We are certainly becoming increasingly aware of the animosity toward God, toward the Christian faith. We see the continued hostility that we recently experienced when we were in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Now we hear of this tragic hostility against Christians in South Africa. Just in this last week, you may have read in the newspapers that the nation of Russia is now beginning to close again to Christian missionaries and Christian publication and Christian influence. And there is the effort to make sure that Yeltsin signs into law a bill that restricts any religious group coming into Russia that is not approved by the government.
You must understand that this entire operation in Russia is being directed by the Russian Orthodox Church, who want to do everything they can to keep out the gospel of Grace. I pointed out to you a few weeks ago that I read a very interesting multipage document put out by the Russian Orthodox Church which warns all Russian Orthodox people throughout the nation of Russia to watch out for the wolves who are coming in sheep’s clothing and teaching perverse doctrine, and the doctrine they teach is that salvation is by grace alone.
There is an obvious denial on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church that salvation is by grace alone. It is by grace plus works. And they have lobbied long and hard against the government to get them to restrict what is basically Protestant activity, and they find plenty of ammunition because of the strange and bizarre and non-Christian Christian groups that find their way into that land.
And as I told you this morning, I believe that the hostility of our own nation toward Christianity is just now beginning to escalate. And as the wicked and the perverse people of our culture find there are no cultural restraints, no Christian influences in the culture itself, they will continue to become aggressive in their evil, and they will in being aggressive, want to trample anybody who stands in the way or questions the right or the wrong of what they do. And consequently, there will be an escalating hostility against Christians who take a strong stand.
This seems to be moving and escalating all over the world and may well be but a harbinger of what is to come in worldwide hostility in the time known as the tribulation. One thing is for sure. There is a long war against God. It’s been going on ever since Satan decided to be like the Most High and was dispossessed of his holiness and thrown out of heaven. His name became Satan. He took with him a third of the angels; they become the demons, and they have orchestrated ever since that event the long war against God. They employ all the human beings they can to engage in this war to destroy God and his purposes and his kingdom and even the reign and rule, of course, of his own son.
Now, we’ve been looking at that as we’ve been going through the book of Revelation. We have noted in chapter 12 of Revelation that there is going to come, in the time of the tribulation, a final, great effort against God led by Satan through anti-Christ and the false prophet who will be introduced to us in chapter 13 of Revelation. This is the culmination of this long war against God. The war of the ages, we have called it. And it is along that very line that I want to stimulate your thinking tonight on the theme of the stupidity of fighting God.
Whether you are a terrorist in Northern Ireland or a terrorist in Southern Africa; whether you are anti-Christian from a religious perspective, even, quote/unquote, a “Christian” perspective in the land of Russia, or whether you are anti-Christian, anti-God from a Muslim perspective in the nation of Iraq, whatever it might be, or whether you’re just a homosexual or a lesbian or a fornicator or an adulterer or – or whatever it might be and you’re hostile to the law of God in general, or whether you belong to some cult or some ism or some occult or false system that fights against Biblical theology and Biblical truth, it is foolish to fight God.
For centuries, men have been clenching their fists and their teeth in the face of God, endeavoring to pit their will against him, inspired by his great archenemy Satan. But it is always futile. In Proverbs 21:30, Solomon summed it up when he said “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor council against the LORD.” In other words, there’s no way to fight him and win. Many have tried through the centuries and are still doing it, to fight God, to fight God’s word, to fight God’s standards, and they all end up the same way. There may be a moment of triumph in an earthly way, but ultimately, there is eternal disaster.
We go back into the history of the Old Testament, and we see this long war against God. For example, God had a standard for sacrifice. Abel obeyed it; Cain fought it and wound up cursed. God made a standard for morality. Noah kept it and the rest of the world fought it and were drowned and damned. God had a standard for separation from the world, a standard for sexual purity. Abraham kept it and Lot fought it, and his wife died and his seed was cursed.
God had a standard for priorities, spiritual priorities, not earthly ones. Jacob kept that standard; Esau fought it and lost the blessing. And there, just in the book of Genesis alone, you see the hopeless stupidity of fighting God, God’s purposes, God’s plans, and God’s word. Frankly, history and the world is strewn with the shattered shells of men and women who threw themselves against God like eggs thrown against granite cliffs.
From the book of Exodus on, the history of Scripture reveals a particular emphasis, a certain type of person who leads in the fight against God. And that person is the king or the ruler. As you go from the book of Exodus, you continually meet rulers who fight against God. The most powerful people, the leaders of the world, who become the pawns in the game of Satan and who engulf their own people in the fight against God. They are nothing but straw men in one sense and their kingdoms are paper kingdoms, and yet they attempt to fight against the mighty God of the universe.
The first such ruler to fight God is Pharaoh. It cost him his honor, it cost him his throne, it cost him his people, it cost him his son and it cost him his life. Then there was king Arad, the Canaanite who fought God and was destroyed with his people and their armies in Numbers 21. And then there was that unique king of the Amorites named Sihon who fought God’s purposes. And there was King Ar of Moab and King Og of Bashan, and all of them were slaughtered in a massacre and their land was possessed by God’s people.
And then there was Balak, the king of Moab who tried to fight God and plotted against God with no success. And then there were the Midianites who fought God and God slew all their males, including the five kings of Midian. Then there was that king of Ai, who decided to fight against God and was hanged. And there were those five kings in Joshua, chapter 9, who fought God, and you remember plotted those clever devices against his people and against his purposes, and all five of them were slain and hanged together on five trees.
And then there were a number of kings of Northern Palestine who fought against God. Joshua, you remember, hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire, and then went through and slew them all with the sword. In fact, there were 31 rulers who fought God and were slain by Moses and Joshua. Thirty-one of them, leading their people in rebellion against the true God.
When you leave the book of Joshua, you come into Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 1 Chronicles, you find more people who attempt to fight against God, and they also end in horrible disaster and God’s purposes go on. For example, all of the kings in the Northern kingdom fought God. There wasn’t a good one in the entire kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam, Nadab, Baasha, Eliab, Zimri, Omri, Ahab, Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz Jehoash, Jeroboam II, Pekahiah, Pekah, Hoshea, and Menahem. All of them fought God; all of them came to disastrous ends.
Turn with me for a moment to 1 Kings, chapter 14, and let’s look specifically, 1 Kings, chapter 14 in verse 7. “Go, say to Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, “Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel, and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and who followed Me with all his heart, to do only that which was right in My sight; you also have done more evil than all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods and molten images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back.
“‘“Therefore behold, I am bringing calamity on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male person, both bond and free in Israel, and I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone. Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs will eat. And he who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat; for the Lord has spoken it.” ‘Now you, arise, go to your house. When your feet enter the city the child will die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he alone of Jeroboam’s family will come to the grave, because in him something good was found toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam.
“Moreover, the Lord will raise up for Himself a king over Israel who shall cut off the house of Jeroboam this day and from now on.” That means to continue to kill them all. Only one child was spared. “The Lord will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the Lord to anger.” That, by the way, is some kind of an idol to a female deity. “And He will give up Israel on account of the sins of Jeroboam, which he committed and with which he made Israel to sin.
“Then Jeroboam’s wife arose and departed and came to Tirzah. And as she was entering the threshold of the house, the child died. And all Israel buried him and mourned for him, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through His servant Ahijah the prophet. Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, how he made war and how he reigned, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. And the time that Jeroboam reigned was twenty-two years; and he slept with his fathers, and Nadab his son reigned in his place.” There was to be a devastating, destructive curse on the house of Jeroboam, and one after another of his family were slaughtered. And that’s exactly how history played out.
There was another king who was wicked, who serves as an illustration, 2 Kings, chapter 19. Jeroboam was the first in the line of the kings of the north. And all the rest, basically, had the same disastrous end that he had. But in 2 Kings 19 verse 22, we read about another king. Ahab, you remember, fought God, was shot, bled to death, and the dogs licked up his blood. Now we come into chapter 19, and we come to Hezekiah, down in verse 22 – verse 20, actually.
“Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you.” This is the word that the Lord has spoken against him: “She has despised you and mocked you, the virgin daughter of Zion; she has shaken her head behind you, the daughter of Jerusalem! ‘Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice, and haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel!’
Down in verse 35, “Then it happened that night that the angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home, and lived at Nineveh.” Whether you’re talking about a king in Israel or whether you’re talking about a pagan king, the fight against God is disastrous. The northern kingdom saw that disaster and the pagan nation surrounding, such as Sennacherib, saw it. But so did the southern kingdom. And I won’t take time to read any more Scriptures.
But just to remind you that in the southern kingdom, most all of the kings – that would be the part of the land known as Judah – most of the kings fought God. Rehoaboam, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, Ahaz, and then there were several others, Manasseh, Amon, Johoahaz, Jehoiakim – Jehoiakim and even Zedekiah. They fought God. You remember what happened to Zedekiah. His eyes got plucked out and he was bound with chains and carried away.
So when you go back in history you find this history of Satan always getting the – the heart as it were of some powerful ruler who can fight against God’s purpose. And frequently, it does involve the nation Israel. You go back to the Stalins and the Hitlers. And you, by the way, might remind yourself that Stalin massacred more people than Hitler did.
And then you find somebody today like Hussein, who again massacres Jewish people at every possible turn and would do far more if he could possibly pull it off. And you get the picture that Satan is always engaged in some enterprise fighting against God and God’s people and God’s purposes. So we’re not surprised in the end time, in the time of the tribulation when we see this occurring under the rule of anti-Christs at the end of the time of tribulation.
One of the most famous rulers who fought against God we meet in the New Testament. Let’s go now to Acts chapter 12. And this is what I want us to focus on for a little while, Acts chapter 12, because I think this chapter is so powerful. As we come into Acts 12, we start to touch the family of Herod. The first of the Herods, that Idumean family, the first of them was known as Herod the Great. And he starts to appear on the scene in 41 BC, 41 years before the date inaugurating as it were the New Testament era, the time of Christ.
From 41 BC to the birth of Christ, Herod the Great is in power. We read about him in Matthew 2 around the birth of Christ. He was a wicked man, by the way. He was married ten times. Because he was married so many times, he had a lot of children. Because he had a lot of children, his offspring crisscross the pages of the New Testament.
One of his children was a man by the name of Herod Agrippa I. He was a direct descendant of the Maccabees, an historic Jewish patriotic family. Now Herod Agrippa I had been educated in Rome but carefully cultivated the good graces of the Jewish people. He sought to be popular. He is the ruling power by the time we come to the 12th chapter of the book of Acts. He is the tragic figure who becomes our example in this chapter of the folly of fighting against God.
Now let’s look at the first four verses, which give us the historical setting. “About that time Herod the king” – Herod Agrippa I – “laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.” Now, about that time. What time? Well, the time identified in the chapter prior, chapter 11 verses 27 to 30, a time in which there was a great famine. A great famine, literally, in the world, it says in verse 28, during the reign of Claudius. It was during that time. What time is that? Around 44 AD. 44 AD, 44 years after the calendar begins to mark the birth of Christ.
Claudius is still reigning in Rome, and I don’t think that the full effect of the famine has yet hit. But it’s at that time that Herod sets out to lay hands on some who belonged to the church. The old English version says to vex them, literally, to do them evil to injure them, to persecute them. As we shall see, James and Peter, two very prominent leaders, become the main target of this persecution.
There was a brief respite, by the way. From the birth of Christ and the effort of Herod to wipe out the Messiah by massacring the babies, from that time on until the twelfth chapter of Acts, there was only one really fierce time of persecution, and we read about that just after the church began. They called the leaders in, you remember, and they told them not to preach. And they were imprisoned for preaching and Stephen was stoned to death. The apostle Paul was a leader, certainly, chapter 8 of Acts, in a great persecution that came against the church in Jerusalem that scattered believers everywhere.
But since that, which came very early after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not long even after the ascension of Jesus Christ, from that time, for the next few years, there was a moment of respite following the persecution of Stephen, where martyrdom blew its first fierce breath. But here it comes again, and it is led by Herod. The Jerusalem congregation by now has grown to be many thousands of people. They are already beginning to feel the hurt from severe food shortage and the famine. To add to the tremendous problem of famine, they are now mangled by the furious attack of Herod.
Now the irony of it was that it was really a political move by Herod, and not an anti-Christian one. I don’t think that Herod particularly cared about Christianity. The best we can tell by reading about Agrippa was that he was like all the rest of the Herods, and the one thing that they cared about was their own power. And maintaining his own power in the land of Israel where there were so many Jews and where they all believed it was their land, meant having good relationships with the Jews.
And I really believe that Herod set out to persecute Christians because he knew the Jews hated them, and he thought this was one way he could get on their good side. He wanted to persecute the Christians as a way to endear himself to the Jewish leaders who were so infuriated, not only by what Christians taught but by their amazing success. So he decided that he would set out to persecute these Christians who were hated by the Jewish leaders and then gain himself some great favor with the Jews.
By the way, as far as his religion goes, he was nothing more than a typical Roman playboy, educated in Rome. Nothing more than an adventurer, an egotist, he had a wily nature. He moved up the ladder by buying and selling favors, and finally got to this place of prominence in Judea and wanted to do everything he could to endear the Jews, get them on his side. And he thought the best way to do it is to kill the leaders of an obnoxious sect called the followers of Jesus. And so the Jerusalem church is really under the gun.
Verse 2. “He had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.” Here, James the brother of John, one of the two sons of Zebedee is the first martyr among the apostles. He was executed by a sword. And by the way, the Talmud, the Jewish Talmud informs that this mode of execution was used when someone lead the people to worship other gods. And so here, Herod is doing it even according to Talmudic law. And gain, that indicates to us that he was really moving to gaining an accommodating position with the Jewish leaders.
You remember back in Matthew 20 when James and John and their mother came to Jesus and said, “Can we sit on your right and left hand in the kingdom?” And Jesus said, “It’s not for me to give; it’s for the Father to give.” And then he went beyond that and said, “Can you suffer the kind of suffering that I’m going to suffer with?” And here we find that indeed James did suffer martyrdom and execution. So Herod is waging war against God for his own egotistical selfish, proud purposes.
Verse 3. “And when he saw that it pleased the Jews,” – oh, it pleased them greatly to have James dead – “he proceeded to arrest Peter.” This is good. This worked once, it’ll work better twice. Up the ladder one more step to the most prominent, namely Peter. If he could gain the advantage, the political advantage by killing one of them, think of the advantage he could get by killing their leader. He had no concern for right or for justice or law, just self. And Peter was the key man, the most powerful preacher, the most dynamic apostle, the dominant force. And he could see nothing but gain by executing him, so he arrested him.
“Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.” That’s the Passover. Now, that’s important. Jerusalem was full of crowds, packed, just packed, jammed, with pilgrims. He didn’t execute him immediately, he wanted to wait because it was the Passover time, and people were concentrating on Passover activity. And this monumental act, which he deemed to gain himself favor, might get lost a little bit in the shuffle. He wanted to wait for full drama, till the Passover was over and the pilgrims were still hanging around, waiting for the next event of the sequence of peace. So he arrested him.
Verse 4 says, “When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivered him to four squads of soldiers to guard him,” – Now how many squads of soldiers does it take to guard somebody? Well it wasn’t because Peter was so strong; it was because he was well aware of the fact that at least from his vantage point, some group of Christians might to whatever they needed to do to release Peter. So he has four different squads of soldiers to guard him – “intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.”
He wanted the full attention and the full drama to focus on himself. He would wait till the Passover was over and bring him as though there was some tribunal for public trial and judgment to give it the façade of justice. So verse 5 says, “Peter was kept in prison.” Power-hungry Herod is going to fight against God by destroying the leader of Christianity. Monarchs again, through history and still today, are dedicated to fighting God. And I believe this is all part of an ongoing, satanic enterprise that engulfs the monarch and then the people of that culture, that nation, just as it will ultimately the anti-Christ, the final earthly ruler.
You remember back in Acts chapter 5, just a comment from Gamaliel, that teacher of the Jews who was wise enough to know this was a stupid thing to do? Verse 39 of Acts 5, Gamaliel says, “If it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them, or else you may even be found fighting against God!” And Gamaliel had the sense to know that is stupid. You can’t win doing that. But still, these satanically inspired leaders endeavor to do it.
Eliphaz also described the folly of fighting against God to Job, chapter 15, verses 25 and 26. “He stretches out his hands against God, and strengthens himself against the Almighty; he runs at him, even upon his neck, upon his heavily embossed shield.” What kind of fool is going to run at God to engage in hand-to-hand combat? This is very dangerous because God fights back. Jeremiah 21:5, “I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger and in fury and in great wrath.” To the church of Pergamos, God and Jesus and said “Repent, or I will come unto you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Revelation 2:16.
But, in spite of the folly of it, the fools of the ages continue to fight God and lose. Now, I believe in this chapter you can recognize three simple reasons why it is foolish to fight God. Reason number one, because God’s power cannot be contested. Because God’s power cannot be contested. This is graphically and convincingly proven by the account of Peter’s imprisonment. Herod put him in jail; God let him out. God wasn’t through with Peter. He had more work here on earth to do, and Herod’s efforts to destroy Peter was like trying to catch a ray of light in a fishing net. Look at verse 5. “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” The church gets on their knees and they begin to pray for Peter.
James 5:16 says, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Prayer becomes the key to opening the storehouse of God’s power in this situation and it says that they were praying fervently; literally they were praying ektenós (ek-ten-oce’), stretched to the limit. It’s used of stretching a muscle in medical terms to its full capacity. It can mean earnest. It can mean unceasing. It can mean intense. It is used – That word is used for intense love in the New Testament, intense service, intense prayer. They were stretched out in anguish, intensity and earnestness, praying with a total effort for Peter.
And even while they were praying, God in his marvelous power was affecting his purpose. Verse 6. On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward,” – Passover was gone by; now was the perfect moment of drama. – Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison.” This is the night that he was going to be brought forward for some mock public trial, and the next day to be executed. And I love the fact that it says that Peter was sleeping.
You know, to a society that spends $10 million a year on sleeping pills, this is shocking. He was sleeping. That’s how confident he was. When he said in 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your care on him for he cares for you” wasn’t something he hadn’t practiced. He was sleeping chained to two soldiers and guarded. And he knew the timetable. He knew the Passover was over. He knew what was liable to come. It never disturbed his rest. He was like that old saint who was sleeping through a horrible storm in a boat and somebody said, “Aren’t you concerned?” And he reminded them that the Psalmist said that the Lord never sleeps and never slumbers and if that’s true of the Lord, there’s no sense in both of us staying awake.
Verse 7: “Behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and roused him, saying ‘Get up quickly.’ And his chains fell off his hands.” Now, he is in such a sound sleep, an angel suddenly appeared and he – he struck him, he hit him. I mean, he’s in a deep sleep. And roused him, says “Get up quickly.” Chains fall off his hands. “And the angel said to him, ‘Gird yourself and put on your sandals.’ And he did so. And he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.’” In the vernacular, we’re outta here.
Sleepy, bleary-eyed, groggy, staggering along after a shining angel with his clothes on half-cocked, thinking he was probably in a dream or another vision like he had on the roof at Jaffa. He gets up to go. And he went out” – verse 9 – “and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel, whether it was real, but he thought he was seeing a vision.” He’s in a total fog. You can see what contribution he made to this.
Verse 10. “And when they had passed the first and second guard,” – doesn’t tell us how they did that; they just did – “they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him: Strong, massive, outside main gate. It just opened of its own accord. See, all of Herod’s power was no contest for God. He burst that gate open with a breath of his mouth; he shattered those shackles. And then the angel, who had done his task, ministering to the saints as Hebrews 1:14 says angels do, just disappeared. He’s gone.
We need to be reminded that no prison can hold the servant of God whom God wants free. No prison. It was remarkable some years ago, when I read of the experience of a very saintly Indian by the name of Sundar Singh. By order of the chief lama of a certain Tibetan community, he was thrown into a deep well, the lid of which was locked securely with a lock. He was left there to die, like many others before him whose bones and rotting flesh lay at the bottom of that well, to die for his faith in Christ.
On the third night, when he had been crying to God in prayer, he heard someone unlocking the lid. And a voice spoke telling him to take hold. And a rope that was lowered down, he grasped. He found a loop at the bottom, which he could place his foot in. His arm was injured when he was thrown down and so he held on with one arm and put his foot in the loop, and he was drawn up. The lid was replaced and relocked.
And he wrote, “When I looked around, I couldn’t find anybody to thank.” When morning came, he returned to the city where he had been arrested and started preaching again. News was brought to the lama, who denied that it could have happened since the only key was attached to his own belt. Hmm? Angels are ministering sprits sent to minister to the saints.
Well, now Peter’s all alone. Verse 11, I love this. “When Peter came to himself, he said, ‘Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’” Now you get the picture? Herod isn’t only after Peter. Who is he after? God’s people. They wanted Peter, Herod did and Satan did and his whole kingdom. But they really are after God’s people. It’s also possible that that last phrase was also indicative of the fact that the Jewish people, along with Herod wanted Peter dead. But in either case, however you want to take that phrase, they were thwarted.
Verse 12 says: “And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” He makes his way through the narrow streets to one of the chief meeting places for the Christians in Jerusalem, namely the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. And he goes there because he knows the believers will be there. And they were. Verse 12 says they were there praying.
Then verse 13: “He knocked at the door of the gate, and a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer.” Rhoda is a name that means rose, just for your information. What were they praying about? They were praying for Peter. They were praying deep, earnest, passionate prayers for Peter to be delivered. They wanted Peter released from jail and they were praying fervently for that. This kind of committed prayer was going on all night, friends, all night. It must have been late into the night and still they were praying.
So “he knocks at the door of the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda comes to the door to answer.” Now, Peter wants to get out of the street. You can underhand that, right? He’s been delivered but he doesn’t want to hang around where he can be seen. He wants to get in a safe place, and he wants to get with other Christians. That’s why he goes to this place where he knew Christians lived and where they frequently met. Rhoda answers the door.
Verse 14, “She recognized Peter’s voice. Because of her joy, she didn’t open the gate. She just ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate.” She was so excited, she forgot to let him in. So he’s still standing in the street, and he doesn’t know what’s going on. She’s so thrilled. Why? Answered prayer. God answered our prayer he’s at the door! Now, to show you the depth of their faith, verse 15: “They said to her, ‘You’re out of your mind!’” I mean, are we supposed to believe God answers prayer? “But she kept insisting it was so. And they kept saying, ‘It is his angel.’” I mean, they literally invent a theology here to accommodate their unbelief.
Aren’t you glad that God answers fervent but faithless prayers? I think mine are often like that. I think sometimes I have more zeal than faith. She kept insisting. “Oh,” they said. “It’s his angel.” That’s a Jewish belief that everybody had his own angel and that’s not even taught in the New Testament. So Peter’s out there, and he’s still banging. Verse 16, “Peter continued banging – knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed.” All of this noise at the door. I mean, if Peter was in danger before he arrived, he’s in as much danger or more now with all the racket going on.
Verse 17: “Motioning to them with his hand to be silent” – they’re having a party now because they all realize what’s going on. He’s there. He’s out of prison. And he – tells them be quiet, and then – “described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Report these things to James’ -- that’s James not the son of Zebedee but the head of the church, another James – ‘and report it to the brethren.’” He told them his story. What a thrilling testimony. Can you imagine the people sitting around hearing this story told again?
In the midst of fearful, threatening persecution – Herod’s already slaughtered the beloved James, now he wanted to slaughter Peter. That’s only the beginning of what he wants to do and what certainly Christian people were expecting that he was going to do. In the midst of all of this, they learn that God delivers his own. God is more powerful than Herod and all his walls and all his prisons and all his gates and all his chains and all his guards. And so they were told to report to James, our Lord’s brother, by the way, who also was martyred in 62 AD, being thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple and then beaten to death with a club. And Peter departed, it says, at the end of verse 17, and “went to another place.”
Well, where did he go? We don’t know where he went. That’s the point. He went someplace to hide. He faded out. And it’s interesting, very interesting to me, that when you come to chapter 13, we are introduced to Paul. Peter is the main force, the main player in God’s enterprise in chapters 1 to 12, but from 13 on, it’s Paul. He reappears in chapter 15, does Peter, but really, his time is done. His ministry in Jerusalem was nearly finished, and it’s time to introduce Paul.
Peter dominates the first 12 chapters, Paul dominates chapter 13 on through chapter 28 of the book of Acts. Peter fades out. Paul moves in. As I said, Peter does reappear in chapter 15. He’s still around and still serving in the church in Jerusalem as the LORD enables him. But his time is really up in the book of Acts, and a new and significant figure comes into play.
Verse 18. “Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter.” Morning comes and they wake up and no Peter. They are really, seriously distressed. When the jailer in Acts 16:27 knew that the prison doors were opened and the prisoners might have escaped, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he supposed the prisoners had escaped. Why? If you lost a prisoner, you paid with your life, right? And these soldiers were very much aware of the penalty for losing a prisoner. And panic set in.
Verse 19. “And when Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution.” He killed them all for losing their prisoner. He conducted some kind of a speedy court martial for some guys that were every confused and very bewildered and very terrified and he passed the death penalty against them and sent them off to be immediately executed. And then he huffed off to Caesarea to soak in self-pity in the Mediterranean sun. At the end of verse 19: “He went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.”
He was defeated and he crawled off to Caesarea, which was the Roman garrison city, to lick his wounds. And the lesson is simply clear here. It’s the same story throughout all of Holy Scripture. Only a fool fights God because God’s power cannot be contested. No man is any match. No satan-inspired, satan-possessed man is any match for God. Herod found it out and so will the anti-Christ.
There’s a second thing that I want to lay before you in this chapter. Anyone who fights against God is a fool. Not only because God’s power can’t be contested, but God’s punishment can’t be avoided. God’s punishment can’t be avoided. You fight against God, one, you lose, two, you’ll be destroyed. Verse 20 - now remember, when we come to this particular part of the chapter, Herod has only suffered the loss of his desire. And the desire was to kill Peter to gain favor with the Jews.
He should have stopped there. He should’ve just left it alone, realized you can’t fight God. It’s too much. It’s beyond you. You know that he heard some explanation from the soldiers. There was no rational explanation for what had happened. It would have been wise to stop the fight, give up, check out and not attempt to set yourself against God. But he wasn’t done.
Verse 20: “Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country.” Now, here you have Tyre and Sidon, two Phoenician seaboard cities, technically part of Syria. And they weren’t really under Herod’s jurisdiction. They were north. But they were very much dependent on Herod for their food during this time of famine.
Herod was bitterly and intensely displeased with them. They had exasperated him, and so he had cut them off, and they were hurting. They couldn’t trade; they didn’t have food. And so, there was a great quarrel between these two cities and Herod. Now, in order to get into Herod’s good graces again, they made a friend of Blastus, the chamberlain. That literally means someone over the bedchamber, which came to mean someone who guards a person’s private treasure.
They may have bribed him, but they got him to work out some kind of peaceful arrangement with Herod. They wanted a truce. They wanted to pacify Herod. They wanted to find the best way to present themselves to the king in person and make their peace in public so they could have a good relationship and get food.
So, verse 21: “On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them.” If you read Josephus, the Jewish historian, he gives a tremendous amount of insight into this event. And I’m not going to go through all of that but the special occasion was set up to be a commemoration for Claudius Caesar. It was his birthday, and he had made a safe return from Britain. And so there was a big event.
And they figure this is a perfect time to go down there and make a peace offering to Herod because there will be a lot of falderal, and everybody will be happy, and it’s a celebration. There will be a large number of provincial officials and others of distinguished position as well as all of the people will be coming there. And it’s going to be a great focal point of celebration, so these people will come down from Tyre and Sidon, make their peace, try to open up trade, get some food to help them during this time.
“So on the appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel,” and puts his – his throne up on the amphitheater or the theater there, sits down “and begins to deliver an address. Now, this place had been built by Herod the Great, and believe me, modesty did not run in the family. Tier upon tier of seats were provided for people to cheer on these pompous rulers. The first day - it was a two-day event, Josephus says. The first day was a tip of the hat to Caesar. They were a long way from Rome and so the word wouldn’t get back very fast that it was sort of an offhanded tribute to Caesar.
But day two was Herod’s day. We read about day two in verse 21. He arrived, he ascended the elevated royal throne in a silver robe. Josephus says that it shone in the sun and flashed and glittered. It was resplendent. It was to inspire everybody who saw him, and there he was in all his glory, the time of his great accolades and tributes. And he speaks. He delivers an address. And verse 22, “And the people kept crying out, ‘The voice of a god and not of a man!’”
All the favor-seekers flatter him. All the people from Tyre and Sidon and everybody else who wants to be in the good graces tell him he is a God. “You’re a god, it’s not a man who speaks it’s a god who speaks.” Now instead of refusing such profane worship and acclaim and praise, instead of giving glory to God alone, he accepts it. And by doing that, he is taking glory from God to himself and thus he is declaring war on God. He is trying to rob God of what God alone is due. What a fool. Trying to steal God’s glory for himself. He’s fighting God in another way.
First, he fought against God through persecuting the church and the people of God, now he fights against God through taking the glory that belongs only to God. In verse 23: “And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.” The cheering suddenly faded, folks. Herod collapsed. According to Josephus, he was carried away and eaten up by worms. And Josephus says he was dead in five days, a revolting, sickening death as God turns the worms of death loose on him.
A pompous fool. And this is something of – of God’s cynicism in all of this, if you can say that God is cynical or that God does something that is sarcastic. Certainly some things that he says in his word indicate that he can speak sarcastically. Here is something of the sarcasm or the cynicism of God if we can use that word anthropomorphically, in that he brings down this pompous fool from his massive throne by little, tiny worms. Any person who fights against God is a fool because God’s power cannot be thwarted and God’s punishment cannot be avoided.
Lastly, because God’s purposes cannot be frustrated. Verse 24. “But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.” What is this saying? The work of God went on. It went on. Persecution didn’t stop it, it went on. Barnabas and Saul go back to Jerusalem, carry on their mission, take along with them John Mark. It’s reminiscent of the words of Jesus, “I’ll build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
The folly of fighting God. You can’t match his power, you cannot possibly avoid his punishment, and you cannot frustrate his purposes. In the end, in the time of the tribulation, there will come another ruler like Herod. And under the satanically induced illusion that he can be victorious, he will fight God and Christ and the people of God. He will be formidable, but he will be devastated.
For a closing text, turn to Daniel chapter 7. In Daniel 7, we meet this anti-Christ. Verse 21: “I kept looking,” – writes Daniel, in this vision – “and that horn was waging war with the saints and overpowering them” – that’s a reference to the anti-Christ – “He’s waging war with the saints and overpowering them until the Ancient of Days came and judgment was passed in favor of the saints of the Highest One, and the time arrived when the saints took possession of the kingdom. Please note, he fights God and he fights the saints, he fights Christ, but the kingdom comes and the LORD comes against him in judgment.
Verse 23 talks about the fourth beast “being a fourth kingdom on the earth.” He is going to be “different than the others.” He’s going to “devour the whole earth, tread it down and crush it. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise;” – that’s the final form of world government – “another will arise after them, being different from the previous and subdue three kings.”
Here again is anti-Christ. “He will speak out against the Most High, he will wear down the saints of the Highest One, he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; there will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.” That is the saints will be given into his hands for three and a-half years. “But the court will sit for judgment,” – verse 26 – “and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.”
That is the promise. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Genesis or Revelation. Any attempt to fight God is absolutely, utterly, totally futile. We cannot match his power. We cannot avoid his punishment. You cannot frustrate His plan. Isaiah put it this way: “Woe unto him that fights with his maker.” Woe unto him that fights with his maker. Don’t fight God. Don’t fight His purposes. Don’t fight His Word. Don’t fight His Son. You can’t win. You can’t win. Herod, anti-Christ, other rulers, or any other human being will be devastated by the judgment of God.
I’ll never forget years ago reading the account of the death of Earnest Hemmingway. Earnest Hemmingway wrote on one occasion that Biblical morality was not going to impose itself on his life. He said, “I am living proof that one can live any way he chooses and succeed.”
In an article, he said, “I have fought in revolutions, I have tumbled women, I have satisfied my desires, and I stand as living testimony to the fact that you can sin and get away with it.” Ten years to the day that he wrote that, he put a shotgun in his mouth and blew the back of his head off. You don’t win when you fight God. The battle became so devastating to him, he couldn’t endure it any longer, and he executed himself.
And then there was Sinclair Lewis, who was at one time, the toast of the literary world. Sinclair Lewis hated God, hated Christ and hated Christianity, and spewed out the venom of his hatred in a book entitled Elmer Gantry. In that book, which later became a film, he depicted the preacher as a drunken sot, lewd, fornicating man who spent his time with booze and prostitutes and getting rich at the expense of people. That was his slam at the face of God; that was his mockery of Christianity.
And he was hailed as the toast of the literary world and won many, many prizes for his genius as a writer. Few people, if any, know that Sinclair Lewis died a slobbering drunk in a third-rate alcoholic clinic somewhere outside the city of Rome in absolute and utter obscurity. Nobody wins who fights against God, be he king or pauper. God wins. Let’s bow in prayer.
Father, we know that no man can stand against Your power. No one who fights You can evade your judgment, and it’s all so pointless because no one can frustrate Your plans. Lord, we thank You that we’re not against You, but we’re with You, that You have saved us and put us on Your side. We’re no longer Your enemies, we’re Your children.
We pray for those in our midst tonight who are fighting You, who think they can live any way they want to live. They can sin any way they want to sin. They can live for themselves and be proud and self-centered and self-motivated and self-fulfilling and do what they please, and who think that they can do that and even attack Your name and Your Word and Your truth and somehow escape judgment, and somehow have enough strength to overpower You and maybe even frustrate Your purpose.
Oh Lord, may they be delivered from such folly. And may every sinner fall on his face before You and say, “I am broken under Your power. I fear Your judgment, and I recognize that Your plan will come to pass.” May every sinner in that condition repent, cry out for deliverance from judgment, and to be made a partaker in the eternal plan through Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to provide salvation.
Father, we all once were Your enemies, but You made us friends and even children through Christ. And now, we don’t fight You. We join You in the holy cause. We fear no judgment, for we live with the hope of heaven and we’re a part of Your plan. That’s what it means to be a Christian.
For those in our midst, Lord, who have not yet entered into that relationship, may this be the day when the war ends and they move from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Your dear Son by trusting in His death and resurrection on their behalf and they pass from judgment to glory. Work Your work, Lord, in the heart. Save those who call on Your name. And we’ll give you all the glory. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
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