A Tale of Two Lives (Paths)
Intro: Psalm 1:1 provides us a contrast with a wicked ruler, Herod Agrippa 1, whom we will read about in a moment. Ps. 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly….” Agrippa 1 did walk in the counsel of the ungodly and eventually began to think that he was some kind of god. Here is a quick look at his life: --His ancestry was darkened by murder and abuse of power. His grandfather was Herod the Great, who had tried to kill Jesus when He was just a small boy. He had all the males 2 years old and under killed in order to wipe out the possibility of another king taking the throne from him or his family. A few years earlier, he had put to death 2 of his own sons, one of them being the father of Herod Agrippa 1. Before that he had his own wife (Herod Agrippa’s grandmother) executed, because he thought she was being unfaithful to him. Agrippa’s sister was Herodias. She married one of her step-uncles, Philip 1, then left him for another step-uncle, Antipas. She was primarily responsible for the execution of John the Baptist. So, Herod Agrippa 1 was born into a family filled with murder, suspicion, and hunger for power. In fact, the house of Herod would make shows like Desperate Housewives or the worst Soap Operas look pretty tame. There was incest, betrayal, adultery, and many other gross sins.
-Herod Agrippa 1 came to power around 34 A.D., when his step-uncle, Philip II, died. This made him ruler over Iturea and Traconitas. He became ruler over Galilee and Perea when his sister’s 2nd husband, Herod Antipas was exiled by Emperor Gaius. The next Emperor, Claudius, added Judea and Samaria to Herod Agrippa’s realm because he had been a help to him. So Agrippa 1 had become very powerful. His domain was almost as large as that of his grandfather, Herod the Great. Agrippa really began to think a lot of himself.
-As we read a few weeks ago, in Acts 12, Herod Agrippa 1 began harassing the church. He had James killed and when he saw how happy this made the Jews, he put Peter in prison, planning to execute him after Passover. However, because the church was praying, the Lord sent an angel to set Peter free. Herod ordered a full-scale search, hoping to recapture Peter and put him to death. But Peter was nowhere to be found, so Herod had the guards put to death and headed for his beach resort in Caesarea. It was while he was there, that the main portion of our text occurs. Let’s go ahead and look at it and then we will talk about how it connects with our own lives.
[Read Acts 12:18-25]
-I’d like to borrow two opposing thoughts from Psalm 1 that will provide a framework for discussing our text. Psalm 1:6 says - For the LORD watches over the path of the righteous, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. That gives us the main idea of today’s message.
Prop: If we want God to watch over us, we need to choose to do things His way.
Interrogative: How can we recognize the right path? How do we know if we are on the right track?
TS: Two lives (primarily Peter and Herod Agrippa) give us clues that will help us recognize the right path.
I. The Lord Watches Over the Path of the Righteous
-We don’t have to look far in this chapter to see how God watches over those who belong to Him. Peter thought he was as good as dead, but as the first half of chapter 12 shows us, God had other plans for Him. Peter was set free and went on to do great things for the Lord.
-Now, I need to clarify that the physical welfare of the righteous is connected to the purposes of God. God works in ways that we cannot see and uses us in ways we may not be aware of. We also need to remember that the purposes of God do not rise and fall on any single human being. The reason I’m bringing this up is because sometimes God’s ways do not make sense to us. Here is what I mean.
-Look at Acts 12:2. Herod had James, one of Peter’s closest friends, put to death with the sword. If the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, then he must have been asleep on that watch. What about Stephen? He was a righteous man, but he was stoned to death by the Sanhedrin. How is that watching over the way of the righteous? What about John the Baptist? Agrippa’s lustful uncle had John’s head cut off and carried in on a platter. Was God watching over John the Baptist?
-Let me restate what I said a moment ago. The physical welfare of the righteous is linked to the purposes of God. We have no guarantee on the duration of this life, but the rewards and blessings that await those who are faithful are awesome! God rescued Peter from execution in this chapter, but several years later He allows Peter to be crucified upside down. God rescued Paul numerous times, but eventually Paul’s head is removed by the Emperor Nero. So, how can we say that the Lord watches over those who do right?
-Heb. 11 gives us some perspective on this issue. The writer specifically names some 20 or so heroes of faith and refers to several more who faced hard times and eventually died without seeing all the blessings that were promised to them. Hebrews 11:39-40 says, 39“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” So, here is one of the keys to understanding how God watches over us, even in the trying times: When we align our faith with God’s purposes, we can be sure that His will is going to be done in our lives.
-This would be a good time to remind you of the purposes of God. We believe that God has given us 5 basic purposes for His church and for our lives. They are worship, fellowship, evangelism, discipleship, and ministry. When we are faithful in doing what God asks us to do in relation to these 5 purposes, we can be sure that He will help us every step of the way. Now when a believer dies (take James for example), his death does not necessarily mean that he couldn’t have done more for the Lord. His death brought Him right into the presence of the One who created him, and loves him more than anyone else ever could.
-If you struggle with this whole idea of how to reconcile suffering, sickness, and death with God’s care for us, it helps to remember that He alone is sovereign and knows what He is doing. He has a purpose for everything He does. He is an intentional God, and He can be trusted with our hopes, our dreams, and our very lives. God is watching over the righteous, but His highest purpose is more that just protecting us physically and making us happy & healthy. God’s highest purpose for us is to make us more like Himself – the One in whose image we were created.
-The Lord watched over Peter, as He did Paul and Barnabas, and every other person who trusted in Him. The path we choose to take in this life will determine the kind of favor we find with the Lord. James 4:6 tells us that "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." If you want God’s favor and grace, you must humble yourself and say, “God, I’m willing to do things Your way.” As a result, the Lord will bless you and watch over you. And one day when it is your time to leave this life, you will be welcomed by the Lord Himself, and He will say, “Well, done, good and faithful servant. You did a great job keeping your eyes on Me! Come on in. I’ve prepared a place just for you!”
-Well, let’s look at the other side of the coin now and see what we can learn from the life of Herod Agrippa.
II. The Path of the Wicked Leads to Destruction
-Moments ago, we read the account of what happened to Herod Agrippa. Apparently, Agrippa had denied the people of Tyre and Sidon access to Israel’s grain markets, making their lives very difficult. Why did he do this? Because they were rivals of Caesarea in the world of commerce. Most Roman rulers were headquartered in Caesarea, but Agrippa had chosen to live in Jerusalem, where he had greater influence over the Jews. After Peter’s miraculous escape, however, he decided to go back to Caesarea. He had palaces and probably beachfront property there. So, he was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon because they had become a threat to his wealth.
-Somehow, they won the favor of one of his personal servants and had a chance to approach Agrippa and ask for peace. They were probably getting hungry from the lack of grain. Man does not live by bread alone, but there is nothing in this world like the smell of freshly baked bread. So, they were willing to grovel and ask Agrippa to have mercy on them and lift the grain embargo.
-Josephus, a Jewish historiographer, writes about this same event, giving us a few more details than Luke does. He relates that Agrippa had come to Caesarea to attend a festival in honor of Emperor Claudius. It consisted of games that were held every 5 years (kind of like the Olympics). These games may have been scheduled to coincide with the birthday of Emperor Claudius. The timing was right after the wheat harvest, so it was a good time for the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon to request the removal of the grain embargo and buy their wheat.
-Josephus writes that on the 2nd day of these games, Agrippa entered the arena right at daybreak. He was dressed in a bright garment woven from silver thread. As the first rays of the sun hit him, Herod Agrippa was illumined by the brightness of the sun. The people essentially began to worship him, calling him a god. Josephus quotes them as saying, “May you be propitious [or favorable] to us, and if we hitherto feared you as a man, yet from now on we agree that you are more than mortal in your being.” Wow! Agrippa knew the Jewish law. In fact, he was a descendent of the Maccabees, who zealously fought to preserve the right to worship the one true God, Yahweh. Agrippa knew the first of the ten commandments: You shall have no other gods before Me. Yet, he said nothing to deflect the praise & worship from these people. Luke tells us in v.23: “Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” It is interesting to note that another wicked ruler (Antiochus Epiphanes) had died a couple hundred years earlier, being eaten by worms. He had defiled the temple and declared himself to be god. Ironically, it was Herod Agrippa’s great-grandfather (7 times great) Mattathias, who had led the revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes and won. Now, here was Agrippa willing to commit the same kind of sin that GreatX7 Grandpa had fought so hard against.
-Josephus tells us that Agrippa died after 5 days of severe stomach pains in A.D. 44. Scholars say it was some kind of bowel disease where these worms literally ate him from the inside out.
-What a horrible way to go! God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. The path of wicked leads to destruction. I’m not suggesting that God will give you worms if you don’t follow Him. However, I have to say in love that the end result of rejecting God is not a pretty sight! As Hebrews tells us, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” Jesus died for us so that we don’t have to go to the place where Herod Agrippa went. We can be forgiven and receive God’s grace in our lives, if we will humble ourselves and call on God.
-This is the tale of two lives, or two paths if you will.
-Proverbs 4:18-19 18 The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. 19 But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.
Conclusion: I don’t know what you are going through today, but I am hoping and praying that you will come to a place where you can turn your life completely over to God, and start doing things His way.
-If you haven’t been doing things God’s way, maybe today is the day when all the prayers that have been prayed for you will be answered. Maybe today is the day you will say YES to God. You can do that right where you are, simply by talking to God from your heart. You can do it in your car or in your home. The important thing is that you do it. What is the tale of your life? Are you going to take the path of the righteous and enjoy the favor of God, or are you going to do things your way? My prayer today is that you will choose the way of life and hope. You’ll never regret it, because it is the only path that will lead you home… home to the One who made you and loves you no matter what.