We are in the book of Acts, chapter twelve...
There were many men named Herod in this era in history. This one is Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great.
Always wanting to keep his Jewish population happy, he joined in the Jews' persecution of the church. He had many Christians arrested and killed, among whom was the apostle James, the brother of John.
If you read this with personal involvement, your tendency might be to think back in retrospective in highlights of James' past:
- You can almost see Jesus calling James and him dropping the fishing nets to follow (Matt. 4:21-22).
- You see his excitement when Moses and Elijah appeared before him on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-3).
- You see him awestruck after being invited in to watch a 12-year-old girl raised from the dead (Luke 8:51-55).
- And finally, Herod having James killed by the sword (Acts 12:2).
And maybe even some tears might well up in our eyes as we take this look back at our "close relationship" with James. But wait a minute... we've forgotten the point!
1Cor. 15:54-57 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The good news is that James is alive! Alive and present with the Lord. He's got no pain from the fatal wound inflicted by a Roman's sword. He's in a glorified body. No more tears, no more pain, no more fears, no more shame (Rev. 21:4)!
James doesn't fear death, and we need not either, because it will be the beginning of eternity for us as well.
After James was killed, Peter was arrested. Herod's plan was to put him to death publicly at an ideal time for maximum political capital.
And while Peter was in prison, the church was praying intensely and unceasingly.
Talk about the 11th hour! It was the night that Peter was going to be led out before the crowds, and he still wasn't out of jail.
The church was praying, but Peter was sleeping. Peter had a habit of sleeping when he should've been praying:
Matt. 26:36-45 Then Jesus *came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and *said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He *said to them, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And He *came to the disciples and *found them sleeping, and *said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He *came to the disciples and *said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners."
Peter had slept in Gethsemane while Jesus prayed, and now he's sleeping again.
I've heard it said that Peter was sleeping because he was at peace, trusting the Lord for deliverance. But if that's true, I wonder why the angel appeared and gave Peter a good sharp jab in the ribs?
Peter was delivered from prison, but the people praying for him didn't believe he was really out.
Isn't this just like us? We think that we're praying with faith, but when the Lord answers, we don't believe it. How many times have you fervently prayed for things, and when the Lord accomplishes them, you write them off as a coincidence? Faith is so important:
Heb. 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
Rom. 14:23 ...whatever is not from faith is sin.
Roman law had specific rules for guarding prisoners. If a prisoner escaped, whatever time or penalty was left on his sentence was given to the prisoner's guards to serve. In Peter's case, he was going to be put to death. So, when Peter could not be found, the guards were killed in his place.
When Herod became angry at the people of Tyre and Sidon, they were worried. They came to see him with the intention of appeasing his anger with them.
The Jewish historian Jospehus writes that...
...he 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, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; and 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 did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. (Josephus, Antiquities XIX.8.2)
Because of his pride at being treated like a god, God struck him down. Josephus described the affliction with surprising detail:
His entrails were also ex-ulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his colon; an aqueous and transparent liquor also had settled itself about his feet, and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly. Nay, further, his privy-member was putrefied, and produced worms; and when he sat upright, he had a difficulty of breathing, which was very loathsome, on account of the stench of his breath, and the quickness of its returns; he had also convulsions in all parts of his body, which increased his strength to an insufferable degree. (Josephus, Antiquities XVII.6.5)
After five days, Herod died - eaten by worms from the inside out.
There would be many more Christian-killers in authority throughout the history of the Roman Empire. But today, all of them have fallen. Only the Word of God remains alive. Only the Word of God continues to have influence on the earth and in people's hearts.
Heb. 4:12 For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword...
Unlike temporal kings and kingdoms, it is...
1Pet. 1:23 ...the living and enduring Word of God.