Sunday, 21 February 2021

Powers Fall - Acts 12

Acts 12 finishes with the story of Herod dying and eaten by worms. We might wonder why Luke includes this, when he could have turned to another account of witness, healing and salvation. The reason is that Luke is making a point. There is opposition and persecution against the witness to Jesus. The chapter starts with James captured and executed, and goes on with Peter also arrested.

The attacks started back in chapter 4 where Peter and John were arrested. The believers understand - they pray quoting Psalm 2 'Why do the nations rage, the people plot against your anointed one?'. They recognise the backlash against Jesus and their testimony to Him. Persecution can be religiously motivated (as in chapter 4), or politically motivated (as in chapter 12). Either way it is serious. Yet Luke shows that it cannot stop the ongoing witness to Jesus. There is real hardship - James is killed - and yet Peter is led by an angel and walks out of prison! The point is that despite the hardship God is in control: iron bars, shackles, stone walls are no match for God.

Luke is also making a bigger point: that there are spiritual powers at work and they must submit to God too. Herod has a political dispute with the people of Tyre and Sidon, but they then decide to suck up to him. We know this is a real event - the historian Josephus writes it up (even dating it circa AD 43/44). Herod wins the acclamation of the ordinary people (they think he is some kind of god) and Herod laps it up. But God will not have it - God is the one true God, and so Herod is removed, with a horrible earthly death! This is Luke reminding us that whatever spiritual forces are at play through national and international politics, God is in control. In fact the punchline of this story is not even the 'eaten by worms'. It is verse 24 'The word of God continued to spread and flourish!'.

In our times, as followers of Jesus, we need to understand that spiritual powers and forces are real, and some are malevolent. Actually there is evidence that suggests society somehow implicitly understands this notion of behind the scenes evil forces. We see it in the talk of Coronavirus - the patients in hospital making a video from behind their oxygen mask to warn us of its dangers tell of 'a virus that is evil, wanting to suck the life out of you'. It is fascinating how the virus is personified as as an evil force in this way. Surely a pure secular/science based public would say that the virus is just a blob of RNA with spike proteins that make it very good at transmitting and infecting? Yet even our politicians use the language of 'the virus is evil', stating 'see how it is cunning, trying to evade the vaccine by mutating'!

As Christians we are informed not just by science but with scripture and the words of Jesus. So we believe the world is not simply physical, but physical and spiritual, and within the spiritual there are forces at work that are evil, trying to thwart the purposes of God, blighting lives, wreaking havoc and damage. It is difficult for us to know the crossover between spiritual and physical - we cannot make precise claims about this. Jesus talked of 'the devil' in general terms as someone against him. Paul writes of the 'devils schemes', along with talk of principalities and powers. Yet we can be clear that Jesus is Lord and all these powers will be brought to heel!

On that basis we stand and operate in the same storyline that Luke starts: a story where the powers fall, so that people are released to discover and inherit the Kingdom of God, through meeting Jesus. When I pray for someone with an issue, if I get a specific discernment that there is clear spiritual bad at play, then my prayer language changes. Rather than simply praying to Father/Jesus/Holy Spirit it is as if I turn to address the spiritual, telling it in the Name of Jesus to leave, let go, and stop bothering. I do that only on a specific discernment (a good rule of thumb is don't go looking to pick a fight!).

It is done in the authority of Jesus. When Peter confessed 'You are the Christ' (see Matthew 16, the confession on which Jesus would build His church), Jesus went on to say "and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it". The gates is a symbol of strength, but the strength of evil will not hold out. Personally I believe this encourages us that we can go on the offensive against evil. So in my own prayer walking on occasion I turn to address (speculatively and generically) the spiritual powers, telling them that they have no authority, to stop blinding people, and to leave people so they are free to see Jesus - coming against the 'god of this age' which wants to blind people.

This is a specialist form of prayer, which should come from a secure grounding in Christ, but any believer who is in Jesus has the authority in Christ to do the same. It comes (and only comes) from us being in Christ, fully baptised in Him. In the baptism story of Jesus, we see Jesus in the face of John's initial protest deliberately laying down earthly forms of power, by submitting to the baptism. That same laying down process by us enables us to 'participate in the heavenlies' (2 Peter 1).

By contrast Herod took a different route. He grabbed at power, going way above his station! There is only one outcome for that: for God to bring him down. With any spiritual powers that go against God, the ultimate outcome will also be the same - they will be brought down. Let us, as the church of Christ, go ahead in our Spirit led witness, and we will see powers fall as we go.

No comments:

Post a comment