I was reading Acts 12 and was struck by the trials the early church faced at the hands of Herod Agrippa. He murdered James, John’s brother with a sword and when he saw that this pleased the Jews, he threw Peter into jail. Herod was clearly more interested in pleasing people than doing what was right which would please God.
Herod seemed very determined to hold Peter. He went to a lot of trouble make sure that there was no way he could escape or anyone could break him out. He had Peter placed under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. The night before Peter was supposed to go trial, he was fastened with two chains between two soldiers while others stood guard at the prison gate. Herod thought that he had nothing to worry about but he did not take into account the fervent prayers of the believers and God’s response to those prayers.
It wasn’t by human power that Peter was released from the prison. It was by the power of God. God sent an angel to His servant. The angel suddenly stood before Peter who thought the whole thing was a vision. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists.
The angel and Peter walked right past the guards until they were standing outside of the gate. The gate opened by itself and they walked down the street. Then the angel left Peter. It was at that moment when Peter realized that he had not been dreaming. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” Herod’s plot against Peter had failed.
Proverbs 19:21 states: There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel—that will stand. Herod had planned to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover but God had other plans. At dawn there was a great commotion among the soldiers about what had happened to Peter. Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for him. When he couldn’t be found, Herod interrogated the guards and sentenced them to death. Afterward Herod left Judea to stay in Caesarea for a while (verses 18, 19).
Not long after, Herod met his end. An angel of the Lord struck him with a sickness because he made the fatal mistake of accepting the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. He was consumed with worms and died. What a horrible death! In the meantime, the Gospel of God continued to spread and the number of believers grew.
God had broken the chains of darkness which threatened to interfere with His work. Peter was released from prison and Herod received his due. It is too bad that James died but Jesus had predicted that these kinds of things would happen. There will come a time when believers will face the kinds of trials Peter and the other disciples faced.
Believers will be arrested, persecuted, flogged, brought to trial and some may even face death all for Christ’s sake. They have broken the chains of the enemy who have tried to hinder them from bringing others to the same light they have received. Though many Christians have lost their lives for the sake of the Gospel at the hands of pagan rulers and governments and in the Inquisitions, they, like their Savior have broken the chains of death and will one day be raised to see Him face to face.
When the time comes for you to face trials, don’t be discouraged. Look upon these trials as great opportunities to give your testimonies. And don’t worry. You will not be alone. Jesus promised that He would Our greatest occasions for testimony come when we are “on trial” before others, either in a formal or an informal sense. We can trust Jesus that He will do as He promised “give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:15).
Remember that there are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). In hour of our greatest need, God will send reinforcements. He did it for His Son when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:43) and He did it for Peter when he was in prison.
And even if some of us may one day be in chains like Paul remember his words and be encouraged, “the word of God is not chained”. Just as Herod could not chain the Word of God, no government or religious authorities, skeptics or scientists or philosophers or opposition has ever been able to stop the saving work of God’s Word. Many of those who opposed God’s Word are deceased but the Gospel continues to be alive and well and reaching people all over the world even in the remote areas. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
Unfortunately, some pastors have placed a chain around the Bible which needs to be broken. They don’t preach its life-changing and ultimately, life-saving truths for fear of offending their parishioners. They hand out watered down sermons, failing to follow the same advice which Paul gave to the young pastor, Timothy which was, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
The Gospel is supposed to transform lives, produce good fruit and foster spiritual growth. When Jesus charged pastors to feed His sheep, He meant for them to give them the kind of spiritual food that would help them to grow strong and healthy. A watered down sermon is like food that has no nutritional value whatsoever. As a result there is lack of growth or stagnancy in the believer’s spiritual life.
Pastors, break the chains of spiritual stagnation and the desire to please rather than preach the Word as you should and heed Paul’s advice: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Remember that you are in the business of saving souls and pleasing God, your Savior.
Let us break the chains of whatever may be preventing us from carrying out Christ’s commission to take the Gospel to others and join Paul in proclaiming, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).