Last week, I showed you two dangers of religious legalism: Spiritual blindness, and stunted fruitfulness. Today, I will show you how their pre-occupation with religious legalism created an opening for satan against the Jerusalem church. In that, you will see another danger of religious legalism: it opens the door for satan into your affairs.
The ongoing comparison between the Jerusalem church under the Twelve, and the Antioch church under Paul – see previous post – provides an important background for the understanding of what happened towards the end of Acts 11 and in the early part of Acts 12.
1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
Pay particular attention to the opening line of that verse: It was about this time. Something about this time gave the enemies of the church unprecedented strategic victory over the church. First, they had one of the top key leaders beheaded. Then, they had the no 1 leader jailed. Something was definitely wrong with this time. What exactly was it about this time?
Here’s a flash back from the previous chapter:
27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
~ Acts 11:27-30
Here are two key observations from the story above; pay attention to the contrast (italicized) between the two notes:
My point: Since the prophecy was given through the spirit, the response of the disciples should also have been through the Spirit, rather than according to their abilities. This reveals an underlying disease in the church at that time: some sort of disconnection from the leadership of the Holy Spirit. In Peter’s vision prior to the conversion of Cornelius – see previous post – this rose to the level of outright rebellion against the Holy Spirit.
1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also…
You see, when we disconnect from the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and begin to walk in our own abilities, we open the door for satan.
The disciples’ response to Agabus’ prophecy helps us understand how satan gained the upper hand against the church at that time: by rejecting the leadership of the Holy Spirit –choosing rather to operate in the realm of reason, senses, and human abilities – they moved into Satan’s realm.
Even the Antioch church under Paul failed in this regard. It is quite likely that the reason the Holy Spirit had Agabus declare this prophecy in Antioch, rather than in Jerusalem, was that He hoped they would respond in the Spirit; since they were clearly more spiritually attuned to Him than the Jerusalem church. Unfortunately, they did not appear to have risen to the occasion.
Understand: Your strength is in the Spirit. Your victory is in the Spirit. Your dominion is in the Spirit. Your distinction is in the Spirit. The moment you let yourself be lured into the realm of your senses, the realm of logic, the realm of human reasoning, you’ve entered Satan’s territory. He has so completely mastered this realm that it’s utter foolishness to get in there with Him.
The death of James must have shocked the Jerusalem church back to the Holy Spirit. It is possible that in their spiritual complacency, occasioned by the carnality of the times, they must have sought human means of preventing James’ death. When the arm of flesh failed them, they were forced back into the Spirit.
Compare the response to Agabus’ prophecy with what happened after the church was shocked back to the Spirit; after Herod seized and imprisoned Peter:
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. 6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”
~ Acts 12:5-11
They could have chosen to send a delegation to Herod, or done a couple of other ‘reasonable’ things – as they may have done in the case of James! Instead, they resorted to prayer, thus choosing rather to depend on the Holy Spirit.
When we choose to depend on the Holy Spirit, miracles happen. Most importantly, we operate beyond the reach of the devil’s tricks.
Now, imagine what would have happened had the disciples in Antioch responded similarly to Agabus’ prophecy. There, they failed when they choose human aid above the aid of the Holy Spirit.
29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
~ Acts 11:27-30
Significantly, however, the Antioch church, led by Paul and Barnabas, though part of the Roman world, did not experience the famine. As a matter of fact, they were the ones that raised the aid for those at Jerusalem. I believe this was because of the level of spiritual attunement of the Antioch church as a result of the depth of teaching given by Paul and Barnabas to their congregation. While the brethren at Judea were caught up in tradition and legalism under the Twelve – who ought to have known better – Paul and Barnabas yielded to the Holy Spirit, Who in turn took them and the Antioch church into the depths of the mystery of Christ!
The result of this was that the believers were first called Christians in Antioch rather than in Jerusalem. Isn’t this amazing? They were never called Christians in Jerusalem in spite of the fact that, whereas Jesus and the disciples did a lot of work in Jerusalem, they never even touched foot in Antioch. The reason for this, as I have already stated, is that the Jerusalem disciples let themselves be lured back into tradition and legalism, hence arresting their spiritual metamorphosis.
Paul on the other hand wasn’t so hampered; so he could delve into the mysteries of Christ, and as he shared it with his congregation, they metamorphosed so much in all areas that they became the lifeline of the Jerusalem church.
As I have already stated, your strength is in the Spirit. Your victory is in the Spirit. Your dominion is in the Spirit. Your distinction is in the Spirit. Never let yourself be lured by satan into the realm of your senses, human reasoning, and religious legalism. As we have seen, and will study even further next week, this is a recipe for unwarranted suffering, struggles, and hardships.
Instead, trust in the Holy Spirit with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your path.