1 "Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain
of the church." Put for stretched, Authorized Version; afflict for vex, Authorized
Version. The phrase, About that time, as in ch.19:23, points to what had just before
been related. The interposition of the narrative in this chapter between ch.11:20 and
v. 25 of this chapter, evidently implies that the bulk or rather the chief of the
events narrated happened in the interval. Which of the events was the chief
in the mind of the narrator with reference to his general narrative, and what
are the coincidences which he wished to note, it is not easy to say with
certainty. The narrative in this chapter doubtless overlaps at both ends the
embassy of Paul and Barnabas, but perhaps the object was to show the
harassed state of the Church from famine and persecution at the time that
Paul and Barnabas were at
and Bernice. During the reign of Tiberius he resided at
favor and disgrace, sometimes banished, sometimes a prisoner, sometimes
a guest at the imperial court. He was a great friend of Caius Caesar
Caligula, and, on his succeeding to the empire on the death of Tiberius,
was promoted by him to the tetrarchy of Herod Philip, with the title of
king. He was further advanced three years afterwards to the tetrarchy of
Herod Antipas; and, on the
accession of Claudius to the throne,
kingdom of his grandfather, Herod the Great. Agrippa, in spite of his close
intimacy with Drusus, Caligula, Claudius, and other Roman magnates, was
“exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country, not allowing a
day to pass without its appointed sacrifice;” and he had given proof of his
strong Jewish feeling by interposing his whole influence with Caligula to
prevent his statue being placed in the holy of holies. This spirit accounts for
his enmity against the Church. He was a man of very expensive and
luxurious habits, but not without some great qualities.
2 "And he killed James the brother of John with the sword."
James, the son of Zebedee, or James the Elder, to whom, with
his brother John, our Lord gave the surname of Boanerges (which is a
corruption of בְנֵי דֶגֶשׁ), sons of thunder. Nothing is recorded of him in the
Acts but his presence in the upper room at
(ch. 1:13), and this his martyrdom, which was the fulfillment of our
Lord’s prediction in Matthew 20:23. His being singled out by Herod
for death in company with Peter is rather an indication of his zeal and
activity in the Lord’s service, though we know nothing of his work.
Eusebius relates an anecdote of his martyrdom, extracted from the lost
work of Clement of Alexandria, called the Ὑποτυτώσεις - Hupotutoseis
(or in Latin Adumbrationes), which Clement professed to have received by
tradition from his predecessors, to the effect that the informer who accused
James was so struck with his constancy in confessing Christ before the judge,
that he came forward and confessed himself a Christian too. The two were then
led off to execution together; and on the way the informer asked James’s
forgiveness. After a moment’s hesitation, James said to him, “Peace be
unto thee,” and kissed him. They were then both beheaded (‘Eccl. Hist.,’ 2.
9.). As Clement flourished about A.D. 190, the tradition need not have
passed through more than three persons. It has been thought strange that
Luke relates the death of a chief apostle with such brevity. But it did not
bear on the main object of his work.
3 "And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to
take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)"
When for because, Authorized Version; that it pleased for it pleased,
Authorized Version; proceeded for proceeded further, Authorized Version;
seize for take, Authorized Version; and those for then, Authorized Version.
He proceeded to seize (προσέθετο συλλαβεῖν - prosetheto sullabein - he
proceeded to be apprehending) is a Hebraism. This trait of his pleasing the
Jews is in exact accordance with Josephus’s description of him, as τῷ βιοῦν
ἐν αὐφημίᾳ χαίρων - to bioun en auphaemia chairon - , loving
popularity, and as being very kind and sympathizing with the Jewish
people, and liking to live much at
of unleavened bread; i.e. as expressed by Luke 22:1, “The Feast of
Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover.” It lasted seven days
(Exodus 12:15-20), from the 14th to the 21st of Nisan, or Abib; Leviticus
23:5-6; Deuteronomy 16:1-4), the Passover being eaten on the night of the 14th.
4 "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." Taken for apprehended,
Authorized Version; guard for keep, Authorized Version; the Passover for
Easter, Authorized Version. Four quaternions; i.e. four bands of four
soldiers each, which were on guard in succession through the four watches
of the night — one quaternion for each watch. The Passover. This is a
decided improvement, as the use of the word “Easter” implies that the
Christian feast is here meant. But perhaps "Feast of the Passover” would
have been better, as showing that the whole seven days are intended. This
is, perhaps, the meaning of τὸ πάσχα - to pascha - the Passover - in John 18:28,
and certainly is its meaning here. We have another characteristic trait of the
religion of Agrippa, and of his sympathy with the feelings of the Jews about
the Law, that he would not allow a trial on a capital charge, or an execution,
to take place during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (compare John 18:8). To
bring him forth to the people. Still the same desire uppermost, to
propitiate the people by gifts or shows, or by blood; ἀναγαγεῖν - anagagein -
to be leading up - means exactly “to bring up” (ch. 9:39; Romans 10:7, etc.),
either on to a stage or on some high ground, where all the people could see him
condemned, which would be as good to them as an auto da fé (act of faith) to a
Spanish mob, or a gladiatorial slaughter to a Roman audience (see v. 11).
5 "Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without
ceasing of the church unto God for him." The prison for prison, Authorized
Version; earnestly for without ceasing, Authorized Version. (ἐκτενὴς - ektenaes -
earnest; or as in the Received Text ἐκτενῶς - ektenos - has the sense of intensity
rather than duration; see Luke 22:14, Textus Receptus; I Peter 1:22; 4:8). As the
last of the days of unleavened bread approached, the prayers of the Church would
be more and more intense in their earnestness. We have but to read the preceding
chapters to judge how precious to the Church the life of Peter must have been.
The Church in Prayer (v. 5)
The primitive Church is here found, amid circumstances so full of interest
that they even tempt attention, in prayer for an acknowledged leader, a
prized teacher and pastor and an undoubted apostle. The Church now is
praying to God for one thing, in submission to His will — that Peter may be
spared to it and spared to the world. The essentials of effectual prayer in
the Church cannot differ intrinsically from those in the individual; but they
are strikingly presented to the mind here. Under the one word “prayer,” a
variety of spiritual exercise, as is well known, is continually included, viz.
the outpourings of adoration of the one great Object of prayer, the
according of grateful praise and thanks to Him, the penitential confession of
our sin, and self-humiliation on account of it. But there are very many who
will join in all this, and from the heart believe in it, who yield either no
assent or a heartless assent to what is after all the chief thing in prayer, its
chief wonder and chief privilege, namely, petition. Without studying the
theory, let us notice one striking instance of the practice of prayer. True
theory is never overthrown by fact, but facts often put to rout theory
falsely so called, and expose its weak points. We may observe, then:
OF THE CHURCH.
Ø It was most distinct in its object. The safety of Peter is the one desire of
the heart of all who joined to pray. Individual prayer and private prayer are
very likely to become vague, vague and multifarious, vague and
indiscriminating, vague and inevitably indifferent. Perhaps the tendencies of
public and united prayer are yet more exposed to this snare, for the
o that the thoughts of many hearts must be considered for; and
o that intercession, which must be the memory of many in want, will
generally form a large portion of that prayer.
It is well when heart and mind and devotion follow each of these with
Ø Sincerity of faith marked the Church’s prayer at this crisis. He who
cometh to God in prayer must believe:
o that He is (Hebrews 11:6); but
o none the less that He lends a willing, gracious ear to prayer; in order
o that He may duly, in His own wise time and wise way, answer it, and
do nothing less than answer it.
Prayer with the mock humility of a timid fear that it is presumptuous to pray, never brought a blessing. The heart’s glory in prayer is, if (with George
Herbert) it “gasp out,” Et vult et potest, of God as the Object and the
Hearer of prayer.
Ø Great earnestness in petition was displayed by the Church. The heart’s
desire and prayer to God on the part of those composing it was for the
saving of Peter’s life. Herod is known to be full of cruelty. He has just
“killed with the sword James the brother of John.” And he is known to be
goaded on by that worst sting, the sting of “desiring to please” certain
fellow-creatures. There is only One with whom we are safe, and always
safe, in wishing and aiming to please Him. Far enough off from Herod’s
eye and thought was that One. He was torn, and therefore in turn cruelly
and guiltily tore others, by a vain, weak, contemptible desire for a moment
to “please the Jews.” The Church did not cower but did pray accordingly,
prayed with earnestness.
Ø Patience marked this great instance of prayer. It was, nevertheless, not
the patience of silence, but of speech; it was not the patience of sitting
down with folded hands, but of kneeling down with clasped hands; it was
the patience of importunity, that very characteristic to which Jesus Himself
in the days of His flesh gave such prominence and such conspicuous honor
WAS AN AGE OF MIRACLE, AND OF ABOUNDING MIRACLE.
Ø However conspicuously God does the work, and the Word of Christ is
strong, and the Holy Spirit’s energy is essential and must be conferral,
nothing is diminished of the act of prayer (if we may for a moment so call
it) in all this history. Men pray, pray constantly, pray even before miracle,
and prayer is an actual deed honored of Heaven. It has been truly said that
a correct alias for the Acts of the Apostles would be “The Acts of the
Holy Ghost,” and this is most true. Another not altogether inapt style of
the book might be “The Acts of Prayer.” For here they abound and in the
most significant situation, from those of the first chapter (1:14, 24) to that
of the last (28:8).
Ø The distinctness and promptness of reply to prayer, which miracles
wrought made occasionally very evident, even had the tendency to increase
faith in prayer. Men would not lie by and do nothing when they
remembered how only yesterday God graciously and marvelously
interposed undeniably for even eye of sense. Yet the lesson that the
temporary dispensation of miracle should have taught the Church for
evermore, when miracle of sense was gone is, alas! often lost now. Need
the thing signified be lost and wastefully sacrificed because the mere
outside sign is gone? It is all our own fault if we do not oftener see for
ourselves the fulfillment of the word of Jesus, “Ye shall see greater things
than these.” (John 1:50) It is undeniable that one spiritual miracle, e.g., that
of the conversion of Saul, counted for more, counts still for more, will ever
count for more, than all the miracles wrought upon the body, that ever were.
Let the Church’s prayer today oftener challenge some spiritual miracle, and
who will doubt the issue?
gathered from this subject.
Ø That the very heart of prayer lies in petition. Petition may be considered
as the crucial question which prayer involves, and the crowning privilege
of it. The petition of the sinner for:
o pardon, and
being ever to be ranked as the typical petition.
Ø That it may be placed among the moral defenses of prayer, that the
qualities which make it real, which make it strong, which make it a
convincing and mighty power, are just the same with those which make
work real, strong, and full of fruit. Distinctness of object, sincerity of faith
in your practical object, earnestness in the pursuit of it, and patient,
persevering determination are the qualities that win the day. And they do
so by the verdict of the world. It is an indication that prayer and work have
known one another this long time, and, so far from disclaiming a family
relationship, persistently assert it. They are the union of the Divine and
The Power of United Prayer (v. 5)
This subject is not here to be treated in its more general bearings, only so
far as it finds illustration in the circumstances connected with the text, and
in the sentence, “Prayer was made earnestly of the Church unto God for
him;” i.e. for imprisoned Peter. The persecution of the early Christians
arose from distinctly different causes; and the narrative associated with this
text introduces a distinctly new kind of persecution. Previously the
Sanhedrin, as the central authority among the Jews in all matters of
religious doctrine and discipline, had endeavored to crush the young, and
to their view mischievous, sect. Now Herod, as the representative of the
state, endeavored to destroy the party by aiming directly at its leaders; and
this he did for what we may cite “diplomatic” reasons. It may be well to
notice that the Herod introduced here was
Aristobulus, and grandson of Herod the Great; and that the events
occurred about A.D. 41. According to Josephus, Agrippa desired to be
thought a devout Jew, and so would easily be excited to persecute the
Christian party, when he found that this would ensure for him the
confidence of the leading Jews. With Herod’s scheme for striking down the
chief teachers, compare Diocletian’s subsequent scheme for finding and
burning the Christian books. Neither scheme was allowed to succeed.
Another point of importance in introducing the subject is the recognized
position of leadership which Peter had evidently gained. James, as
one of the three specially favored disciples, may have been equally
prominent. Of John we learn very little during the first period of the
early Church history. James’s sudden removal left Peter the
recognized head of the Christian sect. It appears that only the intervention
of the feast-time (humanly speaking), preserved Peter from the sudden
fate which overtook James. The delay, during which Peter was in
prison, gave opportunity for human intercessions and Divine intervention.
Some may serve God in a yielded life, others by being made the subjects of
Divine rescuing and deliverances. The first thing to be noticed in the
thoroughly overborne by the suddenness, activity, and vigor of this new
persecution. They could do nothing. James was gone; Peter was in
prison. They did not know where the next blow would fall. They could not
open the prison doors. They were paralyzed. And so it often is with us in
life. We incline to say like Jacob, “All these things are against me.”
(Genesis 42:36) Our way seems to be blocked in all directions, as truly
as was the way of the fleeing
Israelites when the
them, the mountains hemmed them in, and a raging foe pressed on their rear.
At times in our lives we are compelled to feel that we can do nothing; and the experience is a great testing of patience, faith, and feeling. Compare David, convinced that circumstances were hopelessly against him, and despairingly saying, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.” (I Samuel 27:1)
to us. It is our last possibility, and it is our best.
Ø It is important that we realize fully that our God can control all
circumstances. Nothing is too hard for Him. (Jeremiah 32:17) He may not always show His mastery by miracle, but He can always prove His mastery by His providences. It is our belief that over all laws, relations, and orderings of
events our living God presides, never loosing His hands or failing to guide
all so as to fit into and, either quickly or slowly, work out His gracious
Ø We must realize that to know the power of our God may not suffice; we
must personally inquire of Him, commend our case to His care, and submit
ourselves to His leadings. For all the arrangements of our circumstances, as
well as for all supplies of grace, “He will be inquired of by the house of
o we may pray;
o we must pray,
God would have us “cast our care on Him.” (I Peter 5:7) So the disciples
were doing the best thing possible, altogether the most hopeful thing, when
they “prayed earnestly” for the imprisoned Peter.
CIRCUMSTANCES. It has pleased God to give special assurances to
those who unite in prayer. God responds to the faith and fervor of the
individual seeker; but in all matters of general interest, in everything
bearing, upon the well-being and progress of His Church, God wants us to
blend together in our supplications. “If two of you shall agree on earth as
touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my
Father.” (Matthew 18:19) By this requirement God:
Ø Checks the tendency to isolation and to distinction of interests among
His people, binding them ever closer together in the expression of their
Ø Assures earnestness and fervor of feeling, as one devout soul inspires
Ø Prepares the way for His answer by ensuring a state of mind fitted to
receive the answer, and make it a blessing indeed.
Ø Is enabled to respond by ordering the circumstances of His providence so
as to secure the general good of many rather than the particular desires of
one. It may be shown, in conclusion, how a common point of interest or a
common trouble may serve to bring many souls together in a blessed
UNITY OF PRAYER!
6 "And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was
sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before
the door kept the prison." Was about to bring for would have brought, Authorized
Version; guards for the keepers, Authorized Version. What a picture we have here!
The dungeon; the double chain fastening the prisoner to two soldiers; the other
two soldiers of the quaternion keeping watch at the first and second ward, or station;
the iron gate securely fastened; the population of the great city expecting with the
morning light to be gratified with the blood of the victim of their bigotry;
the king having made his arrangements for the imposing spectacle which
was to ingratiate him with his people and obtain the applause he so dearly
loved; and then the servant of Jesus Christ sleeping calmly under the
shadow of God’s wings; and, a little way off, the Church keeping her
solemn watch and pouring forth her intensest prayers through the silence of
the night! And the issue, the triumph of the few and the weak over all the
power of the many and the strong.
7 "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."
An angel for the angel, Authorized Version (see note on ch. 5:19); stood
by him for came upon him, Authorized Version (compare Luke 2:9); cell for
prison, Authorized Version; awoke him for raised him up, Authorized Version
(ἤγειρεν αὐτὸν - aegeiren auton - he rouses); rise for arise, Authorized Version.
Cell. The word οἴκημα - oikaema - room - a dwelling, was used by the Athenians
as an euphemism for a prison. It only occurs here in the New Testament, though
it is a common Greek word. His chains fell off from his hands, showing
that each hand had been chained to a soldier. The loosening of the chains
would enable him to rise without necessarily awakening the soldiers to
whom he was fastened, and who would feel no difference in the chain
which was attached to them.
8 "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." He did so for so he did, Authorized Version. Thy garment
(ἱμάτιον - himation - cloak); especially the outer garment, which was worn over
the χιτὼν - chiton - tunic (see Matthew 9:20-21; 14:36; 23:5, etc.). The girding,
therefore, applied to the inner garments, and περιβαλοῦ - periblou - be you
throwing about - to the cloak which went over them.
9 "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."
Followed for followed him, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus;
he wist for wist, Authorized Version.
10 "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." And when for when, Authorized
Version; into for unto, Authorized Version; its for his, Authorized Version;
straightway for forthwith, Authorized Version. The first and the second ward.
The φυλακή - phulakae - jail - here rendered “ward,” may mean either the station
where the guard was posted or the guard itself. One street; ῤυμήν - rumaen - street,
as in ch. 9:11, note. Departed; ἀπέστη - apestae - withdrew - in contrast to ἐπέστη -
epestae - rendered “stood by” in v. 7.
Miraculous Deliverances (vs. 7-10)
The series of miracles wrought by our Lord during His ministry, and the
miracles associated with the history and work of His apostles, require to be
very carefully compared. Sometimes miracles were wrought by the apostles
as agents, and sometimes for them as teachers whose ministry it was
important to preserve. And yet, when God would secure the deliverance of
His imperiled servants, He did not always employ miraculous agencies. Paul
and Silas were imprisoned at
means; an earthquake proved effective to the loosening of their bonds, and
the jolting open of the prison doors. There must have been some special
reasons for the miraculous form in which Peter’s deliverance was
effected. Two things require attention, as introductory to this subject.
1. The nature of New Testament miracles, and their particular mission to
the age in which they were wrought.
2. The ideas of angelic ministry which had passed over to the apostles from
Judaic associations. The intervention of angels had occurred again and
again in the earlier history, and such an event as Peter’s rescue would
not start doubts in a Jewish mind. God’s revelations to men, “in sundry
ways and in divers manners” (Hebrews 1:1), were better apprehended by
Jews then than by Christians now. From this incident we may be led to consider:
an historical review of Divine interventions, with some classification of
their character and of the circumstances under which the miracles were
wrought. It will be found that there are cases in which:
Ø natural agencies sufficed, under the ordering of Divine providence, to
remove the difficulty;
Ø miraculous intervention did not come when we might reasonably have expected;
Ø miraculous agencies were used when we did not expect them. These
points may be illustrated to show that the employment of the miraculous
o a matter of Divine sovereignty, and never offered in response to any compulsion of man or of circumstances; and
o that it is therefore still a Divine reserve, and we dare not affirm that the age of miracles is past, because the employment of them is to be regarded as entirely dependent on the Divine judgment and will; and as that will acts upon considerations of the higher and spiritual well-being of man, it may quite conceivably be that in some of man’s moral states the miraculous may be the most efficient moral force.
It is true that miracles may not be wisely employed in a characteristically scientific age such as ours may be called; but the scientific is only a passing feature, and from it there may conceivably come a rebound to a characteristically imaginative, or as some might call it superstitious, age, to which miracle might again make efficient appeal.
The incident of St. Peter’s release is a peculiar case of employment of the
miraculous — peculiar in that:
(1) it differs materially from all the other apostolic miracles; and
(2) in that it carries the style of Old Testament miracles over into the New,
and is to be classed with the deliverance of the three Hebrew youths from
the furnace, and of Daniel from the lions.
striking than the uses. In the case of our Lord’s miracles the general
principle of the limitation is indicated. Miracles He never wrought for the
supply of His own needs, only for the exertion of a gracious moral influence
on others. These two limitations may be illustrated.
Ø A miracle is never wrought unless it can be made the enforcement or
illustration of some moral truth.
Ø A miracle is never wrought unless those in whose behalf it is wrought
are in a duly receptive state of mind and feeling, and so can be benefited by
the miracle. It does not affect this principle of limitation that some of those
who are related to a miracle may be rather hardened by it than taught and
blessed. Peter was not miraculously delivered for his own sake, but for
the sake of the confidence which the praying Church might gain from such
a proof of THE DIVINE DEFENSE AND CARE!
Ø To the particular occasion.
Ø To the tone and sentiment of the age.
Ø To the Divine dispensation, with which it has to be in harmony.
Ø To the precise underlying purpose for the sake of which it is wrought.
On these principles we may even discern miraculous workings in these our
times, though they take forms of adaptation to our thought anD
associations, and are not after the precise Old Testament or New
Testament patterns. We look for direct Divine agencies in the moral and
spiritual rather than in the physical and material world.
can be used as evidence or proof needs to be carefully considered. Wiser
men only use miracles as auxiliary evidence of the truth of Christianity.
And for this use the character of the miracle rather than the power in the
miracle are of chief importance. In connection with our text we find one
result on which it may be profitable to dwell in conclusion. The Divine
rescue of Peter brought to the praying and persecuted Church a sense
of GOD’S PROTECTIVE PRESENCE! So suddenly had persecution burst upon them, so over-whelming did it seem, that they were for the moment
paralyzed with fear — just as the servant of Elisha was when the Syrian
army surrounded the house (II Kings 6) and nothing could so immediately
and efficiently recall them to calmness and trust as this wonderful rescue of
Peter, convincing them, as it did, how tenderly near to them was their
living and almighty Lord. Such a moral result will in every age suffice to
explain a Divine miraculous revelation or intervention.
11 "And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety,
that the LORD hath sent His angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand
of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews."
Truth for surety, Authorized Version; sent forth for sent, Authorized Version;
delivered for hath delivered, Authorized Version. Peter’s recognition of the Lord’s
hand in sending His angel is exactly echoed in the Collect for Michaelmas Day,
“Grant that as thy holy angels always do thee service in heaven, so by thy
appointment they may succor and defend us on earth.”
12 "And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of
Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many
were gathered together praying." And were praying for praying, Authorized
Version. When he had considered; better, when he perceived it, viz. the
truth of his deliverance. Mary the mother of John was aunt to Barnabas
(Colossians 4:10). If Paul and Barnabas were not in her house at the
time (which there is no evidence that they were), it is likely that all the
particulars of Peter’s escape may have been communicated to Paul by John
Mark, and by him repeated to Luke. That they went to the house of Mary
before their return seems certain from their taking Mark with them to
13 "And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to
hearken, named Rhoda." When he for as Peter, Authorized Version and
Textus Receptus; maid for damsel, Authorized Version; to answer for to
hearken, Authorized Version (ὑπακοῦσαι - hupakousai - to obey). The door of
the gate (see ch. 10:17, note). To hearken or listen seems the best rendering. It is
the phrase proper to a doorkeeper, whoso business it is to go to the door
and listen when any one knocks, and find out what their business is before
opening the door. This is the primary sense of the word; that of answering
after listening is a secondary sense. At a time of such alarm to Christians a
knock at the door in the dead of the night would carry terror with it, and
careful listening to ascertain whether there was more than one person, and
then to ask who was there and what was his business, was the natural course.
14 "And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for
gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate."
Joy for gladness, Authorized Version; that for how, Authorized Version.
When she knew Peter’s voice. This evidence of Peter’s intimacy with the
family of Mary is in remarkable agreement with I Peter 5:13, “Greet Marcus
15 "And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed
that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel." Confidently for constantly,
Authorized Version (for the same use of διι'σχυρίζομαι - diischurizomai - she
stoutly insisted - see Luke 22:59); and they said for then said they,
Authorized Version. It is his angel; meaning probably his guardian angel
(Matthew 18:10). But the expression is obscure, and we do not know exactly the
nature of the belief on which it was grounded. They must have thought that
perhaps Peter had been put to death in prison that very night, and that his
angel, speaking with his voice, was sent to announce it to the Church. The
narrative is a striking instance how “slow of heart to believe” are even the
most devout. They were praying very earnestly for Peter’s life; their prayer
was granted; and yet the announcement of it only draws out the answer,
“Thou art mad!” and then, as an alternative, the explanation, “It is his angel!”
Testimony Versus Reasoning (v. 15)
The subject is suggested by the persistence of Rhoda and the incredulity of
the disciples. Upon the evidence of her senses Rhoda constantly affirmed
that it was Peter who stood at the gate. The disciples vigorously argued
that it could not be he, and tried to reason away her testimony, Peter
was in prison, and it was simply impossible that he could be knocking at
the gate. So much is made in our time of the demand for facts and evidence
and verification of all statements, and it is so often assumed that reasoning
can destroy testimony, or that testimony, as we have it on the Christian
theme, is insufficient to support our elaborate reasoning, that the
trustworthiness of each, and the relations in which each stands to the other,
may be profitably considered.
media for our communication with the outer world, and they are both the
first and constant sources of our knowledge. We learn to trust them. We
readily receive the testimony of others as to what they have seen and heard,
and, with limitations, as to what they have felt. There is, then:
Ø knowledge received directly upon the testimony of our own senses; and
Ø knowledge received indirectly upon the testimony of others who tell us
what they know through the senses. And as the sphere directly open to
each one of us is very limited, we are very largely dependent for our
knowledge on the testimony of others, upon such witness of personal
knowledge as Rhoda gave. In the matters of the Christian religion we are
wholly dependent on this indirect witness of the senses. What the apostles
themselves saw, and tasted, and handled, and felt of the Word of life, that
they declare unto us. (I John 1:1) The four Gospels come to us as the
testimony of the senses of men who looked on Christ, lived with Him,
listened to Him, and knew Him in the intimacy of a close and dear friendship. We cannot too constantly or too earnestly urge that Christianity rests upon a
basis of sensible facts, and that of them we have the testimony directly from
the very persons who witnessed them. Therefore, though all the world may
please to declare that we are mad, as the disciples said that Rhoda was, we
too shall constantly affirm that it is even so as we have testified. No facts
of human history can be received by us save on principles which compel us
also to receive the facts of our Redeemer’s life and death.
should be fully admitted. It is uncertain, because:
Ø our senses may be untrained and so unfit to receive impressions; or
Ø diseased, and so likely to receive distorted impressions; or
Ø the subjects with which they are concerned may be altogether new to
us, and we may thus be unprepared duly to correct impression. Still, so far
as the bare facts are concerned, the uncertainty is not such as to prove a
practical disability. In the range of fact men are found generally to agree.
the case of the disciples who reasoned against Rhoda. The uncertainty
comes out of:
Ø Prejudice and bias (see the idola of Bacon).
Ø Insufficient facts; some of the worst reasoning is explained by
incomplete knowledge of the facts on which the reasoning is based.
Ø False methods (see the fallacies explained in books on logic).
· THE TRUTH MAY BE REACHED BY WISE REASONING UPON
SUFFICIENT TESTIMONY. To receive testimony alone may be mere
credulity. To receive upon argument alone may be to yield to mere human
force, to the power of superior intellect. But with due inquiry into basisf acts,
and careful reasoning upon the facts, we may arrive at satisfying
apprehensions of the truth. Apply to the acceptance of Christianity, with its
difficulty of the miraculous. The four Gospels are a fourfold testimony to
the great Christian facts. We must build our reasoning on the facts; just as
those disciples should have received Rhoda’s fact, and followed it up with
their reasoning, and not made their reasoning oppose the facts.
16 "But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door,
and saw him, they were astonished." Opened for opened the door, Authorized
Version; they… and for and… they, Authorized Version; amazed for astonished,
Authorized Version (see ch. 8:9, note).
17 "But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace,
declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the
prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the
brethren. And he departed, and went into another place."
Brought him forth for brought him, Authorized Version; tell for go show,
Authorized Version; to for into, Authorized Version. Beckoning, etc.;
κατασείσας ……τῇ χειρὶ - kataseisas tae cheiri - gesturing…with the hand
(see ch. 13:16; 19:33; 21:40). It is the action of one having something to
say and bespeaking silence while he says it. Unto James. This, of course,
is the same James as is mentioned in Galatians 1:19 as “the Lord’s
brother,” and who, in ibid. ch. 2:9, 12, and ch.15:13 and 21:18,
as well as here, appears as occupying a peculiar place in the Church at
Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius (‘Eccl. Hist.,’ 2:23), “James the Lord’s
brother, called by universal consent the Just, received the government of
the Church together with the apostles;” and in ch. 2:1 he quotes
and John selected James the Just, the Lord’s brother, to be the first Bishop
that James the Just, the Lord’s brother, was the first who sat on the
episcopal throne of
controverted. The three hypotheses are:
1. That he was the son of Alphaeus or Clopas and Mary, sister to the
blessed Virgin, and therefore our Lord’s first-cousin, and called his
brother by a common Hebrew idiom. According to this theory he was one
of the twelve (Luke 6:15), as he appears to be in Galatians 1:19,
though this is not certain.
2. That he was the son of Joseph by his first wife, and so stepbrother to the
Lord, which is Eusebius’s explanation (‘Eccl. Hist.,’ 2:1).
3. That he was in the full sense the Lord’s brother, being the son of Joseph
and Mary. This is the opinion of Alford (in lee.), fully argued in the
‘Proleg. to the Epistle of James,’ and of Meyer, Credner, and many
German commentators. According to these two last hypotheses, he was
not one of the twelve. “The apostolic constitutions distinguish between
James the son of Alphaeus, the apostle, and James the brother of the Lord,
ὁ ἐπίσκοπος - ho episkopos - bishop; overseer ” (Meyer). It may be added that
ch. 1:14 separates the brethren of the Lord from the apostles, who are enumerated
in the preceding verses. The hypothesis which identifies James the Lord’s brother
with James the son of Alphaeus or Clopas and Mary is well argued in
Smith’s ‘Dictionary of the Bible,’ art. “James” (see also the able
Introduction to the Epistle of James in the ‘Speaker’s Commentary’). It
seems impossible to come to a certain conclusion. The weakest point in the
hypothesis which identifies James the Lord’s brother with the son of
Alphaeus is that it fails to account for the distinction clearly made between
the Lord’s brothers and the apostles in such passages as ch. 1:13; John 2:12;
7:3, 5, 10; Matthew 12:46, 49; I Corinthians 9:5. For the effect of these passages
is scarcely neutralized by Galatians 1:19. But then, on the other hand, the
hypothesis that the Lord’s brethren, including James and Joses, were the children
of Joseph and Mary, seems to be flatly contradicted by the mention of Mary the
wife of Clopas as being “the mother of James and John” (Mark 15:40; John 19:25).
He went to another place. Whether Luke was not informed what the place was, or
whether there was some reason why he did not mention it, we cannot tell.
The Venerable Bode (‘Prolog. in Expos. in Act. Apost.’), Baronius, and
other authorities of the Church of Rome, say he went to
commenced his episcopate of
more probable that he went to
289). Some guess
One Instance of the Manner of Divine Working (vs. 6-17)
When we read the “mighty works” of Jesus or of those commissioned by
Him, whether apostles or angels, it is an easy thing to permit our attention
to be diverted from anything else contained in them, under the influence of
the fascination of the power which they display. For this very thing is often
done, and the moral quality: the moral beauty, and even the moral
imitableness of what we call the miracle, is ignored. The loss is as
gratuitous as it is wasteful, nor is it free from an element of perverseness,
when it exhibits us stricken by the wonder of the power we cannot,
negligent of the grace we might, learn, Meantime the various character and
aspect of the miracles recorded in Scripture are neither less astonishing nor
less pleasing than the various color and hue and fragrance of the flowers of
the garden. The impression may be described as a whole as the charm
latent, or sometimes less latent than evident, in the Divine working. To
contemplate this must ever add to our sense of Divine gracefulness, may in
some degree improve our own approach to it and growth in it. Let us in
this sense consider the Divine interposition here recorded. For whatever
reason, it is mercifully resolved on. Prayer unceasing has brought help. The
Divine wisdom has determined the trenchant and decisive character of the
help. And in humbled yet grateful and joyous feeling nevertheless, we may
note the contrasts suggested by the Divine work and too much of our own.
DIVINE WORK. (V. 7.) “Clouds and darkness are round about” God
Himself, His incomprehensible character, His hidden purposes, His sovereign
will. This is very true. But when He comes to work distinctly for men and
among them, His footsteps are not in the stealthy dark. The angel comes in
light, and the prison is lighted up, whoever is awake to see and whoever
has eyes to see.
angel brings all necessary instruction; does all that could be needful, or
helpful; condescends to the meanest instructions. He strikes Peter so as to
awake him; he gives him a hand; he tells him to be quiet; he snaps the
chains off his hands; he bids him dress and put on his shoes, and throw his
garment about him, and follow whither he would lead. All the work is
known and facile, and orderly and swift, without grating or a jar, and to
such a degree that the very subject of it can think it is a vision and dream of
an unbroken sleep.
murmuringly and impatiently may chide what seems its lingering, halting
step, when it comes how grateful its advent! how true to exact need and to
the nick of occasion! How simple in its helpfulness and real in its
usefulness! There is so little sound of profession about it, but all is deed.
HUMAN WORKING. The interposition that is most marked for its
superhuman element does not hold itself in lofty and haughty isolation, but
begins from some human suggestion, and leaves just as though it put the
rest trustingly into man’s hand again. The angel did all that was needful to
get Peter outside the prison, and passed with him safely the first ward and
the second ward, and through the iron gate that knew the step of its master
and opened of its own accord, and “through one street,” and then
departed. And Peter sees after that for himself, and understands and carries
on the work, showing himself to many praying friends (v. 12), sending
express word to “James and the brethren” (v. 17), and putting himself
beyond present danger, as one more mindful of Divine protection and
goodness than rashly courting danger and notoriety.
the rescued Peter himself to the delighted damsel Rhoda, to the party of the
pious praying at the house of her of the auspicious name, Mary, to the
fellow-apostle James and to the brethren, the tones of gladsome surprise
die down, only to wake and revive again and again. The echoes of human
sorrows, sighs, wails, are not, after all, the only echoes heard in this world.
These others ring through the circles of the earth’s air and the heaven’s
with lighter, merrier bound, and fail not to give some forewarning of the
endless echoes of “gladness and joy and singing” that shall be ere long.
HUMAN OPPOSITION. Many an earthly conflict, settled with all the
wisdom and devotion that human mind and heart can bring to hear, seems
still left an unsettled conflict. The wound is not certainly healed up; the
difference is not absolutely removed; the victory is not really satisfactory.
But how is it when God interposes? How is it when Jesus speaks, whether
to wind and sea or to saint or sinner? How is it when the Spirit comes upon
the scene into the heart? And this was well illustrated now. Where now are
the prison, and the chains, and the soldiers, and the keepers? And where is
the guilty temporizer himself, Herod? They none of them can bear the light
of that next morning. They cannot “abide the day of His coming.” (Malachi
3:2) After no “small stir,” the soldiers lose
rank, the keepers lose life, Herod abundantly loses dignity, and “goes
down from Judaea to
and confirmed, “Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel,
and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the
expectation of the people of the Jews.” Who so safe, who so blessed as
those “delivered” by the Lord from their foes and His, and kept thenceforth
in His sure place and the secret hiding-place of His pavilion? (Psalm 27:5)
"18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers,
what was become of Peter. 19 And when Herod had sought for him, and
found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should
be put to death.
And he went down from Judaea to
abode." Guards for keepers, Authorized Version; tarried there for there abode,
Herodian Persecution of the Church (vs. 1-19)
There is a connection of events showing the working of Divine providence. After
Stephen’s murder, Caligula persecuted the Jews; hence the diversion of
their enmity coincident with conversion of Saul. On the accession of Claudius,
there was a time of comparative peace. The appointment of Herod Agrippa
renewed the Jews hopes; hence their attempt to crush the Church. The contrast
between the Jews and the Christians is seen at this point. They put
themselves in the hands of Agrippa, appointed successor to Herod Philip,
with the whole Syrian province under him, by their persecutor Caligula,
and lately under Claudius, receiving Judaea and
equal in power to his grandfather, Herod the Great. He was a shameless
blasphemer, and feared neither God nor man. Yet the Jewish rulers, in their
exasperation, incited him against the Christians. The simplicity of the
narrative testifies to the simplicity and sincerity of the disciples. The second
martyrdom (James) has only a single line given to it. But how eloquent the silence!
The position of Peter was a more prominent one. Herod’s wickedness
became bolder. He aimed a blow at the very leader of the Church. Contrast
the two histories of James and John — one so early cut off, the other
surviving to the end of the century. The narrative illustrates:
CALMNESS IN TIME OF TRIAL. Peter slept.
THE KINGDOM OF THIS WORLD.
Ø The ease of Divine victory.
Ø The peaceful brotherhood over against the cruel tyranny of Herod.
Ø The manifestation of the Spirit contrasted with the vain show of power
and display of authority. The
withdrawal of Herod to
a sign of defeat.
20 "And Herod was highly displeased with them of
they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the
king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country
was nourished by the king’s country." Now he for and Herod, Authorized
Version and Textus Receptus; and for but, Authorized Version; they
asked for for desired, Authorized Version; fed from for nourished by,
Authorized Version. Highly displeased (θυμομαχῶν - thumomachon -
in fighting fury); only here in the New Testament, but used by
Polybius, as well as the kindred word ψυχομαχεῖν - psuchomachein -
in the sense of having a hostile spirit against any one, maintaining a strong
resentment. It describes a state of feeling which may exist before war,
during war, and after war when only a hollow peace has been made.
supremacy. The occasion of Herod’s displeasure is not known. Chamberlain;
literally, the officer over his bedchamber — his chief groom of the chambers —
an office which would give him easy access to the king’s private ear. Was
fed. This commerce, by which
wheat in return for timber, was as old as the time of Solomon at least
(I Kings 5:9, 11); see too Ezekiel 27:17, and the decree of Caligula, in
which he speaks of the large exportation of corn to
21 "And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his
throne, and made an oration unto them." Arrayed himself for arrayed,
Authorized Version; and sat for sat, Authorized Version and
Textus Receptus; on the throne for upon his throne, Authorized Version.
On the throne. βήματος - baematos - throne; platform -= does not mean
“the king’s throne,” and is nowhere so rendered in the Authorized Version but
here. It means any raised stage or platform upon which a judge, or an
orator, or any one wishing to address an assembly, stands. Here it means a
high platform in the theatre at
above the rest of the audience, could both see the games and make his
speech to the people.
22 "And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a God, and
not of a man." Shouted for gave a shout, Authorized Version; the voice
for it is the voice, Authorized Version.
23 "And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave
not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost."
An angel for the angel, Authorized Version. (ch. 5:19, note).
Human Pride and Divine Retribution (vs. 20-23)
The main lesson which this incident conveys is the folly of human presumption.
But there are side truths which the narrative suggests:
1. The interdependence of one nation on another: “Their country was
nourished by the king’s country” (v. 20). One land has metals in
abundance; another has corn; another, cotton; another, timber, etc. It was
clearly the intention of the Father of all that all peoples should live in close
friendship and constant interaction with one another. Yet the heathen idea
was that the natural relation between neighboring nations was war. The
motto of Christianity is “Peace;” its spirit is that of brotherhood; its counsel
and fruit are active interchange of services and resources.
2. The evil of
autocracy: “Herod was highly displeased with
and which he was determined to avenge. All responsibility rested with him,
and the caprice or resentment of one single soul would have been sufficient
to plunge the thousands of
— into terror and distress. We may unite to thank God that the sword is
being taken out of the hand of the autocrat.
3. The drawbacks to human greatness. Herod Agrippa was a man in a very
fine position, and he was no doubt envied by thousands of his subjects;
doubtless he often congratulated himself on the success of his subtlety. Yet
found their way into the treasury of Blastus before that chamberlain spoke
honeyed words of peace in Herod’s ear (v. 20);
constantly engaged in weighing words and distinguishing the false from the
sincere, or else he must have been continually deceived. But to read the
lesson of the text we turn to:
The scene which is briefly sketched in v. 21. It may seem incredible to those who move in humble spheres that a mortal man could ever be so inflated with a sense of his own greatness as to accept Divine honors when they were offered. History, however, fully proves that arrogance may rise even as high as this;
Ø “The spirit of self-exaggeration,”
Ø “the insolent exaltation of himself,”
with which Channing charges Napoleon Bonaparte, is a spirit which has been exemplified in every age and nation in greater or less degree. The acquisition of honor does not satisfy but only inflames ambition, and from height to height it rises until, leaving far behind it merely unwarrantable hope, it reaches shameful
arrogance and even, as here, a horrible impiety.
Sometimes, as here, in terrible torture. It is noticeable that some of the
worst persecutors of their race have come to a frightful end at death:
witness, Herod the Great; this man, his grandson; Antiochus Epiphanes;
Philip II of
God “will not give His glory to another.” (Isaiah 42:8) Pride must perish, and great must be its fall. From its high pedestal it topples down. No angel-hand is needed to secure the overthrow; its foundations are certain to be undermined,
and the god who was at the summit lies, a broken and shattered idol, at the base.
wonder at the delays of providence and speak of:
“Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong for ever on the throne,”
Wait! God will reveal Himself in righteousness.
Ø Go into the sanctuary (Psalm 73:17);
Ø look back on the page of history, and
Ø understand their end; and
Ø see what “the end of the Lord” He is:
o “very pitiful,” and
o “of tender mercy!” (James 5:11)
Wait a while, and the enthroned king, enrobed in tissued silver, receiving the acclamations of the people, accepting their ascriptions of deity — behold:
Ø he lies writhing in awful agony;
Ø he passes away;
Ø he is dust of the ground.
And that despised sect, smitten, suffering, degraded — behold:
Ø it rises to honor,
Ø to power,
Ø to influence;
Ø it will be enthroned on the intelligence and conscience of
Herod Agrippa gave up the ghost, “but the Word of God grew
and multiplied” (v. 24).
Hollow Grandeur Exposed (vs. 21-23)
There is no doubt that the time of our Savior and the apostles was a time
which witnessed some of the worst, the lowest, and the most malign forms
of bodily disease. Similarly the time owned to some of the most monstrous
types of moral deformity. The same chapter that tells us of the kindly, pitiful,
“very present help in time of trouble” that the innocent and God-fearing
Peter found, records, as if for telling contrast’s sake, the judgment
that was divinely aimed at Herod, “suddenly and without remedy” visited
on one who now had filled up the measure of his iniquities. A triple type of:
o vain-glory, and
is here before us. It is, however, more particularly the crowning and at the
same time killing point of a godless career WHICH NOW DEMANDS
Ø It is a reception given by Herod. He wields great power; he is conscious
of it. It is no moral power. It is the result of no intellectual force; of no
lofty character; of no social attractiveness; of no love to be kind,
courteous, helpful in smoothing the ruggedness and softening the hardness
of daily life and work. He is on no sort of level whatsoever with those whom
he is pleased to allow to swell his vanity and feed the bad fires of his heart.
Ø It is a reception given to a large number of those who were for the
moment in the position, not of mere subjects, but of abject dependents on
Herod. They had already felt his “high displeasure.” Because of it they
feared for their very bread. More ignorant than he, and driven by the
supreme motives of desire of livelihood and business, they have already
succumbed, bribing probably Herod’s chamberlain, and crouching in their
approach to make representations to himself. Yes; they were driven by
motive the pinch of which be had never been likely to know.
Ø It was a reception which was to be a token of reconciliation; but a
reconciliation founded on the entire yielding of the one part and the
undisputed victory of the other. That victory was certainly the victory of
might, and with every probability the victory of might over right. There
had been no genuine compromise, no giving and taking, no kindly
considerateness for aggrieved feeling and “wounded spirit.” Therefore the
grand reception was all to the honor and glory of one called Herod
Agrippa the First.
page of history. And that loss we may without hesitation count gain. It
spares pain to others, and spares something of distinctness of outline to the
shame and disgrace attaching to Herod. The circumstances, however, suit
nothing else than what shall profess and purport to be a grand speech. The
“day” is fixed; there is nothing of an impromptu character about the
occasion. The “royal apparel” is brought into requisition; the eyes of many
beholders shall flash in the reflection of gold and color, to learn a vulgar
wonder and to improve in the commonest covetousness. And the “throne”
is set and mounted. None can doubt of what sort the “oration” that
followed. It is magniloquence. It is condescendingness. It is self-glorification.
It is (on approaching the subject which brought the embassy)
sham magnanimity. And under cover of this is a manifesto of take all or the
utmost possible, give nothing or the least conceivable. The grandeur of the
oration was the grandeur of hollow brass. How much grand speech differs
Ø simple, truthful speech;
Ø speech the unmixed object of which is usefulness;
Ø kindly and sympathetic speech;
Ø speech of unaffected gracefulness and beauty!
the very ministry of satisfaction itself — satisfaction in its most exigent
degree, self-satisfaction. Supreme vanity must love a shout rather than
articulate language for obvious reasons. The vague looms larger, goes
further, amplifies to the gift of the excited imagination, and cannot be held
bound afterwards to justify itself. But this shout found words as well, and
grand words they were indeed, if true. “The gods are come down to us in
the likeness of men” (ch. 14:11) was a testimony, if mistaken in its
form, yet true to some extent in its spirit. And if the present testimony have
any such substance of truth and of honesty in it, it shall be accepted
according to that which it hath, and not condemned for that which it hath
not. The words, too, of this shouting are grandly chosen; they are
sententious; they are in a sense antithetic; they speak the perfection of
commendation for human tongue, which the psalmist would tell us is “the
glory” of man’s frame. “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man!” Herod
had taken his seat, and “not angels’ voices” could for his ears “have yielded
sweeter music” than that shout and the recitative that rose out of it. The
supreme point of a delicious intoxication of the conscience’s very worst
opiate had that moment arrived.
Ø Herod is proclaimed before men and angels and before, all time, as
much as though all time were there and then present, as a typical instance
of the man who knows not that his “chief end is to glorify God.” Either he
knows it not, or he forgets it at an awful moment, or he defies it at the
turning moment of his existence. Long proving-time has been his — the
decisive crucial moment has come. And this — this, alas! — is its
Ø Herod’s “grand speech,” of which not one word remains to us (and
possibly enough few of its words were heard intelligently by a people who
were wrought up and highly excited), is proclaimed to be one that has had
for its sole object to lead up to this profane glorification of self, and has
been guilty of forgetfulness to glorify God or even of denying glory to
Ø The very shout of the people and the voice that gave subsequent
articulateness to the shout are proclaimed to be really less their shout and
their voice than those of Herod himself. Their throats and lips made the
sound, but he found the breath for it, and all else, as, e.g. the place,
occasion, motive, or inducement. A finale of this kind had been
premeditated, if not prearranged and actually organized and got up.
o The people had a thousand pressing inducements or temptations to do
as they did, and to lend their voices for a moment to a cry which their
hearts very probably abhorred; their temptations were as numerous as all
the reasons for which they loved the “nourishment” of “their country.”
And they shall be undoubtedly judged for what they did, and judged with
righteous judgment, when their time too is ripe. But they had not the
opportunity of knowledge and the sovereign ease and self-disposition
which were at the command of Herod.
o Herod is tenfold guilty; he is wrong himself without anything to
account for it but the worst cancerous craving of a wicked heart, and
he leads a number of innocent “sheep” (II Samuel 24:17) into temptation, sin, danger. It is evident — nay, ‘tis the one revelation involved in the expose’ of this memorable moment — that the
all-seeing eye, the all-just judgment, the casting vote of Heaven, the verdict that puts an end to all dispute, credits the major responsibility,
the overwhelmingly preponderant responsibility for what had taken
place — to the account of Herod.
Ø Position, power, splendor, wealth, an earthly throne, arbitrary
governing, and all the rest of it, are proclaimed here at their true worth.
They are shown up as the flimsy covering only of the real in a man, let that
real be what it may. They don’t keep the weather out; they don’t keep
disease out; they don’t keep malignant and loathsome disease out; they
don’t shield conscience, heart, or body; they don’t keep God out, no, not
for a moment. But they do avail to do one thing — they suffice to throw
out into amazing prominence the contrast between TRUTH and
FALSEHOOD, (I contend this is what is happening as I type this, in
the public and private
affairs of the
when God enters into judgment, and casts down those whom He never
uplifted, and “removes the diadem and takes off the crown” (Ezekiel
21:26-27), and rends in twain the gorgeous royal raiment, none of which His
hand had bestowed. Then even on earth is seen the manifest beginning of
the “everlasting shame and contempt.”
Ø Last of all, it is here emphatically proclaimed that to omit to take right
action and to omit to utter right speech may sometimes justly be exposed
to bear all the same blame as to do and to speak the wrong. (Thus the sin
of omission – CY – 2016) The apostles once and again, when offered Divine honors, exerted themselves with the utmost energy to refuse it, and gave their abhorrence of the idolatrous offering to be abundantly plain. (After the example of Jesus when Satan tempted Christ – “the devil taketh Him up into an
exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world,
and the glory of them; And saith unto Him, All these things will I give
thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” Jesus resisted saying,
“Get thee hence Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord
thy God, and Him only shall thou serve!” Matthew 4:8-10 – CY – 2016)
This was the least that Herod should have done, and what he surely would
have done if he had not already willingly “regarded iniquity in his heart.”
So, when the people gave a great shout and said, “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man!” and Herod never protested a word, it is the same as if he had done all the preparation, pulled the wires, and spoken the impious words
himself. For God searcheth and trieth and knoweth “the thoughts and
intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) And He will not be robbed of
The Sin of Accepting Divine Honors (vs. 22-23)
The explanation of this incident is given in the exegetical portion of this
Commentary. Several points of interest come out upon comparison of the
Scripture narrative with that given by Josephus. The Jewish historian is
fuller on the adulation offered to Herod than is Luke. He notices the
remarkable silver garment which Herod wore on the occasion, and the
effect it produced on the people, adding that “presently his flatterers cried
out, one from one place and another from another, though not for his
good, 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. Upon this the king did
neither rebuke them nor reject their impious flattery.” St. Luke distinctly
makes the same charge, stating that he was smitten because he gave not
God the glory. He permitted himself to listen to and accept the flattery, and
failed to see that in so doing he openly and publicly insulted the Divine
majesty. This God never will permit. He is jealous — in the high sense of
that term — of His sole and sovereign rights, and immediately punishes all
who dare to claim the honor, which is due alone to Him. Flattery of the
creature may never rise to this height. Man can commit no sin so heinous
as that of assuming Divine honors and rights. The most striking illustration
is that of Nebuchadnezzar, whose pride swelled to a claim of Divine power
and honor, and was, immediately upon his boastful utterance, smitten of
God with a most humiliating disease. (Daniel 4) It is said that Antiochus the
Great, because he sinned in a similar high-handed way, was brought low by a
disease like that which afflicted Herod. We may consider some of the
reasons why there is such jealousy of the Divine rights, and why Jehovah’s
honor He will never give to another. (Isaiah 42:8; However, all history is
sprinkled with human beings reflecting His glory, which is permitted and
desired by Jehovah! – You and I, like the dark moon with no light reflects the
light of the sun, can reflect God’s glory by our proximity to Him! CY – 2016)
RELATIONS WITH HIM. We are required to love God with all our
heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. We cannot unless He be indeed the
one and only God. We are to recognize our relations with Him as Greater,
and to admit the claims which this relationship brings. But we cannot
conceive of two Creators; He hath made us, and HE ALONE! Life is to be
under His present gracious lead; in all our ways we are to acknowledge
Him, and to feel that He directs our paths; but only confusion can come into
our thought and life if our daily allegiance is to be in any sense DIVIDED!
Sin only gains its heinousness in our sight when it is thought of as committed
against the one supreme will, and redemption has no point if it be not our
recovery to the harmony of that one will. Illustrations may be taken from
the confusion created by dualistic and polytheistic systems. Men never
could be quite sure that they had propitiated the right god, and a constant
anxiety wore away the hearts of even the sincerely pious.
The connection between the two tables of the Law needs to be carefully
considered. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” is an injunction
without force save as it follows on the great command to “love God with
all our heart.” The life of morality is love to the one living God. The spirit
of sonship is the inspiration of brotherhood. If a man truly loves God HE
WILL LOVE HIS BROTHER ALSO! Illustrate from the uncertainty of all
moral systems associated with polytheism. Some of the gods became even
the patrons of impurity and immorality. Our one God being the “ideal of
goodness,” His service must be wholly pure.
UTMOST DEGRADATION. The claim has been made again and again,
but only by men utterly abandoned, mastered by pride and self-conceit, and
only after the crushing down of all reverence. Self-will may go great
lengths and keep within human limits; it becomes Satanic when it dares to
rival God and claim for itself Divine rights. When such heart-baseness is
declared, the man must come under the immediate and awful judgments
of God, even as Herod did.
24 "But the word of God grew and multiplied."
word of God grew and multiplied in
neighborhood, in spite of Agrippa’s persecution. The blood of the martyr
James was the seed of the Church, and the speedy vengeance taken by God
upon the persecuter doubtless gave fresh courage to his people to confess
the Name of Jesus Christ. As regards the preceding account of Herod
Agrippa’s death, it is corroborated in the most remarkable manner by the
narrative in Josephus (‘Ant. Jud.,’ 19. 8:2). He there tells that when he had
been three years King of all Judaea
(see v. 1, note) he went to
And that on occasion of a festival celebrated “for the safety of Caesar”
(some think to celebrate his return from
think that they were the ordinary Quinquennalia, celebrated in the
provinces), he exhibited games and spectacles in honor of Claudius. On the
second day of these games, when a vast number of people were assembled
in the theatre, Agrippa came in, clothed in a garment wholly made of silver,
which reflected the rays of the morning sun with a most dazzling and awful
brilliancy. Whereupon his flatterers cried out that he was a god, and
offered prayer to him. The king, he adds, did not rebuke them nor reject
their impious flattery, he was presently seized with a violent pain in his
bowels, which soon became so intense that he was carried out of the
theatre to his palace, and expired after five days of excruciating pain. It is
curious that in the above account Josephus says that Agrippa saw an owl
sitting over his head, which he recognized as a messenger (ἄγγελον -
aggelon - messenger) of evil to him. Eusebius, quoting Josephus Eccl. Hist.,’
2. 10.), leaves out the owl, and says that Agrippa saw an angel sitting over
his head, whom he recognized as the cause of his sufferings. Whiston, in a
note, seeks to exonerate Eusebius from unfairness in the quotation by
suggesting that the manuscript of Eusebius is in this place corrupt; but
Bede quotes Josephus just as Eusebius does, unless perchance he is quoting
him at second hand from Eusebius.
Sin in High Places (vs. 1-19, 24)
Sin has many aspects, and it is not only curious but instructive to see how
it shows itself under different conditions. Here we have it manifesting its
evil spirit in “high places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Herod’s action at this juncture
reminds us of:
vex certain of the Church” (v. 1). He did not stay to inquire whether
these men were in the right or not. They had with them the most
convincing credentials — strong evidence, miraculous power, a TRUTH
which met the necessities of the human heart and life; but all this went for
nothing. From his place of power he looked down superciliously on this
new “way,” and with a light heart he determined to vex its adherents. How
often does a high place beget an unseemly, unwholesome, injurious
arrogance which, smiting others, inflicts a DEATHBLOW on itself.
What was the life of an enthusiast to him? “He commanded that the
keepers should be put to death” (v. 19). What signified it to him that a
few soldiers were executed? It would not spoil his meal nor disturb his
slumber that, at his bidding, a few of his fellow-men had their lives cut
short and that their families and friends were mourning. This was THE
SPIRIT OF THE AGE, an unchristian age: it was especially the spirit
of human tyranny. The ruler on his throne, too often attained by violence and cunning, was indifferent to:
Ø the blood he shed,
Ø the rights he violated,
Ø the sorrows he caused.
Such has been the history of sin in high places from the beginning
until now, from one end of the earth to the other.
proceeded further (v. 3) in the same course. What a miserable reason for
imprisonment and execution of subjects! Not because any crime had been
committed, or any folly wrought, or any danger incurred; but because it
pleased the Jews, more violence was to be done, more wrong inflicted,
more grief and lamentation called forth. To such shameful depth will sin in
high places stoop, “justice” prostituting its high vocation (I Peter 2:14)
to win a mean and despicable popularity at the expense of innocence and
Ø How vain are bolts and bars to shut in a man whom God intends to be
His agent among men (vs. 4-10; see ch. 5:19; 16:26)!
Ø How vain are swords to slay and prison doors to confine the living truth
of God! A James may be killed and a Peter imprisoned, but the chapter
which narrates these incidents of human tyranny does not close without
recording that “the Word of God grew and multiplied.” We may learn
these two lessons.
o We may well be contented with our humbler lot. Obscurity and
comparative powerlessness are far less attractive to an ordinary eye
than eminence and power. But who of us can say that a “high place” might not prove to be a “slippery place” (Psalm 73:18-20) wherein virtue and purity would fall, never to rise again; or on which some
of the finer graces would be dulled and dimmed, even if some of the sadder sins were not nourished and practiced?
o We may well rejoice to be on the side of the Lord our Savior. His cause
will meet with such checks as this chapter records; there will be times when His disciples will mourn the loss of one champion and be alarmed for the safety of another; but unhoped-for deliverance will come, God will appear for us in ways we dare not expect, and the end will be the growth and multiplying of His living and life-giving Word.
Sanctified Affliction (v. 24)
“But the Word of God grew and multiplied.”
Ø Drawing the believers together.
Ø Revealing the weakness of enemies.
Ø Calling out faith and prayerfulness.
Ø Occasioning new manifestations of Divine power on behalf of the
INDEPENDENT OF HUMAN AGENCY. It was a time of famine and
persecution and mourning, but still a time of increase. The earthly rulers were
against the Word, but still it grows. The Church is afflicted, but still speaks
to the world, and its speech all the more powerful that it comes forth from
the troubled depths of suffering hearts. When we are weak then are we
strong. (II Corinthians 12:10) “Not by might, nor by power, but by
my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
The Growing of the Word (v. 24)
The terms used here indicate a continuous expansion. “Grew and
multiplied” is a blending of figures, and does not easily fit into the term,
“Word of God.” Probably Luke associated the word with our Lord’s
parable of the “sower;” and thought of it as seed, growing up and bringing
forth its hundredfold. Two things are suggested by the sentence taken as a text.
1. Luke notices, as a remarkable thing, that, in spite of all the
persecutions and hindrances of those evil times, the Word of God grew.
2. And that a sudden revival of zeal, earnestness, and success followed on
the dreadful judgment and sudden removal of the Church’s great persecutor.
It is to the first of these two points that we now direct attention.
history of Madagascar Christianity provides most effective
illustration; or instances may be found in the histories of Lollards,
Waldenses, etc. Persecuting times seem to be ruinous; their influence is
Ø the removal of the Christian leaders;
Ø the silencing of Christian teachers and writers;
Ø the stoppage of Christian worship;
Ø the destruction of Christian books, and especially of the Divine
But it has never been found that physical violence has been more than
apparent hindrance. The nearest approach ever made to success is
probably the crushing of French Protestantism by the Massacre of St.
Bartholomew. We are learning well the lesson that intellectual evils must
be met by intellectual resistances and corrections, and that moral evils must
be removed by moral agencies. “The weapons of our Christian warfare are
not carnal, but spiritual” (II Corinthians 10:4), and it is vain work for any to oppose us with mere shield and sword and spear. Illustrate from the martyrdom
of John Brown, the advocate of freedom for the slave. Persecution seemed to
“John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave,
But his soul is marching on” —
marching on to triumph in the
vast hinds of
another glorious victory in the
newly found highlands of mighty
Persecution cannot stop the onward progress of man’s thought or man’s
is that the seed actually grows and multiplies in such times. We think the
rainstorms hopelessly beat down the young and tender blades. Nay, they
really nourish the roots, and prepare for a vigorous springing up and richer
fruitage. Moral harvests wave where martyrs’ blood was shed. We may
recognize the helpfulness of troublous times if we notice:
Ø How they tend to bind men together. Differences of opinion and
judgment are for a time forgotten. The common ground is fully recognized.
Suffering throws each one upon the loving interest and care of the others,
and lessons of the Christian brotherhood are then learned as they can be
under no other circumstances. Prosperity and times of peace tend to bring
prominently forward men’s diversities, and in such times sects are
multiplied. Troublous times make men forget their peculiarities in facing a
common foe and in sharing a common woe.
Ø How they increase enthusiasm and develop energy. Nothing calls forth
the latent powers of men like resistance to liberty of opinion. Let a
scientific truth be opposed, and the whole energy of the discoverer is called
forth for its maintenance, and to him that truth grows tenfold more
important and more precious. So with the Christian verities, we “earnestly
contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) only when that faith is being contended against.
3. How they bring men more fully to lean on the Divine power. They bring
that sense of personal helplessness which makes us cling to the assurance,
“Greater is He who is with us than all who can be against us.” (I John 4:4)
We feel we may walk alone if it is all light about us. We must lean hard on
God if it is night-time and stormy all about us.
Ø How they draw public attention to the Christian workers. There is no
advertising agent comparable for a moment in efficiency with persecution.
Age after age Christ’s enemies have done Christ’s work, and witnessed
among all lands for Him, as they have martyred His servants and persecuted
His Church. Suffering has a sacred power on human hearts everywhere, and
Christ’s suffering Church wins men for Christ. (For instance, Saul’s
conversion after the martyrdom of Stephen – chapters 7 and 9)
25 "And Barnabas and Saul returned from
fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname
was Mark." Ministration for ministry, Authorized Version; talking for and
took, Authorized Version. The fact here stated of their taking John Mark
with them, is very interesting in connection with v. 12. Whether or no Saul and
Barnabas were in the house of Mary at the time of Peter’s deliverance from
prison, they evidently went there shortly before or shortly after. As regards the
sequence of events related in this chapter, it is by no means necessary to
suppose that Barnabas and Saul did not leave
of Agrippa. Luke, connecting the death of Agrippa with his murder of
James and his intended murder of Peter, as Eusebius and Chrysostom and
others rightly say, would naturally follow up the narrative of the
persecution by the narrative of the persecutor’s awful death; and then go
on to relate the return of the two apostles to
ch. 11:30. We have no means of deciding whether, in point of fact,
they returned before or after Agrippa’s death. It seems most probable that
they returned before, as, under the circumstances, they would not tarry at
The Character of John Mark (v. 25)
This man is not introduced to us for the first time in this verse, but this may
be regarded as his formal introduction. For the sketch of his life, which
should prepare for our study of his character, our readers are referred to
our Commentary on St. Mark’s Gospel. We only recall to mind a few
1. He was evidently at this time a comparatively young man.
2. He was directly associated with the early disciples, as they seem to have
met at his mother’s house.
3. It is more than probable that he had personally known the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. He was closely related to Barnabas, being his sister’s son.
5. He was, very probably, a rich young man, and devoted his wealth to the
missionary work of the Church.
6. His office, as minister or attendant on Barnabas and Paul, was one
necessitated by the difficulties and perils of traveling in those times.
7. In spirit and character John Mark should be carefully compared with
Timothy. We note that he always occupies a subordinate position, but that
there was a precise sphere which he could occupy, and a useful work given
him to do. His failure from missionary work may be regarded as an
indication that he had not, at that time, found his proper sphere. The man
who was to prepare a written Gospel had not the kind of boldness and
energy that was necessary for dangerous traveling. As suggestive and
opening the way for a full study of his character, we notice that he was:
d. impulsive, and
· SINCERE. His failure was in no way a sign of unfaithfulness to Christ.
He left Barnabas and Saul, but he did not cease to minister to Christ. Years
after he is spoken of for his profitableness, and he was evidently a sincere
Christian. It may be shown how sincerity is the leading Christian virtue,
and how it will abide and sanctify all varieties of disposition, character,
talent, and adaptations for service. We can all be sincere.
place when collecting the records of our Lord’s words and deeds, and
possibly doing so under Peter’s supervision. God needs studious men,
but they are seldom fitted for any other than their own particular work.
They are hardly ever prepared for the public conflicts of life, and they have
even some characteristic moral frailties. Paul knew the weakness of the
studious Timothy, and bids him “endure hardness as a good soldier of
Jesus Christ.” (II Timothy 2:3)
perilous journey into
exertion and enterprise. Such men never can be leaders. They had better
stay at home. They seldom can be men of great faith. Their mental history
matches their material history — they are timid about the truth, seldom
quite sure of their own hold of it, and ever ready to join the foolish cry,
“The Church is in danger.” We get no heroic champions from the class to
which John Mark belonged.
arrested with Christ was John Mark, and that he had heard the noise, and
impulsively rushed out of his house to see what was going on, and had
forgotten his outer robe. (Mark 14:48-53) The same impulsiveness is seen
in his refusing to go on with the missionaries. But notice how it differs from
the impulsiveness of Peter or of Paul. It was a kind of negative impulsiveness,
not urging him to do, but keeping him from doing. It is a dangerous spirit to cherish into strength.
he had not the personal experiences of Matthew or John, and had to
collect and collate his materials. From John Mark we may learn these things:
Ø A man has his own particular work for which he is divinely fitted.
Ø If a man makes the mistake of trying to do somebody else’s work, it is a
blessed thing that God’s providence stops him, and turns him into the path
where he may work efficiently and successfully.
The Strength and Weakness of Christian Discipleship (vs. 1-19, 25)
These verses bring out very strikingly the fact that there is both power and
weakness in us who are the followers of Christ. We see it:
by their Divine Master with unusual powers. The Holy Ghost descended
upon them and conferred great gifts on them (see ch. 5:15-16; 9:31-41).
Peter was the chief channel through which this Divine efficacy flowed.
But while he was charged to do such great things for others, he was not
permitted to do anything for himself; his function of working miracles
stopped when he was personally concerned; he was not at liberty to open a
bolted prison door that he himself might escape. We may find a certain
illustration of this strength and weakness in the case of those who have
such strength to arouse the souls and stir the activities of others, but who
are painfully and pitifully weak in controlling their own spirit.
One short verse (v. 2) disposes of the fate of the Apostle James. We have
no graphic account, as in Stephen’s case, of his martyrdom. But it is
enough that we know the event. We naturally place it beside the predictive
words of the Lord (Mark 10:38-39). And we see here how weak and
yet how strong Christian discipleship can be. Weak enough:
Ø to cherish a mistaken ambition (Mark 10:37);
Ø to under-estimate altogether the sufferings of its Lord — they said, We can;
Ø to under-estimate the severity of its own martyr-witness, for James and
John had little thought at that time of the future that was in store for them.
Strong enough to accept with cheerfulness the trying lot when called upon
to endure it. We may take it, though we are not told it, that James drank
without a moment’s hesitation the bitter cup of sudden and violent death
when Herod’s sword was drawn to slay him. How frequently do we find
the same thing with us now! At one hour, the weakness of serious
misconception of Christian truth or of Christian life, or, it may be, serious
failure to attain the spirit or illustrate the principle of Christ; at another
hour, beautiful resignation to the will, or admirable exemplification of the
truth, or noble devotedness to the work, of the Lord.
Ø We should not judge hastily; the error or shortcoming of one period may
be more than redeemed by the excellency or even heroism of another.
Ø We need not be exceedingly depressed by our own failure; we should be
truly penitent when really at fault, but we may hope that, further on, our
Master will give us an opportunity of drinking of His cup, of having
fellowship with His sufferings. (Philippians 3:10)
ceasing of the Church unto God for Peter” (v. 5). It may be confidently
concluded that the “many” who were gathered together praying at Mary s
house (v. 12) were asking for his deliverance. His escape, then, should
have been the very thing they were expecting. If their strength had not been
exercised in weakness, they would have anticipated the knock at the door,
which they refused to believe was from the hand of Peter. We know how
great was their astonishment that their prayers were heard and answered
(vs. 15-16). Prayer is the strength of the Christian man, of the Christian
Church; but when in the very act and exercise of this our privilege and
power, how great is our weakness! for how unspiritual is, too often, our
word! how languid our strain! how slight our hope! how faint and feeble
and Saul returned from their
blessings of the poor whom they had relieved. But they also carried with
them one, John Mark, who was to be the occasion of a bitter quarrel and a
lifelong separation. While they were rejoicing in their hearts that the ties
between the brethren of
strengthened there stood by their side a man whose action was to cut in
twain the bond which bound them in loving and active brotherhood. As
fellow-members of the Church, we feel and do many things which bring out
into bold relief our most Godlike affections and aspirations; but as those
who worship and work side by side, we often do things which give
displeasure to our Lord and should give pain to ourselves.
The Persecution at
PETER. The narrative of the former event is short and dry. But, whatever
the reason of this may be, it is certain that the Holy Spirit, by whose
inspiration this history was given, manifested a peculiar wisdom in this
very brevity. The holy silence is a sign to us that that which is highest and
most pleasing to God is not precisely that of which men love to know and
speak. “Our life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3) The peculiar life
in life, and the holy dying in death, these are HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN
GOD, not merely from the world, but from the children of God; precious,
nevertheless, before God, a work following the soul into eternity. The
frivolous persecutor, who has been an enemy of the Jews, now, to please
them, sacrifices the Christians. (This seems to me to be the pattern of
the Executive Branch of the United States Government, in this case,
instead of the Jews, Christians are to be sacrificed to the Muslims – CY –
2016) The cruelty and frivolity of tyrants has been permitted to work
much evil and cause much bloodshed. Our only consolation in
meditating on such facts is to reflect that Christianity is an ideal system,
and has compensations not of this world.
Ø His imprisonment fell in the days of unleavened bread — the time of the Passover; doubtless reminding him, not only of the passion and resurrection of
the Savior, but of his own frailty and denial of Him. Now was the prophecy
of Jesus fulfilled: “Hereafter thou shalt follow me.” (John 13;36) All in the scene, the memories, the immediate prospects before Peter’s mind disposed
him to sad and serious thought.
Ø The strong guard placed over him seems to bear witness to the respect
felt for his person, the fear of his influence. The parts of the prisoner and
that of the tyrant are often really reversed; he is at peace, they tremble
when they have him most in their power. Behind the scene a purpose was
working mightier than all human force. The persecutors intended to bring
him after the Passover feast; but God intends to save him. Herod plots
Peter’s death, while God wills the preservation of Peter and the death of
the murderer. Another view of spiritual force working to counteract
physical force is given in the statement of the unceasing prayer of the
Church on Peter’s behalf. “God can refuse nothing to a praying Church.”
“One true prayer can strike down the whole power of hell; why not Herod
with his sixteen soldiers?” “By the blood and prayers of Christians Herod’s
arm was maimed,
his scepter broken, and the
ruins.” Peter in the prison may remind us to pray, “That it may please thee
to show pity upon all prisoners and captives!” Meanwhile Peter sleeps; as a
child flung into the strong arms of a father, so in the extremity of his
distress he has flung himself ON GOD, and rests. And over him Divine
love watches with all the tenderness of the parent’s eye and heart.
Ø The delivering angel. The angels are ministers of God to the bodies and
souls of the “heirs of salvation.” Whether we speak of angels, or of
instruments, or providential means, the truth at bottom is the same. All
agents and instruments may be considered Divine which are set in motion
by the Divine power and love, and providentially meet the need of the
hour. So too the shining effulgence which accompanies the angel’s visit.
We do not expect such phenomena now; but the light in the heart, the joy
which comes of having surrendered the soul to God and of being conscious
of His presence, is not less real than ever. “To the upright there ariseth light
in the darkness.” We may if we please allegorize what follows to our own
account. “Arise quickly!” and the chains fell from his hands. For the word
of the Lord no iron is too hard, no stone nor bolt too strong. There are
worse prisons than those of stone.
“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage.”
It is our own fettered thoughts which cramp and. oppress the soul Again,
with the Divine command, “Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals,” the
power to obey comes. And so again when he is bidden to cast around him
his garment and to follow. A reason, attentive to the smallest details, is
discovered in every call to duty and freedom. And all this passes as in a
dream, so often when swift help and wondrous deliverances come by the
Divine hand. “When
the Lord turned again the captivity of
as them that dreamed.” (Psalm 126:1) So doubtless in the last conflict, the escape from life and all its troubles will appear as a dream to the departing
soul. So swiftly on, through the first and second guard, to the iron gate leading into the city, which opens of its own accord; the street is reached, and the
angel departs. The extraordinary and the marvelous lasts no longer than it is
needed. We are governed and guided by constant law, which is the
expression of loving and constant will. We are taught by experience to
build on the constancy of law; but lest we should adore law instead of God,
He appears from time to time from behind law, as will, personality, love.
The knowledge left behind on Peter’s mind is that God has interfered for
his deliverance from the hands of his enemies. That is the lesson for us,
whenever by a change of circumstances, not to be foreseen and not to be
commanded by human forethought, God’s ways with us give rise in
retrospect and reflection to thankfulness. We see not the good hand that is
leading us, the wisdom that causes all things to work together for good,
before we have reached the goal and end of His purpose.
Ø Notice the coincidences of events. For his refreshment, Peter is led from
the cold prison and the rough society of soldiers into that of praying
brethren. And they who had been in the depth of trouble because of his
supposed loss, behold the beloved brother in the midst of them — for the
strengthening of their faith.
Ø The struggle of faith with unbelief. Here, though they had been praying,
and praying doubtless for Peter’s release, when the answer comes, they
find it difficult to accept and believe. How true is this to the human heart!
People are not conscious that they are not quite sincere in their prayers
until some event like this brings them face to face with their own thought.
When Rhoda tells the simple news of joy, they reply, “Thou art mad!”
Faith in the heart says, “God can work wonders if He will;” an opposite
feeling says, “It is not likely that He will work them.” A man may argue,
“My faith in the goodness of God is shadowy, but my faith in the constancy
of His laws in nature is absolute: it is the contrast of one faith with
another.” We cannot find a solution to this contradiction; but it does seem
in the course of events as if it were solved for us by a higher light and
Ø The result. Peter continues knocking, till those within open, see him, and
are astounded. After grasping their hands in friendship, he tells the story of
his deliverance, bids them repeat it to James and the brethren, then departs
to another place. So had the Lord commanded (Matthew 10:13). The
prudence; it should rather encourage us to observe these. By removing
Peter, the main pillar of the community, the Church was taught that no one
man was indispensable to its existence and welfare. They were to learn to
stand without him. The break of day brought a great disturbance among
the soldiers. “What had become of Peter?” Herod takes prompt measures
for his arrest,
and betakes himself to
apostolic history. We may extract from it the following lessons:
o The time of trial is the time of Divine education. Faith in the trial of fire
is proved more precious than the gold which perisheth. (I Peter 1)
“Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” (James 1:2)
o Brotherly love in affliction, in watching and waiting power of soul in
rest and endurance; Divine power in healing and saving; — these are the fruits and energies which spring up in the soil of persecution: these the “precious pearls for which men dive in sorrow’s sacred stream.”
o The arms and defenses of the Church against its foes are:
§ unflinching courage in witness,
§ calm patience in suffering,
§ unwearied urgency in prayer.
The Death of Herod (vs. 20-25)
he is suddenly cast down. While raising himself arrogantly against the
Majesty on high, by that Majesty he is brought low and put to shame. Also
it is while he is being sought by petitioners, and hailed by the flattering
voice of the multitude as a god. These features have all the elements of the
most solemn tragedy. The messenger of Divine judgment smites him
straightway, and he perishes miserably,
Ø “Because he gave not the glory to God” is the reason of the judgment.
To God alone belongs honor. He is the Fountain of power, the Foundation
of all stability. He who forsakes God ruins himself and causes destruction
to others. God “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James
Ø The moral is seen also in contrast. Those who honor God, as Barnabas
and Saul, receive honor from God. The persecutor is cast down, while the
persecuted flourish and the work goes on. The blood of the martyr waters
the field of the Church, and the tyrant fertilizes it with his bones.
The World and the Church (vs. 1-25)
There is, perhaps, no passage in Holy Scripture which contrasts more
sharply the principles of the world and of the Church respectively, and the
practice flowing from those principles, than the chapter before us. The
results of each stand out no less sharply defined.
or justice, but self-seeking policy:
Ø to gain some selfish end without regard to the will of God or the
welfare of man;
Ø the unscrupulous use of any means by which the wished-for end
can be attained;
Ø the employment of craft or violence, according to circumstances;
Ø utter contempt for the rights and feelings of others;
Ø utter disregard for the happiness of individuals or communities
which stand in the way;
Ø taking everything into a man’s own hands; — in a word:
o self-will and
as the beginning and ending of human action.
Ø To do the will of God irrespective of self-will;
Ø to love all men, “specially those that are of
the household of faith,” and consequently,
Ø to work ill to no man, however great the apparent gain may be;
Ø to suffer, rather than do wrong;
Ø to endure evil meekly and patiently;
Ø to help and comfort others in their time of need
at his own cost; and
Ø TO LEAVE ALL IN THE HANDS OF GOD!
Ø The worldly policy ends in failure. The well-laid schemes end in
disappointment; momentary successes slide into defeat anal discomfiture;
expected glory turns into lasting shame.
Ø The Christian practice, on the contrary, though its beginnings may be
in clouds and dark ness, ends in sunshine and in light. Right has a vital
principle in it. It bursts out into success at last. Being linked to the will of
God, it partakes of THE POWER OF GOD! Momentary shame turns into
lasting glory. The cross becomes the crown. See all this exemplified in the
history before us. Agrippa was the perfect type of a successful man of the
world. The friend of emperors and kings; himself a prosperous king of fair
character for the times, of pleasing manners, and considerable power of
kingcraft, he stood high among his equals and contemporaries. His
liberality and magnificence secured him a fair share of admiration and
popularity among his subjects. His zeal for religious observances, his
scrupulous performance of the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish Law,
brought him a fair amount of respect from the priests and Pharisees of his
day. And this popularity was as the breath of his nostrils. To be applauded;
to be well spoken of; to be admired; to make a sensation wherever he
appeared; to be on terms of friendship with Tiberius, with Drusus, with
Caligula, with Claudius; to be a great man among the petty dependent
kings of the neighboring countries; and to be an authority with the priests
and people of the Jews; — all this was his ambition, was what he lived for.
As to the means of obtaining it he was not scrupulous. By flatteries, by
mean compliances, by large expenditure of money, and even by shedding
innocent blood, this end of self-idolatry was to be compassed. The murder
of a saint like James, the imprisonment and intended execution of an
apostle like Peter, were in his eyes on a par with splendid games or
magnificent largesses, as means of purchasing or retaining the good
pleasure of the Jews, perhaps with the further design of strengthening his
influence with Claudius by showing how he could keep a turbulent
quiet subjection to imperial
have attained the highest pinnacle of the coveted glory when, all glittering
with the silver robe, which reflected the rays of the morning sun, and
seated on the bema to make his oration to the people, he was greeted with
acclamations which told him he was no longer a mere mortal in their eyes,
and that he spoke, not with the voice of a man, but with the voice of God.
Five days of agony, and he lay amidst all his splendor a lifeless corpse.
Now let us turn to the Church. We have four pictures presented to us of
1. The love of the Church of Antioch for their unseen brethren of the
dangers, and difficulties, and wants, and necessities: no doubt, at home.
But no sooner do they hear of
the approaching famine in
make collections, every man according to his ability, for the relief of their
fellow-Christians, and send two of their most trusted members to carry the
passed from Gentile to Jew, a pledge of their unity in Jesus Christ.
2. The defense of the Church of Jerusalem against the tyranny of the
world. The strong hand of unscrupulous power has slain one of their most
valiant leaders. Another greater still is shut up in a dungeon, expecting
immediate death. The whole Church is in danger of destruction. It must
defend itself against its terrible foe; it must sharpen its sword; it must put
on its Armour; it must prepare for the fight. How does it do this? Our
second picture shows us. It is night. The great city is hushed in sleep; its
hum has ceased. The weary are at rest. The prisoner’s eyes are closed in
forgetfulness, and all things are shrouded in darkness. But in one house in
the city sleep has no place. Under its roof are gathered together many of
the soldiers of Jesus Christ. And in that dead hour of the night they are
watching unto prayer. From one and another the voice of prayer and
supplication is going up to Heaven — prayer for Peter’s safety; prayer for
the preservation of the Church; prayer for the mighty help of the Holy
Ghost; prayer for holy patience; prayer for holy courage; prayer for
wisdom how to act and for strength to act; prayer for the weak in faith;
prayer for the tempted and irresolute; prayer for their enemies, persecutors,
and slanderers; — in short, every variety of the cry, “Lead us not into
temptation, but deliver us from evil!” is breaking the stillness of the night,
and is the Church’s preparation for battle and for victory.
3. We have in these the portraiture of two individual members of
God’s Church. The first, James, we see only in his death — the blessed
death of a martyr of Jesus Christ; a death which tells of the life which went
before, and also of the life that shall follow after and have no end. He was a
son of thunder in his assaults upon the strongholds of Satan; a witness for
Jesus Christ and his cross and his salvation, before the hard materialism of
Roman power and the withered formalism of Jewish bigotry and hypocrisy.
As we think of him, as of his saintly brother John, we think of the
unworldly faith with which, leaving his father and all that he had in this
world, he was obedient without delay to the calling of Jesus Christ; we
think of the indignant zeal which flashed out when the Master whom he
loved was rejected by the Samaritans; we think of him as persevering
steadily, through ten years of opposition and contradiction from elders, and
priests, and Pharisees, and Sadducees, in the one great purpose for which
he lived, at the end of which, as he had long since been warned by the
Lord, there was a cup of suffering to be drunk, and a baptism of blood to
be baptized with. But he shrank not nor drew back. To him to live was
Christ, and to die was gain. And so his end came — the end of his toil. But
surely he is among those whom his brother John saw in vision half a
century afterwards: “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the
witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God,… and they lived and reigned
with Christ s thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4) Blessed in his death and glorious in his resurrection, he will shine forth with a brighter glory in the kingdom of his Father than Agrippa his murderer did in his silver robe of marvelous texture in the theatre of Caesarea.
4. Our last portrait is that of Simon Peter, the Galilaean fisherman, called by Jesus Christ to be fisher of men. What a life was his! — gathering three
thousand souls into his net at the very first haul; laying the foundations of that building which during twenty centuries has gone on growing towards those
vast proportions which will at last fill the whole earth and mingle with the
skies in its length, and breadth, and depth, and height; unlocking the gates
of the kingdom of heaven with his keys of office for myriads and millions
to enter in. What a life of toil and danger! — journeying, preaching, healing, teaching, like his Divine Master before him, with his life ever in his hand; now escaping, now returning to the scene of persecution, but always intent upon the work of Christ. Ah! surely he has fallen at last; the hand of the tyrant has found him out. He is fast in prison. He is fastened with two chains to his jailors. He is
sleeping his last sleep on earth. To-morrows sun will rise upon him for the
last time, and before it is noon he will have joined his brother James in the
land where all things are forgotten.
a. So thought man.
b. So thought the Jews.
c. So thought Agrippa.
d. So thought Peter himself when he closed his eyes in
sleep under the protection of God s wings.
But this had God not ordained! The night watches had advanced. The great city lay in stillness and darkness. The sons of toil and of pleasure had all left the
busy thoroughfares, and the streets were deserted. But lo! the iron gate of the prison opens noiselessly upon its hinges, and two men issue forth into the open way. They walk rapidly along, and then one vanishes and only one is left. He stops for a moment’s thought, and then goes to the house of Mary. Yet another
moment, and he is in the midst of a praying Church, which he never
thought to have seen again in the flesh; and the brethren are all around their
great primate, whom they thought to have seen no more forever. It was a
great surprise. But how great the joy to know THAT IT WAS GOD'S DOING!
Now they knew that their dangers, their sorrows, their fears, and their
prayers, were all known of God. Now they knew that their lives were
precious in God’s sight, and that He that was for them was stronger than he
that was against them. Peter’s hour was not yet come; his work was not
yet finished, and till it was, all the power of Herod and all the expectation
of the people of the Jews would be baffled and disappointed, not a hair of
his head should perish; and instead of the Church being wasted and
destroyed, THE WORD OF GOD SHOULD GROW AND MULTIPLY!
It is growing and multiplying still. Peter’s work is not yet finished. What he began IS STILL GOING ON! The overseers are still feeding the flock of
Christ; and they with him, when the chief Shepherd shall appear, shall
receive a crown of glory THAT FADETH NOT AWAY!
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