In Acts 12 is about the deep providence of God. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod victorious. But, the chapter closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the word of God victorious. This is the goal of all that God does, to spread the fame of Jesus, who saves sinners, and makes much of the Father. That’s our mission too.
Over the last 11 chapters we have watched the gospel of Jesus Christ expand in concentric circles from Jerusalem, crossing every conceivable racial and social barrier. The good news of Jesus Christ is for everyone, everywhere. Yet, amidst this tremendous gospel expansion, there was also intense opposition (e.g. imprisonment, killings, persecution). Paradoxically, this opposition had the opposite effect for which it was intended, causing the church to grow more rapidly, not less. This caused the early church father, Tertullian, to famously note, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Yet, this shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus promised, “I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it…” (Mt 16:18). What Jesus is saying here is stunning. Even in the face of evil, Hell itself, He is in complete control. Let that sink in. Don’t miss the weight of that truth. The gates of Hell will not prevail against Him or his purposes for the church – or your life. That’s deep, hope-filled, good news.
What does this mean for you and I? We can rest deeply in the deep providence of God – even when life is at its hardest. God’s “providence” is a theological term that refers to God’s active leading, governing, and sustaining of all things, at all times, to fulfill his good and perfect purposes. The Bible is filled with countless testimonies of the providence of God.
Dan 2:21 “God changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings”
Heb 1:3 Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power”
Col 1:17 “in [Jesus] all things hold together”
Eph 1:11 God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will”
Ps 135:6 “Whatever the Lord pleases he does, in heaven and on earth…”
Pr 16:33 “The [dice are] cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord”
Pr 20:24 “a man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”
Though you may feel small, insignificant, ill-treated, misunderstood, abused, ignored, hurt, betrayed, disappointed, and/or unknown, God is good and in control. As Christians, we do not believe in “good luck” but “good providence”. We can rest deeply in His deep providence, leaving the outcome of life to Him. This is a very timely word for us, as many are experiencing significant seasons of suffering, difficulty and hardship. Be encouraged and comforted.
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to allow our circumstances to define God instead of allowing God to define our circumstances. When life is hard, we see God as hard. When life is disappointing, we see God as disappointing. When life is bad, we see God as bad. So, when we’re experiencing unemployment, prolonged singleness, loss of a baby, marriage problems, abusive relationships, addiction and more, we are prone to judge what God is like by our circumstances. But, over and over, the Bible shows us what God is like, regardless of our circumstances. You might say, “Ok, so where is He when things go badly? Why doesn’t He stop suffering and do something?” That’s where we’re going today.
12:1-5 God is good and in control even when things go badly.
At this point, the church is roughly 12 years old. Clearly, God is moving, people are getting saved, the Gospel is expanding. So, everything should be good from here on out, right? No. Herod Agrippa is on the scene (cf. Herod the Great, Herod Archelaus, Herod Antipas, etc). Herod was a title, rather than a name. Herod Agrippa was the grandson Herod the Great (who killed the babies in Matthew 2, after Jesus’ birth). Agrippa rules over the nation of Israel as a puppet king for Rome. His job is to keep peace and please the Jews and the Romans – at the same time – which was no easy feat.
He realized that the Jews didn’t like Christians (because they claimed Jesus was long awaited Savior of Israel) and the Romans were distrusting of the Christians (because Christians claimed to worship the King of Kings, which sounded politically dangerous.). Therefore, he killed James with the sword (beheading). James was the brother of John. this is James as in Peter, James and John. This is the James who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration and accompanied him at the Garden of Gethsemane. James was an Apostle, one of the 12, and the first to die. Interestingly, James was the first to die and his brother John, was the last of the Apostles to die.
Point? God is good and in control even when things go badly.
No one is exempt from suffering, hardship, difficulty and trial. Not even Jesus’ inner circle. Not even Jesus. At times we assume that “God owes me because of my…service, sacrifice, sincerity, past, potential, fill-in-the-blank”. There is no exemption from suffering. We live in broken and fallen world, filled with broken and fallen people. Remember, all of this reflects the world’s brokenness, not God’s. God is neither broken nor fallen. What this means is that, amidst suffering, God is good and in control. He is not evil, nor the author of evil and one day he will end all evil.
Seeing the Jews were so favorable to the killing of James, Herod had Peter arrested and placed in a maximum security arrangement. There were no trials allowed during the Jewish feasts, therefore Herod would need to wait.
“OK, but what good could God possibly bring out of this suffering, difficulty, etc?” I’ll give you seven quick examples:
1. God uses suffering to form Christ in us, that is, to make us who we really are.
2. God uses suffering in such a way that we can comfort others with the comfort we’ve received.
3. God uses suffering to highlight the brevity of life and drawing our full attention to what is truly important.
4. God uses suffering to reveals what we really worship and drives us to deeper trust and life in Him.
5. God uses how we handle suffering as a testimony to others who are observing our lives.
6. God uses suffering to highlight our weakness and His sufficiency.
7. God uses suffering to develop our God-trust, while also weaning us from self-trust
This is why there is a constant refrain throughout the scriptures along the lines, “do not despise the discipline of the Lord” (Heb 12:5) Why? Though he is not the author of evil, he specializes in redeeming it for his purposes. He wants to do a lot of good in and through it.
12:6-11 God is good and in control even when it can’t get any worse.
Luke here is ensuring the reader understands that Peter’s situation is absolutely bleak, hopeless, with no possibility of escape. It is Peter’s last minute. It is down to wire. The sword is being sharpened.
God wants us to see here that He is good and in control, even when it can’t get any worse. God is never late; though he is rarely early. Look at Peter. What is he doing amidst all of this? He’s sleeping! He’s not worried at all. God is good and in control, even when it seems like it couldn’t get any worse – and even beyond that.
Some, may object and say “Well, that’s what you believe, but I don’t think He will show up!” Fair enough. But, saying “God isn’t going to show up” is just as much of a faith statement as saying that “God will show up”. The only difference is that you pulled your statement out of the air or your own mind. We pull all of this out of the Bible. We all base our lives on fundamental faith statements. The question for all of is simple: Which will we choose? “God is able to do above and beyond, all that you ask, think or imagine.” Eph 2:20 May not turn out as you like, or expect, but God is still good and in control.
12:12-17 God is good and in control even when we lack faith.
At this point, you might thinking, “Do I have to be a super Christian to believe this?” No. God is in control, regardless of the status of your faith. Let’s take a closer look.
John (Jewish) Mark (Roman) is a new guy to the story. He is the cousin of Barnabas, eventually becomes Peter’s assistant and goes on to write the Gospel of Mark. His mom, Mary, owns a home large enough for many people to meet in. This was common for the early church, as they couldn’t meet publicly out of fear of persecution, so they met in a network of homes.
Peter arrives but no one believe it. vs 15 “out of your mind!” Such prayer warriors! This is hilarious. Most commentators agree their lack of faith is showing through here. Isn’t this comforting? Early church was not filled with a bunch of heros, but muddled, faith-one-minute-and-doubt-the-next type of Christians. Do you know what this means? God is good and in control even when we lack faith. Our lack of faith does not diminish God’s providence. Faith is a factor, but not totally dependent on me. Our faith isn’t in our faith; our faith is in Him! “My faith was small, but God was big any way?”
So, at this point, let’s look back. God didn’t spare James. God is good and in control. God did spare Peter. God is Good and In control. Hard to understand why God spared one guy and let the other die at hands of the enemy. Was Peter more useful? Did God love Peter more? Was God angry w/ James? No. What was it? God knows a better way – a better way to win, a better storyline, a better hope, a better way. Some of you will be like James, taken early; some of you like John, left till the end. Don’t put your hope in your years, but in the One who holds your years.
12:18-19 God is good and in control even when we don’t have all the answers.
If a guard allowed someone to escape, they received the punishment that the prisoner would have received. I’ve always asked, “What did those 16 guards do to deserve that?” Why did Peter (one guy) get let go and these soldiers (16) get taken out. Answer: We don’t have all the answers, much like life. But, we do have some clues.
Ge15:16 “they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete…”
Jn 21:22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
God is good and in control, even when we don’t have all the answers. “Leave that to me! You follow me!” His purposes are deeper, more profound and mind-blowing than we could ever imagine. He may even tell you, but you still wouldn’t understand. So, you don’t understand, but he does. You have questions, but he has all the answers. Often, we want all the answers because we want to be God. Often, he withholds answers to remind us we are not. We can rest deep in His deep providence.
Your Heavenly Father wants your best. He will do anything for you – and has! You know you can trust, even if you don’t understand. You may not know this but most of parenting is convincing your kids they can trust you, no matter what. That’s an awful lot like the Christian life.
12:20-23 God is good and in control even when those who do wrong, do well.
Herod had everything. He was rich, powerful, affluent and elite status. Here, he goes to his beach side villa at Caesarea. It would be easy to look at him – and perhaps many others in our lives and ask – “Why God!?” Here, we have to know, God is good and in control even when those who do wrong, do well.
Luke records a big circus involves people from Tyre and Sidon, seemingly attempting to appease Herod in his anger. He doesn’t get far and God afflicts him. Josephus, a secular, Jewish historian recorded this event and tells Herod wore a big silver robe that reflected the sun. And that he did indeed become suddenly ill and died five days later. Here was a man—the most powerful ruler in region, had everything. Stopped dead in his tracks by God.
You may find yourself crying out “God you should stop this!” Know this. He will in his timing He is good and in control. It may happen today, tomorrow or next year. But, there is coming a day when God will judge the world, put all wrongs right.
Then, it will be clear, who has been serving God and who has been serving themselves. Unbelief is simply pride in the fact that you don’t need a Savior. Instead, you are your own Savior. God calls that rebellion. You can’t be devoted to Jesus and your own glory at the same time. It is Impossible. And if that is true of you, you are on a collision course w/ God.
God’s wrath is not God losing his temper temper. God’s wrath is his settled, calculated, measured opposition towards sin and rebellion. Wrath is God’s holiness on fire. God does not wink at sin and unbelief. Who would want a God that is pleased w/ sin? You may try to resist him now, but you will fail in the end. Please do not reject or refuse to follow Him. If it doesn’t bother you that God is angry with you, it should. It troubles me that it doesn’t trouble you. Bible says “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God…” and “our God is a consuming fire…” He may take you early, like James, or late, like John. Are you ready? This life is not the whole thing. No one will be able to shake fists in face of God and say anything but “You are right.”
God is good and in control even when it seems like those who do wrong, do well.
Herod is stopped dead in his tracks, but “the word of God increased and multiplied”. Don’t miss what God is doing here. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod victorious. But, the chapter closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the word of God victorious. This is the goal of all that God does, to spread the fame of Jesus, who saves sinners and glorifies the Father. That’s our mission too: to increase and multiply the word of God in city of Seattle and, from Seattle, to the cities of the world.
The cross of Jesus Christ shows us that we have a God that is not immune to suffering. There is no other God that knows suffering like our God. On the cross we see the suffering and brutal murder of an innocent victim? “Where was God in that”, you might ask. That was God! That was God taking our sin on Him, so that he might place his forgiveness on us. God took the worst evil ever committed in this history of the universe (the killing of God) and brought about the greatest news in the history of the universe (salvation, forgiveness, eternal life with Him). If God could do that with the worst evil, can He not do that with all “lesser” evils? The answer is clear. If you oppose Jesus, you will lose. If you trust Him, you win, even when life is at its hardest. You can rest deeply in the deep