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Acts 12

March 27th, 2010 by Vic

Herod’s triumphal entry

March 28, 2010

We celebrate Palm Sunday today and in our walk through the Bible we are looking at Acts 12.  The chapter begins with the arbitrary assassination of James, the brother of John, by Herod the king and it ends with Herod’s orchestrated triumphal entry into the stadium at Caesarea.  Five days later Herod dies with tape worms.  Today is 5 days after the triumphal celebration in the White House of the signing of the Obama health care bill.  Do you see any parallels or contrasts?  Has there been an unjust assassination, an arrogant celebration, and God’s judgment.

The events of this chapter occur 10 years after Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Many believing Jews have recognized that Jesus fulfilled all the OT prophecies regarding the promised Messiah.  However most Jews seemed to be blind to the suffering servant descriptions of the Messiah in Isaiah’s writing and rejected the fact that the Messiah would ever be crucified on a cross.  These conservative Jews were becoming more aggressive against the Christian Jews and the Christian Gentiles.

The Gentile culture did not have any preconceived expectations of a Messiah.  They were not blinded by their prejudice to the gospel message and multitudes believed in the evidence of God’s power to change lives through faith in Jesus Christ.

There was a growing tension in the Jerusalem church, trying to keep the traditions of Judaism and accepting those outside their traditions whom God was accepting.  There was very little wiggle room for expansion within the traditions of Judaism, and the gospel was breaking out of those limits.  However God keeps surprising us and continues to build His church among the believing Jews.  The story of Acts is moving into the Gentile world, but God does not stop building His church through the Jews in Jerusalem.

King Herod had been appointed to rule over the whole Palestine region at this time.  His teen age buddy was now the Caesar in Rome.  Herod Agrippa I, born 11 BC.  His father, Aristobulus, was a son of Herod the Great and Mariamme, a Hasmonaean Jewish princess and descendent of the Maccabees.  His grandfather killed his father and also 13 of 14 uncles.  Agrippa was sent with his Jewish mother, Berenice to Rome.  He was raised with the royal family and became a playboy.  When he was 34 he was so far in debt he fled Rome.  When he was 47 he returned to Rome, but offended the emperor and was imprisoned.  The next year his teen age buddy became the new emperor and Herod was given a gold chain of equal weight of the one he wore in prison.

He was appointed king of northern Palestine.  A couple years later a vacancy in the south allowed him to be ruler of all the area his grandfather had ruled.  While in Rome he did what the Romans do.  While in Palestine he acted like a Jew.  He publically kept the Jewish Law and all the festivals.  While ruler, he persuaded his Emperor friend not to set up his image in the Jerusalem Temple.  This made him very popular with the Jews.  He began to find more ways to make the Jews happy.  He supported the majority and suppressed the minorities.  He viewed the Jewish Christians as a divisive minority.  People who don’t agree with me are always divisive.  John and Peter were a couple leaders of this divisive minority that needed to be used as examples.

Acts 12:1-4

It seems too easy to be religious and sinful at the same time.  Herod murdered James and arrested Peter with the intent to murder him, but took the time to do his religious thing.  Wicked rulers enjoy the praise of men.  He assumed popularity would give him power.  Maybe he assumed his Jewish heritage needed to be defended.

Acts 12:5-17

When you think you have God figured out, review this story.  James was assassinated with a sword.  Peter is rescued by an angel.  Why didn’t God rescue both the apostles?

When you think you understand prayer, look at these believers.  They were praying earnestly, but did not expect God to answer.  Were they praying in faith?  Why did God answer if they thought the situation was impossible?

We will never understand God so enjoy the mystery.  We will never pray a perfect prayer, but God answers prayer that is under construction.

Jewish law said no criminals could be executed during a festival.  Trying to appear like a good Jew, Herod waited.  The festival is over.  This is the night after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The church was earnestly praying for Peter.  Peter was sleeping soundly in prison between 2 guards.  There were also 2 guards at the door of the cell.

During the last watch of the night between 3 and 6 a.m., God turned the lights on in the cell and Peter did not wake up.  So the angel hit him on the side and told him to get up.

Peter’s rescue was humanly impossible.  Peter knew he was going to die this day.  He was not pacing the floor.  He was not calling out to God in prayer.  He was content with the will of God.  Knowing Jesus had died unjustly, he did not expect any better treatment.  He had walked with God.  He knew that God was in control of events in his life.  He was content to trust the Lord and relax in His arms.

The angel was like a parent waking a child up a little earlier than usual for school.  Peter was groggy and needed specific instructions on how to get dressed.  “Now put on your coat and follow me.”  Usually a prisoner was chained to only one guard.  Herod had 4 guards on this prisoner plus the main gate that was securely locked from the outside and could not be opened until the warden came.

I wonder if Peter was enjoying this dream?  The chains had fallen through his arms and legs.  The guards were sound asleep.  The large outside gate silently opened by remote control and God was holding the remote.  “That’s pretty cool, but it’s all a dream.”  Peter just kept following.  Then the angel disappeared.  He’s just standing there a block or so from the prison.  The cool morning air may have brought him to reality.  Then he realized this is a God thing.  God was with me and I did not recognize it.

When Peter retells this story for us to read, he does not make himself look real perceptive.  As in his letters, Peter always points the praise to God.  He did not plan some tricky escape.  He was not a great man of prayer who prayed all night.  His friends did not pull off a miraculous jail break or bribe Herod.  He was not an indispensible leader.  He was just Peter.

When he stopped to think about what was going on, he could see God in it.  How often do we call the gifts of God just good luck or coincidence or being in the right place at the right time?  Take time to remember and you will be able to praise God better.

Peter knew a large group was praying for him at Mary’s home.  He thought it would be wise to let the believers know that God was directing him and was going to hide him for a while.  He did not know what kind of lies Herod would fabricate to save face so he took time to report to the church.  He did not have much time before all of Herod’s secret service would be looking for him.

You ever wonder why Mary’s gate did not open for him?  The believers believed in guardian angels watching over individuals, churches, and countries.

This was the quietest part of the day.  Peter could not shout or make a lot of noise without neighbors wondering.  He gently knocked at the smaller door that was in the larger gate.  The unfolding scene is one of confusion and joyful humor.

Peter raised his hand and reminded them that this was not the time to celebrate.  Peter wanted James and the other apostles to know what God was doing so he told the story of his escape and then went to another place where Herod would not look.  James was the brother of Jesus who became head of the Jerusalem church as we’ll see in chapter 15.

Acts 12:18-25

In Roman law, a guard who allowed his prisoner to escape was to suffer the penalty the prisoner was to suffer.  12:4 said that Herod wanted to give Peter a public trial.  There is nothing here about the guards being put on a public trial.  I’m sure many of their friends tried to find Peter.  Herod also made a thorough search for Peter.  I wonder if they ever thought that God may have something to do with the disappearance of Peter?  He just vanished.

Herod was angry.  He was angry that his plans were scrambled.  He was also angry at the handling of the ports in Tyre and Sidon.  It was a time of severe famine and apparently there was some corruption or perceived ineptness at the docks in Tyre and Sidon.  He apparently shut down the docks so they could not get any food delivered.  He decides to take a vacation at his palace in Caesarea, north of Tyre and Sidon, and get away from his problems.

The leaders of Tyre and Sidon were desperate.  They traveled to Caesarea to bribe the personal servant of the king so they can talk to Herod and somehow appease him.  They needed to restore peace with Herod to get some food.

Caesarea was built and dedicated on this day August 1, 09 b.c.  This is the quinquenial celebration of the founding of the city and Claudius Caesar’s birthday.  A combination mini Olympics and Mardi Gra was planned.  Many tourists came for this big holiday every 5 years.

Just after sunrise on the second day Herod made his triumphal entry in just the right way to allow the sun to reflect off his silver threads.  According to Josephus he wore a robe made of silver threads which would glisten in the sun.  His flatterers proclaimed him a god.  Herod probably felt very high and mighty for a brief moment.

12:23  It is very dangerous to accept the praise that belongs to God.  You become ugly when you seek glory for yourself.  There is nothing uglier than a man wrapped up in himself.  Maybe God does not punish you with 12-16” tape worms but arrogance and pride has some serious consequences.  The early historian Josephus says that Herod died in 5 days.  5 days after his triumphal entry.  5 days after the people told him he was like a god.  The year was 44 a.d.

It is smart to honor God.  It is smart to give thanks for the way God made you.  It is smart not to believe your flatterers.  Pride will eat you up.

Herod died but the Word of God increased.

Luke 19:28-40  Luke’s account of the Triumphal Entry of Jesus.

Psalm 34:15-16  When Peter wrote a letter to the churches in Asia Minor a few years later, he quoted Psalm 34.  He admonishes them to be sympathetic, love, be compassionate and humble.  Don’t try to get even with your critics, but bless them.  You are called to be a blessing because:

1. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous.  God has been watching over Peter.

2. His ears are open to their prayers.  God heard the church praying.

3. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil.  God opposed Herod.

Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem wearing silver threads.  The crowds were praising God when they saw Jesus.

Herod wore some pretty expensive threads when he entered the stadium at Caesarea.  The crowds praised Herod.  He failed to turn the praise to God.  Big mistake!

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