bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 12:18-19

18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.

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Last week’s post discussed Peter’s visit to the house of Mary, a relative of Barnabas and mother of John Mark — Mark of the Gospel — to tell those praying in her house for him that he was safe and well. Recall that an angel of the Lord released him from prison. Those chains were there for all to see and were passed down through the centuries. Peter left quickly to get out of Jerusalem and continue his ministry out of reach of Herod Antipas and his men.

The day referred to in verse 18 was to be that of Peter’s public trial and beheading. However, the soldiers were in an uproar over Peter’s disappearance and the broken chains.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, under Roman law, letting a prisoner escape was a capital offence.

The guards did not know an angel led Peter out of the cell. There were 16 men guarding him at various points in the prison to prevent his escape, which took place in the middle of the night. There were divine ways to turn their attention away from their prisoner, e.g. sleep. St Luke, the author of Acts, did not tell us how God worked through the angel.

Henry says the guards no doubt played the blame game in an attempt to avoid the death penalty:

They thought themselves as sure as could be of him but last night; yet now the bird is flown, and they can hear no tale nor tidings of him. This set them together by the ears; one says, “It was your fault;” the other, “Nay, but it was yours;” having no other way to clear themselves, but by accusing one another.

Herod — i.e. his men — searched for Peter in vain (verse 19). They might even have conducted house-to-house searches in a concerted effort to protect their lives. Luke did not give us details.

Incidentally, Acts 16:27 mentions a Philippian jailer who feared for his life when he thought Paul and Silas had escaped during an earthquake. That is how awful this was.

He was ready to commit suicide rather than be executed (emphases mine):

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer[e] called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.

The experience was so significant that he converted then and there:

30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Herod sentenced the guards to death. MacArthur says that the guards were executed. However, Henry’s commentary says that they might not have died, because Herod died before the sentence could be carried out. We’ll get to Herod’s death next week — not to be missed.

Herod then left Judea for Caesarea. He was completely humiliated. If you’ve been following this series, you will recall that Acts 12 opens with Herod’s beheading of James the Apostle, the brother of John (sons of Zebedee).

James’s beheading proved popular among the Jews, so Herod wanted to create a bigger spectacle with Peter after that Passover, putting him on trial before the people and executing him.

Henry offers this analysis:

He was vexed to the heart, as a lion disappointed of his prey; and the more because he had so much raised the expectation of the people of the Jews concerning Peter, had told them how he would very shortly gratify them with the sight of Peter’s head in a charger, which would oblige them as much as John Baptist’s did Herodias; it made him ashamed to be robbed of this boasting, and to see himself, notwithstanding his confidence, disabled to make his words good. This is such a mortification to his proud spirit that he cannot bear to stay in Judea, but away he goes to Cesarea.

Herod’s departure entered the annals of the historian Josephus:

Josephus mentions this coming of Herod to Cesarea, at the end of the third year of his reign over all Judea (Antiq. 19. 343) …

Josephus recorded that, in Caesarea, Herod attended plays that honoured Caesar. Herod was rubbing shoulders with the wealthiest and most powerful people there. MacArthur puts it this way:

It was very likely under the pretense of a celebration for Claudius Caesar, because to throw a party for Herod, for Herod to throw a party for himself was really ridiculous. Nobody would come. And it wasn’t official enough to bring the big wheels, so he threw a big thing for Caesar. Caesar had just returned safely from Britain. Hail Caesar his great work in Britain. Not only that some historians tell us it was Caesar’s birthday.

The moral of this episode is that God will not be challenged. He also protects His people. MacArthur tells us:

His power can’t be contested. Herod amassed all the power that he had and it was nothing, it was a drip against the ocean of God’s power.

That is something to keep in mind at all times — especially for unbelievers and mockers.

God had more plans for Herod. Tune in next week for drama.

Next time: Acts 12:20-23

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