2016 7-31 “God Displays His Power” Acts 12:1-25

ACTS 12:1-25

I. Introduction
God displayed His power from the beginning! Turn with me to the easiest passage to find in all of Scripture.
*Genesis 1:1-3
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2 And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Such is the power of God. He speaks and it is created. He speaks and it is done. He speaks and it is so. In Genesis 1:6-25 God speaks five more times. And each time the power of His spoken word establishes and puts another piece of His creation into place. Then God speaks a seventh time…
*Genesis 1:26-27
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

We look at that and we say, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could see that kind of creative power displayed all the time?” We can and we do. We just don’t recognize it. Every time a child is conceived in the womb, God’s power in the material realm is revealed. And every time a lost and dying soul is saved and receives eternal life, God’s power in the spiritual realm is revealed. We can see the former whenever a baby comes into this world. We can see the latter whenever someone repents and trusts in the Lord Jesus.

But God displays His power in other ways as well. It’s all around us in the natural world. We can see it in the lightning. We can hear it in the thunder. We can feel it in the wind. We can smell it in the flowers. And we can even taste it in our mouths. Psalm 34:8 says, “O taste and see that the Lord is good…” And Psalm 119:103 says, “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey in my mouth!”

This morning we return to our verse-by-verse study of the Book of Acts. As Acts 12, begins the Apostle James is murdered, the Apostle Peter is in prison, and Herod is in control. But by the time Acts 12 ends, James will be in heaven, Peter will be free, Herod will be dead, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ will continue to go out into the world. And so an omnipotent, almighty, and all powerful God will have His way.
Nothing and no one can stop Him from accomplishing His purposes or even altering His plans. As believers we know that is true. But we often forget that when evil appears to be winning.

Just look at the political situation in America today. It seems that the wicked get away with anything and everything. And rather than being punished for their crimes, they are rewarded for them. And if that isn’t bad enough, their popularity and prestige only increases. And to make matters worse, at the very same time evil is on the increase, the suffering of the right-eous increases as well. We ask, “When will You bring it to end, Lord? When will it stop?”

God has not told us when it will end, but He has told us that it will end. We can take comfort in knowing that His plans are unchangeable. We know that the church (the Bride of Christ) will be taken home to heaven, we know that Satan will be bound, we know that all Israel will be saved, and we know that the lost will spend eternity in hell. These are the promises of a God who cannot lie. When the time is right they will all come to fruition. In the mean-time, you and I are called to trust Him, knowing that He will do just as He has said.

II. Review
In Acts 10 the Apostle Peter had preached the gospel to Cornelius and his family and friends in Caesarea. All who heard Peter’s message of salvation in Christ had come to saving faith. But Cornelius was a Roman Centurion, and when Peter returned to Jerusalem, he was imme-diately accused of breaking Jewish law by associating with Gentiles.

Peter defended himself and said that God had made it clear to him that the gospel and salva-tion in Christ was for Gentiles as well as Jews.
*Acts 10:34-36; 11:18
34 And opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality,
35 but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.
36 “The word which He has sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)…”
11:18 And when they (the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem) heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

In the rest of Acts 11 the new Gentile Christians established the church in Antioch.
• They told people about their Lord and Savior.
• They understood what the gospel is.
• They extended grace to all people everywhere.
• They were led by the example of godly pastors and elders.
• They dedicated themselves to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.
• They gave from their hearts, trusting God to meet their own needs.

Acts 11:21 says that “…the hand of the Lord was with them.” Barnabas brought Saul from Tarsus, and the two of them began teaching in the church at Antioch. (Saul would soon become known by his Gentile name, Paul.) And in v. 26 Luke tells us that “…the disciples were first called ‘Christians’ at Antioch.” And that brings us to this morning’s text in Acts 12.

III. Text
It is the year 44 A.D. The scene shifts from Antioch back to Jerusalem.
*Acts 12:1-25 (Please stand with me in honor of reading God’s Word.)
1 Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church, in order to mistreat them.
2 And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.
3 And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.
4 And when he had seized him (Peter), he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.
5 So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.
6 And on the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison.
7 And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and roused him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands.
8 And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he (the angel) said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”
9 And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.
10 And when they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street; and immediately the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
12 And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were
13 And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer.
14 And when she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate.
15 And they said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. And they kept saying, “It is his angel.”
16 But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.
17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James (½ bro.) and the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.
18 Now when day came there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter.
19 And when Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.
20 Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country.
21 And on an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them.
22 And the people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”
23 And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them, John, who was also called Mark.

This long passage can be broken up into four parts. In the first part (vv. 1-4) John’s brother, the Apostle James is executed by Herod. This is not the Herod Antipas who had John the Baptist beheaded and before whom Jesus was tried. This is Herod Agrippa I, one of Herod the Great’s grandsons. (In Acts 26 Paul will stand trial before yet another Herod, Agrippa II.) This Herod was not well-liked by Caesar. Therefore, he did what he could to please the Jews in Palestine because he didn’t want the news of any unrest to get back to Rome.

One of the things that greatly pleased the Jews was the persecution of Christians. So, for what were purely political reasons, Herod had James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, executed. With that, James became the first of the twelve apostles to be martyred. The response from the Jews was a great encouragement to Herod. So he had Peter arrested right after Passover and during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It was that time of the year when many multitudes of Jews were in Jerusalem and Peter’s arrest would be seen by all.
But Herod remembered that Peter and John had escaped from prison before (Acts 5:17-20) so he had Peter placed in what we might call “maximum security” today. Acts 12:4, 6 tells us he was surrounded by four squads of guards (sixteen soldiers). In addition to that, there were two guards chained to him, and two more right outside his cell door.

At this point we might be tempted to ask, “Where is God’s power in all of this? James has been killed and Peter is in prison. It sure looks like the wrong side is winning.” In this first part of Acts 12 it certainly does look that way. But we are not to worry. God has allowed both James’ death and Peter’s imprisonment for a greater and an eternal purpose. You can take comfort in the fact that God remains in complete control of this world. And that control includes the evil that surrounds us.
*Psalm 2:1-5, 10-12
1 Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and His Anointed.
3 (They say) “Let us tear their fetters apart, and cast away their cords from us!”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, the LORD scoffs at them.
5 Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury…
(Then vv. 6-9 speak of God’s King who will ultimately rule the earth.)
10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth.
11 Worship the LORD with reverence, and rejoice with trembling.
12 Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

The bad news in the opening verses of Acts 12 is that James is dead. The good news in the opening verses of Acts 12 is that James is alive in heaven and reunited with Jesus. When we lose a brother or sister in Christ they are not lost. No one is lost if you know where they are.
Our first thoughts when we read of James’ execution are that there has been a tragedy. And for us – in this life here on earth – there has been. But James’ loss is temporary, is it not?

As believers we possess a blessed privilege that the world does not have. We can see James’ death through the lens of eternity future. And that throws a completely different light on the subject. Think of it this way: Viewing James’ passing from this life on earth leaves those who know him in sorrow and sadness. But how is James’ passing from this life viewed from heaven? Is there sorrow and sadness in heaven? Absolutely not! On the contrary, there is rejoicing and gladness because James has come home. It helps to remember this…
Psalm 116:15
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones.

Please do not let worldly thinking (or unbiblical religious thinking) cloud your hearts or minds when a beloved Christian passes into our Lord’s presence.
Your belief in a sovereign God will comfort you as nothing else can. No death catches Him off guard because He is never out of control.

Yet there is no end to the false teachers who claim that God is supposed to be delivering us from accidents, tragedies, and even death. The so-called Word of Faith preachers say we can escape anything if we just speak and have faith in what we say. (“Name it and claim it!”) So anyone who isn’t healed or doesn’t get what they want just doesn’t have enough faith. We know they’re con artists, liars, and charlatans because they get sick and die too. But they still have millions of followers.

There’s another misconception that often seeps into our thinking: Do sickness, tragedy, and death come to you because God loves you less than He loves someone else? James died at a young age, but his brother John lived on for another 50 years. Are we to assume God loved John more than James? From our limited perspective here on earth we might tend to think so. But could we not then make the argument that God loved James more that John because He took him home and left John to suffer the pains of old age and decades of persecution?

The point is that both arguments are bogus. You and I can’t see around the corner, but God sees all the way into eternity. And He does what is right based on His holiness, His wisdom, and our good. Only He sees the end from the beginning. Listen to Him say so…
Isaiah 46:9-10
9 “Remember the former things long past. For I am God and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accom-plish all My good pleasure…’”

In 44 A.D. the Apostle James was martyred by Herod Agrippa I. It was divine timing, and it was for James’ eternal good. More than that, we know that his death was “…precious in the sight of the Lord (Psalm 116:15).” I want to make one more point here before we move on. No one – and especially no Christian, regardless of their chronological age – has ever died so much as one instant before God intended for them to pass into His presence.
*Psalm 139:13-16
13 For You formed my inward parts; You weaved me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give You thanks, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.
In Acts 12:2 James is killed. James hasn’t been disciplined and punished. He’s been given grace and rewarded. Grace is unmerited favor. It is getting something good that we do not deserve. With James’ passing, he has gotten something good that no one deserves. God has given James heaven and the unspeakable joy of being in His eternal presence.

Next, in the second part of this morning’s passage (vv. 5-19), Peter escapes from prison. In human terms his escape is impossible. Remember that he is chained to two soldiers and sur-rounded by no less than fourteen others. But in v. 7 one of God’s holy angels appeared in the cell and Peter’s chains simply “…fell off his hands.” And in v. 10 the prison’s iron gate “…opened for them by itself.” Just think – the angel didn’t even have to look for the keys!

When the angel’s job is complete, he departs. Peter comes to his senses and heads for the home of Mary, John Mark’s mother. The disciples have been meeting in her home praying for Peter’s release. When you pray do you believe that God will answer? Well, if we’re good Christians our answer will be, “Yes,” will it not?

But do we really believe God will answer? I mean really? If any Christians would believe that God would answer their prayers, would it not be Jesus’ own apostles? Here is the pic-ture: The apostles have been praying for Peter’s release. He is released. He comes to the place where they are staying. He knocks on the door. The servant-girl, answers the door, sees that it is Peter, rejoices, and runs to tell the apostles. So far so good. Then the apostles jump up, run to embrace Peter, and praise God for His answer to their prayers. Well… not exactly.
*Acts 12:13-15a
13 And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer.
14 And when she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate.
15 And they said to her, “You are out of your mind!”

Are you surprised when God answers your prayers? Is it a comfort to you that even Jesus’ own apostles’ faith in answered prayer was weak? If so, is it because yours is too? Maybe the real question should be “Why is my faith so weak?” Listen, I struggle with this as much as anyone struggles with it. It is so easy to relate to that father of the demon-possessed boy who pleaded with Jesus to cast out the demon. He said to the Lord, “…if You can do any-thing, take pity on us…” Jesus answered him, “If You can! All things are possible to him who believes.” And the boy’s father said, “I do believe, help my unbelief (Mark 9:22-24).”

In Acts 12 the apostles did believe, but like us, they still needed help with their unbelief. Peter is miraculously released from prison, and once more God’s power is on display for all to see. But why is he released? Does God need Peter? Of course not! God doesn’t need anyone or anything. God intends to use Peter.
While he was in prison Peter he was totally helpless. And the other apostles were totally helpless to do anything about it. When are you most dependent upon God? Is it not when you are totally helpless? When are you most likely to pray fervently for whatever it is that you want or need? Is it not when you are totally helpless?

So here in the second part of today’s passage God has displayed His power by setting Peter free from Herod’s prison. God used the prayers of His people to accomplish this. So that there is no misunderstanding here, God is not limited by our prayers – The God of the Bible is not limited by anything – but He uses our prayers to teach us total dependence upon Him.

In the third part of this morning’s passage (vv. 20-23), God displays His power in the death of Herod Agrippa I. This death is nothing like the passing of the Apostle James, and it should remind us that evil will flourish until God decrees that it ends. In Herod’s case it would end shortly after James stepped into glory.

Peter’s escape infuriated Herod, and although his guards bore no responsibility for it, he had them executed anyway. Evil, cruel, and bloodthirsty are apt descriptions of all the Herod’s. His grandfather, Herod the Great, had ordered the murder the innocents when Jesus was born. One of his cousins, Herod Antipas was involved in Jesus’ murder. And now this one has had James killed. The reputation of all of the Herod’s went before them.

It remains unclear exactly why, but the cities of Tyre and Sidon had fallen out of favor with this Herod. So he cut off their food supply. In order to escape Herod’s wrath and regain their access to the needed food, the leaders of the two cities made a pact with Herod through Blastus, his chief of staff. On the day the pact was to be ratified Herod entered the amphi-theater. What follows is from the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus.
“Herod put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it shone out after a surprising manner.” (Antiquities XIX, vii, 2)

In Acts 12:21-22 Luke tells us that when Herod began to speak the people shouted, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” Now listen once more to Josephus.
“(He) did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery.” (Antiquities XIX, vii, 2)

And with that Herod’s moment had come. It should surprise no one because no one will ever get away with taking God’s glory for Himself.
*Isaiah 42:8; 48:11
8 “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.”
48:11 “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.”

*Acts 12:23
23 And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.

“…eaten by worms”? What does that mean? Some believe that Herod had a skin disorder that literally attracted tiny worms to his body where they rapidly multiplied and consumed his flesh. But it seems more likely that he had been suffering with a tapeworm. The result-ing cysts would eventually burst and cause a slow and agonizing death. In any case, Jose-phus says that Herod lived for five days, during which time he suffered terrible pain.

His sins were great, but the greatest of all was his last – taking God’s glory for himself. Oh, how we need to understand that to seek God’s glory for ourselves is to make war against Him. It is to commit suicide. Listen, the second most powerful being in all of creation, Satan himself, still tries to take God’s glory. But he has already failed. He was defeated at the cross, he has been sentenced to eternity in the lake of fire, and he now awaits the carrying out of that sentence. Yet he still deceives the nations.
Revelation 20:10
10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brim-stone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be torment-ed day and night forever and ever.

The third lesson in today’s text is when the time is right God will use His power to remove every vain, proud, and evil human leader from his or her position of authority. And here is the fourth lesson. It’s found in Acts 12:24-25. The gospel will go forth and His church will continue to grow until it is complete and Jesus comes for us.

IV. Conclusion
We’ve seen God’s power on display in four different ways here in Acts 12 this morning.
• In vv. 1-5 the Apostle James was murdered by Herod, the Apostle Peter was impris-oned by Herod; God allowed and orchestrated both events.
• In vv. 6-19 God sent one of His holy angels to set Peter free from prison.
• In vv. 20-23 God took Herod’s life from him.
• In vv. 24-25 God saw to it that, “…the Word of the Lord continued to grow and be multiplied.”

Let me suggest to you that there are three lessons we can learn from all of this, three things we can take with us.
First, God displays His power in our lives whether we live or die. James died. Peter lived.
Romans 14:7-8
7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one (of us) dies for himself.
8 For I f we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
Second, God displays His power in this world when He removes evil leaders from authority. We know that all rulers, good or evil, have been put in place by God for His purposes. And we know that no human ruler is either omnipotent or eternal.
Romans 13:1b
1b For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are estab-lished by God.

The Nebuchadnezzars, the Herods, the Hitlers, the Stalins, the Husseins are all subject to God’s righteous judgment.

Third, God displays His awesome power whenever the gospel goes out and another soul comes to saving faith in Christ. Just listen to some of what He has already done in the Book of Acts…

“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls (2:41).”

“And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved (2:47).”

“But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand (4:4).”

“And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (5:42).”

“And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem… (6:7).”

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up… (9:31).”

“And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord (11:21).”

And so it went. And so it goes. And so it shall until the church is complete and the trumpet sounds and Jesus comes to take us home.

As we move on into Acts 13 we’ll see that God’s power to build His church is only begin-ning. Saul of Tarsus will become the Apostle Paul, and the gospel will begin to go out to the whole world.

May God display His power in our lives and in this church, but never for our glory – Only for His!

~ Pray ~