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Acts #41 (chapter 12)
The Book of Acts
The Folly of Fighting God
Acts 12
It is no secret that Satan is in all out rebellion against God.  He tirelessly works to do everything he can to hinder or stop the work of God. Go all the way to the beginning of time and you will find that to be true.  He interferes in the affairs and decisions of mankind to accomplish his purposes. 
With the privilege of world history afforded to us, we can also see that, no only does he interfere at a personal level, he gets involved at the epic level also.  One of the key ways he seeks to do his work in a big way is by getting in the heart of some powerful ruler who can fight against God's purpose. And  frequently, it that fight involves the nation of Israel.
In modern history, we go back to Stalin and Hitler, and by the way, Stalin massacred more people than Hitler did, and you find those who seek to destroy Israel, who by doing so, become the enemies of God.
And they certainly aren't the only ones.  There are more to be found like them on both sides.  That's why those who question our loyalty to Israel as a nation need to spend a little time studying history, and it wouldn't hurt them to study their Bible also! 
Satan is always engaged in some enterprise fighting against God and God's people and God's purposes, whether it is you as a Christian at a personal level, your church, or the whole of Christianity or Judaism.
We meet one of the most famous rulers who fought against God in Acts 12 where we are introduced to the family of Herod.  The "Herod's" of scripture require some attention because there is more than one man by that mentioned, and they are all kin.   
The first of them was known as Herod the Great and he appears on the scene in 41 BC, 41 years before the New Testament era or the time of Christ. And 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 10 times and had a lot of kids who crisscross the pages of the New Testament.
One of his children was a man by the name of Herod Agrippa the First and he is the ruling power when we arrive at the 12th chapter of Acts and he is our example of the foolishness of fighting against God.
verses 1-4
The chapter begins by establishing a time reference that reaches back to the last chapter.  "About that time" is when this great famine that was prophesied by Agabus is going on. That famine was during the reign of Claudius Caesar which places it around 44 AD.  So we know we are about 44 years past the birth of Christ, elven years since the resurrection. 
And it was at that time that Herod decides to harrass the church.  We aren't given details, but he's up to no good.  He wants to do evil, to persecute the church.  And as we'll see, James and Peter, become the main target of this persecution.
So there's been relative rest for the church for these 44 years.  Herod the Great gives the order to have all the babies killed at the time of Christ, after the birth of the church and Stephen is stoned, there is a period of persecution, but from that time up to chapter 12, it's fairly quiet.  But now it's starting again and it's led by Herod Agrippa. 
By now, the Jerusalem congregation has grown to be many thousands of people, and they are beginning to feel the hurt from the famine. And now, to add to that, Herod decides to persecute them. 
Most likely, his motivation is political.  He cares about one thing only and that is power and to stay in power, he needs the Jews approval.  He knows they don't like the church, so he persecutes them to get on their good side. 
And as a result, the Jerusalem church is really under the gun. Verse 2 tells us he had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword."
So in addition to Stephen, we now have the first martyr among the apostles.  By the way, this is the James and John who asked to sit on the right and left hand of Jesus in the kingdom and Jesus asked if they could suffer the kind of suffering He would suffer.  And here we find that In fact, James did suffer martyrdom and execution.
Verse 3
Herod's plan works!  So he keeps pouring it on and has Peter arrested.
Then verse 4 gives us another time marker:
verses 3b-4
Now that's important because that means it's Passover time and Jerusalem was packed with people.  So Herod doesn't immediately kill Peter like he did James.  Instead, he put him in prison and decided to wait until after Passover. 
He didn't want to offend the Jews, but he wanted to take advantage of the crowds that are there, so he waits for a time between activities when he can have the full attention of the crowds and the full drama to focus on himself. He would wait till the Passover was over and then bring him as though there was some tribunal for public trial and judgment to give it the appearance of justice.
So verse 5 says, "Peter was kept in prison."
So power-hungry Herod is going to fight against God by taking out the leader of Christianity.   But he's about to learn how foolish it is to fight against God.  People keep trying it, and every so often some ruler like Saddam Hussein will rise up and try it again, but it's foolish. 
And if those who aspire to do it would just read the 12th chapter of Acts, they'd discover at least three reasons why it's foolish to fight against God.  For instance,
1.  God's power cannot be contested.
And we see that through this account of Peter's imprisonment. Herod put him in jail but God let him out.  God wasn't through with Peter. He had more work here on earth to do.
So no matter what Herod tried, it wasn't going to work.  Someone says, "Well, what about James?"  God was through with him on earth. It's just that simple.  But Herod's plans to destroy Peter would never be successful as long as God wanted him alive.
Look at verse 5
The church gets on their knees and they begin to intensely, earnestly pray for Peter.
At the same time they are praying, God is moving.
verse 6
So Passover is over and Herod is about to put his plan into action.  They will have this mock trial that night and tomorrow he will be executed.  And it love the fact that Peter was sleeping. That's how confident he was in God. 
That's why he said in 1 Peter 5:7 "Cast all your care on him for he cares for you".  That wasn't just words on a page.  He was something he had 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, but 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
Not only was he sleeping, he had to be awakened to be released! 
verses 8-10
Here is Peter, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and putting on his clothes and shoes, following this angel out of the prison cell and past the guards.  He is in such a sound sleep, he doesn't even know if it's real or not.  But before he knew it, he was alone and free outside the main gate.  It opened of its own accord and they walked right through the entrance. 
Herod thought he was in control, but all of his power and authority and scheming and bluster is nothing to God.  God opened the gate with the breath of His mouth.  He shattered the chains!  He wanted Peter freed, and Peter was set free!  We need to be reminded that no prison can hold the servant of God whom God wants free.
verses 11-12
He makes his way through the narrow streets to the home of Mary, the mother of John and Mark, one of the chief meeting places for the Christians in Jerusalem, and he goes there because he knows the believers will be there.  And they were there praying for Peter to be delivered.
verses 13-14
Obviously, Peter wants to get out of the line of vision of anyone who may be looking for him, but Rhoda is so excited to see the answer to her prayers standing there at the door, she forget to let him in!
So she goes to announce to everyone that ther praye has been answerd and they tell her she's crazy!
verse 15
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. They kept arguing. 
But Peter's out there, all right!  He's banging on the door! 
verse 16
Nothing like announcing to the whole neighborhood that you're out their on the porch, right?
verse 17
He quietens their celebration to tell them what has happened.  Can you imagine the people sitting around hearing this story?  Here they are, hungry and persecuted.  Herod's already slaughtered their beloved James.  They thought Peter was next, but now, here he sits talking to them as 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 and Peter leaves to go somewhere else.  And Peter fades out of focus for a while.  He reappears in chapter 15, 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.
verse 18
Morning comes and they wake up and no Peter. They are really, seriously distressed.  These soldiers are very much aware of the penalty for losing a prisoner. And panic set in.
verse 19
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 lick his wounds in the Mediterranean sun as the defeated enemy of God that he was, realizing only a fool fights God.
There are two more lessons in this chapter, and they won't take as long to consider. 
Any man is a fool who fight with God becasue 's a second lesson in this chapter because God's power can't be contested, but also because
2.  God's punishment can't be avoided
verse 20
So, fresh on the heels of being embarrassed by Peter's escape, Herod decides to take up another battle.   
verse 20
Tyre and Sidon, were two Phoenician seaboard cities that were technically,  part of Syria. They weren't even under Herod's jurisdiction,, but they were very much dependant on Herod for their food during this time of famine.
And for some reason, they've ticked off Herod and he had cut them off, and they were in a bind. They couldn't trade; they didn't have food, and they needed to get back into Herod's good graces again.  ANd they attempt to do it through Herod's personal assistant. 
Maybe they bribed or threatened him, but they got him to work out some kind of peaceful arrangement with Herod.
verses 21-22
I would guess those cheers were led by the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon and pretty soon everyone's joining in telling him he's a god and not a man!
And instead of refusing their worship, Herod gets to liking it!  Instead of giving God the glory, he takes it, and thus, declaring war on God.
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.
verse 23
I would guess the cheering suddenly faded!
Any person who fights against God is a fool because God's power cannot be contested, God's punishment cannot be avoided, and lastly,
3. God's purposes cannot be frustrated
verse 24-25
Interesting isn't it?  Herod decided he would put a stoop to the work of God.  But in a matter of just a few verses, Herod is worm bait and the work of God just keeps moving on.
The 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."
This chapter serves as a warning as well as an encouragement. 
As a warning, it says to the fool who would fight with God, you can't match his power, you can't avoid his punishment, and you cannot frustrate his purposes.
As an encouragement, it says to the people of God that in the time of the tribulation, there will come another ruler like Herod who will fight with God. He will be appear to formidable, but he will be devastated, and that's a promise.  It doesn't matter whether it's Genesis or Revelation, any attempt to fight God is futile. You cannot match his power. You cannot avoid his punishment. You cannot frustrate his plans.
Isaiah put it this way: "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.
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 gonna 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.
Nobody wins who fights against God, be he king or pauper. God wins.
Let's bow in prayer.
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