The Church Prayer and Spiritual Increase (continued)
3. The Time of the Passover
There is one more point which should be noted with regard to the time element, and this is that it was the time of the Passover. "Those were the days of unleavened bread." It seems that in some general way the saints still kept the Jewish feasts; indeed in Jerusalem it was impossible for them not to do so. Even if they did not strictly observe the Jewish festivals, at least they would keep the Passover. We cannot fail to take some note of them. There is no doubt that as the Passover was being celebrated they would be vividly reminded of that other Passover, not so many years before, when the Lamb of God was offered up for their redemption. But there is always a danger that our commemoration of spiritual things should become formal and lifeless, instead of expressing up-to-date and living values. The Lord has to take precautions to deliver us from this peril. He may have seen that at Jerusalem they were inclined to celebrate the victory of Calvary as a matter of past history, a deliverance that belonged to a former day, and so permitted Herod to stretch forth his hands in a new attack, in order that the people of God, being forced into fresh conflict, might prove anew in a personal way the present power of Christ's glorious victory. So this was not so much satan's timing as the timing of God. There was no question as to the ferocity of the assault upon them. "But prayer ..." And we may truly add, "But God ..."
Do not let us be discouraged when the enemy renews his attacks, nor fall into the mistake of imagining that the Lord is against us, just because life is difficult and full of problems. There is a timeliness about what is happening. Great things are afoot. It was precisely when the church at Antioch was responding whole-heartedly to the Lord, when a new day was dawning for the world-wide testimony of Christ, and when God was about to give His people fresh proof of the completeness of Calvary's triumph. "Now about that time Herod the king put forth his hands to vex certain of the church."
This will help us to appreciate an important fact, namely that our personal difficulties and trials, our local, corporate experiences of spiritual conflict, have a vital relationship with far bigger activities of God than we can imagine. "But prayer was made earnestly of the church ..."; "But the word of God grew and was multiplied." These two things are very closely connected.
God's Use of the Famine
It was the famine which occasioned the presence of Barnabas and Saul in Jerusalem. We know that there was such a famine, and that it was very extensive. Not only are there other authentic accounts of the great dearth in Jerusalem itself, but there are also records of famine conditions in Greece and Rome. It was one of those times when the whole world was in straitness and suffering. While it may be exaggeration to suggest that the world-situation happened in order that God's purposes might be realized among His people in Jerusalem and Antioch, there is no question but that world-conditions are used both by the devil and by the Lord for specific activities and interests among God's people.
Now suppose that the saints at Antioch, who apparently were not themselves affected by the famine, had been unconcerned and unmoved concerning the needs of their Jewish brethren. Barnabas and Saul would not then have gone to Jerusalem at this time; they might have missed some Divine purpose, and there might have been no missionary developments at Antioch, as described in chapter 13. A great deal may have come out of the sending of relief to Jerusalem. None of us knows how closely interrelated are spiritual issues.
An ordinary Christian, one of those who met for prayer at the house of John Mark's mother, might have thought he had nothing to do with the with it. God alone knows what spiritual energy is released to the ends of the earth when even a simple prayer group of saints meet for prayer, and not only meet for prayer, but win through in prayer. The conflict may seem to relate to some purely local situation or personal need, but if those who are so beset rise up in the Name of the Lord, claiming the fullness of His victory, the local and personal victory will become the occasion for the release of spiritual forces in a widespread way.
(continued with # 30)