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PART 3 The Uncertainty of Death
He Saw It Pleased the Jews
Many were gathered together
Suggested Reading: Acts 12:1-24
Herod the King, otherwise known as King Agrippa 1 the grandson of Herod the Great, was appointed ruler of Samaria and Judea (all of Palestine) by Caligula the Roman Emperor. One of his aspirations was to find favor with the Jewish populace. And so he did by apprehending the apostle James, the son of Zebedee having him killed by the sword (beheading).
Just like the story of Stephen, where was God? How could he just stand by and allow one of his apostles, who was with his Son Jesus during his three years of public ministry on the earth, to be taken and executed?
Acts 12:3-4 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
But Herod didn’t stop here. He proceeded to apprehend the apostle Peter and put him in prison; and like James he presumably will be put to death. Scripture tells us that during the night shift four guards would rotate every three hours. Peter would be in chains each hand bound to one soldier while the other two would guard the main gate. It looks like there was no escape. Peter was done. I wonder what was going through his mind. Could it be that he was aware that James had already been killed and that he himself was in a place of no return?
However, the trial of Peter would have to be placed on hold because the Feast of Unleavened Bread was at hand. This feast was actually two feasts combined together over a period of eight days with the first day observing the feast of the Passover. Herod decided to wait until this period of time had elapsed before undertaking this trial.
So, what was it that transpired differently involving the death of the apostle James and the impending death of the apostle Peter?
Acts 12:5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
What differed is that in this instance the assembly of the church at Jerusalem met in groups continuously at different private houses and prayed (urgently with perseverance – steady persistence in a course of action9) for him.
Did their prayers for Peter’s release happen? Did Herod let him go?
Acts 12:7-10 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
What we know is that an angel of the Lord appeared before him causing his chains to fall off from his hands, providing safe passage through the prison, and the opening of the iron gate that lead into the city. It appears that the prayers of the church were answered. Peter was taken out of the jail not by the change of heart of Herod, but by an angel.
I am not aware of prayer being offered for Stephen and neither am I aware of prayer being offered for the apostle James. Am I saying that if someone in the church is in grave danger for the faith and the church prays for them that they will beyond a shadow of the doubt be set free? I would not draw this conclusion, but what I would say is if this were to happen the assembly of the saints whoever they are should immediately take it upon themselves this course of action and pray urgently with perseverance and leave it in the hand of the Lord.
The next story is very personal for me as it illustrates very clearly but very sadly the uncertainty of death.
Were Sinners above All Men
This story is close to my heart. Following my conversion to Christ, God directed me to a non-denominational church in my hometown. Just thinking about it now brings fond memories. The church of 15-20 believers would meet on the third floor of a fellow believer’s house for worship service. The pastor, a young man in his mid to late twenties, would open in prayer and after which would proceed to play the guitar and sing. The words of the songs were such that they inspired all to worship the Lord. God’s presence (joy and peace) would permeate our hearts (souls) and cause us to be singular in mind and purpose.
And when the music was over the pastor would preach. I had never heard anything like it. Verses of scripture would come off his tongue like a machine spewing out tennis balls. The message was unlike anything I had ever listened to when I was growing up participating in the Catholic faith. I was hearing about what God thought about me and how I didn’t have to continue on in the thoughts that plagued me on a day to day basis. Answers were provided that allowed me to understand how to walk in the newness of life that God had given me.
After a year had gone by, the churches attendance grew and the pastor thought it would be a good idea to try to purchase a facility where we could meet instead of at someone’s house on a regular basis. There was one in particular that he was looking at which was being used to provide housing for Catholic nuns. The pastor approached me and said that if the purchase went through would I consider leaving my secular job and work for the church as an outreach coordinator to which I replied yes? Surprisingly, the facility was purchased. I quit my job and went on staff.
The days were long, but fruitful. I would visit those who were new to the church, those who needed prayer, and those who had physical ailments. I was allowed to conduct a Bible study and coordinate different events for the church members to participate in (i.e. soul winning, men’s breakfast, musical concert, etc.). The morning would start early at 5:00am for prayer.
Eventually, I began dating a young lady from the church and we were married in December. Soon, the warmer weather of spring began to appear and I realized that I needed to get into some type of exercise program. I spoke to my wife about this and she suggested why not go running after early morning prayer was over as she was aware that I used to run cross country for the College I had attended just a few years earlier. So, that is what I did. Over time I was running about 5 miles each morning. I felt refreshed and rejuvenated for the rest of the day.
Word got out to the members of the church that if anyone was interested they were more than welcome to join me for a morning run. To my surprise one of the new young male Christian attendees responded. And so each morning we would meet at a certain time and go for a run.
Unexpectedly, someone in the church told me about an upcoming weekly retreat that would take place in August on the campus of the churches headquarters. This would consist of pastors speaking on various biblical topics throughout each day along with different planned activities. So, we signed up for this. The next thing we knew we were on our way with great anticipation of participating in this spiritual encounter. Each day was filled with prayer, teaching, fellowship, and a saturation of God’s presence.
When we returned home, we were welcomed by all in the church. However, the pastor said he needed to talk to me. I knew by his facial expression and tone of voice that something was terribly wrong. He told me that our fellow Christian brother, who had accompanied me on my morning runs, had died. I thought to myself, this can’t be true. I responded with saying something like, what happened? Apparently, he was with a couple of friends and they decided to go swimming. He wandered out too far from shore and got cramps. By the time someone reached him, he had drowned.
This caused me to reflect on this concept of death. I had always thought that if you followed the Lord you would live a long full life. I assumed this would be one aspect of a believer’s blessing from God. I believed God would see to it that we were protected. But this certainly was not the case in this instance.
In the next story, just like this one, we will brought to a better understanding of the reality that the death of a friend, relative, spouse, son/daughter etc. is uncertain.
Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish
Suggested Reading: Luke 13:1-5
Luke 13:2 And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?
Jesus was in a certain place where people had gathered. Some were there to tempt him by asking questions, some were there observing his table side manners before eating, and others were asking him about what his advice would be concerning family inheritance. In this setting, there were some that presented to him a situation in which certain Galilaeans had come to the temple at Jerusalem to offer animal sacrifices where they were unexpectedly and ruthlessly attacked (killed) by Roman soldiers in allegiance to Pilate thus resulting in the mixing together of their blood and the blood of the slain animals.
Their question to him was, could this unforeseen occurrence be because they were sinners beyond all other Galilaeans? Jesus reply was no, this was not the case. He went on to say that unless you repent you will wind up perishing like them. I don’t know if they really understood what he was really conveying to them by his response.
Luke 13:4 Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?
Jesus continued speaking to them and subsequently brought up another incident one involving the tower at Siloam which apparently all of a sudden fell down and killed 18 people. Jesus said to them do you think this happened because the 18 were sinners above all them in Jerusalem?
Luke 13:5 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
He answered his own question, no, but said again to them a second time unless you repent you will also perish. This must of seemed to them like a contradictory answer. On the one hand you are saying that these two different occurrences happened not because of their sin and yet you ask us to repent.
What did Jesus mean when he said, you must repent? I would like to answer this at the close of this study. But what I would like to say about what we just discussed is that someone being killed is no measure of a person's unrighteousness or righteousness10. People die for many reasons: war, vengeance, divine judgment, and just because. We are all going to die for one reason or another. Death is uncertain as to when, but certain to occur. However, where we spend eternity is a choice. Jesus provides for us the answer as to making sure we wind up in the correct place when we die and that is to repent.
What I would like you to look at next is the possibility that there are invisible forces whose intent is to bring about the death of those who live on this earth. For what purpose? Let’s find out.
10Bible Knowledge Commentary/New Testament, 2000, 10 March 2018 Ë‚http://www.biblesoft.com>.
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