Acts #15: God is sovereign over all life (Acts 12); Patrice Berger
title : Acts #15: God is sovereign over all life (Acts 12); Patrice Berger
Acts 12 (Check the sidebar)
More than details
Chapters 11 and 12
- tell us about church growth
- it also tells us about Saul and Barnabas and their mission to bring the funds raised to support the believers of Judea.
But the Holy Spirit inspires Luke (the author of the book of Acts) to tell us about incidents that touch
- the apostles: James and Peter and
- their executioner: Herod.
These facts are not just traumatic events but God shows here His sovereignty over all lives:
- that of James has not been forgotten (Psalm 116: 15 “The death of his faithful is precious in the eyes of the Lord”);
- that of Peter who was saved from a scheduled execution;
- that of Herod who attacks God and takes himself for God!
Wrath of God against those who deliberately rebel against Him
It is therefore not taken lightly to fight God or to want to be equal to God: we have here a reflection of the righteous anger of God.
Why does God save one and let the other be executed?
If God saves Peter, why didn’t He do it for James?
It is interesting this situation because sometimes we sometimes misunderstand when God allows the spectacular healing of a brother or a sister in Christ, whereas in the same situation, with the same intercession, the brother or the sister of next door dies.
Perhaps we have experienced such drama since the COVID pandemic or in the face of the battle against cancer or another serious illness.
Do we really expect God to answer our prayers?
This passage is also very instructive about our real expectations when we pray.
Wrath of God against those who deliberately rebel against Him
There are two James in the text
Small clarification: this text tells us about the execution of the apostle James the brother of the apostle John (Acts 12: 2), as well as of another James ( Acts 12: 17), the half-brother of Jesus, one of the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 15), to whom the news of Peter’s release must reach.
Apostles as believers are persecuted for the Gospel
We can notice that Luke and the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts link the persecuted believers and those responsible for this persecution: the believers in Jerusalem are persecuted and Saul is mentioned (Acts chapters 6, 7, 8). Here the narrative stops particularly on what happens to the apostles and it is a question of Herod (Acts 12). Another quick note: the first persecution detailed in Acts seemed to drive away the apostles (affected believers and deacons), at the beginning of chapter 8, verse 1; the second persecution detailed in Acts also targets the apostles (chapter 12).
No immunity for ‘super believers’
So there is obviously no immunity from hardship or persecution for those in charge of the Church; when a tragedy happens to one of them, we hear this remark “Nevertheless, he served God”, as if there were, either immunity from his service or indebted protection because he is a servant of God.
All the apostles will die a martyr with the exception of the apostle John!
Peter evangelized in Rome.
He died crucified upside down at his request because he felt unworthy to die like Christ
James son of Alpheus was thrown from the southeastern promontory of the Temple, 30 meters high, he survived and was beaten to death with sticks by his enemies.
Satan had led Jesus to this same promontory to tempt him.
Andrew died crucified after having evangelized around the Black Sea.
Witnesses say that Andrew declared when he saw the cross:
“I have long desired and anticipated this hour.” The cross was consecrated by the body of Christ hanging on the cross.
He continued to preach to his torturers for two days before he died.
James son of Zebedee evangelized in Spain.
He is the first apostle to die as a martyr, beheaded in Jerusalem.
Philip evangelized in Asia-Minor.
He died stoned and crucified upside down in Phrygia.
Bartholomew evangelized Arabia and Mesopotamia.
He was scourged, flayed alive, crucified, and then beheaded.
Thomas evangelized in India and formed an early Christian community to which members of the royal family belonged.
He died there, pierced by a spear.
Matthew evangelized in Ethiopia.
He died, slain by the sword.
Jude evangelized in Persia, Mesopotamia, and other Arab countries.
He would have suffered martyrdom in Persia.
Simon the Zealot evangelized in Persia, Egypt, and the Berbers.
He was cut with a saw.
John is the only one to have died of old age.
Yet he experienced martyrdom by immersion in a bath of boiling oil in Rome.
Sentenced to the mines at Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse, he died of old age in what is now Turkey.
Persecution against the Gospel
The Persecution Saul Was Involved in Was Against the Gospel
Here Herod executes James to win the hearts of the Jews.
A family of power, violence, and madness.
Herod Agrippa is the grandson of Herod the Great (who had massacred newborn boys, contemporary of Jesus Matthew 2: 16)
The Herods are for Palestine at a time relatable to what the Kims are for North Korea!
Herod Agrippa in the hot seat
Even if Herod Agrippa is a friend of the Roman emperor, he still has a lot of “pans” in Rome (debts in particular).
So not being in the odor of holiness among many Romans, he tries to obtain the favour of the Jewish people.
It should also be remembered that there is a great famine, so if we can find an outlet with a small popular execution, nothing better! (Acts 11: 27-29 ) Bread and games
The perfect targets
What could be better than executing one of the leaders of the Christians of the time (the Apostle James) who disturbs, along with all the other believers, the traditional Jewish nation.
The plebiscite for this operation was to win the hearts of the Jews.
So why not do it again with another important apostle, Peter?
In addition at a time when a great Jewish holiday takes place! Thus its fame among the Jews could perhaps even go beyond Palestine alone at the time because many Jews came exceptionally from all over the Empire for these festivals.
So we have Peter arrested with a view to sentencing him to death. (Acts 12:4 “bring before the people after the Passover”)
In the original Greek text, this corresponds to condemnation and not at all to a fair trial as in our films or series!
Enhanced detention measures
Since the apostles had already “made themselves beautiful in prison” (Acts 5:19)
We put him in a high-security prison (three grid levels – Acts 12:10), with enough special forces to keep him
(four squads of four soldiers – Acts 12:4).
To make sure he doesn’t do anything to escape from his cell, two soldiers sleep with him like a book squeezed between two other books on a bookcase. (Acts 12.6).
Would the powerful king do what he wants?
The popularity campaign (by eliminating the apostles) among the Jews is an intriguing one that works like clockwork, thinks Herod!
Herod too presumptuous
However, Herod forgot, in any case, three things in this chapter 12:
1) One does not openly and deliberately attack God and His people with impunity. God is just and His just wrath falls on those who confront Him.
2) The most relentless, precise, and infallible human planning is nothing compared to the sovereignty and omnipotence of God.
3) We do not take ourselves for God lightly and knowingly.
Affecting the people of God has consequences.
Who are the people of God?
Since the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the people of God are those who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives (Christ is the head of the body which is the Church – Colossians 1: 18).
To attack believers is to attack Christ in the narrative text of Acts
To attack believers (apostles or not) is to attack Christ (Acts 9: 4): Jesus tells Saul that he is persecuting Him, while Saul only attacks believers. We, therefore, understand that persecuting believers is tantamount to persecuting Jesus, therefore God.
To attack believers is to attack Christ in the didactic texts of the epistles.
God is attentive to the martyrdom of believers
Revelation 6:9 shows us that God was indeed attentive to martyred believers because of the witness they had rendered to the Gospel.
Madness of Herod
Herod has no wisdom, he knew the law and the prophets well (designation for the Old Testament at the time), and he knew what the fate reserved for those who deliberately attacked the people of God.
Sovereign rulers are foreign to the people of God
The number of kings against the Hebrew people:
- The Canaanite King of Arad (Numbers 21:1-3);
- Sihon, king of the Amorites (Numbers 21:21-31);
- Og, king of Bashan (Numbers 21:33-35);
- 31 Canaanite kings (Joshua 12:7-24);
- Sennacherib, the proud and cruel king of Assyria with his formidable army 2 Kings 19:35 and Isaiah 37:38).
Consequences for Rulers That Opposed the People of God
Many of the kings of Israel and Judah deliberately opposed God and the Hebrews faithful to the Eternal One, which clearly led to the invasion and deportation of the populations of these two states, for example:
Jeremiah answered them: “Say to Zedekiah:
4 ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I will turn against you the weapons that are in your hands, with which you fight outside the walls against the king of Babylon and the Babylonians who besiege, I will gather them against the center of this city. 5 I will fight you with the might of my hand and the strength of my arm with anger and fury and great indignation. 6I will kill the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast. They will die of a terrible plague.’
Rebellious Hebrew royal couple and tragic end
Perhaps the most emblematic royal couple of rebellion against God and relentless persecution against the Hebrews faithful to the Lord is Ahab and Jezebel who will meet a miserable end. (2 Kings 9:7 and 10; 1 Kings 22:38 ; 2 Kings 9:30-37).
Herod ignores what he knew
Herod obviously knew these historical events from his people. He should have had the wisdom of Gamaliel who, before the Sanhedrin and the council of elders in Jerusalem, had said of the apostles:
38 Now, I tell you, don’t bother with these men and let them. If this enterprise or activity comes from human beings, it will destroy itself; 39 On the other hand, if it comes from God, you cannot destroy it.
Do not run the risk of fighting against God!
2 Chronicles 13:12: … do not fight the Lord, the God of your ancestors, for you would have no success!
We do not attack the people of God with impunity
Ditto for us now, God does not change: He is attentive, nothing escapes him, and He is just and sovereign to exercise His justice. He has the capacity whatever the circumstances!
May none of us ever have the folly to openly and willfully attack the people of God!
Human planning is nothing compared to the sovereignty and omnipotence of God.
Human genius is nothing compared to the Creator
May no one also have the madness to believe that stratagems, technology, and force can surpass God and that by implementing the most efficient human means we can be 100% sure of the result!
Trust in human genius is nothing against the Creator
Herod believed his plan was going to roll like clockwork:
- forcible arrest,
- high-security incarceration,
- court won over to his cause,
The omnipotence of this stratagem seems implacable and nothing can get in the way, but God is not exceeded in anything!
God knows everything:
Psalm 139: 2 and 4
Long in advance, You know what I’m thinking… I haven’t opened my mouth yet, You already know everything I’m going to say!
God can do anything:
I recognize that you can do anything and that nothing opposes your thoughts.
The greats of this world
For all the great manipulations of the leaders, no need to feed and exhaust oneself in conspiratorial circles. God knows each of them, truly knows the truth and acts sovereignly according to His purpose and His character (justice, love, holiness, etc.).
For us too, God knows us: all the great manipulations that we do behind the backs of those around us and institutions, our hypocrisy, etc., God knows them and He will act in a sovereign way according to what He has planned and of His personality (justice, love, holiness, etc.).
Texts like those of today invite us to live in the light and in transparency with God and with our fellow men!
1 Meanwhile, the people had gathered by the thousands, to the point of crushing one another. Jesus began to say to his disciples:
“Above all, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 There is nothing hidden that must not be discovered, nor any secret that must not be known.
3 Therefore whatever you say in the dark will be heard in the daytime
and what you have whispered in the chambers will be proclaimed on the housetops.
4 I say to you who are my friends:
do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do nothing more. 5 I’ll show you who you need to fear:
fear him who, after having been killed, has the power to throw him into hell.
Yes, I tell you, it is he you must fear. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? However, none of them are forgotten before God. 7 Even your hair is all numbered. So do not be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.
We do not take ourselves for God lightly knowingly
Herod pretends to be God
At God’s time
Several months seem to have passed between Peter’s escape and the political conflict mentioned at the end of chapter 12 between Herod, the Tyrians, and the Sidonians.
As with other cases (see those of the others cited above), we see that the execution of God’s justice is not necessarily instantaneous.
Cause and effect relationship
However, the Holy Spirit leads Luke to link the murder of James, the divine claim of Herod, and his death to show the relationship between cause and effect.
The divine claim of Herod
Herod does not reprove people who flatter him by considering him a god.
Flavius Joseph, the essential historian of this period, also recounts the incident
At a party he had held in honor of the emperor and attended by many officials, Herod Agrippa “entered the theater of the dawn”, wearing a robe made entirely of silver and wonderful fabric. The silver shone and shone marvelously when the first rays of the sun fell on it, and this radiance inspired a kind of awe and trembling in all who beheld it. Immediately these flatterers raised their voices on all sides, using language that was not for his good, addressing him as a god. “May you be propitious to us, they added, and if, until now, we have respected you as a man, we recognize now that you are more than a mortal in all your being”.
Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties, Gospel and Acts, Edition Emmaüs 2002, pp.684.
Herod does not refute being called a god, the apostles immediately refuse.
Herod accepts the flatteries; however, the apostles refuse to be considered God:
- Peter at Cornelius Acts 10: 26 ;
- Barnabas and Paul are taken for gods by the people of Lystra, following the healing of a cripple from birth. Acts 14:11-15.
Herod was a knowledgeable man
Herod knew from his childhood what we call the Old Testament (at that time it was called “the law and the prophets”).
He even had to publicly read the Law to the people on major holidays. He, therefore, knows that God does not tolerate any rival.
Very clear in the commandments of the Lord:
“For I, the Lord your God, am a Jealous God.”
God is the creator, none is His equal
God does not tolerate any rival because no one is His equal, no created being can be equal to God, this has always had consequences:
- angel (claim of Satan Matthew 4:1-11 );
- man (e.g. King Nebuchadnezzar and the worship of his statue Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar will be like a herbivorous beast for some time Daniel 4:30 );
- the beast (the book of Revelation reveals that in the end times forced worship of a beast will be commanded upon mankind – Revelation 13:12).
Encouragement of perseverance
Texts such as we have just seen today prepare us to renounce it by counting on the help of Christ to stand firm, knowing that God in His justice will punish those who will worship this beast – Revelation 14: 9-11, that He will also take into account those who resist that will have lost their lives – Revelation 14:13 and especially that God gives us these indications in the Apocalypse but also in the Bible in a general way to encourage us to be persevering in Him.
12 It is here that the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and the faith in Jesus is necessary.
Example of Peter in the midst of difficulties
Peter’s example in the midst of persecution can also inspire us to take refuge with serenity in Christ. Indeed, one can be a bit breathless to see that Peter is in a deep sleep during his incarceration. The verse in 1Peter 5:7 takes on a whole new depth: Cast all your cares on Him, for He Himself takes care of you.
One dies, and the other is saved
We could ask ourselves questions about the fairness of God with regard to the disastrous fate reserved for James and Peter for which God commissions an angel to deliver him.
Indeed, one could say that both are servants of God and even apostles.
Why didn’t God deliver James?
Couldn’t God have allowed the same fate to be reserved for both? Of course, when we think like that, we think that God delivers both. Oddly never the other way around.
Ditto for our dramatic situations
And as I was saying earlier, perhaps we have the same type of questions for life situations that we have witnessed or that have touched us closely.
James’s and Peter’s special cases
Before reflecting on the things that concern us, we can note that James and Peter were the objects of specific prophecies on the part of Jesus.
The mother of James and John tries to place her children in the kingdom of Jesus (which she thinks is earthly), Jesus points out to them that they cannot live the trials that await Him, they affirm that they can. Jesus does not deny and the martyrdom of James is the demonstration.
Indicating that he would certainly die old John 21. 18-19 but which at least suggests captivity.
18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, when thou wast younger, thou didst put on thy own belt, and went where thou wouldst; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and it is another who will fasten your belt and lead you where you do not want. 19 He says this to indicate by what death Peter would reveal the glory of God.
Both had different trajectories in the thought of God.
We are not apostles and we have not received specific prophecies from Jesus, which we can understand from what God shows us through the Bible.
Our aspiration to always live is normal
The conflict between the aspiration to live and being finite is normal: the aspiration to live comes from our nature in the image of God. Genesis 1:27, our “initial program” is to live without knowing death.
Our rebellion shatters life
However, our rebellion against God, with which we stand in solidarity, introduced a “deadly virus” into the “initial program”.
Logically we should die right away. Genesis 2:17, but what we find is that God gives grace to a time of life
for us to reorient our lives in Him. 2 Peter 3:9
We have no claim to God
If we aspire to live it is normal but we have no right to claim life due to our rebellion; thus, our earthly course is only grace.
In this, it is good to reflect on the meaning of our lives.
Is the time of grace for our lives primarily intended to work as conscientiously as possible to enjoy a well-deserved retirement, where at the end I could say: “I lived well” (which actually is that I have lived well for myself).
Isn’t the goal of God’s grace for life that He bestows on us to give glory to God as a minimum recognition? In this at the end of our journey, instead of saying “I lived well” rather say:
“I fought the good fight, I finished the race, I kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4.7
Another look at God’s fairness for our different lives
If our outlook on life, on our life, becomes more realistic, then the notion of equity in relation to the different situations with which we will be confronted will not be nourished by the equity of the type that we all have the same thing but that God who is just, sovereign over all life, perfectly granting what is fitting in this sin infested world. We would already know hell if it were not for the grace of God.
He says this to indicate by what death Peter would reveal the glory of God. Then He said to him, “Follow me.”
20 Peter turned around and saw coming behind them the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one who, during supper, had leaned towards Jesus and said:
“Lord, who is it that will betray you?” 21 Seeing him, Peter said to Jesus:
“And him, Lord, what will happen to him?”
22 Jesus said to him:
“If I want him to live until I come back, what’s that got to do with you? You follow me.”
When Peter is imprisoned, a major outpouring of prayer from believers in Jerusalem begins.
the Church addressed ardent prayers to God for him
The original Greek uses a term that is usually used for a muscle stretched to the limit (we see that Luke is a doctor), the same intensity that Jesus experienced in Gethsemane Luke 22: 44.
But without really waiting for God’s answer
And yet, when God brings him the answer, the Church does not seem ready to receive it. It’s almost an absurd sketch in Acts 12: 12-17, it even turns delirious with the story that it would be Peter’s angel…
Expect some type of fulfillment
Were they expecting this type of response? Obviously not!
Perhaps they wanted and prayed that “Peter would be fine at the appearance”, but God answered in another way.
I wondered if I am similar when I pray:
- Do we pray out of duty?
- Do we pray in a psychological way (because it feels good)?
- Do we pray for ourselves?
22 Jesus then said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Return from there and throw yourself into the sea,’ and if he does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says happens, he will see it come to pass. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be granted to you.
There are three moments of angels in this text:
- for the extraction of Peter from prison;
- some believers believe it is Peter’s angel behind the door;
- an angel executes the judgment of God on Herod.
The same action in Old Testament and New Testament
The only thing that we can draw from this text on the action of angels, without falling into delusions (like some believers in Jerusalem), is that the angels are active in the same way as in the period before death, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus.
In the service of God and not our servants
They are in the service of God, Jesus (Matthew 4:11), and respond to the commands of God (and not of men).
They have extraordinary abilities:
- complete concealment of Peter’s extraction from prison;
- gift of a deadly disease to Herod.
These happenings occurred in key moments. They weren’t constant normality.
The interventions stated herein in the Bible are mostly in very specific situations, so I do not expect to see them active 24 hours a day in my life!
1. Now about that time Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the church.
2. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3. And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. And [those] were the days of unleavened bread.
4. And when he had taken him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to guard him; intending after the Passover to bring him forth to the people.
5. Peter therefore was kept in the prison: but prayer was made earnestly of the church unto God for him.
6. And when Herod was about to bring him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and guards before the door kept the prison.
7. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shined in the cell: and he smote Peter on the side, and awoke him, saying, Rise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
8. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And he did so. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
9. And he went out, and followed; and he knew not that it was true which was done by the angel, but thought he saw a vision.
10. And when they were past the first and the second guard, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth into the city; which opened to them of its own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and straightway the angel departed from him.
11. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a truth, that the Lord hath sent forth his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.
12. And when he had considered [the thing], he came to the house of Mary the mother of John whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together and were praying.
13. And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a maid came to answer, named Rhoda.
14. And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for joy, but ran in, and told that Peter stood before the gate.
15. And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she confidently affirmed that it was even so. And they said, It is his angel.
16. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened, they saw him, and were amazed.
17. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him forth out of the prison. And he said, Tell these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went to another place.
18. Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
19. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the guards, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and tarried there.
20. Now he was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: and they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was fed from the king's country.
21. And upon a set day Herod arrayed himself in royal apparel, and sat on the throne, and made an oration unto them.
22. And the people shouted, [saying], The voice of a god, and not of a man.
23. And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
24. But the word of God grew and multiplied.
25. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministration, taking with them John whose surname was Mark.
Related Links / Notes
Study Notes are translated from the original French version prepared by the pastor Patrice Berger. The orginal French notes are in “note” form, and are not a direct transcription of the video, however they are quite close the original text preached at the church. The notes provided here follow that form, and are detailed enough to help provide a deep understanding of the texts in the book of Acts of the Apostles.
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The King James Version is available as an audio bible Podcast which can be accessed below.