"A House of Prayer for All People" (continued)
There seems to be weakness and failure along this line: that we are not functioning in prayer to the point of seeing things through. We pray about many things, and we preach many things, but we do not see them through to prayer, and the Lord's Name is involve in that. You will know whether the Lord is speaking to your own heart. I believe this is a fresh call to the primary ministry which is so very, very much needed. All those who go out into the nations need very strong prayer support. If we fail them we do not know what may happen. They may be in all kinds of difficulties which they need not get into if we were wholly faithful in this prayer ministry. The Lord lay it upon our hearts as a burden!
The Church's Prayer And Spiritual Increase
Acts 12:1, 5; Acts 12:24, 25
We may get great help from the incident recorded in Acts 12 if we realize the vast implications of it. When verse 24 speaks of the Word of God growing and multiplying it is dealing not merely with what happened at Jerusalem after the release of Peter, but with the spread of the Gospel into all the earth. Here was a notable turning-point in the affairs of the people of God - "But the word of God grew and multiplied." The explanation of it, however, is surely in the earlier statement which discloses the secret crisis which brought about this turning of the tide - "But prayer ..." (Acts 12:5).
Everybody knows, of course, that chapter 13 marks a new division of the Book of Acts, and that it introduces a very important development in the life of the Church. From that point there was an amazing and altogether new sending forth into all the earth of the testimony of Jesus Christ; the Word of God was indeed multiplied. But the narrative runs straight on from chapter 12, and is closely connected with it. We must not imagine that this new development was unrelated to what had gone before, but rather take note of how closely related were the events at Jerusalem with what was initiated from Antioch.
Significance of the Time
1. Spiritual Triumph at Antioch
"Now about that time ..." What time? The time of great spiritual victory and blessing at Antioch. The Spirit of God was mightily at work in the city, and for a year Saul and Barnabas had been ministering there among the new converts who were notable for the great grace of God which could be seen in them. Then, in the midst of this happy time of fellowship and instruction, a practical matter arose. By means of a prophet who came down from Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit presented them all with a practical challenge. He always does this. And very much depends on how we react at such a time of challenge. The saints at Antioch were told of an impending famine in Judaea, and thus, in a very practical way, they were tested as t how much they had really profited from what they had learned. It was a critical moment. By means of the Prophet Agabus they were being proved as to whether the grace of God was really working effectively in them. They stood the test. Their response was immediate and whole-hearted. They set aside any feelings which they might have had as to their remoteness from Jerusalem or their independence of it. Their brethren were in need. That was enough. Love triumphed, as they determined to send help, every man according to his ability.
"Now about THAT time, Herod the king put forth his hands." Is not that just like the devil? Just when there is a new movement of the Lord among His people and a fuller expression of the triumph of His grace in their hearts, satan reacts with increased hatred and opposition. This is all so true in our own experience.
2. The Beginning of An Apostolic Partnership
Another significant feature in the timing of this evil attack was that it also marked the beginning of a very important association of two men - Barnabas and Saul. They had known each other before, indeed it was Barnabas who first brought Saul to Antioch. Now, however, there was coming into being a most vital and significant movement of God, which demanded the joint ministry of the two men. In the providence of God they were found together at Jerusalem at this very time; it may be that they were present at the special time of prayer for Peter. We must not surmise too much about those movements of the apostles which are not recorded in the Word, but surely the Holy Spirit has a purpose in recording their presence in Jerusalem immediately before and after the story of Peter's deliverance from Herod. Chapter 11 ends with the arrival of Barnabas and Saul in Jerusalem. They had come with their gifts for the needy saints of that city. It is true that no further mention of them is made up to chapter 12:24, but when the narrative is resumed at verse 25 we are told of the fulfillment of their ministration and their return from Jerusalem. This seems to show clearly that the chronicler wishes us to understand that Barnabas and Saul were still in Jerusalem during intervening period. A further confirmation seems to be found in that the prayer took place in the house of the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), who was the very same young man who accompanied Saul and Barnabas back to Antioch. This Jerusalem prayer meeting seems to be taking on an altogether new significance. It is related to issues much larger even than the ministry of Peter and of the local church. It first checks and then reverses the rising tide of spiritual opposition, opening the way for a mighty release of the Spirit's energy through the whole Church.
(continued with # 29 - (The Time of the Passover)