All of us have different experiences in our Christian lives — some pleasant and others, not so much. Hearing what God is doing in other people’s lives encourages us. It helps us realize we are not the only ones who go through distressing situations.
Such a story is in Acts 12, where we read of a king who “stretched out his hand to harass some from the church” (v. 1). Not all, but some in the church were harmed and cruelly mistreated. Why did only these brethren suffer?
We don’t know the answer to that question for sure, but among these suffering disciples was James, one of the twelve apostles. The king actually had him killed. The Scripture does not say that he died for any specific sin, nor that the other brethren were mistreated for any sin. James’ death proved what Jesus had told His disciples, that in the world they would have afflictions (John 16:33). The word used by the Lord also means tribulation, affliction, distress, anguish, and suffering.
Surely James and some of the church at that time experienced what their Teacher said to them. And he would not be the only one. James’ companion in discipleship, Peter, would also go through similar experiences.
The king realized that killing James pleased the Jews, so he put the apostle Peter in jail, intending to kill him after the Passover. But the church had been called to a mission: to make disciples and preach the gospel to all nations.
Whether in the days of the early church or today, neither the afflictions nor the suffering nor even the death of a disciple can stop this mission.
As explained in This We Believe, the Church of God (Seventh Day) has a four-part mission statement:
- Proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Serve humanity and introduce people to the Lord.
- Teach them to worship Him and obey His Word.
- Nurture spiritual growth in all believers.
The chapters prior to Acts 12 tell us that those disciples were living out this mission, preaching the gospel, serving, teaching, and helping in the growth of the disciples. While doing this, they began to be called Christians for the first time (Acts 11:26). They truly resembled their Lord and Savior, Christ.
While Peter was in prison, the church prayed fervently for him. Those prayers worked. The night before his trial, Peter slept, experiencing a profound peace. He wasn’t in a Hilton hotel with a king-sized bed. He was in a jail, tied up and with a soldier on either side. Who can sleep like that?
While the church was praying for Peter, a bright light shone in the prison, and an angel of the Lord stood in front of him while he was still asleep. The angel struck him, saying, “’Arise quickly!’ Once the chains fell off his hands, the angel told Peter, “Put on your garment and follow me” (12:7, 8).
The angel led Peter out of prison in a miraculous way, and Peter went to Mary’s house where many had gathered to pray for him. Acts says that when they opened the door, “they were astonished. But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.’ And he departed and went to another place” (vv. 16, 17).
Persevere in your calling
Peter had the heart of a witness on a mission. He knew well what he had been called to. He knew that he had to testify about what the Lord had done. It was not about him. He was clear that neither afflictions nor prison could prevent the name of Christ from being preached. As a result, Peter experienced God’s peace in the midst of his darkest days.
Are you going through difficult trials? Are you being mistreated, hurt? You can have the peace that Peter had while in prison and still fulfill your mission. Listen to what Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Do not focus on the problem you’re encountering as you serve the Lord. Prepare your testimony so as not to lose the focus of your calling.
Peter knew that someday he was going to die, but that no longer concerned him. He knew he was not the center of the gospel and that he would face suffering because of his commitment. That is why “the word of God grew and multiplied” (Acts 12:24).
You and I go through trials, but that should never stop us from sharing the message of Christ. The church has always been persecuted and mistreated. Why shouldn’t we go through the same thing? We do not deny our anguish and trials. We must pray for one another so that God will help us to keep spreading His gospel. In this way, we will be a church where the Word of the Lord multiplies.