Weekly Readings: Acts 12-15
Small Group Questions
- Welcome to week four! Do you have a favorite story in Acts so far? Is there one thing we’ve read or heard with which God has especially rocked your world?
- How is Peter’s rescue from prison a picture of resurrection?
- Look at the way the disciples respond to Rhoda in 12:15. Has God ever done something so wonderful in your life it would’ve been easier to believe in seeing something supernatural?
- Herod could not strike down God’s message. What encourages you in our society that God’s Word continues to grow and spread?
- What are some “issues” that arose in the early church in this week’s reading that required the church to work through and move forward?
- In Acts 15, the early church had certain disagreements to resolve. What disagreements or struggles do you still have with other believers within the global church?
Sermon: “The Church Moves Forward”
Texts: Acts 12:20-25
Here are some of the thoughts in written form:
20 Herod had been furious with the people of Tyre and Sidon for some time. They made a pact to approach him together, since their region depended on the king’s realm for its food supply. They persuaded Blastus, the king’s personal attendant, to join their cause, then appealed for an end to hostilities. 21 On the scheduled day Herod dressed himself in royal attire, seated himself on the throne, and gave a speech to the people. 22 Those assembled kept shouting, over and over, “This is a god’s voice, not the voice of a mere human!” 23 Immediately an angel from the Lord struck Herod down, because he didn’t give the honor to God. He was eaten by worms and died. 24 God’s word continued to grow and increase. 25 Barnabas and Saul returned to Antioch from Jerusalem after completing their mission, bringing with them John, who was also known as Mark. (Acts 12:20-25, Common English Bible)
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
The Providence which has ordered the whole of our life, showing zeal and concern, has ordained it the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to him, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men and by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us to make war to cease, to create peace everywhere, the birthday of the god was the beginning for the world of the gospel that has come to men through him.
31 BC – Augustus became first Roman emperor after a long civil war.
Euangelion, or Gospel, might be best understood as a “breaking headline.” This word we understand as being “good news” was a term referring to the announcement of a great military victory and/or the birth of a new Emperor, a new ruler who is going to bring strength, prosperity and peace to the Roman world. Euangelion, Gospel, was the breaking news that the long awaited reign of a king is finally dawning. So, we can see why a “gospel” that a long awaited King of the Jews being born the first Christmas would’ve been a concerning threat to Herod the Great, grandfather of Herod Agrippa who we read about in our Acts passage today. Gospel has come. Salvation has come for the Jews. Finally, God reigns, God is the King. Who ran the show? Who was called lord, king, and savior? The Emperor…Caesar. Claims of Jesus is a direct challenge to the claims of the Emperor.
When a new ruler conquered a land, it was his right to come in and wipe it out as part of establishing his new reign. If he spared the land and people, he was their Savior. The Savior is the one true king who is in charge and who will reign forever like a god and establish peace.
Salvation is about a new world order, new era of peace and prosperity, mercy, lives spared, and eternal security.
Repentance, then, wasn’t so much about just receiving forgiveness, but about a total reorientation of one’s loyalty to a new regime. It was changing one’s allegiance to the true Ruler. This was the invitation of John, a voice calling in the wilderness “Prepare the way for the Lord!” The King has come.
“The Church Moves Forward” may not be a title that tells you much in comparison to the other weeks in this series. It might seem like for four chapters in Acts we simply want to say, “stuff kept happening.” Last week we made the point that God’s grace is universal. The Church crosses borders as God in Christ has torn down the barriers that hinder any group of humans from coming into His presence by faith. That’s a powerful message. In this week’s sermon, I want to make one point. Christ is King. Acts 12-15 show the Church moving forward in response to this truth: Christ is King.
Acts 12:20-25 challenges our view of the state as protector of liberty, security, and provision.
BACK STORY – Acts 12 and surrounding
Passover = Israel’s Independence Day, 4th of July Celebration. Herod orders James, brother of John, son of Zebedee, Son of Thunder, to be killed. Seeing that this pleased the Jews he also orders the arrest of Peter who is imprisoned and set to go on trial. This is the same time of year Jesus was arrested and crucified. Jesus had a trial too, and I’m sure Peter’s would have been similar in process and ending.
“Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Caesarea […] There he exhibited shows in honor of the emperor […] On the second day of the festival, Herod put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a truly wonderful contexture, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment was illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it. It shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him. At that moment, his flatterers cried out […] that he was a god; and they added, ‘Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.’” (Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 19.343-345).
As Bishop Will Willimon says, “God is not nice to politicians who try to act like God.”
Herod Agrippa is a picture of why the world’s “gospel” is a false hope and an unworthy adversary. He is proof also that the true Savior really is the One who reigns eternally. Herod who is hailed as a god ends up worm food. And the crucified suffering servant turns out to be the Risen One! Christ is King.
This is the confidence that allows the Church to MOVE FORWARD with its message, its gospel, its “breaking headline.”
Our mission is the witness, to spread the message, to show that the new regime is already in power and that the New Ruler is already seated in His place of eternal and universal authority. We move forward in unity as we are all members of this one new Kingdom, united under One King, representing one message with one mission.
In the end, God’s word, the message of the church that Herod tried to suppress moved forward and multiplied.
Acts 12:24 “But God’s word continued to grow and increase.” This is the third punctuation of its kind so far in Acts. Verse 6:7 tells us, “God’s word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith.” Then, Acts 9:31 says, “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. God strengthened the church, and its life was marked by reverence for the Lord. Encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the church continued to grow in numbers.” The Church moves forward.
This is important for us to realize as we reconsider today how we might understand these words – gospel, savior, salvation and repentance. Christ is King. And as we orient our allegiance to this one true King, we accept His mission and message.
The Apostle Paul, a once Christian-killer, would say in Acts 20:24, “Nothing, not even my life, is more important than my completing my mission. This is nothing other than the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus: to testify about the good news of God’s grace.”
The great theologian Karl Barth says the following about conversion, being called to Christ:
“The Word of the living Jesus Christ is the creative call by which He awakens man to an active knowledge of the truth and thus receives him into the new standing of the Christian, namely, into a particular friendship with Himself, thrusting him as His afflicted but well-equipped witness into the service of His prophetic work.”
What Barth is saying is that every call to Christ is an assignment. Christ offers us salvation and at the same time vocation. We are thrust as an afflicted but well-equipped witness into the service of His prophetic work. We become part of His Church which is always moving forward on mission…with message…in unity. Then, now, and until the King returns. In the name of Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. T. F. Torrance and G. W. Bromiley, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Ltd, 1962), IV/3, Part II, p.481.