“When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting… Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. But the word of God increased and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.”
I grew up in the “hay day” of America’s space exploration and remember quite well that day in July, 1969 when Neil Armstrong stepped down from the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander and said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” I remember not only who said it and when it was said, but also the specific sound as it played on the television. I remember it well enough that the phrase above actually “sounds” incorrect as I go over it in my mind. “One small step for (a) man…” Most of us don’t remember it that way but Armstrong insists he said it that way. Turns out, he’s from Ohio where they tend to run “for” and “a” together into a single sound, “frruh”. What’s interesting is that a research team has actually studied the recording and concluded that Armstrong’s Ohioan accent does come through and he did, in fact, say it that way. So… Words matter. Really, they always have and still do.
In today’s passage, Luke presents yet another stark contrast – the power, authority and outcome of the words of Herod and the Words of God. In fact, this entire chapter (Acts 12) is really a contrast between the power and authority of Herod (a king) and the Lord God (the King of kings). Herod arrested and killed James, the brother of John, and received the praise and admiration of the Jewish leaders. Obviously, their praise and admiration was intoxicating to Herod because he immediately turned around and arrested Peter, hoping to elicit even more adoration.
However, Herod’s hopes were dashed as God demonstrated His superior authority by rescuing Peter. God has Peter escorted from Herod’s prison right under the watchful eyes of four squads of Herod’s soldiers. The contrast was clear, God is greater than Herod and just one of God’s angels is more powerful than four squads of Herod’s soldiers. This wasn’t just a statement for Herod and the Jewish leaders, it was a powerful word for the Church. It’s also a powerful message (or word) to us and one we clearly need to hear, today.
Our world seems to be spiraling out of control. Many of us watch in shock as our culture makes decisions that clearly say, “God, you’re not in control of life. I am.” To be honest, this is not a new trend but is just a little more obvious, today. Like Herod, people today are declaring their personal authority and soliciting praise and adoration that belongs only to God.
“…for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:24-25 ESV)
As I mentioned, this powerful message is not just one that needs to be declared to the unbelieving world, but also to the Church. The Jerusalem church (at least a small portion of them) had gathered in Mary’s home to pray for Peter. They were fervently praying as Peter arrived at the outside gate and began knocking. They were obviously not expecting God to answer their prayers through a miraculous intervention and escape from Herod’s prison. When Rhoda told them Peter was at the outside gate, they said she must be out of her mind and she had only heard “his angel.” However, she was right and Peter’s life had been spared and he immediately left Jerusalem.
The next part of this story really illustrates how far Herod would go in his blasphemous search for God’s glory. While Luke tells us that Herod had become angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, he doesn’t tell us why. He goes on to tell us that Tyre and Sidon were dependent upon Herod’s country for food. It seems possible and, perhaps, likely that this might be a reference to the beginnings of the famine that Agabus prophesied at the end of chapter 11.
So, the people of Tyre and Sidon sent a delegation to Herod and sought a hearing regarding the situation. Having secured an audience with him, Herod came out on the appointed day dressed in his royal robes and made a very stirring speech. The people, obviously desperate for his assistance and seeking relief from the situation, responded with gushing flattery and stated, “it is the voice of a god, and not a man.” Herod accepts all of their praise and refuses to redirect it towards God. A decision that will cost him his life.
Luke tells us that an angel immediately struck Herod down. While the historical details of Herod’s death are not entirely clear, it is obvious from the historical record that it was sudden and very unexpected. The people declared that Herod’s words were so beautiful that he must be God himself, and God responded by showing that he was merely human.
Many need to learn that lesson, today. They often want to act as if they are God and can determine their own destiny or even define their own gender, personhood and self-existence. Even as believers, we often act as though we are “god” of our own lives. We make decisions without God’s guidance, and simply refuse to obey or give Him glory for the good things in our lives. And then we wonder why our faith is ineffective or our witness discounted or ignored.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV)
So, Luke concludes this chapter by drawing attention to the contrast between the efficacy of Herod’s words and God’s Word. Herod spoke, was hailed as god but immediately died and was eaten by worms. His words and their power died with him. But, God spoke and His Word is alive and powerful and it increased, spread and multiplied. In fact, His Word is still alive and effective to this very day. So, who is really King? Who is truly powerful? Who should we trust, follow and obey? What is the effect of God’s Word in your life?
Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13 ESV)
God’s Word is able to divide and discern the very thoughts and intentions of our heart. Nothing is hidden from Him. That should be a very sobering thought. God not only knows what you did, but He also knows why you did it. He doesn’t just look at your life, your actions, or your choices and judge you based on outward appearances. In other words, God’s not impressed by the false front you often put forward for others. He knew Herod’s thoughts and intentions and he knows yours.
God. Looks. God. Sees. Nothing. Hidden. Everything. Laid. Bare. Before. Him.
Let that sink in for a minute… God knows you. He knows everything about you, and He offers you grace. King Herod wanted the people to come and grovel, praise him, and then he might respond favorably. Might. The TRUE King came, served, suffered, died, and rose again and now offers you grace to cover your sin.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)
Which King will you follow? I don’t mean Herod or Jesus, I mean you or Jesus?
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16 ESV)