In the previous chapter, we saw that in Antioch the followers of Christ were first given the name Christian and we learned that the name Christian means more than a name. It’s not just a title we wear but it is a way of life, our every breath and action should declare to the world that we belong to Christ.
Some people are not afraid of dying but most people are afraid of how they are doing to die. And what Luke tells us here, is a prime example of a person dying for the cause of Christ.
He tells us that sometime near the time that Barnabas and Saul were taking the gift from Antioch to Jerusalem, Herod Agrippa decided to inflict pain on certain members of the Lord’s church.
Herod Agrippa is doing is going for the churches’ leadership, the apostles. He first had James, John’s brother, taken captive and killed with the sword. And we know that James’ death must have occurred somewhere near 44 A. D. since that is the year Herod Agrippa I died.
Remember that Herod was not only a king to the Jews but he was also a very good politician. And because of his good connections in Rome, he was the last king to unite with the Jewish territories.
And so Luke tells us that because Herod saw that Jews loved him for killing James, and it had some political advantages, he immediately had Peter imprisoned, intending to put him to death as well.
Peter’s imprisonment was around the time of Passover, which lasted for some eight days. And while Herod waited for the conclusion of the Passover, he had sixteen soldiers, divided into four groups of four, to watch the apostle in the prison.
And make no mistakes about it, King Herod had a plan, he planned to publicly execute Peter at the conclusion of the feast. We don’t know what Peter was thinking as he waited but we do know what others were thinking about while they were waiting, perhaps his mind went back to the Passover he enjoyed with Jesus, Luke 22:14-21.
Please note, that they were not just thinking about doing something while they waited, but they were actually doing something while they were waiting.
Luke says while Herod waited for the end of Passover, the church waited in prayer. They asked God to be with Peter, whether they were simply requesting that God help sustain his faith or have him released, we’re not sure. But we do know that the Greek words used by Luke suggest there was a prayer being offered up around the clock.
We should never underestimate the power of God, and we should never try and restrict His capabilities. These people didn’t just pray that God would give Peter the courage to face death, they prayed that God would deliver him so that he wouldn’t have to face death in the first place.
Luke says the night before Herod intended to call for Peter, the apostle lay chained to two soldiers with two more outside the door. And one of the Lord’s angelic messengers woke him up and caused the chains to fall off his hands. Then, he told Peter to dress and led him out of the prison.
Peter wasn’t sure what has happening because he thought it was a dream. But he followed the angel past the first and second guard posts, through the gate, which seemed to open automatically, and out into the street. This wasn’t just a supernatural deliverance, this was God answering the prayers of the saints, who spent the night in prayer.
If we believe that God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, we should have no trouble believing every other miracle we find recorded in the Bible, Revelation 4:11. Peter when he found himself free and on the street, finally understood that this wasn’t some dream, this was a miracle.
Luke says that Peter was awestruck and now saw that the Lord had sent His messenger to deliver him out of the murderous hands of Herod. And so after thinking for a moment, Peter went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, to tell the church of his miraculous release.
And it seems as though a girl named Rhoda recognized the voice of the apostle at the gate and in her excitement, she did not let him in but went to inform the others in the house that Peter was outside.
And at first, everybody else thought she was crazy and then they thought she had heard Peter’s angel but Peter kept knocking at the door until he got an answer. And when saw him they were amazed at what they saw.
The Bible says that they were ‘amazed’ and I too find this amazing but not for the same reasons that they were amazed. They were amazed to see Peter but I’m amazed at their lack of faith.
Luke said that they had been praying constantly to God for Peter. And even though they had been praying to God on Peter’s behalf for days, it’s almost as if they couldn’t believe their eyes.
In other words, they were asking God to help Peter but deep down in their hearts, they didn’t believe it was going to happen. And the lesson we can learn from this is, don’t pray for something if you don’t believe that God will answer it, James 1:5-8.
And so after everyone saw Peter standing at the door, Peter told them the story of his deliverance by the Lord and then he told them to inform James and the brethren before he departed from their company. While everyone was amazed and rejoiced that God answered their prayers so powerfully, back at the prison it was chaos.
It should be of no surprise to us that the next morning, the prison was in turmoil because no one knew what had happened to Peter. And when Herod could not find him, he had the guards executed.
Under Roman law, it was required that a guard face the punishment which was intended for any prisoner who escaped under their watch, Acts 16:27.
That’s why Herod had the guards executed when Peter disappeared. And it wasn’t long after this that Herod left Jerusalem and went to Caesarea, his other capital. What happens next is also very interesting.
In the Old Testament, we read that the cities of Tyre and Sidon, depended on Galilee for their food supply, as they had done in the days of Hiram and Solomon, 1 Kings 5:9ff.
And once these cities realized that they had offended Herod, they set out to make things right. So they somehow got close to Herod’s personal aide, Blastus, and through him asked for peace.
The Jewish historian Josephus says that Herod set aside some days to honour Caesar, perhaps on his birthday which was May 1. And on the second day, he says that Herod went into a theatre where a large group of people were assembled and the early morning sun reflected brightly off his garment, which Josephus says was totally made of silver.
Why did God have Herod struck dead? Luke says that when Herod was seated on the throne, the people began to praise him as a god. The mistake that Herod made was that he didn’t stop the proceedings, he gladly accepted all the praise as if he were a god.
And the Lord caused his angel to strike him because he did not give glory to God. Only God is worthy of our praise, He is the only one we should ever bow down to, Acts 10:25-26 / Revelation 19:10. No man should ever be worshipped because it is only God who is worthy of our worship.
We are blessed to have Jewish historians because they give us a good understanding of what life would have been like during these biblical times. And when Josephus was describing this event in his writings, he said that Herod suffered severe stomach pains and a horrible, lingering death that took five days.
Whatever way he died, we can be sure it wasn’t nice, Luke tells us that ‘he was eaten by worms’. Time and time again we’ve already seen many of the Lord’s people thrown into jail to stop the spreading of God’s Word. And time and time again we have seen God freeing His people so that His word can be spread.
Despite the fact, that Herod had James executed, despite the fact they searched for Peter and couldn’t find him, even though the cities of Tyre and Sidon joined forces with Herod to keep the peace. Despite all the attacks of men and failure to give God the glory which belongs to Him, God’s Word still grew and multiplied.
In the previous chapter, we left Saul and Barnabas delivering a special offering of money which was taken up for some needy saints in Jerusalem, Acts 11:30.
Luke tells us that straight after Barnabas and Saul had completed their task of delivering the gift of money for the needy saints in Jerusalem, they returned to Antioch.
But this time they took John Mark with them who was Barnabas’ cousin, Colossians 4:10. And remember that Mark’s mother was Mary, now this is important because Luke had just reported that the church met in her house for prayers while Peter was in prison.
And it is even possible that her house was used as a resting place during Barnabas’ and Saul’s stay in Jerusalem.