The In-Between Years - Part 58
Series: The In-Between Years
December 19, 2021
The In-Between Years — Part 58
Let’s begin today’s journey through the book of Acts by backing up to the beginning of chapter 12 to get us into context…
1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. 6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 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.” 12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place. Acts 12:1–17 (ESV)
That’s where we left it. Peter told his miraculous deliverance story, gave the glory to God, and went to another place in the middle of the night. Most pastors and commentators focus on the powerful effect the praying church can have (which is true and good), but we looked at something Luke presents here many miss. The contrast of James’ death and Peter’s deliverance. Surely they prayed just as hard for James, yet he didn’t make it out.
Luke dares us to ask the question, why Peter and not James? Attempting to answer that took us on a journey deep into the mystery of God, into his sovereignty. But there is more to this story. I kind of left us hanging. Here’s what happened the next morning.
18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. Acts 12:18 (ESV)
Recall that four squads of soldiers set watch over him. That’s sixteen men.
19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there. Acts 12:19 (ESV)
What a cold and callous man. He talked with the soldiers who had guarded Peter, executed them for their failure (which we know was not heir fault), and took an extended trip to Caesarea. “Kill them all! Honey, did you pack my crown?”
We know quite a bit about this scoundrel. Herod was more a title. His real name was Agrippa I. He was born into royalty, schooled in Rome, and used financial favors to influence Roman rulers into eventually making him king over Judea, which made him king of the Jews in name and office. He was a shrewd politician, willing to do almost anything to maintain power. He was known for “[ingratiating] himself with very generous gifts. Surprisingly, he was popular among the Jews, mostly because Jewish blood ran through his veins.
I love the “whatever happened to…?” or “where are they now?” click bait links I come across on the internet. Sometimes they are “Wow!” And sometimes they are “Wowww…” Luke ends the story of James’ death and Peter’s deliverance with a “whatever happened to” for Herod Agrippa…
20 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. Acts 12:20
Tyre and Sidon were very ancient and affluent coastal cities on the Mediterranean Sea, north of Caesarea. Israel had a long history of trade with Tyre and Sidon. David built his palace and Solomon built the temple with materials and labor from Tyre. Even though in the time of Luke Tyre and Sidon were still fairly well off, they imported much of their food supply from Judea.
Somehow they ticked off Agrippa (which probably wasn’t hard), and he responded by cutting off or limiting their gravy train (jerk move). So the cities paid off Agrippa’s right hand man to smooth things over. It’s my guess he’s the one who told them the king was coming their way for a special event and the best way to soften him up was unbridled flattery…
21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. Acts 12:21 (ESV)
Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian of the 1st Century, tells us that Herod Agrippa wore a garment made of silver that day. It reflected so brightly the morning sun he glowed as if he was a god. A light bulb went off over the people of Tyre and Sidon’s heads, and they offered greatest form of flattery they could…
22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Acts 12:22 (ESV)
Josephus gives us greater detail…
… he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; (345) and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another (though not for his good), that he was a god; and they added, “Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.” (346) Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery.
It wasn’t what he did but what he didn’t do that did Herod in…
23 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. Acts 12:23 (ESV)
Agrippa was Jewish enough to have known better.
Back to Josephus for more…
Accordingly he was carried into the palace; and the rumor went abroad everywhere, that he would certainly die in a little time. (349) But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king’s recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. (350) And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign…
You can’t help but wonder why Luke included this story. I bet there are many reasons. One, for sure, had to be James’ vindication. Some scholars even believe Luke’s accounts were to be used in Paul’s defense before Caesar (that’s coming). If that’s true, then including this might be a way to influence the emperor to let Paul go lest he suffer the same fate as Herod.
Beyond all that, you have to admit this story is a heck of a lesson on pride if it’s anything. One theologian, writing from a biblical perspective, seems to describe Herod when he says, “Pride refers to an unwarranted attitude of confidence… it is often used in Scripture to refer to an unhealthy elevated view of one’s self, abilities, or possessions.”
There is a kind of pride that’s not sinful. It’s okay to be proud of your kid winning the spelling bee or getting a college degree. And it’s certainly okay to be proud of your beautiful, perfect granddaughter. But sinful pride is an “ unhealthy elevated view of one’s self, abilities, or possessions.” That’s bad.
This is something you don’t hear mentioned much in the church these days, teaching or preaching on sinful pride. I’m fairly sure I’ve never preached on it. But I should have, because the Bible — both Old and New Testaments — talks a lot about pride. I mean A LOT.
18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. 19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Proverbs 16:18–19 (ESV)
12 “I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. 13 The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. Proverbs 8:12–13 (ESV)
23 One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. Proverbs 29:23 (ESV)
Jesus said this…
12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12 (ESV)
Jesus’ brother James said this…
6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:6–7 (ESV)
James makes a connection between pride and resisting the devil, as if the two are related. Study the Scriptures closely and you realize they are.
This sounds kind of like a conspiracy theory — God help us — but consider that Herod Agrippa was judged by God for exhibiting blatant and blasphemous pride. And it had to do with the people of Tyre. Six hundred years earlier, the prophet Ezekiel was given a prophecy concerning the king of Tyre at that time…
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god, though you make your heart like the heart of a god— Ezekiel 28:1–2 (ESV)
6 therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you make your heart like the heart of a god, 7 therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners upon you, the most ruthless of the nations; and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. 8 They shall thrust you down into the pit, and you shall die the death of the slain in the heart of the seas. 9 Will you still say, ‘I am a god,’ in the presence of those who kill you, though you are but a man, and no god, in the hands of those who slay you? 10 You shall die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of foreigners; for I have spoken, declares the Lord God.” 11 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me: 12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God: “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings and your engravings. On the day that you were created they were prepared. 14 You were an anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the stones of fire you walked. 15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. 16 In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast their eyes on you. 18 By the multitude of your iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade you profaned your sanctuaries; so I brought fire out from your midst; it consumed you, and I turned you to ashes on the earth in the sight of all who saw you. 19 All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever.” Ezekiel 28:6–19 (ESV)
This is an incredibly interesting text. You get the sense there is more here there than meets the eye. If you were with us for our Wednesday night study on the Unseen Realm you know God was talking to the king of Tyre in this prophecy, but he was talking about someone else.
The king’s sinful pride — that he was deserving of godhood — reminded the Lord of an angelic being who thought he deserved to sit on the heavenly throne. Of course, it’s that old serpent, the devil. Isaiah was given a word concerning him and his pride as well…
12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! 13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. Isaiah 14:12–15 (ESV)
Why does the Bible make a big deal of pride? It is the source of all sin. If that’s so, then we are never more in league with the devil than we exhibit sinful pride.
Maybe this is why we — and by we I mean me too — never talk about or teach or preach on pride much. We are all guilty of it whether we are aware of it or not.
Tim Keller says, “Pride is the carbon monoxide of sin. It silently and slowly kills you without you even knowing.” If you don’t think you have a problem with pride, you probably do. And if you think you’re humble, you probably aren’t.
Now some of you may be saying in your head right now, “Ain’t a preacher supposed to preach a Christmas message the Sunday before the Lord’s birthday?” am, actually.
There’s something I haven’t told you about Herod Agrippa. He’s indirectly part of the Christmas story.
It was his grandfather, Herod the Great, who sought to kill baby Jesus and murdered many innocent little ones trying. He too lied and bribed and killed to maintain his status and power as “king of the Jews.” He too exalted himself, mainly by building a magnificent temple in Jerusalem not for God but for his praise and legacy. The apple doesn’t fall from the tree.
Both had an unhealthy and elevated view of themselves. Both considered themselves king of the Jews worthy of praise and adoration, yet what a contrast they frame next to the true king of the Jews and king of all kings for that matter who was born in a lowly manger. What a contrast to the God-man who had no possessions save the clothes on his back. What a contrast to the messiah who described himself this way…
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 (ESV)
Dane Ortlund, author of the book we’re giving everyone today says this about Jesus’ description of himself…
“Gentle and lowly.” This, according to his own testimony, is Christ’s very heart. This is who he is. Tender. Open. Welcoming. Accommodating. Understanding. Willing. If we are asked to say only one thing about who Jesus is, we would be honoring Jesus’s own teaching if our answer is, gentle and lowly.
We have a hard time seeing a Jesus like that these days. We want a Jesus more like John Wayne than Mister Rogers because we equate gentle and lowly, humble and meek with weakness. One day I’m going to preach on this in more detail and when I do I’ll show you how Mister Rogers was anything but week.
Listen, we are living in a day when those who act like Herod are celebrated and even promoted in our faith. But Christmas calls us to humility. To humble ourselves before a Good who would do the unthinkable by humbling himself to the point of becoming one of us, born in a manger. Humility is not putting yourself down, it’s lifting others up, it’s putting others before yourself. Paul called all believers to…
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:3–11 (ESV)
CONCLUSION: Well, we need to finish out this morning. What happened when Herod was judged for his blasphemous pride?
24 But the word of God increased and multiplied. 25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. Acts 12:24–25 (ESV)
That’s the last snapshot Luke gives us. Now we are ready to see Saul, who will become Paul take on the mantle he was given as missionary to the Gentiles.
Before we go today, as Christmas approaches, would you think about the gentle and lowly Jesus who humbled himself so he could exalt you? He became one of us so we could become part of his former family. Have you come to God through faith in Jesus?
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)
It required humbling yourself.
Christian, pray that God would uncover sinful pride and then repent!
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