From between a rock and a hard place to the advance of the kingdom
Chapter 12 is a transition from the growing and expanding kingdom as it came from the Jews and exploded in power on the Gentiles.
In this transition he is going to give us this account of Peter’s rescue from between and rock and a hard place (prison and Herod) and the death of Herod. This chapter serves the end of helping us to remember that God loves and cares for the church in Jerusalem equally as he does his elect bride from all nations AND that his people, Jew and Gentile alike, are a people of dependence on him and have the power of his kingdom at work for them in every circumstance.
Let’s study our text and be encouraged to action.
What do we see? What does it mean?
Jesus cares for his church…those who have been brought in and those who are yet to be brought in Acts 12:1-19 (as a functional purpose of the chapter)
Jesus has been given a people from the Father, and Jesus goes to the cross to secure them (John 17). No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.
We live on a timeline. Jesus does not operate on a timeline. Jesus operates in eternity (timelessness). As a result, Jesus loves his people that are his regardless of when they were rescued from the kingdom of darkness.
Acts started in Jerusalem. Now the action shifts from there to the reaches of the world.
Luke is about to begin to focus on the latter part of Acts 1:8, “to the end of the earth” in the remainder of the book of Acts and Paul will begin to be an emphasis rather than Peter.
So, lest we forget Jesus loves all of his church, Luke recounts for us this scenario in which we see Jesus great love for his church that is mostly comprised of Jews, his love for Peter and the love of the Gentiles for the Jewish fellowship in completing their (Gentile) service (offering to help relieve the famine) to them (12:25).
Luke simply does not want us to forget that Jesus loves all of his church (Jew, Gentile, slave, free, American, Indonesian and so on).
How do we apply this?
- Remember that Jesus loves his church, all of it, regardless of who seems to be in the “spotlight” presently. Ephesians 5:22-33
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”
1.2 If Jesus is that committed to his church, then how much more those who are members of it? We are to love the church as Jesus does in every way described in Ephesians 5:22-33.
- We are to love the universal body of Christ and enjoy our orthodox distinctions as we minister to one another (even if its not in covenant membership).
Loving one another does not exclude proper critique of propositional distinctions and meeting separately over legitimate distinctions.
Illustration: I have a very dear Church of God friend who speaks prophetically to me, over me often. They are usually right on in everything.
We don’t see eye to eye on some things (enough that we should probably not worship together in covenant membership), but we see eye to eye on Jesus, his kingdom, his word and the ministry of the Spirit between us, and that’s pretty good for some solid unity in our diversity.
I have very dear Presbyterian friends who I work with and will continue to work with in partnership, but I will, until Jesus returns or he shows up in person and tells me his word is unclear, critique infant baptism. That does not mean we don’t love each other.
2.1 We can love by partnering in kingdom work (engaging domains in large and corporate ways i.e. Restoration Rome).
2.2 We can love by partnering in global engagement work as we work in UPGs.
Peter is between a rock and a hard place…all he has is King Jesus
(I have to credit Jeff Martin of Redeemer Community Church in Johnson City, TN from Iron on Iron for the exposition of Genesis 32 I’d like to share with you.)
All Peter has is Jesus!
When Jacob prevailed, it does not mean that he beat God. It means that he was blessed in having God as his dependency who would cause his Father-in-law to not catch and enslave him and to give him favor with Esau his brother who wanted to kill him years earlier.
Jacob was between a rock (Laban) and a hard place (Esau) and there found God to be enough.
He could not deliver himself, so he wrestled with God and found that not letting God go might give him a limp but a limp from God is better than falling into the hands of men.
Jacob found that his deliverance was not in the covenant he made with his cheating father-in-law or the droves of cattle sent ahead as presents to appease Esau, but his deliverance is in being with Jesus who may give him a limp but will take care of him regardless of what Laban or Esau does.
Peter finds himself in a very Jacob like moment.
Peter has airtight guards in prison on one side and Herod’s intentions after him on the other.
All Peter has is Jesus at this point, and those are pretty good odds.
Jesus does not have to release Peter to be a blessing to him.
Jesus chose not to have John the Baptist released and told him that blessed are those who are not offended because of Jesus’ decision to heal some and leave some in prison.
“Why was James allowed to die while Peter was rescued? After all, both were dedicated servants of God, needed by the church. The only answer is the sovereign will of God, the very thing Peter and the church had prayed about after their second experience of persecution (Acts 4:24–30). Herod had “stretched forth” his hand to destroy the church, but God would stretch forth His hand to perform signs and wonders and glorify His Son (Acts 4:28–30). God allowed Herod to kill James, but He kept him from harming Peter. It was the throne in heaven that was in control, not the throne on earth.”
Prayer is the most tangible evidence that these Jesus followers trust God (see 12:5).
The disciples did not devise a rescue plan, they didn’t go to appeal to Herod (probably because they too would be arrested), they didn’t protest.
These disciples of Jesus prayed.
Prayer is the most tangible evidence that we trust God.
Jesus chooses to display his power in rescuing Peter to preach another day 12:6-19
How do we apply this?
- Understand that sometimes Jesus may put us between a rock and a hard place to teach us to trust him and find him to be enough.
The key to increased faith is not Jesus giving us more faith. Rather it is exercising the gift of Faith he has already given (See Luke 17).
- Understand that prayer is never the last resort but the first, second and last glorious option that is powerful and effective.
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence (boldness) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
- Expect the power of God to accompany your prayer and obedience, and don’t doubt it, but understand its up to the Lord to deliver or not based on his good purpose.
Our purpose may be to be like John the Baptist who gets to watch others healed, doubt and send for reassurance and be told to trust and not be offended because he won’t be rescued, but have our faith sustained to hold on to Jesus with white knuckled intensity.
Our purpose may be to be like the blind that got sight, or the lame that was made able to walk or Peter who got his chains removed and delivered.
Either way, supernatural faith or supernatural release, both are powerful and results of prayer.
Jesus draws a line in the sand with one of his church’s persecutors 12:20-23
“The details of Herod’s death are recorded slightly differently by Josephus, but the accounts are complementary. The fact that Luke mentions an angel of the Lord does not mean that it was necessarily a quick and obviously supernatural death, but rather that God was ultimately responsible for what may have looked like a natural death. Luke’s description of Herod as being eaten by worms is probably directly related to the abdominal pains referred to in Josephus’ account.”
Divine justice: There is one God and it is not Herod 12:20-23
In God’s good economy, he determined that Herod had crossed the line by not giving God glory (although he was not a follower of Jesus) and King Jesus took the enemy of his people away.
How do we apply this?
- Understand that God will not share his glory with another.
“For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”
- We don’t pray for the destruction of the authority God places over us, in fact we pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-3), but we understand that as Jesus put them there he has the sovereign power to remove them.
- We rest in God’s government of the universe that he will govern it for his glory and our good.
Jesus multiplies his word and his workers 12:24, 25
The word of God multiplies, and this is contrasted with the word’s enemies being swept away.
The kingdom multiplies but the enemies of the gospel will not prevail.
In fact, we see disciples making disciples in Barnabas and Paul bringing John Mark along with them, who will ultimately pen the gospel of Mark and will make many disciples, as an example of multiplication contrasted with the worm eaten Herod.
We see these disciples delivering a multiplied gift to the Jerusalem church to help relive the famine being delivered contrasted with the putrid remains of one of God’s enemies.
How do we apply this?
- Be encouraged that the kingdom will come and his purposes will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
- Making disciples always multiplies effect. So, be discipling someone. You never know who the next John Mark will be who will be a multiplier far beyond your influence.
Illustration: George Muller went to recover from a sickness at an inn on the coast. While there met a pastor who was passing through who taught him the doctrines of grace. He hated them, and called them “devilish doctrines”. However, he succumbed to grace and the Scriptures and those glorious doctrines of grace shaped the totality of Muller’s ministry.
All of that thanks to that unnamed pastor who discipled Muller over a few weeks. We know Muller. We don’t know the name of that faithful pastor.
- Trust that, even if we don’t see it, Jesus is multiplying his kingdom as we faithfully serve.
Psalm 147:1 “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.”
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 452.
 Parenthesis Mine.
 Conrad Gempf, “Acts,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1084.