Sovereign Grace Blog

Sermon Summary - Pain, Evil, and the Sovereignty of God - Acts 12:1-17

Pain, Evil, and the Sovereignty of God - Acts 12:1-17

Is God absolutely sovereign over everything? If so, how would He let James be killed so young? Why does He allow pain in our lives? Yes, He really is sovereign, and is calling all of us to live in light of the big picture of redemptive history.

In our day and age, the political and governmental climate of our culture has taken a radical turn against Biblical Christianity. But this is only a little bit of persecution in comparison to what the early church experienced. Imagine you are a Christian living in that time, and word starts to spread that a number of your brothers and sisters have been arrested, and some killed. And then you hear that one of your main leaders, the apostle James is arrested. Your home groups start to become only prayer meetings. Then you hear that Herod has publicly executed James. And then the apostle Peter is arrested as well.

King Herod knew the culture was hostile to Christianity. He saw his political approval ratings skyrocket after having James put to death. Herod knew not to have Peter put to death during Passover week. There are times like this, where it feels like evil prevails - in our culture, in our churches, and in our homes.

King Herod, introduced in Acts 12:1, is Herod Agrippa I (the grandson of Herod the Great, who reigned during Jesus’ birth, Mat. 2:1). He was also the father of Herod Agrippa II who Paul preaches to in Acts 26. Though he claimed to be a Jew, he was really just a politician who cared about himself. He did all sorts of religious activities to gain favor with the Jews. He viewed the new sect of Jewish Christians as disruptive to the peace, which is why he had James killed (Acts 12:2).

Why would God allow James to be killed but miraculously deliver Peter? This was all part of God’s sovereign will. One simple lesson to draw from this passage: anyone who teaches that it is always God’s will to deliver His children from troubles, sickness, disease, tragedy, and poverty is teaching doctrines of demons. Luke offers no explanation here as to why Peter is delivered, but not James. But one thing we learn is that no man is indispensable to the proclamation of the gospel. Another lesson we learn is that we are to trust God, especially when confused overwhelmed and have no idea what He is doing. And this should drive us to prayer.

Herod couldn’t have had Peter any more securely imprisoned (Acts 12:3-4), but for God it was no big deal to deliver him. The night before Peter is to be executed, we see that (stunningly) he is sleeping (Acts 12:6). Humanly speaking, Peter is helpless and undoubtedly going to die. Why would God allow Peter to get arrested if he was ultimately going to deliver him? One reason is to drive the church to prayer. And not just prayer, but earnest prayer (Acts 12:5, Cf. Luk. 22:44). There is nothing like a crisis to get people to be praying like we always should be praying. Though we do see the church pray and God act, God is in no way limited by the prayers of His people. He works through prayer to teach us to depend more and more on Him. God may act apart from prayer, but is more glorified in responding to the prayers of His people (which He also ordains). But what if our prayers are utterly flawed and riddled with doubt? Will God still answer? We see that He does here in Acts 12:12-17. Note that when Peter got out of jail a few years earlier he went right back into the temple to preach (Acts 5:17-21), but here he is led to flee. These Christians' earnest prayers is what's really important. We should do the same, and we will learn what Paul described in Eph. 3:20-21. 

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