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19 November 2023 // Acts 12

Acts Chapter 12                                                                              
Herod’s Persecution:
         Plunging of James
Pleased Jews
Prisoned Peter
Prayer of the Church
Peter’s Peace:
            Sleeping Hard        
Church’s Prayers:
            2 Questions:
            What were their prayers?
            Were they praying for natural answers or super-natural answers?
Peter’s Persistence
            Kept on knocking
Herod’s Path
            Death to all who did not perform for Herod
            Death to those who give themselves the glory
The Gospel Multiplied
  • What did the message teach me about God/Jesus/Holy Spirit?
  • What did the message teach me about the human condition?
  • Is there anything I need to confess, repent, or be grateful for, because of this passage?
  • How do I need help in believing and applying this scripture to my life?
  • How can I encourage others with this passage?

Rescue Rejection
I think the story first surfaced during the Mississippi floods back in the 80s and then resurfaced during the terrible midwestern floods in the early 90s. A man whose house lay in the path of oncoming water stood out on his front porch when National Guardsmen came by in a jeep. “Get in,” they said, “the big water is headed this way.” The man replied, “God will help me. I’m staying right here.” As the water began to rise, he went up to the second story and looked out at a boat, again intent on rescue. He responded the same way: “God will help me. I’m staying right here.”

Finally, the rising floods drove him to the roof where a passing rescue helicopter spotted him and shouted over the loud speaker, “Your whole house will soon be covered. We’ll drop a rope ladder, and you can climb up to safety.” Again the man shouted up to his would-be deliverers, “God will help me. I’m staying right here.”

As the story goes, the man drowned and went to heaven where, after an appropriate wait, he was granted an audience with God. He complained in no uncertain terms that his faith had been real; he had expected God’s miraculous deliverance in some way. Why had God let him down? Letting the man unload his whole story, God finally replied, “What do you mean I let you down? First, I sent you a jeep; then I sent you a boat; then I sent you a helicopter, and you turned them all down.”

God works through natural means as well as supernatural. Many places in the Bible, we see a situation changing without the distinct characterization of a miracle. Where the text clearly describes a miracle, we should not shy away from claiming a miracle happened. When an angel appears in light, chains fall off, and a large iron gate opens automatically, we can probably chalk it up to a miracle, not intervention of natural causes.

The key lesson of this chapter certainly focuses on the sovereignty of God. He chose and designed the fascinating miracle which caused Peter’s deliverance. At the same time he did not ignore James. For reasons known only to him, God determined that James’ ministry on earth was finished. No matter how much the believers may have thought his presence necessary. No matter that James himself may have considered and expected a significantly longer term of service.

We have seen it before in Luke, and we shall see it again. The Sovereign Lord to whom the believers prayed clearly carried out his will, in his timing, and in his way.[1]

A.  Herod (v. 1)
Born 10 b.c., grandson of Herod the Great and the son of Aristobulus, Herod Agrippa I grew up in Rome where he had been sent in 7 b.c. after his father’s execution. He lived his youth as something of a playboy, assisted with a pension from Herod Antipas, his uncle. In a.d. 36 he returned to Rome but offended Tiberius and ended up in prison until Caligula released him after the death of Tiberius about a year later.
He began his rule over the northernmost Palestinian tetrarchies. When Herod Antipas was banished in a.d. 39, Agrippa received his tetrarchy also. In a.d. 41 the Emperor Claudius, an old friend from Agrippa’s days in Rome, added Judea and Samaria which restored the entire kingdom of his grandfather, Herod the Great. By then he had truly become the “King of the Jews,” reigning over Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Trans-Jordan, and the Decapolis.
Scholars trust Josephus’ description of Herodian politics which depicts Agrippa as very Jewish in the presence of Jews and very Roman when with Romans. He moved the seat of government from Caesarea to Jerusalem, elevating that city in the eyes of the world. He even began rebuilding the city’s northern wall. Many Jews considered these days a better era, even though Rome still ruled the world.
Let’s run by those Herods once again. Herod Antipas murdered John the Baptist, and Herod the Great was on the throne during Jesus’ birth. Herod Agrippa I of Acts 12 was the nephew of Antipas and the grandson of Herod the Great. It was an ugly family! James and Peter would not be the last of God’s people to feel their power. At the end of Acts, Herod Agrippa II listened to Paul (Acts 26:28); there seems to be no significant evidence that the cruelty of his father passed on to him.

B.  “About this Time” (v. 1)
Scholars are unsure of the chronology Luke followed at this point in the book. We have already suggested that the arrival of Barnabas and Saul in Jerusalem may have followed the persecution of chapter 12. Since we know the date of Herod’s death was a.d. 44, the events of chapter 12 would have occurred in the spring of a.d. 43. In this view, the famine described in 11:28 occurred a year or two later, perhaps a.d. 46. This seems to juggle events a bit, but also fits in nicely with Galatians 2:1–10, linking that visit with the famine visit of chapter 11.
In any case, while Luke wants to keep the flow going as a legitimate historian, he has no intention of writing in the strict chronology of the western world. In general the events in Acts occur from about a.d. 30 to 60, but Luke will tell his story in ways that accomplish his purpose without regard to chronological exactness.

C.  Work of Angels (vv. 7–10, 15, 23)
Luke scattered the word angel all over this chapter. He shows us three different facets of these special beings. The first is the deliverance angel of verses 7–10, the second the imagined guardian angel of verse 15, and the third the death angel of verse 23. As messengers of God, angels were present at the foundation of the world and the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:13–15). They are God’s ministers (Ps. 103:21) who serve him quickly and fervently. They control the forces of nature (Rev. 7:1; 16:3) and bring judgment upon God’s enemies (Gen. 19:1, 12–13; Ps. 78:49).
An angel rolled the stone away from the tomb at the time of the resurrection (Matt. 28:2). Two angels announced the ascension in Acts 1:10–11. They watch over the affairs of the redeemed (1 Cor. 4:9; 11:10; 1 Tim 5:21). Theologian Robert Lightner reminds us, “We do not know all the specific ways God’s angels minister to the child of God. However, this should not deter us from believing that they do indeed minister” (Lightner, 141).

D.  James in Acts (vv. 2, 17)
Multiple men named James appear in our chapter. Verse 2, as we have already noticed, refers to the brother of John, son of Zebedee, whom we know well from the Gospel accounts. The James of verse 17, however, enters the narrative of Acts without introduction. He is James, the Lord’s brother and administrative leader in the Jerusalem church (Gal. 1:19; 2:9). Later, we will see him presiding at the Jerusalem Council of a.d. 49 (15:13–21). Acts 21:18 strongly implies that he was the head of the Jerusalem church.
James, the Lord’s brother, is mentioned in Matthew 13:55 as the son of Joseph and Mary, not just Mary alone as Jesus was. This James wrote the epistle in the New Testament which bears his name even though he didn’t become a believer until after the resurrection. During the Lord’s life on earth James had challenged Jesus, along with the other half-brothers (John 7:2–5); but now, like Paul, he had been born again, selected by God for leadership in the church. He had seen Christ after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). By the time Jude wrote his epistle, James was so well-known Jude could call himself simply a brother of James (Jude 1).[2]

      1.   Is your church aware of the great persecution the church is facing worldwide today? What actions is your church taking in light of these persecutions?
      2.   How do you and your church demonstrate that you expect God to answer your prayers?
      3.   How has God answered the prayers of your church? Has the church used the experience to help the Word of God increase and spread?[3]
[1] Kenneth O. Gangel, Acts, vol. 5, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 199–200.
[2] Kenneth O. Gangel, Acts, vol. 5, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 200–203.