ACTS 12:1-24 JANUARY 22, 2017
“OUR TIME IS IN YOUR HANDS, O LORD”
Over the years I have spoken with many people who have asked the question, “Why does God not answer my prayers?” I have also been asked why did God allow my loved one to die. This passage points us to the knowledge that God is in control and that our time is in his hands!
Luke provides us a view into two men who were seeking to do what they considered the right thing to do. One is a king while the other is the leader of the church. Acts 12:1-2 (NIV) “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.”
This King Herod is the grandson of King Herod the Great. This King Herod only reigned a few years. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, King Herod was well liked by the Jewish leadership as he was one who sought to keep the Jewish laws and traditions. In order to please the Sanhedrin King Herod arrested several Christians, including two of the original twelve disciples. He had James, the brother of John, put to death by the sword, which we believe was by beheading. If God was going to free Peter, then why did he allow the apostle John to be beheaded?
Scripture is clear that God is sovereign; he is in control of all things. Psalm 33:11 (NIV) “11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” Psalm 135:6 (NIV) “6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.” Ephesians 1:11-12 (NIV) “11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” It comes down to this, that we do not know the plans of God and we must trust in Him.
Acts 12:2-5 (NIV) “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. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” Notice that the church was earnestly praying to God in behalf of Peter. It is no stretch of the imagination that they were asking God to deliver him.
Acts 12:6-10 (NIV) “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.”
It is ironic that God delivers Peter from being held in bondage during Passover, like the Jews were held in slavery by the Egyptians and were set free at the first Passover. What I find amazing was that Peter was sound asleep and the angel had to whack him to wake him up. Peter was so out of it that the angel had to tell him specifically what to do. It took Peter a while to realize that God was saving him. Acts 12:11 (NIV) “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.”
I love this interaction that Peter had with the servant girl, Rhoda. Rhoda was so shocked that she did not open the door for Peter. She ran off to tell everyone in the prayer service that Peter was at the door. I find it reassuring that those praying expressed doubts, just like we would. They were imaginative in their assessment, yet none of them went immediately to the door to check. We pray for miracles, yet we still are often surprised when God answers the prayer.
I wonder how long Peter stood there knocking on the door. It is also ironic that the doors to the prison were opened for him but he could not get into the prayer service that was praying for him. Acts 12:16-17 (NIV) “16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the brothers about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.”
Now, we turn to King Herod. Acts 12:18-20 (NIV) “18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.”
We see that King Herod blames the soldiers for Peter disappearing and cruelly has them executed. Herod allows himself to be prideful. Now remember this is a man who sought to follow the commandments and be a faithful Jew. Josephus also wrote about this incident. Josephus records that King Herod’s robe was made of silver and glowed due to the reflection of the sun.
Acts 12:21-23 (NIV) “21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” The people were seeking to flatter the king so that they wouldn’t starve. They shouted that he was a god. This is the man who was persecuting the church. But every person will have to answer to God one day. 2 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV) “10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
God decreed justice. It is thought that Herod had intestinal worms and that he had severe pain until he died. We often pray and ask God for justice; and God will hold all people accountable. Romans 12:19 (NIV) “19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” The wrath of God is coming at the time of his choosing, not ours.
This passage reminds us that the time we have here on earth is in the hands of God. We should make good use of the time we have. We should be like Peter and be faithful to the one who has called us to love and serve him. We should also be encouraged to pray for God does hear our prayers. James 5:16 (NIV) 16 “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” The LORD is in control, and we need to trust him.
Let us pray.