eye.
“I know that something could happen to me, but it’s in the hands of God,” he said. “I remember that in Brazil they had prepared a closed Popemobile for me, with glass, but I couldn’t greet the people and tell them that I love them from within a sardine tin.”
“Let’s be realistic, at my age I don’t have much to lose,” he added.
According to Paul Marshall with the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, contemporary persecution of Christians is an urgent concern because it is “occurring on a massive scale, underreported and growing rapidly in many parts of the world.” Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that Christians are persecuted in more countries today than any other religious group.

The birth of a healthy baby girl is usually a joyous occasion. But when Meriam Ibrahim gave birth to her daughter, Maya, on Tuesday, May 27, it triggered a two-year countdown to her execution.
On May 15, the 27-year-old Sudanese doctor was sentenced to death for apostasy by a Sudanese court. In addition, she is to endure 100 lashes for the crime of committing adultery—with her Christian husband. The judge ruled that the lashing would be carried out after she had recovered from delivering her baby and that her death by hanging would occur when her baby reached age two, so she would have time to nurse the infant.
During her trial, the judge asked the young woman three times to recant her Christian faith, but she refused each time.

That was recent. In fact I read that over 100 million people are persecuted right now. A few weeks ago I read that the Bible is illegal in 52 countries.

But Christianity is growing in these persecuted countries. Figure that out.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Paul the apostle wrote in 2 Timothy 3: 12: In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…

So, today we come to a passage where the Jerusalem church is persecuted. We will look at that passage. I wish to teach that passage and I also want to talk about persecution today. Goals today:
1. Learn about Acts 12:1-5
2. Learn about persecution in the world
3. Be ready for your Christian faith to be challenged, maybe even violently, especially if you are young.

Let’s read Acts 12:1-5:
It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
I. Let’s look at the passage, the apostles are persecuted.
a. We have seen this before, but not so brutally.
b. Now, it says, “about that time…”
c. Take note: We are going back a few years before some of the previous events. This Herod—he died in A.D. 44. We know this.
d. Things were going on and it was pretty political. So, what is going? He wants to win points with his constituents, so he harms the apostles.
e. Verse 2: He had James, the brother of John put to death with the sword.
f. At one time they would kill people with an ax, apparently, we know by now, it was with a sword.
g. There is a church history legend that James was witnessing all the way until his death. Do you hear? He was trying to convert, actually the person who was to behead him, until his death. Though we do not know if some of those stories are factual. I like to believe they are true.
h. Now, get this, James is killed and that pleased the Jews. Can you believe it? It made the Jews feel good that someone was killed. So, Herod brings Peter in. Peter is locked up with 16 guards. Can you believe it? 16 guards.
i. Peter, he is a very dangerous man, right?
j. We will find out that 16 guards were not enough. Yes, they will have one job, just one job!
k. BUT— verse 5, there was a church praying and they were praying for him fervently or earnestly. We’ll come back to that next week. But let me make a note right now. We need holistic, communal prayer.
l. I think the church that is persecuted gets back to the reality of the reverence of a Holy God, the reverence of Scripture, the reality of salvation through faith alone in Jesus alone and the need for a relationship with Jesus through prayer.
m. Everyone pick up a Bible hold it up: (talk soft) This book does not have value because of the ink, nor the paper. This book has value because of where the Words come from. So, when the church is persecuted they get back to prayer and the Word and the Gospel.
n. Before we move on, James died. He really died. Remember that death is not the end as a Christ follower. Death is not the end. We have an eternal hope. 1 Cor. 15:50 Paul writes: Where O death is the sting? As we talk about persecution remember that Jesus saves. We have eternal life and eternal hope.
II. Now, let’s talk about persecution.
Before we talk about this subject— There is some heavy truth in this section, but in truth there is grace. Don’t you want warned before walking into an electric fence? Don’t you want warned before walking off a cliff? Don’t you want warned before playing with a Rattle snake?
a. I know that this is a very depressing subject for some. For some it is not. For some of you. You are like, “Yes, a challenge. I’ll go, send me…”
b. Sometimes, many times, we send people on a mission with the wrong expectations.
c. Jesus did not do this. But many times we glance over these verses, at least in America. We have John 15:20 in which Jesus said that we will be persecuted. If they persecuted Him they will persecute us. Now, we can look at this passage three ways.
1. We could say. Well maybe not always, or maybe we are verbally attacked or something like that. This may be true because I bet most us have not been actually persecuted.
2. Or, we could think, maybe we are not persecuted because we are not doing our job as a witness.
a. If I am being the witness of Jesus Christ, then the devil will kick back with persecution.
b. Ephesians 6:12 says that there is a real spiritual battle.
3. There is a third option: maybe you are not persecuted because you do not know Jesus.
d. What about hope for persecution: I am going to talk about some things that may give hope in a minute. But let me give a few other thoughts:
i. Let me say that I have read books about Christians persecuted through the ages and up until now and there testimonies seem to talk of Spirit filled peace with them.
ii. Rev. 6:9-11: these are saints who died as martyrs:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
The Hope:
Matthew 5:10-12:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

III. A few weeks ago a church member asked me about being ready for persecution, here are some applications. We all need to pray that:
1. We will be a faithful witness in persecution as these disciples/apostles were.
2. We must be a man or a woman of prayer, seeking the Lord, in relationship with Him so that we are ready to be a witness in persecution. In verse 5 we see the church praying for him.
3. We must be in the Word, always being ready to give an answer with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)
4. We will know that persecution will come. Jesus said that we will be persecuted: Matthew 5:10-12; John 15:20: Jesus says that they persecuted me, they will persecute you.
5. We will remember those in Acts 5:41 who rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name.
6. We will remember Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:12, that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
7. We will remember Jesus’ words not to worry about what to say (Matthew 10:19).
8. We will be in prayer for our brothers and sisters in need as we see in verse 5, earnest prayer.
(Play from the Bible movie)

By the way, the church prayed and next week we will break it down, but you know what happened? Peter was released. It is a humorous story. Peter is being guarded by 16 soldiers and he is miraculously released from prison. They had 1 job to do. 16 soldiers to guard 1 person and they failed, they failed! An angels wakes Peter in the night, saying, “Wake up, wake up!!!” The angel leads him out to the prayer meeting. Here they are praying for him and they open the door and slam it in his face, not believing it is really him. They doubt their own prayers.

Last application: We serve a mighty God: Even in persecution: We serve a mighty God. You will face trials and tribulations, but God is great!

Jim Elliot wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We must be prepared to do this.

Jim Elliot wrote that and then he was martyred for Christ.

I am not going to ask you about commitment, that is implied.

I am going to ask you about prayer. Pray for the persecuted church.

Pray for the church in America, yourself, children, this church that we can be strong witnesses.

Others, do you know Jesus, why would people go through this for Jesus?

For life everlasting, that is the answer. We are always trying to live longer, but we never will, not on our own.

God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)
Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)
Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)
Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)
Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)
Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)

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