Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.…
I. HEROD'S PERSECUTION.
1. "Now about that time" — we know that troubles never come alone. A time of famine was prophesied (Acts 11:28). Famine might kill slowly; Herod would find a quicker way! How well it would have been when Herod "stretched forth his hand" to have kept it there! Such would be our way. God's thought has a wider compass, and He needs more time for the exemplification of His purpose.
2. "He killed James the brother of John with the sword." This was not a Jewish method of killing people. But what is crime if it cannot be inventive? What if a king cannot take a short cut to the consummation of his purpose? Beheading is quicker than stoning! The wicked cannot wait. They need no further condemnation. Justice can wait. "Though hand join in hand the wicked cannot go unpunished."
3. Having performed this trick of cruelty, Herod proceeded further. That is the natural history of wickedness! It gathers momentum as it goes. You cannot stop with one murder. You acquire the bad skill, and your fingers become nimble in the use of cruel weapons. Murder does not look so ghastly when you have done it once. How many people have you murdered? Murder is heartbreaking; life-blighting; hope-destroying! "He proceeded further." The one glass needs another to keep it company. Crimes do not like solitude; and so one crime leads to another. If you calf do one sin, the whole life is lost. We are not thieves because of a thousand thefts; we are not liars because of a thousand lies; we find our criminality in the opening sin. Therefore, what I say unto one, I say unto all, "Watch"!
4. "Because he saw it pleased the Jews." There are those who like to see you play the fool and the criminal, but what will they do for you in the critical hour? All the while Herod thought he was king; in reality he was a slave. Sometimes the judge has been the prisoner. Sometimes the conqueror has been the loser. Herod lived upon the popular pleasure. Therein he tarnished his crown, and sold his kingdom, and lost his soul!
II. PETER'S DELIVERANCE. In ver. 5 there is a pitched battle. Read it: "Peter therefore was kept in prison:" there is one side of the fight; after the colon — "but prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him." Now for the shock of arms! Who wins? Prayer always wins. You can only be of a contrary opinion when you take in too little field. There is no action of any importance that is bounded by a single day. Such prayer as this is irrepressible. The prayers you could keep down if you liked will never be answered. This prayer was answered by a miracle, in which observe —
1. Last extremities (ver. 6). Have we not been in that very same darkness, when we were to be injured, or impoverished, not seven years from date, but the next day? Have we not taken up the pieces of the one loaf and said, "This is all"? So far, then, you have no difficulty about the miracle.
2. Appearances dead against us. Thus — two soldiers, two chains, and the keepers keeping the door before the prison! These were compliments to Peter! The devil cannot avoid paying us compliments all the time he is trying to destroy us. Why all this arrangement about a man like Peter? Why all these temptations addressed to a man like one of us? It is a reluctant but significant tribute to the character whose destruction is contemplated. Have not appearances been dead against us? No letters, no friends, no answer to the last appeal, no more energy, no more hope, the last staff snapped in two. So far the miracle is true.
3. Unexpected deliverers. Have we no experience here? Is it not always the unexpected man who delivers and cheers us? "But a certain Samaritan came where he was," that is the whole history of human deliverance in one graphic sentence. "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." "It is always darkest before the dawn." All our life properly read is a chain of unexpectedness. Deliverance shall arise from an unthought of quarter!
4. Spiritual transport (ver. 11). Have we not sometimes taken down our harp from the willows and struck it to some new tone of joy and gladness and hope? Peter did not understand this miracle at first. He thought he saw a vision. "And when Peter was come to himself he said" — that is the point we must wait for. We are not "ourselves" just now. Our eyes are dazed by cross lights, and we cannot see things in their right proportion, distance, and colour. Do not let us imagine that we are now speaking final words or giving final judgments. Innumerable visions float before my wondering eyes. The righteous are trodden down; the bad man has a plentiful table. The little child is torn from its mother's arms. What is it? When we are come to ourselves we shall know and praise the Lord, whose angels have been our ministering servants!
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
WEB: Now about that time, King Herod stretched out his hands to oppress some of the assembly.