Summary: Exposition of Acts 12:1-17 regarding the attack of Herod on the church and the churches response to persecution
Text: Acts 12:1-17, Title: The Empire Strikes Back, Date/Place: NRBC, 3/30/08, AM
A. Opening illustration: Ignatius Kung was ordained as a Bishop of Shanghai in 1949, shortly after the communists took over China. The Chinese government pressured him to align his loyalties to the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association," he refused, choosing to remain loyal to his church’s chain of command. In 1955, the authorities brought he and 200 other priests to a stadium in Shanghai. The government ordered them to "confess their crimes." Instead, Kung shouted "Long live Christ the King! Long live the Pope." In 1988, Wally Magdangal was pastoring an underground church in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He was a Filipino lay pastor of Christian foreign workers wishing to gather for worship. In 1992, soon after the conclusion of the Gulf War, the house church had grown to over three hundred worshipers, the largest church in the country. The Saudi government became alarmed at the positive impact the church was having and Wally was arrested. While he was in prison, Wally was tortured, abused, and eventually falsely charged with blaspheming Muhammad and Islam. He was tried before the Saudi Arabian High Court and was sentenced to death by public hanging scheduled to take place on Christmas Day 1992. Throughout his terrible ordeal, Wally refused to renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. Outcries from several foreign governments and agencies, including President Fidel Ramos of the Philippines, Amnesty International, and members of the U.S. Congress were made on behalf of Wally to the Saudi Government. And then just a few hours before his scheduled execution, Wally Magdangal miraculously was granted a reprieve. The Saudi Government decided to deport him to the Philippines instead. Today, Wally is itinerant preacher, sharing how the Lord delivered him from persecution.
B. Background to passage: The church at Antioch had just experienced a great revival, and sent aid to the Jerusalem church because of an upcoming famine. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the famine isn’t the worst thing coming doing the pike for the church. Herod Agrippa I was in charge, looking for ways to please the Jews because he was on shaky ground with the Romans, so what better way than to persecute the church.
C. Main thought: So in this text we will see the first non-Sanhedrin persecution of the church with the exception of Paul’s persecution from Nabetean Arabia.
A. A Lethal First Strike (v. 1-4)
1. Herod did not necessarily have anything against the church, he was simply out to make peace and political alliances with the Jews who hated the church. But in doing so, he put to death the first of the apostles, James, the brother of John. Just as Jesus had said. And he intended to do the same to Peter, but Peter was delivered. I think Luke puts these to things together for a reason. God delivered one to death and one from death. It does not seem fair, wise, or sovereign. But I would argue all three.
3. Illustration: Al Mohler vs. Junior Sears, “There is no situation so chaotic that God cannot from that situation, create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at the creation. He did it at the cross. He is doing it today.” He replied, "With all this manure in the room, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!" Surrounded by wolves, Sam nudged Jed and said, "Hey, wake up! We’re gonna be rich!" Think about the impact of Cassie Burnall from Columbine, or the guy on flight 93 that said, “Let’s roll.”
4. We must be warned about doing things that would normally violate our consciences as well as the word of God to gain acceptance and favor in the sight of others. In our lives sometimes we are delivered from hardship and sometimes into it. And we must learn to accept both. We must remember who we are and refuse to strive against our Maker. Do not import your sense of American justice into your theology of how God must deal with man. I would submit that before God human beings have no inalienable rights. If God wants to count us all as sheep for the slaughter, he can, and yet in all things we are more than conquerors in Christ. Also remember that just because we can’t think of a good reason for calamity in our lives, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t have one. Woe to us who think that we are wiser than God. So when a loved one dies, or when the cancer diagnosis comes, or we loose a job, or experience a debilitating accident, or a divorce, or the bottom falls out of our lives, know that God is right in the middle of it working things out for His glory and your good.