Acts 12 records the fate of two leaders of the early Christian church. One, James, is killed by King Herod for his part in the advance of the gospel. The other, Peter, is imprisoned by Herod who intends to kill him, but then is miraculously delivered and walks away without harm.
Luke records this episode in Acts to communicate truth about God’s ongoing work to advance the gospel, the enemy’s ongoing opposition to that advance, and God’s power to put down the opposition for his glory.
When we read this chapter of the Bible, we naturally start to ask questions about divine intervention. Did evil win over James? Did God finally wake up and deliver Peter? Why was Peter, and not James, delivered? Did personality, piety, or prayer have anything to do with one man’s death and another man’s deliverance?
Satisfactory answers don’t come easily in the Bible if we are looking for the kind of answers that explain the why behind perplexing events. But if we’re looking for the perspective on life, death, and hard events that comes with being taken up into the purposes of God, then here we find it.
When people find their lives in the purposes of God, those purposes become greater than their lives. James and Peter were two men who lost their lives when they stepped out in faith to follow Jesus. They were immediately pulled into the life of Jesus and the great and gracious work of the gospel. This new life and work kept them faithful as one faced death and the other was delivered to live another day. They were willing to be content with their future on this earth because they knew that the promise of eternal life would find its fulfillment in the life to come.
James and Peter were humans, so naturally they experienced the full range of emotions that came with not knowing if they would live or die. But their convictions about God, his purposes, and eternal life led them to conclude, as D.A. Carson says,
“God’s servants do not have the same gifts, the same tasks, the same successes, or the same degree of divine intervention. It is partly a matter of gifts and calling; it is partly a matter of where we fit into God’s unfolding and redemptive purposes. Let God be God; let all his servants be faithful.” (D.A. Carson; For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, Volume 2; January 12)
This Sunday at Grace our good friends and Eastern Europe ministry partners, Andy & Liz Leininger, will be with us. Their perspective on Acts 12 has been newly shaped by their own life experience. In November of last year, a brain tumor was discovered and removed from Andy, and now his future is uncertain. Andy and Liz want to join us for worship, and to share how God is working in them now.
I hope you will pray this weekend for Andy, Liz, and their three adult daughters. Pray for our time together on Sunday.