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The Biter Bit

As chapter 12 opens, we see King Herod Agrippa attempting to play God by taking away freedom and life, and by providing food, but failing spectacularly. In this clash between Herod, king of the Jews and Jesus, king of the Jews, Jesus wins. Herod tries to kick Jesus out of Jerusalem, but at the end of verse 19, it is Herod who leaves, and then dies in exile.

This is the next phase of persecution against the church. First we saw religious persecution under Saul and the religious leaders, now we see kingly or government persecution under Herod. At a deeper level, we see Satan pulling out all the stops to try to smash the church: practical crises like food shortages and administrative challenges, personal conflicts, deceptions, sin, external persecution from religious authorities, even the earth seemingly turns against them with a famine, and now violence from the king. Everything in the world is thrown against the church, but in spite of it all, we see in verse 24 that “the word of God increased and multiplied.”

The Church wants Peter to stay alive, and so they gather in earnest prayer for him, and God hears and answers their prayers. On the very night that Herod was about to deal with Peter, God sent an angel to deliver him. The angel boldly marches into maximum security, and walks out with public enemy number one. It’s so blatant that Peter doesn’t believe that it’s real until the angel leaves him alone in the street. Immediately, Peter goes to find the Church meeting at Mark’s mom’s house, where the late night prayers were happening. He tells them about his deliverance, instructs them to tell James and the other brothers, and then he departs to another place. After a brief mention in chapter 15, Peter’s story is done. Chapter 12 closes a major section of the book of Acts, marking the completion of ministry to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and transitioning from the apostles to the missionaries.

Herod leaves for Caesarea, where he becomes angry with Tyre and Sidon, and since they depend on him for food, they need to appease him, and arrange an audience with him to make peace. Instead of acting like a servant and glorifying God for providing the food, Herod takes God’s glory for himself, pretending that he is the provider, that he is god. The hungry people need food, and so they flatter him: “The voice of a god, not a man!” His actions through this entire chapter have been designed to make that exact point: he gives food or withholds it. He gives or takes freedom. He gives or takes life. He claims to be God, but imitates the Serpent, substituting his words for God’s. He has acted like a serpent, too, devouring God’s people, and so in return, God does to him what he did to God’s people: the serpent is eaten by worms. The devourer is devoured.

And the word of God increased and multiplied. Luke is making very clear that in this battle between Herod and Jesus, Jesus is the true king. Real Gods, real kings do not lose their prisoners and get eaten by worms. Luke makes it clear. God is at work through Jesus, who rules from the Father’s right hand, and expresses His rule through the Church. The Church is the place where mighty deliverances happen. The Church is where the hungry are fed. The Church is where all the glory is given to God. Since Jesus Christ rules and reigns over the earth, nothing, not famine, not religious persecution, not government persecution, nothing can stop the spread of His kingdom. We might be persecuted, we might die, we might be thrown in prison, but the Word of God increases and multiplies. Jesus said that all authority was given to Him, and in Acts 12, He proves it to be true. In response, having overcome every obstacle in the name of Jesus, the Church reacts by spreading the gospel of Jesus as far as the waters cover the sea. Chapter 13 begins the story of Christianity going out through Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark to the ends of the earth. Jesus is the true king. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations!

Posted on Wednesday, July 09, 2014 by CJ Bowen