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MARTYRDOM OF JAMES
1, 2. This Herod Antipas was the grandson of the King Herod reigning when our Savior was born, and notorious for slaying the infants of Bethlehem, and even himself, while the innocents were bleeding, and Jesus safe in Egypt, summoned to stand before God and account for his diabolical atrocities. The Herodian dynasty reigned over several of those Asiatic provinces of the Roman Empire, simply as proconsuls, though retaining the honorary title of king. When James and John, the sons of Zebedee, honored by our Savior as sons of thunder because of their oratorical power, assisted by their mother, sought of Jesus the first place in His coming kingdom, thus aspiring to the episcopacy in the gospel church, and unhesitatingly meeting the conditions by answering in the affirmative our Savior’s question, “Are you able to drink of my cup and to be baptized with my baptism?” i. e., the cup of Gethsemane and the bloody martyrdom of Calvary, little did they understand the force of those words. James, the elder, doubtless led the way in this application to the Master for the pre- eminence in the coming kingdom. He got it, and was the first of all the apostles to seal his faith with his blood. They all passed out of the world through the bloody martyrdom [but John, who was banished, and as we believe translated]; but James led the Way, having his head cut off with the cruel sword of Herod at that early day. So he got his request, first in martyrdom and first in heaven.
PETER’S MIRACULOUS DELIVERANCE
3, 4. When Herod beheaded James, the Jews took great courage, congratulating themselves that their good king will soon exterminate that vexatious heresy in blood. Herod is more than willing to purchase popular favor by killing off the apostles; consequently he arrests Peter, committing him to sixteen soldiers to serve as a prison-guard till the Passover is ended, when he is going to bring him out and let the Jews see his gory head drop off.
5-8. Peter is sound asleep, flat on his back, chained to a soldier on either side, the stilly hours of dulcet slumber treading slowly on, anticipating the day of his bloody martyrdom. He must have had perfect rest in Jesus, or he could not have slept. The soldier on either side of him, and the other fourteen standing guard around, are all wide awake. The saints convened in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, all wide awake, spending the whole night in prayer for Peter’s release. The angel of the Lord lights down in the dark dungeon, illuminates the prison, knocks off the chains that bind him to the soldiers, speaks to him audibly: “Gird thyself and put on thy sandals; throw thy cloak around thee and follow me.” Meanwhile the soldiers, chained to Peter on either side and wide awake, neither see the light nor hear the clangor of the chains, nor feel Peter move; while the other fourteen, standing guard all around, neither see the light, hear a chain, nor feel the contact of Peter and the angel, as they squeeze between them, pressing their way out; but all, true to their trust, stand guard through the night, without a surmise that their prisoner, on whose safe-keeping their life depends, has already made his escape. So, I trow, when my Lord comes at midnight to steal away His Bride, though the trumpet shall from the heavenly pinnacle call so loudly that every roar, the archangel shout, and the Prince of Glory saint, living and dead, will hear and respond, yet a wicked world and fallen church will sleep so soundly as not to be awakened by the trumpet blast nor the resurrection earthquake. The morning dawns; a mother is missing from the home, and the alarm is raised, and a member of the family runs out on the streets, meets another exclaiming, “Oh, the daughter is missing from our home! her apparel all on hand.” And another runs out on the street and shouts, “The old colored cook is missing from our home I and she has the key to the dining-room and kitchen, and we broke open the door and couldn’t find her.” And another exclaims, “Old Uncle Tom, who kept the barn and the horses and carriages, is missing, and we can not find him.” By this time the whole city is in commotion, clamorous about the absent ones. Such is the commotion that church-bells are rung and all the people crowd in. A number of the sainted occupants of the amen corners are missing; some of the preachers can not be found, and some of the members are missing out of all the churches; the excitement is intense, and the suspicion settles down like a nightmare on all the people: “The Lord has come at midnight and taken away His Bride, and we have missed the grandest opportunity of our existence.” Preachers are blamed for not giving them due warning. They apologize and beg pardon.
9-11. Peter thinks he is in a trance and sees a vision. Now they pass by the first and second guard and come to the great iron gate that leads out into the city. Peter is soliloquizing:
“Though I have escaped from the prison and passed the guards, what shall I do? It takes twenty men to open the great iron gate leading out of the prison-yard into the city. It is locked; I have no key and could not open it if I had; so, after all, my escape must prove a failure.”
But now he has reached the gate. Behold, it opens of its own accord, and he has nothing to do but walk out. Such is all Christian experience. We see difficulties like mountains impassable. Be courageous, go right on, as if nothing was in the way; rest assured God will take it out; the Pike’s Peak you saw will prove but a fog-bank and evanesce before the Sun of Righteousness. I know a preacher whose terrible conflict in getting sanctified was the thought of meeting his and-holiness presiding elder.
Behold, when he entered the experience and met the elder, he found him awfully convicted and crying to God to sanctify him; so he swept right over Jordan and helped the preacher shout down the walls of Jericho.
12-15. Now they have passed the gate and come to the first street. The angel disappears. Peter diagnoses his environments and locates himself, and goes at once to the house of Mary, where the saints are all praying through the long night for his release, and now utterly incredulous at the report of the enraptured damsel, Rhoda, responsive to Peter’s knocking at the door, and certifying that truly their prayer is answered and their beloved preacher is out of prison and standing at the gate. How frequently are we surprised overwhelmingly at the answer of our own prayers! The incredulous saints respond to the damsel: “Thou art crazy; it is his angel.” The human spirit is not an angel, neither is it ever so called. Hence the conclusion that they thought Peter was dead, and his spirit had appeared, is untenable. We have the simple solution of the problem in the well-known fact that the Jews all believed in guardian angels, and so do I. I do believe they accompany me in my peregrinations over the earth, fortifying me against evil, and even saving my life in the good providence of God. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him and delivereth them.” They were present at creation’s birth, and answered the anthem of the stars which sang together when all the sons of God shouted for joy. The angel of the Lord slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers encamped at Lachish when Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem, thus delivering the city responsive to the prayers of Isaiah and the tears of Hezekiah. The Jews believed that the guardian angel sometimes appeared as a substitute for the person. Hence they thought it was Peter’s guardian angel.
16, 17. When Peter is admitted, he at once takes command of the uproarious crowd, beckoning silence with his hand. He has no time to waste. He must run away and hide from Herod and the soldiers before daylight, or he will be killed. Therefore, commanding silence, he briefly relates his wonderful deliverance by the angel, and says to them: “Proclaim these things to James and the brethren.” Isn’t James dead? Did not Herod cut his head off a few days ago? In Matthew’s apostolical catalogue, Chapter 10, we have two apostles by the name of James, i. e., the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, whom Herod has beheaded; and James, the son of Alphaeus, who, at a later date, suffered martyrdom in Jerusalem by precipitation from a pinnacle of the temple. Neither of these was the James here mentioned; but James, the brother of our Lord, and elder brother of Jude, who are not mentioned among the original twelve, having stood aloof while the world was shaking with conviction of the Messiahship of Jesus, as it is so hard for us to believe on the members of our own family. So these nominal brothers of our Lord, doubtless sons of Joseph by a former marriage, held off until they saw their brother crucified, which doubtless staggered them more than ever. But when they saw Him walk out of the sepulcher and fly up to heaven, every quibble as to His Messiahship took its everlasting flight. With a grand boom they now fall in line, gladly received, appreciated and honored by their predecessors as the nominal brothers of our Lord. Therefore James the elder is complimented with the first pastorate of the Apostolic church at Jerusalem.
18, 19. At day-dawn the soldiers missed Peter, to their infinite consternation, and submit to their awful fate-the merciless penalty of the cruel tyrant-for letting their prisoner escape. Herod has them all hung.
DOOM OF THE TYRANT
20-23. For reasons not here specified, the king was exceedingly mad at the people of Tyre and Sidon, those great mercantile cities on the Mediterranean coasts. He was not allowed to make war on them, because they were all under the Roman Empire. Immediately after the escape of Peter and the execution of the soldiers, fortunately for the saints at Jerusalem lie goes away to Caesarea, where he had a palace and spent a portion of his time. As this city is accessible to Tyre and Sid on by sea, and at no great distance, those people availed themselves of the opportunity to wait on the king in great numbers impleading reconciliation, because they were much dependent on the mercantile patronage of Judea to sustain the financial interests of Tyre and Sidon. They very adroitly manipulate [perhaps by bribery] Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, into their co- operation. While thus progressing with their conciliatory enterprise, the king, somewhat yielding, invested in his royal splendor, delivered an oration to these Tyrians and Sidonians. In their enthusiasm, to flatter his vanity, they loudly applauded him and vociferate: “It is the voice of God, and not man.”
23. “Immediately the angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give the glory to God, and, being eaten with worms, he gave up the ghost.”
Here you see the soul-sleeping heresy, i. e., that you have no soul separate from the body, is unanswerably refuted, as you see the soul of Herod left his body and went away to his account with God. The simple fact is, God turned on this wicked king the awful judgment of black leprosy, the terrible affliction of Job, in which the flesh turns black and immediately rots on the bones, spontaneously generating vermin, which utterly eat up the hopeless victim. Thus God took away that awful scourge, who doubtless would have persisted in killing the apostles and murdering the saints. No wonder the cause of God received a new impetus and prospered.
25. By this time Barnabas and Saul have completed their tour to Jerusalem, bearing benefactions to the poor saints, and returned to Antioch, having brought with them John Mark, the subsequent amanuensis of Mark’s gospel. He was the nephew of Barnabas, (Colossians 4:10), who was very anxious to make him very useful as a minister of the gospel.
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Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 12". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11