A King Like No Other
Jesus Christ came to Earth to inaugurate His Kingdom. But the Kingdom of Christ would not look like any other kingdom of this world. It would be a kingdom without borders, a kingdom without end, and a kingdom without rivals.
There came a time when Herod the King challenged the reign of King Jesus as the church became a threat to earthly structures of power and control. In Acts 12, we learn that Herod “laid violent hands” on some who belonged to the church. To stop King Jesus, the first thing to do is punish and kill its leaders and subjects, right? Herod killed James, the brother of John, with the sword, and Peter was also arrested and imprisoned, awaiting the same fate of James.
For good measure, Herod had 4 squads of soldiers, multiple guards, a secluded prison cell, and two chains in order to preserve Peter’s imminent death. Things looked grim. One leader murdered, another imprisoned - what could the church do? Luke tells us, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5).
This response of prayer by the church was not a passive, “it’s the least we can do,” last-ditch effort. Rather, it was the first-response, appealing to the One who had all authority over heaven and earth. It also was a response that identified with their dear brother who was imprisoned. They entered in to his suffering because they had already entered into His life as “members one of another.”
What is the difference between earnest prayer and just praying? Earnest prayer is a broken-hearted urgent and continual cry to God. The passionate praying was not due to lack of faith of doubting the goodness and nearness of God. Rather, such prayer was meaningful participation as God’s providential means for exercising His rule and fulfilling His purposes in the world. Earnest prayer is the weapon of the church militant, expressing confidence in the compassion of their King to bring them good and bring Him glory on Earth.
The battle lines had been drawn. On one side, you have a powerful earthly king conspiring with a mob of Jews. On the other hand, you have a heavenly king and praying church. Jesus, hearing the prayers of His church, caused the chains to fall off Peter’s hands and the iron gates to open on its own accord. What could a violent king, an angry mob of Jewish leaders, four sentries of soldiers, and two chains do to stop a praying church and omnipotent King?
This turn of events outraged Herod even more. His anger turned on the soldiers and had them put to death. The people of Tyre and Sidon, fearful and intimidated by the anger of Herod, attempted to appease him due their dependence on him for food. Now pause with me for a second in this significant moment in the history of the early church. There were two groups of people who both expressed dependence upon their king. The church expressed dependence on King Jesus for protection and deliverance. The people of Tyre and Sidon expressed dependence on Herod the King for peace and food. Which king would do good for his people and be glorified?
As Herod was heralded as king and praise as a “voice of God,” Luke records that an angel of the Lord struck him down because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms (Acts 12:23). And immediately, we learn that “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24).
At the beginning of this story, Herod was attempting to stop the church by killing Christians by the sword; at the end of the story, Herod was stopped by Jesus and eaten by worms. At the beginning, it looked like the church was going to be destroyed; at the end of the story, the word of God increased and multiplied. Herod was an angry king who destroyed those who failed him. Jesus is a gracious king who rescues those who failed him. And in the middle of all this, you have a praying church suffering under the absolutely sovereignty of their king who will not share His glory with another.
In God’s mysterious providence, He allowed James to be killed by the sword and Peter rescued from the sword. Whether in death or deliverance, they were men of faith who swore allegiance to King Jesus and considered Him to be of greater value than their own lives. And the church, faced with such sadness and loss were not driven to despair but to prayer. They knew prayer was not a therapeutic healing discipline. Prayer was crying out to their Almighty King who heard their every cry. Their submission to God’s sovereignty did not cause them to nullify the God-ordained means of prayer for carrying out God’s will for them. These are truths that we need to apply in an ever-increasing hostile world with anger toward those who follow King Jesus.
The good news is that Jesus is still on His throne. Jesus still hears the earnest prayers of His church. Whether in death or deliverance, Jesus will be glorified as sovereign King of a people who gladly put His worth on display through suffering for the sake of His name. Indeed, we have a King like no other!
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