GOD’S PLAN HAPPENS - CAN’T STOP IT, CAN’T DICTATE IT
James Execution and Peter’s Imprisonment (1-3)
· The Herod in Acts 12 is A_______________. He p_______________ the church to a____________ the Jews. They didn’t think they needed a s_____________ savior.
Advantage, Christians (4-5)
· Peter was held captive by a l________, more dedicated group of captors than he was in Acts 5. However, this didn’t make Peter’s prognosis any worse. He had the p_________ of prayer and God on his side.
The Great Escape II (6-11)
· The circumstances Peter faced, and the detailed account of the escape prove that God will pull of a m____________ if He desires.
· There isn’t anything in the text to indicate that Peter’s f________ is what caused the miracle to occur.
Reunion with Friends (12-17)
· The r__________ of Peter’s friends also argues against the notion that if you have enough faith, whatever you want to happen will. They were not p_____________ of what God may or may not do in their lives.
Soldiers of Misfortune (18-19a)
· The Roman soldiers were up against i______________ odds.
· Herod’s p_______ caused him to receive the overstated praise of the people and take glory in being called a god. As a result of this God chose to immediately j_______. (Daniel 2:21).
Christianity Spreads Anyway (24-25)
· P_______ during difficult circumstances, having c___________ that God is in control and can do anything. Understand that He may or may not answer your prayer as you wish.
· Participate, don’t dictate. Whatever God is up to cannot be thwarted by certain levels of n___________ and conversely, isn’t h___________ by certain levels of belief.
· Be careful when making specific declarations of what you think God is up to. Have faith in God without always knowing w_______ He does things or allows them to occur.
· Who you say Jesus is, is a matter of l______ and d________.
· While you still have breath, be involved in the g_________ of the word of the Lord.
GOD’S PLAN HAPPENS - CAN’T STOP IT, CAN’T DICTATE IT
Think back to your days in high school or college. How did you feel about having “pop quizzes”? Most likely you weren’t a big fan of them. However, your attitude about pop quizzes was probably affected by the way your teacher or professor used them. Obviously, if your instructor didn’t believe pop quizzes were “fair” to students and told you they wouldn’t be used, you could breathe a sigh of relief. Some of the instructors who used them may have used the first day of class or a syllabus to warn you they’d be coming. Other instructors gave no warning at all. Some instructors would only give pop quizzes that included questions covering the most recent topics. And then there were the awful ones that contained questions about things you hadn’t discussed for several weeks. One thing was certain, as the student, your opinion about pop quizzes was irrelevant. Having great disdain didn’t stop them from coming - your best bet was to be as prepared as possible.
When it comes to spiritual matters and what God has planned, some people don’t prepare at all. Some fail to prepare because they don’t believe in God, while others don’t because they think He takes a completely hands off approach to events in this world. Some individuals, out of ignorance of God’s abilities think they can stop what He has planned. Still others may try to help God or speed Him up because they assume they know specifically what He is doing. Regardless of what you think God may or may not be up to, Acts chapter 12 has something to say to us all. We are going to learn that “God’s Plan Happens - Can’t Stop It, Can’t Dictate It”.
Based upon what we know from Acts 11, the events in Acts 12 occurred during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius. During this time, a famine was also taking place in that region.
James Execution and Peter’s Imprisonment
1 Now about that time [a]Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church, to do them harm. 2 And he had James the brother of John executed with a sword. 3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter as well. (Now these were [b]the days of Unleavened Bread.)
· Those familiar with the New Testament come across the name Herod numerous times. Who was this man named Herod in Acts 12? Emperors of Rome would appoint kings and governors to keep the peace in the various places that they had conquered. Scholars believe there were 4 - 6 different “Herod’s” who reigned over Israel during New Testament times. At the time of Jesus birth, “Herod the Great” reigned as king over the Romans province of Judea from 37 B.C to 4 B.C. He was the one who had attempted to have Jesus’ killed at birth (Matthew 2). The ruler of Galilee that executed John the Baptist (Mark 6) and was involved in the trial and execution of Jesus was a different Herod, name “Antipas” (Luke 23:7–12, Acts 4:27). The Herod of Acts 12 is “Agrippa I”. He had been appointed king of the Roman province of Judea, by Claudius and reigned from AD 41 to 44.
· In attempt to stop the spread of Christianity, we see that multiple Christians were apprehended under Herod Agrippa. Of these, the apostle James, son of Zebedee and brother of John was executed, and the apostle Peter was arrested.
· Often when we think of the persecution and murder of Christians during the 1st century we assume that it was done under the direction of Roman emperors. In reality, the kind of crackdown against Christianity didn’t occur until later around 60 AD when Nero became emperor. Before that time, Rome didn’t really make a big fuss about the Christian religion. Generally, the only time the Roman government got involved was when Jewish authorities objected to Christians. We see that pattern unfold in the gospels and Acts. Herod Agrippa’s primary job was to keep the peace. He knew that, if anything was troubling the Jewish population, appeasing them was in his best interest. Apparently, that was Agrippa’s rationale for persecuting the church. It’s ironic that historically Jews have been hated and targeted by numerous people groups and countries. However, at the time of Christ and during the birth of the church, they were the ones doing the same thing to Christians.
· The reference to “Days of Unleavened Bread” means that the events in these verses occurred during Passover week. This was the seven-day Jewish festival held in the spring, that celebrates the exodus from Egypt and the Israelites’ freedom from slavery to the Egyptians. Jews would travel from distant places to come to Jerusalem and observe the feasts together. One of Israel’s primary characteristics throughout history is their desire to be saved from their enemies so they could be a free, independent nation. Jesus and the apostles were preaching the need for a spiritual savior, but the Jews didn’t think that was necessary for them.
If you are familiar with the game of tennis, you likely know what the word “advantage” means in that context. In that case, the word indicates that by winning the next point, a player will win the game. However, when it comes to spiritual battles the one with the advantage cannot be determined by appearances alone.
4 When he had arrested him, he put him in prison, turning him over to four [c]squads of soldiers to guard him, intending only after the Passover to bring him before the people. 5 So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made to God [d]intensely by the church.
· If you remember, Peter had been arrested before by the Jewish temple guard in Acts 5. However, this time, Peter was arrested by Herod and handed over to a larger, more dedicated contingent of Roman soldiers. A “squad” (also known as a “quaternion”), consisted of four soldiers. For the Romans, this was the standard number men used to keep a prisoner in custody. Two soldiers were confined with the prisoner and two kept guard outside. Therefore, if a prisoner needed to be guarded throughout the night, it would require four squads or quaternions of soldiers to cover all four of the night watches.
· It isn’t obvious why Herod waited until after the Passover to bring Peter before the Jewish people. It could have been because he wanted to make it look like he cared about this Jewish holiday. Perhaps he was afraid of a riot breaking out during this time when so many Jewish pilgrims had gathered. Maybe he just wanted to wait until he had the full attention of the Jewish population. Whatever the reason, it meant that Peter had to spend some number of days in jail.
· “So Peter was kept in prison, BUT, prayer for him was being made to God intensely by the church.” Knowing what happened to James and therefore the potential danger Peter was in, the church began praying intensely/constantly for Him. The fact that the Greek word “deh” (but) was used in that verse is not just a minor detail. The word “but” is used to show that the statement that follows is opposed to the preceding statement. In other words, the prayers for Peter were of more significance than the fact that he was in prison guarded by 4 soldiers at all times. In this case it was advantage Christians.
The Great Escape II
On May 2, 2011, a U.S. Special Forces group named “Seal Team Six” raided an al-Qaeda compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed the world’s most wanted terrorist: Osama bin Laden. The entire operation, which lasted only 40 minutes from start to finish, was the culmination of years of calculated planning and training. If you listen or read the accounts of men who were directly involved in the raid, it is quite dramatic. Given his aptitude for escape in the past, many/most people were skeptical he’d ever be held accountable. The raid began around 1 a.m. local time, when 23 U.S. Navy SEALs in two Black Hawk helicopters descended on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. One of the helicopters crash-landed into the compound and extraordinarily, no one aboard was hurt. Soldiers rappelled down ropes to the ground from the other helicopter. Soldiers used night vision goggles to guide them. Gunfire was exchanged. Explosives were used. The raid resulted in the death of five people, including bin Laden and one of his adult sons. No Americans were injured in the assault. Afterward, bin Laden’s body was flown by helicopter to Afghanistan for official identification, then buried at an undisclosed location in the Arabian Sea less than 24 hours after his death, in accordance with Islamic practice.
Acts 12:6-11 describes a similar extraordinary and dramatic event in the life of the apostle Peter (Read slowly to ensure all details are noted).
6 On [e]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 stood near Peter, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Put on your belt and [f]strap on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and continued to follow, and yet he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 Now 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 When Peter came [g]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 [h]that the Jewish people were expecting.”
· In Acts 5, when an angel rescued Peter from prison for the first time, the explanation of what happened was short and to the point – “18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison and led them out.” When describing this second escape, Luke does it in a much more detailed, suspenseful way, very much like a “Mission Impossible” movie. The escape occurred on the last night before he was likely to be executed. The verses describe the number of soldiers and where they were stationed. We know that Peter was chained between two of them. The angel suddenly appeared, nudged Peter, and he was woken from his sleep. The chains just fell off. We are told the specific pieces of clothing Peter wore and how he wore them. The angel radiated a light to illuminate their path. Peter wasn’t exactly sure what was happening. The path to escape took them past two sets of guards. The gate they had to go through was made of iron, but the gate opened by itself.
· The fact that God included such a detailed account of this miracle was no accident. Throughout the history of the Christian Church, non-believers have and will continue to resist God, specifically the name of Jesus, and desire to make Christians the brunt of their hatred. I think these first 11 verses were written in such a way to prove that regardless of the ominous circumstances Christians may find themselves up against, God will pull off a miracle if He wants to. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of this spiritual war.
· At the same time, I think these verses, as well as some that follow, also disprove another theory. Whether through acquaintance, books, TV, or radio, some of us may have encountered Christians who believe that the likelihood of God performing a miracle are in direct proportion to the amount of “faith” or “expectation” that a Christian or group of Christians have. If Peter was anything like you and I, it’s safe to say that He prayed for God to somehow rescue him from the situation. However, when the angel arrived in his jail cell, notice that Peter didn’t say, “What took you so long? I had been expecting you”. The text says, “yet he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision” and later it reads “When Peter came to himself”. In other words, Peter’s certainty that God was supernaturally intervening didn’t occur until he was standing as a free man in the street. There isn’t anything in the text to indicate that Peter’s faith is what caused the miracle to occur.
Reunion with Friends
What about the people who were praying for Peter, perhaps it was their great faith or expectation that caused God to pull of this miracle?
12 And when he (Peter) realized this (that an angel had helped him escape from prison), he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the door of the gate, a slave woman named Rhoda came to answer. 14 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 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16 But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.
· Rhoda was so excited about the fact that Peter was standing outside the gate of the house, that she had a temporary lapse in judgement. Rather than open the gate to this man they all loved, had been praying for, and who was essentially being hunted by Jews and Roman soldiers, her first instinct was to share the news with other people, causing Peter to remain standing outside the house.
· Notice the reaction of these people who were in the middle of “intense” prayer for Peter. Does it seem they were expecting Peter to be released from prison? Did the people say, “of course Peter is at the door! We had faith God would get him out”. No, even when that which they prayed for came true, the people didn’t believe it. Their reaction is another argument against the notion that if you have enough faith (or believe hard enough) that whatever you want to happen will. That line of thinking elevates the desires of the praying individuals above the will of God. It becomes as much about the ability of individuals as it does Gods and tempts one to be arrogant about what a great Christian he or she is.
· The word “angel” (angelos : ahng eh los) is used as a descriptor of who the people thought may have been at the front door. Let’s examine three different alternatives for why the text uses this word. 1) The people could have assumed that this was the same angelic being created by God that had helped him during Peter’s first escape. 2) Some of the people in the house may have believed in the idea of a personal guardian angel assigned to each Christian. Remember, these were young believers who didn’t yet have special revelation (New Testament) about how angels participate in believer lives. Today we can see that scripture does not teach the concept of personal guardian angels. 3) I think the best explanation is that the use of the word angel in this verse wasn’t meant to identify the one at the front door as one of the hundreds of angelic (non-human) beings God created, but instead is better interpreted as a “messenger” – some person who had news about Peter. This is how the word is used in Luke 7:24, 27, 9:52 as well.
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 [i]James and the brothers.” Then he left and went to another place.
· The people were so excited about the miracle and seeing Peter face to face they got a little noisy. So much so, that Peter had to tell them to quiet down. He had just escaped from captivity, had travelled to the safety of his friends, and didn’t want the commotion to attract undo attention.
· In fact, after these events, the people at the house resisted any temptation to brag to non-believers about their powerful God, but instead, only shared the news with other Christians; namely, James, the half-brother to Jesus and his brothers Joseph, Simon, Judas, and then likely their sisters as well (Matthew 13:55).
· The behavior of these Christians show they weren’t being presumptuous of what God may or may not do in their lives. They weren’t taking it for granted that God was going to keep them from further persecution.
Soldiers of Misfortune
18 Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to [j]what could have become of Peter. 19a When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution.
· As you’d expect, Peter’s escaped from prison caused quite a stir. This was the second time he was broken out from behind bars, and this time it was done despite the high level of security around him.
· To motivate Roman soldiers not to fail their responsibilities the guards who had been assigned to Peter were killed at Herod’s order. Even though they were holding an innocent man in prison, I can’t help but feel a little sympathy towards the guards who were executed. After all, the fact Peter escaped wasn’t really their fault. They were up against impossible odds.
19b Then he (Herod) 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 mind they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was supported with grain from the king’s country. 21 On an appointed day, after putting on his royal apparel, Herod took his seat on the [k]rostrum and began delivering an address to them. 22 The people repeatedly cried 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 [l]died.
· Tyre and Sidon were two cities in Phoenicia North/Northwest of Sea of Galilee, on Mediterranean coast. For some reason which we are not told, Herod was angry with these people. Since a famine was occurring in the region, and the fact they needed food that came from Herod’s country, they were motivated to please the king. Since they couldn’t go directly to Herod, their initial strategy was to get in good with his personal attendant, Blastus. He was a senior royal official in charge of managing the royal household, which may have included receiving and paying out money kept in the royal chamber.
· Herod and these people came together in the city of Caesarea, another city on the cost of the Mediterranean. While at this event, both parties tried to make a favorable impression on the other. To please Herod, the people shouted flattering remarks on him – namely that he as a God. To make himself look impressive to the people, Herod was arrayed in royal clothes, sitting on a special judgement seat.
· Herod’s pride caused him to receive the overstated praise of the people and take glory in being called a god. As a result of this God chose to immediately judge Herod. It is interesting that the death of Herod is only mentioned in the context of him allowing himself to be elevated to the position that only God can hold – it says nothing about God revenging the death or persecution of Christians. What happened to Agrippa is proof of what Daniel 2:21 declares – “God changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”
· Be careful how you interpret verse 23. The words and phrasing do not mean that Herod was eaten by worms, while sitting on the throne in front of the crowd of people. God afflicted him during this prideful scene, and eventually he died because of an illness that involved a kind of worm. The ancient historian Josephus described these events in his writings called the “Antiquities” (19.8.2 343-361). "Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea he came to the city Caesarea, which was formerly called Strato's Tower; and there he exhibited spectacles in honor of Caesar, for whose well-being he'd been informed that a certain festival was being celebrated. At this festival a great number were gathered together of the principal persons of dignity of his province. On the second day of the spectacles he put on a garment made wholly of silver, of a truly wonderful texture, and came into the theater early in the morning. There the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays, shone out in a wonderful manner, and was so resplendent as to spread awe over those that looked intently upon him. Presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good) that he was a god; and they added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature." Upon this the king neither rebuked them nor rejected their impious flattery. But he shortly afterward looked up and saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, just as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain arose in his belly, striking with a most violent intensity. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, "I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner." When he had said this, his pain became violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad everywhere that he would certainly die soon. The multitude sat in sackcloth, men, women and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king's recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground he could not keep himself from weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age and in the seventh year of his reign.
Christianity Spreads Anyway
As compared to the demise of King Herod….
24 But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. 25 And Barnabas and Saul returned when they had fulfilled their [m]mission to Jerusalem, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.
· Although we aren’t faced with being prisoners held captive by soldiers and chains, we can face other seemingly hopeless situations. Pray during difficult circumstances, having confidence that God is in control and can do anything. Understand that He may or may not answer your prayer as you wish.
· Participate, don’t dictate. Whatever God is up to cannot be thwarted by certain levels of non-belief and conversely, isn’t hastened by certain levels of belief.
· Knowing that God is in control and has a plan can sometimes tempt Christians to be presumptuous in the way they interpret events. Be careful when making specific declarations of what you think God is up to. It is “easy” to look at a supernatural miracle (like Peter’s escape) and be confident that God is working out His plan. However, can you be just as confident in God when His plan allows for tragic events, like the death of James? Have faith in God without always knowing why He does things or allows them to occur.
· Who you say Jesus is, is a matter of life and death. The truth about who God is and our status before Him is more critical than the good or bad things that happen to us. If out of humility you declare that Jesus is God and His death and resurrection has saved you from your sin, you will live forever with Him. But, if out of pride you refute the name of Jesus (disavowing your need for Him and allowing yourself to be elevated), you will die in your sins.
· While you still have breath, be involved in the growth of the word of the Lord.