Today’s Reading: Acts 12
I studied the tendencies of two men this morning as I drank my coffee – Peter the Apostle and Herod the King. Peter was highly esteemed and respected in the early Church among both Jewish and Gentile believers. King Herod was highly esteemed and given much power. He was well liked among the Jewish leaders as well, gaining their favor for his persecution of the early Christians and his order to kill the apostle James with a sword.
When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter (This took place during the Passover Celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. – Acts 12:3-4
Herod was SO pleased with the praise and attention he received for himself when he put the apostle James to death that he CRAVED MORE ATTENTION. How could he top this one? By arresting an even more popular apostle, one who had already been arrested at one point but had escaped – arrest Peter. Prove that King Herod could accomplish what others could not! Arrest Peter and put so many guards on him that it would be impossible for him to escape this time.
Consider the timing of Peter’s arrest. Herod wanted the attention of as many of the Jewish people as possible so he arrested Peter during the Jewish Passover celebration with the intent of bringing him to public trial right after the Passover. Sound familiar? At the same time the traditional Passover lamb was to be slain, Jesus was crucified. If the Jewish people wanted a blood sacrifice to save them, Herod would give it to them through the death of Peter.
The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered.
So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron-gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him.
Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” – Acts 12:6-11
If you have read this story so many times that you were able to read it just now without getting chills or experiencing any emotion, I invite you to go back and read it again. Let the reality of this moment in Peter’s life truly sink in and join me in praising God for one of the most miraculous moments recorded in Scripture. My sister-in-law, Cheryl Sherwood, once showed a video of the story of Noah’s Ark to a group of children and they broke out in spontaneous applause when the ark landed safely on dry land. How pleased God must be when we read the Scripture with the heart and reaction of a child! God’s rescue of Peter from Herod’s chains deserves applause.
Now laugh with me and have an “In your face!” moment as we think of Herod’s reaction the next morning when he realized he had been defeated in his efforts to receive glory for himself. How angry and humiliated he must have been! So angry that he sentenced the guards to death and then fled to Caesarea to sulk.
Imagine what this experience must have been like for Peter. I picture him standing in the middle of the dark street, all is quiet as everyone is already in their homes for the night. He is standing there in confusion and thinking, “Did that really just happen?!!” As reality sinks in, I imagine a big smile coming across Peter’s face as tears of joy begin to fill his eyes. I picture Peter raising his arms towards heaven and thanking the God who loves him THAT much. At some point, I wonder if Peter thought, “I have to tell everyone! The church needs to know how faithful God is!”
While Peter was in prison, the church was earnestly praying for him (12:5). Peter went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many believers were gathered for prayer. Imagine their shock when they opened the door and saw Peter standing there. Scripture says they were “amazed.” Peter motioned for them to quiet down and then told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. He was quick to let them know that his escape was not about him but about God, not by his strength but by God’s power, mercy and grace! – (Acts 12:12-17)
In contrast, Herod is in Caesarea, dressed in royal robes and sitting on his throne. A delegation of people trying to win his favor from Tyre and Sidon are his audience and he is making a grand speech. The people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It’s the voice of a god, not of a man!” Just the attention and glory he craved! But God has never been impressed with man’s need for pride or our tendency to soak in the glory of men’s praise.
Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died. – Acts 12:23
How much does God hate our pride? How angry does God get when we crave the attention and praise of others? Consider this – Herod killed the apostle James, whom God loved very much, and nothing happened. Herod arrested Peter with the intent to bring him to trial and God rescued Peter without bringing physical harm to Herod. Herod accepted the praise of men when they worshipped him as if he was a god and God struck Herod with a sickness that would lead to a painful and miserable death.
Oh great and wonderful God, only you are worthy of our praise and glory today and forevermore! Forgive us for our moments of satisfaction and pride in ourselves. May we crave only your attention and may you be pleased with our humility and service to you today. We love you! Amen.