We have come quite a way as we have seen some of the great moments in the early church and there has been much to get excited about but todays passage Acts 12:1-19 reminds us again that being the people of Jesus is not all plain sailing.
If you have with me followed the journey of the early church so far we have seen phenomenal growth. After the day of Pentecost their was the conversion of Samaria this was followed by some wonderful individual accounts, the Ethiopian Eunuch, Saul of Tarsus and yesterday we reflected on Cornelius the Centurion.
Today the bad guy enters stage left, Herod Agrippa I the grandson of Herod the Great ensures the apostle James brother of John is killed and now he imprisons Peter, the growing church is catching more that just our attention, its catching all the wrong kind of attention.
The heart of this passage is Peter’s imprisonment, or should I say Peter’s miraculous release from Prison. That actually is the crux of what is happening here and the basis of my reflection. Whenever the church grows it sees some kind of persecution but that persecution is then met by Gods grace and no matter how many times we see one against the other the Church proves it cannot be beaten. This is however contingent entirely upon the church being built on the solid rock that is Jesus Christ, in order for the church to withstand this kind of disruption and battering it must have firm foundations.
Peter is the apostle chosen by Jesus Christ, here we have one of the churches great leaders, if we flick back to Matthew 16:18 we here these words of Jesus as he names and commissions Simon Peter “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Peter then in turn (along with the other apostles) ensure the post resurrection church is build on the firm foundations of Jesus Christ.
What wonderful witness as Herod Agrippa I tries to destroy the church by taking Peter from it than his salvation, his release by an Angel of the Lord. Herod has planned to take Peter before the court during the Passover, he should have known better after Pilate had done the same with Jesus only for him to rise again 3 days later.
We have seen our own church disrupted not by persecution but by circumstances, by the terrible tragedy of COVID19 and it is important we continue to do our upmost to protect the vulnerable, and support our NHS by not meeting together in person until it is safe to do so. We have now not met together since Sunday March 15th in person and yet that firm basis, that rock that is Jesus Christ holds us together as our firm foundation and is helping us grow into something new. Don’t forget Peter though, the road is often fraught and never easy and there will always be trials to come.
As individuals and as a church we must continue to rejoice in Gods saving grace, that he would consider us worthy but also that we would keep our footsteps firm. We must pray for God’s guidance for the future but also his protection and strength. Above all we must never lose sight of our purpose, never lose sight of the Gospel of salvation that is our risen Lord and ensure that the empty cross and the empty tomb remain our firm foundations.
There is only one hymn I could leave you with tonight, one of my favourite hymns, probably the first I ever knew off by heart, written by Charles Wesley in 1783:
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, should die for me?
Tis mystery all! Th’Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine!
‘Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
He left His Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race;
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Your friend and Vicar