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Summary: This is for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

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[[A word about this sermon. This was a message for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. This sermon was preached in four movements, or parts. We gathered. We read Psalm 23 responsively. We sang 2 songs. I then preached Part I. We sang 3 songs. I then preached Part II. We sang 3 songs and read 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. I then preached Part III. We sang 2 songs and read Matthew 5:3-23. I then preached Part IV. When then prayed for the persecuted church. We took the offering and sang 3 songs. There are a number of websites where you can find stories of persecution to use in Part III. Voice of the Martyrs, Christian Freedom International, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, International Christian Concern, and many other missions agencies including perhaps you denominational missions department will have resources. If you have any questions let me know.]]

PART I: A HOPELESS Situation

Read Acts 12:1-5

Background on the Herods: Herod the Great grandpa of this Herod (he was king when Jesus was born), Herod Antipas uncle of this Herod (killed John the Baptist, and king when Jesus died). This one is Agrippa I.

Persecution background: Acts 7 – Stephen killed; Acts 8 – Saul starts persecution and church scatters; Acts 9 – Saul converted and persecution subsides.

James is the 1st apostle to be killed. Read Matthew 20:20-23. James tasted the cup. His brother John was the last apostle to die.

Herod was not well liked by the Jewish leadership. When he saw that they were happy that James was taken care of, he started hot-dogging. He threw Peter in prison. During Passover feast. 16 guards watched Peter. 4 work a 3-hour shift twice a day. Peter was chained to two in the cell while two stood at the gate.

These were bleak times, a hopeless situation. James was dead. Peter was in prison. The next day he would be executed. The church was quietly gathered, praying.

PART II: A HOPEFUL Situation

Read Acts 12:6-19.

The bloodthirsty crowd was waiting for Peter’s execution. The church was praying. Peter is sleeping when an angel kicks him in the side and says get dressed. He was dazed thinking it was all a dream. With the angel, Peter slipped unnoticed through the prison gates and yard out into the street.

When they got a safe distance from the prison, the angel left Peter standing there. He then realized it wasn’t a dream. He headed for a friendly house.

This is a comic scene. Imagine it. Peter knocks on the door in the middle of the night. Rhoda, a servant-girl, recognizes the voice. It’s Peter! She is so excited, she forgets to open the door. The believers can’t believe it. They debate whether or not it could possibly be Peter. Finally, they go the door, and much excitement ensues. Peter calms the ruckus, and tells his story. Then he leaves.

There are no small repercussions. Bloodthirsty Herod gets his revenge on the guards.

PART III: The Facts of Modern Persecution

Persecution is as real today as it has ever been.

Relate some stories of persecution happening in our world today.

Something funny happens when we start talking about persecution. Labels don’t seem to mean anything. Nazarene, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal and the like don’t seem to matter. Their belief on eternal security doesn’t matter. Their worship style doesn’t matter. The color of their skin doesn’t matter. This sometimes seems to be a hopeless situation.

PART IV: What Can I Do?

We are left asking, “What can I do?” Sometimes it seems daunting and distant. Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

- Pray that God will give them GRACE in suffering so they might WITNESS for the Lord.

Look at the effect Jesus had on the thief. No doubt Stephen had an affect on Saul. In Acts 16:25-34, Paul and Silas were in prison, and when they were freed, the jailer and his family came to know the Lord.

- Ask the Spirit to minister the WORD to them and them to REMEMBER it.

They have no Bibles in prison. There are no Gideon Bibles for them to read in the prison library. Perhaps some have not ever owned their own Bible.

- Ask God to PROTECT them and give them WISDOM.

Peter was protected. Paul was protected during his many encounters with persecution. God can keep people safe. God also can grant wisdom to avoid dangerous situations. Notice in our passage that God gave Peter the good sense to get out of town. There is nothing wrong with avoiding danger. In Acts 16, Paul takes a whipping, then says that he is a Roman citizen. In Acts 22, Paul proclaims his Roman citizenship before he is whipped. Paul had gotten a little wiser.

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