Your Arms are too Short to Box with God

Series:  Momma Said. . .

Week of May 19 – 25, 2021

AIM:  REMIND students that when it looks like Satan is winning, he is losing; when it looks like God is losing, He is winning!  There is NO fight that God can’t win and hasn’t won!

INTRODUCTION:

All Christian believers have to maintain a difficult balance.  We live in a natural world guided by natural laws, yet we serve a God who can – and sometimes does – overrule the laws of nature.  For the most part, we must accept circumstances at face value. 

  • Good people get sick and die. 
  • Hardworking people go bankrupt. 
  • Honest businesses go under. 
  • Innocent people are mistreated, convicted, and punished. 

In many situations, God does not supernaturally intervene to prevent misfortune, yet we must not view life strictly from a human perspective.  Whether or not the Lord chooses to intervene miraculously, He remains in control and has promised to work out all events and circumstances for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).

In an age when miracles are exceedingly rare, maintaining this natural-supernatural perspective can be a challenge.  One might be tempted to think that holding an eternal, spiritual perspective would be easier if miracles were more common.  As Luke demonstrates in this segment of his narrative, however, people always have trouble seeing beyond the temporal realm, even when God is more visibly active in the world.  The Christians in Jerusalem, despite their seeing some of the Lord’s more amazing displays or miraculous power, also struggled to break out of their two-dimensional perspective.  In our lesson, they placed limits on what God could or would do on their behalf.

BACKGROUND:

In our lesson today, King Herod is about to learn – his arms are too short to box with God! 

There are many biblical examples of those who tried vainly to battle against God. Pharaoh is the first of many kings or other rulers in the Old Testament who thought because of their elevated earthly power they could somehow match it against God’s eternal power only to discover the truth that Isaiah declared:  Why, the nations are but a drop in a bucket, a mere smudge on a window. Watch him sweep up the islands like so much dust off the floor! All the nations add up to simply nothing before him—less than nothing is more like it. A minus. Isaiah 40:15, 17

In the New Testament era there is one family of rulers that stand out in the battle against God – the Herods. The patriarch of the family was known as Herod the Great. He was the Roman ruler of Judea, and then all of Palestine from 47 BC to just after Christ’s birth. The Roman Senate dubbed him “King of the Jews.” He was a bloodthirsty ruler who even had one of his wives, her mother and three of his sons put to death. Most notably he is known for killing all the innocent young male children near Bethlehem as he sought to kill the true King of the Jews – Jesus.

Herod Antipas ruled Galilee during the time of Jesus’ ministry. He is the Herod that had John the Baptist put to death and also who questioned Jesus just before his crucifixion, but Jesus would not answer any of his questions.  See chart below on Herod’s family.

In Luke chapter 3, Luke introduces us to Herod Agrippa I who ruled from AD 37 – AD 44. He was the grandson of Herod the Great. Paul would later stand trial before his son, Herod Agrippa II.

Herod Agrippa ruled the Jewish state differently than his predecessors. He was always seeking to win favor with the Jews – even though he was a Roman occupier. As such, he became very popular among the Jews.

He would participate in the Jewish festivals in Jerusalem and would join in with the celebrations. In one feast where they brought the first fruits in a procession to the temple, the Mishnah says, “When they reached the temple mount, Agrippa the king would put his basket on his shoulder and would enter as far as the temple court.” Now this kind of activity made him wildly popular among the Jewish people. This was amazing for someone in the dynasty of the Herods, it was so unlike his predecessors. Why did he do it? He had an insatiable appetite to be liked by the Jewish people. 

Herod was a political person with a political agenda of surviving his position in the Roman World.  He was doing all that would please the majority of his subjects, “his” majority. He threatened and killed the minorities of his country who were law-abiding and God-fearing Christians. He was tyrannical in dealing with even genuine people of his nation. He wanted to please “his” Jewish backers and their views. His failure to establish justice is crystal clear. 

Acts 12:1-4 (NLT)

1 About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3 When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration. 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover.  

  1. Herod used PEOPLE as PAWNS
  2. Herod’s motive was to keep the love of the Jewish people coming.
  3. It stroked his ego 
  4. It puffed up his pride. 
  5. When the Christians came along and began to rock the boat, he reacted. He dealt harshly and severely with the Christians.
  6. He begins to use the leaders of the Christian church, the very apostles of Jesus Christ, as pawns in his pursuit to win the favor of the Jewish people.
  7. Herod launched the government’s attack against the leaders of the church.
  8. For some time the Jewish people had begun to turn against Christian believers.
  9. They misunderstood the teaching and the evangelistic fervor of Christians.
  10. The idea of reaching out to Gentiles and converting the whole world to Christ was unheard of.
  11. His eagerness led him to behead James. 
  12. Again, Herod is driven by his lust for popularity among the people. When he sees that killing one apostle makes the people love him, he decides, well, let’s make it two apostles – that will double the love. 
  13. So, he used people as pawns in his game of pride and popularity.
  14. Peter is arrested, and no doubt Herod’s intention was to kill him just as he had killed James.
  15. But the Jewish calendar fell on the feast of Unleavened Bread. That feast is a 7-day feast, and Passover is a 24-hour celebration within that 7-day period.
  16. Herod would have been very familiar with this timetable and knew it would be against Jewish law to execute anyone on Passover. But he also knew that Jerusalem would be filled with devout Jewish pilgrims and making a spectacle of Peter at that time would ensure maximum coverage to his prideful pursuit of self-exaltation.
  17. He would have his showy trial of Peter right after Passover, but just before all the crowds left Jerusalem.

Acts 12:5 (NLT) – But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.

  1. The Church accessed Power through Prayer

Point to Ponder:  Do we even know, or realize, the power that is accessible to us through prayer?

  1. Power of Prayer
  2. Prayer is mighty because it connects us to God in heaven!
  3. It was an INVOLVED prayer
  4. The whole church was praying
  5. Personal prayer and private prayer is good, but this was corporate prayer
  6. It was an INTENSE prayer
  7. KJV says that they prayed “without ceasing.” The words “without ceasing” means fervently and earnestly continuing in prayer.
  8. The idea is intense prayer, prayer that captivates and focuses a person’s concentration.
  9. The root meaning of the word is “to stretch out.”  The picture is that the church was stretched out, prostrate before God, fervently crying. 

James 5:16 (KJV). . .The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Acts 12:6-17 (NLT)

6 The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. 7 Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. 9 So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. 10 They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him. 11 Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” 12 When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. 13 He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” 15 “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” 16 Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. 17 He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers what happened,” he said. And then he went to another place.

 B. It was an IMPERFECT prayer

  • The prayer that was made by the church was made “for Peter.”
  • We can assume the prayer was – 
  • for his faith to remain steadfast,
  • for his protection,
  • but certainly they were praying for his release, for his deliverance.
  • And yet Peter doesn’t seem to be expecting a deliverance. He’s got a bright light, his chains fall off, the iron gate opens on its own, and he’s standing out in the street saying, “I don’t know if this is really true.”
  • How about the church – let this be an encouragement to all of us who have small faith. You have the church praying for Peter, and he shows up and tells Rhoda, “It’s Peter, God delivered me.” She tells the gathered church and they said to her, “You are out of your mind.”
  • They are praying for Peter to be released and when he is they can’t believe it actually happened!
  • It was an imperfect prayer – so we can be encouraged by that even when we have small faith.
  • God fulfilled His PURPOSE as PLANNED

We can have the tendency to think, “Okay, Herod killed James, but God freed Peter. The score is 1 to 1.  One round for Satan and one round for God.  But that is not the case at all. The score is 2-rounds for God and zero rounds for Satan.

Point to Ponder: Was God ruling and reigning when James was executed? Was he still on his throne?

Absolutely he was! If God can release Peter from the chains he was bound to, made the guards go blind, open the iron gate and free Peter from his imprisonment on the eve of his execution, he could have done the same thing for James.

Point to Ponder: But he did not do it – why not?

Because Jesus had told James in Mark 10:39, “You will drink the cup that I drink.” It was time for James to drink the cup; it was the Lord’s appointment; it was time for God to be glorified through his death.

Let me say again, the score is not one round for Herod and one round for God, it is two rounds for God and zero for Herod. God did not lose a round with James’ death and win a round with Peter’s escape. If it seems God is behind on your score card, don’t fret, in this next round He will deliver a knockout punch! 

So even when it looks like there are setbacks; or even when it looks like Satan is winning and the culture is shifting and the church is shrinking – don’t you believe for one millisecond that God is not up to something great! He is!

God fulfilled his purpose just as he planned – even through the life of Herod and his self-exalting acts of brutality.

Notice how Luke describes the folly of fighting God as he concludes the account of Herod Agrippa vs. God.

Acts 12:20-24 (NLT)

20 Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they sent a delegation to make peace with him because their cities were dependent upon Herod’s country for food. The delegates won the support of Blastus, Herod’s personal assistant, 21 and an appointment with Herod was granted. When the day arrived, Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. 22 The people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It’s the voice of a god, not of a man!” 23 Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness, because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. So he was consumed with worms and died. 24 Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.

  1. The sins of Herod were very serious.  He was guilty. . .
  2. Of opposing God. He violently persecuted God’s church, which was equal to persecuting the Lord Himself. He was determined to wipe the church off the face of the earth.
  3. Of murder: killing the servants of God, apparently plotting to kill them all.
  4. Of loving the world: its power, position and influence.
  5. Of hypocrisy and deception: pretending to be religious – all for power and position.
  6. Of wrath and lack of compassion.
  7. Of hostile and unwise leadership.
  8. Of pride: the pride of office, position, and person.
  9. Of self-glory and self-exaltation: he willingly received the declaration that he was a god!
  10. The death of Herod was under the sovereign will of God.
  11. Herod’s time had run out – his sin could not be allowed anymore.
  12. The day of God’s wrath against a heart so hardened in sin had arrived.
  13. Sitting there on the throne, Herod was immediately stricken down with a severe stroke of some sort.
  14. The Church multiplied and marched on!
  15. The church kept on growing and multiplying. 
  16. The progress of God’s Word could not, cannot, be stopped!
  17. Men and governments might try to stop it.  They might persecute, imprison, and kill those who proclaim God’s Word; but their efforts to silence the Word will always be to NO avail.  God overrules all and always win!

PRAYER PRINCIPLE:                          Thank God that no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, God will use it for His glory and our good.

SOCIAL JUSTICE PRINCIPLE:             Share with those that need to know how God worked things out for your good when you were in a tight situation.

EVANGELISM PRINCIPLE:                 Let others know how Christ made a difference in your life by His death on the cross.

STEWARDSHIP PRINCIPLE:                 Your consistent giving allows others to experience the goodness of God.

DISCIPLESHIP PRINCIPLE:                  When you are in rough spot, remember that God always works things for your good and ultimately His glory.

NEXT WEEK’S TITLE: He Touched Me

SERIES:          Momma Said

DAILY BIBLE READINGS:   Luke 13:10-17; Job 1:8-12; Mark 1:21-26; Mark 5:1-13, 25; Job 2:7; Mark 9:21; John 5:5; John 9:1; Acts 3:2; Luke 4:16; John 20:24-28; Hebrews 10:25

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