For an introduction to this series, click here.
June 12, 2007
This chapter is primarily about the rescue of Peter from prison. But the chapter begins with the execution of James. This James was the brother of John, not the James who wrote the epistle of James, who was Jesus' half-brother. The James who was killed was the James of Peter, James and John, the inner circle of Jesus' disciples. Despite his lofty status in Jesus' ministry, this is the only time he is mentioned in Acts. But we can assume that James did a good job of leading the church in his own way, he was just not the visible leader that Peter, Paul and John were. I think we can learn a lot from James. He remained faithful and all he got for it in this life was an execution. That's not a very happy message, but God had a different plan for James than He did for Peter or John.
Peter was also in prison with James. As the most visible leader of the church at that time, he was quite a prize for Herod, who was desperate for something he could do to get on the good side of the Jews. When he killed James, he saw that he really pleased the Jews, so he decided to do the same thing to Peter. But of course God had a different plan for Peter. And so the night before he was to be executed, Peter was sleeping (which is a miracle in and of itself) and an angel came to him and woke him up and led him out of the prison. Luke reveals a funny observation: "He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision." (12:9)
Then of course he comes to the house where the church is praying for him. I have heard lots of preachers say that the believers didn't have faith because they didn't believe it was really Peter when he came to the house. I don't know. I wouldn't be too hard on them. The main reason is you can be sure they weren't expecting a miracle like that. They were probably praying that Herod would have a change of heart and announce his release, or at least a delay of his sentence. I think the answer to their prayer didn't fit their plan, so they assumed it wouldn't happen that way. But of course the Lord always defies our expectations.
The chapter ends with a very strange story: "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." (12:20-23, ESV)
I don't know what this really has to do with anything, but it is an interesting story.