Acts 12:1-17

Today’s devotion is written by Pastor Vance Rains.

The story of the Apostle Peter’s escape from prison is one of the most famous from the Book of Acts: “King Herod began to harass some who belonged to the church. He had James, John’s brother, killed with a sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he arrested Peter as well. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. He put Peter in prison, handing him over to four squads of soldiers, sixteen in all, who guarded him. He planned to charge him publicly after the Passover. While Peter was held in prison, the church offered earnest prayer to God for him.” (Acts 12:1-5)

Jailed. Shackled. Guarded. An angel appeared, setting Peter free. Miracle! But, earlier, the Apostle James wasn’t so lucky, killed by a sword. Though Peter was miraculously set free, too many other martyrs lost (lose) their lives to assume this is God’s common approach to Christian imprisonment.

This is the persecution Jesus predicted…

“Beware, for they will hand you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them.  And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.  When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13:9-11)

“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 18:18-19)

I’ve never experienced persecution. I’ve never suffered for my faith. I’ve never felt any risk or danger for being a Christian or a pastor. In fact, for my entire ministry, I’ve mostly taken for granted the Church’s privileged status in the United States.

Just last week, I was honored to offer an invocation for the Orange County Commissioner’s meeting, and shook hands with Mayor Demmings. I even had an assigned seat of honor and had my picture taken with the Mayor, who presented me a certificate of appreciation (I have two, now!). I was treated with respect and honor, without any risk of persecution.

In fact, throughout history, the Church – in places of privilege – has often been guilty of persecuting others: Indigenous persons, enslaved persons, LGBTQIA+ persons, “pagans” of every stripe. Many, outside of the Church, might include the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade as an act of Christian’s persecuting non-Christians, imposing conservative Christian values on a secular nation.

And, yet, in other parts of the world, the persecution of Christians is the norm – Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Pakistan, Iran, Myanmar, Irag, China, and many others places -where Christians practice their faith in hiding, in risk of discrimination, imprisonment, or even death. Some estimate that nearly one of every seven Christians in the world today are persecuted.

I’m never quite sure how to feel about this. I don’t want to be persecuted! But, I wonder, if privilege and comfort leads to complacency. How might my faith be deeper, stronger, more adventurous if it came with risk? How might I depend on God more, if my next sermon might lead to imprisonment, or worse? What am I missing about Jesus – who was arrested by thugs, falsely accused and charged, abused, and killed by the government – when I take my cozy privilege for granted?

In our modern context, how do you interpret Jesus’ teaching about suffering?

What does it mean, today, to deny ourselves, to take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus?

We’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts and comments?

4 responses to “Acts 12:1-17”

  1. If I’m not fearing persecution when I fail to share my faith story with an unchurched friend, then what am I fearing? Rejection? Ridicule? Embarrassment? I think I can handle those. God give me the opportunity and courage to share your Good News!

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  2. Interesting reflection. I think Christian complacency in the US has led to Christian “judgementalism by right”.

    I am very uncomfortable with the Christian view of other faith traditions. It’s personally embarrassing to me when I’m at a local government meeting (like your invocation at Orange County) and a clearly Christian prayer is given and I’m sitting with a Jewish colleague.

    And I think the recent decisions of the Supreme Court (like upholding the football coach’s Christian prayer) are very disturbing about the supposed separation of church and state in the US (which I believe no longer exists).

    It’s like we have forgotten why the Pilgrims came to the US in the first place: they wanted religious freedom from the Church of England and that particular “interpretation” of Christianity.

    And if anyone actually tours the Constitution Museum in Philadelphia (where the nation was founded), the quotes from the founding fathers about the place of religion (zero) in government is quite clear…in fact, many of the quotes would lead one to believe that a number of them were atheists!

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    1. My only comment is that, from my perspective, I would add the word “Conservative” or “Evangelical” in front of the word “Christian” in your comments. As a “progressive” Christian, I strive to balance my particular identity as a a Christ-follower with respect for other religious traditions, and even an openness to learn from them.

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