Acts 12:1-19 – James Killed and Peter Imprisoned

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Acts 12:1

  1. This Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great who tried to murder Jesus when he was born and the nephew of Herod Antipas who executed John the Baptist and who was involved in the crucifixion of Jesus.
  2. Herod was raised in Rome, but tried to prove his Jewishness by following the Jewish laws in every way. He does not seem to have cared much about people, but rather about strengthening his own power. If there was any rebellion, he killed the rebels. Now he noticed that many Jews disliked the Christians, so he executed one of the Christian leaders.
    1. However, this behaviour resulted in his becoming the last king of the Jews.

Acts 12:2

  1. There is not much about Jacob in the Bible. Almost all it says is that James, along with Peter and John, was one of Jesus’ three closest disciples and that he tells Jesus that he would “drink the same cup as Jesus and be baptized with the same baptism” as Jesus (Mark 10:35-40).
    1. Since Jesus responds in the affirmative to the request of the two brothers James and John to drink the same cup as Jesus, perhaps that is what James was martyred to do.
      1. If James was the first apostle to die, John was the last. Both of these lives have their difficulties. James had to come to Jesus while John had to work for Jesus. An apostle must be prepared to both live and die for Jesus, and one may not be easier than the other.
  2. The English word “martyr” comes from the Greek word “martyron” which means “witness” (Heb 12:1). A martyr is a person who tells and testifies about something he has seen and for which he is willing to die.
    1. A Nepalese friend of mine became a “living martyr” when he was arrested by the Nepalese police for breaking the law by preaching Jesus to Hindus. When he had the chance to escape, he chose instead to go to jail even though he knew he would not survive a prison term. We prayed very hard for him and eventually he was released.
  3. When someone was imprisoned in the time of the apostles, they were chained with a guard. According to Clement of Alexandria (150-215), James took the opportunity to testify to his faith in Jesus to his soldier guard. According to Clement, that soldier was saved and later executed along with James.

Acts 12:3

  1. When King Herod saw that the Jews liked the execution of James, he now intends to do the same with Peter. A classic way to try to stop a successful movement is to execute the leader. This is what the Jewish leadership tried to do with Jesus, but it only led to more Christians.
  2. King Herod knows that Peter has mysteriously escaped from prison before (Acts 5), so now he has four guards guarding Peter at the same time. These four guards change with four other guards after three hours, so Peter was very well guarded.

Acts 12:6

  1. King Herod had a prison and soldiers as his weapons, but the church’s only weapon was prayer. They prayed fervently night and day. When all the doors are closed, the door to heaven is always open.
  2. Peter is sleeping the night before he is to be executed. If I had been in a dark dungeon chained to guards, knowing that I would be executed the next day, I would NOT have been able to sleep…
    1. Peter must certainly have been very relaxed, calmly trusting that God is with him, whether he lives or dies.

Acts 12:7-10

  1. While Peter sleeps, an angel makes a grand entrance, candlelight and all! But apparently Peter is so deeply asleep that the angel has to try to wake him up by hitting him in the side. Peter is so dizzy that the angel has to tell Peter what to do.

Acts 12:11

  1. Why did God save Peter and not James? Why did James die? Didn’t God have great use for an apostle like James? These are difficult questions to which there are not always answers. Similar questions are asked by many of us today; “Why did God heal that person, but not me?”
    1. Perhaps God wanted to show us Christians today that we must all be prepared for suffering and persecution. God is not a respecter of persons and it can happen to anyone, even an apostle or pastor.
    2. When you become a Christian, it is important to think about whether you are prepared to live and die for Jesus. Both of these decisions are important and I’m not sure which is more difficult.
    3. Sometimes God lets bad things happen. This does not necessarily mean that we have problems with God, but rather that God leads us through trials that will eventually make us stronger.
      1. A weightlifter doesn’t get stronger by sitting on the couch all day, but by lifting weights. In the same way, we get stronger when we go through difficulties and have to carry heavy loads.
      2. My personal experience is that I have never felt God to be closer than when I have gone through difficulties. On one occasion, I was so happy by God’s presence during a difficult event that I accidentally exclaimed, “If this is suffering, I always want to suffer!”
    4. We humans have a tendency to always want to find meaning in everything. But is there always a meaning? Or is there a meaning, but one that we will only understand when we get to heaven? Whether there is a meaning to our suffering or not, the important thing is that God is glorified.
    5. We may not always know how things will turn out, but we can learn from Peter that we should always trust in the Lord and be secure in him.

Acts 12:12-16

  1. For the first Christians, the church was extremely important. The first thing Peter does after he is released is to go to his Christian brothers and sisters.
    1. The first Christians had no church buildings, but gathered in their homes. Mary probably had the largest house, so her home was a natural gathering place.
      1. Often we make the mistake of exalting only the apostles and pastors who preach or are seen on the platform, but if Mary had not served God with the gifts she had, then the church would not have been able to gather. It is important to thank God for those people who serve God wholeheartedly with the gifts they have received, but who are not as visible.
      2. The earliest church building that archaeology has found is a house from around 232 AD in Dura-Europos in present-day Syria. The building is a simple house where a wall between two rooms has been knocked out to make room for about 70 people. In other words, the first church building was also really an ordinary home.
  2. An ordinary house in New Testament times had a gate, a courtyard and then the house itself. The congregation is busy in prayer and does not hear Peter banging on the gate.
    1. When the maid, Rode, hears Peter, she is so upset that she forgets to open the door and runs in to join the others in the house.
  3. It seems to have been easier for Peter to get out of prison than into the church.
    1. A similar pattern can sometimes be seen in our congregations today. We pray for new people to come to church, but we don’t let them in when they do!
      1. A person may have met Jesus, been gloriously saved and freed from drugs, crime and addiction, but fail to enter the church community.
      2. A person who longs for God, but has tattoos or strange clothes, and thus finds it difficult to be fully accepted in the church because the other Christians look askance and talk behind their backs.
      3. Sometimes it can be easier for a person to leave their old life in “prison”, thanks to Jesus, than to enter the Christian community. We Christians need to think about this! We Christians must make it easy to enter our community! It is never the responsibility of the new believer to find Christian friends, it is our responsibility to help.
  4. While Peter stands outside knocking and wanting to come in, the congregation is praying to God to set Peter free. When Rode comes in and tells the congregation that Peter has been set free, they yell at poor Rode that she is crazy! When Rode continues to insist that Peter is here, they still don’t believe her and try to come up with all sorts of strange explanations. So the congregation was too busy praying that they didn’t see when the answer to prayer came.
    1. We Swedish Christians have also been praying for revival for a long time now. We pray that our churches will be filled with people longing for Jesus. This prayer has now begun to be answered by God, but perhaps not in the way we think.
    2. If we look around the world, we can see that there are an unimaginable 60 million people living as refugees. Many of these come from countries that are often considered “closed” from a mission perspective, namely Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. We do not have the opportunity to go to them and proselytise, but instead these people are now pouring into us. They have escaped from a “prison” and are now knocking on our church door asking to come in. Will we continue to pray for them or will we open the door and let them in? Today we have an unprecedented opportunity to witness to Jesus in word and deed to people we would otherwise never have been able to reach.
    3. Some time ago, when I had just finished a funeral service and was on my way to kindergarten to pick up my son, there was a knock on the door of my office in the church. It was an Afghan who, with the help of an interpreter, told me that he wanted to “change his religion from Muslim to Christian”! I was delighted and surprised and thought his suggestion was very good! I asked him to come back at 7pm because by then my Afghan co-worker would be in the church so he could be there to interpret. My co-worker is a skilled evangelist and being an Afghan himself and a former Muslim, he knows the Afghan culture and the Muslim religion. When the clock struck 7pm, the Afghan came back, and what’s more, he had brought another Afghan with him who also wanted to become a Christian! After a number of conversations, these two Afghans are now saved, baptised and active members of our church.
    4. Just like the first Christians, there are people outside our church “banging on the door”. We have been praying for revival and now it is here! At this very moment, people from other countries and religions are knocking on our church door asking to come in. We need to embrace these people with God’s love and witness our faith in Jesus to them. We should treat them as we want to be treated ourselves. Sure, we will face difficulties, culture clashes, crime, etc., etc., but we will get through this. The more serious the situation, the greater our trust in God will be. This is where our faith is tested. It is now that we Swedes must leave our apathetic comfort and rise up and obey our Master!
    5. If your parish has not yet opened its doors to refugees, get started as soon as possible! Start a language café, invite them to a baptism school, open the church to unaccompanied minors, etc, etc! The time has come! It is time! The harvest is big, the only thing missing is workers! The harvest is even so great that the one who sows and the one who reaps will rejoice at the same time! Look up and see how the fields have turned white for harvest! (John 4:35-38)
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