The Church's Prayer and Spiritual Increase (continued)
The Far-Reaching Effects
So it appears that there was a very large background or setting to the prayer battle in Mary's house. The Christians at Jerusalem thought that they were being assaulted on a purely local and personal issue. They felt, and rightly so, that by prayer they could win an immediate and local victory. Thank God they did. But what they did not know, what they could hardly have imagined, was that this was a turning point in Divine strategy, a victory which would produce a great release of the Lord's servants and of His Word. An ordinary rank and file believer in Jerusalem might have questioned whether it really mattered so much whether he was triumphant or defeated, whether after all very much depended on his loyalty and faith. It mattered far more than he could realize. It always does. It matters tremendously. There are far-reaching issues involved in the spiritual victories or reverses of the people of God.
And so when Peter was released, something else was released, the whole situation was released. For a time it seemed as though everything was shut up. The one man, Peter, seemed to be an embodiment of the whole state of affairs. He was shut up, he was in chains, and it seemed as if an end were coming to all the activities of the Spirit through the church. Everything then depended on whether the Lord's people would give way to the opposition and be defeated by it. Had they done so, there is no guarantee as to what might have happened. But instead of giving way, they rose up in faith to assert that the Passover was no mere commemoration of a past victory, but the celebration of the ever-present power of Calvary's universal triumph. God responded by releasing Peter, but more than that, He gave new and mighty increase to the whole testimony of the church.
We now move on into Acts 13, to find that Barnabas and Saul are on the eve of being thrust out by the Holy Spirit into the uttermost parts of the earth. We must remember that they had just come down from Jerusalem in the spiritual good of a great victory, they had come down on a tide of glorious life and power, released in answer to believing prayer. From many points of view, Jerusalem and Antioch may have been different, but there can be no question as to their spiritual relatedness. The organic nature of the church means that we depend very much on one another. It is never the Lord's way to confine His working to limited and localized matters. He takes hold of our trials and conflicts, making them the occasion for the registration of important spiritual victories which will bring great and wide-spread increase. In actual experience the people of God are bound up together in vital association for the interests and glory of the Lord.
A Word of Warning
There remains just a word of warning concerning the young man who came down with Barnabas and Saul. Mark, of course, had every encouragement to be a missionary. He had been through all these thrilling events. With others he had been plunged into the darkness of battle, he had felt the sorrow of seeming defeat, he had heard the prayer and he had witnessed the wonderful answer. When Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch, full of the story of God's marvelous deliverance, Mark went down with them, thrilled with a sense of the overwhelming power of God. So enthused and inspired was he that he had no difficulty in offering himself to go to the ends of the earth for Christ. We are therefore informed that when Barnabas and Saul set out "they had also John as their attendant" (Acts 13:5). But it did not last long. "John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem" (Acts 13:13). It seems that he was not prepared to travel quietly on into dark and forbidding territory, steadfastly believing that the God Who answered prayer at Jerusalem was still with them. Just the outward experience of things does not carry us very far. Saul and Barnabas had something more than that; they had a deep inward knowledge of the triumph of Calvary, and of the ever-present reality of the conquering Lord.
This is a note of warning, lest we should be among those who take up the matter of prayer warfare in a superficial way. We cannot live on thrills and wonders. We shall not always get quick results. The increasing spiritual conflict will call for an ever deeper and inward knowledge of the Lord. Mark's enthusiasm did not carry him very far. Perhaps he did the best thing in returning to Jerusalem. It may be that for the time being it would have been far better for him never to have left it. After all it was there that he had learned something of the power of God. We do not know. But we do know that in a simple home in that city, a gathering of ordinary and unnamed Christians fought a mighty spiritual battle, and won through to a victory which had repercussions in the lands and nations far beyond. And this may be true of us all!
(continued with # 32 - (The Church His Body)