“But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.” (Acts 12:24)
The lent season has begun, and you’ve been called upon to observe the same by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. Such discipline is not easy is actually physical suffering; but sometimes suffering brings progress, when cooperating with the Holy Spirit.
At the heart of the book of Acts we find heart-breaking episodes that could almost have heralded the death of what had started only months ago on the day of Pentecost. As the Church took off in the power of the Holy Spirit, it was met with tough persecution at the hands of both leading Jews and the ruling Roman imperialists. In Chapter 12, James is killed and Peter imprisoned; these were in Jesus’ inner circle and were indeed the pre-eminent apostles. Was it Herod’s method to ‘cut off the head’ and scatter the rest of the body? The early and untimely death of potent James will forever remain a puzzle to anyone who dares think about his journey with his Master; much more ministry was expected of him – far reaching missionary journeys and church plants, and powerful revolutionary testimonies, or perhaps even writing the ‘Gospel according to James’ as one who shared in closer fellowship. What do you think the other disciples thought when James was killed?
While they were still reeling in that loss, Peter was imprisoned! He was guarded by four squads of four soldiers each, and Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. It was another big fish! Peter’s miraculous escape did more harm than good: Herod’s anger flared, he put to death some soldiers; and what would he have done to Peter if he were to catch him again? Dismember him in public perhaps, or burn him in fire or crucify him? This was the tension in the Church, yet they did not lose heart. They prayed fervently. And the most important fact is that the Holy Spirit was vigilantly at work. God executed Herod and he was eaten by worms and died in his throne; this was not the end to the difficulties and suffering though.
That ‘the word of God continued to spread and flourish’ despite the persecutions and difficulties and suffering is testament of the invincibility of the Holy Spirit’s work. Nothing and no one can come against Him – not earthly rulers, not human weakness, not forces of darkness, not primitive cultures – absolutely nothing. Questions may linger about some painful seasons or incidents in your Christian walk; but when you keep attentive, led by the Holy Spirit, it will always bring progress and strength to you and to the Church. Apart from being saved, you need to give yourself as an agent of propagating the Word of God; in so labouring, all suffering brings progress. I pray that this Lent period brings you to a place of more reflection and surrender to God’s mission.