Friday, February 22
To God be the Glory
12:1 About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, 2and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was praying fervently to God for him.
6When Herod was about to bring him out for trial, that very night Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison. 7Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, “Quick, get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8“Get dressed,” the angel told him, “and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Wrap your cloak around you,” he told him, “and follow me.” 9So he went out and followed, and he did not know that what the angel did was really happening, but he thought he was seeing a vision. 10After they passed the first and second guards, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went outside and passed one street, and suddenly the angel left him.
11When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” 12As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. 13He knocked at the door of the outer gate, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the outer gate.
15“You’re out of your mind!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true, and they said, “It’s his angel.” 16Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were amazed.
17Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. “Tell these things to James and the brothers,” he said, and he left and went to another place.
18At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
20Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. Together they presented themselves before him. After winning over Blastus, who was in charge of the king’s bedroom, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food from the king’s country.21On an appointed day, dressed in royal robes and seated on the throne, Herod delivered a speech to them. 22The assembled people began to shout, “It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!” 23At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24But the word of God flourished and multiplied. 25After they had completed their relief mission, Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem, taking along John who was called Mark.
Act 12:1-25 (CSB)
Today’s reading contains a few moments that you can’t help but chuckle at: the angel smacking Peter in the side to wake him up so he can escape; the servant girl Rhoda forgetting to open the door in her excitement; Luke’s detailed description that Herod’s manner of death was being ‘eaten by worms.’
Between those light-hearted moments and the general positive tone of the story (Peter escapes, Herod dies) it is easy to forget the tragedy which opened this section: the death of James. James was not only one of the original twelve disciples, but one of the first. He and his brother John left the family fishing trade to follow Jesus, and somewhere along the line earned themselves the nickname “sons of thunder,” so one can only imagine what their personalities were like! James and John, along with Peter, were closest to Jesus, and it was these three He invited to witness His transfiguration. Luke does not tell any specific stories about James in Acts, but the public response to his execution suggests that he was a well-known leader in the Jesus movement.
This is why the believers are gathered so late at night, praying so intensely, and why no one believes poor Rhoda. They were convinced Peter was about to die. Herod Agrippa I (who had arrested Peter) was not an enemy of Christianity, per se, but he was an intelligent and ruthless ruler. He was the grandson of Herod the Great, who was a maniacal and brutal ruler. Herod the Great was the one who, after the magi reported that the King of the Jews had been born, ordered all boys two and under be murdered in order to protect his throne. That edict was not out of character for the man who had ordered the deaths of three of his own sons, including Herod Agrippa I’s father. Through fortuitous friendships with two consecutive Roman emperors, Herod Agrippa’s territory expanded until it nearly equaled his grandfather’s reign. All of these ‘kings’ ruled only at the pleasure of the emperor, though, and keeping the peace—the Pax Romana—was a key requirement. Herod Agrippa’s strategy was to be a good friend of the Jews, even observing their laws, and to violently squash any rebellion or unrest. This Jesus movement was causing unrest, and killing its leaders increased his favor with the Jews. Win-win.
Through a number of pragmatic moves, like moving the Judean capital from Caesarea to Jerusalem, Herod Agrippa I had won the loyalty of the Jewish community, to the point that they attributed him with ushering in a better, nearly messianic, age. What irony. The Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, yet embraced a brutal and callous leader because he satisfied their political and cultural desires. Herod and the Jews were pragmatists; the Jews gave him their loyalty, and in return he gave them peace, power and prosperity.
All week I have struggled with why God spares Peter but not James, but the more I studied the more I realized that this story isn’t about James or Peter. The main conflict is between God and Herod. Herod attempted to control and suppress God through James’ death and Peter’s imprisonment. The empty jail was a sign to Herod, a warning that no military force could stop the Christian movement. Herod did not heed the warning, and continued to elevate himself and accept the adulation, worship, and glory only God deserved. And God killed him for it.
Peter’s rescue and Herod’s death were equally a sign to the Jerusalem Church: the rulers of this world will not win. Persecution and death would come again. Extreme political upheaval was on the horizon for Jerusalem. But there was not a chain strong enough, no army big enough, no prison secure enough to stop the Gospel. In death or in life, God’s Word goes forth to all the earth, and it never returns void.
Sometimes we do not believe the power of our own prayers. The people were praying for Peter’s rescue, and didn’t believe it when he showed up at their door! Perhaps they had prayed the same prayers for James, and so they doubted a different outcome was possible. Sometimes God answers no, and all we can do is trust His sovereignty. But sometimes He answers yes, so we must not stop praying the big prayers! And praise God that, even when our faith lags, He still answers. Just keep praying.
Father, thank You that Your answers are not dependent upon my faith, but I beg You to give me the faith to expect great things to the biggest prayers. When the answer is no, give me an equal measure of faith to trust Your sovereignty, and keep me from giving my allegiance to unworthy worldly powers in an attempt to gain the security, prosperity or power that can only come from . Amen.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.