The gospel prevails over opposition
When does the gospel prevail over opposition? Our passage provides three answers to that question: 1. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it. 2. Sometimes it does. 3. Ultimately it will.
Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Acts of the Apostles, by David Peterson
Exalting Jesus in Acts, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary, by Tony Merida
There are certain things in life that just go together: peanut butter and chocolate, babies and sleep deprivation, Boston sports and annoying fans. In our world certain things simply seem to go together. The Bible says that another pair that goes together is the gospel and opposition. If you’re somewhat new to Christianity, the gospel is the heart of what we Christians believe; it’s the good news that Jesus lived, died and rose for our sins. The book of Acts records the advance and spread of the gospel, but at every turn, whenever the good news about Jesus advances to new people and new places, opposition arises. And this isn’t unique to the experience of Jesus’ followers in Acts. Jesus himself said since he was persecuted, anyone who carries the good news about him and follows him openly will experience a measure of opposition. It’s a universal Christian experience. The gospel’s advance and opposition go together. In Acts 12, the opposition to the gospel’s advance is quite acute; one early church leader, the Apostle James, is martyred and another, the Apostle Peter, is awaiting the same fate in prison. The gospel and opposition go together, but we should never make the mistake of thinking that the gospel and opposition are equal and opposing powers. In fact, after a whole chapter of terrifying opposition, the main point of Acts 12 emerges at the end. Acts 12:24: But the word of God increased and multiplied. The opposition was no match for the unstoppable power of God and his gospel. That brings us to the big idea of our passage this morning: The gospel prevails over opposition. The gospel prevails over opposition. The question our passage helps us consider is “when?” When does the gospel prevail over opposition because it doesn’t always look like it in my life? In my life it seems like I’m often too quiet about the gospel and when I do speak up, I’m ostracized, or worse yet, no one cares. When does the gospel prevail over opposition? Our passage provides three answers to that question: 1. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it. 2. Sometimes it does. 3. Ultimately it will. Let’s take those one at a time…
SOMETIMES IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE IT (VV. 1-5)
Acts 12:1-4: About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. In Acts 12, Luke briefly turns his attention from the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles and back to the original church in Jerusalem. As we turn our attention back to the first church in Jerusalem, it doesn’t look like the gospel is prevailing over opposition from King Herod. Now, this isn’t the same Herod as in the gospels. This is another Herod from the same family. But he’s apparently acting just like all the other Herods in opposing the advance and spread of the gospel. The Herodian dynasty ruled over Palestine with the delegated power of Rome and they were rough characters and it doesn’t look like the gospel is going to prevail over their opposition. After all, there were three leading Apostles in the Jerusalem Church, Peter, James and John, and in just two verses, Herod kills one and imprisons another that he plans to kill as soon as the Passover feast ends. Satan always loves to attack the church’s leaders. The theory is if the head is cut off, then the body will wither. They don’t know that Jesus is the head and his body will prevail. The gospel prevails over opposition, but sometimes, like it Acts 12:1-5, it doesn’t look like it.
The seeming prevailing power of opposition over the gospel raises a question us to consider: Here’s the question that I would like us to consider: How should we respond when it doesn’t look like the gospel will prevail over opposition? When we hear about the intense and deadly opposition to the gospel that our brothers and sisters in many parts of the world face, how should we respond? When we’re excluded or silenced at work, ostracized in our family, or mocked at school being open about the good news of Jesus, how should we respond? When the friends and loved ones that we share the gospel with respond apathetically or ghost the subject, how should we respond? When a local church has no place to meet because of its allegiance to Jesus’ teaching, how should we respond? How should we respond when it doesn’t look like the gospel is prevailing over opposition? We find our answer in Acts 12:5: So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. When it doesn’t look like the gospel will prevail over opposition, pray earnestly for God’s help. The wonderful theologian JI Packer says that the Christian name for God is Father. That’s why we pray for God’s help. He’s God our Father; as compassionate as he is capable. Herod uses the power of the sword and the state to oppose the gospel. Others use apathy, shame, and exclusion. Those are their weapons, but ours is prayer. Through the finished work of Jesus, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God and can bound into his presence like weak children in need of their dad’s protection and encouragement to stay steadfast.
Now, why don’t we pray? Why is prayer often a last resort rather than a first response for us when we face opposition to the gospel? I think that it’s because we are surprised. We are surprised. In one of his letters, the Apostle Peter addresses this surprise directly: Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you…Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Peter 4:12, 19). Trust God’s providence and be prepared rather than surprised and prayer will become a first response. So, how do we pray when it doesn’t look like the gospel is prevailing over opposition? Answer: together. Notice that it’s the church as church that prays earnestly and when Peter is rescued, the Christians are praying together. The gospel prevails over opposition through Jesus’ people praying together. Two simple, practical ways that we pray together are pre-service prayer every Sunday and weekly in your Citygroups. You may not know this, but for 30 minutes before each of our three Sunday services, we gather down near the first floor of this building to pray for the gospel to prevail in our own hearts, in our church, throughout our city, and around the world. It’s no burden. Through Christ, we have a Father who is as compassionate as he is capable so we love pre-service prayer. And Citygroups are a unique place where we can know one another deeply enough to know the gospel-opposition that we are facing in our own hearts, in our workplaces, among our family members, and beyond. When it doesn’t look like the gospel is prevailing over opposition in your world, get your Citygroup praying. God Acts to rescue and advance the gospel through prayer. Let’s move now to our second answer. When does the gospel prevail over opposition? Sometimes it doesn’t look like it, but secondly…
SOMETIMES IT DOES (vv. 6-19)
Acts 12:1-5 is full of tension. One of the three leading apostles is dead, and another is in prison awaiting his death sentence. Can you imagine what it would be like for our community if I were martyred and Tim was up next? Before they sign petitions or lead protests, the church prays fervently for God’s help and God answers and rescues. An angel of the Lord appears in Peter’s prison and Peter is sleeping so peacefully that the angel has to kick him to wake him up. Miraculously, Peter’s chains fall of, the angel leads Peter out of the prison and into the city untouched. Peter didn’t escape; God rescued him. When Peter finally realizes that his rescue isn’t just a dream, he goes straight to the house where the church is praying for him. When Peter arrives at the gateway to the house, the servant is so excited that she leaves Peter outside right after he’s been freed from prison! The servant runs in and tells everyone that Peter is outside, and they think that she’s nuts. I find that so encouraging. They were praying better than they believed or expected and God still answers. God will go to unimaginable lengths to fulfill his promises to advance the gospel to the ends of the earth. Finally, Peter gets inside the house. Acts 12:17: But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.” Peter was as good as dead and now he’s free to take the good news about Jesus wherever the Lord sends him. Sometimes it does look like the gospel prevails over opposition.
Question for us to consider: How should we respond when the gospel does prevail over opposition? How should we respond when we’re not in prison for following Jesus openly and publicly? How should we respond when God rescues the persecuted church around the world from harm? How should we respond when we live openly as Jesus’ followers and we aren’t passed over, ostracized, excluded, or met with unbelief and apathy? How should we respond when our church has a place to meet, when new people believe in Jesus & are baptized, and the word increases and multiplies? How should we respond when the gospel prevails over opposition? Our passage provides us with two answers: rejoice and redouble your efforts. In Acts 12:17, Peter rejoices with the church that God has rescued him and freed him to keep preaching. When the gospel prevails over opposition, we too should see the hand of the Lord in it and rejoice. As C.S. Lewis used to say, it’s important to trace the sunrays back to the sun. We see sunrays on a beautiful day because there is a hot sun and we see the gospel prevail because there is a risen Jesus who is being exceptionally gracious to us. There is such glory to God and encouragement to one another when we openly rejoice at the prevailing power of the gospel over opposition large and small. In part, it’s this rejoicing that we come together for each week on the Lord’s Day. So, we rejoice, and we redouble our efforts. After God rescues Peter, he goes to Caesarea and it isn’t for a vacation. In Caesarea he redoubles his efforts to spread the good news about Jesus. If you’re not in prison or killed for following Jesus, instead of taking it for granted, take it as God’s invitation to redouble your efforts to share the gospel and your very self with others. The gospel prevails over opposition. When? Sometimes it doesn’t look like it, sometimes it does, and, thirdly…
IT ULTIMATELY WILL (VV. 20-25)
In Acts 12:20-23 we receive a foreshadowing promise that the gospel ultimately will prevail over opposition as Luke turns his attention back to King Herod. After God rescues Peter from prison, Herod executes the guards, and now Herod is angry with some of the people under his authority. Since these people depend on Herod for food, they convince the king’s chief of staff to beg the king for peace. So, the king dresses in his royal robes, sits on his throne, and gives on oration to the people begging him for peace. In an act of flattery, the people cry out during the speech, calling Herod a god. And like the Devil before him, Herod pridefully receives the acclaim for himself rather than giving glory to God. Immediately, the same angel that struck Peter awake now strikes Herod dead because he did not give glory to God. Herod breathed his last, was eaten by worms, but, as verse 24 says, the word lived on, increased, and multiplied.
These verses remind us that the ultimate opposition to the gospel is pride; the desire for people to make much of us. Like carbon monoxide, pride is an invisible killer. We often don’t see pride in ourselves, after all, most of us would correct someone who called us a god. But pride is often seen in our fantasies or daydreams. Sure, we may not put on royal robes and sit on a throne, but we daydream about being made much of in our career, everyone knowing our name, and being on top. We daydream about being served at home, not serving. Our hearts love the thought of being made much of. Not only do we see our pride in our daydreams, but pride is seen in our emotions. If you were to pull up much of your anger, sadness or coldness, you’d probably find, dangling at the roots, situations where you didn’t receive the credit or recognition or respect that you believe you deserve. Our passage in Acts is a vivid reminder that pride is a killer that either keeps us from the true joy of being free to make much of Jesus every day.
But the wonderful news of the gospel is that the true king, the Lord Jesus Christ, humbled himself to rescue us from the eternal penalty and ongoing power of pride. He humbled himself. On His appointed day, instead of putting on his royal robes like Herod, he was stripped of all his robes, and they cast lots for his clothing. Instead of taking a seat upon his throne, He was nailed to a cross. Instead of delivering an oration, He cried out in agony, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” As shameful as a death by worms is, nothing was more shameful in the Roman world than death on a cross. But the worms never got to His body, because on the third day He rose again, to the throne above all thrones, given the name above every name, glorified in heaven until the day He will come again to be glorified on earth. And He did this so that we, the glory-thieves, would not have to suffer the same fate as Herod. As long as you’re still alive today, God has been merciful on your sin, but the day is coming when the judgment executed on Herod here will be executed on all the proud of the earth. No matter how much glory you get in this life, it will not last. No matter how many generations after you praise you, eventually it will end. The gospel ultimately will prevail over all opposition; don’t oppose it with your pride any longer. Humbly confess your sin, trust Jesus as your King, and you will find in Him forgiveness for your pride, freedom from its condemnation, and the power to become truly humble. True humility comes as we daily preach the gospel to ourselves and invite our Christian community to do the same. Humility comes as we see each day the ugliness of our pride, the judgment our glory-robbing deserves, and the incredible pardon that is ours in Jesus. When you are daily brought face-to-face with the depth of what Jesus has done for you, then you can walk in an ever-increasing freedom from needing your name to be made much of and an ever-increasing joy of making much of Jesus’ name. And in gospel-humility, you’ll confidently live for the fame of Jesus name because you know that the opposition will come, the word of God will increase, multiply, and ultimately prevail.